“90-somethings” – did you hear it here first?

I first encountered the term in Intelligent Life, a teeth-grindingly upscale magazine published by the Economist, with must-have advice on topics like how to brake a Ferrari or rent a lighthouse. But the writing is sharp and the profiles in their Summer 2008 story about “90-Somethings: the New Face of Old Age” make excellent reading. 

Aging took barrister Brian Power by surprise. “I’ve always believed in relativity: you can feel incredibly old one moment, middle-aged in the afternoon, young again at tea-time to the point of being skittish, and then very old by 11,” he says. According to MP and writer Leo Abse, the trick to staying alive lies in never repeating yourself. “And you can continue living productively if you don’t live expectantly. Live for the day.” Diana Athill, writer and publisher, concurs. “It’s false cheerfulness to say things get better because most things get worse. But occasionally things that are rarer in one’s life can be more delicious . . . Anything absorbing makes you become not ‘I’ but ‘eye’ — you escape the ego.” She reasons that “the actual business of dying is pure luck,” takes comfort in the increasing likelihood of her heart just stopping, and believe that until then, the secret is to keep working. Don’t miss her portrait

Interviewer Maureen Cleave commented that “they all agreed that the worst time of day was when you first wake up in the morning, their advice being to get going immediately. Three of them were writing books, one was still driving a car, only one believed in God . . . . Most surprising was that none of them complained, none feared for the future.” Of course these are stoic Brits, and perhaps that famed stiff upper lip does keep them up and at it longer — especially in recent years. The number of UK citizens over 80 who are still economically active has jumped 40% since 1999, to 21,000. That statistic comes from a BBC News article, “Still working at 90”, that I found when googling “90-something” to find out just how late out the linguistic gate I was. Not that late, not that late . . .

2 thoughts on ““90-somethings” – did you hear it here first?

  1. i’m 62 so twenty years ago when people started talking about twenty- or thirty-somethings i was sufficiently older as to feel a twinge of longing for past youth. and now we’ve got ninety-somethings on the other side, leading what seems like impossibly active lives which generates anxiety of a different type — will i be up to it when i get there (if i get there)?

    what i’m realizing is that while your stories hold out the hope of thirty or more years of creative rewarding work — and i love my work so that really would be a fantastic outcome — i’m nervous as hell about whether my mind and body will be up to the task.

  2. Alan Brandt used to grumble that the only people who spoke of the “consolations” that came with old age had never yet themselves been old – because, in his opinion, there were none. Alan was the only person I ever knew who was old and actually spoke candidly – if somewhat negatively – about it (because god forbid, my family members – now dead – never did). So I love reading this stuff, even if, as Bob says, it kind of ups the ante in the competition department. But it does seem better to compete until you die than to toddle passively off into the great beyond!

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