Gero-Punk Praxis: Aging Grrrl Revolution!

Part two of a two-part essay

by Guest Gero-Punk

Glenna Morris

 

What on earth is that gray hair doing there?! The first time I asked myself that question was about a year and a half ago. I made sure to maintain my ritual hair coloring religiously up until about three months ago. Starting with the realization that I was never happy with the color results over the past few coloring sessions, I quit dying my hair. Along with refusing to count every calorie, get my acrylic nails put on every two weeks, or have my eyebrows smothered in hot wax and the hairs subsequently ripped from my flesh––I have begun the process of allowing my natural hair color to reclaim itself upon my head.

Here is the thing I am unsure of, though: Am I allowing my gray hairs to flourish, accepting not-so-perfectly shaped eyebrows, resigning myself to the size 12 increase in dress clothes, and constantly having to clip my flimsy, flaky, fingernails because I have ultimately given up on being the beautiful, youthful, girl I once was, or is it because I am genuinely ready to accept who I am becoming.

I question this because some days I look in the mirror and notice a new gray hair, critique the general lack-luster look of my locks, and that turns to a critical pinpointing of my reflection’s wrinkles (mixed with the constant confusion of why I still battle acne and rosacea), to an adamant avoidance of a full-length mirror. I then take a deep breath, accept my fate, wrap my hair upon the top of my head, cake on the cover-up, and refuse to think on it anymore for the remainder of the day. Which proves a relatively successful refusal, until I sit for too long and consequently have to pause for a few painful moments while my aging knees adjust to their now extended state. Allowing one voice within me to proclaim that my knees wouldn’t feel that way if I started taking walks everyday like I keep telling myself I will. The opposing voice answers with a realistic position that my knees are getting old; that weight and exercise was of no consequence to them when I was 18.

Which reminds me––I was “fat” when I was 18. And again when I was 22. At an inconceivable 257 pounds when I was 27. Down to 180 pounds when I turned 31. Up to 220 pounds as I near my 33rd birthday. Such has been the never-ending battle of my youth, and clearly a war I will continue waging as I move forward through time. Only I notice things now, like these achy knees, the pounds get more resistant to diet and exercise, and exercise is no longer the energetic fun endeavor it was just a few years back. Oh well, comes with getting older I guess. Doesn’t matter anyway, right? After all, who am I trying to impress?

Sometimes I believe I am not trying to impress anyone.

Bell Hooks (2000) says: “As a middle-aged woman gaining more weight than ever before in my life, I want to work at shedding pounds without deploying sexist body self-hatred to do so…all females not matter their age are being socialized either consciously or unconsciously to have anxiety about their body, to see flesh as problematic” (p. 35).

I want to cite myself at this point in great length on a paper I wrote a few years ago based on Nomy Lamm’s (1995) It’s a Big Fat Revolution. I include this here for two reasons: 1) It is valuable to the topic of embodiment and the above issues I have been writing on with regard to my own body; 2) when reflecting on this writing, realizing that I still feel much the same way about my body, I notice my body image is shifting to include my age. There are many places within this paper where we could substitute the word “fat” with the word “age.”

This paper speaks to every aspect of my embodiment now, not just fat. It speaks from my internal feminist. It admits that I will contradict my own feminist thinking. It reminds me to stop self-hating and self-defeating thoughts be it about weight, age, gender, appearance, etc. It is worthy of being brought up again and again each time I reflect on my past learning with regard to women’s issues:

 15 July 2011

 It’s a Big Fat Revolution By Nomy Lamm

             For the first time in my life I can see that my body image is a result of fat oppression. This is very interesting because all my life I was convinced that my weight and my body image is just a product of not trying hard enough to be rid of it. Here’s the thing though––I haven’t always been fat! Yet, I have always thought I was, I am conditioned to pity people who are, and now that I am fat I wallow in self-loathing a good majority of the time. I can sit here and tell you that I really don’t try hard enough to loose weight, that if I did I could be thin and beautiful, that the way that I look and feel is entirely my fault. I could also sit here and tell you that I am curvy and luscious, that I have never lacked on emitting sexuality, and I have never had trouble getting a date, so––so what if I am fat? It all really depends on the day and how I feel in that moment. Like Nomy Lamm, I am a real person and I don’t always feel up to being the strong confident person, “sometimes it is hard enough for me to get out of bed in the morning (105).”

             The question is why do I battle these contradictions? I too have examples like Lamm that are memorable occurrences in my life that have hurt me and changed the way I see myself (106). When I was eighteen years old my grandmother asked me “what happened to my skinny little granddaughter?” My mother has been using Slim Fast for as long as I can remember, and she has fluctuated between a 4 and an 18-dress size throughout my life. My boss at my first job told me I was too fat to wear shorts at work. My husband tells me I am beautiful, yet he also tells me that his friends only think I am fat because they seek super model perfection (and of course I’m not perfect). He also insists that fat people are only fat because they are lazy (except for me of course). And we can’t forget how the media is a mind-blowing contributor to fat oppression. Interestingly all of these things have combined together to make me think I was fat even when I wasn’t!

             We are conditioned to believe fat is ugly (106). Lamm claims this is just a cultural standard that has many medical lies that support it (106). Wait–she said medical lies? That’s interesting because as I have grown older and wiser, have stopped caring about dating and measuring up to unattainable standards, I have still maintained this self-loathing image of my fat based on the fact that I need to loose weight at least for the sake of being healthy.

           Actually, I have a hard time believing that they are all medical lies. Six months ago I was literally loosing the use of my right knee. If I sat for extended periods of time and tried to get up and walk suddenly, my knee would seize up in pain and often times buckle under me completely. I was eighty pounds overweight and had to tell myself enough is enough. I began a simple weight-lifting/cardio exercise program four times a week, paid closer attention to what I was eating and when I was eating it, and I lost thirty-five pounds. My knee doesn’t hurt anymore. With this kind of proof, I must be justified in believing that fat is in fact problematic.

          Not to mention all of the energy, high self-esteem, and validation from everyone that I look amazing. Everyone is so proud of all of the weight I have lost, and so am I, is that wrong? Lamm asks “when will we stop grasping for reasons to hate fat people and start realizing that fat is a totally normal and natural thing that cannot and should not be gotten rid of (107)?” I don’t want to hate or pity fat people (including myself), but I don’t know how to stop seeing fat as problematic and something that indeed should be gotten rid of. I don’t want to judge myself or anyone else, but I look at extremely skinny girls and think, “she needs to eat a cheeseburger,” and I look at fat girls (and myself) and think, “how did she let herself go like that?” How much of this thinking is really just a cultural standard of what we are conditioned to believe is beautiful or healthy, rather than an actual health issue or a personal preference of what is beautiful?

          In the end though, this is a form of hate oppression, whether we oppress one another or ourselves. Lamm states “it doesn’t seem fair to me that I have to always be fighting to be happy (105).” Regardless, of whether I can grasp some of Lamm’s claims or not, this is one I wholeheartedly feel. Body image is a struggle for me, fighting to be happy is a constant battle for me because of how I see myself––that is a good indicator that fat oppression is very real. It’s not necessarily a problem that I want to be thinner; it’s also a great accomplishment that I no longer dread knee surgery (for now). What is a problem is that I have been conditioned to believe I am worthless based on how fat I am, and that I know I will never feel/believe I am truly beautiful and thin, no matter how thin I may become. I understand when Lamm says “I want this out of me. This is not a part of me, and theoretically I can separate it all out and throw away the shit, but it’s never really gone (105).”

          While reading Lamm’s words last night I thought I agreed with everything she was saying. However, this morning I awoke ready to work out, renew my diet plans, approvingly but critically evaluated the changes to my stomach and backside, and then sat down trying to write this with a feminist attitude intact. How can I do that when I spent the morning filled with fat-hate and oppressing myself? Years of perpetuating my inner and outer messages about whom I expect myself to be in order to fit the social norm is going to be hard to get rid of.

          Is there hope for change? Is there a solution for keeping future generations from buying into this sort of propaganda and oppression? Lamm suggests that rather than reassuring fat people that they are not fat, we need to demystify fat and deal with fat politics as a whole (107). Lamm believes that “all forms of oppression work together, and so they have to be fought together (107).” So, it seems she is suggesting that we need to accept fat, and not in the simplistic way of just ignoring physical attributes, or saying that we are all beautiful on the inside (107). Rather, “true revolution comes not when we learn to ignore our fat and pretend we’re no different, but when we learn to use it to our advantage, when we learn to deconstruct all the myths that propagate fat-hate (107).”

          At this point, personally, I can buy into trying to let go of most of the myths about fat-hate. Myths brought on by the media that romanticize and idealize thinness, in comparison to the fat person on TV that is depicted as a food-obsessed slob (106, 108). It may take me some time to let go of the health perspective of fat-hate. I will likely continue to work on loosing weight for the sake of my knee (and yes my self-esteem as well), and that’s okay. And I may be looked upon as a contradiction within myself and within feminism for that. But I will continue my quest for knowledge to become a revolutionary feminist. I will make a strong effort to stop judging others and myself.

           I will start my morning not with critiquing myself, but by joining the “fat grrrl revolution” with Lamm by looking in the mirror and saying “my body is fucking beautiful (106).” And then I will go workout!  

 

References

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

 Lamm, N. (1995). It’s a big fat revolution. In Barbara Findlen (Ed.), Listen up: Voices from the next feminist revolution. Seattle, Washington: Seal Press.

 Ray, R.E. (2004). Toward the croning of feminist gerontology. Journal of Aging Studies 18, 109-121. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2003.09.008.

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Glenna is a recent 2014 graduate from Marylhurst University with a BA in Psychology. Born in Fairbanks, AK, she has resided throughout Oregon, Washington, and California over the last twenty-eight years, the last eleven of those years in Estacada, OR, where she currently lives. She has two young sons, three horses, two dogs, and a cat. She is looking forward to attending graduate school for an MBA in the fall and aspires to found a youth recreation and counseling center for the rural children in her community someday. When she isn’t busy with school work, you can find her on a nearby lake with a fishing pole in her hand, enjoying the simple pleasures of time outdoors with good friends and family.

 

 

 

 

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Gero-Punk Contemplations: The Emergence of Cronehood

Part one of a two-part essay

From guest Gero-Punk

Glenna Morris

 

May 01, 2014 was my thirty-third birthday. It didn’t feel different from any other day. Of course, I was a little bit happier that day than on most mornings. It was probably the warmest May 1st I could recall, and it was the warmest day of the year so far. I woke up earlier than usual to call my honorary granddaughter and wish her a happy eleventh birthday on her new phone. She returned the happy birthday wishes.

Thirty-three isn’t a “milestone,” like getting to drive a car, or entering a bar for the first time. Just a new number I have to get used to saying should anyone ask me how old I am. Should it mean something more? What does turning thirty-three really mean to me? Should I be concerned? Society puts so much stock in chronological age. Already I have had well-intentioned people say to me things like “happy 25th birthday,” “33? Oh you are just a baby still,” “you don’t look that old!,” “so do you feel older and wiser today?” I feel older and wiser than I did when I was 25, not necessarily more so than yesterday, though. I surely don’t feel like a “baby,” and I find such a statement more or less insulting. How old does thirty-three look, exactly? Is there a common look of thirty-three? These are all just very strange statements. Yet, they are so common because in our culture the thing to do is to emphasize chronological age, while trying to flatter people by telling them they still fit right in with a youthful ideal.

I look like me––at thirty-three.

I don’t think I want to be “young.” Were I to focus on the chronological aspect of my birthday, I would simply want to celebrate the many experiences I have had the pleasure and pain of knowing that got me to this day. I don’t want to go back in time. I surely don’t want to be twenty-five years-old again! So, I don’t want to be young, but I don’t think I want to be old either. I think I will start responding with “I’m thirty-three-years-knowing.”

In honor of my thirty-third birthday, I am going to embrace the fluidity of the symbolic maiden-mother-crone goddesses, and I will savor each transition. Rather than celebrate chronological age, I will celebrate my awareness of and ability to evoke my potential cronehood. According to Ruth Ray (2004), “the word crone derives from crown in matriarchal cultures. The figure of the crone thus represents a queenly status, a position of coming-into-one’s-own-authority. This status is acquired only through time and experience, after moving through previous phases in which one’s authority is attributed to sources outside the self” (112). This was me on my thirty-third birthday. And this has probably been me a time or two in the past. Though being thirty-three doesn’t give me any more crone-like authority than I had the day before my birthday, it does feels like an appropriate time to consciously call upon my cronehood. A time to honor the experiences I have that afford me crone status.

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I am in the “mother” phase of my life right now. Most of what I do is reflected outward and focused on relationships––maintaining them, protecting them, lifting others up while often sacrificing my own needs to do so. I do greatly enjoy this phase of my life most of the time; as I am in the mothering phase both theoretically and physically. I have two sons. My world revolves around them. When my choices are not entirely based on my sons, they can be motivated romantically.

Ray (2004) states:

The mother is motivated by the desire to give and receive attention, approval, affiliation, and love. This archetype supplies physical, psychological, and spiritual support to others and achieves identity and well-being from assuming the care-giving role. While the mother creates and supports other people and their projects, she may neglect her own interests. This is why it is developmentally necessary to move into the crone phase. (5)

Yes, this is me in a nutshell––right now. And because I do have a tendency to neglect my own needs, it is a necessary and useful exercise to begin to enter into the crone phase now. While I enjoy this mother phase of my life as a necessary and often beautifully choreographed part of my development, I feel it is important to step out of the place where my “authority is attributed to sources outside the self” and be sure to base my worth and my decisions on that which is best for me and not just for the relationships I nurture. I believe this because one cannot pass into a phase of cronehood and a functional keeper/watcher of the crossroads if one does not know how to be good to one’s self. There is a saying I have heard throughout my life––you cannot love another until you love yourself.

Other than being a mother and in the mother phase of my life, which I do feel is at the core of my identity at this point in time, is my identity as a woman. I have been contemplating what that may or may not mean to me. Does being a woman mean trying to live up to the societal ideal? What is the societal ideal? If we are considering bodily ideals, I do to some extent try to live up to unattainable standards. I’m too tall, I have graying hair and wrinkles, I am covered in scars from baring children, my breasts should never be liberated from a bra in public, I’m overweight and unfit, I’m covered in acne. Seriously, if only my body could choose one––graying hair and wrinkles or the complexion of a pubescent teen? Instead I get both. And all of these ways in which I violate the ideals of femininity combine to make me feel less than the ideal woman. Some days I feel pretty, but most of the time I feel insecure, inadequate, and undesirable.

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I was wandering through a nearby store looking for something to wear for my college graduation. I was feeling much like I usually do about clothes shopping––ambivalent, sure that once I get in the dressing room nothing will fit right, dreading those fun house mirrors tacked up to the walls of the all-too-small dressing space, wishing I was thin so anything in “my size” would look perfect––when it occurred to me that I was also experiencing an aging woman’s epiphany.

Nothing in the “women’s section” seemed right, everything was either “too old and sensible looking” or trying too hard to be “hip.” So, I wandered over to the flashy junior section only to stand there, feeling bad about the options available for today’s youths. Thinking things like “Who would wear this?” “That skirt isn’t long enough for anyone, especially a teen!” “I feel sorry for the teens out there struggling to fit the culturally prescribed body ideal… even this XL wouldn’t fit a girl with large breasts or wide hips!” The next section within eyesight was the “plus sizes,” in which I found a couple of cute dresses I would have liked, and even though I was feeling like a plus size at that moment, I had to move on. My final hope was the “Misses” section, where I did find a few items I liked: jean skirts, flowing tank top, dresses, and jeans with an elaborate rhinestone display on each back pocket. The dresses didn’t fit (of course), the skirts did (yea!) and the pants looked good, but made me feel like I was drawing too much attention to an area of my body that I am highly self-conscious of.

This moment took me back to a paper I wrote in a Women’s Studies course a few years ago (2011):

I walk through the isles of the clothing stores and I find myself longing to wear clothing that was designed with an entirely different body type in mind. Sometimes I may even reluctantly take these items of clothing into the department store dressing room, stand underneath glaring fluorescent lights, and avoid glancing in the mirror while I struggle into clothing that was originally formed around a petite mannequin. I do this only to look into the mirror and find my chest is too large, my hips are too wide, or my legs are too long. I often spend the rest of the day fighting a relentless mood of self-loathing and hunger, vowing to exercise extra hard the next morning. But why do I feel this way? Exercising more isn’t going to make my legs any shorter, nor will it greatly impact my bust size. The answer lies in the fact that, although I have the right to a closet full of blue jeans, mass media has reverted us back to a society of women, and men, with a warped sense of ideal beauty. As Hooks notes, “while we are fortunate that some stores carry beautiful clothing for women of all sizes and shapes, often this clothing is far more pricey than the cheaper clothing the fashion industry markets towards the general public (35).”  Thus, my right to choose does not coincide with my choices at the stores in which I can afford to shop. Yes, I have a closet full of blue jeans, tank tops, sweatshirts, and sadly––very little otherwise.

But now my focus, which previously was on feminism alone, has shifted to aging when walking through a department store. Not only is the clothing difficult to fit to my body, but now I am struggling to figure out which articles of clothing are “age appropriate.” Not necessarily in the sense that I am concerned about whether others are looking at me and judging whether I am young enough to where certain articles, but that these clothes are designed to fit differently shaped bodies. The high-waisted “mom jeans” I dreaded from my youth, I now desire over the low-rise, muffin-top forming jeans one finds in the juniors section.

 

References

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Ray, R.E. (2004). Toward the croning of feminist gerontology. Journal of Aging Studies 18, 109-121. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2003.09.008.

 

Glenna Morris is a recent 2014 graduate from Marylhurst University with a BA in Psychology. Born in Fairbanks, AK, she has resided throughout Oregon, Washington, and California over the last twenty-eight years, the last eleven of those years in Estacada, OR, where she currently lives. She has two young sons, three horses, two dogs, and a cat. She is looking forward to attending graduate school for an MBA in the fall and aspires to found a youth recreation and counseling center for the rural children in her community someday. When she isn’t busy with school work, you can find her on a nearby lake with a fishing pole in her hand, enjoying the simple pleasures of time outdoors with good friends and family.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gero-Punk Praxis: Interjection–Reviving the Queer

Part two in a series of essays

By guest Gero-Punk

Pascal Aziz

 

I am writing to you from The Castro District in San Francisco on Pride weekend. Today, Sunday, July 29th, 2014, I marched in San Francisco’s Pride Parade with SWANABAQ (Southwest Asian and North African Bay Area Queers), a great organization for Middle Eastern LGBTQ individuals. I have been here since Friday, and I have made some interesting observations about myself, queer culture, and identity politics, in relation to my last post about living with intersectionality and aging on the queer margin. In this essay, I will share some of my experiences being in San Francisco for the weekend, and will use that as my way into further exploring a theory of queering gerontology which was supposed to be this week’s post but will be postponed for later this week.

Writing on queer theory and history while sitting in a cafe in The Castro was for me an experience of deep awe and reverence. After all, this is one of the first queer centers of America, this is where those whom I deem as my forefathers and foremothers by virtue of our shared marginality and queer identity toiled against their oppressors and marched for freedom, ending the historical cycle of brutality and persecution. This is where I, through the lives they lived and sacrifices they made, earned my social liberty, dignity, and right to full citizenship as a queer man living in America.

However, after that moment of awe, and in seeing the festivities of pride in the streets of the city, I must admit I felt a sense of disappointment about and alienation from the ways in which queer culture has been seized by the mainstream and commodified as social capital, a money making space for corporations and the entertainment industry to promote social pretense, irresponsible freedom, and absolute indulgence as what defines being LGBTQ. This was especially evident by the amount of corporate marketing visible in the pride parade and, on the darker side, in the significant substance and alcohol abuse and unsafe promiscuity I witnessed (my problem here is not moral but simply a concern for the health and safety of fellow beings). In fact, the LGBTQ mainstream has become such a confusing space. Through one message it is promoting a progressivist gentrification of the queer identity by asking queers to assimilate into society through marriage and capital, and through another, it is promoting an indulgent and irresponsible image of queerness to support the free market (that isn’t free).

The shock was that this space of safety and human worth that the first openly queer generation had created for us through struggle was being manipulated by the mainstream. It was clearly not a place for the aging to thrive, nor a space for the older to celebrate or be celebrated. It was concerned with younger sexier bodies willing to do silly and unwise things, and even as a twenty-three year-old, I wasn’t about to fully participate.

I enjoyed marching in the parade with our countries’ flags unified and felt it was especially important for making non-white queers visible and creating awareness about the persecution of LGBTQ individuals in the countries from which we come. Also, I was honored to meet individuals whose stories closely intersect mine and with whom I can speak in my mother tongue. However, while doing all that, my impression was that queer lives in the mainstream are consumed by the identity politics of “gay.” Please note that here I am making a separation between having a physical and emotional desire and attraction for the same sex as a universal natural phenomenon in minds and bodies, and what we have culturally constructed from that (e.g. “gay” and all the other associated labels) as a way to socially and politically position individuals in the western world, and create uniformity and power through an organized community.

For such a label, similar to gender, and in a city like San Francisco, there is social demand for a constant and loud identity performativity; a pressure to perform our sexual orientation through a set of identified behaviors, codes, attitudes and views, day after day, and year after year. While this may be the result of an inner desire to be visible, and to be approved of, it was manufactured by a heterosexual society relative to hetero-normative standards and expectations of masculinity and femininity.

As I talked with LGBTQ folks in this city, I heard traces of emptiness, disappointment and despair. This demand to be a certain way, to be the good and right kind of gay, stripped many persons of their agency and their choice and made queer performativity a vicious perpetual cycle that will never end the need to be visible or the hunger for social acceptance, nor will it ever satisfy the mainstream or meet its standards. This and the unfortunate, judgmental, and brutal way I saw LGBTQ individuals treat each other, probably justifies the despair I sensed. Within the current matrix, LGBTQ individuals are declared failures relative to the hetero-normative and the mainstream queer-normative hierarchic culture and find no true comfort in the space they expected to be a safe haven.

Can you imagine aging within such a space?

I am certainly not setting myself apart or defining myself as the antonym, nor am I any better or more righteous than anyone. I am sharing what I witnessed and, perhaps, offering gratitude for the life I have created in Portland, Oregon, my chosen home. Ever since my eyes were opened to how different and diverse we are as LGBTQ individuals, I have realized that as a population we certainly have enough in common to create a political alliance but definitely not enough for a solid foundation that would create community.

In fact, this reality can emancipate my identity as I age, for without the expectations of identity performativity or the constraints of communal codes, I am free to make choices about how I want to present and position myself in the world. This does not mean I am or can always be on the margin, but rather that I have agency to negotiate with the mainstream structure to preserve my freedom when and if I wish to participate in it.

Furthermore, it is a joy to know that I am not alone for I have a family of individuals who, like me, dwell on the margins in their own communities because they have chosen the path of authenticity. It is what makes us positively queer, positively marginalized, and united by virtue of the high price we pay for our dissidence on behalf of emancipation and liberty. We are queer even though we are of all sexual orientations; some may be heterosexual but are not hetero-normative, some gay but refusing to conform to a gay stereotype emphasized in mainstream culture, either through promotion or ridicule. These folks handle me well as I grow, fluctuate, and age. They support my desire to be healthy and sound, even when they do not agree with my choices.

This experience in San Francisco has renewed my commitment and desire to age intentionally. If anything, I have found that as I age, I want to learn the art of practicing agency, both internal agency within the mind and in self-identity, and external agency in navigating and negotiating with social structures, and transgressing these structures when needed. To me, living queerness is an aging path of emancipation from the conformity of static identities and required social and gender performances; it is a path to free oneself from the shackles of identity, approval, and assimilation. It is a refusal to be deceived – by self and by other. Perhaps an appropriate expression of my praxis is the revival of a larger truly queer space that allows individuals to be, one that strategically transgresses against normativity in its subtlest forms and resists the marketing of the queer identity as a capitalist and modernist enterprise.

I hope I can convince more fellow queers to revive the Queer and to age with me in this expansive flexible margin I am learning to sustain.

In my next essay, I will delve more fully into how queer theory can revolutionize our understanding and practicing of aging.

 

Pascal Aziz was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.  He has a BA in Psychology, a BA in Interdisciplinary studies and a Certificate in Gerontology from Marylhurst University.  His main interest is doing further research in gerontology, as well as participating in senior citizen advocacy. He is looking forward to attending graduate school in the fall of 2014.

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