Welcome to the first installment of a new work-in-progress, the “Gero-punk Lexicon.” You probably think you know what a lexicon is (a collection of words and their definitions, usually in alphabetical order, but since this lexicon in a work-in-progress and totally gero-punk, it will be in any order I please. So there.). But you definitely don’t know what a gero-punk is, and neither do I, because to be a true punk of any sort is to live experimentally, to live in love with emergence, the unexpected, the improvisatory, the rebellious, the chaotic, guided by your own star, propelled by a good measure of playfulness and well-placed righteous irony. To be a gero-punk is to take responsibility for who you become as you travel through the life-course, to resist simple states of consciousness and having your aging experience defined by others, to see your life as a riveting story unfolding in amazing, strange, vivid, and cool ways.
Right now, this project is about de-colonizing the minds and lifeworlds of aging people (And by “aging people,” I mean all of us. You know who you are, and you know I am right!) by critically reflecting upon, interrogating, and creating new interpretations of words and concepts that have become a major part of normative public and academic discourse about aging, later life, and old people. Resist the normative, or at least understand it before you live by it.
The stuff of this project comes from my daily life as a gero-punk. Here’s an entry to get us started. Stay tuned for more.
Legacy goes in all directions and is deeply, fundamentally relational, and beyond the material. By “all directions,” I mean that legacy is trans- and inter-generational, and not exclusively about transmission of resources (material and otherwise) to younger generations from older generations, but it can go in the other direction, as well, and in all directions at once. By “fundamentally relational,” I mean that the creation of legacy happens in the context of cultivated, on-going relationships (And between both the “living” and the “no-longer-living”; that is, a member of a legacy-creating relationship may no longer be alive but still very present and influential to others); it is an expression of deep, consequential connections between humans. By “beyond the material,” I am pushing back at the idea that legacy is primarily about the transmission from elders to youngers of material resources: money, property, possessions. A larger-mind view of legacy is that it is about intentionally creating the conditions necessary for a vital present and future life for not only our closest-in people, but for all creatures. As such, members of multiple generations traveling through the life course simultaneously join together to pass-around (rather than pass-down) resources. These resources certainly may be material in the traditional sense of legacy – money, property, possessions – but also ethical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional (for example, “ethical wills,” spiritual traditions, creative projects, family traditions and practices). Legacy may also entail carrying on not only the traditions and practices of an other who is no longer living, but adopting – embodying – one of their quintessential characteristics or commitments: a particular habit-of-speech, a jaunty hat they always wore, or their role in a larger system. In this way, they continue to exist but in a different form, and we are forever changed – and changing -- because of our relationship with them. Lastly, a larger trans-personal view of legacy encompasses non-human creatures, the planet, and our universe, as well as future humans whom we’ll not know because we will no longer be living, but for whom we care nonetheless (and who may someday in the future learn and care about us, their ancestors, as well.).
Example One, from “Fred’s Figs: Part One”:
Now as I eat figs too ripe to carry across the street from Fred’s garden to my house, I think about the legacy Fred continues to give me, though our relationship exists in a different dimension now that he’s no longer living. To be trusted with the caring for Fred’s garden, a garden that has grown perpetually for 85 years, tending the plants, cultivating the land, allows me to continue my relationship with him. To spend Sunday afternoons with his adult children pulling weeds and gathering the harvest allows me to expand my relationship with Fred, to learn new things about him, about his people.
I’ve even adopted some of his habits-of-speech. I hear myself asking a friend, “Could you use some figs?” I take delight in watching my friend break open the green flesh to discover the sweet purple insides of one of Fred’s figs.
Example Two, from “Gramma Jewell”
My small, strong, stubborn Gramma spent most of her life dreaming on behalf of others – sometimes even living vicariously through others. Her life was never quite big enough for her, so she tried her hardest to create bigger lives for the rest of us. I was the first person on either side of my family to pursue college besides my grandpa the Geologist, and I owe this to my Gramma, as she planted the notion in me like a dormant seed for some new kind of plant, and she protected me the best she could from the harsh conditions of my immediate family so that the strange seed in me might grow. (When I was in college and graduate school, I would send the materials for each of my courses to my Gramma—syllabi and reading lists, even books, and copies of the papers I was writing – so that she could follow my journey, think along with me, see how her work on my behalf was amounting to something. I’ve never known anyone as curious as my Gramma.)