Saturday, March 25, 2006


Some know how to grow old with such finesse. And some grow old with such worry and pain. My mother grew old with such grace that early on I promised myself I would do the same. She never wore make-up, never had a perm, and I can’t remember her ever studying her reflection in a mirror. She simply combed her long hair back into a bun and looked at me from the depths of warm loving eyes, and when she transitioned from middle-aged to old, the transition was transparent. Imperceptible. There was no noticeable change. She remained as beautiful to me as she had always been.

Now I gave thoughts to aging in my early twenties, more frequently in my thirties, like everyone else. But with the strong determination to grow old gracefully I never hesitated to tell people my true age. And while others of my friends’ could extend a 15-minute coffee break into a 2-hour whimper about their first gray hair, or a whine about the follicle on their chin, or grieving over impending crow’s feet, I ignored all this stuff. My agenda was to grow old gracefully which meant this was all irrelevant.

But to most of my friends it was not irrelevant. One was in a helpless tizzy over a hair she found growing on her chin. Frantic if she plucked it that it might turn into three and so she left it there till it was seven inches long and had curled into a tight ringlet. And every time she went out in public she walked and talked with one hand over her chin. Eventually another bosom pal asked what she was hiding with her hand and when she showed her, her friend, without warning, quickly pinched it between two fingers and yanked it out. Hair-On-A-Chin reacted with blazing anger and vulgarity of language that was beyond belief. Convinced she would now get three hairs. And as a result of this their friendship came to a permanent end right then and there.

The ensuite bathroom of another of my friends had shelves with row upon row of expensive hardly-double-dipped anti-aging cremes and jells, despite real poverty. She was always on a new regime. Expensive and complex regimes that included face washes, cleansers, moisturizers, fresheners and astringents. Collections of preventative remedies that could set one back the price of a new dining-room suite or a complete hockey outfit for the boy. But despite the harassment of bill collectors, two months later, she would buy yet another collection, and start yet another regime.

Other of my friends, in their growing agitation and fear, kept close and frequent contact with the manicurist, the pedicurist, and the hairdresser. For those who regularly colored their hair, protocol demanded that such measures be a well-disguised secret. None except one’s closest friends must know and those who knew must never tell.

But what was most evident was the ongoing mental agony so many of my friends were in. The terror of the scourge of old age was real. Their fear became the topic of every conversation. Some got nose jobs or breast tucks without good reason to do so. Everyone was dieting. Others popped magic anti-aging vitamins or potions until their necks reddened with the toxicity, their kidneys ceased up, or they broke out in rashes. They circulated through the expense of hyper-allergenic and anti-allergenic and oil-free and anti-acne scrubs like maniacs. Some even put Preparation H on their eyes to shrink their crows-feet. I watched as children’s outings were canceled, their music recitals ignored, replaced by a mom’s determination to dedicate her time and money to the all-important beauty therapies necessary to fight off the monster of old age.

And so with smugness about my own ‘smart’ approach, I watched them agonize with such terror and pain and cackled inside with evil delight at the fear and dread that tainted the very air they breathed. I scoffed at their pretensions and conceit. At their paranoia. At their shallow silliness when, with that first albino hair, they panicked and rushed out for hair dye. No more than two weeks later, they colored that hair again, because they thought their roots might be showing.

Meanwhile I daily applied my own economy make-up with little concern. Glancing in the mirror quickly. Eyes half shut. Only looking at my reflection for the ease of make-up application – to ensure that my mascara wasn’t smudged and that my lipstick didn’t look like a map of Chicago. But at the same time I refused to do any studies of discovery. No close inspections for chin hairs or age spots or crows-feet. I ignored this stuff conscientiously so that I could grow old as gracefully as my mother had.

And my Mad-Hatter-effort seems to have worked. I like to look nice but at the same time I care less about the fact that the smoothness and suppleness of my face is in a decline. Perhaps that’s because more important to me than my physical body is creativity and art. And so to have my face go from a Mona Lisa to a Van Gogh or a Picasso is simply another step in artistic impression.

But there is more. What I didn’t prepare for was the decline of my creativity and imagination. And this deterioration is more and more evident each time I sit down to write. I am in the midst of utter carnage. My once vivacious and sparkling imagination is shriveling so quickly that I am filled with fear and pain that surpasses the agony that so many of my friends endured over one gray hair and two imaginary wrinkles.

I don’t know how to handle this part of the aging process gracefully. I don’t know how to deal with what is happening. The withering themes, dry plots, greasy characters, wrinkled conflicts, cliché pimples and ugly plukes of triteness. This is a calamity of aging with no disaster-recovery plan. There are no retailers in this world that offer helpful regimes to ‘youthenize’ this malady of aging. There are no svelte personalized kits that promise revitalization with a product line of oily-character astringent, climax creme, plot blotter, victim gel, cliché freshener, trite toner….etc.

Oh the horror of it all! Without any imagination I am ruined. This is hell on earth. Living in a writer’s wasteland characterized by only the heat of brimstone and swallowing of swords!


Blogger goldenlucyd said...

What a wonderful writer you are! This post was such a delight to savor...evoking so many memories and opinions!

Actually I wrote to tell you how much I enjoyed your comment to Pattie's nostalgia post. My mouth is tingling and watering at the thought of salt-lick and raw rhubarb!

My daughter-in-law is from a MinneDak farm. I asked her if she ever did that. She didn't remember that she had. However she said she and her brothers chewed handfuls of wheat into "chewing gum" when they didn't have the real thing---which was most of the time, it seems.

For once I decided I was happy to have grown up a "city-kid!

Thanks, Roberta. I love to read your "stuff!"

11:42 AM  
Blogger jisa said...

Good blog, nice to be here

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Rachel Ann said...

Lovely post.
If this is "greying creatively" I hope I grey so well!

I fear the loss of mental facalties, not so much the grey. I worry everytime I can't recall a word or a name...

I think that is what messes us up; the worry.

9:46 AM  
Blogger goldenlucyd said...

Great comment at Ronni's today, Roberta! LOL!!

8:21 PM  
Blogger PEA said...

You are a delightful writer!! Apart from finding the fountain of youth, aging comes upon us wether we like it or not and although some of us don't find it easy to accept, there's no turning back time, no matter how hard you try! I just figure I've earned every white hair I find, every wrinkle that shows up and as for gravity...a "wonder bra" does do wonders!! lol

3:44 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

jisa, thanks so much for stopping in. Hope you'll continue to drop by. I'm always anxious to welcome new friends.

Hi rachel anne, losing mental faculties is my biggest fear of all. Honestly some days I think I'd have to lay down the pen forever if there weren't electronic dictionaries and Thesauri(?) - I don't dare try to spell the plural of Thesaurus cause who would recognize the word by the time I got done with it?

Golden Lucy, we chuckle together over that one, don't we?

Hi pea, It's good that we can proudly wear what we have rightfully earned. Great thought there.

10:08 AM  
Blogger ME Strauss said...

Ah Roberta,
I don't think your brain is even close to going grey. We all have those days and then we don't again. We had 'em as kids too. Don't you remember? The more you worry the more your imagination hides away. That's the way the imagination works. Yours is so fabulous--you already know that.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi me. Yours is a lovely comment. I don't know that I have a fabulous imagination, don't believe I have a fabulous imagination, but love to have others tell me I have a fabulous imagination. The hope is that in being told so it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy that will cultivate within my stale cells a fabulous imagination!

11:34 PM  

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