Thursday, September 12, 2013

Aging Can Be a Writer’s Best Tool

by Jackie King

Being a woman of a certain age has its advantages, especially for a writer. Looking back on my life, each decade seems to be a series of stories filed in my head and ready to be played when needed. It’s convenient to think back to age ten or age 16 or age 33 and remember how I thought and felt and acted at that time. And of course, I use this history to form my characters and bring them to life.

The entire country is obsessed with staying young. This energy, in my opinion, could be put to better use. Improving and enjoying your situation whatever age you may be, being foremost.

“Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies,” said Bette Davis. Years ago, when I first read this quote, I laughed. Everyone does, I expect. I was much younger then and was very fond of older folks, but seldom considered that I might one day become one. (Here I smile and sigh.)

Recently, and all of a sudden, it occurred to me that I myself had grown old. Not overnight, of course, although it seems as if life passed very quickly. Advanced maturity creeps up on us. All of my life I’ve had friends of all ages and liked it that way, never giving thought to anyone’s age except in character developing.

After the initial shock of admitting the truth of this revelation, I decided that maybe it wasn’t so bad. Young men step up to open doors for me; I can get by with saying most anything, and can dress as eccentric as I wish. (Sometimes it’s convenient to wear your jammies to the grocery store.) Lots of perks for us old ladies. (Cats and old ladies do as they please. I hear.)

When we start falling apart it’s inconvenient to take time out for repairs. Years earlier, things started to deteriorate, and at the time I didn’t even notice. I just used this firsthand information in fleshing out people in my stories.

In my mid-forties my arms grew too short and I was forced to buy glasses. Not even Dorothy Parker’s words, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” bothered me. Dorothy was just plain wrong. I had lots of friends who wore glasses and received plenty of passes. (This was in the days before everyone wore contract.

Bifocals were a pain and then a few years later my hearing started to go. I knew this because my snarky husband (now Ex) kept making an issue about it.

“Huh?” I’d say when he mumbled something at me. Then he would yell the sentence at the top of his lungs, probably damaging what hearing I had left.

So I had a stapedectomy which was supposed to improve my middle ear. The procedure didn’t work, so I had another, which worked for a while. But finally, when technology improved, I bought a hearing aid.

The wonderful thing is, for a writer, each experience, regardless of how painful or embarrassing or ridiculous it may be, can be used as grist for our writing mill.

In the next few posts, I’m going to talk of some of the degeneration that happens in aging, and how I may use each experience into a story.

I’d love to hear your opinion about the world’s fixation with staying young. Let me know if you’re comfortable with your age wherever you are in life’s journey.




Bill Kirton said...

I know the feeling well, Jackie, but of course, it's the machine that's ageing rather than the 'me' it's carrying about. Your comments suggest exactly that. I'm sure we've been through everything our kids and grandchildren are or will be going through. The only difference is the vocabulary we use to describe it all. But we can research that.

Jackie King said...

Thanks for your comment, Bill. It's good to know that I have company from other writers on this great adventure.

Jackie King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marilyn said...

Though I'm obviously in the minority in today's culture, I still believe in that old idea of growing old gracefully. Truth to tell, though, there's not a lot of difference between me today and me twenty years ago. Yes, parts of my body are breaking down, but they were back then, too (arthritis, poor eyesight). Yes, my memory is working at about 25%, but I've been forgetful for as long as I can remember. I blame it on genes, not age, since my mom was the same way.

We can't stop the process, so why not make friends with it and use it as we need, right?

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I'm very comfortable with the age I am. As a matter-of-fact, I recently remarked to a friend that, for me, I think life really did begin at fifty. (I'm older than that now.) However, I try to avoid using the word 'old.' My father used to tell me, "You are what you think you are," and I agree.

Jackie King said...

Marilyn, I liked your comment. And I figure I'm about as graceful growing old as I was at most any other age, with the possible exception of teen years. I have too many pictures of me sulking at age 14-16 to claim any grace during those years. (My poor mother.)

Jackie King said...

Patricia, Your father was a wise man, and you're wise to listen to his advice. Hugs, Jackie

Chester Campbell said...

I follow the dictum of Patricia's father. When my wife complains that it's no fun getting old, I tell her you're only as old as you think you are. She's seven years younger than I am. Admittedly, she has more health problems than I do. I still walk two miles a day at the mall, and I'm twenty years older than my senior PI's.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I find one of the biggest benefits of being old enough to be on Medicare is that I'm often "invisible" to those much younger. What I overhear would curl your toes.

Jackie King said...

Chester, I'm impressed with the two miles a day walk.

Also, Sue Grafton said that Kinzey would always be younger and slimmer than she was. Isn't it fun to be able to do whatever we like on paper?

Jackie King said...

Carolyn, You're spot on. Medicare is great for writers, and being invisible is most helpful to writers. Bet you use some of the overheard conversations in your stories.

Jackie King said...

Chester, I'm impressed with the two miles a day walk.

Also, Sue Grafton said that Kinzey would always be younger and slimmer than she was. Isn't it fun to be able to do whatever we like on paper?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Whoever called them the golden years was wearing rose colored glasses, Jackie.

Jaden Terrell said...

Jean, I'm with you. I've had a hard time coming to grips with being a woman of "a certain age," because I feel so much younger. I think of myself as being in my 30s--until I realize I could have CHILDREN in their 30s. I just refuse to think about it. If you're as young as you feel, I'm 36, at most.

June Shaw said...

Girl, you are so right. When life makes us determine we just ain't the same as we used to be, it's at first shocking. Then it's kind of fun.