A Beginner's Guide
By: Michael Kinsley
Publication Date: 4/26/2016
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
Vanity Fair columnist Michael Kinsley escorts his fellow Boomers through the door marked "Exit."
The largest age cohort in history—the notorious baby boomers—is approaching the end and starting to plan their final moves in the game of life. Now they are asking: What was that all about? Was it about acquiring things or changing the world? Was it about keeping all your marbles? Or is the only thing that counts after you've gone the reputation you leave behind?
In this series of essays, Michael Kinsley uses his own battle with Parkinson's disease to unearth answers to questions we are all at some time forced to confront. "Sometimes," he writes, "I feel like a scout from my generation, sent out ahead to experience in my fifties what even the healthiest Boomers are going to experience in their sixties, seventies, or eighties."
This deeply affectionate book is at once a fresh assessment of a generation and a frequently funny account of one man's journey toward the finish line. "The least misfortune can do to make up for itself is to be interesting," he writes. "Parkinson's disease has fulfilled that obligation."
A special thank you to Crown and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Michael Kinsley writes about his take on aging—OLD AGE: A Beginner's Guide, an exit strategy for Boomers, born between 1946-1964, entering life’s last chapter. Remembered for being ambitious and competitive? The largest age cohort in American history. Death, illness, and time. How will you use your time? Kinsley (65) writes honestly about his own illness, early-onset Parkinson’s and the three ways to deal with devastating news: acceptance, confrontation, or denial. Acceptance is an aspiration, not a strategy. Confrontation means putting the disease at the center of your life; learning as much as you can about it, vigorously exploring alternative therapies, campaigning for more research funds, organization community events. Denial, on the hand, means letting the disease affect your day to day life, as little as possible. Pretending as best you can that you do not have it. We were born thinking we will live forever. Then death comes an intermittent reality, as grandparents and parents die, and the tragedy of some kind removes one or two from our own age cohort. It is unavoidable. The last boomer competition is not just about how long you live. It is also about how you die. Young, old, quick, painless, lingering, suicide, cancer, bedridden, chronic disease, dignity or not, Alzheimer’s, heart attack, accidental, Dementia, mentally sound, or lost marbles? Two forms of competition in the boomer death-style Olympics: Dying last, dying lucid. You can go for longevity, but unless you’re extremely lucky, you won’t win both games. Boomers have survived it all! We are ready to enjoy life now---after spending years being a work alcoholic with 20 hr. work days, fighting the fight, stress, and getting our children through college. Our time now. Our own schedule. We still continue to consult, remote work, read, blog, volunteer, among other things to keep our minds active. We can spend our days as we see fit, without the hectic schedule. However, with this being said. How much time do you have before pending health factors, strike you down? For those of you in your fifties—it will hit you soon, enjoy life while you can. Seems like yesterday, I was forty. Time flies. Start preparing. Now stuck in the middle of tending to our aging parents, and shocked to realize our children are in their forties, grandchildren, and now the main focus is social security, budgeting, healthcare, and upcoming Medicare. How did we get here? Not a fun subject. A necessary one. Kinsley is realistic and at times witty in writing about aging, death and his own health in this brief collection of essays, some of which have appeared in Time, the New Yorker and elsewhere. However, overall a depressing read. Between what your parents gave you to start with—genetically or culturally or financially—and pure luck, you play a small role in determining how long you live. Yes, life is unfair. From, diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins you may extend your life; however, it is the game that really counts. The author proposes a question: the biggest competition is about to start. What do you have now and what do you covet that you would not gladly trade for five extra years. Heath, children, cures, a noble cause? The last chapter, I could have done without. May will agree with this. No, am not in favor of giving social security back to the government to pay for the $17 trillion debt. Many need social security in order to survive, having never recovered from 2002 and 2008 crash. Some have been left with taking early retirement, due to the job market; thereby, cutting the monthly amount drastically. My parents are in their mid-eighties and the way they are going, they may outlive me. My relatives tend to live long- late 90s-100. We never know how we will age, and gravity hits in the blink of an eye. After reading OLD AGE, you will count yourself lucky to have your health. The author gives us facts, statistics, advice, and leaves us with questions to ponder. How do we want to be remembered?
On a personal note:
Being a baby-boomer (1952) Yuppie-- yes, I am one of those professionals, moving to Urban Downtown West Palm Beach, FL, vegan, divorced—grown children and grandchildren living 20 hrs. away---choosing to retire early in Florida in a walkable city (Walker's Paradise-Walk Score 94), in the middle of two entertainment centers, overlooking the water. Recently, making the bold move, of selling my automobile for the first time since age sixteen. Downsizing to a 425 sq. ft. studio apartment—a limited budget--a lot to be said for eliminating clutter and unnecessary material possessions for a simpler lifestyle. A huge contrast from years past. Taking early social security to supplement income (Yes, we need social security--how else would we survive)?
I had to laugh, since recently moving to a high rise independent living, where you have to be 62 years of age, to apply and get on a long waiting list. (Every senior wants to retire in Florida, a long waiting list—some five years long—most closed) to new applicants.
When I arrived less than a year ago, I assumed everyone would be doing yoga, cycling, tennis, golf, and more people like myself. Independent—active adults right—early sixties? Like I still cycle 50+ miles a week, jog, exercise, and health conscious. Even though at a slower pace than younger years.
Unfortunately, upon arrival---it looked like an assisted living or nursing home. Where did these people come from? The majority of the tenants are between 75-90+ years old. My parents look and act like teens compared to these people. Wheel chairs, walkers, oxygen tanks, scooters—which they will run you down in a rush to knock you over-- to get on the elevator to hit the restroom.
So, I find myself the youngest tenant in the building. Plus, or minus? Everyone asks me on the elevator, do you live here---“Oh, I thought you were visiting your granny or parents.”
This environment will either make you depressed or leave you feeling fortunate and young, in comparison. However, after the shock factor, I have come to the conclusion, I may be in this situation shortly (especially after reading this book). The tenants like their independence. This way, they remain in independent living, and hire someone to come in for assisted health care, to clean, grocery shop, drive and take care of their immediate needs. Less costly than a nursing home or assisted living. The reason the waiting list is so long, the seniors arrive in their 60s and never leave, unless they die, or forced into assisted living or a nursing home. Instead of walking, they take the trolley.
Our future stares us in the face daily. Not pretty! However, the positives- I live in a beautiful apartment in a sought after prime location--Generation X, Generation Y, Echo Boomers or Millenniums would die to have. There is something to be said about retirement young enough to enjoy it. My parents are living examples of such.
I find myself fortunate, and hopefully have good genes. Even though she has heart disease, (heart attack at age 63), my mom now, age, 84 has Stage IV Colon Cancer, metastasized to the liver and abdominal area (3 yrs.). She has made it through two rounds of chemo, hospitalized many times, and now doing quite well. She keeps ticking as looks not a day over 70. Dad, 85 has Leukemia Stage One—COPD, both are active and live independently in their own condo, enjoy friends, neighbors, church, travel, and still work out. I also have a favorite uncle (81) with Parkinson’s and have seen firsthand its many limitations on his lifestyle.
Not sure I agree with life ending at age 65. My parents' life just started at this age. They sold their house, bought a beautiful townhome, and developed an entire new group of friends in the city, coming from a rural area. They are friends with those my age, and happier than I have seen them in years. Now some twenty years later, they are still active, even with their respective diseases.
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About the Author
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for Bloomberg View . For many years he was the Editor of The New Republic and a columnist for the Washington Post. He was the founding Editor of Slate. He also served as Editor of Harper’s, Editorial and Opinion Editor of the Los Angeles Times, American editor of The Economist, and Managing Editor of The Washington Monthly. He has written regular columns for Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Politico, and the Times of London. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the Readers Digest, the Daily Beast, Conde Nast Traveler, and other publications. For six years he was co-host of the CNN program “Crossfire,” appearing five nights a week opposite Pat Buchanan, John Sununu and Robert Novak. He also was William F. Buckley’s regular interlocutor on Firing Line and moderator of the Firing Line debates on PBS.
Kinsley lives in Washington DC and Seattle with his wife, Patty Stonesifer. Read More
Welcome to the IND
The United States is facing an epidemic of dementia. Currently, there is not a single effective medicine that halts or even slows any neurodegenerative disease. Founded in 1999, the IND is committed to creating therapeutics that will halt diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and dementia resulting from traumatic brain injuries.
In 1993, journalist Michael Kinsley was at the height of his powers. After serving as editor of magazines like the "New Republic" and "Harper's", he was host of CNN's "Crossfire" and would soon found the pioneering online magazine "Slate." Then, Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder that can involve stiffness, shaking, fatigue and other symptoms that may progress over decades. His response was similar to that of thousands of people confronted with such a diagnosis: He chose denial.
For years, this strategy seemed to work. "If you fool yourself skillfully enough, you can banish thoughts of the disease but retain a liberating sense of urgency," he later wrote in Time. "It's like having a get-out-of-jail-free card from the prison of delayed gratification."
As his symptoms got worse, it became harder for Kinsley to maintain the illusion of normalcy. "Denial requires secrecy, and secrecy pretty much requires deception," he wrote. "Parkinson's disease has [plunged] me into a maze of deception and self-deception." He wrote this in 2001, eight years after his diagnosis, in an article for Time magazine.
Honesty came with its own risks. An offer to run "The New Yorker" was rescinded after the owner learned of his illness. Sharing his diagnosis seemed to push him across an invisible line between mid-life and old age—in what amounted to a sort of "expulsion from the club of the living."
Kinsley does appear to have kept one secret weapon against the disease: his sense of humor. "You must admit it's a pretty good joke on someone who used to like being precocious," he has written about developing Parkinson's. "If life is a race to the finish line, I am years ahead now." Read More About IND