From Hot to Antarctica: On a Woman’s Aging

Ice Caps1

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?”
“Vampire much?”
“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.

BabushkaSQ2Being 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.

Books2“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.

Cathartic Monkeyism

  • 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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  1. mike · · Reply

    Very nicely stated. You have made me feel a bit better about age. I think it is nice that some people seem to have that gene that gives them the ability to look a bit younger than they are. I am sure you are just contemplating what it will be like when you get older since you obviously have a ways to go.. ..:)

    1. Well obviously I have at least another 200 or 300 years to go…

      Thanks for reading, Mike.

      1. mike · ·

        well, obviously you do have that many more years to go. send me your secrets sometime……

      2. My secret: Imagination and denial.

  2. Paul · · Reply

    So, here I am, in my fifties and half way through your post and I was terrified. Oh My God, I didn’t realize I was standing “…on an arid, cracked mound of desert. The wind would hiss and dead leaves would swirl around me, even though there would be no trees, because there would be nothing. Only me, and being old.” Jesus, I just want to curl up in the corner and die – is there no hope for me? Even HC SVNT DRACONES would be preferable. Soooo, I made another cup of tea and continued to read – what else could I do?

    Then there was “Why can’t we start off old, and the wiser and better we become, the more youth be our reward?” Well, as I thought back, I realized that early learning for me was a rough and dangerous business; at 14 I fell three stories off a scaffolding (while painting a house), landed on my side, stood up and walked away. At 61 (assuming average life span of 75 minus 14 = 61) I’d’ve been dead. It was only one huge bruise from ankle to shoulder. At 16 (59), I was thrown backwards out through the windshield of a truck doing 50 mph, bounced across the road and ended up laying face-up in the ditch. Stood up, looked for broken bones, found none, climbed out of the ditch, and ran down the road, to where the truck lay on its side smoking, to see if the driver was OK (At 29 he had broken legs, at 16 I didn’t have a scratch).

    And then: “…before my ‘expiration date,’ …”. Shit, I didn’t even know I had an expiration date – other than the obvious one. I’m starting to get concerned again. But: “…I’ve come to recognize this notion… is insulting to people who value intelligence, kindness, creativity and any number of human traits.” Whew, that was close!

    Finally; “…the point of the post is, my age – and yours – ought to be irrelevant”. God, I hope not. If that were true, I would have been dead before my 20th birthday and I wouldn’t be able to grin while watching two university students staggering down the sidewalk past my front porch carrying a comatose friend at 8 am on a sunny Sunday morning as I’m having a cup of tea and reading Gunmetal Geisha. Aaahhh, ain’t life grand!

    1. As always, you make some excellent points. I’m envious of your peacefulness!

      1. Paul · ·

        The neat part (for me) is that your writing helps bring me closer to that peacefulness. Your eloquence, emotional honesty and “Realness” are pretty much unparalleled in my experience.

      2. I hope you have an inkling how much that means to me… Although I can only write what’s authentic to me, I do sometimes worry about people’s varied sensibilities.

  3. I’ve never been in the cool club, nor have I looked young. Only felt old at a young age.

    1. Everyone is automatically in the cool club until about seventeen. Feeling old at a young age – you have that issue too? We both need to stop.

      1. I’m afraid you didn’t know me when I was 17. Even I didn’t think I was cool then.

      2. In terms of this particular post, Cool Club = Being a kid. So unless you were born a grownup, that means you too.

      3. Fine. I guess I will pretend to be a cool kid. Back then.

  4. GG,

    This, yet another delicious exploration of your (and our) humanity. Thank you. Your words are springboards in my mind. I take long, contemplative journeys by way of your writing. I love your wit, your presence, your intelligence.

    All of my life, I have always looked ten years younger because of my succulent, dewy, and flawless skin. I started going grey in my 20s, but it took a very long time for those 10 or 12 greys to multiply like, well, Mormons. At 43 or so, I went completely grey, but my skin, ah, my skin. My GD perfect skin kept it all propped up; it kept people interested, looking at me, engaging with me. I was coveted by others. I still never thought about aging. I never sweated it. Until now.

    Now, at 47, I have become invisible, which is, for me, the worse part of aging. People look right through me. They literally look right through me like I am not there; and, while I don’t seek my sense of self from others, I still like contact. I’d still like a smile from a stranger now and then. I still like being liked. It’s really weird to be here. I was old at a young age, I never fit. I was the punker in the corner flipping everyone the bird. I was the loud, pissed off, unpredictable, vocal, and militantly feminist intelligent bitch. I was ballsy. I rode a motorcycle (better than any dude) in the 80s when very few women rode. I was a legend.

    Now, like your wonderful post states so eloquently, I am so much more than I was back then. Now, I am deep in my heart; I am connected with others. I pump love and light into the universe because I have learned that it’s all about love and light. It’s all about how we can love self and then extend that love to others. I am an engaged, deeply alive, and present person; I am so much more than I was in my vapid 20s, but now, people call me “ma’m” and avoid eye contact with me. They walk past me like I’m in their way. I ask myself: is it the weight? Is it the grey hair? Is it my now-pronounced age spots? Is it that I am knee-deep (or rather, ovary-deep) in menopause? When did I fall into this place of invisibility? How did I get here?

    I can tell you that it happened in an instant. And, though I don’t really give a shit, at bottom, it’s still a very strange place to be navigating. Having never been a cool kid, I WAS a cool adult, but now, I am something else. Something else. And, you know what? It’s okay!

    This wonderful post gives me permission to stand in the corner with my “special finger” raised up and tell the world to kiss my old, grey, fat, craggy, Harley-ridin’ ass. Thank you, sis. XOXO

    1. Lizzy, oh Lizzy. My humorous response is, you just basically confirmed my fear to be true: “I can tell you that it happened in an instant.” So it is an overnight thing! I guess I can thank you for warning me so I can be mentally prepared…

      My true response is, it’s a reflection of their shortcomings and not yours, if anyone fails to acknowledge you (or any other human being). And I bet, those who matter in your life, never behave that way. They’re the ones deserving of everything you have to offer. Those other people – random strangers who can make us feel invisible, they’re of no concern to you and me.

      As far as “old and fat,” lots of people would take both if it meant they could have your confidence and bravery too. (Although, forty-seven is hardly old. You and I don’t get to complain until we hit our seventies.)

      1. Yeah, sadly, my love- it is true. It does happen in an instant. But, you’ve been duly warned, And, when you get here, you will sail through it. You wanna know how I know? Because you already know all of the secrets to a rich, art-filled, loving, and abundant life at a young age. The secrets? Helping others. Loving the self. Expressing your truth. Being the expanded Gunmetal-Geisha-Goddess that you are already at your core. You will always be beautiful no matter what. And, I love that I can say the same about myself. The soul is all that matters, my sweet friend. You get it. hahaaha and I love that you said we don’t get to complain until our 70s. Okay, done! 🙂

      2. Well then, I guess I’ll have the satisfaction of having been right for a lifetime…

        Hon, I’ve seen your pictures with the Harley, you’re timeless.

  5. Gosh, I feel like you just said everything. Like, I don’t even have anything to comment– I’m just kind of basking in your words. That sure doesn’t happen very often… I always have something to say. *sigh*

    I feel like I should print excerpts of this and post them around my house as a reminder because I too get caught up in the fear of “that most formidable of foes, the fuckery of time.” But I’m with you on the whole GRADUAL thing… as long as I don’t wake up looking like the old lady at the end of Titanic, then I’m good.

    BUT I do want a long silver braid and turquoise jewelry. Please let me get that long silver braid.

    1. You know what’s fascinating about that lady from Titanic? She began acting in the 1930s, but Titanic was her most famous role. And she lived for a full hundred years.

      Silver braids and turquoise is a beautiful image.

      Lizzy above warns me that it does happen overnight, and to that I can only say, oh well.

      But there will be a lot of us and we’ll be just fine, I promise, and probably quite good at savoring moments.

      1. That’s very true that there will be a lot of us going through it at the same time and well, SHIT. <– my response to Lizzy.

        Time to get to savoring…

  6. For me aging has been reminiscent of the awkward tween years when I was a bit homely and got made fun of by the boys and girls. Buck teeth, greasy hair and unfortunate clothing choices…..shudder. It forced me to rely on wit and intelligence in a way that some of the always pretty and popular kids couldn’t – they had no need for those crutches. Then I got pretty and that lasted a good long while and now the outside pretty is fading and it’s a hard adjustment. Sorry but pretty is power, sad truth. I relate to the invisible comment further up the thread….that has also happened. Here’s the thing though none of this shit is what is really important. These bodies, the hair, the accumulated stuff……it’s all temporary. So I try to remind myself of that and focus on the real things – they don’t change…..kindness, love, actions, how you make someone feel……

    1. I agree completely. I wish I didn’t agree with “pretty equals power” part, but it’s the truth. Fortunately, intelligence, charm, kindness, etc. equal power too.

  7. I am such a fan of reflective writing, which means I’m a huge fan of this piece. I yell “Ayyyyy-men, sister” to all that you observe here. For me, I’ve never had more fun than in my forties — and I’ve always had fun. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Thank you for reading it! I’ve always had fun too, and can’t really imagine stopping.

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