I write this as I fly through the night, watching lightning course through thunderheads towering above the dark Caribbean. They seem close, to my right. When the bolts arc through the clouds, for a second or so the sky becomes as blue as at noon. I’ve seen other lightening shows up close at many thousand feet, but have never felt so strangely unafraid. I’m concentrating on another illumination, within myself.
I’ve spent a couple of weeks traveling with groups. I enjoy the interplay of reacting with people. Living alone, I crave this interaction and validation, and seek notice like the rest of us. I try to stay current, I joined Facebook, I may even tweet.
But more and more I’m the oldest person in the room, and try as I might to follow the talk of Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse and the “older” music of the 90s, I just don’t know the first thing about it. There are so many references and attitudes shared by others that I don’t get now. So eyes do not meet mine as much. Everyone's younger. I can’t keep up. I try, but I can’t. I retreat to the outer circle and then sometimes, away to the safety of my solitude.
I'm starting to feel invisible. And mostly when it comes to men. In my day, let’s say 15 years and 15 pounds ago, I knew that if I cleaned up and turned on the charm that I could successfully compete. I wasn’t beautiful, but I knew how to flirt, intrigue and amuse. And men told me that I exuded a passion that was compelling and exciting. I heard it enough to believe it. I had confidence that I could catch a man’s eye and hold it, when I wanted to. And sure enough, when I started seeing my late husband at the age of 56, someone whom I wanted very much, he asked me to marry him in a couple of weeks.
That time, that magical time, has passed. I’m 60-something and I still have the smile you see on my five-year old avatar, but the rest of me is inexorably fading behind it. I now feel I’m on the other side of junior high. The freckles that caused me such embarrassment at 13 have returned as age spots. The zits on my nose have been replaced by deepening wrinkles around my mouth. But instead of coming out of it on the other side as a visibly pretty girl, I see myself becoming increasingly invisible, increasingly fading out.
I’ve fought back. I was on a trip with two younger writers, and I was totally ignored by the male. Totally. I just kept getting blank stares as if I weren't there. I was so upset that I finally worked out a plan with the female writer, who noticed the way I was being ignored as well. We would make the man invisible. So when we sat down to dinner she asked me in detail about the interesting relationships I've had over the years. And I told them to her, in delicious detail, and to him, by default. He had to sit there. And he looked at me from then on. I had become visible. He realized I was a woman, not a shadow of a woman.
Of course many still see me clearly as a full person -- as myself: family and friends, and so many of you, here on OS, where I spill my guts. And gay men, oh yes. If there is a higher power, it created gay men and older women into a perfect symbiosis, especially if you're a women who can turn a phrase and dish. (I have written about my glorious gay cruise previously, when I was one of two straight women and two thousand men. Oh, those two weeks of bitchy fun, of rapt attention.) And I do get noticed by people I interact with in simple daily ways, like waiters, who love to flirt not just for tips, but because the sexual nature is removed and it's all play for both of us. I’ve come to love an attentive bantering waiter as much as a good meal.
But really, those whom I meet in passing often look through me, and accepting this reality has its benefits. I’m more free to express myself without worrying about how I appear doing it. I wear a kind of uniform that works for me: jeans, a tee and a jacket. I don’t bother with sexy heels which used to hurt my feet. I used to do the whole bit with eyeliner. Now I often just put on sunglasses and some lipstick, comb my hair and I’m fine with it.
And invisibility is safer. My profile is lowered. I'm not afraid of much.
Some friends my age overcompensate to get the attention they once did as younger women, piling on the makeup, pouring in the Botox, shimmying into thin dresses that show too much cleavage and thigh, exercising until they become gaunt. They do get noticed, but often for the wrong reasons. But they fight in the way they know how.
It’s not that I’ve given up, but I’m becoming more wistful and practical, concentrating on things below the surface, concentrating on seasoned skills and hard-earned wisdom. I don’t need to waste much time on vanity or superficiality any more. That energy can be better spent on other things.
I’m not writing this to fish for compliments. Fading from our prime and passing the torch happens to most of us, if we’re lucky enough to live long enough. I’d be content just to light up the sky, like the bolts I see tonight, every now and then. To rephrase Dylan Thomas, I'm not going gently into that good night. I will rage against the dying of the light.