How to Handle This Age Issue

The woman who was interviewing me asked my age. She was apologetic. “My boss wants me to get ages.”

I was ready for her.

“I am 76,” I said. “Not a problem to ask. I think it’s good that folks realize that older people can still be productive.”

“That’s one way to handle it,” she said, flatly.

Handle what, I wondered? But I didn’t ask just in case she would think I was being snarky and end our conversation. She was a columnist from a newspaper published in my old home town, calling to conduct an interview about me and my first book, a memoir.

Quite a few years ago, when I was dipping my toe into the writing life, I heard a local cookbook author being interviewed on a radio program. When the interviewer asked the author her age, she said, “I never tell my age. There are too many ageist readers out there.” I was floored. How would ageist beliefs disappear if those who are successful and of a certain age don’t sing their own praises? I wanted to reach into the radio and shake this woman. Since then I had been on a mission to tell my age. That was the way I was handling the age issue.

Once I stopped into a Weight Watcher’s storefront to get help in dropping the ten pounds that I have habitually lost and gained over the years. The helpful clerk was promoting the additional support one could find on the internet. “There is a Weight Watchers’ Blog,” she said, eyeing me before she continued. “Do you know what a Blog is?”

I immediately assumed she thought that I was too old to know what a Blog was. Since I had just recently set up my own Blog following advice on how to promote my future book, I huffed and puffed and said rather haughtily, that I have my own Blog, thank you, then turned and marched out the door. Only later did I recognize that was the wrong way to educate the clerk. Now she knew I was not only older but super sensitive. I should have just laughed and told her I had a Blog as if it were no big deal. Then she would be impressed by my age and my poise.

Since it is obvious that I am older, my new tack is to just be me and disregard any real or imagined mannerisms of others that are demeaning. While I don’t shy away from confrontation, and in some instances enjoy the battle, I would have to make an extra attempt to be cordial. Why call attention to my age? Let my actions and accomplishments speak for themselves. Yet another way to handle the age issue.

Now you can see that I am conflicted. Tell my age or not call attention to my age?

A week ago, a woman contacted me via email. She had seen my memoir on the publisher’s website. Could she talk with me about the indie publisher I had chosen? She finished her first memoir and now was exploring options. The memoir was about her grandmother who had sold alcohol during prohibition to support her family. The woman told me that she had written a few professional books and self-published a fiction story. We spent almost an hour discussing the pros and cons of self-publishing versus using my indie publisher.

During our conversation, we never mentioned age. Afterwards, looking over her website, I discovered that she was 82. I was impressed with her vitality, and enthusiasm to get her memoir published and promoted. Oh, to be so cavalier about one’s age! I now know how I will  handle this age issue.

Just ignore it.

 

decisionsright

THE BIASED EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

On Monday mornings I flip the pages of the New York Times past the international and national news to the New York City Metropolitan Diary. Here stories are written by New Yorkers about happenings in their daily life. The stories make me laugh, cry, or shake my head—only in New York.

This story, written on November 14 by Susan Heath entitled, Beauty on the Bus, delighted me. So I decided to refer to it on my next Post.

This is the story:

A few mornings ago, our 86-year-old neighbor, elegantly dressed and perfectly made up as usual, knocked on our apartment door. “This is for your wedding anniversary,” Ruth said, and gave me one of her wonderful light-up-the-day smiles, an enchanting orchid plant and a big kiss. (My partner and I got married a year ago after 23 years of living together, and that day Ruth gave us a bamboo plant in an elephant pot, signifying long-lasting happiness.)

We chatted for a minute and then, her bright blue eyes twinkling, she said: “May I tell you something? I’m just a bit embarrassed about this, but I have to tell someone.”

It had happened that weekend. Ruth was on the M104, going up Broadway, sitting in one of those front seats they keep for old people. A youngish man came forward and stopped right in front of her.

 “Can I ask you something?” he said. “Do you know how beautiful you are? Your hair is so gorgeous, and your outfit is magnificent. May I take your picture?”

 Although Ruth was a little disconcerted, she said yes and the stranger took her photograph and (somewhat to Ruth’s relief) got off the bus.

 Then a young woman a few seats away called out, “I agree, you’re perfectly dazzling,” and several people shouted from the back, “He’s right, you know.” And suddenly everyone in the almost-full bus was shouting agreement and clapping like mad!

 “I’ve never seen anything like it,” the bus conductor told Ruth as she got out at her stop.

 And I said to her: “They’re right, you know. You are stunningly beautiful. New Yorkers always know best.”

 

Then I searched for pictures that would represent older, well-clad women I could use for my post. Most were from Ari Seth Cohen’s book Advanced Style.olderwomaninblack (Maybe he was the youngish man on the bus?) I had written about him in a past post, Sob Sisters.  His book showcases extremely lovely older women.  But when I tapped into pictures of less stunning women, run-of-the-mill women and 5372301-very-old-woman-face-covere-with-wrinkles-closeup-photosome very wrinkled old women, I became uneasy.  Were these women not lovely in their own way, too?

Are we trapping women in a category? Women of means who buy up-scale clothes, apply make up perfectly and walk down 5th Avenue to be seen. A small cache of exceptional older women that the rest of us women of a certain age should emulate?

I remember the ‘50s.  All women clumped together as an entity.  Dress alike. Act alike. Accepting the direction by a paternalistic society: make babies, the harder a wife works_nbake bread, and not worry our pretty little heads about anything important—leave that to the men.

Thank goodness for women’s lib of the ‘60s. Women decided that the yardstick for success should be determined by the women themselves.

I think we need another round of consciousness raising.