There’s a flip side to aging gracefully that I would like to discuss with you today. It’s called aging ungracefully, and it’s how I’ve decided to greet the second half of my life: the over-40 side. Assuming, I suppose, that in the typical narrative the 40s represent the apex, the rest of it a downward trajectory to an appreciation of soft foods, and a 10-by-20 carpeted cell at Shady Acres. Well, thanks but no thanks. I’m choosing something else for myself, and if you get in my way, things are going to get messy.
Listen, nobody wants to get old; personally, I’d prefer to stay 43 forever — but that’s not likely to happen. Things are going to sag, things are going to get crepey, some of us (I’m not saying who) are going to grow mysterious catlike whiskers out of weird places (deal with it). The one thing I know for sure is that nobody gets out of here alive, so you might as well live every moment like you just jumped out of a French art house movie. By which I mean learn to love your wrinkles, find the perfect red lipstick for your skin tone, and rock that red lipstick until the day you die.
When I first moved to New York, I learned a valuable lesson from an old woman in a dark movie theatre. She came alone, chose a seat and got comfortably settled in. A couple came in after the movie started and asked her to move so that they could sit together, and she simply said, “No.” Just “No.” Not to be rude, or mean, but just in a way that said, “I came here, I did everything right, I’m comfortable, the movie has already started, you made your bed by coming late, so you’re on your own.” At first, the overly polite person in me thought, “Why couldn’t she just be nice, and move?” But now I see the whole transaction through a different lens. I am here. I made a choice. My choice counts, too.
So I sure hope you like little old ladies in big, crazy black-framed googly eyeglasses and avant-garde apparel, because in about 15 years, you’re going to meet one, and she is called me. And I hope you’re okay with me taking my time in front of you at the farmers’ market; I’m really fussy about the slenderness of my asparagus, and I came here to get what I want. I’m going to have a tan, but only because I spend so much time outdoors, and by now I’m through with sunscreen. I’m going to colour my hair or not colour my hair, but not really care what anyone else has to say about it.
I don’t feel like being quiet and letting anyone butt in line ahead of me. Feel free to start this retail transaction by pretending that I’m invisible in your store, but by the end of things, you will know my name, and though I may or may not have purchased anything from you, you will regret your original patronizing attitude.
I don’t want to let technology pass me by. I’m not going to start caring about jazz just because I’m old, and nobody can make me. I’m going to listen to music that is way too young, I’m going to read all the good books, I’m going to drive a powerful car, and write things, and go to the opera, and not waste my time watching TV unless it’s excellent, and do more yoga, and eat like I love myself, which I do.
I’m going to be knowledgeable about the things my kids are doing, so that my children always know that I’m passionate about their interests, too. I’m going to call them every day and tell them I love them, even if it drives them bonkers. I’m going to babysit for my children with abandon, and I’m going to get down on the floor with my grandkids, even if my back hurts, and make stupid faces until we all keel over with laughter. In fact, if I could pick a way to go out, period, I think that would be it: keeling over with laughter.
In my living room, there’ll be no plastic over the furniture. We’re going to live in the living room, and it’s going to get dirty, and we’re going to get spicy barbecue sauce all over the sofa, and when we’re done we’re going to lick our fingers clean. As ungracefully as it gets.
This story was originally published April 12, 2013.