I’ve always felt older than I am. Growing up, I dreamt about being my mother’s age, because her clothes were so much sharper and stylish than mine. I wanted a job, where I had responsibility. I wanted a mature relationship and routine and quiet nights at home where I wasn’t always missing out on the next great party. I don’t fare well in clubs, I can’t stay up ridiculously late anymore and I do love myself some soft rock.
I often listen to friends of mine sigh with sheer exasperation at how we are almost 30, and what are we doing with our lives? Though sometimes I feel this too, most of the time, I’m happy in my skin, at my age, with my life. Do I wish I took some time to travel Europe? Sure! But now I have some money saved up and I can take an unpaid vacation for a few weeks if I want to. Do I wish I had partied more? Not really. I had my fair share of nights out, and that stuff doesn’t appeal to me in the same way anymore. I’m getting married in a few months and so many people wonder aloud around me about how it would feel to “settle down”. For me, that is not the case. A ring on my finger doesn’t mean we are admitting the defeat of our youths – it means we are a legal unit. And this legal unit-to-be still has lots of things on her list!
I think this is why I’ve always loved memoirs about ageing – though I never noticed it was this specific until recently. When I was nineteen, I read Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and fell in love with her and her way of seeing the world. She talks so bluntly about ageing; the positives, the negatives, the things no one ever talks about. Here was a woman who lived life to the fullest; had a badass career, a complicated but ultimately wonderful love life, a ton of friends, probably just as many enemies. And here she was talking about the saggy skin on her neck. She was still spunky, still very much herself. And even though I was no where near her age, I loved knowing there was the potential of me being that badass when I’m in my sixties. Years later, I read I Remember Nothing, and loved it for all the same reasons.
After that, I read Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How To Like It, then the book that came before that one, A Three Dog Life, and then the book that came before that Safekeeping. Thomas lived a complex, sometimes wild life. I’m talking numerous love affairs and even an orgy, plus teen pregnancy and being a single mom at the age of 26. Now she is much older and reflecting on the peace she has found in her later years. Her insights are like little firecrackers going off in your mind. The most simple observation about the most simple thing, so beautifully crafted. Entire chapters are spent on the comfort of her home, or the noises her house makes at night, or how to sleep with three dogs on the bed. I have loved the experience of reading each of her books, but most of all, I’ve loved her appreciation of getting older.
I realized the love for ageing reading when I was speaking to the coworker who recommended Abigail Thomas to me. He had a big smile on his face when I said it, and recommended I read Diana Athill, who was a big editor back in the day and who is now 98 (98!!!) and still writing about her life. I picked up her slim volume, Somewhere Towards the End, and a few days later, that same coworker handed me a copy of her most recent work, Alive, Alive Oh! The first few pages and I was already in love.
So really, what I love about these books, is the affirmation that life isn’t just good in your youth. We lay our lives out in milestones and then mourn their passing. We also value all the milestones that come in short sequential order in our younger years: becoming an adult, graduating, getting your first job, getting married, having a baby. What we don’t look at are all the milestones that can come after, if you choose: taking a huge trip around the world, going back to school, graduating again, trading in the career you hate for the chance to do something you love, visiting old friends in new places, writing the book you’ve always dreamed of. Life keeps coming, and the good times do too. Thankfully, I have Nora, Abigail and Diana to remind me that they do.