After the interview you can watch this brilliant documentary film, 'Daringly Able' by Bo Chapman and Zoe Flynn at Salmagundi Films. It's a bold animation, celebrating the stories, skills and creativity of a group of residents and their carers at the Ella and Ridley Jacobs House in Hendon, North West London.
Do you think how old you are, is relevant to how you think about yourself? Why?
Bo: Yes. Some of the time but not always. It depends on what mood I’m in, whats happened that day, who I am with, where I am going etc. I try not to let it, life’s too short! It’s more relevant when I think of future projects, than when I think of the past. In terms of where I’m going, rather than where I’ve been.
Zoe: No. I don’t think about how old I am, but occasionally I face frustrations in daily life, usually superficial; like the predominance of short hem lines in clothes shops which remindsme that I am actually 49...I intend to celebrate my 50th this year publicly and with a party! My strong opinions and increasing short patience for the facile and banal also makes me aware of my age - is it the onset of ‘The Victor Meldrew Syndrome’, another stereotype? However, this ‘angry’ person sitting on my shoulder makes me chuckle and I find my experienced and self assured outlook rather empowering.
Do you think how old you are, changes the way people think about you? Why? Is there a difference between people who know you and people who you have just met?
Bo: Yes. We live in a very ageist society. I’ve always been vague about my age, even when I was younger, and very aware of the cultural stigmas and stereotypical perceptions of age. I suppose being elusive about my age is a kind of anarchic desire to deny people access to information that might be used against me. Now as a single mother who had her kids quite late, I am encouraged to carry on the tradition with my teenage daughters - mainly because their friends grandmothers are the same age as me! It has sort of become a game with us.
There is this media perception of graceful ageing, where you arrive at an age where you are silver, elegant and content with no longer trying to be young...when is that supposed to happen exactly? And, by the way, do you know anyone who really feels like that? There has always been a massive discrepancy between gender and ageing … perceptions of older women being different to perceptions of older men - ‘silver fox’ vs ‘granny’ etc.
"There is this media perception of graceful ageing an age where you are silver, elegant and content no longer trying to be young .. when is that supposed to happen exactly? And do you know anyone who really feels that?"
Women's increased financial independence has helped this, but we've still got a long way to go! With old friends and family I can feel more ageless. There, the points of reference bridge a long history of association in a kind of perception filter, which allows the relationship to exist in a mutual timeless parallel continuum!
Zoe: Yes, probably. But we don’t walk around wearing oversized birthday badges advertising our age, so people’s age related judgements are only based on an approximation. It is natural to make assessments and assumptions about a person you have just met. It’s a game everyone plays with themselves, using all the clues available –socks, accent, age, sex, smell and the big one ‘shoes’. The best part of the game is working out which assumptions were correct; it’s a great way to assess your own prejudices. We all make massive mistakes about people on a daily basis. The important thing to do, I think, is chastise ourselves when our own prejudice is glaring and take that learning into the next day. I’m sure there is a difference between people who know me and people I’ve just met, but it’s not something I dwell upon. You have to be yourself. Let people play ‘The Game’.
What is your biggest stress in your life at the moment? Do you think it this is age specific?
Bo: Life/work balance and money. Something that has existed more, since I had children. Getting older changes your choices, it’s a sliding time scale. Increasing age = decreasing size of the window of opportunity… tick tock. Getting older puts pressure on making things happen. The concept of having free time to reinvent yourself in retirement, when the kids are grown up etc. Well, it's not viable for our generation…we live in a different era … it IS the age of no retirement in the sense that I cannot ever imagine not having to work.
Zoe: My biggest stress in life, at the moment, is probably cash flow. This can be attributed to being self employed – it’s stifling and limiting but I try not to let it effect my health or relationships. I don’t think this is age related, specifically. It is more true that is is the by-product of a life choice.
What is the thing which makes you happiest at the moment? Do you think it is age specific?
Bo: Freedom, hope, love - love based on hope not fear. My children. Freedom to choose and be who I want to be as a parent and a woman. Being able to make choices and be empowered by those choices. I’ve never thought of happiness as a permanent state. Life as a Hollywood ‘...and they lived happily ever after’ ending (or beginning), well, I never fell for that. I think our generation finds it harder to buy into the vision of a one track journey to happiness because our lives are multi-trajectory and non linear when jobs and relationships are transient. Sometimes, I feel like I’m struggling to identify happiness … the moment is gone before it can register. I try and fight this with stillness, an extra breath, a backward step. To hold onto it long enough that I can capture it in my skin, not on my screen. It worries me that my children are losing the ability to process emotions for themselves, to process experiences without sharing them. Seeing the world around them as a selfie backdrop - how they might ‘look’ in it. A shared existentialism which by definition becomes meaningless? Does the experience only become real if it's posted shared, liked and acknowledged?
Zoe: Real happiness comes from the relationships with my children and my partner and close friends. I feel incredibly lucky to have had two children at the age of 34 and 39. Several of my friends have also wanted to have children but have left it ‘later’. "It" hasn’t happened and they suffer. For women this is probably the unkindest, direct downside to ageing. The biological alarm (let alone ticking clock) is not ringing for most men until they reach their forties. Considering how much fun there is to be had in life, prior to producing offspring - for both sexes - doesn’t seem fair.
"I think it is, or should be natural to spend time with people of different ages. The benefits are plainly obvious."
A bit of a digression from the question but in my experience this is one of the most profound handicaps of ageing in our society. It is now acceptable to identify yourself with the previous decade… 30’s are the new 20’s 50’s, the new 40’s – it’s a grounding/cruel reminder that no matter how society sees itself, our ageing bodies DO have their limitations. Back to the question: The collective power of people to overturn injustice, make a difference through my work, inspire art, music, film, ducks, the sun on my face, and the sound of a pavement slab wobbling makes me happy. Happiness is totally subjective. I think it is important to be flexible with your expectations though...
Do you like spending time with people of other ages? Why? What do you gain?
In our work, we have the advantage of working with people of all ages and abilities. We don't see age as defining ability and our ethos is never to underestimate what is possible and we’re always surprised! I feel I work with individuals, not categories. We learn different things from everyone. But I suppose, spending time with older people, is liberating on lots of levels. They make me feel ageless and hopeful about ageing and being valued in later life. Spending time with younger people, friends of my teenage daughters etc.keeps me learning, keeps things evolving. It helps me to embrace change and not be afraid of things I don’t understand. Being ‘old’ in their eyes can have advantages, if they have the patience to listen and explain.
Yes, of course. We work with people from the age of 2 to 102 (actually I think it’s 108) using film stop frame animation and digital art as a communication tool. I spend constructive time with toddlers, teenagers, mothers and great-great-great grand, mothers, a conscious choice, which I find inspiring, enriching and liberating.
What do you think are the biggest challenges we face across all ages?
Bo: Our generation has to help younger generations reevaluate the future. It is so different from our grandparents. Job for life, ladder of life etc. We have to help them negotiate all the insecurities of living in a dissonant world; a world which our generation created. We need to work together and believe in an alternative vision of society, one that is community based not wealth based. We ought to value the inherent potential of experience, not just youth and look at the already paid up investment in older people, retrospectively.
The teaching profession offers a prime example. 20 year old graduates have all the contemporary knowledge, especially in science and peer group appeal, but not necessarily the life experience you also need to TEACH. More mature teachers, especially in primary school, would help improve the young peoples perception of older people. Knowledge, being the key to respect.
In order to create a more tolerant and inclusive society, to challenge stigma and prejudice we need to value the individual, their contribution to the community and acknowledge their role in society, whether it be for their cultural perspective, their life experience, or their sense of humour! Celebrating differences of age and culture can help to unify instead of isolate. This, however, is only possible if political priorities change. We need to invest in people, invest in their experience and use their strengths and weaknesses to empower change. Helping people to believe people they can change, helps them become resilient. Take the emphasis away from the negative narrative that feeds disempowerment, poverty, prejudice, isolation and misunderstanding. There are massive inequalities between gender and ageing that a;sp need to be addressed.
"Getting older changes your choices, it’s a sliding time scale. Increasing age = decreasing size of the window of opportunity… tic toc. Getting older puts pressure on making things happen. The Concept of having free time to reinvent yourself in retirement."
Prejudice, Poverty, Global Politics, Environmental Apathy, Cuts in our Health Service, loneliness....
What do you think the benefit is of people of different ages spending time together?
Bo: Spending time with people of other ages is ‘real’ life. It is unhealthy to only surround yourself with your peers and it is also important for shared community living. Tolerance, gives renewed perspective, hope and space for opportunities to be rejuvenated. This is crucial to having perspective on life; not take things for granted, not generalise, not be complacent and above all believe that life is what you make it. The benefit of older people to younger people comes via shared respect, mortality checks, ass kickings when required along with the necessary reminder that we are not forever young.
By experiencing things together, friendships can develop and people get to see the person /shared partner as someone who they can learn from but not in pragmatic terms. Yes, there is an age benefit transfer from the younger person to the older but the key lies in feeling alive and connected. It's a welcome reminder of youth, of feeling valued and so much more!
Zoe: I think this question is a little forced and is counterproductive in terms of combating ageism. I think it is, or should be natural to spend time with people of different ages. The benefits are plainly obvious. People who don’t have the opportunity, or don’t make the opportunity to mix with people of different ages limit themselves. I think the most direct, positive outcome of spending time with people of different ages is that it makes you more open, better informed and better at playing ‘The Game’. I find that we only marginalise ourselves when we marginalise others.
What can you learn from people who are older?
Bo: Perspective on life, incentive to make the most of opportunities, to keep an open mind and not be prescriptive about life's expectations. Life stories, hearing the summary of a life in a few sentences can be very humbling. Seeing a life condensed down to a few photographs and artefacts in a single bedroom, in a care home, makes you critically aware of life's priorities. Value your older relatives.
"I don’t think about how old I am, but occasionally I face frustrations in daily life, usually superficial, (like the predominance of short hem lines in clothes shops) which remind me that I am actually 49. (I intend to celebrate my 50th this year publicly and with a party)."
What can you learn from people who are younger?
Bo: Remind yourself to believe in change …. Not be complacent …. To keep evolving and learning....That your life experience can be useful.....The importance of questions....The importance of taking risks.
What do you think is the benefit of a society where our age does not define us?
Bo: Age will always define us in some respect because there are elements of ageing that we should celebrate and embrace, like life experience. The aspirational vision of a society where age does not define us, by restricting or limiting what is acceptable in terms of actions or behaviour, is a different thing and that would have many benefits! At the moment, age defines how you engage with society and how you are allowed to engage with society; your role in society and indirectly, your worth.
Older people are considered to be of no value to the foundations of society, the working engine, the essential infrastructure because they are not invited or encouraged to remain an intrinsic part. How useless, redundant and ultimately disempowered and dysfunctional does this make them feel? We need to change this.
A synergetic community is one where people are valued for their experience, not just their function/aesthetic. Think of more traditional societies, with all ages living together and where each phase of life gives them different responsibilities. Then, age was relative but not exclusive.
Womens increased financial independence has exploded the ‘till death us do part’ dependency on marriage and expectations of lifelong partnerships. It has also disrupted traditional gender roles by allowing people to reinvent themselves and grow … to embrace the concept of themselves as self optimising dynamic organisms, in an ever evolving learning process. A society which allows this to happen, without prejudice or stigma, is a society which will defy ageism. That will be the beginning of a society where age does not define us.
Zoe: Basically, freedom. A freedom from the expectations that are placed upon us at key ages. Freedom from being judged by our appearance rather than our achievements. Greater economic freedom.
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