Gero-Punk Public Service Announcement

I just realized that it’s that time again. Actually, it is well past that time again. But as I always like to sing: Better late than never; no time like the present; sooner rather than later; life is short, act now!

What time is it? It is time for a Gero-Punk public service announcement!

A Gero-Punk’s gotta eat

Whatcha doing this spring? Wanna hang out?

If you live in or near Portland, Oregon, USA (or happen to be passing through), why not join me some Wednesday for lunch?

Beginning Wednesday, April 3rd, from noon to 2:00 p.m. PST, I’ll be hosting a weekly informal brown-bag-lunch conversation.

Here’s where you’ll find me:

Oregon State University Portland Center

Room PCMF 2006. Just drop-in, no need to RSVP.

And you don’t need to be affiliated with OSU to attend – all are welcome! Bring yourself, a green smoothie or awesome food cart sandwich, and whatever happens to be on your mind.

We can eat and chat and laugh and commiserate and scheme and dream.

For more information: jenny.sasser@oregonstate.edu

The Critical Gerontology “Thought Space”

I think I may have forgotten to mention that my long-time collaborator – Harry R. Moody – and I have a chapter in Critical Gerontology Comes of Age: Advances in Research and Theory in a New Century, edited by our colleague Chris Wellin, Ph.D. and published last year by Routledge.

Cover art

If you are curious about what it means to do Critical Gerontology (C.G.), you might dig reading this collection of essays.  We explore the different areas in which the C.G. perspective has been enacted as we quest to understand the complexities of contemporary aging and construct gerontological knowledge. We authors represent diverse backgrounds, interests, and – so cool – generations, so what results is a kaleidoscopic view of where we’ve been and where we might be heading as gerontologists working in this radical “thought space,” as Stephen Katz, Ph.D. describes C.G.

Speaking of Stephen Katz – a C.G. luminary – he’s written a hot-off-the-presses review of our book for the March issue of The Gerontologist. Check it.

Better with age

And speaking of my comrade Harry R. Moody, we’ve commenced work on the 10th (!!!!) edition of Aging: Concepts and Controversies, published by Sage. You’ll see the new edition hit the ground sometime later this year, hopefully, with – per usual – updated data and sources, as well as some new juicy supplemental readings and focus areas.

In the meanwhile, if you are a user of our text, whether as a teacher or a student, we’d love to think together with you about what works well and what could work better, not to mention any ideas you have for new things we might want to consider including.

Sound good?

Send your ideas to me at littlecoracle@gmail.com

Gero-Punk Ponderings and Provocations

At the end of the Understanding and Addressing Ageism workshop I facilitated last week, one of the participants asked me if it was wrong that they appreciate being told that they look good for their age.

Yesterday, I had a delightful and illuminating phone conversation with a soon-to-be 76-year-old on the topic of political candidates who are chronologically endowed. They began our conversation by describing the down-shift in energy they themselves have experienced as they’ve grown older, and the necessity and pleasure of taking a daily nap.  They wondered if it is possible to take a daily nap when you are POTUS.

As I was jumping on my mini-trampoline this morning, I was singing a little song of praise to gravity, who is my life-long friend.

And you? What’s on your mind? What’s up-and-down with you?

Thanks for tuning in.

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Gero-Punk Tribute: Tsloan

Coming toward me is a man and a dog.   The man is tall and on his head is a shock of beautiful white hair.  My heart skips a beat – is that my dear friend Tsloan? And then I remember that my dear friend Tsloan died of pancreatic cancer at 9:37 a.m. on December 17th, 2018.

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The name given to him is Tod Sloan. The name he chose for himself is Theodor (Theo) Arnason.  The name by which I refer to him is Tsloan.  I consider Tsloan to be a good mash-up of his given and chosen names, a potent symbol of his complex and multifaceted identity(ies).  Tsloan also sounds a bit edgy, like he’s a musician or an anarchist. (Actually, he’s both.)

The name Tsloan gave me is “Fierce Jenny.” He named me this not because he thought I was mean or angry, but because he thought I was brave.

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Tsloan and I met in February 2006.  He was Professor Tod Sloan, Ph.D. in the Counseling Psychology program at Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling.  I was Director of Gerontology and Chair of Human Sciences at Marylhurst University. We were both committed to enacting the principles of critical social theory in our teaching, scholarship and activism, he as a community psychologist and I as an educational gerontologist.

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Over the more than a decade we knew each other, Tsloan and I cultivated a vibrant, textured relationship.  Of course, we exchanged and discussed various books and articles, we talked about music and movies. But other much more surprising mutual offerings were made. He hooked me up with a side-gig teaching doctoral students in depth psychology, he connected me with a publisher in the U.K. for a project I was working on. My now-partner Simeon Dreyfuss and I taught an undergraduate capstone seminar together at Marylhurst, and we used two essays from one of Tsloan’s critical psychology texts as required reading for our students. Tsloan invited me to be a guest presenter in one of his graduate seminars and one time, he asked me to write something about disillusionment in later life to use as a prompt for students in his adult development and aging course; in exchange, his students responded to and expanded upon my ideas – an amazing collaborative inquiry experience! As he approached his 60th birthday, he admitted to me his ambivalence around growing older, he asked me for support as he entered a new, mysterious phase of his journey through the life-course. We thought together about and gave each other feedback on various writing projects. It was he who encouraged me to begin writing into and through my lived experiences, introducing me to the genre of “auto-ethnography.” In many ways, the Gero-Punk Project was sparked by his conviction that I had something interesting to say in my own strange way.

We also shared a musical sensibility. One of my potent memories is of Tsloan playing the electric guitar and me singing Coldplay’s Yellow. He introduced me to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band to which I continue to be devoted.  Tsloan, me and my daughter Isobel saw them perform at Roseland Theater. It was Isobel’s first edgy concert experience. We got props from some of the other concert-goers for bringing a little kid with us. Isobel was by-far the youngest person there; Tsloan and I were by-far the oldest persons there! It was a cool intergenerational scene.

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On February 19, 2006, my mother experienced an unexpected major cerebral aneurysm. Tsloan and I had only met a week before and were just at the beginning of knowing each other.  I don’t remember how he found out about my mother’s aneurysm – I likely told him, but I have no memory of doing so.  What I do remember is that he and another friend, Amy, sat with me all day at the hospital while my mother had emergency surgery. I also remember that Tsloan came with me on a reconnaissance mission to where my mother had crashed her car – she was driving when her head exploded. I was in shock.  He followed me in his car as I drove my mother’s car home.

Tsloan was supportive and helpful in so many ways during that dark time. I just learned recently that he wasn’t a “dog person,” so it makes it even more remarkable that he stepped up to help me out by walking Happy-the-puppy who I’d only recently adopted from the Humane Society (to celebrate Isobel’s 10th birthday).  Happy was traumatized and unruly and suffering from anxiety. So was I.

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Simeon and Tsloan had heard about each other over the years, but they didn’t meet in person until December 21st, 2011, when I at last had the change to introduce them.  I’d invited them and a few other close people to my home – not something I do often! – for a winter solstice celebration.  It also happened to be Simeon’s birthday (and my birthday would be two days later).  I enjoyed watching these two people who I loved so much shyly suss each other.

A few years later, Tsloan visited Simeon in Oceanside, on the Oregon coast, with the gift of two green chairs. Very much on a whim, in the spring of 2016, Simeon and I discovered a curious rambling home in Oceanside – one of our favorite places – a hybrid of an old cabin and a newer two-story wing with an upstairs room that would make the perfect space for floor-to-ceiling bookcases and a big library table.  I knew that this was our place, and I beseeched Simeon to move there, to commence immediately the shared dream of living on the coast.  That’s another thing Tsloan and I (and Simeon) have in common, by the way, our love of the wild Oregon coast.  Tsloan was one of the first people I told about our plan to buy a beach home because I knew he’d be thrilled for us and because I wanted him to know he’d always have a place at the coast where he could dwell.

So, back to the green chairs: Tsloan was in the processes of moving (something he’d had to do several times in the 13 years I knew him) and offered us the two lovely green chairs that he no longer needed, thinking they could live at the Oceanside home. He came on over with the green chairs and he and Simeon had a lovely visit, just the two of them.  I wasn’t even envious that I wasn’t a part of the green chair adventure because I assumed Tsloan would visit us in Oceanside many times in the future, that we’d gather for weekends of walking, talking, cooking and drinking, listening to music, reading and writing. But that was the only time he had the chance to be at the beach house, when he brought the green chairs, though I offered to drive him out for a weekend during the many months last year when he was undergoing “Chemo Extremo,” as he called it.

The green chairs – one upstairs and one downstairs – hold space for Tsloan to visit us any time he’d like.

tsloan's green chair

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The last time I saw Tsloan was on December 12th, 2018, a few days before he died, at the home he shared with his son Daniel.

I took over a plate of roasted veggies – at Daniel’s request – and some cheese and bread.  Tsloan’s sister and Daniel’s mother were there, as well as Tsloan’s best friend from graduate school and his wife.  Songs from the ‘80s were playing – at Tsloan’s request.  I sat on the edge of the hospital bed next to Tsloan, I held his hands. I rubbed his distended stomach.  He was uncomfortable but not in pain.  He was shining so brightly!  I kissed his forehead. I sang along with a Depeche Mode song (Everything Counts). He looked at me and raised his eyebrows and smiled; I raised my eyebrows and smiled back. We said some little sweet things to each other: Thank you; It has been wonderful; I’m so grateful; Don’t worry about anything.

oceanside winter 2019

My dear Tsloan, what a precious and unsurpassed gift our relationship is in my life.  You are a bright shining star.  I wish you safe travels as you soar through the universe.

Love,

Fierce Jenny

P.S. To learn more about Tod/Theo/Tsloan, visit here.

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Gero-Punk Adventures: Aging in Place (part 2)

To get to the park from my house, this is the most direct path: After passing through the front door and carefully stepping down the three steps of the front stoop, turn left at the edge of the driveway. Then, walk to the end of the street – it comes to a “t” at the cool house where Nicole, Glen and their three boys used to live. Take another left but move across the street at a diagonal (there’s only sidewalk on one side of the street; I want to keep you safe). You’ll see a tall fence.

Walk along the fence and turn right at the corner. You’ll be in front of the house where John used to live before he died; now there’s a family: two parents, two kids, one small dog (for whom the fence was constructed).  I was worried because I hadn’t seen the puppy since late autumn and I’d heard she’d been sick, but yesterday as I was walking home from the park with Happy-the-dog I glanced toward the house and saw her sitting on the back of a couch looking out the window, bouncing up and down, thrilled to see one of her humans arriving home!

At the end of that block, turn right and as you walk onward you will see up ahead and to your left the park.  I’ll leave you to it from here – you can choose your own adventure. But might I suggest that you be sure to pay attention to movement in the casting pond as it might be the multi-generational family of killdeer who live in my park? Also, you’ll probably enjoy seeing the playground – it is quite unique – as well as ambling along the boardwalk. Be sure to look deep into the reeds and grasses as you might discover an interesting feathered creature dwelling there (we’ve seen a variety of winter waterfowl recently).

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Sixteen years ago, I chose this neighborhood as a place for me and my daughter to start over (again). Though actually, as I think about it, the dream to live here began more than twice as long ago when I was a teenager and saw this neighborhood for the first time. (This neighborhood and me, we called to each other!) My daughter, now 23 and living in Paris, grew up here. This summer will be the first time she won’t be coming home to live. The next time she comes here, it will be for a short visit. I wonder, now that she’s making a life in a far-away place, does she still feel the pull of the neighborhood where she spent so much of her life thus far?  Will this place still feel like a home, even as she enters more fully into her adult life?

My mother has dwelled in this neighborhood off-and-on for almost as long as we have.  She lived in various apartment complexes around persons of all ages and stages. A few years ago, she decided to move to a subsidized apartment complex for older adults, just on the other side of the park. As her needs have changed, so too have her dwellings.  She’s chosen to grow old here.

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P. dwells here, too. He grew up in the neighborhood and in his early adulthood returned here to help his aging parents. After they died, he continued to live in the family home for as long as he could. Eventually, for complex reasons I’m only partially privy to, he lost the house. Since that time – twenty years ago? – he’s been houseless. When the weather is favorable, he has been known to pitch a tent (and to plant a garden) in a vacant lot near the park. Sometimes he stays up all night walking the neighborhood because that’s safer than letting his guard down to sleep outside when it is cold and dark. Sometimes a friend lets him “couch surf.”

This is P’s neighborhood. He loves it here and he says only death will make him leave it.

The most recent time I saw P. was on one of the snow days a couple of weeks ago.  I was roaming the neighborhood, out on an adventure.  I walked through the park, over the railroad tracks, all the way to the local botanical garden .80 miles away from my home, only to discover that it was closed because of the snow. I had intended to check on the various winter waterfowl. I know that they know how to handle themselves when the temperatures drop, but I still wanted to make sure they were doing okay. (Though I wonder, what might have I done if I’d discovered that they weren’t doing okay?)

Finding the gates locked, I decided to head home via a slightly different route.  I’m so glad I did, as I came upon P. who was heading the same direction as I was but on the opposite side of the street. We saw each other at the same time and waved. Through gestures he told me to stay on my side of the street and he’d cross over. We greeted each other and confirmed that we were heading in the same direction – to the park. We walked together to and through the park, all the way to the end of my street.

As we walked, we talked about the neighborhood, the weather, our families, things that we were worried about. He reminded me and I agreed that it is a waste of energy to hold regrets or grudges, though it can be challenging to let go.  I asked him how he was doing in the cold, whether he had a safe place to stay.  He assured me he was just fine – he had a friend’s house in an adjacent neighborhood where he could go every couple of days to shower and get coffee; he was sleeping at night in an abandoned car near the park. He said he was a free man, living without burdens, without regrets.

He complemented the energetic pace with which I walked and remarked that he had been trying to keep up with me.  I told him that I had thought I was trying to keep up with him!  And then we said goodbye until next time.

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When I wake up, I can tell by the milky light behind the window shade that it is snowing (again!). I decide to set out on an early solo trek around my environs. My old friend Happy-the-dog is no longer up for such an adventure (though he’d beg to differ).  I trace my usual route through the park to see who might be out and about. Two humans; three dogs; a few sleepy mallards and geese. I want a longer adventure before diving into the day’s work, so on a whim I decide to walk to the botanical garden.  I expect to find the gates locked tight – it is early, the weather is “inclement”– but the walk to and from the garden is worthwhile on such a snowy day (really, on any day).

Surprise: The gates are open! Hooray!

I notice tracks in the snow. A couple of humans and dogs arrived before me, but I don’t see them now. It is only me and a few birds: coots; widgeons; mallards; and wood ducks (have you ever heard the sweet way they whistle to each other?).  Oh, and geese treading in the water and flying overhead. At the south-east corner of the garden, where the beaver’s dam is, I notice that since my last visit a very old, large tree has fallen across the stream that feeds the pond.  We’ve seen the “secretive and shy” green heron in that spot before but with the shelter of the tree, anyone could be hiding from view.

As I head north through the trees, back to the garden-gate, I look across the biggest pond, toward the West Hills. I see in the near distance the apartment building where my mother lives.

the manor across the pond

Heading home, I retrace my earlier path through the park. I walk along the boardwalk, checking to see who has awoken.  Blue heron stands hunched on a log, covered in snowflakes.  I see no sign of the little winter birds: green-winged teals; mergansers (hooded and common); pied-billed grebe. The ubiquitous mallards and geese seem impervious to the cold. Silent song sparrows dart between the low bushes and reeds.

Coming toward me is a man and a dog.   The man is tall and on his head is a shock of beautiful white hair.  My heart skips a beat – is that my dear friend Tod? And then I remember that my dear friend Tod died of pancreatic cancer this past December.  His memorial service is this weekend.

The tall man with the shock of beautiful white hair smiles as he gets closer and stops to say hello and allow his little dog (a terrier of some sort?) to hug and kiss me.  The man says:  Not many birds out today.  Who have you seen? Where do you think they go on a day like today? I tell him about my adventure to the botanical garden, who I saw (and didn’t see).  I tell him that up ahead he’ll find a very cold blue heron standing on a log, as well as mallards, geese and sparrows, but none of the small winter waterfowl.  We speculate together about where the teals, mergansers and grebes might shelter from the snow: Under the bushes? In the middle of the tall grasses and reeds? Do they borrow a burrow?

As we leave each other, the man says: We are so lucky to live here and to be a part of all of this.

I say: Yes, we are so lucky.

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