Posts Tagged ‘aging’

Old Friends Show There’s More to Come

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

At his birthday party Peter Cooper greeted guests with the declaration, “80 is the new 79.” Then he smiled impishly, pointed to the bar and led you to his mountain view.

At her birthday party Alice Waco asked for suggestions on what new challenges she might take on in her next decade, this also being Alice’s 80th. Most agreed it would be something extraordinary and not found on most senior activity listings.

Having friends turn oh-my-God 80 when you’re in your 60s probably isn’t that much of a surprise. But it does make one ask, how did this cool person I hang out make it so well to 80?

Peter and Alice don’t know each other but with their birthday parties on the same weekend it gave me a chance to consider what is it about aging that works better for some people than others. I’ve known both of them since they were in high middle age and they’ve always had a busy house full of friends and family. Both have quick minds and a sense of humor, get outraged about injustice, care passionately about the world and are people you hope to sit next to at a dinner party.

They both also might credit vibrant marriages for keeping their sizzle. Alice’s husband Bill was killed in a bicycling accident seven years ago when he was 79. Before that they were always “Bill and Alice, Alice and Bill,” and if you were describing them, you’d have to add that she used to be a nun and he used to be a priest and so, of course, they were made for each other.

Peter is married to Robin and when you ask her, “How’s Peter” her first response is almost always, “He’s wonderful.”

You could tell you’d arrived at Alice’s party because of the bumper stickers. Alice spent years running the Sonoma County Peace and Justice Center. When she was a teacher, she led the biggest strike in Santa Rosa (Ca.) history. If there’s a demonstration or vigil against war Alice is there with a candle, a sign and if need be, waiting to be arrested. Not all of her friends lean to the left. At her party an attorney introduced himself as probably the only Republican in the room and everyone applauded.

Peter was a TV guy in New York who traveled the world producing commercials for peanut butter and beer. He and Robin regularly return to New York to see plays, stay up late and visit his childhood buddy, director Mike Nichols.

But when Peter retired he didn’t stop, he simply changed coasts. He got involved in community theater as an actor and director, took writing classes at the junior college, held folk music concerts at his house, raised dogs, became a Californian.

Peter looks like a theater person. At one of his openings he stood on the sidewalk in black turtleneck and tiny earring, chatting up theater goers. He was likely hurting that night. His body is pretty beat up, from surgeries and a couple of car accidents, but he doesn’t talk much about that. The only time you realize he’s slowing down is when he plants himself in a good spot – at his party on the deck looking to Mount St. Helena – and instead of working the room lets the room come to him.

The week before his party Peter had finished a month’s run in the cast Stalag 17, playing the commandant. A guest who saw it told him he’d given her the creeps. He said, “Thank you.”

At her party Alice talked about the Parkinson’s she is now integrating into her life. Then she announced she’d be gone for a while, heading up to the prison in Susanville to do some non-violence training.

Preparing for Your Sweet Soixante

Saturday, April 30th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

I used to repeat the line about 60 being the new 50 or even 40. Sounded good to me. But now, well advanced into that decade, I believe that 60 is not the new 40. It is the new 60 if you work it right which is what I’ve been advising lately to my younger friends who are still in the 59-and-holding-on-for-dear-life club.

I am here to tell you little sisters the next decade has its rewards.

There is one clear benefit to turning 60 and that is you can stop worrying about getting older. You are there.

You may think of yourself as high middle age, and I’ll support you on that, but you’re already past senior in some people’s eyes. Like the kid at the box office who automatically rings you up for a $7 old person ticket. That’s okay. He might do the same to Helen Mirren and Diane Sawyer, both well into their 60s.

It always make me feel better, to check out my chronological mates. Punk rocker Patti Smith will be 65 this year – old enough for Medicare and a brand new author with an award-winning book.

Believe me one day you will look back at 59, and think what’s so old about that?

Lots of new things happen in the 60s. You start thinking about turning points. Like quitting the job. The R-word comes up. Time now to think of what you can look forward to when you have more time. Find a cello teacher. Investigate docent training at your favorite museum so you can get in free.

Hitting 60 is a good time to practice putting work in its place. The transition from a full time job to putting yourself first takes real adjustment. Take care of your friendships. In the 60s you start attending and planning a lot more memorial services. Be open to new friends, too. The kind who will go hiking with you when you stop going into the office every day. And who believe it is a sin to watch daytime TV.

Then there’s the body, which if it hasn’t already, will send out definite warning signs to pay attention. This is the time to care for your bones and brain. If you’re lucky enough to have a job with health insurance, get all skin things checked out. Do the bone scan. If you have vision insurance order a couple extra pairs of glasses, especially if they’re progressives. Complete all pricey dental work. Paying out of pocket is a shocker.

Find a gym or a walking buddy. Don’t neglect the cardio-vascular stuff. But don’t get too thin. After 59, skinny equals gaunt and saggy.

If you are fortunate to have a matching 401k, put away as much as you can. You’re never too old to get smart about money. There are powerful people who want to destroy Social Security and pensions and put older people on an ice floe. Well, at least the poor ones. Avoid becoming poor.

Depending on the above, start to prepare for the thrifty life. When you leave work you may have to give up some luxuries. This might be a good time to learn to cut your own hair. Or your dog’s. Or your husband’s.

Fill out those durable power of attorney forms. Make a will. Talk to your kids about what you want done if you get hit by a bus. Be selfish about what you read. You are not required to finish any book that bores you. Even for book club. I met an 84-year-old woman at the library who reads only non-fiction “because,” she said, “there’s so much more I need to know.”

Record all PIN numbers. Save your brain for other important information. Use the good china.

A Double Take on Getting Older

Friday, April 1st, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

It’s a mother-daughter thing. One day you, the fair, youngish daughter, look into the mirror and groan, “I’m looking older,” and your old-ish mother does a double take and says, “You? What about me?”

Then suddenly many years pass and you, now the old-ish mother, and your fair youngish daughter repeat the same script.

My daughters – I have three – and I are roughly 30 years apart. I identify with the Boomer generation, they with the Gen-X crowd. One daughter, Sam, is, like me, a writer and public speaker and we often discuss how our generations do things differently. Lately we’ve been talking about aging, because while there are many far worse things in life to hang you up, everyone has those moments when she asks, “When did that happen?”

Looks-wise, my daughter says her friends openly discuss laser treatments, chemical peels dermabrasion and botox. My friends and I talk about other people’s chemical peels, dermabrasion and botox, worrying quietly if we should do the same.

You don’t come a long way, baby, without getting older at the same time.

Sam’s generation is not as conflicted about cosmetic surgery. She says most of her friends would do it if they felt the need and had the money. My friends still get the Joan Rivers shivers just thinking about cutting.

We both are lured in by anti-aging goop and creams but also believe that strong women stay young, at least in an agile, limber, spine-healthy way. Sam and I were talking about this to a group of women at a spa in Austin and we all said we’re grateful to be living at a time when no one would dare say “why bother?” to any woman taking off for the gym or a jog.

My daughter said she feels like she’s in better shape now than when she was in her 20s. And I happily said, “Me too.” That’s one thing that I doubt my mother or grandmother would have ever boasted. My daughter goes to the gym five days a week and does boot camp workouts with things like kettle bell weights. I’ve never met a kettle bell but I can zumba and I do yoga. She thinks I should do more body sculpting. I tell her she needs to meditate.

My generation preached the idea that being intelligent and having ability mattered more than looks. But you don’t come a long way, baby, without getting older at the same time and even a feminist can be surprised by how quickly she reached the senior ranks and looks it.

However, my daughter and I both feel we’re in good company. I am grateful to Helen Mirren and Barbara Boxer for holding up so well in their advanced age. My daughter looks to Jennifer Aniston and Halle Barry. I have a 69-year-old friend who is taking up tap dancing. Sam has friends having babies in their 40s.

Her generation is in their 30s and creeping into their 40s but feel far too young to call themselves middle aged. My generation, in their 60s and creeping into 70, gratefully call ourselves middle aged. I read that in France you’re not considered old until you’re 80. That made us both happy.