Jane Trombley wrote an interesting piece that I read the other morning which challenged the Medium community about relevance: https://medium.com/@3scoreandmore/when-are-you-too-old-to-be-relevant-on-medium-96157417972(1.)
At what point are we no longer relevant? Is it a matter of age (as in, I’m way too much of an old crank to be interesting to anyone? Or am I too damned young to have anything of value to say?)? Or a matter of content? Relevant to whom?
For the sake of opening up what I hope to be a valuable discussion, I’d like to explore this question.
First of all, relevance isn’t conveyed via age. It’s conveyed via value. If you have a take that makes a reader think, consider, challenge ideas, grow in some way, you’re relevant. IMHO, at least.
If you bitch, whine, troll, complain, grizzle (without offering viable solutions) and otherwise take up our valuable time claiming that the world owes you a living, at any age, you aren’t relevant. You’re part of the problem. IMHO, at least.
What I love about Medium.com is the combination of smart and talented people who take the time to think, write, opine, research, and for the most part (although not always) check spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. The best offer thoughtful advice, correct a bad piece of research, compliment, challenge and otherwise add additional value to a piece of work.
This is how we all rise. You push, invite, cajole, encourage, and energize. That helps all of us stay motivated to write relevant material whether it’s about sex or being sixty. Gay love or gaining wisdom. Mistakes made. Trips taken. Lessons learned at any point in life.
I recently wrote a piece about Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild (https://medium.com/@jhubbel/wild-omg-cheryl-strayed-was-so-stupid-3c46b80e43be )which was relevant because her book made me fall outta my chair laughing in the memory of the stupid shit I had pulled doing much the same thing in 1984. All of us have to pay that kind of price. It’s an evergreen story.
Do I occasionally read something that makes me roll my eyes? You betcha. Invariably that inspires an article. No doubt some things I write have the same effect. That’s what it looks like when it’s working. This is the heart and soul of diversity.
When I have decided that the only people who can teach me are those with more grey hairs than those I color every month, then I have just shut down hugely valuable sources of ideas, viewpoints, POVs and inspiration. Besides, look, at some point you get to the stage where everyone older than you are is dead. Just saying.
Trombley writes, and I do understand her point:
I no longer care about career progression. I don’t care about angry bosses, what kids need, the good/evil of Silicon Valley.
I don’t care about your boy/girlfriends. I’m glad you’ve snagged them. Now keep it to yourself. I think I speak for the multitudes when I say this. We don’t care.
Yes. Of course I understand her point. She has a right to her POV. But she, as can you and I, can curate those articles we do read. I’m sure Jane and I both have folks who follow us those who have decided we’re fools. Both POVs are perfectly valid. I guess I’m curious about the need to put this out there and ask for validation from those of similar mindset. The truth is that there are likely plenty of folks who do share her POV just as there are plenty of others who want to hear about BF and GF issues, career progression, and what the kids need.
That’s relevant to them. Why is this a problem?
For example, I often write about fitness after sixty. I am continually surprised and delighted that there are folks barely a third my age who find what I have to say applicable. That’s hugely motivating, and a reminder that those who consume my words are serious about health, period, at any point in their lives.
Perhaps- and this is not a critique but just a question- do we become old when we start to think that the only topics that are relevant are those are directly relevant to us in particular? Especially at a certain age? I don’t have that answer. However it’s worth a question. I’m not implying this is Jane’s message, either. I’m just throwing this out. At 65 I find value in a broad range of articles, and since I don’t have kids or grandkids, kid stuff doesn’t appeal. That doesn’t make it less relevant. Career progression is of interest to me because I might be inspired to write an article that has worthwhile advice for a younger generation. Or not. Who knows? Does it matter?
I believe deeply that we wilt when we stop wondering how others perceive and interact with the world. I think we age swiftly when we find others’ takes boring or useless unless they speak to our lives directly. If the only articles I peruse have to do with being in my sixties, then my world view, my understanding of the world around me narrows to a pinprick. A great deal of what I hear on my favorite radio shows doesn’t directly impact me but it all keeps me educated and informed. That makes me a lot more interesting as a person and as a writer and a conversationalist. If I read articles about Silicon Valley or child rearing then I have something to say to someone half my age on a long airplane flight (assuming ear buds aren’t in place).
But again, that doesn’t make me right. This is just my preference and a choice as a lifelong journalist.
What I did like from her piece was the following:
I care about good and new ideas and writing, which both seem abundant on Medium.
I care about curiosity, about learning until you’re dead.
I care about people who are at the margins of life, either by economic circumstances, bad luck in the birth lottery, or the inexorable trudge toward aging.
For my part I find plenty of these on Medium. As a regular contributor, I get a fair number of responses, all of which push me, teach me, and invite me to do more, research more effectively, and very often, inspire yet another article. I guess I don’t see the same things that Jane does but again, that doesn’t make me blind or wrong any more than it makes her narrow-minded. We just see what we see. There are plenty of folks of a Certain Age who pen damned good stuff and they do me the courtesy of reading mine. So do people in their twenties, whose comments invite me to see through a different lens.
My mother used to get furious at our local Public Radio station when All Things Considered came on. At the time, many moons ago, it was the local classical station. She hated all the talking. The effect of that was that the choice to not hear what’s happening around the nation and the world made this exceptionally intelligent woman ignorant about a great many things. She- like my friend Jill’s ancient mother Deen- considered only certain things worth reading or listening to. That was a precursor to what we now have: people who read or listen in a single lane, that which supports their POV, and have no ability to balance, weigh, think, consider, assess, and ask damned good questions. Their world view is as narrow as fishing line.
This isn’t about right or wrong. Jane wrote an opinion piece. I get her point. I’m not sure I would agree with some of the bent of it.
However, here is the piece I guess I do have a bit of an issue with here, because this is what trolls use to try to slap me down if they don’t agree with me on something:
I think I speak for the multitudes when I say this. We don’t care.
Who is “We?” Who is she speaking for, and did she ask the unnamed thousands or millions for permission to represent them? When I see someone employ the word “we” as a way to represent large numbers of those who agree with a POV, that seems to imply the writer needs validation rather than to simply stand on their own and own this opinion. I appreciate that she puts a qualifier on her sentence. But Jane doesn’t speak for me. I am not part of that WE.
I feel the same way about this that I do when I hear the Kelly Conways and Sean Hannitys and the ultra-conservative assholes of the world say they “speak for veterans. Disabled veterans.” I am one. And these useless cretins who never ever wore a uniform and do not know what it’s like to serve most certainly do NOT speak for me, nor do they speak for a great many other liberal, independent, gay, tranny, male and female, and immigrant vets who threw down for our country.
Jane’s capable and smart. She’s a good writer. I appreciate the discussion. However I might offer that if any of us is going to offer up a take, to be truly taken seriously, it might be more effective if we speak only for ourselves and not for the great unwashed masses that the word “we” implies, especially without being willing to supply a laundry list of signatures below the implied petition.
This is MY take. There is no “we” or “we don’t care” stated or implied. I’m just some old broad hoping to stay relevant. However, my relevance is driven largely by my willingness to stay open, soft and curious, and not cut off sources of learning simply because they don’t directly affect my very brief, largely meaningless (in the total History of Time, let’s be frank here) but damned-fun-so-far life.
Put your thoughtful and well-considered material out there. If it’s relevant, we’ll read it. If it’s not, we don’t have to do a single thing about it. We all have the right to a voice, so long as we don’t abuse each other. Jane’s piece brings up a relevant question about relevance. I hope it makes us think. It did for me. That it makes me consider is quite relevant enough. And for that, I’m grateful to Ms. Trombley.