My New ‘Cause Celebre': Raging Against Age Stereotypes
Recently it dawned on me that my 65th year is nearly over. That age. Ahhh —that NUMBER!
Back in my 20s, 65 screamed terms like “senior citizens” ; “towheads”; “old farts” ; “old fogies.” I mean, just LOOK at what my grandparents looked like at my age. How could I NOT think of it as such?
But I’m there, teetering on entering the second half of my 60s. Lately I have been wrestling with the answer to a question posed to me more than once: “Are you retired?” It hits me between the eyes like a 2 x 4 every time I am asked and the look on my face is one of sheer confusion. It is, however, a logical question.
It dawns on me that I am just getting started on so many things in my life. I only became a professional writer in my mid-40s. 20 years of writing means I am but a neophyte, and have yet to get a book traditionally published. But it’s getting closer, and if I put my head down and my blinders on, I may yet have the name of a prominent New York publisher attached to my bonafides. After all, Elizabeth Jolley had her first novel published at the age of 56. In one year alone she received 39 rejection letters but went on to have 15 novels and four short story collections published. Mary Wesley was 71 when her first novel was published. Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing as a columnist in her 40s, and the popular Little House books weren’t written when she was a young girl at all. They were written and published when she was in her 60’s.
Are you an occupant of my era? If so, here are a few of our age-assignments if you were unaware (like me):
- Let your hair go gray. Some of us do, but more than a few of us have never even seen what their hair color would be if left to its own devices. One thing I am certain of: instead of getting that fabulously platinum silver hair color I see on elegant, ageless women in cruise ship ads, mine would totally mouse out, becoming a color akin to that of a compost pile. And how about those fading eyebrows? Hell, I have NO intention of permitting myself to look like a balding Renaissance woman, so fuggetaboutit.
- Get rid of all those high heels in your closet. What? I don’t think you understand. My foot is happier at a tilt than it is flat. I was practically BORN in heels, heralding back from my airline days to now. I exercise regularly to keep those calf muscles flexible and able to withstand my collection of shoe art, which gives me great joy to gaze upon. I may not opt for platforms, but are great leg lines elongated by a pair of stilettos exclusively the property of the young? I am here to dispute that (by the way, my husband is not fighting this one).
- Lie about your age. I have never understood this one. How does it serve you to shave off years of your life? Think about the events — the joys, the lessons, the beauty, the travels, and the people who come and go in the course of a single year. To tell you I am even one year younger than I really am is to deny the existence and meaning of those events. If I were a bottle of wine, I’d want you to slap an artful label on me and state the year of my birth. Remember how we used to hold up fingers proudly telling everyone how old we were from age 0-5? Well I may keep you there for a while flashing palmfuls of fingers, but just think of me as age 5 again in this regard.
- Accept your body as it is. Are you KIDDING me? Remember how long it took to get from age 0 to age 30? If I figure I have a full 1/3 of my life left to get back to the size I want to be (and it’s not an unreasonable one), then why would I tolerate looking in the mirror at any extra pounds or lumps I can still do something about? While I have not ruled out the possibility of minor cosmetic fixes in the future, over the past few years I permitted the idea of exercise and food choices to dominate my thoughts. Because I started to take that idea seriously, I now have arms more toned and shapely than when I was 45, lunge across the gym floor with the 30-somethings, and plank and do push-ups with great determination. To accept hunching over, going up or down a set of steps slower than anyone else, or hanging up my bicycle is to pack it in in more ways than one.
- Permitting snail mail to convince you you're already ancient. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. All those retirement seminars, supplemental Medicare insurance ads, and senior discount offers you are being bombarded with (and they think a paltry few of us are web-savvy enough to get information we need online) are trying to tell you is that you are a bad risk if you don't think their way — that your decades of life have earned you all these new "privileges" (well, they have, but not the ones they’re throwing in your face). What they’ve earned you is the time to take stock and even start over. This bullshit is designed to make you think your life is ending soon and I DESPISE it. All of it. Life can be snatched from you during any decade of your existence, and while it may be more likely for you to have health issues in your 60s and beyond, there are ways to make yourself healthier now than you were even 20 years ago. Hey. Nobody knows what card comes next, so why not play the odds?
I have SO much more to say, but I’ll save it. I suppose these “assignments” mean I am simply a shit-disturbing student and deserve detention. I’ll save the rest of this rebellious talk for the next age “milestone” (70?) and report back to you on what the previous five years taught me. Now that I got all this off my post-menopausal chest, I’m good to go.