I’m very attracted to all things old right now. Houses, furniture, perennials, trees, clothes, and women writers. I’m looking to them in the hope they’ll share some secrets they know about how to be old. They all seem so satisfied with their circumstances, yet they still face the perils of severe weather, pests, moths, diseases, accidents, and other conditions that may shorten their lifespan or their ability to endure. Somewhere during this past year, I’ve accepted that I’m old and feel no shame, no despair about it. In fact, I decided to inhabit it completely and explore it as an unknown territory, much as I would a city I’ve never been to before.
When I travel to an unknown city, I don’t restrict myself to the spaces the city wants you to see, the ones you’re told to visit in travel books, the famous works of art or restaurants, the best parts of itself. I also wander through the quarters where the unwelcome live, those who are poor, those relegated to the fringes. There’s a certain kind of art in those neighborhoods too, and it’s honest. Perhaps because I’ve been a social worker those parts of the city feel familiar and I’m not afraid to walk through them because I know grandmothers, fathers, aunts, sisters, and cousins and not aliens to be feared inhabit them. This will be my approach as I investigate how I and others are “being” old. What and how we are learning as we explore the parts of being old that are achingly, exquisitely beautiful and the parts that are not. New territories as we live and work longer and are different than those our mothers and grandmothers traversed.
I’ve missed doing research and having something to investigate that makes me quiver with curiosity and anticipation at what I will find. I don’t like that I haven’t been using my Ph.D. and the hard-earned skills it brought me. So I’m researching the condition of being old from the perspective of people who are experiencing it, not the younger ones who study it. I’m starting with the literature and reading what serious women writers and scholars have written about being old; Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Carolyn Heilbrun, and an anthology of black women writers edited by Carleen Brice called, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, to name a few whose books are stacked on my bedside table. I welcome your suggestions of others. I want to continue the discussion that’s already begun on this blog; what Germaine Greer calls, “ a space wherein a woman could give an account of her own strategy for coping with old age.”
I’m going to keep saying I’m old over and over until it drains all the pejorative connotations from the word and the exuberant proclamations like, “60 is the new 40” which still seems to imply younger is better. Being old is not an either/or proposition. Our stories need to consider the different ways we experience and learn about being old based on our race, ethnicity, class, sexual identification, ability, spirituality, and class. There’s a history of groups reclaiming pejorative words used against them. So I’m reclaiming the word old because, as you know, I always believe we have the right to claim our own self-definition. I’m old and I’m going to figure out how to be old in a way to tell my story and invite you to tell me yours. I mean what’s the alternative to being old or what the dictionary defines as, “having lived for a long time”?
Probably because I’m obsessed with plants and gardens right now, I found this little device to frame questions; a rose, a bud, and a thorn. If you want to answer them from the perspective of being old, that’s fine, it can also apply to anything else: how you styled yourself this week, a relationship you’re working on, or a new project. I look forward to hearing what you have to say, as usual.
Rose: What is something that worked well for you this week?
Bud: What was something that is an area of opportunity or an idea to be explored?
Thorn: Something that isn’t working for you right now.