This Chair Rocks by Ashton Applewhite

book cover
I have had a life. I married twice, was in the room when two of my three entered the world. I helped them grow through infancy and childhood into beautiful, talented, bright and loving adults. I have lost both parents three sisters, and in-laws as well.

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who are older and those would like to be. Ashton Applewhite’s book, This Chair Rocks, shines a bright light on a labeling system that affects everyone on earth. Whether we are called addled, senior citizens, golden agers, coots, old farts, old fucks, old bitches or a host of other derogatories, we are separated from the rest of humanity when such labels are applied, separated from the presumed (younger) norm. We become outsiders. Just as black athlete is somehow a separate species, a woman president is presumed to be less capable, and an Islamic terrorist more unspeakable than a garden-variety terrorist, we can be cast into the soylent sphere by labels. And such casting harms not only those being tossed but those doing the tossing.

description
Ashton Applewhite – from Seniorplanet.org

I have had a life. I cheered for Mets and Jets since their birth, and wept more times than not. I played on championship teams in my youth and led youth teams as an adult to both glory and painful defeat. I have hit for the cycle and swung and missed.

Applewhite covers a wide array of subjects while considering things like how ageist attitudes legitimize maltreatment of olders, the impact of internalizing false notions of aging, and how the world pathologizes getting on in years. She looks at the language of ageism, the realities of aging and mental acuity (there are some surprises there), and how this impacts health care, physical and mental. She looks at the stigmatization of disability, at sexuality for olders, retirement and self-esteem.

I have had a life. In the 1950s, I watched a black and white from our living room floor, saw it change color, go big, go flat, go small, go cabled, go tubeless and go wireless. I listened to radio dramas on our kitchen radio, saw the arrival of transistors, and now hear bedtime podcasts on a charging iPad. I saw phones go from rotary to digital and watched them cede their wires to the past, and even go all Dick Tracy. I saw as much 50s sci-fi as I could, saw 2001 when it was new, and still in the future, and Star Wars and Star Trek from the Start.

Applewhite goes into considerable detail in showing how the bias towards older people (she uses the term olders, so I am going with that here) that pervades this and many other societies, is based largely on falsehoods, and causes real harm,

Condescension actually shortens lives. What professionals call “elderspeak”—the belittling “sweeties” and “dearies” that people use to address older people—does more than rankle. It reinforces stereotypes of incapacity and incompetence, which leads to poorer health, including shorter lifespans. People with positive perceptions of aging actually live longer–a whopping 7.5 years longer on average—in large part because they’re motivated to take better care of themselves.

She includes several sections titled PUSH BACK, in which she offers suggestions for actions we can take to resist ageism when we encounter it, and things we can do to keep ourselves healthy.

I have had a life. After my world was thrown into turmoil I was fortunate enough, to my great surprise, to find deep love to last the rest of my life.

Lengthening lifetimes is one of the ways we measure human progress, and by that measure, we have done quite nicely. We live ten years longer than our grandparents. In the USA, in the 20th century, life spans increased a jaw-dropping 30 years. But our culture has not yet caught up with the facts. There are many things in here that will surprise you. Applewhite has separated the bull from the…um…poo, and pointed out many of the inaccuracies in what passes for common wisdom.

We reinforce the association with constant nervous reference to forgetfulness and “senior moments.” I used to think those quips were self-deprecatingly cute, until it dawned on me that when I lost the car keys in high school, I didn’t call it a “junior moment.” Any prophecy about debility, whether or not it comes true, dampens our aspirations and damages our sense of self—especially when it comes to brain power. The damage is magnified by the glum and widespread assumption that, somewhere down the line, dementia is inevitable.

I have had a life, but sometimes it is difficult to remember all of it. Of course this is not because of my age, in particular. I began keeping a diary when I was 15 because I could not remember all the New Year’s Eves of my short existence. I recently mislaid my glasses, and was never able to find them. But then, when I was ten years old, I lost my treasured baseball glove. I never found that either. Some traits seem to follow us through the years, however many there may be.

Applewhite points out that there are plenty of ways for labeled groups to move forward together. Social Security is in no danger of going bankrupt or of devastating the nation’s economy. It can be sustained by marginally increasing the range of salary that is subject to Social Security tax. Medicare could fare a lot better if the rules that forbade it from exercising its market power were relaxed. Really, Medicare is not even allowed to try to get the best prices from drug manufacturers? Whose interests are served by that particular form of insanity?

I have had a life. I’ve been Everly’d, Diddly’d, and Valens’d, and Darin’d. Been Elvis’d and Berry’d, and Buddy’d, and Ray’d. I sat in the mud with the hundreds of thousands, alone in the mass as the heavenly played. Near the stage at the Bitter End for Ronstadt and others, and loudly at Max’s KC for the Dolls. There just was so much music, I caught a few notes, but wished there was some way to go hear it all. I’ve been 4-Seasoned, 4-Topped, Beach Boy’d, Supremed. Been ELP’d at Wembley, and at the Garden, I got Creamed. Saw Towshend at the Round House, stood for Tina at the beach. Saw Zeppelin rock in Flushing. And I wish that each and every band I’ve seen up close could keep on playing. Some are gone, but I’m just saying. I’ve been Peter, Paul and Mary’d. I’ve been Dylan’d and been Seeger’d, and seen a stage or two where all the players looked beleaguered. I’ve been Yessed, and been Pink Floyded. I been Bowied and been Banded. I’ve been Beatled, Stoned and Dave Clark Fived, and I’ve been hotly Canneded. I dared to breathe at the Filmore East when the ever Grateful Dead made it seem that life and youth were qualities that we would never shed. I’ve been Ike’d and I’ve been Nixoned, JFK’d and LBJ’d. I’ve been Reaganed, Bushed and Bushed again, and I’ve been MLK’d. I’ve been Cartered and been Clintoned, been Obama’d. Fate decreed that by the time you see this we will all be DJT’d.

Applewhite looks at many of the canards that prevail, like olders taking jobs from youngers, the old benefiting at the expense of the young, the relative flow of resources, the inevitability of cognitive decline. As for the senior boom, that we have so many more older people than we once did should be seen as a benefit not a problem. Older people have experience that can and should be employed to help solve old, new, and ongoing societal problems. Not all old people are wise, any more than all younger people are energetic, but we have a considerable base of been-there-done-that from which to draw. Enough of us have valuable and relevant experience and skills that could be put to good use.

Especially in the emotional realm, older brains are more resilient. As we turn eighty, brain imaging shows frontal lobe changes that improve our ability to deal with negative emotions like anger, envy, and fear. Olders experience less social anxiety, and fewer social phobias. Even as its discrete processing skills degrade, the normal aging brain enables greater emotional maturity, adaptability to change, and levels of well-being.

I have had a life. I’ve gone to college and grad school. I have studied abroad, and had a broad or two study me. (sorry). Been hired, laid off, fired, went back to school and started over, back at the bottom. Then was laid off again. I have toiled in several lines of work over the decades. Drove a cab, went postal, was a planner of health systems and a systems analyst for employers large and small, a guard and a dispatcher, and a few things beside. In 2001, I was laid off from my job as a systems analyst, after spending thirteen years at the firm, and over twenty in the field. I was not only never able to get another job in my chosen profession, I was never able to get an interview. It’s not like I was God’s gift to computer programming. But I was certainly competent enough to have been kept on by one of the largest financial institutions on the planet for over a decade. It’s not that I was priced out. I would have accepted pretty much anything. I was essentially kicked out of my field because of my age. AT 47!!!! All that experience not put to use by some business because they could not see past the age label. What a waste.

We all know, or should know, that Republicans are particularly gifted at the old game of divide and conquer. It worked great in the UK recently, when right wing-xenophobes persuaded working people, yet again, to vote against their own interests by stoking fear of the other. It has worked pretty well in the USA too. It is what’s the matter with Kansas, and has a long and shameful history here. Faced with electing people who would work to bolster union rights and voting for people who promise to keep those damned immigrants and minorities in their place, far too many working people seem more than ready to vote to enslave themselves further. We are as addicted to labels as the residents of a crack house are to their pipe. Fear-mongering is being used today for the same purpose it has always served, as a way to gain working and middle class support for policies that are anti labor, policies that pad the wallets of the already rich. Bush the junior tried his best to persuade the nation that privatizing Social Security would prevent the elderly from taking unfair advantage of the young. Labels are used as a way of manipulating people. They can do real damage, even if they sometimes fail to accomplish their mission.

I have had a life. I saw Rocky in the West End before it crossed the pond and Sweeney Todd and Lovett’s first repast. Sondheim’s a god. Saw Shakespeare in the park, Hair, and Oh, Calcutta, Cats, Les Miz, The Phantom, Cabaret, and more, but really that’s not nearly enough, off Broadway or on. Saw my kids in all their school shows, and survived some of my own.

Homo sap is a species that revels in labels. Us/them, Commie/Nazi, Winner/Loser, Black/White, the more dichotomous the better. And we seem to have more of the negative sort than the positive. Labeling offers shorthand, a macro reference, one word, maybe two, that allows us to redirect our brains away from the difficult and energy consuming task of considering and examining whole lives, freeing them up for the more satisfying activity of indulging our desires and impulses. How many are doomed to invisibility beneath labels? We are labeled because it makes things easier, and we are a species that values simplicity.

I have had a life. I walked London streets in almost Victorian twilight as the energy crisis dimmed English streetlamps. I hitchhiked in the USA, in Britain and the continent. Saw sunset from Ullapool, played guitar and sang in a club in Copenhagen, had the best breakfast of my life in Rotterdam, saw the most beautiful city ever, in Paris, twice. I lived a while in Saint John’s Wood. I have seen a fair portion of North America and visited a decent sample of Europe. I have taken photographs of an active volcano from a helicopter with no doors. I have seen some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth. I’ve been to Coney Island, Hershey Park, and Disney World and Land, and Freedomland, Six Flags and Universal, Palisades and Rye and a World’s Fair or two that raised my spirit high. Seen the sights that one can see in NY, Boston, and DC. There is so much history, in Philly, Baltimore and Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as much to learn as you could ever want.

There are many who, if they spotted me sitting or standing in a subway car, or walking down the street would see the color of my hair, note its retreat from my forehead, spot the lines that brace my eyes, and the forward tilt of my spine and see one thing only, age. All the rest would remain forever hidden beneath the large sticky-backed label that fits so nicely over another human being.

I have had a life. My hair has been military short and long enough for a real pony. I have smoked and toked, popped and snorted, but stopped before I self-aborted. I am tall, although not as tall as I once was. I am a little bit fat and my body has less speed and strength than it once possessed. Maybe the additional mass is because I am a storehouse of the history of my time, a sculptor of my experience into an image of my era. I have read thousands of books, tens of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and untold on-line articles. I have participated in a vast number of discussions, attended god-knows-how-many lectures, and watched a gazillion hours of documentary and news on TV. I know a thing or two.

I have had a life. I have been mugged, been in fistfights, and suffered a near catastrophic injury in an industrial accident. I have protested war and inhumanity and been struck with billy clubs for daring to speak. I have seen a thug slam a boy’s head into a brick wall.

There is a wealth of information in this relatively short volume. The chapters are divided up into many short sub-sections, so you can take it in a bit at a time if you like. I found some of the sections repetitive, and found one famous quote misattributed (it was from Anatole France, not Voltaire). There is a significant shortage of humor here, but, then, this is not a particularly funny subject. It is rich with surprising facts, which is one of its great strengths. For example, older people suffer from depression less than younger people.

I have had a life. I was chilled by Sputnik’s beep, and was warmed as I watched, along with all humanity, an ageless dream realized with a single step. I have seen my city burn, flood, and go dark. I stood in the wind-blown unspeakable snow when my city was ravaged, and saw a new tower sprout on the memory of the lost.

I have read quite a lot in my time, and it was inevitable that some of the material here would be old news, but I still found many new things to be learned in This Chair Rocks. I found, also, that Applewhite’s manifesto caused me to reconsider some attitudes and behaviors that I had thoughtlessly indulged. Consciousness raised. Check. It will make you more aware, too, of many things you had not noticed before. I cannot thank Ashton Applewhite enough for writing This Chair Rocks. It most certainly does.

I have had a life. It is diverse and rich with experience, memory, history and emotion. But listen up. I am STILL having a life and intend to for as long as I possibly can. Do not dismiss me because of my white hair. My white hair dazzles in bright light. Do not dismiss me because of my wrinkles. They are the evidence of a lifetime of laughter. Do not dismiss me because I am slightly bent. I can and will straighten up if I need to throw a punch or block a blow. I am a smarter person than I have ever been. I am a more knowledgeable person than I have ever been. I am probably a wiser person than I have ever been. I am a better writer, photographer, and I would say a better person than I have ever been. I have loved and I have hated, and wept until the tears abated. Jimi Hendrix said “I’ll die when it’s my time to die.” I will certainly do that. I may not be wealthy; I may not be important, I may not be particularly athletic; I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed; and I may not be beautiful. But I am somebody, and I have worth. I may be older but I will be here a while yet and I have plenty to offer, a lot left to experience, and a lot still to accomplish. I realize that I may not have had the best of all possible lives. There is much I have not done, much I have not seen, much I have not experienced. But I do not need an angel named Clarence to tell me that it’s been a wonderful life. I may or may not be having the time of my life, but I have definitely had a life of my times. Do not bury me under a label. Do not make me invisible behind a number. I’m still here, much more in store. I am older. Watch me SOAR!!!!

Now get the hell off my lawn, you goddam kids, before I call the cops.

Review First Posted – July 29, 2016

Published – May 23, 2016

Applewhite sent me the book in return for an honest review.

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Rather than add in a bunch of links here, I suggest you check out Ashton’s site. There are links aplenty there.

Applewhite got her start in an unusual way, writing joke books. Not just any joke books. She wrote Truly Tasteless Jokes One, as Blanche Knott (my kinda woman), had four of these things on the NY Times best seller list at once. But she began writing with a bit more seriousness. In 1997 her book Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well , landed her on Phyliss Schlafly’s shit list, a signal achievement for anyone with a brain and a heart. In October, 2016 she is delivering the keynote address at the UN for the 36th International Day of Older Persons. No joke.

Items of Interest from the author
—–9/3/16 – Applewhite has a strong piece in the NY Times, on age discrimination – You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

Items of Interest
—–NY Times – 7/12/2016 – A pretty interesting piece by Winnie Hu – Too Old for Sex? Not at This Nursing Home
—–NY Times – 9/29/2016 – Who’s Really Older, Trump or Clinton? by Gail Collins
—–NY Times Sunday Review – 4/7/2017 – To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old by Pagan Kenned
—–NY Times – 7/24/2017 – Another Possible Indignity of Age: Arrest by Paula Span
—–Scientific American – Why Does Time Fly as We Get Older? by Jordan Gaines Lewis
—–NY Times – 12/16/2017 – Are You Old? Infirm? Then Kindly Disappear by Frank Bruni – Definitely worth a look
—–NY Times – 12/21/2017 – Facebook Job Ads Raise Concerns About Age Discrimination – by Julis Angwin, Noam Scheiber and Ariana Tobindec
—–AARP Bulletin – December 2017 – Age Discrimination Goes Online – by Kenneth Terrell –

As more jobs are advertised and applied for online, evidence is mounting that it is easier to discriminate against older workers.

Definitely worth checking out.
—–NY Times – 6/22/2018 – NY Times – The Snake Oil of the Second-Act Industry – by Alissa Quart – on how unscrupulous private colleges are taking advantage of those looking to reboot their careers
—–NY Times – 3/11/2019 – The Fight to Be a Middle-Aged Female News Anchor – by Steve Cavendish
—–NY Times – 1/3/2020 –Older People Need Geriatricians. Where Will They Come From? by Paula Span
—–NY Times – 1/11/2020 – Everyone Knows Memory Fails as You Age. But Everyone Is Wrong. by Daniel J. Levitin (a neuroscientist)
—–NY Times – 2/12/2022 – Making ‘Dinobabies’ Extinct: IBM’s Push for a Younger Work Force by Noam Schreiber – IBM caught in their documents soylenting their seniors’ careers

Songs
—–I’m Still Here – Elaine Stritch from Sondheim’s Follies
—– When I was 17
—– Running on Empty
—– When I’m 64 – (a cover)
—–We Didn’t Start the Fire
—–Everything old is new again – from All That Jazz

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Filed under Activism, Non-fiction, Psychology and the Brain, Public Health, Public policy, Reviews

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