My poor kids. My son Murphy, a computer scientist, was talking last week about a system for archiving mathematics research on the web. “The problem is that a lot of the important papers are by people who are really old now,” he said. Uh oh. The problem, I promptly pointed out, isn’t age but technological illiteracy. While older scientists were indeed less likely to race to post their work online, it was wrong to assume so on the basis of age alone. He got it, with his characteristic sweet smile, though he probably felt more like kicking me.
Yesterday I got this wonderful note from my daughter’s girlfriend Emily, a musician and yoga teacher:
“Wednesday night my band had a gig and I got home super late. The next morning I had to teach an early yoga class. Operating on about 3 hrs of sleep, I showed up at class shockingly prompt, all things considered, but feeling like I had about 30% of my brain capacity. Before going in the room I had to give myself a major pep talk, like “OK! you can do this: just phone it in, it’s only a one-hour class, you can sleep when you’re dead” etc.
When I walked in the room, I noticed there was an older man in the class, and I instantly thought to myself “Oh GREAT. literally this is all I need: an old guy in class who can’t bend over, and whom I have to worry about busting a knee-cap or breaking a hip – ugh, FML” (etc). He was probably in his mid-to-late seventies; definitely the oldest person I’ve ever taught.
As soon as we started the opening sun salutations, I felt so ashamed and realized what an ageist idiot I had been for having those thoughts. Dude had seriously the most beautiful practice of anyone in the room, and was arguably one of the best students I’ve ever taught, not only for his strength, flexibility, timing, and beautiful breathing, but for his courage. When I tried to teach forearm stand (an inverted balance posture where you’re just on your forearms) he was the ONLY one in the class who attempted it. He didn’t make it all the way up, but he at least TRIED, which is more than I can say for the other five students in the class who just rested in child’s pose after my demo, each whom were a good forty years his junior. i just thought i’d share that with you because i felt like ‘A-HA! i just proved ashton’s whole point.'”
And I came home last night to these questions from my other son’s girlfriend, Agnieszka, a teacher and artist: “Does ageism exist in art? What would happen if we went to all those nursing homes with pens, paints, blank notebooks, tape recorders, film crews? … I feel like we often think that olders have done all their growth and are now just undergoing a steady decline. But aging could be seen as a necessary journey that leads to new experiences and develops our minds in novel ways. When I write this I keep thinking about artists who are olders: example Georgia O’Keefe, Yayoi Kusama.” she signed it (my favorite part) “your fellow older in training.”
I am ridiculously lucky.