Monday, March 25, 2013

Gettin' Older... Movin' Faster??

HALLIE EPHRON: In my new book, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, one of the two main characters is a 91-year-old woman. When I tell people this, they ask how can you write a character who is so old?

She's based loosely on my mother-in-law, Freda Touger. Freda died when she was 91, a few days after taking one of her routine subway rides from Brooklyn to Manhattan and walking from Lincoln Center to the Donnell Library where there were free events for seniors. She missed the friends who used to go with her and who had mostly faded from her life.

Did she feel old? Sure she had aches and pains and had less patience for foolishness, but she said she felt basically like the same person she was when she was 8, or 28, or 58. What had changed, she said, was that time seemed to pass much more quickly.

I know just what she meant by feeling like I'm the same person (that's me at 8), and that surprise of looking in the mirror and finding that I'm not.

So here's my question. Do you feel you're changing or are you, too, the same person you were when you were eight?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: First off, bless Freda for still taking the subway and wanting to go out at her age. We all should be so active and engaged.

Two answers ( I always hate it when my husband does this, so either I've picked it up from him or there really are at least two answers to every question.) In many way I'm still the same person I was at sixteen. Scary, since most sixteen year olds aren't known for their common sense. Wisdom, good judgment, etc. I will still talk to strangers, dance around the house and start singing in elevators when properly motivated.

I'm probably most like me at thirty. Wise, dignified.
Aren't I?

LUCY BURDETTE: Where's the second answer Ro, did I miss it?

Time definitely flies by at this age, that much is certain. But in many ways, I too feel like the person I was at thirty. (Let's not even talk about those teenage years--such agony!)

You know what's changed the most? My time schedule. I chose my classes in college according to how late they allowed me to sleep in--because I was up until one or two in the morning. (Until I reached organic chemistry, where 8 am was the only option.) Now the only reason I'd be up at 2 am would be a trip to bathroom:).

Ah yes, the second answer. No. Every day and every way I'm learning more and hopefully turning into a better person.

RHYS BOWEN: I got an email from one of my fans saying"I just saw your photo and until then I thought you were 21 like Lady Georgie." I was flattered that I'd created a twenty one year old so convincingly, but when I thought about it, I still do feel that I'm twenty one.

I have to remind myself not to jump over that chain across the track. But I still swing on swings, slide down the slide and generally behave as if I'm still five. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who put my grandmother's photo there. But time has speeded up. It was Christmas, and now it's Easter and the year is rushing toward next year. And I don't know how to slow it down....

One of the many reasons I so loved Hallie's new book, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, was her portrayal of Mina, the title character. Mina is ninety-one, but she doesn't feel old. 

Well, neither do I, although I have a bit to go before I reach ninety-one. Since I was a child I've wondered if there was a certain point when you began to feel "old." In some ways, I think I feel younger than I did in my thirties. Those were the "mum" years, but once your children are grown there's a sense of liberation. I still feel a tremendous sense of enthusiasm about learning new things, and doing new things.

But there is also that sense of time speeding up, of knowing there are going to be limits to your experience. That's bittersweet.

P.S., Lucy, my body clock hasn't changed. Maybe I have being an "early bird" to look forward to!

Why do we have the sensation that time speeds by as you grow older? Is it because once you're settled into your adult life, the year-to-year touchstones are the same? I mean, my family has had basically the same Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving every year for the past decade. We do many of the same things each summer, year after year.

Or is it because there are so many more memories to access? When you're twenty, you have maybe fifteen springs you can recall. When you're sixty... Perhaps whenn we say, "It's spring again? So soon?" it's because we can so readily envision last spring, and the spring before, and the spring before.

Or maybe, you know, time really DOES speed up. We need a physicist to look into this!

So, Hallie's question: I've changed for the better as I've grown older (my knees excepted.) I feel much more confident, much more comfortable with stating my mind and setting my own needs front and center. That sounds kind of selfish, but all of you know that when you're a young woman, being unequivocally opinionated and putting yourself first is almost unthinkable!

I look forward to becoming a "I-can't-believe-she-just-said-that" old broad. At the same time, in my head? I'm somewhere in my thirties. The weather warms up and I get the urge to strap on the shoes and go running, and I have to remind myself, no, I can't do that anymore.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Time clearly speeds up. Summer used to be forever. A kid could be--"bored." When was the last time you were "bored"? I can't even imagine.

In college, we had forever. (And that t-shirt says "Sigma Chi. THAT was a long time ago.)

I'm in the second half of my life, my husband too. I honestly can't think about it. There used to be "all the time in the world." Now--that feels short. So I dont think about it. Much.

How I'm different? I'm careful with people. I think--five years from now, a week from now--will that matter? If not.. then, so what.

I got hit with the physical part when I decided to take a ballet class several years ago. After all, it's like riding a bike, right? (Another thing I cannot do.) Anyway, ballet. My body simply would not do it. I could envision it, I could imagine it, but I could not do it. Game over.

The good news--I'm a little more confident. A little. But time is FLYING by.
HALLIE: So how about the rest of you? Do you feel as if time is ganging up on you or flying past? 


  1. I simply don’t understand that whole “feeling older” thing since I cannot honestly say I don’t feel any older. I recognize that I am . . . more things to remember, to look back on . . . but I don’t “feel” older . . . or different . . . or [unfortunately] wiser. Just a larger sense of déjà vu, of “been there, done that” . . . and an appreciation for having the time that I have had, coupled with an optimistic looking forward to what comes next . . . .

  2. Maybe we're not old enough yet to "feel older," Joan - because I agree with you. But who's that person in the mirror???

  3. My grandmother, who lived to be 86, raised four children and was widowed during the depression, always said she still felt just the same as she did when she was a girl. And I remember her saying that sometimes she wondered who that person was when she looked in the mirror...

  4. Debs, speaking of time clock--it's funny to have you in London, because you're what, 6 hours ahead? So you're actually on the same schedule as me and Hallie:).

    Hank, that's sad about the ballet class but I believe it--ballet is so demanding. Meant for young bodies I think.

  5. Pertinent topic! Sure, time is racing by - otherwise how could it be almost April when it was JUST Christmas?

    I do feel young inside but, like Ro, I also know I'm learning so much that I didn't know before, and that feels great.

    The body is the real signpost - when I see my 24 year-old son go bounding up stairs or I watch my 26 year-old son go out running with his girlfriend, I remember the feeling of doing that. And I know that not only can I not do that today, I'm never going to be able to do it again, and that makes me sad. I used to be so active - ballet (but not as an adult, Hank!), karate (black belt at age 31), dancing, hiking. I even ran the Boston marathon (once) in 1998.

    So I guess acceptance is part of getting older and I wasn't as good at that in earlier years. I can accept the value of a good brisk walk, and I can still dance, so there!

  6. Time is speeding up every year, in my experience. And no, I can't remember the last time I was bored. Hahaha!

    What I love about being not-twenty is being more confident about what I know and what I'm good at. And being able to say, "I'm 42, I don't have to do that if I don't want to" (for instance, when my company wants me to share a hotel room when on company travel; uh-uh).

    Of course, hand-in-hand with that is the dawning understanding of what I can't do anymore, like Hank's ballet, Julia's running. But I wouldn't go back....

  7. You CAN dance, Edith - I've witnessed it! Hopefully we'll all be out on the dance floor, shaking out booties again at the New England Crime Bake this fall.

    I know people who've taken up piano for the first time, late in life. That seems as incomprehensible as ballet.

    Am I the only one who groans when I have to deal with a new gee-whiz electronic device or "upgrade"? Remind me of my mother in law who had a terrible time figuring out our dial-shaped shower control.

  8. Tammy -- Hang on! You are just getting started!!

  9. Maybe we're all in denial. My Dad said before he died at 87 that he still felt like the same teenager who'd been suspended from high school for smoking in 1931.

    Possible answer: At 18, one year is more than 5% of your life. It seems like a long time.

    At 57, one year is 1.7% of your life and seems to pass quicker.

  10. I loved the Mina character. The book made me think about how rare it is to meet fully realized elderly people in books. So many times they are either written as generic "old people" or patronized as cute little old ladies. While Mina was certainly cute, she was portrayed without a hint of condescension.
    I'm not looking forward to being patronized that way some day, but do intend to be more badly behaved and eccentric in response. : )

  11. well if it makes you feel any better Hank, I took ballet lessons from age 3 to age 12 and I really couldn't do ballet then either. I was the only five year old in the class who COULD NOT do a split.

    Although I could kick ass with my tap shoes.

    There is nothing like a journal kept all through your teenage years to show you that you ARE NOT the same person - THANK GOD, that you were when you were a teenager.

    I don't feel older, but I feel a lot wiser.

    Hallie, I can't wait to get your book it sounds terrific.

    And Jack, yes, we are all in denial. Me, most of all. It's the only way to get through life!

  12. Jack: Let's hear it for DENIAL!

    Jan, I'll just bet you were a terrific tap dancer. Hank, did you consider taking tap instead? I want to learn to Samba.

    Karen, THANK YOU for the vote of confidence!! I agree, too often old characters patronized.

    I was inspired by Walter Mosley's wonderful THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY.

  13. My mother's 87 and she says "oh honey, it just gets worse." I heard an NPR story exploring that sense that time goes faster as we get older, and the researchers said it was because we have more experiences in our memory bank. We've done the Christmas to Easter to summer and back cycle so many times that the cyclic sense revs up.

  14. I don't know whether that explanation is scary or reassuring... I do keep trying to slow things down. Savor the moments.

  15. I've missed this blog. Life has been intruding and I haven't been able to get in and read this as often as I'd like. But I'm still reading books!

    Ahh, age! Now that I'm into my early 60s I have begun to look at "old age" as being where my mother is, 93. Earlier in my life I remember the "don't trust anyone over 30." I blew past that eons ago! But time certainly does go by quickly.

    I actually feel much better than I did at 50. I've lost over 200 pounds and that makes a big difference, let me tell you! Of course keeping it off is a struggle and that's where I feel being 60. It takes more to exercise than it did at 20 or 30. (Or 40 or 50.) But I did start taking a yoga class at 60. Pretty proud of myself.

    Can't wait to read about Mina.

  16. Of course, then we writers go complicate things by living in a different season on the page than it is in real life. I was genuinely confused for a moment yesterday when my mother asked about Easter -- I had the Summer Art Fair on the brain ...

    (Which must be what my captcha means by "workeyd.")

  17. I can't imagine how fast times going to seem when I'm in my 70s. Yikes!

    I'm still my 30-something self, and it's funny because I'm starting to get the weird look from younger adults when I converse with them. It's like they expect me speak "old" or something. Has anyone else experienced that?

  18. 200 POUNDS?!?! Wow. I'll BET you're feeling better, Marianne. For me that would be harder than learning ballet. Or maybe not...

  19. Interesting, Lisa - My kids don't expect me to "speak old" but they get very freaked or crack up and look at me like I'm cray-cray if I speak too young.

  20. I LOVED loved loved THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN. Loved it the first time I read it, loved it even more the second time. (Receiving ARCs from favorite writers is one of the things I love most about my life). And I have to say - I'm enjoying my life right now more than I ever have. I like who I am now more than I liked my younger self. I'm more fit than I've ever been having finally discovered I love to exercise and go to the gym several times a week. I wasted a lot of precious time focusing on the wrong things when I was younger. I was, I do believe, born to be a retired person. But, like the rest of you, recognize that time rushes by now - and I hate that part of being older.

  21. Kaye, you may be getting older but you're also getting sweeter. You're also the working-est retired person I've even seen.

  22. When I look in the mirror, I still see the same young woman I saw when I was sixteen.

    It's when I go to the hair salon that I feel old. When I stand up after a trim the floor is a-glitter with sliver hair and I think, huh? That's mine? My dearheart stylist laughs every time and tells me not to worry, she just cut all the gray hair off!

    And Julia, yep, the knees are another hint that the years are adding up.

    My Mom is 91 and still has the positive outlook and musical laugh of a girl. That joie de vivre is the quality I hope I have when I'm an old woman.

  23. I'll bet your mom was always a peach, Brenda.

    I've noticed that as people age they often become more "themselves." I confess this has me worried.

  24. Yeah, the "themselves" element--actually, I am looking forward to fiding out what that is.

    Hallie--cray-cray? Bwa ha ha.. :-)

    Marianne--hurray for you!! xoo Looking in the mirror must be wonderful!

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  26. I was passing by the mirror the other day and saw my grandmother, my mother's mother, looking back. It was the strangest thing. Another day the same thing happened, only I saw my great-grandmother in the mirror. So strange... she was my mother's father's mother. How does this happen?

    I don't think I've ever felt my age. When I was young I felt very old. When I got older-ish I felt much too young. Like Debs, having grown children was very liberating. When I was 45, I went back to grad school and started a new career in medical education. I am on disability leave now, and they're going to retire me on July 1st. Huh?

    Retired? That is a scary word. Much scarier word than disabled. I just cannot think of myself as retired. I have to keep at something. Work is so identity giving. To be able to call yourself something is very different than calling yourself retired. I need a new self-vocabulary.

  27. OH, yes, Reine.. a few years ago I saw my mother out of the corner of my eye. In the mirror. I thought--whoa, Mom's here!

    And then I realized--it was me.

  28. I still think of myself as 25 or 26 although I'm in my mid sixties. Years ago an older friend who was then in her seventies told me that the secret to growing old gracefully is to "never look in the mirror"! She said that she still felt like she was twenty-one...until she looked in the mirror. I have the slight disadvantage that I look a little younger than I am and am told that I have a "young-sounding" voice, so that when I want to be taken seriously as a sixty something year old, people laugh and think I'm joking about my age.

    The biggest change that age has brought is that I am much more outspoken than I was twenty or even fifteen years ago. I've been at my current job for sixteen years. They joke sometimes "remember how peaceful it was here when Deb was quiet and had no opinions?" I THINK they're joking! I still think of myself as a quiet person and am very happy to be quiet when I want to be and outspoken when I want to be.

    Time DOES seem to be passing more quickly, and that sometimes frightens me ... there are so many things I still want to do, and I don't know if I will have the time! I've already outlived my dad by nine years, and in twelve years I'll be the age my mom was when she died. Since I do not want to retire until I'm in my mid seventies, I hope to be starting a whole new chapter in my life twelve years from now, and NOT wrapping things up!:-)I am in much better health than my parents ever were, though, and the most annoying medical issue for me is having inherited a spine that has ideas of its own. I am willing to live with the problems that that brings if I can be in good health overall.

  29. I find I grow younger mentally as I grow older. I often see my mother in my mirror when I look - she was about 28, old old old, to a kid then. I belong to a senior center at the 92 Y but frankly I find it hard to relate to most people there - I am about 30 and they often think in terms of their aging. Well, that's one of the benefits of being a creative mystery writer! Thelma in Manhattan

  30. It isn't "just in your head." (Although I agree that younger people have less of a life time for reference. And they have fewer mental files to dig through when trying to remember something--but that is another discussion!)
    I have read that the earth has an actual pulse. A regular rhythm like our heartbeats. And it has been speeding up. So, our subjective sense that time is hurrying along is backed up by the objective data of science.
    And why is it that I look into the mirror and see my mother?!

  31. About twelve years ao I had to run an errand one Saturday in the city where I grew up. I don't get there very often so I decided to combine it with a visit to an aunt whom I had not seen in about three years. The entire time I was at her house I kept getting the feeling that I had seen her more recently than three years earlier. When I returned home later that day, I happened to catch a look at myself in the mirror - and there was my aunt's face! (Actually, she's young enough to be my sister but she IS older than I am! She called me for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and told me that she can't believe she has such an old niece!)

    Libby, that's very interesting...and food for thought...about the earth's pulse.

  32. I'm 71 and feel a little bit offended when a writer mentions an elderly woman and she is 70. Just wait until you get there. You will be amazed at how young you feel. I'm considering reading only writers who are at least over 60. I have not yet read, there was an old woman, but I must. I'll be in Florida soon so maybe Haslam's will have it.