When I was in my twenties, my mother told me about a woman she had met in San Francisco who was in her fifties and still wore jeans. This shocked, delighted, and intrigued me, all at the same time—fifty was old. Fifty was middle-aged spread. Fifty was stodgy. Fifty wore jeans?
Thirty years later, when I was in my fifties and still a slender smoker, I wore jeans that were the cast-offs of a willowy boy who was a bookstore colleague. When I stopped smoking and gained weight, I gave those jeans away and bought others. It’s never occurred to me to stop wearing them, except in Thailand where the heat makes them uncomfortable.
This is not the old age that I envisioned when I was in my twenties. It’s much, much better than that.
Soon after I turned sixty-five at the end of last year, I had lunch with a friend who mentioned the well-worn perception that time moved more rapidly with age. In a burst of the idiot’s satori for which I’m sometimes noted, I replied, “Yes. It’s because that’s when we’re at our happiest.”
He looked surprised and I had to back up the statement that had come thoughtlessly but quite certainly to mind. As we begin to age, we have the time to do all the things that responsibilities constrained us from doing when we were young, busy with children, jobs, husbands or lovers. Appearance took time—buying make-up, dressing for what the world expected of us, cooking regular meals. As we get older, every day unfolds like a birthday when we can usually do pretty much anything we want. There’s time for writing or painting or sculpting or photography, unbroken, uninterrupted time. If we’re still in our pyjamas, unkempt and unshowered at the end of a day of exploring what we can do, nobody will know except perhaps the UPS man. And it will have been a very good day.
And if we choose to end it with salted caramel ice cream and a glass or two of Pinot Noir, we can. Stay up until 4 am watching episodes of The Wire or reading Gone Girl from cover-to-cover in one sitting? No problem.
This was undreamed of bliss when I was a young mother in my twenties.
A magazine (oh all right—it was More, but I do read the New Yorker and the Atlantic too) recently had a list of statistics about various stages in a woman’s life. Although a Harris Poll found that women are at the perfect age, according to women from the ages of 18-36, when they are 38, they are happiest, says Social Indicators Research, at 74.
Nine years to go—and I’m pretty damned happy right now. The sun’s out, my cold is going away, and waiting for me in my bedroom is a pair of brand new, completely perfect jeans.