Monday, March 2, 2009

Seventy? That's Not Old Any More

I've written two books about my home town, the utopian single tax community of Fairhope, Alabama.

I have the beginnings of an unpublished book which is not about Fairhope at all. Not the least little bit. It's not even about Hoboken. 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 was submitted two years ago to two different writers' agents, one at a time. The first agent had a couple of partners who do the reading of unsolicited work ("slush," in the trade). Her partners didn't think they could sell it, so she sent it back to me with a kind "no thanks." The second, who is my nephew's agent, asked that I submit 50 pages to him by email, and I did, and he never said anything further to either of us about it.

The book was to be titled Seventy Isn't Old Any More, and here's a little excerpt:

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.

I have some chapters in folders, and all on my hard drive. Maybe I'll get back to this one some day, or maybe I'll just run a smidge or two on the blog from time to time. I'll see if you like it.


Anonymous said...

Ever see the Lois Wyse play, "Funny, you don't look like a grandmother"?

Mary Lois said...

Lois Wyse? Haven't thought of her in years! I never knew she wrote a play either.

Anonymous said...

if 50 is the new 30 then i don't think i can legally drink yet :0)

my best friend's mom told us a couple years back that she loved turning she had a great credit score, a paid off house, and had found a great plastic surgeon!

Anonymous said...

If you really want it to be interesting, don't go public as the author. Some things that need saying I know you would not say as Mary Lois. Also, consider adding a male counterpart to give a bi-sexual view of the subject matter. Publish as a group of short stories. Not many have time for novels except for long summer house vacations. Your 'friend without benefits'...