Last October, when I was contemplating this blog, I chanced upon a lovely radio conversation about aging between CBC broadcaster Michael Enright and University of Toronto professor Andrea Charise. I can’t begin to relay all they talked about (it’s well worth the listen for the details), but the gist of it was a reminder that how we speak about things has consequences. The phrase “grey tsunami,” for example, may do the shorthand work of expressing urgency about the rising number of seniors in our society and the challenges this demographic shift involves, but it also creates, said Charise, a “dehumanizing” narrative about aging, a narrative that’s “not just decline but catastrophe.”
She wasn’t suggesting we grab for the opposite extreme of putting euphemistic “shine” on the facts. Rather, she said, we need to see and speak aging’s “textured reality.” And in her U of T course “Aging and the Arts,” Charise uses literature to do exactly that. There, students discover “individualized experiences of aging,” complete with nuance and ambiguity, and in the process grasp that there’s a “multiplicity” of them.
Textured reality, I thought. That’s it. That’s what I’m after. Neither striving to “shine” nor pitched to gloom, but simply writing my own experience of it. Which exists beside another’s and another’s. There’s no one-size-fits-all version of aging. Mine, his, hers, his, and hers. A rather large mass of us currently in this together, yes, and some of us are grey, but we’re people and diverse for all that, a full-throated compendium, not a dangerous tsunami.