Stereotypes are Alive and Well – No Matter the Generation

Now that I’m officially a senior, I find it interesting to see the stereotypes attributed to me, old and youngthings I also once attributed to “old folks” without knowing a darn thing about the individuals. Some of them I can laugh at; some annoy me.

I remember, back in my dancing days when I was young and svelte, seeing an overweight person ordering dessert and making some stupid comment about why they couldn’t just control their sweet tooth. And then I retired from dancing, stopped smoking, put on close to 50 pounds and discovered I couldn’t turn down doughnuts and pastries and cookies and pie and cake … you get it. Karma’s a bitch but the lessons are invaluable. Just sometimes wish I could learn them sooner.

I also remember friends snickering at old men with socks and sandals or old women with ugly varicose veins and the audacity to go out in public in shorts! Did they look in the mirror and think this look was attractive?

Here’s what I think now: I think we dress for others when we’re younger. A job can depend on that first impression. A first date can depend on that first impression. Your place in the pecking order can depend on that first impression. But when you reach my age and you realize that (a) you’re not likely to be dressing for a job or a mate ever again and (b) you’ve learned that you don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about the way you look, it makes it really easy to live in sweats, sneakers and ratty T-shirts. My success no longer depends on someone else’s opinion.

Each generation likes to think it’s raised the next one to be more tolerant, more forgiving, more discerning. Not so. Stereotypes exist, no matter the generation or the upbringing. The “young’uns” as my southern, small town generation would call them,  have just as many preconceived ideas about the older generation as we do about them. Case in point: I have sat in Starbucks and listened to kids in their teens, twenties, thirties and even forties opine all the old people who drive too slow, all the rich kids who are snobs, the immigrants who won’t learn English, the homeless who beg for money and spend it all on cigarettes or booze, the rocker who must be high on drugs, etc. I could give even more egregious examples but these will do.

Here’s the thing: somehow the young’uns don’t seem to see that they’re doing exactly the same thing they accuse us oldies of doing. This came to my attention when I was trying to explain to a computer repairman, who had helpfully suggested that next time I had an issue with my new computer I should try to resolve it online with a customer service rep, that I had tried that, but that the operator appeared to be in another country as her English seemed limited and I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say. He looked at me like he very much wanted to tell me that all the customer reps were highly trained, not in a foreign country and that the issue was probably that I didn’t understand the customer serviceinstructions. But the truth is, that’s not the case. The sentences were written like you hear beginners in a language communicate (me included when I was traveling in foreign countries and trying to explain something): subjects and verbs are sometimes inverted, adjectives are misplaced and articles are eliminated. Then when a wrong word or two is used, the meaning and nuance of the instruction goes all to hell pretty fast. But most of all, I was struck by the look on his face and the realization that he would always think the fault was mine because I was old and clearly not able to understand.

It was frustrating to see myself as a stereotype, but I guess that was inevitable. After all, there are a few that fit: I no longer dress to impress, I sometimes have to ask how to do IPhonesomething on my iPhone, I wear “granny pants” instead of G-strings, I wear “sensible” shoes and I put fiber in my morning smoothie.

 

 

The Senior Free-Time Routine

The closer I get to retirement, the more nervous I get. I’m not quite sure why. Fear of the unknown? It occurred to me that all the people I talk to on a daily basis are at work. Yes, I talk to my cats, but conversation is sparse.

So I decided to start early and work on a daily calendar that will fill up every day of my first month of retirement for a couple of reasons: (1) to try to get into some good habits from Day 1 so I’m not sitting around the house, either endlessly napping or stuffing food in my mouth; and (2) to make sure I do things that make me happy, keep me healthy and active, and show me that all that free time I thought I wanted was really worth it. But I’m struggling.

I made a list of all the things I would definitely do, some of the things I might do and the things I’d love to do but probably won’t be able to afford. My days look a bit dreary . . . and that makes me nervous all over again.

I even assigned them times so I could see how much of my day would be occupied. No surprise it adds up to about the amount of time I’d spend at work. And I included generous amounts of time as well in case something was so damned interesting that I got lost in it and before I knew it, an extra half hour or so had sped past. I have things like working on my novel, cooking nicer meals than I’d normally prepare, perhaps purchasing and riding a bicycle – not only as good exercise but because I loved riding a bike as a kid, marketing my company to small businesses around town, querying and submitting articles to magazines, reading, etc.

In the process of trying to find a suitable picture of what a senior’s calendar of events would look like, I found this toddler’s calendar and decided it looked dangerously close to mine. Our RoutineI know I’ve made some jokes about it, but it seriously worries me that I’ll hate the free time I’ve dreamed of, wish I could go back to work and then nobody will hire me because I’m too old. I have images in my head of lonely, bored seniors sitting at home staring out the window and I don’t want to be one of them. With any kind of luck, I’ll relish the time that’s all mine, all day – nobody to answer to, no time limitations or deadlines. That prospect excites me.

But there’s still that little negativity imp sitting on my shoulder whispering that I’m making a mistake and should work until I die. I’ll let you know who wins in a couple of months.

Desperate for Conversation

The closer I get to retirement, the more nervous I find myself and that surprises me because I’m usually pretty good with change. This one though — well this one is a huge change that will impact my life, for good or bad, until I die. That’s worth getting nervous about, right?

Up until a week or so ago, I was getting excited about the prospect of doing whatever I want, whenever I want – sleeping late with no alarm; eating better because when I have the time to prepare and cook, I like it because it doesn’t feel so much like working after work; giving my house a thorough cleaning at a leisurely pace; spending as much or as little time as I deem fit on my novel; upgrading my company, Scentsibility and putting in some quality marketing time; sitting out on my balcony at odd hours and watching the wildlife and the clouds; napping in the afternoons; etc.

But now? There’s a man who comes into the Starbucks I frequent who’s retired and he’s the garrulous type who’s looking for anyone that glances in his direction. Aaaaand he’s off. I find myself trying not to catch his eye as he sits eating his oatmeal, eyeing likely suspects in his vicinity. Is that going to be me one of these days? Can’t you just see my seventy or eighty-something shriveled face sidling up to a young, twenty-something in line and saying, “My aren’t those adorable jeans. Did you buy them around here?” How far do you think that’ll get me?

Elderly woman sadly looking out the window, a black-and-white phSo, that’s what got me got me to worrying about my retirement instead of looking forward to it. I took stock of how many people I’d be likely to talk to on a daily basis once my usual work buddies are gone. Um, maybe two. That scares me a little. I already talk to my cats but I don’t think that qualifies. I don’t fancy being the sad old lady who sits in the house and stares out the window all day.

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Then there was the little old man in Albertson’s who stood off to the side staring at me as I checked out the special on guacamole. I eventually decided not to buy it and meandered off. Very shortly, I heard, “Excuse me.” I turned to see the little old man following me over to the produce section. He wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten the guacamole. My instant impression was that he didn’t give a hoot why I hadn’t bought the guacamole; he just wanted to talk to someone. So I stopped. I told him it didn’t seem to have enough stuff in. He said, “What stuff? Guacamole is just guacamole.” I assured him they were all different and I actually liked to make my own with avocado, jalapeno, tomato, onion, cilantro and lime juice. He thought that over, nodded and sauntered back toward the display.

See, that could be me in a year or two – randomly stopping people in the grocery store just to hear a human voice. That scares me. I can hear you saying, “So get out and do something.” I’ve thought about that, too. I’m not accustomed to sitting around much. I’m very active (always have been) and typically have a to-do list a mile long of things I want to do and places I want to go. But then there’s the retirement budget. It’s going to be a game changer with a whole new set of rules (none of which I’ll know in advance). I doubt that I’ll have enough money for travel or to spend on trivial keep-myself-busy projects. Where does that leave me?

I’m still aiming for optimism but I find myself vacillating between ultra excited and secretly terrified.

 

The Dreaded Budget

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This picture shows exactly how I feel about the budget I just drew up – about to be buried under it. You’d think I’d have tackled this subject a long time ago. You’d be wrong. It’s sort of like going to the doctor when you suspect you might have a problem but you feel pretty good. You put it off, telling yourself you couldn’t possibly have something wrong when you feel good. But deep down inside, you know the truth. It’s a not so simple matter of buckling down and facing it.

So I found an Excel spreadsheet that lets me input all my income once I retire, any savings and then list every expense. I was relentless, coming back to it several days in a row with all the little things I tend to forget – and, of course, they’re the ones that add a bazillion dollars to the total. I put in things like the trash bags I order because they fit the particular brand and shape of the garbage can in my kitchen; my weekend Starbucks coffees and treats; my annual car registration (easy to forget when you’re inputting monthly expenses); my company’s annual fee; the donation to Women For Women International; Sirius XM in my car so I can listen to CNN or Broadway showtunes as the mood strikes me; birthday gifts for family and friends; and family dinners.

I anticipated that my current expenses would probably exceed my Social Security income by about $500-$750. Much to my horror, my expenses exceed my income by $1,340. Although I had banked on (pun intended) expanding the scope of my outside company to bring in some extra income, I imagine it would take me years to be able to cover that differential. To tell the truth, it’s sort of horrifying.

Today, I sat and made a first-round attempt at figuring out what expenses I could live without and which ones could easily be cut back. Needless to say, “easily” was the operative word. I managed to see an extra savings of $200 a month. The whole thing would be laughable if not for the fact that it’s a looming reality.

Yes, I realize I can get a part-time job but that sort of defeats the purpose of retirement, doesn’t it? And there’s always that little matter of businesses being loathe to employ anyone over the age of about 40 (that might be a generous figure).

My only possible avenue is through my company, I think. I recently listened in on a webinar about the use of CBD in products. Since I’m a Registered Aromatherapist, the idea of creating CBD tinctures and lotions for my personal company is tantalizing. I discarded the idea about a year ago because of the fact that the DEA had declared CBD a Class I drug. However, word has it that the Farming Act of 2018, which excludes CBD from the list, just passed last month. If that’s true, I see a double benefit. I can use them for my own chronic health issues and perhaps the bridge some of the gap in my budget.

CBD seniors

A Short in the Brain

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It was a simple Christmas gift card that eventually led to my realization that my brain is not wired symmetrically and I may no longer be as confident about learning new things as I used to be. Here’s what I mean.

Back in high school, the most complicated electronic thing I had to work  with was a typewriter, figuring out how to carbon copy without making a typing error that required either starting over or tons of white-out. (And I feel certain the younger crowd, if any of them read this, are probably wracking their brains trying to figure out what that means).

Then I entered the computer age and with my verging-on-midlife confidence, knew I was capable of learning anything. Why should computers get the best of me? And learn I did … sort of. I always picked up  enough to do my job but not really much more than that. I would equate it with my capability with cars: I can start them and figure out all the interior bells and whistles but when it comes to how a carburetor works, I’m out. Or maybe it’s just a question of my interest level. Perhaps I could learn it if I needed to; the problem is, I don’t need to and I have zero interest in it.

So that brings us to my gift card. I decided to buy an Amazon Echo Dot and play with Alexa’s fun capabilities around the house. However, I opened the package and panic set in. The instructions seemed straightforward enough but the second I hit a snag and the computer told me one thing (you’re connected to WiFi) but Alexa told me another (you’re not connected to WiFi), I knew it was going to be hours of frustration before anything was resolved (this is why I hate gadgets nowadays). And I was right. It took two trips to Target and three phone calls to Cox to figure it out. It doesn’t help that they ask me questions like, “Is your original equipment a modem or a router?” I finally had to explain to the technician that I had no idea. Those two words are just that – words. They have absolutely no meaning attached to them for me.  He might as well have asked me if my equipment was a squingle or a skelpty. Same damn thing to me! All in all, it took a dedicated four hours to get this simple gadget up and working. Yes, it’s fun but next time I’ll live without it.

What I’ve learned is that there is a limit to my keeping up as I age. Thing is – I don’t really care. I like my world the way it is, thank you.

Television Tastes

Television through the ages. My, how tastes change and how television has changed. I can remember when a television show where one person got killed was astonishing and now, it’s become so commonplace that if there aren’t more than a dozen deaths in one hour, the show seems boring. And some say we’re not influenced by what we see every day? I would disagree.

Nevertheless, I really want to focus on some of the shows I watched through the decades and see which ones resonate with other seniors – or which ones they watched instead. Until I hit the 60s, I don’t remember watching anything other than whatever my parents had on.

The first show I can remember that I found titillating and scary was Dark Shadows. It’s the only daytime drama I ever watched – then or now. I would hurry home from school to see what Barnabas was up to.

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And I, like many of my schoolmates, was crazy in love with Little Joe from Bonanza. Well, that is until I went to a dance convention in Houston and someone said Little Joe was in the big ballroom next door and when we trooped in to see him in our pink tights, black leotards and clunky tap shoes, he was smoking a cigar and had his feet up on the table while people were eating around him. That ended my love affair.

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I moved on to a succession of shows through the decades – shows like Dick Van Dyke, Laugh-In, All In the Family, Dallas, West Wing, Mission Impossible and Will & Grace. Now, I watch a lot of CNN, Survivor, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

A Senior’s View of Sexual Harassment

I grew up in an interesting era – one in which young women were just beginning to realize they had power of their own and started burning bras and openly discussing sex before marriage. But I also had a mother who sent mixed messages. She told me I was smart and could be anything I wanted to be but then turned around and insisted I take cooking and sewing in high school because I would need them when I got married. I was taught that you never ask for more money in your career because you should just be thankful you have a job. I guess that’s the old “respect authority figures” message from the Baby Boomer generation. So parts of me maintain the old “keep in line” attitude and parts of me vehemently support the “stand up and speak your mind” attitude. That said, as a 65-year-old, card-carrying AARP member with roots in the Southern 1950s, I’m nervous to stand up and speak my mind to strangers on such a personal, sensitive subject as sexual harassment and yet pissed off at the comment I heard last week from a Meet the Press female panelist. The subject was about the Harvey Weinstein debacle and she commented that she didn’t think it was OK for famous actresses to pitch in their two cents about sexual harassment decades after an incident by using the hashtag “MeToo.”

So I’m going to speak my mind. Any time you’re in a subordinate position to someone who has the ability to squash all your dreams and career ambitions when you’re at the bottom of the food chain and they’re at the top, it’s very difficult to speak up. Shame on her for not being savvy enough to realize that. It’s easy for people to say, “Well just get another job” but getting another job is never a simple process and may end up setting you back professionally and financially. Maybe you can forget about it; maybe you can pretend it never happened; maybe you can pretend it doesn’t matter. You worry that your voice will be dismissed because: 1) he’s got far more clout than you; 2) his title confers more weight (because, really, doesn’t a big title mean you’re smarter and more powerful?); 3) he’s got a wife so why would he risk that; 4) if his boss is a man, you haven’t got a chance (boys will be boys and all); 4) lots of people’s careers depend on supporting his every whim so they’re not likely to support you even if they believe you; or 5) it’s your word against his, etc. Any one of those is enough to have you rationalizing that it was just one little incident so maybe you should write it off and try to stay out of his way, a small price to pay to keep your job and not have to go searching for a new one with an accusation of sexual harassment in your file.

Too many men equate physical strength with mental superiority and, afraid of being shown up, they constantly attempt to force “the weaker sex” into smaller, safer roles. I’ll bet an anonymous survey would reveal a high percentage of men who still believe the “little woman” should be happy to be supported and that her “place” in life is cooking and cleaning. I’m just eternally grateful that this country’s history managed to sidestep keep-the-woman-in-her-place practices like “honor killings” and “clitoral circumcision.” I feel pretty safe in saying it wasn’t a woman who came up with those. I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to live with dreams and ambitions and never be able to pursue them and I’m pretty sure that if I’d been born into those cultures, I wouldn’t be alive today.

I recall an old boyfriend who once told me I should change the sheets on the bed more often. When asked why he couldn’t change the sheets if he didn’t like it, he responded, “Because that a woman’s chore.” Oops. Picked the wrong woman!

And back to surveys – I would find a second one interesting: How many women who are seniors get sexually harassed? I know. You probably think it only happens when you’re young, svelte and gorgeous. Oddly enough, in the years that I was a professional dancer in Las Vegas, I would get the occasional inappropriate comment from strangers in the casinos, but I didn’t work with them and they had no say-so over my career so they were easy to dismiss. So once I retired, got into a totally different field, put a couple of decades behind my dancing, lost all my muscle tone, and gained 40+ pounds, I was surprised to find myself verbally harassed by a man with more status in the organization. Having spent years in backstage dressing rooms, I was not unaccustomed to salty language or even explicit comments but none of them had ever been aimed at me. But this time, here I was in my 50s, thinking “What’s the matter with all those women who get harassed? Why the hell don’t they speak up?” and then this man called me over in the hallway (I’m sure he thought a public place would make it appear less like harassment because there were people around who could witness the fact that he didn’t touch me) and told me he dreamed that I F’d him (I’ll let you fill in the letters) with a giant dildo but it didn’t hurt. I found myself taken utterly aback. You’d think I’d have run right over to HR to report him, right? Nope. It took me another couple of weeks and I was losing sleep over it, wondering who else he was harassing and if his behavior stopped at verbal comments. This is why I understand how difficult it can be to speak up, even for women who appear to have reached the pinnacle of their careers and have everything going for them, like the ones involved in the Harvey Weinstein mess. I think the female panelist who made the comments on Meet the Press has probably never been harassed and did an injustice to every woman who has.

Having said all that, let me just add that I may not be young and gorgeous and famous, but I’m adding my name to “#MeToo” because, as a senior, I’m proof that it can happen to anyone.

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