If we have the distinct and unfathomable continuum of living in a body long enough for it to age, we have choices. How do we do make them? What is life for? Can we distance ourselves, in the so-called West, from the contagion of disrespect and yes, assumption, of expected disintegration? We do slowly discorporate. Of course. But the external pressure to be thought of, by both ourselves as well (if not moreso) by a wider public, as decrepit with advancing aging, has been entrenched in society as long as I’ve been aware.

The phases of being alive have been forced on us. The delineations. I consider them immature and limited. No one does so with magpies. Or sheoaks. Or sky. Why do we accept this enforcement?

So don’t. It is insane.


When I had lived a nineteen/twenty earth-to-sun ratio I conceived and birthed a child. Due to my insistence that I could raise him non-traditionally he was not taken from me, as happened to so many young women who did not ascribe to the marriage experience.

There was no government assistance so from that infant’s initial months of living I I had to have a job. I was employed as an assistant nurse in one, of what would become many, geriatric hospitals. The first few nights were tricky because I did not take medication to dry the breastmilk, electing, instead, to wrap my torso in cottonwool, and to wind clingwrap around it all to avoid the inevitable leaking.

Nightshift. Old Peoples’ Home. One way door to a coffin for the rejected. That’s what ‘retirement villages’ were called in the 1970s. I cleaned the bedsores of 50 year old women who had been partially paralysed by stroke. I dressed the Orkney ex-soldier, of two world wars, in his best tweed, because it was his birthday and he thought his family was coming; they never did. I saw his eyes. I assisted highly-qualified health workers to tie people with dementia to chairs to stop them wandering to where they thought home was. I wept when the women was left under a shower without the cold tap on to mitigate the burning. That no one noticed until too late. My disgust, at the estimated thousand ‘nymphs’, sucking the life from the person trapped in an immovable, but breathing, body, when I pulled back the bed covers to clean her because of incontinence.

I know horror.

The senior staff and I racing two adult, captured, cockroaches down the corridors at 3 in the morning to keep ourselves awake. The inmates (erroneously called patients) fed a semblance of food, who received no compassion, were admonished when the drooled: pills in a kidney tray with their name on it, the effects unknown to staff. A slow erasure of individuation and identity.


No one came. They–you–were (are) discarded. I have left out the more nauseating cruelties I have witnessed, as that is not the point. These discarded people travelled, wrote or painted, were survivors of hurricanes and holocausts played chess, gyrated to the rhythm of the erotic, drank absynth, defied acceptability perhaps, were academics, walked the streets by the thousand for fair pay, fought against the White Australia Policy, raised families in an era of strict gender roles and intense xianity. Knowing that to deviate was to be shunned, some did so anyway (I know, I asked for their stories, over tea and toast, and the centrefold of Cleo magazine at 11 PM, and was graced and astounded).

They were being punished for becoming “elderly”.


What I heard, and am still hearing, in the word “elderly” is feeble. A fragile, redundant human animal. I was always offended by the word. It may have been to do with what I had seen, the shocking treatment of people who had once held, so lovingly and wildly, to hope. That there was meaning to being alive. Instead I stared into the eyes of despair and confusion. No wonder, never wonder, just a dreadful realisation.

The point? “Elderly” is a description. NOT a noun. It wasn’t until I was driving to the gym one morning just five years ago, in Melbourne, that I saw a sign directing the public to the Coburg Elderly Citizens Centre that I realised what had irked me for all those years. We don’t see it, do we? A statement is repeated enough times it ceases to be questionable. I DO understand how this indoctrinates. Others, perhaps, drive past thinking (if they even take notice), ‘that’s not me. Not yet. What do they do there?’ Not even questioning the phrases we have simply been taught to accept.


Oh, love. A person who has lived twenty years; a person of the age I had been when I gave birth and then worked in those terrible places, if called elderly; if intelligent, would be complimenting them so–by community, family, peers, society–because they are wise. They are elder-like.

The elders of many tribal and indigenous groups, worldwide, are revered. They are wisdom-keepers. Memory-palaces. Are we also them? If not, why not? We have stories of a social and environmental era that someone of fifteen could never imagine. Life before screens? Before mcdonalds and uber? Before superannuation? Long before we realise that The Truman Show is a horror story and the Hunger Games is herding us through catastrophic competition.

Why we live, whatever ideology or philosophy is picked up along the journey that provides a potential glimmer of meaning for being in a body and self-aware, requires vigilance. BECAUSE IT MAY NOT MATTER. How we live, what we learn, being strong, daring, communicating, listening, being heard. Awake to some exquisite unrealised energetic arrangement of synaptic lightning, with secrets that the caterpillar cannot know… while caterpillish.


The transition to that of an elder begins around forty. What to release? What to mirror self on? Panache and a grappling; with unique style. With words and story–no matter the art–that is relevant. There’s the key.


We are starlight. Is that literal? Yes. From all I have learned, yes. There is so much hype to deconstruct. If I advise anything it is to not only be wild but intelligent. To break the mould of societorial derision and…


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