Why do we turn our wonderful Indian summer into the age of fears?

I write light-hearted whodunits featuring four characters in late middle age, their autumn years, semi-retired, no longer young but not yet old: I haven’t yet found a description that instantly sums up their age, and if you know one, I wish you would tell me!

Edge, Vivian, William and Donald are in their late fifties, early sixties.  For women, it is definitely the age when the menopause has finally stopped shaking us like a rat between its teeth, and we get a surge of vitality and a sudden renewed interest in life. For both men and women there may have been health glitches, and we are consciously improving our general condition with a little judicious exercise, slightly more cautious diet.

So here we are, feeling better than in years, the offspring are for the most part now independent, the fierce competition of the workplace is less urgent: we’ve risen as far up the corporate ladder as we are likely to go.  Time to ease back a little, and enjoy this unexpected gift, right?

For some reason, no. Things are too good, we can’t get used to that, so we turn this wonderful golden time, this Indian summer, into fears. We could get sick, so every symptom plunges us into gloom. We could lose our jobs, so we stress ourselves into getting sick (whoops. Double whammy). We could lose friends, even people we love, and we start distancing ourselves in preparation. We’ve seen our parents get very elderly, or we have lost them already, and old age is suddenly terrifying.stress

It’s worst when we are alone, but hey, lots of people are alone. The Grasshopper Lawns books are set in a residential village where it’s a condition of acceptance that residents are over fifty-five, and have no family. There are hundreds, thousands, of people who would jump at the chance of meeting others in the same boat. It’s a given that life leaves lumps, bumps, scars, and baggage and no-one you are going to meet will be free of those, any more than you are. It also brings resilience, humour, and experience and people you meet will have those too. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet? Well, maybe not quite that glib. But by reaching out, you will make friends: do it. Have realistic expectations, and have fun. Don’t sit at home and get old before your time. At the very least, look up meetup.com for your area, you’ll be astonished at how much is going on around you.

Quite a few of my blogs are about single life, second time round, and the idea of meeting someone romantically can be alarming.  I won’t kid you. It is. If you go that route, you will meet some very odd people, have some alarming encounters, you will feel your blood fizz and your heart creak, but you will definitely feel alive and stimulated. For some bizarre reason, Society looks askance at older people dating, flirting, having affairs. Goodness me, why? Don’t we all want affection, shared laughter, even passion, for the rest of our lives?

I didn’t set out to write a series of books that celebrate this stage of our lives, but it did turn out that way. In the first book, Edge could be any age between fifty-five and seventy-five, her life is so sedate. By the seventh book, the four friends are fully enjoying their Indian summer, and there is nothing I have written that contemporaries, friends, or I, have not done. Okay, apart from solve actual murders!  I get slightly peeved when I’m told that when I get to that age, I will see things differently. I am that age. I have younger friends who are already starting to fret and worry, and think themselves old. My older friends, on the other hand, are confidently leading the way into what is, despite our gloomy expectations, a totally unexpected gift from life.

Take hold today.  Carpe diem, and step into the sunshine. Enjoy it! And enjoy every day from now on, to the end of your life. Make it a life to remember with pride. Maybe with a breathless laugh or two … wrinklie love

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.

Confidence, the acquiring of. Discuss.

There’s a joke that used to make me laugh –

From birth to eighteen, a girl needs good parents

From eighteen to thirty, she needs good looks

From thirty to fifty, she needs a good personality

After that, she needs good cash.

Huh, not so funny now.

2010-07-03 13.39.08Tick ‘birth to eighteen’ –  lovely nanny, followed by the best schools (which I didn’t appreciate at ALL) and the big house filled with dogs, even the obligatory pony, which I appreciated very much indeed.  (The pony didn’t live in the house, BTW. Note to self, may need to reword.)

 

Tick ‘eighteen to thirty’ – nothing special, but I had bright hair of – for South Africa – a fairly unusual colour, and a fairly sunny temperament, and can’t remember ever languishing over a fellow who wasn’t interested in me, so check that one off the list too. what the hell happened

 

 

goofyThirty came and went and so did forty and nothing changed much on that front. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, I could have said I didn’t have anything I hadn’t had twenty years earlier, just a bit more of it, and a bit lower down.

Then the wheels fell off. I moved to a country which was very cold, and put on weight to keep warm. Well, probably more weight than strictly necessary.  No, total honesty here. Definitely more weight than strictly necessary. And my hair colour was no longer even remotely unusual, half the people I met had variations of the same.  And a few years went by and suddenly I had got older.

Personality, oh yes, still had one, of sorts, but it rather relied on people noticing I was around in the first place so I could then fascinate them.

Stupid joke stopped being funny.

The reality is, and it took me a while to realize this, which is why I am blogging in case there is any other rather dim person who needs the facts highlighted, put in bold and underlined, there comes a time when you no longer make a strong first impression based on your looks. Invisible happens. Suck it up.

Doesn’t mean you’re ugly. Doesn’t make you dull. But at some point the indefinable something that comes across even in a photograph fades.

So, are you going to fade with it? Allow yourself to be put in the corner, slightly grumpy and resentful, and wishing you had that good cash?  I did, and I wasted a couple of years doing it. My Twitter photo is twenty years old, because I like that photo, and I use a caricature on FB, and only reluctantly a current photo on LinkedIn. The world, and the workplace, is filled with people younger than me vigorously getting on with their lives and I sulked, I did. And carped a bit, and was sour about the unfairness of life.  My corner got emptier, I carped a bit more and there was more grumpy. It Wasn’t Fair. And damnit, why weren’t my older friends finding the same? They were going from strength to strength, making more friends than ever and having a whale of a time.

So here’s what I finally grasped and am passing on. The good thing about losing an instant first impression is that you now make your own. The first time I openly fanned myself ruefully and admitted that I’d reached the age of private tropical holidays was a breakthrough – colleagues laughed and teased instead of politely ignoring my pink face. In fact the more confidence I have, the more strongly people respond. Flirting, far from being gone for good, is more fun than ever when it is an end in itself. No one CARES what you look like, you know. Why should they? It only matters to you. As long as you don’t actually frighten the horses, people see the basic canvas, the difference is that you now might need to consciously check your painting.

Someone young and nice-looking with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh, you don’t mind them sitting next to you on the train, am I right? Someone ‘older’ with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh heads towards you and you’ll change seats if you possibly can. Different perception.  Think about it. Those lines round your mouth make you look sullen even when you think you look expressionless. I slowly learned that if I smile (tip: not too goofily) rather than look grumpy, and be alert and open, listen as well as talk, people are more friendly to me now than I think at any stage in my life before. It’s interesting.

I still don’t approve of the way I look. Cameras are not my friends, but everything else, pretty good.  After fifty, you need good confidence. (And some cash would be nice)

You probably knew all that already. But just in case.