Tuesday, April 21, 2015

let's pretend this isn't happening




Not my cake, but it makes the point.

I struggle to find the balance between appreciating my increasing age (and the wisdom and experience that comes with it) and grieving the loss of youth and time. So a couple weeks ago I brought up the topic with the young women who meet in my home. I used three quotes to get the group thinking:

The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. (Tim Reider)
I once laughed at the vanity of women of thirty or forty who whitened their ruddy old skin with lead, but now I know such salves are not disguises for old crones who wish to catch a young husband. Instead they are only a mask we wear so that we can, for a little while, still recognize ourselves. (Rebecca Johns, The Countess)
Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age. (Gloria Steinem)

Funny thing was, not a single one of the women in the group was wrestling with the aging issue. They were mostly fine with getting older, and some of them were downright excited.

So then I wondered if this was an age thing (ha). I'm ten years older than the women in the group. Maybe 29-years-olds don't think about aging and 39-year-olds do? Or am I superficial and immature and they're extra well-adjusted? So, with the topic stalling, I shifted tactics and asked how their mothers aged. Surely they've seen angst there! But again, no. Rather, some of their mothers were giddy—giddy!—about getting grey hair. Which left me scratching my (greying) head because, while grey is beautiful, the fact is, it signifies “winding down” and “lost abilities” and, ultimately—not to be morbid or anything—death. I'm not stressing over those things, mind you, but I'm not exactly eager, either.

***

Have you seen this interview with Frances McDormand? In it, the naturally (and beautifully) aging actress gently and boldly calls out women (specifically women in the media, but I'm extending that to include women everywhere) who perpetuate the illusion of everlasting youth. Are we being fair to our daughters and sons when we try to appear what we aren't? Are we being fair to ourselves? Where's the line? How to “look nice” and accept the inevitable?

Then again, no matter how down-to-earth we pride ourselves on being, aren't we all maintaining an image, masking our less-attractive traits while highlighting the nicer ones? Why is it so hard to age with confidence?

Here's a thought. Maybe aging is like parenting: it's super frustrating with the first and second kids, but by baby number three you become more or less resigned to your lot in life as parent. In other words, maybe once I get a full head of grey hair and a face covered in wrinkles I'll finally stop worrying the topic to death.

***

I recently learned that women, after going through menopause, experience a huge burst of energy. When I first heard this, I was all like, Wha—? How did I not know this? Because how amazing will it be to have no kids, the house paid off, and a surge of energy for who-knows-what and the-sky's-the-limit? In the midst of my angst, this unanticipated reprieve was a balm. Aging isn't all about winding down. There are up-swings, too. For the first time I actually felt excited for the next stage.

'Course, maybe I'm blowing everything out of proportion. Maybe my particular burst of energy will be wildly underwhelming. But really, at this point I don't care. Just the mere hope is enough to boost my spirits. Onward ho!

***

The other day when my husband and I were discussing the aging conundrum, he told me about a report he heard on NPR, the gist of which was: they put a bunch of old people in a room and told them they couldn't talk about anything that had happened after, say, 1950. The room was time-period appropriate, with old magazines and such (I suppose, anyway). The researchers ran tests on the people before and after their time in the room. The people were healthier, more energetic, and appeared more youthful in photos after their 1950's hangout. In other words, thinking you're younger can actually make you younger.

Another example of this mind-over-matter trick: you know how nurses are always on their feet, but many of them aren't healthy and say they have no time to workout? Well, the researchers told them that they needed to treat their job as a workout. Basically, they were to pretend they were working out all day. Sure enough, their weight dropped, general health improved, and so on.

Maybe the best way to deal with aging is to pretend it's not happening? I mean, prepare a will, draw up a funeral plan, and have realistic expectations about how many (and what sort of) interventions you'll do and then turn a blind eye? Like, instead of doing the crossword puzzles to keep the mind from atrophying, do them because they're fun! Or, instead of working out to shore up the decrepit muscles, exercise because it feels awesome! Instead of retiring because you can't keep up, move on because you have other things on which you want to focus your energy! It's not lying, it's just reframing. Right?

Is this too Pollyanna-ish? Or is it just plain smart?

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.21.14), therapy, chocolate ice cream, my lot, chocolate mayonnaise cake, bacon-wrapped jalapenos, and what they really want.  

16 comments:

  1. These girls are still in their 20s? I've just made the jump from not caring about getting old/wanting some age under my belt to really caring about getting old. I'm 32. Give them a few years. It happens quick. Almost as quick as the grey hair and wrinkles show up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Late 20s. A couple are 30.

      That jump from "wanting some age under my belt to really caring about getting old" is so unnerving.

      Delete
  2. I'll be 35 years old this year, and I feel like an imposter. Or maybe I want to feel like an imposter, so I've convinced myself that I surely do not look 35, and I absolutely do not act like I'm 35. I mean, people are surprised when I tell them I have three kids, so I must look really young (or just act really immature)!?

    For the most part, aging doesn't bother me, though, right now. My weight has always been the demon, and I think that crowds out all the other nonsense. Most people have insecurities of one type or another

    ReplyDelete
  3. You make me smile. The way you explain your thoughts and put them into words makes me think. It's a good thing. Hugs to you! XO

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well versed! I am turning 40 in a month. I do/cannot have kids (unfortunately I cannot relate to your opinion there). I feel like I am in my 20s (well behaved mind you) except for those few achy stubborn joints, ok, so I eat more foods that fight inflammation. Life is moving along as wonderfully as it can. I tend to view everyone around me being this "mythical 20s forever" age group. Every now and then I encounter some one who tells me I am getting older and all I can think of is they need more joy in their life.
    All that said, I do have a will, am actively saving for that retirement lifestyle I keep hearing to be prepared for and will be.
    Thanks for all your posts, even when I don't see your point of view I still enjoy your honest writing.
    J

    ReplyDelete
  5. If you want to feel any worse listen to Terry Gross's interview with Toni Morrison (April 20).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fascinating! She says such depressing stuff with such a happy lilt. (And what got her to start writing at the age of 40? The reward of good food and company for her words!)

      Delete
  6. It's good to be 64.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I remember 40 freaking me out, not because I was 40 but because for the first time I truly understood that some day I would be a 50-year-old woman. I know that sounds stupid, but there you are. At 40, however, I was still having babies, so I still felt young. Now, at 51, I struggle a bit with the idea of growing older, but mostly with finding a sense of purpose for the rest of my life (or at least the next decade).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks to killer sunburns in my misspent youth, I've been wrinkly since my 30s. At 43 I casually check out the skin of all contemporaries and do a little invidious comparison. It bothers me, for sure. On the other hand, I've had long hair most of my life and in my late 30s I decided that it was time to be done with the girlishly flowing locks. I wear my hair in a granny bun each and every day. Overall, my personal policy is to ignore my aging.

    I do think it was helpful when there were inevitable aging signals that everyone recognized: two pigtails for little girls, one for big girls, hair up for adults, muted colors for older women. Not that the specifics are important, but we need a code by the group acknowledging that this is an inevitable process and not a shameful sign of personal failing - which is how we currently view aging, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I try to look forward (with a scintilla of enthusiasm) to sitting in a nursing home 24/7. I go over all the pluses---plenty of time to read, visit, do word games, watch TV, and long to die. This takes a bit of the hard edge (dread) off of aging.

    ReplyDelete
  10. In the last year, I think I've started looking more my age. Of course, no one around me agrees with me. And just last week, while down at my community garden space with my plot partner and her husband, our garden neighbor, a very sweet older woman, showed up, introduced herself and commented on how nice it was we had the 'entire family' working in the garden. I took that to mean she thought I was their daughter, although my friend Virginia disputes that. Whatever. I'm running with it. (For the record, Virginia is only 4 years older than me.)

    What's the old saying, you're only as old as you feel? I still feel 22. Although some days, my aches and pains make me feel much older.

    ReplyDelete
  11. My mom and all her sisters seem to have rich, happy lives. They have had some physical irritations of growing old, but then they get the wisdom and joy of being older, too. They look beautiful to me because they're not trying to look like 20-year-olds and they just have fun. So I have some good role models. Aging is not on my mind right now, even though I just turned 40.

    I absolutely agree that it's important to do things you are interested in purely because you are interested, NOT for the supposed health benefit. I think our minds are just crafty enough to cancel out that benefit if we coax ourselves to do something JUST to be healthy. And then it's easy to worship cravenly at the altar of obsessive health. The fact is, there are no guarantees that doing all the healthy things means you will live longer; some of us are going to die in accidents and rogue diseases that have nothing to do with all the bran flakes and crossword puzzles. I guess that could sound morbid to some people, but I get freed up by that because I don't have to force myself to be righteously healthy.

    ReplyDelete
  12. well, there is something sad that I think of regarding aging: that so often the old people are cast off and marginalized in our culture as being "useless." I would like respect as a wise old lady. I would like kids to sit at my feet and honor me for my long, well-lived life. I hope I can keep doing practical things right up until my death because I know for a fact I would not enjoy sitting around in leisure all the time, not being needed by anybody.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I am always disturbed by the insane desire to be young...don't get me wrong I would love to have the physical resilience of my youth. On the other hand I like myself now...I have wisdom I would not trade for youth. The bane of being happy with how you look as you age has been intensified by the cosmetic surgery industry and the mystique of celebrity and how we have to look a certain way. Your post is wonderful and shows how we should be about our aging. It is inevitable so lets embrace it. Lets face it aging is better than not aging isn't it!

    ReplyDelete
  14. A wonderful anonymous quote: "Don't regret growing older. It's a privilege denied to many". With many young deaths in my lifetime, I take it to heart 😊

    ReplyDelete