Book Review – This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Ashton Applewhite

Somewhere around the age of 40, I began to refer to myself as “old”. I was working in an industry (food writing) that was beginning to skew younger and younger and I unconsciously began using “old” to differentiate myself. I’ve also used “old” when trying to explain my involvement in the alternative music sub-culture; sometimes it’s just easier to tell a (young) mainstream person that I’m “an old punk” as opposed to trying to explain the growth of the early 80’s post-punk music scene (and all of its different offshoots) into Goth and Industrial music as an identifier for who I am, all while trying to make it clear that I’m not a Green Day fan.

Heck, the tag line for this website is even “Cranky Old Broad About Town”.

But around when I lost a coveted writing gig to someone 20 years younger (and she’s doing an awesome job and is probably a better fit than I could ever possibly have been), I started to feel that maybe old wasn’t such a great thing.

The problem is, as a child-free, car-free, renter, most of the time I still don’t feel like a “grown-up”. I’ve never done those standard, middle-aged things. I’m good at adulting, but with the exception of some health issues, I don’t feel middle-aged.

However, as I rock up to 50, and begin to think about how my chronic health issues are going to be with me, in some form or another, for the rest of my life, I do start to worry about ageing. Not the “I have a wrinkle” type ageing, but the “fuck, what if I end up alone in a nursing home” ageing.

So I was interested and relieved to read This Chair Rock: A Manifesto Against Ageing by Ashton Applewhite. It turns out that what we think we know about ageing is often blown out of proportion.

Applewhite refers to olders and youngers, terms that seem a bit weird to the ear but which have been chosen for their authenticity, honesty and fairness. She points out that issues such as dementia and disability are not as prevalent as the media make them out to be, and that the majority of olders live joyful, fulfilling lives in their later years, often remaining in their own homes when the responsibilities of raising a family are done. Yes, it turns out that olders are actually much happier than those of us in middle age.

This Chair Rocks touches on issues of health, sexuality and beauty, brain health, independence, career, and dealing with death. Applewhite points out the ageism prevalent in all of these areas, but also notes that things are set to change as Boomers approach tehir older years. Some will retire but many more will continue to work, and the resources available to olders will have to expand to accommodate all the different choices. And these changes are often for the greater good – accessibility ramps help not only olders in wheelchairs, but disabled people, moms with strollers and the rest of us with the occasional injury.

Generally, she makes a great case for considering ageism (towards both olders and youngers) to be no different than racism, sexism or homophobia. It shouldn’t be tolerated, in any situation.

The website for This Chair rocks includes an extensive blog and Applewhite runs an additional blog called Yo, Is This Ageist where she answers questions and concerns about ageist behaviour.

I thought this was a fine book that makes it clear that ageing is not to be feared, but embraced, and that our later years can actually be our best. However, it is vital that we all add ageism to the list of other prejudices that we refuse to accept and fight against.

For my part, I’m going to try and stop referring to myself as old. It probably doesn’t matter all that much if a mainstream person, regardless of their age, understands punk vs Goth in the context of the weird lady standing in front of them. I might have a harder time dropping the “old broad” bit, or referring to a man, of any age, as a geezer. But one firm, only slightly arthritic, step at a time.