Getting older is like getting fatter. You don’t notice because it happens gradually.
One thing you do notice is suddenly being ignored. You notice because it seems to happen overnight. One day you’re a vital part of society and respected leader in your industry; the next day people merely nod at you with a perfunctory smile as if you were a greeter at Walmart.
This only happens with people who didn’t know you when you were young. Unfortunately, over time that seems to be most people.
Several years ago I mentioned this to my son’s mother-in-law, Gloria, a dear friend who is a bit older and very wise. I told her I was frustrated because my experience and knowledge of my business had always been sought by my colleagues but suddenly nobody seems to have any interest in what I think.
“You’ve reached the age of irrelevance,” she explained matter-of-factly.
I had to let that sink in for a moment:
The age of irrelevance.
Gloria could see I was stunned.
“It happens to all of us,” she said gently. “I used to be the person my managers turned to for ideas. Then one day they weren’t interested in any of my observations or suggestions.”
I didn’t know what to say. It made no sense and yet this is exactly what I was experiencing.
“It’s like when your kids are growing up,” Gloria continued. “They rely on you for everything and then one day they suddenly don’t need you at all. You’re irrelevant.”
Nobody ever warned me this would happen. I don’t like it but I’ve come to accept it philosophically, if not quite emotionally. It still hurts a bit. I feel kind of useless.
It’s been a few years since Gloria explained to me this particularly jarring bump. I’m getting used to it and so will you.
I just thought someone should give you a heads up.
My friend and blogging partner, Anita, shares her thoughts on her revelation here: Anita’s Blog.
(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s I never knew anybody who was a homosexual. The word “gay” hadn’t yet been been appropriated from its original definition as a synonym for happy. Back then people who were sexually attracted to members of their own gender weren’t discussed openly among normal, heterosexual people. When it did come up in conversation it was always in the form of a disparaging joke or an embarrassed whisper of disgust. As children, we weren’t allowed to know these people existed.
People like that were “in the closet”, a phrase I first heard in my teens. The closet was where they belonged, we thought. We were happy to keep it that way. We assumed “they” were satisfied with the arrangement, too. It never occurred to us that people who were in love with a person of their own sex might wish they could live a normal life without being ashamed of who they were and who they loved.
In my youth “normal life” was on display nightly on our family TV shows: Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best. Families were comprised of a wise father who held a good, steady job and provided guidance and wisdom to his children and his wife. Women worked in the home. They cooked and cleaned and made the family dinner.
These old fashioned stereotypes are laughable now but they really did define us. It was who we were and who we would become as we grew into adulthood ourselves. It was simple, sensible and comforting.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that people got tired of being in the closet and came out to claim their place in society. They were shamed and scorned. We didn’t want to think about their sex lives because sex, even among “normal” people, was dirty and private. Sex in any form might be personally glorious but it was socially icky.
Most of us from that era still believe that the most intimate part of normal loving human relations is nobody’s business but our own and we still don’t want to think about the sexual activities of anybody: our parents, ourselves, our own adult children, and most certainly not people whose private parts couldn’t possibly function the way God intended.
The God problem is still a huge obstacle for many people today. Though I wasn’t raised in church I’ll admit that I still find homosexuality baffling and unnatural, but through the years I’ve decided to accept the fact that other people’s private lives are different from mine and none of my business, just as mine is none of theirs.
Over many years I slowly came around to accept this compromise of my childhood indoctrination with limited understanding. Still, when the gay pride movement became a full fledged political issue my reaction has been the same as many others of my generation running to catch up with cultural and social evolution:
“Fine,” I thought. “Whatever. Just keep it to yourselves!”
I still firmly believe that what happens in the bedroom or who we love is a private affair that shouldn’t be flaunted publicly.
Now, in my sixties, I’ve taken the next step: I know that what I think is of no interest to people who believe strongly otherwise.
And I’ve learned as I age that sometimes I am wrong.
I just watched a TV show on HGTV of all places, in which a realtor finds fabulous homes for people who have recently won the lottery. One of the lottery winners was a gay man, a man of hispanic descent with a male life partner who is black. (This show attacked two social issues for the price of one.) I absolutely fell in love with those guys. Their biracial gay relationship wasn’t even mentioned, it was just there. They bought a home together. Neither of them flaunted anything; they didn’t dress weird or talk with a flamboyant lisp. The only reason I know they’re gay is that they were buying a home together and occasionally one would place a hand on the other’s shoulder, just as the man and wife in the story before theirs did.
Those guys were excited about their new home, they love each other and that defines happiness and freedom in every age.
I don’t have to understand their relationship to enjoy it.
Change moves too swiftly for people who grew up in a different world. Political protests, gay pride parades, LGBTQ demands and the like scare us old folks into a corner we can’t understand.
But I’m not too old to learn.
So, here’s the thing: If you’re a young person, try to realize that your parents and grandparents are wise in their years and life experience. They have much wisdom to share, but they didn’t grow up in the same world you did. You have as much to teach them as they can teach you. Just do it gently, patiently and with love.
If you’re an old fart like me, remember that we are the Flower Children, the original Peace and Love Generation who set out to change the world with freedom for all.
“Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding; No more falsehoods or derisions, Golden living dreams of visions; mystic crystal revelation and the mind’s true liberation, Aquarius!… Aquarius!…”
— The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In Copyright 1967 Lyrics by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot
We would have had a gay pride parade fifty years ago if we had thought of it.
PS. I’m working on the transgender thing. Please be patient.
(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)
I was 17 the first time I sat behind a microphone and cued a record. I was nervous but too excited to be scared. I had dreamed of this moment since I was eight. I was ready.
The first button I pushed exploded with thunderous drums, brass and a godlike voice:
“And now, LEE WILLIAMS on a Solid Gold Weekend!”
(Singers) “K-O-B-O, Yuba City!”
The second button I pressed started a rock song and my career.
Liftoff! I felt like I was on my way to the stars.
Somehow 48 years have slipped away since that Saturday morning in Northern California. My resume is as long as the roads that took me from Yuba City to Sacramento to Los Angeles, back to Sacramento and then on to Memphis, back to Sacramento again, to Los Angeles again, then Chicago and now Dallas.
Along the way I’ve been married twice, became a father and bought three homes in different cities.
I’ve made and lost friends and watch loved ones die.
My son just turned 40.
I’ll get my first Social Security check next month. Medicare has my vitals.
And still, I arise at 2:45 a.m. to go do what I do. The old giant radio studio console has been replaced by computer screens and I haven’t played a song since 1975. I talk about the news these days and frankly, most of the stuff in the news is either boring, depressing or comical in an inside joke way, because at my age I feel like I’ve seen and heard it all before.
In the 60s, at the so-called dawning of the Age of Aquarius I first met my now writing partner, Anita Garner, and was given my dream job at KROY, Sacramento. I was the youngest member of the staff. Now I’m the oldest by more than ten years.
Some of my colleagues today are young enough to be my grandkids. As people do between one generation and another we’re nice to each other but we don’t really connect. We can share a laugh and bits of our lives but we can’t relate.
I’ve had a wonderful life including my career in radio, though sometimes I wish I had been allowed to stay in one house for more than just a few years. As Anita points out in her latest post radio life is nomadic. Moving from city to city can be exciting but as I near the end of my working life I wonder almost constantly where I will finally call home.
Between now and then I will write about the places I’ve been, the things I’ve learned and some of the stuff I’ve thunk.
That’s the beauty of a life. By the time you close in on the finish line you have tales to tell and wonders to share.
What follows on this page are some of those tales and thoughts compiled over the past several years.
I write less than I used to. As time goes by I am becoming convinced that I don’t have anything original or interesting to say.
When I was young I was much smarter. Wisdom came to me so fast I couldn’t explain it all.
But, over the years I’ve come to realize the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.
That was an original thought when I thunk it. Nobody enlightened me. I had never heard or read anything like it. It was a brilliant and original epiphany. But now we have the Internet and ego crushing reality is just a search away.
A minute ago I typed “The more I learn…” into Google and here’s what popped up:
The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the more you forget. The more you forget, the less you know. So why bother to learn? — George Bernard Shaw
The more you know, the less you understand. — Lao-Tse
And the real stunner:
The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know. — Socrates
Socrates had my original thought some 2,400 years before I did and said it more crisply!
AND, in ancient Greek!
Worse yet, I’ll bet he wasn’t the first guy to figure this out, either. He just had a tremendous publicist.
I suppose having an idea expressed by one of the great thinkers in history come to me all by itself is cool but there’s no point in my passing it along. It obviously occurs to everybody eventually.
Plus, if we all regurgitated every brilliantly mundane original thought we have what would become of the poor philosophy majors who have nothing else to do with their educations?
The other reason I don’t write much anymore is because Americans don’t read much anymore.
We don’t consume information, we spew it.
We Tweet. We text. We spend our days expressing every banal thought that crosses our mind in such a way that we don’t have to bother hearing or reading a response.
Maybe we don’t want response. We’re just spewin’.
Maybe we’re just trying to shut off the noise and hear ourselves think.
I could be wrong about this.
Maybe, but how can I know?
I’ve learned so much, so fast, I’m rushing toward total ignorance.
Let me repeat and clarify that: a gold crown fell off of a tooth while I was eating ice cream. Not while I was chewing on taffy or beef jerky…
Not crunchy butter brickle ice cream; not nutty sundae, rocky road or Ben and Jerry’s Preposterous Peanut Brutal ice cream…
Just regular chocolate ice cream.
And guess what? It doesn’t hurt at all, not a bit. I have no need to rush to a dentist for an extortionately priced bicuspid emergency. The tooth has been dead for years. My whole mouth is dead, apparently. I’m just going to leave it be.
And that, friends, is the thin silvery lining surrounding the big black cloud of aging. When you reach a certain point pain apparently serves no purpose.
My radio partner, Amy Chodroff, and I had a conversation yesterday (570 AM KLIF, Dallas, TX) with a man who proposes we all learn to disconnect from our social gadgets just one day a week. Think about that: no Facebook, no Twitter, no My Space, no Google Plus, no Instagram, no Pinterest, no e-mail, no texting, no nothing:
Just you and the people you can see in real time and space.
I remember decades ago, before Cyber World Genesis, when people were making similar suggestions about technologies and social habits that would seem quaint to us now. “Turn off the TV one night a week”, they said. “Get reacquainted with your family. Talk about your day. Play a board game. Make popcorn.”
It really does sound nice, doesn’t it?
All the way back to my own childhood in the fifties and sixties I can remember the social psychologists urging families to always eat dinner together at the table. It suggested we strive for TV family perfection. Dad would be there smiling in his sweater and tie, Mom would be fresh as a daisy after a day spent driving a vacuum and an iron and then wrangling dinner in the kitchen. We could have funny conversations like the Cleaver family.
It all sounds wonderful but what I remember from my real life family dinners is complaints about the food, being scolded for the griping, Dad grousing about some idiot at work and dear Mom trying to hold it all together. Not always, of course, but often enough that I learned early that nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Like it or not, family and social dynamics change with culture which is largely driven by technology.
Nobody sends handwritten letters anymore. Gone are the summer nights on a blanket in the front yard together watching the stars come out. Rocking chairs on the front porch over a pitcher of lemonade and shared tales of greater glories past are the stuff of fanciful memory and our social fabric.
It’s good to remember the past but a terrible mistake to try to live there.
I think I may give this disconnecting idea a shot, occasionally. Maybe not once a week, like on a schedule. Just occasionally, like opening a shoe box filled with old pictures. It’s fun.
Our heat wave seems to have broken. It’s below 80 this morning for the first time in over a week. Clouds are gathering for a welcome summer storm.
I think the reason we’re so darned interested in the weather has less to do with our plans and personal comfort than it does our inability to notice the passing of time. If the weather never changed we would seem to be living the same day over and over, though we age rapidly.
When I was young I thought it funny, and to be honest more than just slightly annoying, that the older people in my life told the same stories time and again. My dad did that. His dad, too. And it seemed to me the older people got the more often they retold a dwindling number of their personal adventures. Now I find myself doing it and often apologizing to my kids as a disclaimer. “I may have already told you this,” I’ll say, but then I’ll go ahead and tell it again anyway.
The truth is, as wonderful as a long life can be we are pathetically short on memories.We remember the highlights of our lives as if they were moments that stand out from old movies. The rest of it seems to be bits and pieces of black and white images, remembered without context or emotional texture. This is why we take so darned many pictures, I guess, to try to hold onto special moments and even the ones we know will be deemed insignificant or forgotten altogether a short time from now.
We mark the passing of our lives by changes in the weather and by how fast the kids grow up.
People come and go.
Sixty, seventy, eighty years. Life sounds long but lives fast. And if we’ve done it right we are vastly wiser and happier for all the great lessons we’ve absorbed, the good with the bad; the monumental and the insignificant. They add up to an existence we can rest assured was meaningful. The world would be a bit less joyful if you or I had never passed this way.
Oddly, though, as miraculous as we are we wind up retelling stories.
I’m sixty years old. It didn’t seem like a big deal back in August when it happened. Forty was a big deal but not sixty.
A couple of days ago I was talking about aging with Gloria, my son’s mother-in-law and one of the wisest people I know. Specifically, I mentioned that as much as I’ve learned about the craft of radio performance over forty-three years of it, none of the younger people I work with seem to be interested in picking my brain. If I offer a small nugget of hard-won wisdom it seems to fall with a clunk on deaf ears. I believe I’ve occasionally seen a furtive wink, a roll of an eye. I’m pretty sure of it.
Gloria nodded sagely. She understood.
It’s a shame, I continued, that as we age we learn so much but eventually we die and all that knowledge of fact, of wisdom and experience, is lost without ever having been shared and appreciated. Worst of all is the lack of respect that piles on top of the years. Instead of being honored, I lamented, old people in our culture are the butt of jokes.
If brevity is the soul of wit, Gloria is a prophet.
“You’re obsolete,” she said offhandedly. “We all are, people our age.”
She said it as if she had just noticed that my shoe was untied and thought I should know.
I’ve been unemployed since October and this is the third time in three years I’ve been between jobs. Radio is an aging technology, an industry being dismantled. We’re sputtering to an end together.
I’ve had a wonderful career and no regrets. If it’s over that’s fine because I still have plenty of life left in me with wonderful friends like Gloria.
I’ll age gracefully. I’ll be obsolete, except to my family. That’s all that matters.
Sometimes, though, sixty is starting to feel like kind of a big deal.
For some reason the word “cripple” is distasteful so we now say “disabled.” Frankly, I don’t see how that’s any better. I guess the nice police figure it implies strength within infirmity. It excuses us from our physical and mental shortcomings though it doesn’t help us overcome and live with them. It helps us pretend we are not less than complete; we cripples are just as good as anybody else, even though we are, admittedly, “disabled.”
In the words of my Wyoming coal-mining cowboy grandfather, that is horse hockey.
I’m crippled. It’s no shame. I had an accident, that’s all. My feet don’t work well but my brain still does. I suffer a bit but I make do and live with it. And by the way, the accident was my own fault. I need to remember that so please don’t take it away from me.
Nobody is old these days. We’re “senior citizens.”
Puh-leeze. It’s cute but I’m not a big fan of cute except in babies and puppies. You can be a “senior” if you like but don’t call me that, okay? I’d rather be “old” or, better yet, not defined by my age at all. Don’t make me cute. I’m more than that.
I think all this social nice-nice has less to do with respect for others than our own desire to seem caring so we can accept our own imperfections.
People don’t get fired these days, they get “laid off.”
I remember when “laid off” meant you could expect to be rehired in the near future. Not anymore. The fact is you’ve been fired, canned, kicked to the curb. The company you worked for just doesn’t need or want you anymore. But, it’s supposed to be somehow less painful to say you were “laid off.” Being “fired” is terribly, terribly personal.
It’s not your fault, nothing is.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Nobody is at fault and nobody is to blame for the ups and downs of what we used to just call life.
My grandson’s soccer league doesn’t keep score. They don’t want any losers.
I don’t have to explain to you why that’s so horribly twisted. Most of you are old and wise like me. You remember when your parents and grandparents watched you fall, waited for you to cry and picked you up to wipe your tears, clean your wound and say, “I told you so!” Touching a hot stove is the only way to learn to never do it again. Losing is the only way to learn to win.
It used to be, anyway. These days being on the losing side of a soccer game is considered the death of self-respect.
The only thing that seems to matter now are our fragile egos and manufactured self-esteem.
I can’t change the culture but I still have something to say about the raising of my own sons and grandsons. Here’s what I’d like to say to them:
–You will curse your mistakes and failures. I will quietly celebrate them because they’re lessons I can’t give you. You are a winner and, at times, a loser. Deal with it. You’ll be happier for it.
–You will suffer emotionally and I will try to love you out of your pain but then I’ll have to go home and leave you to sort it out for yourself. Can’t help it, that’s the way it works.
— There is not enough time in my life or yours for us to completely share our hearts. Try to be grateful for every moment we have together, especially the ones that seem unimportant at the time.
Thirty-some years ago while in the depths of my personal despair my father, my hero, told me — in these exact words, which I will never forget:
“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”
And now, I have finally reached an age where I am qualified to add to my dad’s life-defining revelation:
You don’t love yourself for being good, that’s a given. You love yourself for falling down, getting up and living better for what you have learned.
“‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!” One day not too long ago I wandered into a 7-11 storeand hid my smile from the clerk. He appeared to be on the fringe of his “golden years,” rotund, gray and balding. He was the only guy in the place and had Jimi Hendrix blaring from his boomboxbehind the counter. I thought it was pretty funny that an old guy like him was digging Jimi. Then, what you have already figured out hit me.
That “old guy” was my age. Something happened in the mid-1960s that suddenly narrowed all future generation gaps. It was a social sea change rooted in technology and nourished with an elixir concocted by a new breed of post be-bop musicians. Everything about them was radical, from their long, unkempt hair to their wildly-colorful disdain of fashion sense to their electronically amplified screams of youthful exuberance.
Our parents were apoplectic.
And we dug that, too.
“Yi-pi-yi-ay! Yi-pi-yi-o! Ghost riders in the sky…”
When my mother graduated from high school in June of 1949 the top-selling record of the day was Riders In The Sky by Vaughn Monroe. Twenty years later, June of 1969, I graduated high school and the number one song was Get Back by the Beatles.
So, what? So, this:
I’m not sure I have ever heard a Vaughn Monroe song but I’m absolutely positive I never owned one. On the other hand my son owns a nearly full Beatles collection and knows as much about the songs and the group as I do. He also loves the music of Creedence, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and other artists who made their impact years before he was born.
And it works the other way around, too. I believe my contemporaries and I keep up with cultural changes much more readily than my grandparents did. When I was a lad you wouldn’t find me sitting with Grandma in front of her Philco TV watching the Lawrence Welk Show but here I am, my grandparents’ age, parked in front of the big flat screen Sony for each new episode of American Idol.
And it’s not just music, either. I’m pretty sure neither of my grandfathers would have been caught dead at Disneyland. I’d bet on it, in fact. My dad went there with the family on our vacation when I was a young teen but I don’t remember him riding the Matterhorn or Dumbo. He would never stand near Mickey Mouse or Goofy for a photo op.By the time I became a dad, though, Disneyland was a whole new ballgame. That’s not surprising since the park was born after I was and having grown up with the Magic Kingdom experience under my belt, enjoying it with my kids and grand-kids just comes naturally. In fact, Carolann and I have annual passes.
So, here’s the thing: While we always hear people bemoaning the loss of American family relationships I’m not buying it.When I was a kid, yes, we all ate dinner together at a single table, at the same time, without the TV. But frankly, I don’t recall it as being a particularly nurturing and bonding experience. I don’t remember it being anything at all except dinner.
So, while my son didn’t often have meatloaf at the family dinner table he did have me at his Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday parties and I like to believe he enjoyed that.
I’m no social scientist so I really can’t figure out what it all means, if anything, but that has never stopped me from reaching a happy conclusion and here it is:
If our parents are the Greatest Generation, as is the title applied to them in recent years, we are surely the Coolest. So far, anyway.