"Keeping the Conversation Going: A Daughter Speaks to her Mother Across the Memory Loss Divide" is the title of this moving short memoir by Margaret Morgenroth Gullette, author of the brilliant Agewise. The abyss, of course, is memory loss, and Gullette describes learning to focus on the very real pleasures in what remains. "My mother, too, was a self — living, often contentedly, on islands of land in the abyss," she writes. "I made a decision to live with her on those islands."
Stories I'm hearing
Stories I'm hearing on the street, in the news, etc.
Last night outside a club the bouncer who was managing the line in the frigid cold referred to my partner as "Grampa"—distinguishing him from the crowd of 20- and 30-somethings shivering alongside us. (We were with a bunch of friends celebrating a 40th birthday.)
I knew that applied to neurons and gift certificates, but I had no idea it was true of female genitalia. That tissues grew thinner and dryer after menopause, yes, but not that visitor-free vaginas can actually atrophy: grow shorter and narrower. I didn’t know it because no one ever talked about it, any more than they talked about how people can enjoy satisfying, passionate sex into their 90s—if they make it a priority and embrace the ways sex changes over time.
So says Arynita Armstrong, 60, of Willis, Texas, who’s been looking for work for five years after losing her job at a mortgage company. “They’re afraid to hire you, because they think you’re a health risk. You know, you might make their premiums go up. They think it’ll cost more money to invest in training you than it’s worth it because you might retire in five years.” Armstrong is quoted in a front-page article in the Sunday New York Times about the recession’s toll on workers in their 50s and early 60s.
I’m putting a flyer together for my upcoming talk at the KGB Bar, and ran it past a colleague who’s a designer. She got halfway through the headline—“a monologue about why Americans are so ambivalent about growing old”—and blurted, “I’m not ambivalent about it!”
“How do you feel about getting old?” I asked.
“Do you want to die young?” Stephanie shook her head.
“Then you’re ambivalent.” D’oh.
I’ve long been leery of the way wisdom is bandied about as an auto-accessory of old age, like spryness and shrinking. It doesn’t come with the territory, and its association with passivity has political repercussions. (See “against wisdom.”) But I just came across a wonderful definition from a San Francisco-based psychologist named Todd Finnemore, whom I interviewed in May, 2010, when I was investigating why medical practitioners choose to work with older populations.
My partner and I are just back from a three-week trip to Vietnam, where we encountered people from all over the world, including Finland, South Africa, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Singapore, Canada, Holland, and Moldova. Most were far younger than us, some our age, and a notable few significantly older.