On becoming ageless

 

Back in 2000, when I was on the verge of moving to the UK, I had to fill in a few hours and bought Bridget Jones’ Diary and read about half of it, but had to leave it behind, there wasn’t a centimetre of space left in my suitcase and boxes. I enjoyed what I read, I watched the film, and I never realized I hadn’t finished the book until last weekend when I re-read it. What a difference 15 years has made – in the meantime my daughter reached Bridget’s age, and I find myself identifying with her mum. Remember the book? Remember that the mum was filled with energy, erupting out of the life she had decided was a rut, and having herself a whale of a time, when she should have been totally focused on Bridget’s very complicated life? She found her daughter a job, she got herself into a bit of a scandal and was extracted by the effortless Mark Darcy, she enjoyed herself very much, yet all I had retained, over the intervening years, was Bridget having a very exciting affair, meeting a Mr Will Do Nicely, and her dad being miserable because her mum was playing up.  I am delighted by her mum, even seen as she is through Bridget’s rather disapproving eyes.

Most of us have a mental image of ourselves in our heads, which is very roughly somewhere around our thirties.  (Inside every older person there’s a younger person wondering what the blazes happened.)  Whether you are forty, sixty, or eighty, you think of yourself as in your thirties, and it’s always a sobering surprise when you remember you’re not going to vault that fence, you can’t party all night without paying for it the next day, and you think that people who are really in their thirties are wasting precious time and should get out there and do things.

Bear with me, I’m making a point. We’ve established that you, whatever your actual age, are in your thirties. Now think of your parents.  Not the way they are, or were, the way you think of them in that split second when someone says parents.  In their late fifties, early sixties, right? Just there. Part of the furniture, part of the wallpaper, and ageless, albeit in an older way.  So when people in their late fifties and early sixties suddenly jump out of the wallpaper and dash about, we can be slightly resentful of them for not behaving as they should.

Well, until we get there ourselves and suddenly realize we’re still thirty-something at heart, but that we probably don’t have all the time in the world after all, and there are a lot of things on that to-do list that haven’t yet been ticked off.  Don’t expect support or encouragement. Just go do them.

I think that might be why the characters in my books don’t, on the whole, have families (Vivian being the exception) because families really would not approve of them enjoying their semi-retirement so much. They can be whoever they want, just so long as their health and vigour holds out, and they are ageless. Just like us.

 

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You aren’t old, you know.

I find it odd that so many older writers stick to young female lovelies having exciting issues with young male lovelies, ranging from outdated through unrealistic to frankly lurid. Talk about mining your past – and heavily salting the mine!  It is usually younger writers who write older characters, and they stick with stereotypes which are superficially engaging to their younger readers, but leave older readers feeling caricatured. And yes, we have been.

Im not old

The irony is that we baby-boomers are out there, in our millions. 1946 to 1964 saw the biggest surge of babies born in all history. So, hands up, baby boomers. Are we down and out? Finished and over, relegated to  the scrap heap, existing not as individuals but as attachments to more interesting characters? Long past making our own errors, and fit only to give sage / caustic / pithy advice?

Are we HELL. Older boomers recently stopped working and are relishing retirement as a time to explore, start new hobbies, learn new skills. Many still working are branching out into new and exciting directions in their careers. Some are falling in love (sometimes for the first time in their lives) and ricocheting around making some crashing newbie errors. For that matter, some are falling in love all over again with their spouses, and rediscovering why they loved them in the first place. And some are, yes of course, totally absorbed in their grandchildren, and proving to be the coolest grandparents ever.

I KNOW this. Not just because I write in the age-group—I’m in the age-group.  I am a baby boomer, and so are my most interesting friends. They are awesome; vibrant interesting people cycling in races, changing careers, studying for fun, meeting people of all ages, uprooting and moving to new countries, re-inventing themselves. You’d almost think life was crammed with new stuff to discover and every day was a new opportunity. (Guess what. You’d be right.)

You can keep your fifty-is-the-new-forty, too, thanks. That’s for those clinging desperately to youth without realizing the best is yet to come. Fifty is just fine as fifty. Sixty is the re-invented sixty. Seventy-something brings challenges, not rocking-chairs.  Stop labelling us, kid. We could show you a thing or three. The colleague of indeterminate age, with an unexpectedly sizzling private life? One of us. The neighbour about to go on an activity or research holiday that would completely daunt you? Yup. Half the actors, actresses, singers, rock-groups, journalists, in the headlines? Not just the obvious ones. Look past the concealing makeup. See?

It is an incredibly good age to be. The kids are grown and gone. The limitations of old age are still tiny foothills on the horizon. This is our time, our Indian summer, and every day, every minute, counts and is to be savoured.  Something to look forward to, if you’re younger. Something to enjoy, while you’re here. And make it something to look back on, when you really do finally hit the foothills of old age!

It’s quite possible those foothills have their own excitement and challenges. Old age is, after all, fifteen years older than you are. I’ll let you know what I find, when I get there.