Septuagenarian poet Roth decries our â€œobsessive focus on the deterioration of the elderly” and charts a course of independent, dignified and fruitful aging.
Roth doesn’t deny that there are physical and mental losses as we grow older, particularly regarding brain cells that relate to short-term memory. What she finds galling is the cultural negativity toward old age, â€œthe dire warnings of a society that contemplates every aspect about itself and is seriously afraid of growing older.” With advances in modern medicine, there is every reason to expect an alert, active, achieving and participatory old age. What Roth focuses on are the mental hiccups that attend the advancing years–the moments of forgetfulness. She advises a use-it or lose-it approach, writing, â€œThose who continue to use their brain retain its use; those who do not, lose it.” The author explains that if you worry about forgetting that pot of boiling water, then don’t leave it. If you can’t recall a certain word, chose another, simpler one (which will probably be better than the $10 one you forgot). Roth is especially forceful in counseling that one cultivate his or her head. There is a great storehouse of knowledge, skill and interests in the brain–one that’s been fed since the day each of us were born. The author writes that one should first explore the terrain–â€œfind the time, the place, and the quiet to begin to become conscious of the stored data you already possess”–then build on it and keep learning and ruminating on the big issues, like war and peace and human decency. Some may call it absentmindedness, this mooning about in your own head, but instead it’s a process of letting the mundane slip away. There was a time when we used to learn from our elders’ experience, but now the memory bullies want to send the old to the abattoir. Roth shows how, instead, to be subtly and directly defiant of being pigeonholed as decrepit.
Thoughtful, uncowed observations of the aging process with upbeat conclusions.