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We Don’t Talk About Aging

women in a bar with drinks in their hands
Cheers to my NFPW sisters! See you soon!

I’m excited! Soon, I’ll be spending time with my wise elders at the National Federation of Press Women Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. It will be the 15th conference I’ve attended since I joined the organization in 2006, so needless to say, I’ve made some incredible friendships over the years. I can’t wait to see everyone!

I started attending these conferences to meet up with my mother when she lived in Chicago. Since she went for years before I joined, I was on a friend-making fast track through her introductions. I’ve added many more close connections since. 


When we’re together, we reminisce on what’s happened over the past year and hilarious and sometimes a bit scandalous stories about our once-a-year experiences on the pre-and post-tours put together by the hosting affiliate. Our Route 66 tour after the Chicago conference was especially unforgettably adventurous. But that’s a story for another day. 



There are so many fascinating characters in this federation of writers and communicators, originally started in 1885 to uplift women in the press. These courageous writers have had thrilling adventures and know how to tell a good story, weaving a rich tapestry of words so beautifully crafted off the top of their heads that it’s as if you were there. 


One of my favorite stories was told by Marj Carpenter of Texas, the former Director of the Presbyterian News Service and mission interpreter for Worldwide Ministries. She told us about running through a burning forest while being chased by guerilla fighters. She was heroically guiding people to safety when a minister in the group broke down and was ready to give up. Marj told him to get off his knees and pray while he ran: “We’re going to meet our Maker, but not today.” Marj was someone you wanted around in a pinch. 


 I remember when I was one of the younger members at the conference. Now that I’m getting older, many of my long-time friends are getting to the age where they can’t make the trip anymore. On the first day of the conference, we honor the ones who went before us. I hold my breath during the memorial ceremony, hoping none of my favorite people unexpectedly show up in the slide show. 


For those of us still around, we carry on the legacy of our dearly departed by passing on the colorful stories of our times together to the fledgling members joining our ranks, well-rehearsed from reliving these moments of our adventures together. Hopefully, the stories of our shenanigans will be just the right bad influence to encourage the whipper snappers to carry on this tradition of grand adventures. 



It isn’t easy getting older. In my head, I’m still young and invincible, though my body tells me otherwise. There are so many repercussions of aging we don’t talk about. I’m the kind of person who likes to know what may happen rather than getting a rude surprise when I least suspect it. Here are a few things I wish I had known.  


Getting older requires a lot more body maintenance.

When I was younger, I expected a lot from my body. I demanded it keep going no matter how much abuse I bestowed upon it. Those days are over. Recovery from foolish accidents takes longer than it once did. The body does keep score, and those chickens have come home to roost.  

There’s a whole pharmacopeia of medications to take every day. Regular exercise becomes mandatory if you want to keep moving, no matter how much you worked out when younger, since muscle mass and strength slowly decline after we hit our peak at 35. Stay hydrated or be punished with leg cramps in the middle of the night. It feels like a delicate balancing dance must be performed every day to keep everything in whack. 


In addition to all the things that must be done for health, new tasks are added to our grooming regime as we age. Wild goat facial hairs randomly pop up, and nose, ear, and eyebrow hair become wily and out of control. Sunblock and annual skin checks at the dermatologist have become a must. Crepey skin and wrinkles need an extra slathering of expensive “anti-aging” moisturizers. The list goes on and on. 


We become more invisible as we age.

This is especially true of women. Once we’re out of child-bearing years, our appeal to the male gaze changes. Women stop being seen – by everyone. Women over 50 notice being talked over, not served, not replied to, brushed aside, and not taken seriously. This makes it harder for women to find good jobs and a lot more, although they’re at the same age men are thought to be at their earning peak.

While this can be wildly inconvenient and harmful to our sense of self, there are some advantages to being easily ignored. Simply wearing the coat of invisibility we’re given as we age lets us get away with so much more than we could when we were younger. Acting like we own the place and can do anything we want is delightfully more manageable. No one would suspect an old lady would do anything inappropriate, and even if we get caught, it’s easy to feign confusion. 

I don’t believe that becoming invisible is inevitable. We just have to come up with ways to turn up the volume. Fashion icon Iris Apfel was impossible to ignore. Being noticed is about more than our physical appearance. It has much to do with the frequency we put into the world. Maya Angelou said, “Spirit is an invisible force made visible in all life.”


We will suffer loss. 

If we’re lucky enough to live a long time and are connected to many people, there will be loss. One of the things that older people lament the most is the death of their lifelong friends and family. Friends we’ve had forever can’t be replaced by someone else. There are too many lost shared secrets and inside jokes. I hate it when the only person I can call to ask a question about something I can’t remember can’t answer the phone from the great beyond. Maybe that’s a good thing. 


One of the things that has surprised me the most is the retirement of the people I’ve done business with for most of my life, especially at a time when I need them the most. My doctor, whom I’ve seen since my 20s, is retiring this year. That relationship will be challenging to replace, especially since we’ve been through some stuff together. I’ve also had to replace my plumber, HVAC, and house repair people in the past year. It’s not easy to find younger people who understand the peculiarities of working on my 1907 home. 


There are fewer F#*%s left to give.

I don’t know if we become too worn out to fight over things we would never have let pass when we were younger or if we finally learned to pick our battles. It’s hard to get as worked up about things we can’t change. While it may seem that we become more docile as we age, watch out! Mount Vesuvius may be waiting to erupt just under the surface. 

One thing I’ve learned from my Press Women friends is that we become less tolerant of intolerance as we get older, which is a paradox in itself.  Some behaviors and actions don’t deserve our tolerance, like hate speech and purposeful misinformation.

As we age, the best things we can do are keep the people we love close and maintain good relationships with family and friends we value. They won’t always be at the other end of the phone to answer the question only they would know. 

Facing mortality is complicated. On one hand, there’s still so much to achieve; on the other hand, there’s comfort in knowing that time is almost up. We’ve done our best, and it’s time for someone else to carry the baton. We will always look back on our legacy and realize we’ve done too much and that it will never be enough. 

But my greatest advice on aging is to live your best life as long as possible. And when you can no longer live that life, have your best friends prop you up on a seat at the table and tell your stories. 



  

 

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