How Old Are You?
(In line with the newly launched book, "What, Me Retire?" I was invited to the OMF Literature Authors' Fellowship at the MIBF "to encourage younger writers to keep looking for the 'pearls' in life to write about; to share tips on how they can stay sharp, creative, and relevant.” Here's an abridged version of that talk.)
Frankly, I don't feel like a senior. I don't feel old, neither do I think old. I was wired in advertising, where I stayed for over 20 years, to always think young. I can groove to the music of Elvis Presley and Justin Bieber or Scotty McCreery.
The only time I feel old is when people ask, “How old are you?”
Then it hits me! That question rubs in the fact that you are old.
I call this in “What, Me Retire?” ageism. Like racism, it's a prejudice. My new title is Mommy, given by everyone I meet. That's when I am dressed to the nines. But I have recently acquired a newer title, Nanay. That's when I am dressed in shorts and t-shirt.
Ageism—Kuya, Ate, po, oho, opo, Ma'am/Sir, Mommy, Nanay.
In my old office, everybody called each other by his first name. Visiting presidents of multinational clients were either Bill, Ian, or Graeme. So imagine my shock after I retired, and visited OMF Lit for the first time. I asked for Yna Reyes. The man (not much younger than Yna) replied, “Ah, si Ate (honorific for an older lady) Yna!” It was my first time to hear the word Ate at an office in over 20 years!
When my first children's book was published, someone suggested that I should be known as Tita Grace. I said, “No, I don't want to be typecast. I want to be known by my name, Grace D. Chong.”
Today, when I meet with kids, they greet me, “Hello, Grace D. Chong!|” One time I interrupted a boy who peppered his every sentence with, “You know Grace D. Chong . . .”
I whispered, Just call me Tita Grace.
He retorted, “But your name is Grace D. Chong!”
Ageism is here to stay. Especially because honorifics are hidden under the guise of respect and culture. Young people discriminate against the very status they will someday be a part of. At least in racism, no brown-skinned Filipino will suddenly turn to white, or black. But every brown-skinned Filipino will grow old.
So what's the beef about being a senior? How can I still do the things I do, despite turning into a card-bearing elderly.
Well, I still walk one hour almost daily, waking up at five in the morning. I cannot live without jeans—and colorful outfits. I keep close friends who are 83 years old and four years old. Many of my FB friends are 40 years younger than I am.
One of my BFFs and favorite author is half my age, Tito Dok. I call him Tito Dok and he calls me Grace. Some people may be appalled and say, “Si Luis walang pitagan sa nakatatanda!” (Luis has no respect for elders!) Talagang wala! (None whatsoever!) Like me, Tito Dok does not discriminate. He is not afflicted with ageism.
So how do I manage getting older?
I don't. I work exactly the way I used to when I was in my 20's; I do things with the same passion and speed, if not more. But, today, I have been blessed with plenty of time to indulge in my first love—writing.
When do I write? Mostly during the day, but I write all the time. I write in my heart when I am talking to people. I write in my head when I have to sit through a boring conference. I write in my notebook when I am in a long queue anywhere. I write, I write, I write.
So when young, would-be writers say, “My dream is to be a writer like you!” I tell them what another young friend told me, “Don't dream to be a writer. Dream to write your first story.”
Oh, the grace that comes to someone who has “been there, done that” is countless! I'd share with you 500, but I was given only 20 minutes, so I have time for only five:
1. You don't win arguments. I used to fight for my opinions and World War III would ensue! Today, God gifted me with the ability to put myself in the other person's shoes. My senior philosophy, Kung hindi mo naman ikamamatay, i-give mo na. (If it is not a matter of life and death, give in.) I now know that you can't win a war by winning an argument.
2. You can be Solomonic. Having gone through the grinding mill, you just know what is the best fit to a situation. My grandma used to say, “Papunta ka pa lang, pabalik na ako.” (You're just going, I am already coming back.)
How? You just know. But you don't impose what you know on others. You allow them the privilege to go through the grinding mill.
3. You are a one-stop shop. I can now swing from speaking to the very young to the very old—and the in-betweens. In advertising (my training lab), I learned to distinguish between demographics and psychographics—boxed mindsets and life stages which we called market segmentation. How many of you in this room can write for seniors? “Wala pa kayong 'K'.” (You have not paid your dues.)
4. You don't work for the honor nor the money. Money is no longer my currency. Honor? When people sing me praises for my Palancas, Gintong Aklats and other awards, and the books I've written—I beg my Creator to please take the swell off my head. Every blog and FB message that I write, and award that I win, are ads and promos not for me, but for my books to honor only God.
5. You are more grateful to your Creator. Looking back, you are positive that there was and there is a faithful God! His Holy Spirit has guided you every step of the way, up to this point in your life. He allowed monumental mistakes, pitfalls, and problems to strengthen you.
My husband was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer 18 years ago, then eight years later, he went through a life-threatening quadruple heart bypass. Today, he's still working and driving me around when he has the time. I lost a son; my mom, mom-in-law, and sis-in-law died just months apart from each other.
Every single day is a bonus and a privilege to say, “Thank you, Lord.”
Let me end by paying tribute to Grandma Moses, one of America's best-loved painters. She started painting at age 80, without any seminar, formal education, or training in art. She inspired me to pick up brushes to paint with acrylic on canvas.
Grandma Moses makes me remember how I started writing. I never had the chance to attend any seminar, formal education, or training in creative writing. But I am writing happily, excitedly, and breathlessly today!
What, me retire? No way!