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.