Tag Archives | aging

Aspiration: Crone

Between March 25and April 3, Gloria Steinem, Jane Goodall, and Nancy Pelosi all had birthdays. Nancy is the spring chicken: she turned 79 on the 28th of March. When she turns 80 next year, she will be in good company: Toni Morrison, Yoko Ono, Glenda Jackson, Judi Dench, Maxine Waters, Martha Agrerich, and of course our queen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg are all in their 80s. Lily Tomlin turns eighty this fall; she is slightly younger than Jane Fonda, her co-star in “Grace and Frankie,” in which they play best friends who are in their early 70s.

What do all these birthdays signify, besides a combination of good health, good genes, and good luck?

Power.

This constellation of women heralds a golden age of powerful old women. And yes, I mean old. Not in the “they look great for their age” old, or the “80 is the new 70” old. I mean old af; I mean older than your granny (probably); I mean old as in seen it all, done most of it, and not finished yet.

Why is it a compliment to tell a woman she doesn’t look her age? Why is it praise-worthy to say that someone isn’t really that old, as if having aged is something that needs to be explained away or denied: what’s the point of a compliment if it comes with erasure?

That erasure is how America—and Western culture more generally—handles the question of aging. To be old is invisible, to be silenced. It’s a catch-22: no one wants to be seen as old, so we try downplay that reality—and then by downplaying it, we make aging seem like something to be avoided at all costs (and of course, it costs a great deal to avoid the appearance of aging).

It’s the dirtiest word in the lexicon: old.

But I think it’s time to reclaim our time, which is to say, our age.

Let’s make “Crone” hashtag squad goals.  

Think about it. What if instead of the crone being the pointy-chinned bearer of poisoned apples we all remember from “Snow White,” we saw crone as a powerful wise woman who exists outside of, and independent from, the stranglehold of public opinion? Gloria Steinem told Oprah that when she turned sixty, she felt liberated from “the feminine prison,” and that sense of freedom expanded as she aged.

We are all used to fairy tales that end with “happily ever after,” and while there are increasing numbers of tales that challenge or queer that ending—the YA novel Ash comes to mind, or the picture-book The Princess Knight—there are still very, very few stories about the part of life that happens way after the “ever after.” But we need those stories to help ourselves map the future; we need the perspective and the advice of those who have been there before us.

The Crone has traversed the complex landscape of womanhood: she can tell us where the landslides are, how to skirt the quicksand. She knows what happens when the scrum of motherhood fades; she has re-invented herself mid-career; she shows us that a mid-life crisis might not be a crisis but an opportunity. She reminds us that it is possible to survive—even love—after loss.  And even more importantly, the crone can help us to see the end of life as full of grace, resolve, and fulfillment.

A few months ago, on my fifty-fifth birthday, I had the good fortune to be invited to a lunch honoring Jane Goodall (who turned 85 on April 3rd). It was a small luncheon as these things go, and I was lucky enough to be seated  across the table from Jane and the small stuffed-toy chimpanzee she brings with her everywhere. At one point, someone asked if I would like to move closer to Jane so that I could have a private conversation, but I didn’t move. I mean, what does a person say to Jane Goodall? “Um, hi, you’re amazing, thank you for trying to save the world?”

All I could offer her was my mute admiration, but her presence became the gift I didn’t know I’d needed. Turning fifty-five had not brought me joy; I’d spent the morning wondering if I could MariKondo my age. Fifty-five felt slow and uninspiring; the list of things I hadn’t achieved seemed far longer than the list of accomplishments.

Now, it’s true that on the one hand, sitting across from Jane Goodall can make a gal feel wildly inadequate—but on the other hand, she also reminded me that at 85, a woman can still be engaged, vibrant, and visible.

Maybe fifty-five didn’t have to be the beginning of the end.

When Amy Schumer’s skit about “the last fuckable day” went viral a few years ago, we all laughed (probably so we didn’t cry). I don’t know a woman over the age of fifty who hasn’t felt herself rendered invisible by the combined forces of the advertising and entertainment industries: “fuckability” remains a woman’s primary marker of value. That’s why the media can’t stop talking about whether the female presidential candidates are “likable.” Likeable is just the (slightly more) polite version of fuckable.

But Crones don’t give a fuck if they’re likable. They’ve got more important things on their minds—and an  awareness that they don’t have time to waste with your delicate feelings. Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior, says that aging reminds her to be deliberate, to think about what really matters to the world. Crones understand the urgency of Mary Oliver’s question: what will you do with your one wild and precious life?

Oliver’s question is often used in graduation speeches as a kind of encouragement to the young—but Oliver published that poem when she was about fifty-five. I like to think of it as a reminder that wildness and preciousness can be ours, even as we round the bend on sixty.

We celebrate transitions to the next stages in life with graduations and commencements—my eighteen-year old son has had graduation ceremonies for nursery school, kindergarten, fifth grade, eighth grade, and high school. There are all sorts of rites and ceremonies that mark “coming of age” but as life wends on, those ceremonies vanish. Maybe some of us will have retirement parties, but those mark a withdrawal, not a beginning.

I think we need Cronemencement parties when we hit 70. We won’t ask for gifts, because at 70, we know that the last thing we need is more stuff. Instead, we’ll put on our comfiest or our fanciest clothes, whatever we want, because at 70, you wear what makes you happy. We’ll tell stories about where we’ve been and even more importantly, we’ll tell stories about where we’re going.

Grace and Frankie Image & Maxine Waters Image

Continue Reading · on May 30, 2019 in aging, Feminism, Politics

finishing touches

Older Son sent in his early decision university application the other day; the application to the universities in the UK went in a few weeks ago. There are more applications in the offing, and Husband has racked up any number of marriage points by filling out the nightmare that is FAFSA, and so as they say, shit is getting real. (They also say that marriages shouldn’t be about keeping score, but anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that’s absurd. It’s all about keeping score. Filling out FAFSA puts Husband ahead for at least the next few weeks.)

I am aware that I’m touching Older Son more than I used to; I walk past him and touch his shoulder, his back, his head. It is, I realize, a literalization of how I’m feeling: I’m trying to put my finishing touches on him before he leaves.  He turns 18 later this month and while I know I should be proud of the young man he’s becoming, I am want so badly for him, and his younger brother, to still be the tiny dewy-cheeked, pudgy-footed toddlers for whom I was the entire universe. I watch both boys with eyes that are clouded with nostalgia and a sense of loss. Is that inevitable? When I’m doddering in my dotage and unable to cut my own food, will I still look at them and see the babies they were?  (Or Kit Fisto Princess Star Wars Jedi, as the case may be): Ghosts. I think that aging means learning to live with ghosts, even of those who are still very much with us in the world.

Continue Reading · on November 4, 2018 in aging

in which the universe sends me a metaphor about aging

About a week after I turned fifty (see how easily I said that?), I went for a walk on Saadiyat Beach, which is near my house, with a friend.  Here’s a question: almost all the women I know like to go for a walk. We don’t need a specific destination; we just walk. But ask a man to go for a walk and he’ll say “where?”  Why is that?

Anyway, so S. and I were on our walk and we saw a turtle in the water, which is actually kind of a rare event even though Saadiyat is supposed to be a nesting place for the Hawksbill turtle, which is a critically endangered species.  When the lifeguard pulled the turtle out of the water, it was crusted over with shells that were so heavy the turtle was in danger of drowning.

Et voila, a metaphor. Which of course, I used as the basis for my column in Friday’s National.  Here’s a link to the article, which I would love for you to share all over the social media universe.  In exchange for that nice sharing, here’s a picture of the turtle:

IMG_7957

Continue Reading · on February 1, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, aging, urban nature

On Turning Fifty

So I’ve been fifty for an entire week and so far things are going pretty well.

It didn’t look good there for a while, though, because I inducted myself into my fifth decade not only with a horrible cold but also with a violent stomach bug that had me barfing so hard and so long that I threw out my back.  All that vomit, without even a riotous party to precede it.  I followed the sneezing and coughing and barfing by peeling off a chunk of my thumb when I was peeling carrots for soup a few days ago. Left a lovely trail of blood across the cutting board but I’m pretty sure the scrap of thumb-flesh did not end up in the soup.

Fifty. I’m trying to buy into that whole “you’re only as old as you feel” thing and  “fifty is the new thirty,” but then you know what happens?  Some well-intentioned person says “You’re fifty?” which is meant as a compliment but the tone of the compliment sounds like sweetjesusfiftythat’sfreakingancient.  And that means that what’s really being said is “fifty means one foot in the crypt and for someone teetering on the edge, you don’t look half bad.”

Fifty. It’s not that old (and it’s getting younger all the damn time. Like, hourly).  I mean, there are lots of fantastic women who make fifty look good. Sandra Bullock turns fifty this summer, Michelle Obama just turned fifty, Madonna is fifty-four (sweetjesusthat’sfreakingancient).  I figure that  I’ve ridden buses driven by lunatics, I’m married to a handsome brown man, I’ve even danced to “Vogue,” so pretty much I’m going to age as fabulously as they are, right?

Fifty.  When the things you want down (weight, blood pressure, gray hair) go up, and the things you want up (back fat, boobs, good cholesterol levels) go down. It’s like a whipsaw in here as my body re-aligns itself to its new status as an AARP member (the card, I believe, is in the mail).

Of course, I have no intention of AARP-ing myself any time soon; like the plague victim in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I have to say “I’m not dead yet…think I’ll go for a walk this afternoon…”  At fifty, I’ve still got an entire lifetime in front of me–it’s  just not quite as much “lifetime” as I had, say, fifteen years ago.

Here’s a thing that’s happened as I hit the far edge of late middle-age (or as that far edge hits me, whichever)–a kind of consolation prize, if you will, for the sagging skin and aching joints:  “fifty” gives you license to ignore the “shoulds.” Probably I should’ve learned to do that a long time ago (see what I did there?), but I didn’t, so now I have.  All those scripts that others want you to follow, all those conventional ideas about what a woman should do or shouldn’t do, all those commitments you’ve made because someone thought it would be a good thing for you to do?  Screw it. You’re fifty. Yes, you have a long time left on this earth, but not so much time that you should spend any of it doing anything other than what you think matters most.  You think Madonna is taking meetings she thinks are stupid? Nope. And you don’t need to wear a spike-encrusted bustier to follow her example (I hope).

So yeah. I’m fifty. And I can almost say that without wincing.

birthday candles

 image source

 

 

Continue Reading · on January 29, 2014 in aging, Feminism, growing up, me my own personal self, ranting

I’ve been fitbit

It started innocently enough. A friend of mine who just had her second child bought herself a fitbit, a little piece of digitized plastic that tracks how many steps you take in a day, the miles you walk, and the calories you burn.  Or the lack thereof, depending.

R. swore by her little doodad; she walked and she walked and now, damned if she isn’t on week four of a  couch to 5K program.  She swears the fitbit got her moving.

How could a little piece of plastic with a happy face on it motivate a person, I thought to myself, tossing another handful of candy corn into my mouth.

Here’s the thing: in New York, people walk. New Yorkers walk everywhere and if we’re not walking, we’re running to the subway, hauling ass up and down the stairs.  New Yorkers are like sharks: stop moving and we’ll die.

But out here in the land of cheap gas and big cars?  It’s a bit like walking in LA: people do it, but everyone around you thinks you’re a lunatic.  Plus the long distances between, say, where you live and where your children play football every damn day because you’re a spineless parent who didn’t say no exercise their angelic bodies on the football pitch, necessitate driving, which is why my butt is slowly morphing into the shape of my car seat.

Besides, we are moving into the season of festive eating, which will be followed quickly by the season of omigodimturningfifty and I think it’s time that I rid myself of that pesky baby weight.  The baby just turned nine, and although I hate to rush into anything, I guess I’d like to start my next decade sylph-shaped rather than car-shaped.

I swallowed my skepticism (along with more candy corn) and bought a fitbit.  Not the super-duper fitbit that measures everything, even the efficiency of my sleep (It’s simple: I don’t get enough sleep. Don’t need a piece of plastic to tell me that: just look at the baggage under my eyes.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the fitbit clipped to my pocket and every night it syncs to my computer.  It’s a little bit addictive, I have to say.  A person doesn’t want to think she can be so easily manipulated motivated by smiley faces and cheerful messages but . . . the other day I was in my office and had about 45 minutes before my next meeting. Usually I would check in on my other addiction — Tom and Lorenzo — but instead I went for a little walk outside.  Added a few thousand steps to my daily total … all in search of a CHAMP! button.

I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight yet, but now that I’ve finished the candy corn (imported from the States by a visiting friend, who I’m not sure I should thank or curse), I have a fighting chance. And yes, I know I could just choose not to eat the candy corn, but that seems just silly, given that Josh went to all the trouble of bringing it from Brooklyn.

I’m going to fitbit myself all the way to fifty, I guess, but just look at that little smiling face.  Wouldn’t that face make you take an extra step or two?

 

fitbit

 

 

 



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Continue Reading · on November 28, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, aging, exercise, growing up, me my own personal self, NaBloPoMo

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