Gero-Punk Celebration: Happy Anniversary!

One year ago today I instigated the Gero-Punk Project (though truth be told, I’ve been gero-punking for quite some time).  Over the past twelve months I’ve published sixty-six Gero-Punk essays of various sorts, written by me and by several guests (including my mommy, my mentor, my best friend, my love, many dear current and former students and colleagues, not to mention new comrades of all life-course stages and ages).  As well, over the past year many new friends have visited the Gero-Punk Project, offering ideas, comments, and inspiration.

On this auspicious occasion,  please accept my gratitude for supporting the gerontological anarchy, exploration, and play that we’ve been engaging in together!

Every year on my birthday — December 23rd — I spend some time in a deep process of reflection and  review. I reconsider my personal manifesto, I contemplate what I’ve learned over the past year, and I make wishes and plans for the coming year.  As today is the Gero-Punk Project’s birthday, I thought it fitting to re-post and reflect upon (and revise? We’ll see what happens next…) the Gero-Punk Manifesto as it embodies the commitments that continue to inspire me as I travel through the life-course, doing what I do.

A Gero-Punk Manifesto

I am Jenny Sasser, a gero-punk (and a practitioner of Gerontological Anarchy).  What is a “gero-punk,” you ask?  Well, far be it from me to claim to have a definitive answer, but I will say this: to be a true punk of any sort is to live experimentally, to live in love with emergence, with the unexpected, the chaotic, the improvisatory, to live with your arms wide open to complexity, guided by your own star, fuelled by a good measure of playfulness and well-intentioned rebellion.

To be a gero-punk is to bravely and critically reflect upon, interrogate, and create new ways of thinking about and experiencing the aging journey.  A gero-punk resists normative aging ideology, and challenges others to do so as well, or at least to better understand the implications of normative aging ideology before they live by its rules. And as British gerontologist Simon Biggs entreats us, we resist “simple states of consciousness” about aging and later life, and choose, instead, to dwell in the messiness, the undeniable complexity, of deep human development and aging.

To be a gero-punk is to explore the art of time-travel, to learn how to be grounded simultaneously in the present while respecting (and learning from) the past and dreaming the future.

To be a gero-punk is to find one’s tribe – human and non-human members included– and to gather the tribe close so as to travel together through the life course, “with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me” (to echo poet Stanley Kunitz).

To be a gero-punk is to possess the audacious belief that we are, all of us, legitimate makers of meaning, and so too are all other creatures. That our own precious lives provide the grounds from which understandings emerge. What this also means is that we acknowledge what we can’t possibly know prior to lived experience – For example, I may have been a gerontologist for more than half my life, but I’m yet to be an old gerontologist. I have no expertise on old age, so I best rely on the old experts themselves. But as a gero-punk, I can choose to try on different ways of moving through the world so as to develop empathy for and imagination about aging experiences I’ve yet to (or may never) experience.

As gero-punks, we place our attention and awareness upon odd, unexpected, flummoxing, and contradictory aging experiences; we accept our own experiences and those of others as sacred and real, if yet (or perhaps always) unexplainable. We celebrate the way human life always finds a way to spill over the edges of our attempts to simplify, categorize, and contain its wildness.

And, as gero-punks, we practice the seemingly contradictory spiritual discipline of asking questions about the meanings of all of this, of this wild and fantastic and unfolding aging journey, without always giving into the overwhelming need to engage in analysis, nor with attachment to finding answers to even our most pressing, persistent questions.  Rather, we rejoice in the spilling-forth of yet more questions, we let the questions carry us away.

Finally (well, at least for now), let me assert that gero-punks are committed to taking gerontological anarchy out to the streets, to engaging in meaningful, transformative learning for all humans, of all ages, outside of the academy, not only inside of it.

Post-script: Looking forward

What is on your mind? What is exciting you? Inciting you? Flummoxing you? Worrying  you? Inspiring you? What shall we think about together in the coming year? What would you like me to ponder and write about? What might  you like to  ponder and write about? Next year on August 14th as we look back on the second year of the Gero-Punk Project, what new questions might we like to have explored, what new experiences might we like to have engaged in? Life is short: Act now!

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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