Shakespeare was right.
I recently got into a bit of trouble with one of my more respected commenters for having a rather spicy say about a post that, for my reading dollar, was about as negative and depressing a piece of writing as I have even fallen into on Medium. I continue to be unapologetic about it for one simple reason: even after returning to that piece- and no, I’m not going to link to it here because I won’t wish that on anyone else-I still couldn’t find anything positive about it.
She was wallowing in being SO OLD at 51. Look. Those of you who know my writing, know how I feel about such pap. And while my commenter interpreted something very different, I heard from others who, like me, felt dragged through depression sewage at the end of the story. That’s what I am addressing here. Not arguing someone’s right to deal with depression. But to point to getting old as the culprit.
I created a Medium tag for a category of my stories: Aging Vibrantly. That should speak for itself. While I am happy to entertain and learn from others’ POV, I have long learned to edit what comes into my brain for toxic Wordfood, a term I coined in a book I wrote back in 2010. That addresses the notion that the words we feed ourselves nourish various parts of us. Including our toxic need to be right about Ain’t It Awful.
I am a featured writer for SixtyandMe.com, a website designed by and for women over sixty. That site has, my best guess, close to a million members/readers worldwide, likely more after quarantine. We are largely English-speaking, represent all colors and types, but are mostly over that Great Big Milestone. Fellow Medium peep
Margaret Manning threw her heart, soul and treasure into this enterprise some time back. Again for my aging dollar, this is the kind of effort, for those of us heading into our later years, which rewrites what aging looks like. Margaret could have chosen to simply fade into the sunset on one of her beloved Indonesian cruises.
Instead she blogs, creates lively, sweet-natured and advice-filled videos about aging well, and creates a space where many other writers like me can explore topics from clothing to travel to makeup to wrinkles, often with humor, and with rare exception, with great hope.
I can’t speak for you but for anyone struggling with the question of how to age well, what Margaret did is the picture postcard for how to age well. Give back, give back big, and give back in a way that empowers.
Here is my latest post from this morning.
I have seen material from other writers I met on Medium there, including Brittany Denis, DPT, whose thoughtful input about physical therapy is helpful as we creak more often.
Websites like Sixty, and examples like Margaret’s, are what I choose to attend. All too often, and just wait, you too will find this as you age, we fail to look to our elders for wisdom. Some of the commenters on the original post I referred to above are people who clearly do NOT read material on Nancy Peckenham’s Crow’s Feet, which is full of wit, wisdom, fun and joy, remembrances and observations that are hugely useful. My guess is that if they did spend more time reading about folks who are indeed living well into their later years they might first, have more hope, and second, think twice before penning something dreary and dreadful about being over fifty.
I guarantee you that there is general hilarity among my grey goose friends over the whining about turning fifty, when buddies of mine like Vienna De Vega and others are staring down eighty in a few years. Or other writers who are already well past that and still penning pieces full of verve, humor, and well-earned perspective.
But that’s just me.
The other day I nearly hurt myself laughing so hard that I landed on my butt while reading an utterly serious, self-important tome about Twenty Five Life Lessons from a 25-Year-Old.
Okay. Gimme a second to compose myself.
You read that right. I read it, blew snot into my keyboard, read it again, and wept with hilarity.
First, it was nothing more that a long, silly listicle of Advice From Older People. She didn’t bother to credit her sources. Of course not.
Second, it was offered in that way unique to people who have lived barely a quarter of their lives, who have decided that they know the Secrets of Life because they read it in a religious book (she quoted one liberally, the only credit she offered), or heard it from other sources.
Other source most likely someone who has actually lived life, but I digress.
Then there’s this:
The older I get, the sillier I find my journal entries from my twenties (if you want comedy fodder in your final years, keep a journal now) wherein I tried my level best to insist on how wise I was. What “wisdom” I had was, as with this youngster, pilfered from genuinely wise people, not earned on her own merit.
How d’ya know? Easy.
People who have real-life lessons to offer give real-life examples that they have lived. You will forgive me for pointing out the obvious but that’s why it’s called “real-life.” Huh. Silly me.
People who have no real-life experience rip off others’ advice and offer it as their own. They can’t list examples of how they applied X to their lives over time because, well. Duh.
Margaret Manning interviews brilliant people like Ashton Applewhite, who, unlike our feckless quarter-century guru, really is an expert on ageism and aging well, and is full of solid advice. You can read her, listen to her, get excited, motivated and busy.
And in every single possible way, become MUCH happier about going gray.
Or, kindly, you can read, buy t-shirts and put up memes like this all over your house, computer and that Peloton bike that doubles as a laundry hanger:
I’m not without humor about this stuff. I am, however, impatient with age hate, ageism, the ridiculous notion that we need to listen to the extremely young for life lessons (stop please, I already hurt myself once). To that, the now-middle-aged Mark Zuckerberg, at 36, who said that “younger people are just smarter.” I think he was 24 at the time.
That now-immortalized piece of pap remains for me such a superb example of America’s love affair with the inexperienced-but-dewy young. It also exemplifies how desperately we wish to project upon adolescents the wisdom that only life, including time in place, can convey. And even then, as I am fond of repeating myself, age only conveys age. As with the depressing piece I mentioned at the beginning, not everyone ripens. Some of us just rot.
I’d prefer to hold off rotting until I die but that’s just me. I realize that some of what I write is about as worthwhile as most fertilizer which is another way of saying it’s bullshit, but that’s another benefit of aging: being able to laugh long and hard at yourself. Everyone else does; might as well join in.
Years ago I bought a book full of wit and wisdom from women having turned fifty. Now that I am within shouting distance of seventy, that sounds mighty youthful to me, for good reason. Which is why, if I want advice, I turn to Sixty and Me, or Crow’s Feet, or people whose writing speaks to the combination of deep ache and dense gratitude that losses cause us. Ache for the inevitable losses, gratitude for the gift of life itself. You really bloody well appreciate being alive when you outlive your friends, family and damned never everyone else you know. You can learn about gratitude from those who are grateful despite their losses, or even more powerfully, because of them.
That, kindly, is wisdom.
Self-love, as the title speaks to, is nowhere near as much of a crime against ourselves as giving up, giving in and complaining that our bodies gave out, which is the stuff of the WomenOverFifty meme. I have heard a lot from my aging sisters about how hard it is to date. Well, I would have to throw down this gauntlet: if we choose to neglect ourselves beginning at mid-life, what on earth do you expect? It is indeed a “vile sin,” for the superb vehicles we are bequeathed are able to carry us forward in style, but not if we while away our hours pounding down pizzas and cookie dough.
If you don’t believe we can age in style you are not reading the right people. If you don’t believe that life past fifty is one hell of an adventure, you are not reading the right people. As many of us oldies might offer as real-life advice, because we live it, you might want to surround yourself with remarkable, vivid, energetic, powerful folks of a Certain Age. The world is full of them, but not if you’re consuming pap about Life Lessons from a 25-Year-Old.
Unless of course you want to bust your pelvis on the wood floor like I did. At least I was laughing.
To that, I again quote my beloved bard:
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. _Merchant of Venice