This is the story of you, as you are now
or as you will be one day: unyoung.
It looks like the story of me
as I tackle the shock of me being old right now
and watch the spooky movie of me getting even older
sliding every day towards the ranks of the oldest old
as I windsurf over the silver wave and on to the golden tide
of the super-old and stay there barrelling on and on
until I flip and tumble off, in other words I die.
It looks like the story of me as I think
about what that means for now today this minute
and for the future. But no, I’m not the subject
and this is not a memoir. This is the story of you.
About the Long Song Of The Unyoung
I’ve launched into a read-aloud book about ageing, ranging from childhood experiences to the labours of Hercules and my boot camp for the bonus years. I want it to speak directly to your fears and hopes and happies, if you are aware that you have joined the ranks of the unyoung, or will do so one day. And yes, it’s in loose verse so it looks funny but I promise it will be very easy to understand. Not your enigmatic, intellectual poetry but more like the words to a song: a long song, but a simple song, romping along at quite a pace.
The bits I post on my blog will not be in order, so you won’t get the story or the structure of the eventual book. But you’ll get the flavour, and each part will make sense on its own.
Text and terrible drawing by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. Share freely, please do, as long as you say I’m the writer.
Our survey for older bloggers is open for a few more days. It will close on Sunday 17 June and we would love you to do it. The video below explains why we need you to share your experience as a middle-aged or older person with a personal blog.
Please take the Older Bloggers’ Survey. People say it’s fun, and we hope it will lead to new policies and opportunities related to the ageing population. We have made assumptions, and now we want facts. We want to know how you blog, why you blog, when you started, and what you gain from blogging. You can do the survey no matter what your age, as long as you have your own blog.
Seniors with a personal blog: an unexamined sphere
We are part of a huge community of bloggers with an important role to play in the world. But who pays attention to us? All research into blogging seems to be focused on business blogs, but most of us are blogging for personal reasons.
We’re the first cohort to be getting old en masse, and we are finding our way. What to do when you are old in the internet age?
We’re the first cohort to plunge into blogging as a retirement activity, because blogging wasn’t possible before.
We know our own blogging world very well, but we’re like a secret society to the rest of the world.
My reasons for launching a survey of older bloggers
For years my work was focused on business, government, academic and non-profit content. Then I withdrew from my business and launched a personal blog on an unrelated topic—ageing. To my surprise I found numerous kindred spirits, many of them also writing about the strange and unexpected experience of growing older. This world, buzzing with active, eloquent, knowledgeable people, has been pretty well undocumented until now, and I always want to know more. Don’t you?
I want to test these hypotheses—in other words, assumptions that may be right or wrong:
Blogging provides social, emotional, and mental benefits for people over 60
Older bloggers have some problems with usability and accessibility
Blogging could usefully be promoted for the social and emotional benefit of isolated older people
The survey will shine a light on the world of personal blogs
First let’s get some facts. Then we’ll see how our experience can help others, and maybe solve a few problems along the way.
Thank you to our seven testers: as a result of your input we have made many questions clearer, added some new questions and removed others.
There will be a time limit to this historic survey of older bloggers—but so far, it’s open to all. Ready, steady, go!
The people behind the Older Bloggers’ Survey are Rachel McAlpine and Dr Judith Davey. It’s wise to be cautious about surveys, so we hope our bios will show you that this is a genuine initiative, and that your data is in safe hands with us.
I was a pioneer in the field of web content, researching and writing and teaching about this topic from 1996 onwards. My non-fiction books include Web Word Wizardry, Write Me A Web Page, Elsie!,Crash Course in Corporate Communications, Business Writing Plus, Global English for Global Business, and Song in the Satchel: Poetry in the High School. I am a poet and novelist, and for a brief period was a Chartered IT Professional of New Zealand. I am not an academic but I do have has a BA Hons in English Literature and a Dip. Ed. in Education.
Dr Judith Davey
Judith’s personal focus for research is the ageing of the population and its policy implications. She is a keen advocate for Positive Ageing and for everyone to enjoy “the stage of life formerly known as retirement.”
Dr. Judith Davey was Director of the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing (NZiRA) from 2002 to 2007 and is now a Senior Research Associate of the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS) at Victoria University of Wellington. She is also a voluntary policy advisor for Age Concern New Zealand.
Prior to joining Victoria University in 1991 she was the Deputy Director of the New Zealand Planning Council and started up in business as a consultant on social policy and social research in the 1970s. Judith is a graduate of London University and did her PhD at Durham University. Before coming to New Zealand, she was also a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge.
UPDATE: Thanks to my five older bloggers who have volunteered to test a survey about their experience. The process has begun and you will surely tell me about anything that is confusing or wrong. Then I can fix any problems that are spotted by more than one person, and release the survey into the wild!
Hello there! I have been looking for any research into bloggers over 60—without any luck. So I’m preparing a survey that aims to discover what you like and dislike about blogging with WordPress. For example, I’ll be asking:
What annoys you about other people’s blogs?
What problems have you had with your own blog?
What improvements in WordPress would you appreciate?
The purpose of the survey is to alert WordPress developers to any areas where they could improve the experience of older people. We do have special issues, physical limitations for example, or perhaps problems with some technology.
My hunch is that more and more seniors are getting involved in the blogosphere. I believe that blogging brings thousands of seniors a creative outlet, a purpose, a mental challenge, and an active social life—even if it’s not face to face, we still are conversing and making friends. All these factors are known to help us to live longer and healthier lives, at the very time when most nations are having to adapt to the challenges of a rapidly ageing population.
When the survey is ready for action, I’ll update this page and I hope you’ll also spread the word.
In the meantime, you surely have your own special bug-bears or delights while blogging. Please tell me, and if possible I will build your questions into the survey. I would really, really appreciate your contribution.
To name a child is brave,
or foolhardy; even now it shakes me. Lauris Edmond
How many names and nicknames have you had? Have they stuck, do they still work for you? I had a baby nickname, a kid nickname, a couple nickname, and a wife nickname. I’m wondering whether they still hold some truths, some messages for me as I blunder towards the void. If I talk about these nicknames, maybe you’ll be thinking about your own…
But when I think about them, one inescapable truth astonishes me: all my names and nicknames were given to me by other people. None of my names or nicknames were actively chosen by me or even endorsed by me, except for adopting and keeping my husband’s surname, and even those were default decisions. A name plays a powerful part in building your identity, especially when the name-callers have strong opinions about the kind of person they believe or want you to be.
Who am I—a person who accepts and conforms with barely a twitch? Looking back, I think maybe so.
Baby Jigger jigs on forever
As a new baby I was Jigger, so-called by my big sister Jill, because I never stopped jigging and jumping. My mother pinned me into a sleeping bag and pinned the sleeping bag to the mattress of the pram, and still I jumped right out of the pram at the ripe old age of three weeks. Does Jigger still work as a nickname for me today at seventy-eight? Possibly, when I go prancing and even jumping around the dance floor. And possibly not, as I am lazy for much of the day.
Robin a-bobbin’—wistful hint of a former self
This nickname was discarded for Robin, and so I was Robin Taylor all through primary school. Why? The story goes that I could not be a Rachel, because a Rachel was mature, a grown-up woman. They said I was a tomboy, running wild, up trees and in creeks, grubby and fearless and happy outside. (All this is relative, of course—I had my partners in crime.) I was forever making huts up trees, under hedges or in the fowl house.
How does Robin work today for me? Robin Taylor is a delightful name, round and cheerful and honest, don’t you think? And the South Island robin is very cute and it hops around your feet as you walk through the forest stirring up insects—a wild bird that poses as tame for the sake of dinner. I love little Robin Taylor but I think of her as someone from my past.
I carried on making huts and homes in unsuitable places for much of my adult life, but today I look through windows at Wellington’s Green Belt from within the solid enclosure of an apartment. I do love a brisk walk to the top of a hill, but I prefer a strong roof that does not leak. Nobody would call me a tomboy today, although perhaps I have remnants of rebellion.
As a child I rejected the very idea of being a woman, I wasn’t having a bar of it, and when the symptoms appeared, I was wracked with horror. (Some years later I grew into my destiny as a woman, even embracing it with a certain glee.)
A dignified first name is imposed on an unsuitable child
My parents believed that I wasn’t dignified enough for a Rachel. When I was about to start secondary school, my godmother stepped in. “Why do you call her Robin? She has her own name, a fine name, and that’s what she should be called.” She, whose own name was Phyllis, won the battle. I was not consulted.
So I had to stop being my own self and become somebody else’s construct of me. The new me had her long blond plaits cut off, wore an ugly gym tunic, spent her days scuttling around a scary corridors full of tall strangers, and had to answer to a spiky new name.
What sort of a person was a Rachel? I was a grubby talky precocious little blonde kid and the only other Rachel in my entire world was a tall Plymouth Brethren girl at school, with a heavy black plait roping down her back: a quiet, calm, grown-up woman who was always clean and tidy. In other words, an alien. And this was to be my role model? Apparently Rachel meant a ewe lamb: luckily I could identify with that instead—running around sheep paddocks was normal behaviour. Baa!
So Rachel was my grown-up name: I had to grow into it. That’s odd, isn’t it? Usually a name grows around a child and the two become one. But Rachel still didn’t fit, apparently, because at university my future husband’s friends called me Tosh, while he called me Pud. Tosh was half of Mac ’n’ Tosh, and Pud was—perhaps my shape, perhaps my cooking? I quite enjoyed these marks of affection at the time. Do they still apply to me? Not on your Nelly.
To the rest of the world I have been Rachel McAlpine ever since.
Switching from patronymic to maritonymic
What? McAlpine? In 1959 a bride’s identity was swallowed by her husband’s: we took their surnames at the altar without blinking. When Grant and I got divorced twenty years later, I looked aghast at that custom. If only I had remained one of the Taylor girls, or renamed myself McTaylor, or Taypine, or Celia!
Too late. By D-day I had been McAlpine for more than half my life, and my four children were McAlpines, and my first three books of poems had been published—as an author I was already Rachel McAlpine. It all seemed far too complicated so I chose to keep my married name forever. I’ve put my mark on McAlpine: I’ve earned it. I know I’m Rachel McAlpine and I’ve grown to like the balance and pointiness of these two words.
Many years later, the role that I’m resisting is that of an old person who happens to be a woman. Another round of forcible growing up is in process. So maybe I need a new name for this phase; how about Griselda Old?
So much fuss over starting a simple task—writing a book. When I was still stuck, I mumbled about this to a young AirBnB guest, who has certainly never written a book in his life. He instructed me with great confidence: “You just need to make time! It’s that simple.”
But no, turns out it’s not that simple.
You also have to really really want to write a book. And apparently I didn’t, not this book, until now.
Looking back three years, I’ve had a year of being old (doing my boot camp); then about a year of refusing to write about the experience in any depth; and then this last year, a year of good old-fashioned writer’s block. In other words, a year of saying What? A year of saying No! A year of saying Yes But…
That’s what I was thinking. But what was I feeling?
Neuroscientist-philosopher Antonio Damasio posits a simple idea that instantly sheds light on great cultural movements and petty daily personal problems such as writer’s block:
[…] feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavors.
His idea is so original (in the world of neuroscience at least) and is so beautifully argued that it will be adopted by the masses and refashioned and misinterpreted and appropriated for many purposes. I am about to do this very thing.
Looking through Damasio’s lens, I can see I’ve been engaged in a struggle to regain homeostasis. I wanted to write because I had decided to write and I love to write. On the other hand, I also did not want to write, because of certain feelings.
Watch out, I am now going to use bullet points.
I felt strongly attached to early morning exercise, which made me feel strong and proud.
I felt contempt for the iPad Pro.
I felt angry with myself for failing to get over writer’s block, and embarrassed too.
If I should write this book about my boot camp for the bonus years, I feared I might patronise people, or trivialise the terrible challenge of ageing, or come across as a know-it-all or a bully.
Powerful stuff. But month after month I had ignored these feelings, doggedly trying to solve writer’s block through logic and professionalism, and mystified when it just didn’t happen. It was high time I faced up to these feelings. And that’s all I did, nothing more.
What shifts writer’s block?
What kick-started me writing again, quite suddenly one morning? Maybe it was losing stress, or decluttering my mornings, or reverting to an old computer. Maybe it was reading Damasio’s words and acknowledging certain feelings. Maybe it was a few jolts to my security—illnesses and deaths in my world—reminding me that oh yes, I’m going to die soon, today or in 20 years. Anyway, I got going. Something lit the dynamite stacked around my writer’s block.
Next time someone says to me, “I want to write but I can’t find the time,” I will for the first time understand what they mean. In the past this conversation has tended to focus on practical problems, like schedules or computers, or on the type of writing that appeals. But from now on, the first thing I’ll ask will be about their feelings.
As for me, I’m belting along nearly every morning, no problem. Just me and a notebook in bed, then me and the MacBook Pro for a couple of hours. It’s deeply satisfying. Even if I chuck away every page, even if the book is never published, I’m into it. I’ve got my rhythm back. I’ve got my mojo back. The happy act of writing has justified my existence for today.
In general, I believe my own experiences are common ones. I never think my life is at all unusual, and I don’t mind that one bit. But this particular experience, writer’s block, was new to me, so of course I was puzzled. However, I imagine many of my readers have gone through a similar process, either eluding or melting or exploding a case of writer’s block. True? Or have you employed different tactics?
 Antonio Damasio The Strange Nature of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures Pantheon New York 2018
Photo public domain, Charles Darwin, The Expression of The Emotions in Man and Animals