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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

I remember turning 16. Mostly because it was supposed to be sweet, as everyone kept telling me. Not sure why that’s the case. Apparently even the internet doesn’t know. Go look it up, I dare you.

To commemorate, my grandmother made me a corsage out of carnations, with a pink bow and sixteen sugar cubes wound in.

I also remember it because certain factions of the family took great delight in reminding me that I’d be “sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” Couldn’t tell you why that was a thing either. I never did tell them about the boy at the roller rink who saved me from that fate a few weeks earlier, and I suppose if they read this it will be a weird way to find out. But I’m old now so I get to be weird. “Eccentric,” they call it.

Anyway, I turned sixteen to sweetness and fanfare. I wore my corsage and felt grown up.

I remember turning 21. My grandparents took me to a fancy restaurant that one of their friends owned. Italian, of course. Old school, where you get eight tortellini in a bowl and a bottomless basket of bread that you don’t ever have to ask for. I wore a nice dress and felt grown up.

I remember turning 40. I didn’t want to, but the calendar was deaf to my pleas. I also remember it because Ralph bought me 40 presents leading up to it, to varying degrees of extravagance. One day I got a book. The next day I got horseback riding lessons.

He was going to throw me a surprise party, but since he neither knows how to keep a secret nor wants to be throttled by a wife who is not keen on surprise parties, he threw me an “I’m throwing you a party” party.

He invited a few friends, and we went to one of my favorite Cuban restaurants in New York. I ate paella, and there was cake and candles and presents and singing. I felt a little like a kid again.

In case anyone in my family is reading this, and already outraged that you didn’t know I kissed a boy at 15, please temper your outrage at also not being invited to my 40th birthday party. There were just too damn many of you. Do you have any idea what paella costs in New York?

I don’t remember turning 50. I only remember turning old.

Which brings us, at last, to today’s word. Old. Forgive my doddering old mind for meandering long and far before getting to a point. That’s how us old folks roll, we just sit and spin. Although, if we’re still being honest, I’ve done this all my life. Sometimes I wonder if, given a few more years, I’ll ever make a point again.

I felt like reflecting on that word today because lately I’ve been feeling wretchedly old, not the good kind where you’re like a fine wine or a precious antique or something. Just the old kind where you open the pantry and then stare into it for ten minutes, not only trying to figure out what you wanted in there, but whether the pantry was the right place to look in the first place.

The kind of old where it takes twenty minutes of yoga in the morning before you feel like a human with joints again, and not just a block of cement that someone poured into the waffle-holes of your Purple mattress.

I mean, these things are inevitable. I’m going to get old and things are going to stop working, whether it’s my brain or my left ankle. The alternative is I get hit by a bus today and don’t get old, so put like that, it makes the whole aging thing seem rather much more enjoyable.

Still, since I turned 50, I haven’t been too fond of it.

I don’t know what it was about that number but it felt like some sort of rubicon. BF and AF. If you play the odds, I passed the halfway mark long before that, but even so, 50 started to feel like the downhill run.

Is this morose enough for you yet?

That’s not my intent. I’m not reflecting on profound things like death today. Just that nagging feeling that you should probably update your Facebook profile photo because you really don’t quite exactly precisely look like that anymore. Because you’re… older.

These days, when I catch sight of myself in the mirror, I’m more inclined to think words like “raisin” and “crepe paper” than “nice earrings.”

My hair has this gray side, which if I wasn’t 50+ would be kind of cool. I mean it’s not a bad color. But you don’t see much gray crepe paper for a reason.

My brother, bless his heart, told me a long time ago to dye my hair. Maybe not dye. Maybe “color” or “touch up” or whatever you say to make it sound like you’re not doing what you’re doing, which is trying to wipe 20 year off your body.

I’m not going to dye my hair. It doesn’t actually bother me, unless I’m thinking about being old.

Also, I’m “at that age” where women are supposed to cut their hair. The other day I asked anyone reading this to explain a few things to me, but I neglected to ask anyone to explain why women of a certain age have to cut their hair and wear yellow pants.

These things are practically requirements if the catalogs are to be believed, but they are not happening for me. I can tell you that with all the certainty left in my four remaining brain cells.

When I was a teenager I rebelled by doing teenager things. (I won’t go into them, I think my family has had enough shocks for one day.) Now I am rebelling by doing anti-old-people things. I’m not going to dye my hair OR cut it. I’m not going to shop at Talbot’s or wear anything with a sailboat on it. I’m going to continue wearing jeans and Amazon’s cheap pandemic t-shirts.

But no. No, no no no, this is all wrong.

I’m not rebelling. I’m just being me. And “me” is a person who used to wear pants with giraffes on them when it pleased my kindergarten students, but would not be caught dead wearing a collar shirt with little pink flamingos today. No offense to anyone who wears flamingos, but why does that even exist?

So if I’m not rebelling against being old, and I get to continue being me, what, exactly, is the problem? What is “old” but a relative term that means anyone over 20 to anyone under 10?

Simon & Garfunkel make a good point. I am older than I once was, and younger than I’ll be. Does being able to blithely quote Simon & Garfunkel make me old? Does using the word blithely make me old?

Does using literally in a sentence and meaning it to mean literally make me old??

So many questions!

Nobody tell me that being old is a state of mind. Nobody tell me anything about being “young at heart” or any other cliché. I didn’t come here to feel better about being old. I just came to reflect on why I’m reflecting on it more than usual.

I think some of it is physical. Gone are the days where our memories consisted of a shoebox of scratched Polaroids of headless people, and a couple of 16mm films that required a weekend project to set up and watch, most of which consisted of someone waving at the camera.

Now we have entire digital rooms full of photos and video from every second of every day of our lives. It’s less like having a memory and more like having a reel of your life replaying constantly, reminding you that you used to have shinier hair and smoother skin.

Some of it is realizing my limitations. I don’t feel as immortal as I did at 16 and 21. A “good night’s sleep” is one where I only get up to pee four times.

Certainly part of it is existential. What the heck am I doing, and how did I even get here? How could I have had all this time to figure it out and failed so preposterously? (ooh, good word, I need to file that one!)

And now that I’m thinking about it, I suspect some of it has to do with the “shoulds” of being one age or another. It’s not something exclusive to being older, but there seem to be a lot of rules about what you should wear and how you should comb your hair or conduct yourself in the post office or what you should have achieved in your career or how much money you should have saved.

When you’re younger and you’re not in the mood to follow the rules, it gets called “rebellion” and it’s cool. When you’re older and you’re not in the mood to follow the rules, you get labeled “inappropriate” and it’s not cool.

When you’re younger you get lambasted for wearing old lady shoes. When you’re older you get lambasted for… well, for wearing old lady shoes.

So maybe this isn’t me being concerned about age after all, but the labels that come with it and the things Instagram wants to sell me (for some reason, it thinks I really, desperately want a Swiffer.)

Maybe I just want to be me in a world that wants me to dye my hair and show up for dinner at 4pm.

Except… well, actually I do kind of like dinner at 4pm. I mean, you get a seat at the bar and don’t have to compete with all the whippersnappers for attention. Plus that leaves plenty of time for dessert and an extra whiskey when you get home.

FINE, some parts of being older are cool. I do get to be eccentric and shrug like I meant to behave like a total nerd. I get to disclose secrets about my first kiss and have not one iota of remorse or chagrin. I get to write this blog and say whatever the flying fudgery I feel like saying without worrying about what Mrs. DelCampo would think.

Mrs. DelCampo, for anyone who is on pins and needles, was my 10th grade English teacher. I may have cut her class a few times. I may never have told my parents. I still got an A, so suck it, high school.

I get to say things like “suck it” and have a swath of people disapprove, but say it anyway.

I still don’t want to be 50+. I can’t quite pin down the reason why. Maybe I just don’t feel like the best me right now and I’m using age as a reason. Maybe I need to be put out to pasture, or maybe I just need to be in a cottage on the edge of one in Olema.

I don’t know what kind of conclusions I’ve come to but I didn’t expect to conclude much. I merely felt compelled to reflect, and in doing so, I think I’ve concluded that like everything else in life, it’s a mental game.

You are what you believe you are.

I know, I know, I told you not to give me clichés and now I’m giving you clichés. But I’m old now, so I can’t come up with something original.

And it’s past 8, which is past my bedtime. Unless I get there quickly there won’t nearly be enough time to pee four times before I have to get up again.

Photo: cow in a pasture near Olema, California, entirely unconcerned with its age.