Zoomer at 15: Contributor Marni Jackson Revisits Her Prognostications From Our Very First Issue

15 Years of Zoomer

Marni Jackson revisits her prognostications from our inaugural issue and makes a few more guesses on what the next 15 years will bring. Photos: Magazines (Stephanie White); Balloons (Adobe Stock)

When Zoomer was launched in 2008, it seemed like a brave and possibly foolhardy venture. A magazine for readers over 45 – is that a club people will want to join? Print journalism was already an endangered species and the golden age of magazines was long over.

Against all odds, here we are, both still kicking. With this robust issue, Zoomer turns 15 – a frisky teenager. And this year, I turned 77: a less frisky number to be sure, but the year came with some surprising gifts.

Is 77 how I imagined it, 15 years ago? Luckily, I have a record, because I wrote an essay on the Zoomer Nation for the magazine’s inaugural issue. It’s a poignant document to revisit, because it doesn’t mention climate change, gun violence or presidential mugshots. I lowballed the coming chaos. I did note our generation’s tireless self-involvement, as I joked about always putting ourselves at the centre of things: “Watch for the bouncy new Broadway musical Crone!” I applauded our attachment to community and risky innovation, and argued that it was time to redefine aging not as a gentle decline, but as a new adventure with unexpected rewards. (Because boomers need everything to be an adventure.) 

Fifteen years later, I still believe in the core Zoomer goal, which is not to mimic or cling to youth but to acknowledge and embrace our true experience of age. There are now signs that popular culture is finally catching up. I’ve been enjoying Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ podcast Wiser Than Me, featuring interviews with older women like Jane Fonda, Fran Lebowitz and Isabel Allende. (Dreyfus asked Fonda, 85, if she had a favourite vibrator. “Yes,” Fonda crisply replied. “The Rabbit.”) You only need to cruise the skin-care aisles in the drugstore to get a sense of how much we still fear the loss of youth, but actor Jamie Lee Curtis would like to banish the phrase “anti-aging.” “I am pro-aging,” says Curtis. “I want to age with intelligence, and grace, and dignity, and verve, and energy.” Dr. Sally Chivers, a professor at the Trent Centre for Aging and Society at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., hosts a podcast called Wrinkle Radio about our negative perceptions of old age, which she sees as a time of potential for community, new meaning and “different rhythms.”

 Wishful thinking?

I see that some of my 2008 predictions have come true. I joked about Bruce Springsteen performing huge concerts at the age of 77,  which has indeed come to pass – even if he had to cancel some September dates while under treatment for a peptic ulcer. It’s heartening to see how age only seems to ripen some musicians: The Rolling Stones, circling 80, released their first new album in 18 years (without drummer Charlie Watts, who personally chose his replacement before he died in 2021); 82-year-old Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour just keeps on rolling; Joni Mitchell has come back from a brain aneurysm to perform for ecstatic fans; Iggy Pop is still a wrinkled punk; and Paul McCartney is apparently immortal. Only the ticket prices have gained weight.

All this year, I must admit, I have been silently chanting the number 77. Trying to relate to it. Whenever I read the obits (a daily habit) and I notice someone who has died at 77, I think, “Well, that’s a bit on the young side, but not so unexpected.” Then I think, “That could be me.”  And I find I’m getting more comfortable with these daily jabs of mortality, because they make me grateful for waking up alive. The closer death inches, the richer ordinary life becomes. It doesn’t take much to thrill me these days; a yard full of white hydrangea blossoms will do the trick. The first sip of coffee. An “unremarkable” CT scan.

This year I finished writing a novel I had embarked on in the pandemic – a novel about aging, as it happens, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. I wanted to write about a comfortably solo woman planning her own epic 70th birthday party in a vintage dance hall. She invites her ex-husband, high school girlfriends, grown children – the whole pageant of her long life, including her first college love. It turns out the spark is still there, but does she really want a new love affair at 70? By writing about her choice, I wanted to examine how desire changes in old age. It doesn’t vanish, but it can take different shapes. Sometimes caring for a dying friend offers an intimacy as profound and compelling as a new romance. 

On the downside, year 77 has brought some health wrinkles, including back pain and sciatica that limit my mobility. The friendly physiotherapist who reviewed my X-rays said, “Your spine is stable, but you have horrible, horrible, horrible arthritis in your lower back.” Yes, she said “horrible” three times.

Chronic pain eats at your patience, and I now require simpler days. A three-event day is one event too many. I have to be ruthless about pacing myself, though time with old friends is always good medicine. And time in Nature has become more precious. Being among trees. My husband and I began to make regular pilgrimages to Lake Ontario, that inland sea. Getting off the screen and down to the lake is always an experience that grounds and cheers me (despite my horrible, horrible, horrible arthritis).

The other great joy of year 77 has been welcoming our second grandchild. The world ahead of us seems truly perilous, but the presence of grandchildren in my life forces me to imagine a better one. And to act in small ways as if that will happen.

How has the future changed in the past 15 years? In my original essay, I dreamed up a multi-generational community named EverZest, on the coast of B.C. (of course), where the elders remain useful and valued members instead of being shuffled off into long-term care facilities. I still think these communities will become a reality, if not as a choice, then as an economic necessity, given the housing crisis. It’s worth remembering that many cultures see nothing odd about having three generations under one roof. It was only the aberrant blip of North America in the 1950s that idealized the nuclear family and began to warehouse their elderly.

So, 15 years from now, when there will be more adults over 65 than children under 5, we will live in closer contact with each other. We’ll hear each other snoring and sneezing and sighing through the walls. It won’t be easy or smooth, but the human connection will help offset our dependency on technology, which is only going to grow. In the future, cell phones are going to seem like crude stone tablets. And AI will be embedded in our lives, an outsourced super-brain that will collaborate with us creatively and handle the more mundane aspects of our lives – it’s already happening. When ChatGPT or some other version of AI helps us titrate our medications and refine our c.v.s, humans will be freed up to do what only humans can do – to feel, empathize, seek connection, make moral choices and crack jokes. So far, AI has no sense of humour. As a person, AI would not be a fun date, but it would crush it on Jeopardy.

My other half-joking projection back in 2008 was that the stigma attached to fading memory would be replaced by the more positive notion of “Darwinian Recall”: the theory that old brains remember exactly as much as they need to remember and no more. Because, let’s face it, there’s way too much content out there anyway. I still hope I’m right, and that forgetting things – redefined as “data-dumping” or “clearing” – became hip and efficient.

I see I haven’t mentioned floods or wildfires. Take those as givens. Change will continue to accelerate at a dizzying rate. Who knows? Change might take a sharp right turn and deliver us into unimagined new realms: We could discover great, airy, underwater chambers deep in the trough of the Pacific, in sunless but refreshingly cool cities.
We could abandon our condo-crammed land dwellings to embark on the Ocean Age. As Ringo sang, “I’d like to be/under the sea/ in an octopus’s garden/with you.”

That’s not for another 15 years, at least. No need to evacuate yet. I might pack a go-bag, but today I’m going to cross town to see my grandchildren and maybe blow some giant bubbles with them, or make a drawing of a horse, smiling. Simple human activities that take us step by step into the future.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct/Nov issue with the headline ‘Zoomer Nation,’ p. 15


Royal Reminiscence: Memorable Moments Over the Past 15 Years of Zoomer

Living Longer & Stronger: Top Health News and Breakthroughs Over the Last 15 Years