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.)

The Third of July: “Revolution” vs. “Grace and Frankie”

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in “Grace and Frankie”

It is a hot, hot, hot Third of July.  Tonight and tomorrow sweaty people will watch fireworks in the parks. Not I!

I plan to watch Grace and Frankie, a Netflix  show starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston.  With this line-up, how can it not be great? It centers on a divorce: when Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) learn that their husbands are gay and want a divorce, they freak out and separately take refuge  in the beach house they co-own. Frankie, an old hippie with long gray hair, meditates and chants, while Grace, an uptight trophy wife with a hint of OCD, relies on cups of tea and routine.  Will they drive each other crazy?

Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Miles (Billy
Burke) in “Revolution.”

Perhaps the best show for the Fourth of July is  Revolution, a science fiction series about a post-apocalyptic America without electricity.  Nobody knows why the power went out, or maybe a few do. Two brilliant scientists, Ben and Rachel Matheson (Juliet Mitchell), escape violent Chicago, where people now kill for food or  because they feel like it.  Rachel voluntarily becomes a hostage in the rogue Monroe Nation (who want her scientific skills) while Ben and their daughter, Charlie, and son, Danny, take refuge in a housing development/pioneer village in the middle of nowhere.   Years later, the army finds and kills Ben and kidnaps Danny, and Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) resolves to get her brother back, with the help of friends and family.

The first season is a bit like Lord of the Rings, only set in America, with guerilla operations, sword fights, and a trip to the eerie power plant.  The characters are well-developed, and the dialogue is very witty.  Juliet Mitchell (from Lost and V) is stunning as Rachel Matheson, the brilliant scientist who may be able to turn the power back on.  And Billy Burke is superb as Miles Matheson, her brother-in-law, a cynical Iraq war vet who is “good at killing” and who left the Monroe Nation when it got too crazy.  His niece Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) persuades him to quit tending bar in Chicago (by inadvertently blowing his cover) and help them find Danny.  Charlie is the moral compass, opposed to war and killing unless absolutely necessary.

Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) in “Revolution”

In the second season, the focus of the show is Rachel’s idyllic hometown, Willoughby, Texas, for which the U.S. “patriots” have sinister plans And so the Mathesons must continue to resist.

Oh, dear, couldn’t NBC bring the show back?


After a death in the family, what do you bring home?

“Get something,” I begged my husband.  “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

I know of what I speak.  After my mother’s death,  I took the photo albums and a small chest filled with obituaries.  A few years later, I was sorry I had left the large round carved oak table in the basement.  But how did they get it into the basement in the first place?

My husband came home with a plastic tray filled with Holy Cards and bookmarks.  Oh dear, we are so alike.

I am now using a holy card with a picture of the Pope as a bookmark in  Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour.