A Primer on Old Age: Grace and Frankie

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie

I am getting attention from younger men lately:  they courteously help me in the supermarket.  I travel light on airplanes, but a charming young woman volunteered to help me hoist my light suitcase into the overhead bin.  I am partly amused, partly insulted.  I am strong.  I bicycle.  I do not perceive myself as old–yet.  When exactly will I be old?  In my seventies?  In my eighties?

How does one learn to be old in the twenty-first century? Sure, there’s Cicero’s On Old Age (De Senectute),  Margaret Drabble’s  The Dark Flood Rises, and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age.  Do I plan to revisit these books?  Science fiction might be useful.

One of the best primers on old age is, surprisingly, the Netflix show Grace and Frankie.  I shouldn’t be surprised:  Jane Fonda, a co-star and co-producer, has always been in the progressive vanguard.  The 70-year-old heroines, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin),  move into a beach house after their husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) announce they are gay and are leaving their wives to marry each other.  In one scene, Grace stands at the top of a steep staircase that leads down to the beach house and then throws her suitcase down the stairs. I thought, “Something might break!” And then I realized: “She’s smart.  This way she doesn’t strain a muscle (or worse).”

Grace, the founder and retired CEO of a cosmetics company, and Frankie, a hippie artist, are an odd couple, but are not irritating like The Odd Couple.  The two women dislike each other, but become friends as they help each other move on from the pain dealt them by their exes.  In one episode, they decide to go back to work, but come home at the end of the day and put a good face on having struck out.   In another episode, Frankie talks to Grace about vaginal dryness and makes an organic lube from yams.  And after  Grace discovers that using a vibrator hurts her wrist, she and Frankie design  a vibrator appropriate to aging women and go into business together.

I’m not thinking about the future.  Still, I am making my own notes for the primer. The body is high-maintenance.  You have to keep moving: walk, bicycle, stretch, and lift weights, or you lose muscle and bone mass.  (You get it back if you exercise.)

And did you know an  e-reader is easier on the wrists and forearms than holding an enormous 19th-century novel?  (I had to ice my forearm while reading Middlemarch.  Yes, really.)

11 thoughts on “A Primer on Old Age: Grace and Frankie

  1. My husband and I just finished binge-watching the third season of Grace and Frankie. I love it and can’t wait for the next season. In my mid-sixties, I feel the ravages of time circling like vultures. Yesterday, for the first time in thirteen years, I gardened at our new house, and I can feel it in my back today. Walking has been my only exercise.
    I agree with you about e-readers. Although I love ‘real’ books, holding them open is painful because of arthritis in my thumbs.

    • I do love Grace and Frankie! Even walking after a summer’s bicycling held surprises for my back muscles last year. The exercise I can commit to is holding an e-reader.:)

  2. This did make me laugh!! I’ve been reading War and Peace – a whole blog could be written on the logistics of holding such a tome! Thank you for the Grace and Frankie recommendation.

  3. Wait till you have to try to read a large-print War and Peace!

    I realised I was old when someone stood up on a bus and made beckoning motions and there was no-one moving to sit down and everyone was looking at me.
    I realised I was really old when two people stood up on a bus and made beckoning motions.

  4. I had forgotten about large print books but do have some books with print I find hard to read now. Yes, it is a shock to be perceived as old, when it does not (yet!) mean we need that bus seat!

  5. I need to start watching it and read that Drabble novel. Some years ago people began to treat me differently. Without asking me, waitresses in cafes would charge me less. People get up and offer me a seat on the train. I thought to myself, I must look bad. I’ve gotten used to it.

  6. I love this series. Not only for the focus on an age-group which is too often overlooked (literally and figuratively), but for its focus on friendship. I also love the balance between emotions; it makes me laugh a LOT but it’s made me cry a few times too. Would a binding with more give have helped the Middlemarch situation? I find that I am increasingly frustrated with having to wedge a new paperback edition of something and have, instead, been preferring old and much-used library copies of certain books, just for their give-ability and willingness to sprawl rather than curl!

    • I love it, too. And I find Frankie’s relationship with Saul so poignant, too. They seem to belong together, except for the sexuality.

      I’ll look into the give-ability situation!

  7. I’ve started G&F and it perfectly fits this conversation! I cannot imagine the number of pages in a big print version of W&P ! I had a paperback version, which was beautiful but not substantial enough for so much paper!

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