I am reading, LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE, by Anna Quindlen. I agree with the N.Y. Times book reviewer, Judith Newman, that the book is unrealistically upbeat. All these books,which seem to be breeding like rabbits, as the baby boomers age, are about how great it is to grow old. How now we can do all the things we wanted to do, and we're so wise, and we don't give a damn about all the things that used to bother us. Rot! Someone needs a reality check. It just isn't so.
Most of the women, and they are all women, who write these books have certain things in common. They are famous and have attained what they wanted to attain in their writing careers. They live in gorgeous houses, and usually have one in the city and one in the country. They have cleaning women!! Their kids have all grown up and left the house and usually have very impressive careers themselves. All these women, like Nora Ephron, have to worry about is the flab on their neck. And they usually have the bucks to cover their necks in the latest Hermes scarf. The one exception is Joan Didion, who has always written with a cold clean knife, and despite her fame and money, really gets down in the depths to bemoan the pains and travails that can affect EVERYONE once they hit old age.
I am reading Quindlen's book in the same way I might have read a chic lit romance at a younger age. It's fun, funny and upbeat, and kind of like eating candy. And about 20 per cent of it rings true for me. But I think it's time someone set the record straight, as a man in the pharmacy window line said to my husband, "Growing old isn't for sissies."
I think in many ways there is a parallel with childhood. There are those who will cast a golden glow on childhood days, running barefoot on the grass under a sky of cumulous clouds. And yes, some of us had a few of those days. But childhood is frought with nightmares. Children are controlled by adults, and sometimes those adults are psychotic, or borderline psyhopaths. Some children have to eat out of garbage cans. Childhood is full of confusion and fear. I remember hearing that a splinter that a girl didn't tell about got loose in her bloodstream, went up to her brain and killed her. In spite of that, I hid my splinters and prayed they'd come out naturally.
Being a child is a bit like being in a nightmare half the time. The other half, you're having fun. But childhood does have one advantage. You can dream about the future. And in the future you are a hero or heroine, you are slaying dragons and righting the wrongs in the world. You will grow up to be beautiful and rich and famous. You will have many children and love them properly and in the way you are not being loved. You can do anything.
The trouble with growing old is that the future, if you dare to think about it, looks bleak. So many friends have become ill. Cancer is the biggest dragon, but there is also dementia, crippling arthritis, and of course, the biggie, death. When you look back, you see how far short of the mark you may have come. You didn't become a well received writer, like all those mediocre people who did. You did fall in love, but no long marriage is all roses and bliss. It's also a lot of yelling and misunderstanding as Mars clashes with Venus. And those children. Yes, you loved them, but what happened? Not exactly a fairy tale, unless it's Hansel and Gretl.
I don't mean to be a downer. I am in good health. I have a lovely roof over my head. I bicycle and garden and don't have to work anymore. I love birds with a depth, deeper than any I had, except perhaps in my childhood, when I lay under a fuchsia tree, looking up at a magical hummingbird. But I live in the real world. I see the deterioration of so much of quality in our culture and world. And while, yes, I now have wisdom and try to keep my sense of humor, I feel pain. For all that is lost, and all that inevitably awaits.
Old age is not all golden. It is not a sunrise. Read these cheerful books if you dare. But know that going into this twilight, takes a lot of guts. And perhaps, that is the one thing, we can be proud of.