New York City Through An 85-Year-Old’s Eyes; Following 20 Older New Yorkers Over One Year
Jacquie Murdock is a jazz aficionado, dancer, and fashion maven. Right now, she’s working on her memoir in between modeling for high-end fashion houses like Lanvin. She's also a legally blind 85-year-old New Yorker.
What's it like to live in New York City as an octogenarian like Jacquie? That's the story that Exceeding Expectations, a new project from the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, will tell over the coming months through a series of narratives, photos and video.
Exceeding Expectations follows 20 different people over the course of a year — all over 80 years old, the group includes people who are married, single, widowed, and divorced, gay and straight; people who own their homes, rent at market prices, and live in public housing; people born and raised in the United States, and those who've emigrated from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, China, Pakistan, and beyond. They include a great-grandmother helping to raise her 1-year-old great-grandson, a retired teacher looking for an adventure and a man who was in prison for 30+ years and now advocates for those he left behind. They share a city and a minimum number of years on the planet, and one more thing: they add up to a lot more than their advanced age.
When popular culture and the media portray older people, the images often fall into two categories, says Dorian Block, senior staff associate at the Columbia Aging Center, who directs the project. "You either see frailty and dependency only, or you see people skydiving." The idea behind Exceeding Expectations is to tell the stories of real people, living their real lives. Older people face different choices and challenges, but many are living just as they were when they were younger. In the first batch of published stories, you'll meet Sandy Robbins, who started the Shadow Box Theater 40 years ago — which now serves 30,000 kids a year — and continues to manage its operations, and Hank Blum, who has been an optometrist for 60 years and can't seem to stay in retirement.
"The wonderful thing about really getting to know old people, day in, day out, is that they come alive," says Ruth Finkelstein, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at the Columbia Aging Center, who conceptualized the project and serves as an advisor. "They come into three dimensions, out of our flat preconceptions and stereotypes about them. And they come out as people, really different people."
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