Gero-Punk Practice: Lifelong Yearning (Part II)

In case some of you were waiting for a status report on my presentation, “Leading Your Team as a Life Long Learner,” I thought I’d do a follow-up to the gero-punk practice essay I posted yesterday.

So, let me start by proclaiming: I surely had a great time! The participants at the day-long workforce development workshop were members of Leadership Clackamas County, a year-long professional development program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

When I arrived, about twenty minutes before the time I was scheduled to present, participants were engaged with great enthusiasm in a group exercise for which they were clustered according to “age cohort” or generation: “Millennial,” “Gen-X,” and “Boomers” (those were the three generations represented by the 22 participants). The presentation right before mine was “Leading Across Generations.”

As I was sneaking into the classroom I heard one of the Gen-X men suggest that cross-generational groups would be better so that participants could learn from each other, but the facilitator insisted on keeping them cohort-clustered.  (I should say that I wanted to be present for the entire segment on “Leading Across Generations,” because I am very keen on understanding how others understand what it means to be a part of a generation, and the degree to which the core Gerontological concepts of age/period/cohort have been disseminated into the larger culture. As well, I’m endlessly fascinated by how folks who aren’t trained in gerontology think and talk about issues related to the study of development and aging across the human life course.)

I sat myself down on a stool and spent the next bit of time engaged in close listening and observation of the ensuing shenanigans as each group worked together to determine the key features of the generation they were supposed to represent: icons, anthems, events.  I heard good-humored battles to determine whether Nirvana or Soundgarden was the quintessential Millennial band (I almost got into a brawl, because as a Gen-X girl, I associate those two bands with MY generation!). Then I overheard the Boomer group gang-up on one of their members who couldn’t remember the Moon landing of 1969; they thought he was an cohort-imposter.

Getting to witness the groups work together and then report-out their findings was a real treat, I must say. I learned so much!

And, I was so excited by all of this that when it was my time to present, I had a gero-punk moment and I couldn’t help myself, I had to use what I’d just learned by witnessing the generational group work as a way into my segment.

So, the first thing I asked them was what one should do if one doesn’t identify with one’s cohort. Can one ditch one’s generation? Can one adopt a different generation (or, rather, be adopted by another generation)? Can one decide to pick-and-choose stuff across multiple generations (e.g., historical periods)? And then I asked them to what extent generation is an important organizing category in their lives, how meaningful the generation they are a part of by virtue of the date of their birth is to their sense of self. (But I held back the question: “Can you tell which generation I belong to just by looking at me?” I wonder what the “reader response” is when one presents externally a multi-generational semiotics, as I do?)

The answers to my questions: Let it run off your back. Yes, you can ditch your generation. No, you can’t ditch your generation. Hey, it doesn’t matter–you should do what you want. Hey, it does matter, the experiences you share with other members of your generation  shape who you are. Yes! Indeed, generational placement is important and it matters! No, generational  placement isn’t as important as other factors (gender, class, culture, ethnicity, nativity, etc.). Yes and No–it matters and it doesn’t, and the problem is how to figure out when it does and when it doesn’t!

As I’m writing this essay I am realizing that this isn’t the essay I thought I was going to write.  Instead, I had intended to tell you about the presentation I facilitated, specifically about how last evening while floating in the bath (I was tired, cold and my back was hurting) the insight came to me that the content of my presentation was less important than the form and vibe of my presentation. By this morning, after sleeping on it, I had pretty much decided that my approach was going to be to trust that I’d know how to embody and enact the central principles I’ve been exploring around lifelong/life-wide learning in the presentation on “Leading your Team as a Life Long Learner.”  I mean, what could be worse than giving a linear, closed-system power-point presentation about lifelong learning to a bunch of persons who are excited to explore their own and others’ deep development and social engagement over the life course? So, I created new choreography, practiced a few of the most important movements (not knowing where they might show up in the dance), made sure I was relaxed and warmed up, and fell asleep for a half hour. (Some things change with experience. Some don’t. I still want to fall asleep right before I give a presentation!)

What a funny thing to discover that what I’m actually writing about are the new things I’ve learned today because of loosening up a bit and trusting my capacity to be present to the occasion, as well as the new questions I am able to ask because of what I learned from the participants!

Ha! Viva la Lifelong Yearning!

(Perhaps I’ll write a “part three” about what I actually ended up doing for my presentation. Or maybe I won’t. We’ll see.)

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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1 Response to Gero-Punk Practice: Lifelong Yearning (Part II)

  1. Mary Jo says:

    So happy this went well as I peak out from under a mountain on top of me. You are amazing!

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