Inspired by Ian Brown’s page-turner “Sixty: The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?”
Let’s get into this slowly. After all, this hopeful essay attacks a delicate subject, concerning the most delicate among us, our post-70 cohort. Most Canadians seem relaxed having a bloodline-determined head of state while waking up each morning in a whimsical celebrity world. Winning the lottery is dandy. Watching the mighty fall can be a joy. Discreet name-dropping is tolerable. However, watching old non-entities still struggling for attention, repeatedly telling stale tales of old battles makes everyone, and especially the children, feel uncomfortable.
Abandoned on a thicketed hillside next to a friend’s cottage on the shore of Owen Sound is a 60-foot-long, ferro-concrete shell of a bluewater sailboat, a giant grey bug propped up on a dozen useless legs. It expresses years of determination, craftsmanship, and hard labor. At the same time, it tells another story: the builder, the dreamer who ran out of money, time, and, possibly, his health. Sad and glorious. But, not laughable.
Unlike the doomed boat-builder, however, the elderly attention-seeker must also be brave, because he or she succeeds or fails with us.
If grey attention-seekers are looking only for eye contact and a smile, they can find a book somewhere and flip the pages of “How to Build the Boat of Your Dreams” or “How to Learn Spanish” or “The Dos and Don’ts of Being a Grandparent” or “How to Write a Screenplay” or “Buy Property in Sicily.” Easy and safe.
But how would we feel standing beside a senior trying to purchase “How to Be Visible after You’re 70”? Hopeful? Or embarrassed?
There are medical reasons for coaxing 17-year-olds to buy prophylactics. “Well-being” services for seniors, including support for timely erections, are often covered in our public and private insurance plans. They’re now “public goods.” In addition, however, they’re plausible excuses to buy that wicked book.
The oldest generation’s most prominent voices eventually will fade away. While that process grinds away, however, let’s prick our ears. Once in a while, an old non-entity will have something useful, even delightful, to say.
Most of us will remain social animals, right up to that “good death” out there.
Courts decided that, after 65, we could keep our university and business careers and menial jobs until we’re incontestably incompetent. Between that new right and the new one about dying, we obviously have the right to be visible.
Smell the coffee. The West is hugely influenced already by 70-somethings, predominantly men.
A year from now, neophilia America will be lead by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. (Michael Bloomberg decided the race was too crowded by insiders.) We follow the thoughts of Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Mick Jagger, Christopher Plummer, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, David Cronenberg, John le Carré Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, David Gergen, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Pope Francis, and every aside by Bob Dylan. The startling new Toronto hangs on the opinions of David Crombie, Stephen Lewis, Michael Enright, David Peterson, Frank Gehry, and Jack Diamond. And the whole country listens to and pays for the liberating pension protection of four hearty retired prime ministers, numerous former ministers, Preston Manning, and countless deputies, ADMs, and bank governors who allegedly know Ottawa and Beijing inside out.
And the terrible shiny top of the baby boom is twinkling just offshore.
Please, don’t feel bullied into simply paying closer attention to “icons” and giving them extra, extra airtime. The problem is the unarticulated, unattended, and often brutal market barriers facing new voices over 70, including mine!
Respect your elders, if you wish. But, please, not their pecking order.
If we’re going to save our less-than-young country—literally, its appetite to see and act anew—we must create a world-class, competitive market among seniors, similar to the one we impose on the young.
Social reformers, however, won’t touch our celebrities and aren’t interested in helping old non-entities with that neurotic spark. Getting attention is our problem.