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In Praise of Older Writers

“Daily we are witness to, or even unwitting participants in, cruel imagery, jokes, language, and attitudes directed at older people,” contends Dr. Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center-USA and the person who coined the term “ageism” 35 years ago. In my experience, it is still alive and well.

OK. I admit it. I’m a baby boomer. I just hit 60, but I still don’t think of myself as “old.” I know we have a youth-obsessed culture, but ageism never bothered me (maybe because I was still “young”) but now I confront it daily. It is disturbing. Yesterday at church I commented to a lovely lady in her 70’s that she looked beautiful, and she said, “Who me? No, I’m old.”

I recently attended a Writer’s Conference and encountered writers of all ages. Instead of relishing the richness of the experiences of all these men and women of all ages and backgrounds, I found a definite bias toward the younger writers. I give them their due. They are young and beautiful, as only twenty or thirty something’s can be, but if I had to I would put my money on the sixty or seventy something’s’ writing. They have a depth of life experience that the younger audience members cannot possibly have yet. Although I do admit that they can probably write for young adults and adolescents better than people “of a certain age.” (I still don’t know what urban fiction is, so I doubt I can write it.)

At one panel we heard young writers explaining to us that we need to blog and pay attention to the “Holy Trinity”—Facebook, blogging, and Twitter. I don’t think that is bad advice, but as I looked around the room, I saw that most of the faces in the room were older faces, white hair, gray hair, lots of wrinkles, while the panel members were four adults in their 20’s. I felt pleased to be a part of this group—a range of ages, all people intent on improving their art, their writing, still living and learning. Yet part of me was offended by the panel members saying, “You need to blog. Build a fan base. Give your followers something they want or need.” Like what? I wanted to hug one lady who raised her hand and asked “How do you Twitter? I mean, how do you even get there? I have no idea what that means.” I’m sure she was not alone, but was the only one brave enough to ask. “Be remarkable” was the catch phrase we heard over and over, as though one can do that without much effort. Part of the issue was related to “knowing your audience,” Writing Rule #4 or is it 5? I don’t think the panel was addressing most of the writers in that room. A new acquaintance in attendance, a thirty year old, said she already knew everything the panel said. Judging from the facial expressions of the audience members, I would say that was most likely not true for the majority of people in that room. I saw puzzlement ,embarrassment, and even shame.

“You need to blog. Update it often.” Blog about what? Maybe examples would have helped the panel to connect with the audience members. The overall attitude at this panel discussion seemed to be another example of ageism. The panel moderator was a lovely older woman who has jumped on the social media bandwagon. Good for her. However, she did not seem empathetic to the writers in the room who were her age or older. The gist of her moderating was “These people (the young adults on the panel) know what’s going on in the world of social media, and you need to get with it. Jump on board or you will be left behind.” The implication was that we (the older audience members) were already “behind.” The important questions were not answered: “What does one blog about daily that is worth reading, that tells your audience something they do not know, that is worth their time? What can you “create or do for them” your audience? “I still don’t have any idea.

Maybe we (the older writers) don’t know about blogging and face booking, but we were at that conference, showing up and willing to learn. I suppose it all boils down to respect. I’ll bet if someone was asking us the right questions, we would blow them out of the water. “What life experience do you have that you can share, that you consider “remarkable”? What have you learned in your life that others might benefit from knowing?” I suspect that most everyone in that room knows about some aspect of living that they could share in social media if they were given concrete advice.

  Content copyright 2011-2012. Patricia Thomas. All rights reserved.