Monday, 17 September 2012
Everyone likes quotations, right? The ones we like best are usually those that confirm our prejudices. A whole lot of others allow us to believe we have learned something important or useful or wise or clever but are so banal that we soon forget them.
And every now and then we come across one that in a few remarkably well-chosen words speaks a truth or crystalizes a previously muddy thought we've had or even shows us the way forward.
Quotations, I think, are always personal; what thrills or delights me can mean nothing to you and vice versa because we necessarily bring our own experience, beliefs and feelings to them.
I've been perusing a book of quotations collected by Kathleen Cannon titled, She Said What? Quotable Women Talk Aging and subtitled, “More than 1000 quotes on aging, youth and growing old.”
The inclusion only of women is stultifying. The book is divided into such sections as retirement, wrinkles, reflections, growing up, etc. and with every page I wondered what men have said on that topic – whether they are generally in agreement with women or see the world of aging differently.
In addition, a heavy reliance on quotations from actors (I'm guessing about 50 percent) gives the quotations a certain sameness coming from the point of view of women whose livelihoods depend upon their physical attractions.
Nevertheless, there is no such thing as a quotation book that is not at least entertaining and what I said above about actors notwithstanding, here are two who speak harshly but true:
“There are only three ages for women in Hollywood – Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.” - Goldie Hawn
“I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not.” - Katharine Hepburn
This, from Diane de Poitier who is described as a French patroness who lived between 1499 and 1566, reminds me of Gore Vidal's famous bon mot: “It's not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”
“She was born in the year of our Lord only knows. The years that a woman subtracts from her age are not lost. They are added to other women's.”
Someday, somehow, I will find a way to use “the year of our Lord only knows." It's too good not to and Ms. de Poitier won't know I've stolen it.
Not infrequently, I take off in these pages about how ageist language perpetuates the stereotyping that dehumanizes elders. In efforts to make my point, I have been known to carry on at great length - and then along comes a writer named Elaine Bernstein Partnow doing a much better – and more succinct - job of it:
“Language is a boxing match in which we must spar daily, warding off the negative suggestions that age is our worst enemy. Indeed, it is our best friend.”
Contrary to the zillions of messages that bombard us day in and day out about creams and pills and surgeries to make us appear young again, a lot of women have embraced their old age each in their own way:
“It is a mistake to regard age as a downhill grade toward dissolution. The reverse is true. As one grows older one climbs with surprising strides.” - French novelist, George Sand
“Don't deprive me of my age. I have earned it.” - American poet, May Sarton
“She had settled down to age as if she found it very pleasant company.” - British novelist, Phyllis Bottome
“What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.” - French novelist, Colette
And I could not agree more with this from the women we all cheered when she said, “This is what 40 looks like these day.”
“Remembering something at first try is now as good as an orgasm as far as I'm concerned.” - America activist, Gloria Steinem
To end on a political note:
As you know, I am in the earliest stages of a long project researching the history of old age. In that regard, I am reading French philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir's treatise, Old Age, published more than 40 years ago. I had recently marked the following when it turned up in the quotations book:
“Society turns away from the aged worker as though they belong to another species...old age exposes the failure of our entire civilization.”
In light of one political party whose 2012 presidential and vice presidential nominees would kill the social programs that sustain elders in the U.S. and keep them from sleeping under bridges, here is a beautifully poignant statement for us all to ponder from an American writer, Margaret Willour:
“Old age needs so little but needs that little so much.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: The Cat Cowboy