May 9, 2007
I've written two books that have not seen the light of day in a publisher's office. One of them is an account of Fairhope life going a little beyond the nostalgia of the one that did get published called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree . I've mentioned it here many a time: When We Had the Sky. Last week I printed an extra copy and donated it to the Marietta Johnson Museum in Fairhope, where it will be available for visitors to read. The other copy lies in the office (maybe I should say languishes) of Alabama publisher Randall Williams, as yet unreturned as as far as I know unread. It was rejected by both the University of Alabama Press and River City Publishing as being too parochial to market outside Fairhope.
The second unpublished book is not about Fairhope at all. Not the least little bit. It's about how to have a good life after the age of 60, which I thought would be of interest to all those baby-boomers who dread the passage of time.
Apparently I was mistaken, or I hadn't noted how many many books exist for that particular market, some by far better known (and perhaps far more adept) writers than I. The manuscript lies in the office of a New York writers' agent. I sent it there three months ago and have not heard a peep. I think it too will lie in what is known as the slush pile indefinitely. But I've decided that you might like to read parts of it, beginning with the introduction, so here it is:
I noticed it about five years ago. I began saying it pretty often. Every time I said it it seemed everybody agreed -- I was onto something.
What I said was, "70 isn't old any more."
I'm not exaggerating -- the positive response was universal, and anyone can see why -- just look around you. There are young people and old people, but 70 isn't the cut-off point, as we once supposed it to be.
At some point, when put on my $10.95 glasses that I bought at the local supermarket, I noticed that the faces of my friends were covered with wrinkles. I couldn't help but wonder if they saw something similar when looking at me through theirs. Here’s the story behind those cheapo glasses – determined not to buy prescription glasses until I'm 70, I alternate between a low-voltage pair for viewing television and night driving and a high number pair for reading and seeing stuff up close. I don't wear them for lunch with friends, but I slip the high-number Ben Franklin pair onto my nose for reading the menu any time I’m in a restaurant.
A few years ago Oprah Winfree noted on her talk show that she admired how Diane Sawyer, a few years her senior, was handling being 50. Oprah vowed before her viewers to do it as well. With characteristic determination and focus, she managed to look better at 50 than she had ten years earlier. If she maintains her commitment to staying young and attractive at the rate she's going,, when she gets to her 70’s, she'll probably look about 20.
This book is for those who would like to think and feel differently about the coming of the once-dreaded decade.
It is a book of personal experiences by someone who has done all she can to ward off oldness, and intends to continue even if she dies trying. Don't remind me that I probably will; that's beside the point. The point is, although life is full of land mines and booby traps, its very complexity promises that it can be rewarding at any age.
This is not a book of advice or rules of good living. It will reveal some situations you might encounter and some stories from which you might learn, but its main purpose is to explore, from the vantage point of one who is there and enjoying herself, how the other side of sixty is different and how it may be the same,. Approaching 70, we are old enough to have amassed a backlog of prejudices and preconceived notions, some of which we'd be better off without; this book may well help in determining which you should keep and which you'd be better off without.
I am well aware that at my age most people are half of a couple. Their decisions are made as a committee of two. Their investments (in time, energy and money) are also made jointly. I have been part of a couple – three times – but have been a widow for over six years now, and am by now beginning to enjoy my autonomy and freedom. Learning to live alone, however, is a lot like learning to live with somebody. For one thing, it's not as easy as it looks.
I had a perfectly wonderful year when I was 61. Because my birthday is in May, this spanned two calendar years – 2001 and 2002. The shattering horror that occurred during that period, said horror being when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed on 9/11/01 was made bearable by the fact that personally, good things were happening to me that year. Up until that time I had always said that my favorite year was the one when I turned 11. My second favorite year -- at least as good and probably better -- was the one that came 50 years later. There is something astonishing in that.
There is much that is hopeful in this book. Maybe it's because 50 is the new 30. Maybe 100 is the new 90. But very few people of normal good health seem really old at 70. It may be said that those of us pushing 70 are trying too hard, but it seems to work. I will try to tell, not necessarily how you might cope, but how I have. I wouldn't say my style would work for everyone – I tend to err on the side of risk, as you will see.
However it is, it's been a good life, and it's getting better. If you stick with me I just bet you’ll enjoy the trip.