“the last boomer game”

Coincidence, I swear: I arrived last night at the University of Maryland to attend a Knight Foundation seminar titled “Longevity: America Ages.” And as I settled into my colossal bed at the Marriott, my New Yorker magazine opened to an article about “the coming boomer longevity competition.” It’s by Michael Kinsley, it’s called “Mine is Longer Than Yours” (as in “My Life”), and the opening is hilarious. The bumper sticker shouldn’t be “He Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins,” Kinsley declares, but “He Who Dies Last Wins,” because that’s what really matters now. I’ll be curious to see how the seminar addresses that ferocious pursuit:


The New Yorker was prescient last week too, with Eric Alterman’s article
on “the life and death of the American newspaper” in the face of the blogosphere. I’m one of 25 journalists attending the seminar, most of whom work for print newspapers across the country like the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Cape Cod Times, and there’s a pervasive anxiety about layoffs and changing times. My nametag says “Freelance Journalist,” which seems to inspire a little envy, and indeed I can’t get fired. Then again, my fellow Knight Fellows are pulling down a paycheck this week.


The first session consisted of demographer William Frey going through the findings of a 2007 Brookings Institute report called The New Geography of Boomer and Senior Demographic Shifts. This involved a great many PowerPoint charts and graphs, which would have been more compelling if they hadn’t already been made available as handouts. But the questions were sharp and it was an excellent counterpoint to last night’s speaker: journalist and author Dudley Clendinen, reading from his soon-to-be-published A Place Called Canterbury: Tales of the New Old Age in America. An account of time spent in his mother’s high-rise retirement home in Tampa, Florida, it’s a quirky, moving, deeply personal look at the human side of aging. You can get a taste of it here.

3 thoughts on ““the last boomer game”

  1. Clendenin’s article reminds me of Tim Sandlin’s hilarious novel Jimi Hendrix Turns 80 set in a northern california “assisted living” facility in which “the residents take control of the facility to protest the lack of respect they receive from their families, doctors and the home’s administrators.”

  2. Here’s a link to an interesting, related work theme of “happiness” in aging individuals, with references to the research studies.

    I know I’ve read articles from abroad that say that Americans are especially concerned with “happiness” (and that surveys show we aren’t the happiest of populations compared with other countries). But this issue aside, these researchers document some interesting, positive aspects of getting older that go against the grain. You may want to write about the “happiness” issue and its relationship to work.

    Working in older years, IF feasible, is important – for income for some, for social connectedness, for creativity, etc. And it keeps the brain active. (PBS had a great program recently on Brain Fitness. One of researchers featured was Michael Merzenich, PhD, Professor Emeritus, UCSF.) Challenges however are probably finding the right fit of work to one’s abilities, desires and adequate health status (energy, cognitive abilities) to pursue some level of work.

    There are always the tremendous success stories we hear about, but perhaps in your work and in this book you can uncover some answers to these questions: Of older adults, how many would like to be working for money but can’t find the right niche? How many made their own work niche and get financial return? How many have accepted and found work 1) just to get out of the house, 2) just to have social contact, or 3) definitely for financial needs?

    The attached “happiness” article of course points out issues that are generational and may affect our (baby boomer) older years’ experience. (In relation to this, I’ve read an interesting book recently Generation Me by Jean M. Twenge, PhD Free Press, NY 2006 that reports on generational survey results, quite interesting.)

    The above questions betray my researcher/curious mind at work – always coming up with more questions (knowing answers may be out there but I don’t have the time to find them!)

    This project looks terrific. Can’t wait to read your book.

  3. Ashton, forgive me for taking this long to check out your blog. I’m kicking myself — it’s wonderful! I knew you were a sharp cookie when we met at the Knight Longevity Seminar, but now I’m even more impressed. I remember you made a comment about having “boomer fatigue” and I must admit to having a bit of it myself. Particularly since, in my opinion, that label “baby boomer” may not be as universally embraced as most of us tend to think. My parents, who are African Americans born in 1952 and 1954, know that they’re counted among the boomers — but it’s not how they think of themselves. In fact, until I was a grown woman I had never actually heard the term in our house. My father was the one who pointed it out. We were talking about the seminar, and my new beat as “aging reporter” at The Sun, and he said, “When they say baby boomers, they mean white people. They don’t mean us, honey.” I said, “Well Daddy, technically they do,” but I didn’t argue much more, because I knew what he meant. I think a part of the reason is that at the time that boomers were painting the world — civil rights, the Vietnam War, burning your bra — the world looked a lot different to my parents. (Especially the civil rights part.) As a teenager, my mother was bused to an all-white school in Lexington, Massachusetts, and she was busy proving that black students could do as well or better than white students. When she met my father at Tufts University in Boston, he was involved in their campus (informal) version of the Black Panthers. There was no Woodstock for them. I bet if you talked to enough black people, you might find that although they may know their age makes them baby boomers, they don’t feel culturally at the heart of that group.

    Anyway, who knows? Maybe I’ll want to distance myself too when they start talking about the Gen Xers or Gen Yers all getting old at the same time. 🙂

    Hope to talk to you soon! And keep up the great –and important — work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *