The Sharpened Quill

Caitlin Kelly

Caitlin Kelly
Tarrytown, NY, USA
December 31
non-fiction author/speaker/consultant
Bio Author "Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail" (Portfolio, April 2011), deemed "an excellent memoir" by Entertainment Weekly. Out in paperback July 31, 2012. I also edit other writers' work -- everything from thrillers to business books. Email me for hourly rates; references available.

Caitlin Kelly's Links

OCTOBER 3, 2011 10:33AM

Is There Life After 50? Define "Life"

Rate: 14 Flag

It's so cute when young 'uns discover that old folks, (those of us over 40), actually, you know, exist.

From a recent Styles section story in The New York Times , (by my fellow former True/Slant blogger Austin Considine), about a young man, Ari Seth Cohen, whose photographs celebrate elegant and stylish older women:

“The women who I photograph are confident,” he said. “They know what they like, they know what suits their bodies, and they’re dressing for themselves. They don’t dress based on trends.”

“I think a lot of the young people are inspired by the style,” he added, regarding his audience. “And as they get older, they’re inspired by the attitude.”

That attitude finds its apotheosis in women like Ilona Royce Smithkin: a flamboyant 91-year-old bachelorette, whose burlesque charms include a penchant for show tunes, daring colors and false eyelashes cut from her own shock of bright red hair. In younger years, she made her living as an artist, drawing book-jacket portraits of authors like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill...

“In America, once you turn a certain age, you’re sort of forgotten, you’re sort of made to feel that you’re invisible,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is give these women a voice and also show people that your life doesn’t end at 50.”

I hit the big FIVE-OHHHHHHHH in June 2007, and Jose was kind enough to cushion the blow by taking me to Paris. Nothing hurts in Paris!

But, frankly, what are you going to do? You get older, then you die. In the meantime, you get older. And, if you're female, you are going to have to go through the hell of menopause along the way. For years, my mother warned me, "It's going to get worse! Lose weight now!"

Cheerful stuff.

I don't want to write about menopause for a few reasons: it's personal, it's too boring, it's been written about to death already and it's not the least bit interesting to anyone who is not in the middle of it.

It was helpful, though, to hear a Canadian friend my age tell me she literally walked into the lake in front of her rural home just to cool off from the incessant inanity of hot flashes. I loathe them. No one, anywhere, ever, wants to feel the slimy sheen of sweat accumulating on their throat and face, let alone dripping down their back -- usually when you're in the middle of trying to look and behave professionally before a critical (in both senses of that word) audience of strangers.

One night, when I was working retail, I tried to finish up a sale, in a polished and smooth manner, at the cash wrap. Then a hot flash hit, leaving me...

with a huge drop of sweat hanging from the tip of my nose.

Yeah, that was fun. I couldn't (or felt I couldn't) swipe at it gracefully. So I just tried to ignore it, and hoped they would too, and that my sweat would not drip onto their new purchase.

Here's a funny, bitchy, right-on piece from The Atlantic by Sandra Tsing-Loh about menopause and how the world looks from the dark side of 50.

If you're over 50, (especially my fellow females out there), how are things for you these days?

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Truer words never spoken: "Nothing hurts in Paris." I must be overdue. 40 was a more difficult birthday for me than 50, but my 50's haven't been my easiest years. Still, 50 is the new 29.
Thank you for the link to the really sardonic and spot on article, I enjoyed reading this today and at least feel validated I am not alone on a journey that sometimes seems relentless. Thank you also for asking.
Really appreciated the article in The Atlantic. This may not be the right answer to your question, but I truly, madly, deeply, miss my youth. ~r
Thanks for giving the spotlight to those often left in the dark.

And if 50 is the new 29, in this society, I still think I want to be 30.

Great piece.
I agree with Kathy. I was very wary of turning 50 (turns out my gut was correct as it was followed by three years of loss, grief, and change.) But I decided to embrace it, throwing my own fiftieth birthday party with 50 friends (they paid "admission" with a donation to Easter Seals, my favorite charity.) We celebrated the birthdays of everyone there born in that year, and we drank champagne, wore feather boas, and tiaras. More change ahead, I'm sure. More grief, more loss. Celebrate today. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow a mystery. today is a gift." Happy Fifties!
At the age of 57, I have never felt healthier, been happier, or sexier. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I am still rocking it. I didn't bake in the sun, smoke cigarettes nor drink heavily so I don't suffer the ill effects from all those bad habits. I take no medications whatsoever. Yes, I physically feel as good as I did when I was twenty-five.
I am well over 50, but remember the days of the flashes. The most embarrassing was when I gave a presentation to a room full of businessmen who were on the board of a charity that I managed the investments in the endowment fund. I had on a silk blouse. First it became damp, then my glasses fogged, finally my hair looked like I just got out of the water. I had to leave the room when I finished talking and find some paper towels to dry myself.
rated with love
Thanks for all your answers! I know OS has a lot of very cool women in my demographic and I was hoping for some cheer and inspiration.

Joan, I'm surprised that you so miss your youth. I miss feeling (however naively) that all was possible and likely within knowing that's so not true. I miss flirting with cute boys. I miss feeling 100% physically strong -- I need a ((^$@!^(_ hip replacement and that makes me really angry and resentful to have face major surgery and another 8-week rehab process. I am sick to death of meeting with orthopedic surgeons!

But like Miguela, I generally feel pretty good -- I look 10 to 15 years younger than my age, and enjoy that. I never smoked or drank a lot or baked, either. I eat healthily, exercise, sleep 8-11 hours every night and (as of two weeks ago!) have a new husband (my sweetie of 11 years.) So, overall, life right now is happier than it has been for quite a while.
Thanks for this post. I just turned the big 50 last Monday, and people keep telling me how young and beautiful I look (even strangers), and I'm not aching to be 30 again. Rated.
Yeah, haha, "OS has a lot of cool women" ... when they're not having hot flashes.

Hey, I'm 75 and it's not bad. Except that I could die any minute, that kinda sucks...
Myriad, hang in there! My Dad is exhaustingly healthy at 82...It's hard to imagine that he will die, which of course he must. It will be one hell of a shock to us to lose someone so bursting with energy, still.
Fifties are great. Best sex of my life!
Caitlin, I turn 51 tomorrow. I thought the mid-forties much worse than anything since...although I did stop eating and drinking the items that increased the hot flashes. They did go away, but now I don't drink wine, eat chocolate, rarely dairy....
But no more hot flashes!
I did live on the water and in the sun as a child, so I am quite wrinkled compared to my friend who never indulged in sunshine growing up. I still am keeping them as botox, fillers, collagen, the knife, and too often the resulting faces of over-zealous work, all scare me more than wrinkles.
The biggest change: I still get looks of appraisal and smiles from men and lesbian couples, even with my usually silver hair (sometimes Natural Instincts Golden Blonde or something)...
Just the small fact that they are all 60+ looking....but my husband is younger than I and he's still looking too.
I feel badly when I read the adjectives we use against ourselves, our life cycles, as women. I appreciate it all, the 'moon time' as my crowd calls it, 'the change' into an elder...except the maiden, mother, crone thing. Crone?? Oh thanks for that lovely title.
Just as long as I can stay fit and can walk as long as I like and think as brightly as I can, I'll take life as is any day.
Caitlin, it is the knowledge that time is running out. I feel fine, I work full time and then some, I am happy, I am not terrible to look at. It is simply the realization that it goes awfully fast...:)
I'm more than ten years past fifty (ouch and double ouch) and I am really having some issues with the way certain parts of my anatomy are aging. It ain't pretty. The skin on my legs and arms--pretty much driving me bonkers.

On the positive side, I now have many friends who are anywhere from two to fourteen years older than I am. They are smart, active, feisty gals...and they are dressy as smartly as the folks on Ari Cohen's blog (which I like, by the way, even though I'm sad he has to explain how neglected we "old folks" are. At least we have smart, sassy articles like the one in The Atlantic. Whatever did our mothers do?
Joan, very true. I am flabbergasted to be 54. WTF?

Nikki, I live in a building where many/most of the fellow residents (it's a co-op) are in their 60s, 70s, 80s...the woman at the end of my hallway (living alone with a live-in nurse) is 97. So I also have many examples of lively, vibrant people decades ahead of me...while my 76 yr old mother is a total mess and in a nursing home already.
Two words...Helen Mirren....age 66. An attractive woman no doubt, but not ravishing in the Hollywood sense. She's proof that smarts can also be very sexy.
I'm 49. Scared to death of 50 and beyond. Not because I fear the loss of youthful beauty or sexuality (actually, I still think I have plenty of both) but because I don't have enough money. I'm scared of starving to death on the street when I'm too old to keep working. Poor choices earlier in life mean that I have no savings now, a job with no pension or benefits; nothing for the future. I'm trying, really hard, to find a much better job so I can try to play catch-up. But, well...I'm 49! I keep thinking of the line in "My Generation": "Hope I die before I get old."
Congratulations on your wedding. Thanks also for the Sandra T-L piece, I've loved her since her KCRW days. Gravity is just pissing me off these days. I need some sort of clothing and makeup that clings to my skin and then absolves it from 45% of the gravitational force.
I would not exchange these four years so far spent in my fifites for any (unless of course I could take my brain with me). Did not enjoy being a mushroom at all. I understand how difficult it is for some to escape the cultural obsession with twenty somthings - but they made me gag even when I was there in person.
Eva, for sure.

I fear I have not saved enough (when we're said to need $1m or so to even scrape a living in old age from the...hah...interest in our capital) and figure, worst case, to use a reverse mortgage. I have no kids and my mother's savings/my erstwhile inheritance are now being consumed by her nursing home.

Many women are in this situation. It is scary as hell.
At 40 I found a new lover. At 50 I spent all my money on art. Both good birthdays.
Marie, sounds good to me!
Interesting post. I used to dread the onset of menopause, but it's not so bad (at least, not yet for me). Except for the ravages of acne, which I've suffered since the age of sixteen, my face doesn't look too bad for fifty-five.
I just turned 59 and can now, finally, say about menopause: "This too shall pass." For me it was much rougher than I ever thought it would be...I thought I would sail through it. So much for thinking.

As for aging and in my case now only one year away from freakin' 60, I find it surreally unreal. I do feel wiser in many ways, but at the same time I also feel a much greater awareness of all life's gazillion mysteries. So...I feel wiser but also humbler, and I have a fat belly blob even though I weigh only 123 pounds. This blob reality appears and will not go away, no matter how skinny the rest of you is! So cruel. Ah well. Not the end of the world I guess....
Sorry about the blob! Spanx!