The Fourth of July 2007
The Ageist Elder Award

Ruth Rendell and Me – Getting Older

[This piece was originally published in slightly different form at blogher.org.]

A large amount of writing about getting older is done by those of 50 or 60 or so who insist they are young. Those among them who make anti-aging their calling – and they are legion – tell us they are the same as when they were 25 and if you will just spend the $300 per bottle for their (patent pending) elixir or adjust your attitude to their (heretofore secret) life perspective, you too will never get old.

For more than three years here, I have been arguing for recognition of old age as it really is with about as much success as I would have pushing an elephant up the stairs. Now, along comes a doyenne among mystery writers, Ruth Rendell, who is 76 and telling it like it is in the Australian publication, The Age - which is not about aging, but Ms. Rendell’s story is.

Except that she is a famous writer, a life peer and the recipient of dozens of writing awards, I could have (and have) written much of this myself. So I’ll quote Ms. Rendell on the theory that famous people get more attention and, perhaps, belief.

“I feel [my age] without much minding that feeling…I am not young or young at heart.”
“…I am not going to pretend that growing old is all sweetness and light. And this is not because of my outlook on life and my attitude, but very much because of the way younger people view old age. Old women especially are invisible. I have been to parties where no one knows who I am, so I am ignored until I introduce myself to someone picked at random. Immediately word gets round and I am surrounded by people who tell me they are my biggest fans. This is fine for me, but what about the others, my contemporaries, left isolated?”
“’Still’ is a word I don’t much like. Nearly everyone I talk to asks me if I am ‘still’ writing.”
“The phrase ‘at your age’ doesn’t please me either, with its underlying implication that it would be better if women in their 70s were to stay indoors and pull down the blinds.”
“I don’t like the way young people write and talk about the old. I don’t like their attitude, which, if they weren’t young and therefore bright and vibrant, would be called outdated.”
“When I was young and middle-aged, I used to boast that I never felt tired, but I do now and, as one who gets up at six, I struggle to keep myself awake till 10.”
“…I walk whenever I can. I thought I walked at the same pace and with the same energy as I did when I was young until I began to notice that I was soon outstripped by anyone younger.”
“I don’t want to live with anyone…I like living by myself. I like to come and go as I please and not have to tell anyone where I shall be and what I shall be doing and when I shall be home. I am an old lady who lives alone with two cats.”

It is understood by the youth-centric world we live in that old age is a horror or, at best, boring and there are far too many, including elders themselves, who deny that old age is different from adulthood. Thank God for Ruth Rendell.

[Today at The Elder Storytelling Place, kenju tells about her righteous revenge in Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine.]


Comments

Wonderful! Yay, for Ruth Rendell!! And a thank you for the tip! Next time I'm at a party I'll try that. . ."Hello, my name is Ruth Rendell." My husband is going to opt for saying he's Dwight Eisenhower. We'll let you know. Probably we'll be carted off!

Good thoughts and I am in total agreement. I don't know why being young is considered such a virtue. It's not something we do or create. It just is. Nor is being old something that is bad. It just is. Trying to deny what is doesn't gain us anything. For all of my nearly 64 years, I have believed the way to live is to be in the moment, to be where I am, not wish it away, not be in a hurry to get somewhere new. For me, old age is no different.

Ruth Rendall,,,my kind of "old lady"

I have never read one of her books but I will soon. I admire her spunk.

I have loved her writing but on reading this, I really love her -- especially the last quote! She and I can hang out anytime as the youguns say!

I had a 20-something waitress today and she dropped the silverware. She said, "Sorry! I am just like an old lady!" The other old ladies I was with laughed right along with her. I didn't want to embarrass her, but I did point it out to my friends afterwards. They hadn't even noticed. What's a kind response to this kind of comment?

Too bad more famous people, celebrities and others can't be as honest an forthright as Ruth Rendall. They could surely help correct some of the distorted perspectives of those eternal youth seekers.

As for travelinoma's waitress, I think I would have been tempted to say something like, "Gee, don't YOUNG ladies ever drop anything?"
Or, "I didn't know dropping things was something only old people did." Even a strategic question asked in good humor, like, "What makes you think dropping things is something old ladies do?" It's always easier to think of something we wish we had thought to say after some event.

Too bad others at your table all laughed, as dead silence might have made a significant impression on her that what she said wasn't funny at all, even if she didn't change her thinking.

Wonderful! Thank you for posting this. As for dropping things, I used to drop a lot more than just silverware when I was younger - like clues that some people were not good for your health and better choices. Getting a better grip came with age.

Facing reality is sometimes difficult. Whatever age we are has it's own set of problems and the pragmatic person will accept whatever comes with stoicism. When I was sixty I knew I was slowing down and having aches in joints that had never failed me before, but I don't remember feeling old. At seventy I began to feel old. At eighty plus I know I am old. I seldom have that "young woman in an old woman's body" now. But then I think of the alternative and accept the fact that I must give up some things that I used to love and replace them with the joy of being able to chart my own course. I don't really resent the young people who look on me as a pathetic creature. How can they possibly know what it's like to be old; they haven't been there yet. I just smile to myself and think, "someday, if your lucky you will know what it's like."

At 67 I call myself a Junior-Senior...The young are ignorant with no experience in "slowing down" enough to "see" more of life. I now have time to do what "I want"....These are wonderful years.

Funny that anyone would think being 20 (or 30 for that matter) is where we all want to be. The experiences I've had getting to where I am has not always been pleasing, but every one taught me something - about myself. I've never been 60 or 70 or 80, that has got to be an adventure! I'm still finding out who this woman is at 50, never been 50 so it's all new to me. I kinda like it, even those 'dumb and dumber' days (which somehow followed me out my 20's) Would I want to be 20 again? Nope, I know what I was like at 20 and if the truth be told, many of us were dumber than a stump!

For me, I'm having this great adventure and it is always something new.

While I liked many of the things RR said, I did read her whole article and she comes across in the main as a lifeless woman. Give up sex? Never! Of course, I am only 61 and maybe I will feel differently when I am her age, but I believe that passion in all its forms is life affirming and I aim to go on affirming life for as long as I'm able. I know I'm old, but being old doesn't have to mean the end of a passionate life.

I first read Ruth Rendall's wonderful writing at age 19. I had almost idolized her and her incredible prose. Now, I am much older, and see her as a hypocrite. How can you be a Baronesse and a Socialist?????
The two ideals do not mesh.
I have read each and every book she has written and as she has aged, she has become very disjointed in her writing. I tend to read with a more critical eye and do not believe she stands for anything, except her own comfort.
It is great to thnk of others giving their "all" for mankind, but that is not what she does. My own Dad was born the same year and he was so different in his attitudes of humankind. Live as you preach, Ms. Rendell, not as you do.
Sincerely,
A Prior Lake, MN, USA former fan & reader

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