Aging in America is a Sh*t Show
If I’m honest, Desiree Rumbaugh and I probably should not have named our recent book, “Fearless After Fifty.”
Everyone told us so. Not one person said, “By all means celebrate aging in America.” Not one person said, “Celebrate maturity in a way that makes it sound like an adventure worth taking, with romance, love, spirit, courage, wisdom, strength and resilience.”
Not. One. Person. Not our agent. Not the publishers. Not my book editor. Not our friends. Even my dog was against this idea. Listening, however, has never been my strength. I’m a born talker!
Additionally, Desiree had been teaching the Wisdom Warriors to packed rooms so it gave us the courage to do this. In fact, it was our act of civil disobedience to say, "there is something great about growing older and taking life by the reins." In truth though, it was unwise.
Aging in America is a shit show.
One book from two insignificant women (face it, neither of us is Jane Fonda or Angelina Jolie), will not change that.
Publishers like what sells, and what sells is youth. For example, the current books on aging are written by young people. Cameron Diaz (at 39) wrote (or sort-of wrote) Longevity. Klhoe Kardashian, not yet 30, has signed for a book tentatively titled, Aging Gracefully. But a true story from two real people in midlife is not seen as commercially viable.
As Joan Rivers said, “I hate old people.” And so, it seems does everyone else.
Is This Our Waterloo?
How did growing older with grace and courage and lots of fight left in the dog get to be so ugly? Frankly, I think it’s because younger people do not want to see themselves as getting older, and older people want to see themselves as young. We have created a culture in America that does not value this stage of life. In fact, we shun it.
I have seen or heard all of the following in just a few weeks:
A studio manager posted that he does not pay salaries according to experience or years of training, rather he pays based on “connection.” Under this formula, Richard Freeman couldn’t get a job today. This is not new. It is only interesting that this is the studio's public policy. Many companies have forced retirement at 65, so honestly, the fact that yoga studios do not value age, experience, years of study and dedication is to be expected. I do not know a single yoga teacher in midlife who has not been asked to reduce her schedule or otherwise disappear to make way for younger talent. Not. One.
In a social media post on creating a class specifically for older students, many said this was “insulting and degrading.” Why? If older students want to be with older people, perhaps for community and connection, I think that’s okay. It shouldn’t be considered grounds for WWIII. After all, there’s yoga for men, and yoga for moms with babies, and yoga with goats. If we can have goat yoga, why not old goat yoga?
A well-known teacher recently told me she mentioned something about how the body changes when it ages, and a student said, “That is so offensive.” Really? What if we lived in a society that valued its elders? What if being older was seen as, amazing? Would it still be offensive?
Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga is about being alive with the challenges that come at any age. Why we named it what we did, was because we live in a society that devalues the aging experience. We hoped to change that. We can't help it; we're dreamers.
For Desiree and myself, these are in some ways, our best years. We are really much better at many things. We are happier, with the mellowness of having survived some stuff. We know how to stay healthy-ish. But most of all, we no longer live in fear. We have learned to love, and love strong.
Writing about how it is to grow older in a society that “hates old people” was perhaps one of the bravest things we've done. We believe in loving the all of it. We wanted to shine a light on the invisible midlife person. We wanted to show up, strong and resilient, so younger people can be inspired and have what we’re having.
We thought we’d show the world there is a lot to look forward to in midlife. It may be our Waterloo, but we’re not going down without a fight.
Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning writer and the co-author with Desiree Rumbaugh of Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga. You can find her writing on Yoga International, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine, and Sports Illustrated. Find her at www.YogiMuse.com