An active uterus is admission to the land of the hot, while an inactive one means Antarctica.
“You never age.”
“What moisturizer do you use?”
“Did you make a pact with the devil?”
“It must be your vegetarian diet.”
“It has to be all that sunscreen.”
“It’s because you don’t have kids.”
“Forty is the new twenty-five.”
Ninety is the new old and folly must be the new wisdom.
I took it all seriously, the things people said to me. Being well-preserved was my claim to fame, my superpower, my personal cliché. Never mind that “well-preserved” evokes a properly mummified corpse. The bizarre part is, I’ve been hearing – and cherishing – these comments since I was twenty-five. That means someone already thought it was an accomplishment to look young at twenty-five. Yet at twenty-five, my wisdom teeth were still coming in, and I couldn’t get any agency in New York to represent me in their adult theatrical department as opposed to their youth department.
I spent my adult life being mistaken for a member of one generation younger than my own, but I suffered from age anguish for much longer. Getting “old” taunted me by the time I turned thirteen, not because I dreaded wrinkles or ailing – to a thirteen-year-old, even twenty is old – but for the same reason other kids dreaded it. It meant no longer being in the Cool Club, because everybody knew grownups just weren’t cool.
Whether or not I allowed myself to grow up is debatable, nevertheless, time did its moving forward treachery. Throughout, many men and women took to earnestly telling me I was “never” going to age. One lovely friend said it with such conviction, I buried my face in her shoulder and blubbered, “Yes I freaking will because you know, biology.” Even so, I thirsted for the next person to tell me I wasn’t going to.
Being old was going to blow. I would have nothing, because I didn’t want children and relationships were iffy – one of us would surely be sick of the other before we made it to old age. So there would be me, alone, wearing a babushka and standing on a cracked mound of desert. The wind would hiss. Dead leaves would swirl, even though there would be no trees, because there would be nothing. Except me old.
I had a plan. I had to have something to put down in place of youth as soon as it took off running. Logical choice? Power. People want to be around it; power draws bodies for life-force. But so far, the money and prestige thing wasn’t working out. So my next option would be cultivating extreme charm and wit, and maybe a leftover person or two would stick around while I dragged my gravity-fighting ass through old age.
When I was still very young but already had it in my head that I was old, I moved to Hollywood where everyone carries the freakishly-youthful gene. Go to any audition room in L.A., and you’d see actors in their forties looking dewy and untouched by life. It’s as if people who trade on looks extend its longevity by sheer will. In the end though, everyone knows there’s no escaping the fuckery of time.
For the young, aging seems like an unjust punishment. Why can’t we start off old, and the wiser and better we become, we’re rewarded with more youth? Mind-boggling things happen in nature. Flowers bloom, bees are telepathic, creatures out of acid dreams live under the sea. But somehow, it’s “impossible” for us to start out old and end up young?
For me, age is tied to everything: my career in the film industry, how I’m perceived, my ever-changing relationship status, my future, my personal growth. It coils around my neck and pulls. After all, as a society, we view aging as a distasteful outbreak we’d like quarantined.
About four years ago, entering a nightclub, as I walked away from the bouncer checking my ID, I overheard him say, “Bloody girls and their friggin fake IDs.” He was incapable of equating “attractive” with my pre-1975 birth year. It was easier for him to believe I was on the ludicrous youngest end of the scale where I’d need a fake ID, than to believe how very “old” I actually was.
Nowadays, while no one accuses me of having a fake ID, it turns out to be no great tragedy.
My age anguish was based on the fear of not belonging. First, it was the Cool Club of being a kid. Next, I subconsciously ate up the force-fed notion that a woman’s value is derived from her desirability. The supposed importance of sexual desirability is everywhere. Whether glancing at a billboard while driving or watching TV in the living room, it’s a noxious gas we take in with every breath. For single men and women, we have ourselves believing that an active uterus is admission to the land of the hot, while an inactive one means Antarctica. No wonder if I chose to remain unmarried, beyond my “expiration date” I saw a future of solitary confinement.
It’s through an ironic bit of maturity that I’ve come to recognize this notion is not only skewed, but insulting to people who value intelligence, dignity and any number of non-physical human traits. Why would we, young or old, ever want to be around anyone who doesn’t value such traits? It’s downright creepy to be an object of appeal due to an organ’s child-bearing capacity. So when the time comes for that capacity to go away, if I keep up my relative health and brains, the only thing I’d lose is my sexual desirability? As a person who covets in herself the abundance of brains over abundant boobs, I say, big flipping deal. So I won’t be sexually desirable to the porn-addict with hamburger grease on his not-so-tidy whities.
“Life begins at forty,” my father used to say, and now I believe him. These days, age anguish and worry over my “super-power” fading is…old news. I’m no more freaked out now than I was fifteen years ago. I’m only annoyed that through all those perfectly good youth years, I allowed myself to be inhabited by the falsehood that I was the verge of “old,” and “it” being over for me. Now that by numerical standards I’m just about there, I’m less inclined to believe it.
“Old” might even end up being cute. I can see myself, ever-shrinking in my nineties, with huge eyes, a little mischief, and fleecy hair cut at flapper length. I’d still love a spicy Bloody Mary, and thank technology for dealing with my sight and hearing impairments. My library would be wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, all bound leather and wood paneling. While gingerly climbing the sliding ladder to the upper shelves, I wouldn’t fret about falling and my brittle bones, because I’d be too willful to let go. You don’t get to be ninety-something without learning determination is stronger than muscle.
Let’s not forget that our peers grow old right along with us. Thinking of growing old as a journey one takes with an entire tribe makes the idea tolerable, even somewhat pleasant. Maybe at that point, there will be a new secret club – the Acceptance Club, but with a better name. And maybe it’ll be more peaceful than the Cool Club. Much of aging does suck and I’ll fight it until I can’t, but there’s something wonderful about it too: you become more you. That means living cozily in skin that didn’t fit so well back in the Cool Club days.
It means you finally learn the old aren’t as old as the young believe.
As for my large, trunk-sporting friend in the room, that’s just my pet elephant. The point being, my actual age – and yours – ought to be irrelevant.
- Aging can be a journey we take with our tribe, because our peers grow old right along with us.
- The approval of those who equate a woman’s value with her sexual desirability is as useless as an umbrella with holes.
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