Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Happy to bore you

I am an old woman now, 65, but I’m still struggling to heal the wounds of childhood. And as I look at my friends and family members—even my 89-year-old mother—I see that they are wrestling with the same task. The variety of childhood wounds is so vast, and the injuries so often exacerbated by re-infections along the road to recovery, that sometimes it seems that the whole point of adult life is to cauterize the beginning of life. 

So when I look at my children, I fear that the annoyance they sometimes cannot conceal has its roots in some dreadful cruelty of mine that they cannot completely forgive. But then I realize, No, it’s nothing so grand. It’s just that I cannot remember what I’ve told them before and so I repeat myself, tell the same old stories so often that they jump in to stop me by providing the punch lines before I can get to them myself. 

And since the stakes are high, I feel relief that I’m just boring, not harmful.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Old people—yuck!

The elderly may sometimes slur, but more often they get slurred. These days I’m struck by the casual ageism that drops into conversations and essays without a ripple. Some examples from my notebook:

“There are quite a few semi-old people traveling with really desperately old people who are clearly their parents. Men after a certain age simply should not wear shorts, I’ve decided; the skin seems denuded and practically crying out for hair, particularly on the calves. It’s just about the only body area where you actually want more hair on older men.”
Shipping Out, by David Foster Wallace

 “When I look at [my old paperbacks] objectively, like a child looking at the tented skin of a beloved grandparent, I must admit that they are not physically attractive.”
The Shelf, by Phyllis Rose

“The parents are just on the other side of 40, still relatively young, still relatively attractive.”
—Modern Love, New York Times, September 24, 2015

“Hoodie … a piece of clothing that makes you look hip and cool if you are under 40 years old but that you shouldn’t be using over 40 if you don’t want to appear as a pervert and/or a slob.”
—"How to Fold Your Hoodie Into a Pillow or a Laptop Bag," Lifehacker

Moral: Being old is really, really fun, but only if you have body hair and like having people think you’re a pervert.

On mortality

My father used to call it the organ recital. That thing when you casually ask a geezer how he is and he tells you in detail. Such revelations used to seem like oversharing. But now that I’m a geezer—or a crone—I get it. I live in my body, there’s no escape. When things go wrong inside my skin (or on it) I feel more than idle curiosity. In the last third of life, in which I and many of my friends abide, a new symptom can be an answer to the question, How will I die? 

That’s the conversation’s subtext, too stark to spell out in casual conversation. So nowadays, when someone confides her latest health concern, I listen with interest—and Google it later—because I know what we’re really discussing is mortality. The organ recital now feels not like oversharing but undersharing.