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.)