Montreal Gazette

RE­FLEC­TIONS ON TURN­ING 60

Yanofsky sum­mons courage, friends

- — Brand New Dance, Loudon Wain­wright III JOEL YANOFSKY Ian Brown’s 60: The Be­gin­ning of the End or the End of the Be­gin­ning? (Ran­dom House, $29.95) will be in book­stores Sept. 29. Joel Yanofsky is the au­thor of the memoir Bad An­i­mals: A Fa­ther’s Ac­ci­den Ageism · Discrimination · Human Rights · Society · Internet Celebrities · Celebrities · Employment · Netflix · Statistics Canada · Toronto · New York City · Bryan Cranston · Breaking Bad · The Beatles · One Direction · Bloggers · Retirement · Richard Price · Ian Brown

There’s a new dance craze sweep­ing the land First you get out of bed. Then you at­tempt to stand

You got brand new dance and it goes like this You wake up in the morn­ing and look into the abyss Re­minders, as if I need them, are ev­ery­where. Like the gov­ern­ment forms that ar­rived last spring in­form­ing me I would soon be el­i­gi­ble for my “re­tire­ment pen­sion.” Or what used to be called — it grad­u­ally dawned on me — oldage pen­sion.

Then a month ago, my GP called me in to dis­cuss the glu­cose num­bers on my latest blood test. He had that “at-your-age” look on his face.

“I should have stud­ied,” I told my wife Cyn­thia when I got home. An old joke but some­how, at my age, not as funny as it once was.

The In­ter­net is on to me, too. Ev­ery piece of junk email that lands in my in­box now seems de­signed to make me feel an­cient. There are ads for di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure, over­ac­tive blad­der, wrin­kle re­mover, walk-in tubs, im­prov­ing my golf game and, of course, Vi­a­gra.

“Ev­ery­one wants a piece of you,” Cyn­thia said, “while there are still pieces to be had.”

Fi­nally, last week, there was a let­ter from our syn­a­gogue wish­ing me “mazel tov” on my im­pend­ing “spe­cial birth­day.” I was also in­vited to say a public prayer of grat­i­tude at an up­com­ing ser­vice. I was touched by the of­fer. There’s only one prob­lem. These days, I’m not feel­ing es­pe­cially grate­ful. This is the month I turn 60. Be­fore this “spe­cial birth­day,” I never cared about num­bers. Thirty and 40 passed with­out fuss. Cyn­thia in­sisted my 50th be marked so I agreed to an im­promptu open­house party. No presents, the e-vite in­sisted, no big deal. Still, I’m dis­cov­er­ing, as I push 60, that the nov­el­ist Richard Price was right: “The older you get the more you hate arith­metic.”

In fact, if you’re read­ing this in the Satur­day news­pa­per, on Sept. 26, it is my birth­day and my plan is to spend it hid­ing un­der the cov­ers, with only my iPad and Net­flix for com­pany. Here’s my pri­vate prayer: please God don’t let the Wi-Fi or my “over­ac­tive blad­der” fail.

So the ques­tion re­mains: How do I feel? Re­ally feel?

Not alone, for starters. Be­ing a baby boomer means never hav­ing to go through any trau­matic de­mo­graphic shift on your own. My gen­er­a­tional co­hort — 1946-1964 — has ei­ther faced this mile­stone in the past decade or will be fac­ing it in the com­ing one. Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, if you were born in 1955 then you’ll be join­ing some 489,000 fel­low Cana­di­ans in be­com­ing, par­don the oxy­moron, newly minted sex­a­ge­nar­i­ans.

Which is why you’d think, given my gen­er­a­tion’s predilec­tion for hog­ging the spotlight, more of us would be go­ing on about the Big Six-0. Maybe the rea­son we aren’t is as plain as those wrin­kles on our faces, or that re­ced­ing hair­line: we’d rather not.

Still, there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that 60, at least from the van­tage point of 59, is as round as a round num­ber gets. It’s solid, not ne­go­tiable the way my 40s and 50s seemed. It sim­ply feels dif­fer­ent.

“Peo­ple say it’s just a num­ber and that is, at the most unimag­i­na­tive level, true,” Ian Brown told me by phone from Toronto. “But it’s also a sym­bolic num­ber.”

So much so Brown, a vet­eran Globe and Mail jour­nal­ist, spent 2014, the year he turned 60, keep­ing a di­ary of his phys­i­cal and emo­tional ups and downs – all the aches and pains, com­plaints and re­grets.

His memoir, called 60: The Be­gin­ning of the End or the End of the Be­gin­ning? has a melan­cholic am­biva­lence built into its sub­ti­tle — note the ques­tion mark — as well as its nar­ra­tive.

When it comes to ag­ing, ac­cord­ing to Brown, “we spend most of our energy … de­vis­ing ways to pre­tend that it’s not hap­pen­ing.” He cites ubiq­ui­tous Huf­fpost blogs about turn­ing 60 — with their “delu­sional key­words” like “Ag­ing Grace­fully, Feel­ing Fab­u­lous, Older Mid­dle Age” — as ex­am­ples of how far we’re will­ing to go to try to stop the clock. Then there are those self-help books, like Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Un­til You’re 80 and Be­yond, which seem in­tent on de­fy­ing the laws of physics and turn­ing the clock back.

Brown fo­cuses, in­stead, on mak­ing 60 his “year of liv­ing ob­ser­va­tion­ally.” In his pref­ace, he writes, “I thought it might be an in­ter­est­ing experiment to stare into the face of that de­nial (about ag­ing) and keep track, at even the most mun­dane daily level, of the train com­ing straight at us.”

Straight in­deed: in the last decade, I’ve de­liv­ered four eu­lo­gies. That’s one rea­son I wasn’t sur­prised when my teenage son, Jonah, re­turn­ing from three weeks at sleep­away camp last month, got off the bus and, even be­fore he said hello, asked his mother and me, “Did any­one die?”

Jonah is fa­mous in our fam­ily for his blunt­ness. It’s prac­ti­cally poetic. He says pre­cisely and suc­cinctly what he’s think­ing; in other words, what you’re think­ing, too, but would never dare say.

“Ev­ery­one’s OK,” I told him, though I crossed my fin­gers and added, “so far.” I share his anx­i­ety, af­ter all. Look­ing back at those eu­lo­gies, writ­ten for some of the most im­por­tant peo­ple in my son’s life and mine, I can’t help feel­ing, as I’m sure he does, there’s been some kind of mix-up. As if a re­trac­tion is due.

When you’re push­ing 60, loss goes with the ter­ri­tory. Even so, I doubt I’ll ever get used to it. Ag­ing feels dif­fer­ent, so far. It’s more like mov­ing to a for­eign coun­try – a mat­ter of ac­cli­ma­tiz­ing, get­ting your bear­ings. Be­cause there is, Brown ex­plains, a dizzy­ing qual­ity, a dou­ble­ness, to turn­ing 60: at the same time that you can’t see your­self as old you can hardly see your­self as any­thing else.

In I’m Too Old for This, a re­cent col­umn in The New York Times, writer Do­minique Browning talks about how lib­er­at­ing her 60th birth­day was. She no longer both­ers feel­ing in­se­cure about her ap­pear­ance, for in­stance. She’s learned to walk away from all man­ner of toxic re­la­tion­ships.

In fact, she en­vi­sions adapt­ing her new mantra into a po­ten­tially best­selling app – “2 old 4 this.” It would serve as “a sig­na­ture kissoff to all that was once vex­a­tious,” she writes. “A good­bye to all that has done noth­ing but hold us back.”

My next-door neigh­bour, Maria Di Stavolo, also turns 60 this month — like I said, we’re ev­ery­where — and has no plans to say good­bye to any­thing. “I see this birth­day as open­ing up a whole new chap­ter in my life, a new be­gin­ning,” she told me when we met on the street the other day. “It’s a chance for ad­ven­tures, chal­lenges. I’m so ex­cited. Isn’t it ex­cit­ing?”

Her en­thu­si­asm was al­most con­ta­gious. I shrugged. Ex­cited isn’t the word I’d use.

There’s a Se­in­feld episode where Jerry’s den­tist, played by Bryan Cranston in pre-Break­ing Bad days, con­verts to Ju­daism. He does it, Jerry sus­pects, for the jokes. He wants to make fun of Jews with im­punity, the way only Jews are per­mit­ted to. I imag­ine turn­ing 60 will be sim­i­lar. I can make all the jokes about old peo­ple I want. Call it a li­cence to kib­itz.

Kib­itz­ing was mainly what my as­sem­bled Old Geezer Club — see, geezer, old fart, coot, I can use them all — was do­ing on our inau­gu­ral get-to­gether a cou­ple of weeks ago. They came to din­ner at my house to serve as 60-some­thing sages, my per­sonal panel of ex­perts. Their ex­per­tise con­sisted mainly of the fact they all turned 60 be­fore me. Full dis­clo­sure: they’re also my friends.

“At 60, I be­gan to feel like our 12-year-old Honda,” Bryan Dem­chin­sky said. In Au­gust, Dem­chin­sky turned 64, another sym­bolic num­ber (“Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?”) thanks to The Bea­tles. “One thing starts break­ing down af­ter another.”

“Or you run out of gas,” added Mark Ab­ley, 60 last May.

“Or you have too much gas,” said Mike Shenker, 60 last Fe­bru­ary.

OK, we did some kvetch­ing too — another priv­i­lege of age. Still, if we weren’t ex­actly whistling past the grave­yard — or at that on­com­ing train — we were hum­ming in its vicin­ity. About mor­tal­ity, for ex­am­ple, Shenker said, “The obituaries are our de­mo­graphic’s news­let­ter.”

“I check them ev­ery day,” Dem­chin­sky added. “You never know who’s go­ing to turn up.”

More dis­clo­sure: my friends are all writ­ers and ed­i­tors, for­mer full-time em­ploy­ees of this news­pa­per. All took buyouts over the last decade or so — though Ab­ley still writes The Gazette’s Watch­words col­umn — and, in one way and another, have had to rein­vent them­selves as they ap­proached 60.

Dem­chin­sky is con­tem­plat­ing writ­ing a book about how to tran­si­tion from one ca­reer, one stage of life, to another. “It would be about re­con­fig­ur­ing your iden­tity,” he said. “About the ex­pe­ri­ences peo­ple our age have — wor­ry­ing about money, health, kids, re­la­tion­ships. Work­ing ti­tle: The Sweet Hereafter Life.”

Iden­tity is an is­sue for Ab­ley, who said he some­times wor­ries about how other peo­ple view him. “Peo­ple who know you well don’t see you dif­fer­ently. But turn­ing 60 seems to mat­ter more for the way the out­side world sees you. And for your self-iden­tity. Was turn­ing 60 a big deal for me? Oh God, yeah!”

Shenker, though, made the most of what might have been a dif­fi­cult birth­day. Re­cently sep­a­rated, he took the trip he al­ways dreamed of: he drove solo through the Amer­i­can South­west.

“I was go­ing to be 60 and I was in Death Val­ley. I mean Death Val­ley. I re­al­ized I needed to share the day with peo­ple, but I didn’t know any­one so I shared it with strangers. I drove to the near­est town, bought a sheet cake at the su­per­mar­ket, made a sign say­ing, ‘Free cake. It’s my 60th birth­day.’ I gave out 30 pieces. Ev­ery­body loved it. And I got a good deal on the cake.”

What did I learn from our evening? That some­where be­tween the clue­less cheer­lead­ing of blogs and self­help books and the re­lent­less in­tro­spec­tion of self-ab­sorbed baby boomers, there’s a mid­dle ground. A place to be se­ri­ous with­out tak­ing your­self too se­ri­ously; where old dogs are not only ca­pa­ble of learn­ing new tricks but where do­ing so is es­sen­tial.

Take me for ex­am­ple. On my 59th birth­day, I tried mar­i­juana (medic­i­nal, let’s say) for the first time. A born wor­rier, I al­ways sub­scribed to the gate­way-drug the­ory. But at my age, what could it pos­si­bly lead to? Lip­i­tor? Vi­a­gra?

By the way, I got a dog, my first, for my 58th birth­day. The present ar­rived about half a cen­tury later than I re­quested it. Still.

This year I’m also plan­ning to work on a mu­si­cal and a youn­gadult novel, both chal­leng­ing, brand-new ven­tures. I also know I have a great deal to learn about be­ing a bet­ter hus­band and fa­ther.

My ex­pert panel and I laughed a lot the other night, dis­cussing our hopes and anx­i­eties, fu­ture plans as well as fu­ture ail­ments, but for some rea­son — we’re guys? — we never got around to talk­ing about “the sex,” as Ab­ley put it, “in sex­a­ge­nar­ian.” That’s not to say I didn’t bring the sub­ject up, but ev­ery­one agreed I’d never have enough space to do it jus­tice in this ar­ti­cle. Turns out the geezers were right.

Ev­ery piece of junk email that lands in my in­box seems de­signed to make me feel an­cient.

 ??  ??
 ?? PHOTOS: JOHN KEN­NEY/MON­TREAL GAZETTE ?? Joel Yanofsky never wor­ried about “mile­stone” birthdays — un­til this one. He plans to spend to­day, the day he turns 60, at home, hid­ing un­der the cov­ers, with only his iPad and Net­flix for com­pany.
PHOTOS: JOHN KEN­NEY/MON­TREAL GAZETTE Joel Yanofsky never wor­ried about “mile­stone” birthdays — un­til this one. He plans to spend to­day, the day he turns 60, at home, hid­ing un­der the cov­ers, with only his iPad and Net­flix for com­pany.
 ??  ?? Be­ing a baby boomer means never hav­ing to go through a trau­matic de­mo­graphic shift on your own: Joel Yanofsky, far left, at home with friends, from left to right, Mark Ab­ley, Mike Shenker and Bryan Dem­chin­sky.
Be­ing a baby boomer means never hav­ing to go through a trau­matic de­mo­graphic shift on your own: Joel Yanofsky, far left, at home with friends, from left to right, Mark Ab­ley, Mike Shenker and Bryan Dem­chin­sky.

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