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Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140 – 146


www.elsevier.com/locate/jaging

Thinking of age: Personal reflections on critical gerontology


Stephen Katz
Department of Sociology, Trent University, Otonabee College, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough ON Canada K9J 7B8
Received 8 August 2007; received in revised form 11 October 2007; accepted 12 December 2007

Abstract

This essay is a reflection on how personal experience has inspired and shaped my ideas about critical gerontology. It is a writing
from the inside about the outside world of intellectual discovery, apart from the typical narratives about career and research. I take
this opportunity to explore the life of thought through my own life, and conclude that our ideas about aging are bred in those places
where humor, tragedy, conflict, passion and sympathy make it imperative that we ask the questions we do as critical thinkers.
© 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Self-reflection; Critical gerontology; Life of ideas; Structuralism and post-structuralism

In fields Americans. The Market was near an expansive metropo-


where frogs sing litan meeting place of a street called Spadina Avenue, the
I pick kerria roses great garment district of Toronto, where my father worked
float them on the wine— as a men's wear cutter and designer. The Market was also
have all the fun you can! close to many of Toronto's important synagogues and
(haiku by Ryokan). Hebrew schools, as well as the YMHA and other Jewish
organizations. It was crowded, noisy, volatile, and
I must have been born a structuralist. Even as a child, I colorful. After all, here were people from many different
saw the world neatly organized into Lévi-Straussian countries, all having experienced great suffering, their
binaries, Barthesian symbolic codes, and Bakhtinian grand dreams of freedom and prosperity in the new land
cultural logics. In this world, all things, people, stories, overmatched by their lack of almost everything when they
and experiences that fell under the rubric of ‘old’ had their first arrived.
place and were understood in relation to all that was ‘new.’ In our house in Kensington Market lived my grand-
During the 1950s I grew up in an area of Toronto called parents who came from Poland in 1929, my parents, my
Kensington Market or earlier times the ‘Jewish Market,’ a younger sister, and for a brief time, my aunt and uncle and
central and concentrated part of the city that urban their two daughters. Sometimes other people stayed a
geographers like to call a ‘reception area.’ Before World while as well. And if I thought we were crowded, I had
War II it was mainly Jewish immigrants who settled there; only to look at the semi-detached house next door where,
after the war new Jewish arrivals were joined by Italians, it seemed to me, lived an entire Italian village. If I ever
Portuguese, West Indians, East Asians, and South needed some variation, I simply turned left instead of right
outside our front door (more structuralism) and ended up
E-mail address: SKatz@trentu.ca. with the welcoming Italians next door, fastened with a bib
0890-4065/$ - see front matter © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2007.12.012
S. Katz / Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140–146 141

and fed spaghetti and homemade wine. In the multi- than Yiddish and were more confident about the benefits
generational homes on busy streets covered in multi-ethnic of integration. So old and new corresponded to
signs, in the market lanes bustling with live chickens and generations and their different worlds. I had a sharp
hawkers selling their wares in several languages, and in moment of insight about this when I visited an uncle in
these transplanted old-world village ways of life, I grew up the hospital. In those days, children accompanied adults
as a child seeing Judaism as a flood of humanity that some to the hospital to visit family members no matter what
faraway and age-old place had released into our midst. shape the patients were in, how recently they had come
Indeed, Kensington Market was an old world village out of surgery or how many visitors were already
ghetto, a schetl, in the middle of one of North America's amassed in their room. My old uncle Myer, simply
fastest growing ‘new’ cities. The people seemed old, the referred to as ‘the uncle’ who had brought my grand-
languages were old, the clothes were old, and the mother to Canada, was dying. In bed with his hat on his
traditions were old. Thus, as a child structuralist, under head (he was orthodox) and white beard flowing over
the category of ‘old’ I placed the following: the majority of the sheets, his mind was adrift. He recognized no others
adults; Yiddish; rye bread; barrels of pickled and salted except for me, and he reached out to touch my cheek. It
foods; streetcars (trams); the smells of all the houses; was as if all the noise and commotion around me
bathtubs without showers; our hand-cranked washing stopped, and I was suspended in his touch. He died soon
machine; my grandfather's long underwear (worn through- after.
out the winter); second-hand clothes; pencils sharpened My parents moved from the Kensington Market
with a razor blade; rags collected and sold by a man with a house to our own home in the suburbs when I was seven,
horse and cart; ice and iceboxes; the beggars on Spadina and I left behind the old and culturally rich world of my
Avenue waiting for their meals at the Salvation Army grandparents, the school parrot and all my friends. The
hostel; and people hollering on telephones because they loss of such rituals as shopping with my grandmother
didn't really trust the phones to work without vocal for chicken was emblematic of the stark change. The
assistance. The ‘new’ was most everything else: margarine; ritual involved a sequence whereby my grandmother
English; cars; plastic; clothes that fit; color photography; would pick out a live chicken at the ‘chicken place’,
real pet food instead of table scraps for pets; and the suburbs which would be carried out squawking to a back room to
to which my parents aspired, along with the lawns, be slaughtered and then carried out to the front for all to
driveways, showers, and the single-family households to be see, to bleed onto the sawdust floor while a truly crazy-
found there. looking man in aviator goggles and a full-length blood-
Non-Jews were in between the old and the new. For stained apron would burn the feathers off the carcass
example, our ‘progressive’ modern Christian Kinder- with a blow-torch. (Later, in school shop classes, I could
garten teacher, who used to laugh at her students' not understand why a chicken-feather burner was being
accents, mispronounce their names, wrinkle her nose at used to weld pieces of metal together). When this ritual
lunches of dark bread or bagels and sing just a few too of blood and smoke was over, and the bird was dressed
many class songs about Jesus, made sure to instruct the and wrapped, my grandmother would quietly ask if the
school's health inspectors to search the children's heads chicken was really fresh? No such questioning was
for lice, expecting the critters to be there just because the necessary at our new suburban supermarket, where
students were children of immigrants. She spoke only packaged chicken was simply part of the ‘meat section.’
English, a language understood by only half of the class, And in the suburbs, we lived in a newly built bungalow
but fortunately a clever pet parrot resided in the class- on a street where, unlike those in Kensington, you could
room who picked up various idioms of Yiddish, Uk- safely walk without getting run down by the careening
rainian, and Polish, idioms we students were firmly wagons of the onion-man, milkman, or ice-man, or
convinced the multilingual bird could translate into slipping on their horses' never-scooped poop. We now
English for the confused teacher and thus we begged her lived in an area where people said ‘good evening’ from
to ‘just listen to the parrot.’ The teacher, as with other their porches rather than unleashing a torrent of ancient
‘Canadians’ we knew in the community, was culturally Eastern European curses at you to ward off the evil eye.
backward even if she seemed socially modern. But materially and emotionally, the ‘new’ seemed to me
My grandparents' world and the Holocaust genera- more frightening and insecure, hiding behind its
tion to which they belonged were being supplanted by a pleasant veneer a terrible secret about intolerance for
postwar generation for whom the European ghetto anything ‘old’ as an obstacle to its monocultural vision
schetl was a quaint old world story rather than an of modernity. This is when I realized that books had the
enduring village milieu. My parents spoke more English power to harbor difference and tell its stories. In books,
142 S. Katz / Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140–146

traditions could breathe without being suffocated by the front-row seat from which to view America during the
postwar obsession with progress. 1960s and 1970s, watching in horror and disbelief as a
When I was a child, we had few books in the house; nation assassinated its own leaders and went to war in
my father collected an encyclopedia set through a Vietnam. In my years at York, I also I studied the
grocery-purchase scheme. Once my parents took me on humanities, the social sciences and music, their inter-
vacation to a cottage by a lake and I took the first half of disciplinary bounty providing me with an expansive and
the volumes with me, reading them instead of unorthodox way to structure my thoughts.
participating in normal summer cottage activities like In the summer of 1973, I registered in a university
swimming and boating. (My peers seemed less course that took place in Kenya. If I had known
impressed with my knowledge of aardvarks, from the beforehand that I had to get a dozen arm-stiffening shots
first entry in the encyclopedia, than I had anticipated.) to inoculate me against a host of nightmarish tropical
As my parents worked hard and grew prosperous, and as diseases, I might have changed my mind, but when I got
I grew up through the excitement and turmoil of the to Kenya with thirty-five other students and two
1960s, I entered a period of critical political economy. I professors, I came in contact with my next curve in
tried to understand inequality, power, the state, and critical thinking. We were settled in northern Kenya
social change as a high-school student and into my first amongst the Samburu people who, akin to the Masaai,
years of university, with lots of tough reading of Marx, are traditional pastoralists living in a savannah. They are
Brecht, Sartre, Marcuse, and Fromm, mixed with the also brilliant ecologists with a thorough knowledge of
work of Buddhists, Yogis, mystics, and poets. I fell the complex relationships between water, pasture, cattle,
deeply into the intellectual world of debates, treatises, sustenance and kinship, family, territory, and mobility.
critiques, arguments, and letters. The isms—romanti- As with other groups in Kenya, the Samburu have a
cism, anarchism, existentialism, idealism, Marxism, and sophisticated age-grade system where elderhood is of
more structuralism—were as exciting as the ‘ologies’— great significance. Indeed, the first president of Kenya,
phenomenology, mythology, semiology, epistemology, Jomo Kenyatta, was called Mzee, which is an honorific
ontology. I spent many hours a day (and night) reading for ‘old man.’ No wonder Paul Spencer, the chief
throughout my young adulthood and dreamed of being Samburu ethnographer, entitled his first book The
in a classical ancient academy of thinkers, where we Samburu: A Study of Gerontocracy in a Nomadic
could walk around in robes eating grapes and arguing Tribe (1965). Here, age was greatly respected and the
about hedonism or naturalism or metaphysics. This aging process empowered individuals and elevated their
fanciful image emerged from a combination of taking social status, rather than stripping them of their dignity,
Latin and reading the ancients in their own language and as was the case in my culture. As with other East African
long contemplative sessions with a print of Raphael's peoples, the Samburu life course is organized into age
brilliant scene of the ‘School of Athens’ in his fresco grades and one becomes a ‘junior elder’ at 30. The
painting. The folksy romance with the pre-modern and elders' status derives, in part, from their power to bless
pre-capitalist past, so extolled by my local hippie and curse. In a culture where the job of young warriors
network, also helped. Not only did reading open the to protect can involve killing, the guilt (ngoki) of killing
freedom of thought to me, it mediated the sense of my must be cleansed. All warriors must be blessed and re-
culture's marginality to the Canadian mainstream and blessed by their ritual firestick elders so they can
gave me a means to escape, rebel and feel mobilized. advance through the life course from protectors who use
I spent my undergraduate years at York University. weapons to protectors who use words, thoughts and
Built in the suburbs of Toronto, York quickly became prayers. The elders also provide the blessing or the ‘go-
home to the students of new immigrant families who ahead’ for the major life-transition ceremonies, such as
settled in the area. During the late 1950s and with me circumcision. My own position as a young, unmarried
beside him in the car, my father used to drive regularly man at the time meant that I, along with the other male
past the massive construction site, proudly reminding students in the course and our Samburu warrior com-
me that we were going to have a university in our midst. panions, also came under the watchful and suspicious
Once at York as a student myself, I participated in gaze of the elders.
campus politics and felt driven to do something about Samburu age-grade patterns and relations are daunt-
the consequences of capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, ing. Based on a music project I did where I recorded and
and every other form of domination because, as Marx analyzed Samburu songs according to the generation
said, it was not enough to understand the world, one also that sang them, I learned three essential things that
had to change it. Canadians also had the benefit of a would influence my ideas and feelings about social
S. Katz / Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140–146 143

structure thereafter. First, hierarchical societies built on afforded me the opportunity to come to terms with the
age distinctions are not necessarily unequal; the benefit Eurocentricity of Western critical theory and how it
of an age-ranking system, based as it is on the wisdom might be reconfigured to take account of African con-
and character of older members, is that it preserves ditions. I was not alone in pursuing this kind of inquiry
human equality and ensures cultural continuity in an because anthropology in the late 1970s was at a high
uncertain world. Second, the diversity and richness of point in its own canonical reckoning, taking aboard the
life courses around the globe provide us with the cross- structural Marxist and feminist innovations in social
cultural insight and consciousness to critique and theory of that time. The Althusserian revolution was
change the politics of life in our own societies. Third, also upon us, as debates about Marxism, socialism and
age is one of the great organizing principles of every class, race and gender conflict spilled out of the
form of knowing and being. For the Samburu, age is the classroom into the streets and cafés of Montreal around
imaginative resource that turns their dry savannah McGill. It was a great time to rethink critical directions
pasture lands into an agricultural fairground of dance and my scholarly aspirations. With the support of my
and spirit, where the live branch of the blessing is new partner, Patricia Stamp, I focused my work on how
chosen over the dry bone of the curse. (Paul Spencer's the structural anthropologists, such as Maurice Godelier
second book was called Society and the Dance: The and Emmanuel Terray, and feminists such as Michèle
Social Anthropology of Process and Performance Barrett and Karen Sacks, gave us the tools to understand
[1985].) social formations and modes of production in develop-
The other element stirred in me by the Samburu was ing countries. Patty grew up in South Africa and is a
that they are, sort of, Jewish and Kosher. They abhor the scholar and professor of African Studies, which she
idea of shellfish, refuse to eat pork or milk with meat, taught at York University, along with being one of the
and ritualistically circumcise their boys in coming-of- founders of the field of Women's Studies. One of the
age ceremonies. Their sense of humor, discourses of interesting aspects of that period was that my little book
complaint, and family tensions would have been most was read widely and appreciated by scholars of Third
familiar to the denizens of Kensington Market. The World studies. I began to feel I was earning a place in the
Samburu also hold common ancient Hebraic ideals academic world, which I had admired from childhood,
around nomadism and patriarchy, and the Samburu I yet also felt uncertain about belonging to it.
talked to about my Jewish background responded Patty and I decided to travel for a year during her
enthusiastically that we were in fact related. Except for 1980 sabbatical, and we spent much of it in India, Sri
the fact that I was pitifully poor in their view (no wife + Lanka, and Kenya. In Kenya I decided to write a critical
no children + no cattle = no wealth), I could be a paper about the Kenyan regime of the day and its
Samburu. I would have to start at the bottom by taking ideology of nyaoism (‘footsteps’), President Daniel arap
care of goats before moving up to cows, however. When Moi's justification for his program of repression in the
I returned home, I remember standing in the Toronto name of his predecessor, President Kenyatta, in whose
airport, a little lost but comfortably nomadic, with a new political footsteps he was claiming to follow. Fearing the
sense of calm the Samburu had taught me about being in worst from the Kenyan police, I used to throw my
the world. The metaphor of nomadism bridged my papers in the garbage at night and retrieve them in the
transition to a more academic understanding of social morning. The paper ended up as my first refereed
life and of aging in particular. My nomadic experience, journal article, over which my excitement prompted me
supplemented later by reading Gilles Deleuze's work on to order a hundred (expensive) reprints, most of which I
nomadology and W. Andrew Achenbaum's histories of still have in my possession. The trip also got me out of
early gerontological pioneers, affected my ideas on how North America long enough to realize some of the
to think about theoretical developments in gerontology. limitations of my own ways of being and thinking and
The contact with the Samburu also pushed me further how intellectually hardened they had become.
into the field of anthropology as an emphasis for my So when Patty and I returned to Toronto, I did not
undergraduate studies at York University in Toronto. I return to the academy. Rather, we bought our first house
subsequently obtained a master's degree at McGill Uni- and looked forward to having a child. Patty became
versity in the field. pregnant in 1982, but on Christmas Eve of that year she
For my degree, I researched Kenyan politics and suffered a stillbirth. Our baby, whom we had named
ethnicity, and my thesis was eventually published as a David (we knew it was male), had come full term, but
monograph called Marxism, Africa and Social Class: A due to a flaw in the umbilical cord, as Patty was going
Critique of Relevant Theories (1980). That project into labor he bled out in the womb and died. We rushed
144 S. Katz / Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140–146

to the hospital, and the baby was delivered by C-section library on aging were few and mostly out of date. I
amidst the shock and tears of all the staff, my parents, visited the library myself and, when I came to the
family, and friends. After the operation, the doctor section on aging, found it embarrassingly sparse
brought me the baby, who was blue, and apologized, compared to the adjacent shelves of sociological ma-
although it was not his fault. I looked at my eyelashes terial on gender, race, class, and other social strata. If
and forehead, Patty's fingers and toes. Birth and death aging was so poorly represented in a large university
were the same. I touched my baby's cheek as my old library, what did this indicate about the general
uncle Myer had once touched my cheek, only I was alive representation of aging in society? I realized that the
between these generations, and they were gone. While critical forces revitalizing other fields of knowledge had
Patty was recovering, I walked outside with the Christ- somehow bypassed gerontology.
mas lights everywhere and looked up to the sky and The experience with my student inspired me to start
thought of Camus' Meursault in L'Etranger whose gaze asking how the critical thought in which I had been
at the sky left him with his ‘heart open to the benign immersed could contribute to the study of aging and
indifference of the universe.' In the following few years, how, in turn, age could really matter to critical thought.
we suffered a series of miscarriages before finally cal- What, I wondered, would it take to allow aging studies
ling off our plans to be parents. The profound emotional to join the radicalizing movements occurring elsewhere?
distress and exhaustion of those trials sharpened my In the same manner my Jewish relatives judge every-
insight into the academic movements of the 1980s and thing with the question, ‘but is it good for Jews?’ I was
1990s. Indeed, unlike many of my friends in the artistic asking of all familiar theoretical traditions, ‘but is it
and academic community, I became very comfortable good for understanding aging’? These questions framed
with deconstruction and postmodernism, since I had my Ph.D. dissertation about the development of the
already experienced in the deepest reflexive sense the gerontological field and my subsequent book, Disci-
simultaneous existence of contradictions and impossi- plining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological
bilities, the collapsing of time, the instability of foun- Knowledge (1996). As I was completing my Ph.D., a
dations and the contingent nature of all things. sociology position came open at Trent University for
By 1985, I felt prepared to enter the Ph.D. program in which I was hired in 1989. Trent is a small university in
Sociology at York University in Toronto while continu- the nearby town of Peterborough, which meant that my
ing as a part-time instructor there. Kensington Market, life became divided between my home in the big urban
my books, the Samburu, my marriage to Patty, the loss world of Toronto and my office at the beautiful green
of our baby, all seemed to give me a sense of a deeper and scenic campus of Trent.
maturing Self that I thought could now be invested in One day in 1991 my colleague Andrew Wernick
this big thing, the Ph.D. My studies began with a bang in approached me with his and Mike Featherstone's plan to
a summer seminar taught by visiting professor Ernesto host a conference on ‘images of aging’ at Trent. He
Laclau, who, with his partner Chantal Mouffe, had just wanted some suggestions for names, and I lost no hes-
published Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, one of the itation in recommending some of my main thesis in-
most controversial theoretical books of the time. The fluences, amongst them Kathleen Woodward and W.
book and the seminar mapped out the political logics Andrew Achenbaum. The 1992 conference was a great
that were emerging at the interface between Marxism success, resulting in a popular book called Images of
and post-structuralism. Laclau theorized Derrida, Fou- Aging (1995); it was my launch into the international
cault, and Gramsci in the context of new non-class collegium of gerontological scholars. At it, I met many
social movements such as feminism and environment- of the leading thinkers who advocated interdisciplinary
alism, thereby providing me the critical platform for my creative approaches for a new field of ‘critical geron-
doctoral research. But what to study? I had been tology’ and today form a senior generation of mentors.
thinking about doing something on gender, sexuality, The conference also provided me with a grounding in
and identity, but also realized that due to an academic humanistic and cultural studies that later connected me
hiring freeze at that time I should be more practical and to the work of colleagues such as Thomas Cole, Ruth
seek a field likely to open in the future. I didn't know Ray, Susan Squier, Margaret Gullette, Anne Basting,
what this would be until, while teaching a course on and Teresa Mangum. More influential conferences and
culture and society, I come across a surprising lacuna in meetings followed. Kathleen Woodward at the Uni-
the literature on aging. The lone student who chose from versity of Wisconsin in Milwaukee organized one in
my list of essay questions the topic on ‘aging and old 1996; many of its papers were published in Figuring
age’ came to me, complaining that the books in the Age: Women, Bodies, Generations (1999). There were
S. Katz / Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140–146 145

others in the UK, Denmark, and Finland between 1997 new politics of ‘sexual health,’ and we decided to write a
and 2006, all of which have given me the academy I paper together whose title, ‘Forever Functional,’ quickly
yearned for as a child: the intense experience of meeting, popped into my head. The research, collaborative
speaking, writing, sharing, and generating ideas together writing, and editing work proceeded so smoothly that
with others in a moveable agora of hotel rooms, we ended up publishing four papers together, with
symposia, receptions, and lecture halls. requests for several more. It was a great time of email
My academy includes more than academics, how- attachments and drafts flying back and forth through
ever. My writing has also been informed by the older cyberspace. I co-authored papers with two other
members of my family and people in the community, researchers and realized that collaborative writing was
who caution me that my focus on theory should be akin to musical ‘jamming’. A drummer since I was
accompanied by looking at the positive realities of the fourteen, I have played in several bands over the years,
aging experience. My very active and resourceful pa- including a jazz trio with Trent colleagues, and have
rents are role models in this regard, and my English learned that the best music comes from each musician
father-in-law helped me plan my 1996 sabbatical re- playing his or her heart out, calling on every muscle and
search. He introduced me to a senior's group that was neuron in order to make others sound good. The
part of the ‘Universities of the Third Age’ (known as jamming model stipulates that you shine when every-
U3As), which I discovered constitute the largest body shines and, applied to collaborative writing, it
informal university system in the UK, maybe in the works very well. When I play with others in my current
world! Staying with my father-in-law in London, I band, I think about writing, and when I write with
interviewed some U3A founders, including (the late) others, I think about playing music.
Peter Laslett, who confirmed the exciting news that the And I think about aging. Fresh from a 3-year break
U3As were part of a ‘new aging’ culture, one that both from the virtual and trans-continental academy during
refused to decline and resisted the vacuous roles and which time I served as chair of Sociology at Trent, I am
marketed lifestyles being hastened into place by retire- reflecting on memory and the bio-politics of the mind. I
ment industries. want to understand more about these things. Once again
Retirement communities became another interest; I the juxtaposition of old and new worlds is on my mind
began research on them with a field trip to the gulf coast as I seek to make scholarly sense of my grandmother's
of Florida in 1999 in an area inhabited by Canadian demise due to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. A
‘snowbirds’—those who divide their time seasonally powerful and beloved person in my life, my grand-
between Canada and Florida. While Patty enjoyed mother was a maker of things: lives, families, and
watching dolphins and birds on the Manasota Key generations. Her seamstress hands had produced the
beach, I met with groups of people who were trans- down-payments for all the houses my family members
forming North America into a network of mobile elder- owned, including my home with Patty. In my quiet
spaces and travel zones. (Fortunately there was no afternoons drinking tea with her, we shared her stories
hurricane that year, but the community was later from across the length and breadth of the twentieth
devastated in 2004 by Hurricane Charley). The research century. Even before she died, I realized that her gift to
accomplished during this period resulted in a series of me throughout my life was to internalize the struggle
journal articles and book chapters, which I collected, between old and new and that answers may, or may not,
along with some new studies, into a book called Cul- come with maturity.
tural Aging: Life Course, Lifestyle and Senior Worlds And so now I find myself with this gift and in Laslett's
(2005). Some of my more recent work, including several terms, a second-age person teaching first-age students
articles anthologized in Cultural Aging, has been written about third-age issues. Most of all, I have learned that
with others. I had always fashioned myself as a solitary what drives younger gerontologists to teach and write
author holed up in a quiet library room, like Marx or about age or advocate for older people comes from their
Foucault surrounded by their books, and etching my own living. Indeed, if one probes the career of any author
thoughts onto paper late into the night. Except for some or thinker or critic, one will find a narrative of life whose
food articles I wrote with Patty for a Toronto newspaper, experiences, revelations, and suffering are the voice and
the thought of writing with others seemed a little soul of their work. Ignatz L. Nascher's vision for the field
frightening. On a wintry day at Trent in 2001, my of geriatrics itself began with a visit to a slum workhouse
colleague Barbara Marshall and I were discussing our where he witnessed a resident's calls for help ignored
common interests in the aging body and medical because she was old. It is crucial that as critical
sociology. She had been working on Viagra and the gerontologists we reflect upon and interpret that
146 S. Katz / Journal of Aging Studies 22 (2008) 140–146

narrative within and through our work. Our commitment me sound good, including that polyglot of a parrot in
to exposing and going beyond the boundaries of our field Kindergarten. I also think of critical thought and writing
invites us to examine our own boundaries in the process. as Ryokan did about his rose petals in his haiku, cited at
My narrative, as far as I can reflect on it, has turned aging the top of this essay. Here fun is not possessed but
studies into a critical adventure for me, maybe because of generated and shared within a spontaneous relational
my Jewish background or my honorary status as a space through which happens to flow the petals, the bowl
nomadic Samburu, or because of the loss of fatherhood, of wine, the actions of picking and floating, and the
or thanks to my grandmother's old world gifts, or singing of frogs.
because so many others have jammed with me to make

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