Happy New Year! Remember I promised to get back to you on forming new habits in 2014? Good news: I found something that resonates. [Read more…]
Eighty! You’re eighty? Eighty’s really old, right?
That’s how I used to see it when I was younger. Maybe you, too.
But now that I’m around 60, and involved with writers and writing groups, I have friends that age. Girl friends who will sit with me, drink wine, and whine about whatever. We discuss our writing, our dreams, other people, sex, wanting to lose a few pounds…
Here’s the news: Age is irrelevant. It truly is “just a number.” People age differently these days. We’re all over the map. You cannot stereotype based on a number, because people differ so substantially at this point in life.
One of my friends, MJ, is 82 and her hair’s on fire. She’s working on her second novel. Another friend, Ray, will be 90 next May. He’s published thirty books so far and there’s no end in sight. My mom is 88. She attends exercise class three times a week, has tons of friends, and loves the novels I recommend. (We had the best discussions after Water for Elephants, Cutting for Stone, and Two Old Women).
What’s going on? Weren’t these people supposed to be in rocking chairs, gazing vacantly into space? Whether due to better nutrition, changing societal expectations, or something else, elders have kicked it up a notch. They’ve been places, they’re doing things and they aren’t done yet.
And I think they have tons of information we’d all benefit from hearing.
The people who really have something to teach us are in their seventies, eighties, and beyond.
Mary McPhee, 87, wrote a book based on her blog. The book, called “Code Name Nora” is about moving to a retirement home. She is sharp, productive and independent, with her own apartment and car. Very unusual, I think, to move to a home under your own steam while you still have choices, but she did so because it was a nicer place to live at the same price as her mortgage, for one reason. I suppose the Midwestern winters had something to do with it. Mary is thriving while enjoying the security and comfort of the home. In Nora, Mary reproduces her blog posts, most of them funny or lighthearted. However, she occasionally makes an observation that reveals the thoughtful elder behind the comedic persona. For example, this is a reflection on a couple of her neighbors who are aging faster, mentally, than others:
It didn’t take much to amuse them. They were on leisure time; holding-pen time; lame duck time; they had no cares or worries in the world. Which of course was not true because they still had plenty – their families and their own health – but nature had relented a little, softening their brains so these things weren’t so sharp for them anymore. Or they had the ability to forget their cares and worries for long periods, if forgetting can be called an ability.
Mary has written twelve books so far in her life, and she’s still writing. Here’s her story.
“As a child, I fell in love with words. I read constantly and collected words which I inflicted on helpless people, often mispronouncing and using them incorrectly. When I was nine, I started ‘publishing’ newspapers for my father, who traveled Monday to Friday, to tell him what had happened during the week.
“I got a degree in Journalism from Oklahoma State College, but lacked confidence in my writing so mostly did secretarial work before marrying. Five children later, in my mid-thirties, I began to write. I wrote casual, humorous pieces about raising children. Over a hundred of these were published in newspapers and magazines, each earning between $50 and $150. An article on the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s was featured in the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday magazine. $250 for this. But all the time I wanted to write fiction.
“I churned out twelve novels, but I couldn’t get an agent. Then I discovered blogs, and by this time, widowed and my children grown and gone, I moved to a retirement community, and began blogging Code Name Nora. I was eighty. Some readers thought I was a fraud, a much younger person. Writing the Nora blog helped me adapt to community living. I am somewhat shy, preferring mostly to observe, but living in the Twilight Zone, as I called it, helped me to be more outgoing. I moved to my new retirement home because it’s much nicer and the rent is the same as before.
“Then I discovered self-published ebooks on Amazon. It was difficult to learn the technical aspects but I finally managed to put eight novels on Kindle. I wrote several new novels and dusted off some old ones.
“I write early in the morning for an hour or so. I used to write by hand but now on the computer. I belonged to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a large group in Denver that offers critiques, but I don’t any more. I don’t have any beta readers but wish I did because writing is lonely.
I think existential angst is part of the creative make-up. Art of any kind is a way to deal with it.
“Despite what we might have to offer, people my age are frequently left out of discussions with younger people, which is hurtful. This is ironic for me because
I have never felt as creative as I do now at the age of 87.
“But then I remember when I was young and felt older people wouldn’t understand or would be accusatory. And of course, many older people have trouble hearing. (I do, and wear hearing aids.) I mostly listen but when it seems a good time to speak up, I do. Sometimes younger people laugh at what I say, and I’m not always sure what that means. Older people appreciate being listened to but they shouldn’t talk too much or about their ailments.
“I have ideas for new books but none coming out just yet. I’m busy promoting the eight books I have on Kindle. A Fresh Start in a New Place, my memoir about dropping out of big-city life at age 53, to live in a tiny Vermont hamlet, is my next promotion at which time the price will be discounted.
“My blog is MaryMac’s Booktique and my Facebook page is here. The cover for A Fresh Start uses a picture one of my daughters painted when she was eighteen and spent the summer with me in Vermont. The other image is one of the front pages of two of my childish newspapers, yellowed with age. You may need a magnifier to read them. I just include these for fun. Oh, and my blog is kind of a mess. I need to work on it.”
Lynne again: I’m 59. I admit, sometimes my sisters and I feel anxious about getting older, but then I remember people like MJ, Ray, and Mary, and I relax. We have these awesome trail-breakers forging the way for us. They are powerful role models from whom we can draw strength. I am grateful for them.
Sometimes we perpetuate our own victimization. Cultures promulgate Big Lies. We tell each other a certain thing, repeat it endlessly and it becomes true. We don’t even hear our words anymore.
Let me provide an illustration. It’s extreme, but it makes the point about culture – in this case, thankfully, not ours.
The people who live in Afghanistan today believe that the current status quo represents reality, the natural way of things, but do they know any different? Some women are probably alive who remember the days when they could put on a skirt and heels and head out for university to continue studying to be a doctor. I fear that the majority believe the converse: that women are ignorant beasts suitable only for breeding and domestic labor.
Like I said, it’s an extreme example. Here in America, we have in the past chosen to put youth on a pedestal. We chose to imitate them, and we chose to say things like “senior moment,” “60 is the new 30,” and use the word “old ” as a description of something bad, negative, unworthy. We did this voluntarily. Nobody held a gun to our heads. We were so far into the Kool-Aid we were in danger of drowning.
But that’s changing. Judging from your comments, you’re as sick of it as I am, and you’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. You’re standing up for yourselves, refusing to spend the next thirty years of your life bowing, scraping, and apologizing for being old. You’re not as willing to emulate the young. You’re incensed by the ageism that’s so acceptable today, refusing to ignore the profound cruelty in what ignoramuses consider humor.
We have begun to celebrate the glory of the second half, and we’re excited about our potential. For an uplifting view of turning eighty, check out this essay by famed neurologist Oliver Sacks. And notice the title: “The Joy of Old Age (No Kidding)” – as if you have to be KIDDING to think there’s anything good about old age. Good article, stupid subtitle.
I beg you: don’t accept a low ceiling. With our numbers, we can make headway on this. I hope you will continue to spread the word about empowerment after age 50. We are free thinkers, we’re experienced, and we are deeper than we’ve ever been. We have to talk about it, with joy or anger. Too many of us are on the verge of myopic despair when we could be on the verge of enlightenment.
So keep talking. Keep asking why we use the word “old” as a pejorative. Because old is one of the most lovely things I’ve been.
Late add: It’s 7 a.m. and I’m happily reading your comments when this appears in my inbox from Huffington Post: 7 Easy Ways to Avoid Looking Old. *sigh*
Suzanne Braun Levine thinks turning fifty is the “beginning of the beginning.” In this empowering video, she talks about why she believes “Second Adulthood” can be almost more interesting and enjoyable than our first.
Suzanne points out that at around age fifty, we enter a life transition as profound and far-reaching as adolescence. “We are the first generation to contemplate the fact that at fifty, we have as many years of adult life ahead of us as behind us,” she says. This requires some serious thought, and some serious letting go. She quotes Gloria Steinem, who said the new Golden Rule is this:
Do unto yourselves as you have been doing for others.
I’ll keep this short so you have time to watch the video. Believe me, it’s inspiring and entertaining, and it will make you laugh, too. Enjoy!
Am I too old for this? Should women over X wear Y? Why are we still asking ourselves these questions? [Read more…]
Forgiveness is confusing.
When my dad died a few years back, a family member and her husband flipped out and attacked the rest of the family. I figure they misunderstood something, panicked and overreacted, and then they couldn’t back down for years, probably out of embarrassment or just not knowing how to stop without feeling stupid.
Then Mom fell and broke her leg and things began to change. The family member (FM), moved in with Mom. She helped with Mom’s convalescence and also organized and packed almost the entire house, which Mom had agreed to sell. Mom was scared and angry. She grieved Dad’s loss, that of her network of friends and of her beloved high desert. FM had to deal with that, as well as her own physical pain. She wasn’t in the best of health herself, but she remained stoic and kept working.
As time went by, FM began hinting at remorse and a desire for a better relationship. Which is what happened.
After all that went down, I can’t believe I came around to a place where forgiveness is possible. I don’t mean the kind of forgiveness where you accept that the offender is a total asshole and walk away, just to keep yourself healthy. No, this is the old-fashioned kind of forgiveness, where I actually feel compassion for FM, and derive no joy from her remorse.
Which is confusing. I had clung to my anger out of self-respect. Having been physically and verbally abused all through my childhood and first marriage, I swore I would never allow anyone to do that to me again. Forgiving an abuser feels like I’m still a doormat, like I’m once again capitulating to the dark forces.
Given the above, will I ever be able to maintain a self-protective wall of anger? Isn’t it necessary? How can I preserve my self respect if I go around forgiving all the time?
After a lot of thought, I’ve found my answer. I share it with you because it’s beautiful. It’s my gold watch, my gift of a long lifespan, the reward of having lived through family vitriol and come out the other side with my sanity:
Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter.
That’s the answer, and it’s shocking to me. Sometimes, it’s just not important to hang onto the anger. To quote one of my friend’s favorite sayings, “The tide comes in. The tide goes out.” Everything changes.
Recently, there was another dustup in my family (I know; we must be a bunch of brawlers, right?) But based on all the above experience, I’ve decided this too will pass. Or not. It doesn’t matter. I’ve gone on with my days, and I don’t think about it anymore. It’ll resolve itself or it won’t, but everything changes. You just have to go on, and have a good life. No sense spending all that precious energy hanging on to the anger.
This is yet another gift of older age. After a while, you earn resilience. Quite the silver lining, wouldn’t you say?
Whether you lost your job in midlife or feel the need to change/reinvent yourself for more benign reasons, it helps to see what other people our age are doing. In this article, a half-dozen older workers describe how they picked themselves up off the floor and created new work lives. I felt inspired by their stories. Maybe you will, too.
Sometimes success takes a while. Author Charlotte Rogan got her first book contract at the age of 57, but she’s a baby. My friend Joanne Hardy is from the generation ahead of Charlotte’s, and Joanne just published her magnum opus, The Girl in the Butternut Dress.
I asked Joanne how she learned to write so well. She described persevering, and said:
The best class I ever took was Robert McKee’s three day seminar called “Story.” It is so dense and so thorough…I have taken it three times. He is just fantastic. When you go there you will see a block of seats reserved for well-known media groups, like Disney; they send their writers to him…I thought it well worth it. I came home and restructured my novel.
Not all of us are climbing career ladders. Some are struggling to figure out who and what we are at this stage, which can be intriguing in itself. My friend Ellen Cole created a blog, 70Candles, where women share their thoughts about aging mindfully. My own reinvention took the form of letting go of my corporate identity, and refusing to be judged for shedding my power suit. I decided I was good enough as a person, without the trappings of career to prove my worth to the world. One of my proudest accomplishments at this point in my life is providing day care for my grandbabies. It’s a big shift for a gal who never got to be a stay-at-home mom, but I think I’m at a point in my maturity where I can appreciate it better than if I were younger. Except for my aching back.
Yes, we’re getting older, but there are definitely some great benefits.
More Magazine surveyed 1200 women age sixty and up, asking them to rate their lives. What were they happy about? What did they regret? What have they learned about finding their true paths? Here are the high points:
- The Betty White Boost: A distinct spike in confidence occurred at the uppermost end of the respondents’ age group. Quite simply, the older the women were, the more likely they were to give themselves high marks for life decisions. Women age 80-plus were the most likely to feel satisfied with their life choices. (Although More only surveyed women, this phenomenon has been documented in men, too.)
- Know Your True Path: A majority of respondents said they found their true path in life after age forty.
- Cool with Not Being Superwoman: a majority said having it all is a crock. Do what you can and pat yourself on the back, and that it’s okay to ask for help or to say NO.
I’m curious about you. Are you starting over in any way, with work or family or personal truths? If so, what did you change, and is it working? Are you feeling stronger or are you drifting? Do you have any bits of advice for us? I’d love for you to share your thoughts if you’re so inclined. (And now the baby is waking from his nap so I have to run!)
This is the last of four posts about all the cool things going on in your aging brain. [Read more…]
I was so excited I almost embarrassed myself in the theater, quoting enthusiastically along with M (Judi Dench).
We went to watch Skyfall on Christmas Day, and toward the end of the movie, when M is staring down a parliamentary inquiry committee, she quotes the same passages from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson as I have in the dedication of my book, Dakota Blues. I was thrilled! I found this poetry when I was in high school, and for some reason, it stuck with me. (I was weird even back then.)
Here it is, the end of the great Ulysses:
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
I didn’t expect Skyfall to have as a subtext the question of “Am I too old? Am I unable, due to my age?” Both Bond and M grapple with this debilitating question, and they answer it in spectacular fashion. How empowering for those of us who watch for evidence of the courage, wisdom, strength and determination that come with age.
My regular column will appear on Friday, and will be the last of the four in which I share reasons to celebrate your amazing, aging brain! See you in a couple days.
This is the third of four posts celebrating the good news about the way the brain ages. [Read more…]