This Chair Rocks

People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. The vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. The older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. Aging is a natural, lifelong, powerful process. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead? That the 20th century’s astonishing leap in life expectancy is a disaster-in-the making? Underlying all the hand-wringing is ageism: discrimination that sidelines and silences older people. So I’ve written a book. I blog about it. I have a Q & A blog called Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I’ve written a consciousness-raising booklet. And I speak widely. All tools to help catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind.

About the Book

Buy it here.

From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing, and old people useless. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite believed them too—until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. The book explains the roots of ageism—in history and in our own age denial—and how it divides and debases, examines how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of olders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. Whether you’re older or hoping to get there, this book will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!

Wow. This book totally rocks. It arrived on a day when I was in deep confusion and sadness about my age—62. Everything about it, from my invisibility to my neck. Within four or five wise, passionate pages, I had found insight, illumination and inspiration. I never use the word empower, but this book has empowered me.

ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author

Along comes Ashton Applewhite with a book we have been waiting for. Anti-ageism now boasts a popular champion, activist, and epigrammatist in the lineage of Martial and Dorothy Parker. Until This Chair Rocks we haven’t had a single compact book that blows up myths seven to a page like fireworks.

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

Vibrant, energetic, fact-filled and funny, This Chair Rocks is a call to arms not just for older people but for our whole society.

KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist

Sometimes a writer does us all a great favor and switches on a light. Snap! The darkness vanishes and, in its place we find an electric vision of new ways of living. I want to live in a world where ageism is just a memory, and This Chair Rocks illuminates the path.

DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging

This Chair Rocks is radical, exuberant, and full of all sorts of facts that erase many of the myths and beliefs about late life. As Applewhite defines and describes ageism, new ways of seeing and being in the world emerge, empowering everyone to see things as they really are.

LAURIE ANDERSON, artist

A knowledgeable, straight-talking, and witty book that briskly explains to anyone how-wrong-we-are-about-aging. There’s radical news here to enlighten the most “done” starlet, and
tart turns of phrase to captivate the most expert age critic: ‘All aging is “successful”—not just the sporty version—otherwise you’re dead.’ This pithy primer ought ideally to be given to every American adolescent—to inoculate them against the lies and stereotypes that can spoil the long life course they will all want.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Aged by Culture and the prize-winning Agewise and Declining to Decline

Ashton Applewhite is a visionary whose time has come, tackling one of the most persistent biases of our day with originality, verve, and humor. Her magic formula of naming and shaming may just shake all of us out of complacency and it into action. Whether you relate through being older now or recognize that aging is in your future, this is one of the most important books you’ll ever read.

Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Life Stage Before Midlife

A smart and stirring call to add ageism to the list of ‘isms’ that divide us, and to mobilize against it. Applewhite shows how ageism distorts our view of old age, and urges us to challenge age- based prejudices in ourselves and in society. An important wake-up call for any baby boomer who’s apprehensive about growing old.

Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington and AARP’s Official Love & Relationship Ambassador

This Chair Rocks is a
2016 Foreword INDIES Winner
in Adult Nonfiction!

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.

AARP

Finally, a take-down of the last acceptable prejudice. Applewhite eloquently and expertly exposes the structural discrimination that makes growing older so much harder than it should be—not just for the white, affluent, healthy, and able-bodied, but for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and poor people. Full of treasures, This Chair Rocks should be required reading for everyone in aging services, to help us confront ageism in our personal and professional lives and join forces against it. As Applewhite writes, ‘It’s time for Age Pride.’ 

Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging

An eloquent and well-researched exposé of the prejudice that feeds age bias, and a passionate argument to mobilize against it. This must-read book is also a fun-read for every age.

Stephanie Coontz, author, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

To live agefully – what a wonderful word! With warmth, wit and clarity, Ashton Applewhite explains what it means, while never falling into age-denial or age-shame. This is a book packed with provocative and liberating ideas, to make you leap into the air with pleasure – even if your knees, like mine, are a little dodgy.

Anne Karpf, author of How to Age


Blog

Not “old enough to die,” old enough to choose wisely

Note: if you’re new to my work, do check out the links, which explain or expand upon some key ideas.

Author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich has long been one of my heroes, and I imagine an affinity in our fondness for myth-busting. In her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, she describes herself as an “amateur sociologist,” and I thought, “Aha, me too!” But although I was a staff writer for a science museum for twenty years, Ehrenreich’s Ph.D. in cellular immunology leaves me in the dust. She brings deep medical expertise to her latest subject: the American delusion that we can evade aging, even death itself, via right doctoring, right acting, and right thinking. (Her previous book, Bright-Sided, skewered Americans' outsized faith in positive thinking; here’s my take on it.)

I couldn’t agree more with the book’s exposition of the damage done by our reluctance to acknowledge aging and mortality. Age denial is where ageism takes root, and it’s fed at every turn by a culture that frames aging as failure and natural transitions as disease. Shame and fear create markets, capitalism always needs new markets, and healthcare is big business. Age denial not only fosters ageism, it makes a good death less likely. Pretending we’re not getting older, not to mention mortal, makes it harder to embark on the necessary conversations about what we think we’ll want when the time comes. It also leads us to squander resources on costly but ineffective tests and treatments, especially towards the end. Most of Natural Causes is a detailed takedown of those tests and treatments, from mammograms to mindfulness: “preventive medicine” that Ehrenreich the biologist exposes as medically useless and ethically problematic. Fitness nuts live no longer than the rest of us. Placebos work, even when people know they’re being given a placebo. There’s no evidence that meditation is more effective than an hour spent doing anything calming. Most medical screenings—for breast, colon, and prostate cancer, for example, along with annual physicals—also fail the evidence-based test.

At 76, Ehrenreich is calling it quits on all that. She declines longevity for its own sake, and demands that we forsake the illusion that we’re in charge of our biological destinies.  “If anything, I hope this book will encourage you to rethink the project of personal control over your body and mind. We would all like to live longer and healthier lives; the question is how much of our lives should be devoted to this project, when we all, or at least most of us, have other, often more consequential things to do,” she writes.  One of the reasons Ehrenreich can afford this argument is that she’s a longtime gym rat, and I’d argue that staying reasonably fit is consequential. We know physical activity forestalls both physical and cognitive decline, improving quality of life. But the way we grow old is governed by a whole range of variables—including environment, personality, and genes, compounded by class, gender, race, luck, and the churnings of the global economy—over which we have varying degrees of control. Available only to the well-off, the illusion of control dumps all responsibility onto the individual, conflates luck with virtue, demands optimism without end, and shames when we inevitably fall short.

I do, however, take serious issue with the ageist way in which Ehrenreich frames her central argument. Rather than falling into the anti-aging or “successful aging “ camps, she explains, “I had a different reaction to aging: I gradually came to realize that I was old enough to die [emphasis hers].” Ehrenreich isn’t saying that humans come with an expiration date, pointing out mordantly that the military judges people to be old enough to face mortal danger at age eighteen. The title of her book comes from a phrase used in obituaries when the deceased is over 70: a death from “natural causes.” This raises no eyebrows, as she points out, and it shouldn’t. The death of a young person is indeed harder to bear than that of an octogenarian, because youngers have experienced less of what life has to offer and because the rest of us are robbed of the chance to witness and share those experiences.

That doesn’t make it OK to reduce aging to illness. “Even the most ebullient of the elderly eventually comes to realize aging is above all an accumulation of disabilities,” writes Ehrenreich. Above all?  Hardly! Growing old also brings self-knowledge, better mental health, even liberation, and is a period of ongoing growth and development, especially for those with meaningful roles and social supports. Even the most frightened and unenlightened know that despite the loss of cartilage and comrades, aging is different—and way better—than the way it’s portrayed in the culture.

Nor is it acceptable to suggest that olders are useless and disposable. Noting that the hallmark diseases of aging (atherosclerosis, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis) are all autoimmune disorders, Ehrenreich proposes that instead of asking why the body attacks itself, a better question might be:

“Why shouldn’t it happen? The survival of an older person is of no evolutionary consequence, since that person can no longer reproduce, unless one wants to argue for the role of grandparents in prolonging the lives of their descendants. It might even, in a Darwinian sense, be better to remove the elderly before they can use up any more resources that might otherwise go to the young. . . . And this perspective may be particularly attractive at a time, like now, when the dominant discourse on aging focuses on the deleterious economic effects of largely aging populations. If we didn’t have inflammatory diseases to get the job done, we might have to turn to euthanasia.” 

Yikes! The premise that population aging will bankrupt society is economically and ethically flawed. Ehrenreich has been a lifelong activist on behalf of the less visible and privileged, yet here she buttresses ageism’s ugliest premise: as people move through life, they lose value as human beings.

The fact that the “dominant discourse” on aging is so negative and one-sided—so ageist, in other words—is what makes it so urgent and important to challenge age bias. The conversation is anything but neutral, especially around “living too long.” An ageist culture casts the “end of life problem” in terms of increasing numbers of old people who inconveniently refuse to die, when the underlying issue is the changing nature of healthcare: the plethora of profitable, often legally mandated, high-tech medical interventions the book decries. Whose interests are in play besides those of the patient, and who is her advocate if she needs one? It’s not a particularly radical leap to conceive of assisted suicide and euthanasia as a form of discrimination against the old, the ill, the disabled, and those who are no longer economically productive, cloaked in the rhetoric of compassion. In an ageist and capitalist society, the line between “right to die” and “duty to die” can get blurry alarmingly fast.

“Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and—just as important at a certain age—how we choose to spend the time that remains to us,” writes Ehrenreich. But the right to self-determination is important at any age. It’s ageism and ableism that make the old and ill seem less entitled to it, and cutthroat capitalism that sanctions their abandonment. Small wonder that it’s become commonplace to hear even healthy, middle-aged people wondering whether the ethical alternative to “living too long” will be to commit suicide—not because they’re sick, or broke, or have no one to take care of them, but simply because they’ve grown old. That is internalized ageism of the deadliest sort. At any age and in any condition, a person has the right to want to stay alive.

“Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life,” writes Ehrenreich. I’d tweak her credo:  replace “old enough to die” with “old enough to know better” or "old enough to choose wisely." It's not that she’s eager to call it quits, which very few of us do, but that she’s wise enough to spend her days doing what she likes. “As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.” Liberation from the specter of a long, costly, agonizing exit hooked up to machines is real, and this book liberates.

Ehrenreich is consciously opting for quality of life, which for her means a life as free of doctors and hospitals as possible. For the record, an ageist society grossly underestimates the quality of life of the very old. The bull looks different. Also for the record, much of the care doctors offer patients with terminal conditions is futile, and most doctors would themselves decline it. The medicalization of aging does make what Ehrenreich calls “the truly sinister possibility” more likely:  “for many of us, all the little measures we take to remain fit—all the deprivations and exertions—will only lead to a longer chance to live with crippling and humiliating disabilities.” But it’s stigma—ageism and ableism again—that make disability humiliating. And there’s a big difference between taking reasonably good care of yourself and giving yourself over to a life defined by doctoring.

Each of us will have to decide when to abstain or indulge, whether to be scanned or scoped, and how to cope with the consequences. I had every inch of me examined last summer, when I turned 65 and went on Medicare. That was before I’d read Natural Causes. When the next decision point arises, will I have the courage and clarity to forego tests or treatment? Will I break with my privileged demographic, buck my doctor’s advice, brave my family’s disapproval? Will I be not “old enough” but wise enough? I don’t know yet.

Not all of us will make the same choices, and none of us know what we will want at the end. But postponing those reckonings—not dealing with aging and its inevitable end—robs us of calm and content all the way along. I’m glad that growing hospice and palliative care movements are making it easier for more of us to forsake the futile pursuit of immortality, and hope the trend signals a growing cultural willingness to come to terms with the transitions ahead. What better way to maintain the upward trajectory of the U-curve of happiness—along with progress towards a world where ageism is as unacceptable as every other form of prejudice.

 

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

November 2, 2017

Link here.

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

October 12, 2017

Article in the New York Times

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

July 13, 2017

Article in Neo.life

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

June 15, 2017

Book published by HarperCollins, 1997. Reissued in 2017 with new preface by the author.

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

September 3, 2016

Article in the New York Times

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more

Appearances

My We Are All Aging talk explains the roots of ageism – in society and in our own age denial – how it divides and diminishes us, and ends with a rousing call to mobilize against it. This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life charts my journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical and proposes an alternative to all the hand-wringing: wake up, cheer up, and push back. Aging While Female, Reimagined describes how the double whammy of ageism and sexism makes aging different for women, and what we can do about it. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and how to reframe the new longevity in order to make the most of longer lives. To book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.

What People Are Saying:

I was encouraged by the statistics you quoted, forced to acknowledge my own ageist thoughts, and ultimately fired up to fight them in myself and others. You are on to something big!

Sarah Meredith, painter

Why can’t we stop ageism? Good question. For some answers, start looking in the mirror and look around you. For a good dialogue on the subject, visit Ashton Applewhite’s website, This Chair Rocks.

Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP

Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.

David Watts Barton, journalist and playwright

This Chair Rocks confirms our knowledge that emotional well being is abundant in later life, challenges us to face our own internalized ageism, and inspires us to envision a future in which our society is released from age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!

Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York

Holistic, deep, urgent, and also fun.

Lenelle Moise, playwright and performer

All practitioners working with older adults need to be informed about the pernicious influences of ageism. Nobody does this better than Ashton Applewhite. Her thinking is deep, her passion infectious, and her cogent message is spot on: we urgently need to have a national conversation about ageism to raise awareness about it and to stop it.

Risa Breckman, LCSW, Executive Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center

You have found a fantastic mission: raising consciousness that older is far better than the stereotype that enslaves us all.

Jennifer Siebens, producer, CBS News

Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at the 2013 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute was compelling and original, and really resonated with our 400 participants. She is an articulate and committed voice for an important cause: challenging the demoralizing shadow that ageism casts across society.

Jean Callahan, Director, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging

Octogenarians are the fastest-growing segment of our population, yet most Americans are scared stiff at the prospect of growing old. [Applewhite’s work] is a welcome and important tonic.

Dr. Robert Butler, founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coiner of the term “ageism”

We need an anti-ageist movement, for sure. Ashton is already in it.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Agewise and Aged by Culture

A beautifully delivered, provocative description of how ageism clouds our vision of what life holds in store.

Sabrina Hamilton, director, Ko Festival for the Arts

Ashton Applewhite is on a crusade. A journalist and author, her mission is to raise awareness of ageism in America and get people young and old to join her in speaking out against it.

Senior Planet

Thank you again for your terrific keynote yesterday. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!

Teresa Bonner, Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies

Upcoming Appearances

This Chair Rocks Book Talk and Q&A, SAGE Center

Where: Edie Windsor SAGE Center, 307 Seventh Ave. 15th fl, NYC

When: July 25, 2018 06:45 pm

More info: Free and open to the public link here  

keynote, Mid-America Institute on Aging and Wellness Conference

Where: University of Southern Indiana, Evansville IN,

When: August 9, 2018 03:00 pm

More info: A two-day inter-professional gerontology conference for nurses, social workers, older adults, professionals working in the field of gerontology, and the community. Register here.

Let's Talk About Ageism: A Morning with Anti-Ageism Activist Ashton Applewhite

Where: Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 North Nevada Ave, Chapman Foundations Recital Hall, Colorado Springs, CO

When: August 14, 2018 10:00 am

More info: A "five-year celebration event on social inclusion and ageism." Free and open to the public; register here.

keynote, Pioneer Network annual conference

Where: Denver, CO

When: August 15, 2018 09:00 am

More info: Talk + all-day anti-ageism workshop. Register here.

Himan Brown Lecture at the New Jewish Home

Where: Florence Gould Hall Theatre at Alliance Francaise NYC

When: October 10, 2018 06:00 pm

More info:

Florence Gould Hall Theater at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise, 55 E59th St NYC

talk, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Fresno State

Where: Fresno State University

When: October 19, 2018 12:00 pm

More info:

keynote, Bioneers Conference

Where: Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium stage, Marin Center, San Rafael, California

When: October 21, 2018 09:00 am

More info: Register here.

Boomer and Senior Roundtable series with State Senator Liz Krueger

Where: Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, 331 E70th NYC

When: November 13, 2018 08:30 am

More info: Free and open to the public

talk, Empowering Ethical Elders program

Where: Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St. 5th Fl. Elliott Library, NYC

When: December 20, 2018 06:00 pm

More info: Free and open to the public, drinks and snacks provided.

lecture at i3

Where: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

When: January 7, 2019 12:00 am

More info: "Ideas that inform and inspire"

 

Past Appearances

 

Media

NPR’s Where We Live interview “Is Your Midlife Crisis Really a Crisis?”

NPR’s Where We Live interview “Is Your Midlife Crisis Really a Crisis?”

June 7, 2018

Link here. Cue at 19:00

NPR’s All Things Considered interview “Are You Ageist? Probably.”

NPR’s All Things Considered interview “Are You Ageist? Probably.”

May 18, 2018

Link here.

“Activist Ashton Applewhite Crushes 10 Myths About Aging” article in YouAreUNLTD

“Activist Ashton Applewhite Crushes 10 Myths About Aging” article in YouAreUNLTD

May 14, 2018

Link here.

Bridge the Gap Podcast

Bridge the Gap Podcast

April 30, 2018

Listen here.

Death by Design Podcast

Death by Design Podcast

April 26, 2018

Listen here.

There’s more

Resources

Tools

 

HelpAge makes two worksheets available:

 

LeadingAge offers a guide to starting a community dialogue about ageism and a short slideshow to raise awareness:

 

I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, The Old, and What We Can Achieve Together: a guide to reuniting the generations, with examples of intergenerational programs and initiatives, from Generations United and the Eisner Foundation.

 

Books

  • Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons by Todd D. Nelson (Boston: MIT Press, 2002)
  • Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
  • Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond by Meika Loe. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • The Denial of Aging: Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life, and Other Dangerous Fantasies by Muriel R. Gillick (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)
  • The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993)
  • How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old by Marc E. Agronin (New York: Da Capo Press, 2011)
  • How to Age by Anne Karpf (Macmillan, 2014)
  • A Long Bright Future by Laura Carstensen (New York: Broadway Books, 2009)
  • Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging by Margaret Cruikshank (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009)
  • Look Me In the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism by Barbara Macdonald with Cynthia Rich (San Francisco: Spinsters Book Company, 1991)
  • Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older by Wendy Lustbader (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011)
  • The Longevity Revolution by Robert N. Butler (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008)
  • Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price (Berkeley: Seal Press, 2011)
  • Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment by Patricia Barnes (2016)
  • Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life by Bill Thomas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014)
  • Treat Me, Not My Age: A Doctor’s Guide to Getting the Best Care as You or a Loved One Gets Older by Mark Lachs (New York: Penguin Books, 2011)
  • Women in Late Life: Critical Perspectives on Gender and Age by Martha Holstein (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)

These books helped me understand ageism. You can find a list of the best books on aging compiled by Changing Aging here and another good list compiled by Ronnie Bennett here.

Reports

Links

 

 

 

Video

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016

Talk at Future Trends Forum in Madrid
1 December 2017

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016

On Vimeo

What Is Ageism?

Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of. Or “too young;” ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.

Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.

Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the same—underlies ageism (as it does all “isms”). Stereotyping is always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because the older we get, the more different from one another we become.

Attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood. Over a lifetime they harden into a set of truths: “just the way it is.” Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old—we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.

By blinding us to the benefits of aging and heightening our fears, ageism makes growing older far harder than it has to be. It damages our sense of self, segregates us, diminishes our prospects, and actually shortens lives.

What are the antidotes?

  •    Awareness: the critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. (Download a copy of Who me, Ageist? How to Start a Consciousness Raising Group.) Then we can start to see that “personal problems”—such as not being able to get a job or being belittled or feeling patronized—are actually widely shared social problems that require collective action.
  •    Integration: connect with people of all ages. An equitable society for all ages requires intergenerational collaboration.
  •    Activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, challenge them, and create language and models that support every stage of life.

Bio

I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on “Jeopardy” (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?” Answer: “Blanche Knott.”), and as Blanche made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list.

My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, Playboy, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver.

My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was self-published in March, 2016 and will be published on the inaugural list of Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc. in March, 2019.

 

HONORS & RECOGNITION

  • Member of the 2018 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100
  • 2018 Game Changer Award, Lifetime Arts
  • Fifth Annual Forbes list of Forty Women to Watch over 40 (2017)
  • PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging — Influencer of the Year (2016)
  • Salt magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Inspiring Women (2015)
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