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May 14, 2006

Confessions of an 80-year-old intern


When I was the arts and culture editor of Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, I recruited an 80-year-old man to be my intern.
His name was Art Chenoweth
I met Art when I was asked to speak to a journalism class at Portland State University. After my spiel, the floor opened up for questions. The kids started lobbing softballs ("Do you get free CDs?""Did you major in journalism?""How can my band get a review in your paper?") when this old man with ink-bled tattoos on his forearms started tearing into me about our coverage of a recent Chuck Palahniuk book and his own ideas about the myth of the Dangerous Writing clique in our town.
Who WAS this guy?
I went up to him afterwards. He told me that as a senior citizen, he could take free classes at the state schools, so he just kept registering. He wrote regularly for the college paper.
When I commented on his tattoos, he remarked, "Yeah, it only took 50 years for them to come into fashion." The daggers were seared into his skin during his WWII tour of duty. When I tried to ask him about the war, he swatted away my questions with, "That was the past. If you live in the past you quickly become obsolete." I asked him on the spot to become an intern. He agreed and he was a great one.
Why am I telling you about Art?
Because Art's approach to being old could teach us a lot about how to be an arts writer in today's climate.
To wit, here's a list (edited a bit here for size) he wrote for Willamette Week about how to grow old without getting old:
"I'm 80 years old and far from ready for the scrap heap. Now, I'm not trying to pretend I'm 20 again. I'm just determined not to dodder away into geezerland. That's why I avoid seniors products and stay close to the action. Here are just some of the things I do to stay out of the rocking chair.
....Please avoid talking about your aches and pains at all costs.
...Never submit to being waited on full-time.
...Don't retire, retread. Wear a snappy uniform. Try landscaping. Be a clerk at a Plaid Pantry or perhaps a security guard.
...Keep flirting. Snow on the roof doesn't mean the fire is out inside.
...Preserve your potency. An older man (or even a younger one) can fail to rise to the occasion. Your friendly urologist has a bag of tricks to bring you up to snuff.
...Stick with timeless music. Never listen to "Sh'boom" except in secret.
...Avoid reminiscing. Never start a sentence, "Now, when I was a boy...."
...Don't dress to redress.
...Lighten up on political diatribes. Our generation is leaving as much mess as all the other generations. Let the new bunch make their own mistakes."
Ok, so you know how it ends, right? Art died last year. The guy was writing articles and hitting college classes (and presumably flirting with the ladies) until the end. So this post doesn't get any fatter, more on what all this has to do with the state of the critic in the next post.
Unless, of course, you have your own ideas about that.
Take it away.

Posted by at May 14, 2006 9:58 PM

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