In Passing

Today I passed an older resident on her way out of our building as I was coming in.

As I automatically prompted myself to say “Good morning,” I was aware of the conditioning that I learned growing up to respect those older than me kicking in, still, so many years later.

I was the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of two very stylish, very elegant women. I was taught, when with them and my mother, to hold the door for them to enter, or to step aside and honor their age. “Age before beauty!” was the motto that I learned.

I carry that in my system, alongside so many familial and societal conditionings. This one, I do not mind. I love it, in fact. I carry the tradition on easily.

As this woman passed by and returned my greeting with elegance and dignity and a public manner that is becoming extinct, I was moved, as I often am, by my sense of the world of experience that she carries within her.

I say becoming extinct, because the generation of my great-grandmother has passed away. My grandparents’ peers are probably almost all gone. Those of my parents’ generation do remain, but it is a fifty-fifty chance of whether or not they carried forward the kind of public demeanor and carriage that the woman has this morning. Perhaps she was my grandparent’s age. It is hard for me to gauge age. I feel eternally young inside, so often relate to others as if I am still that 14 year old. I passed her as if she was my Great-Grandmother. She was my Grandmother’s age, I think. Or maybe even my mom’s.

When I am her age, will someone pass by me and find something in my manner or expression that leads her to remember her grandmother’s generation’s “quaint” or old-fashioned ways? Or will I not even see her because I am still texting or taking selfies, even though I am sure in 20- 30 years those things will long-since been replaced by newer ways of communicating?

I wonder where such things are headed. What of my ways today will be no longer be observed on the whole when I am that woman’s age.

Will there be someone around my age now who appreciates the “old ways” as I do now?

I hope so.

I send her my appreciation in advance. I hope that when she passes me, we have an exchange, and she feels somehow touched by me on a deeper, human level.

#generations #customs #appreciation #olderpeoplerock

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Forever Young

I was with family this past Memorial Day weekend, and it was eye-opening.

I have often noted through the years the many things that get stirred up when I visit family. I know that we all tend to regress when we “go home.” For my recovery over the years I have had to pay close attention to this: going home was always a minefield emotionally. I had to learn to prepare and take care of myself while home.

All the old stuff would resurface, seemingly immediately, upon stepping onto Houston soil.

Often, it centered around my body and appearance. Depending on how I was feeling in my body, I would have negative thoughts and distorted thinking about how my body looked and also about how much others were thinking about how I looked.

I learned not to look in mirrors. To not trust the voices in my head that told me I had become monstrous overnight. I worked hard to distinguish the voices from my own “core,” and to be able to trust that “they” were not “real.”

It was painful, but over time, I have healed much of the sources of the genesis of those voices. They were, in their twisted way, a way for my psyche to protect itself from other much more complex feelings. Feelings that felt way out of my control and way out of my coping capabilities at the time.

I have also come to know that some of what I was feeling underneath it all was shame. I would feel shame around my family about how I looked and how I was. Who I was. I would not been able to name it as such then. It was just how I felt. It actually felt like “me.” But I know now it was shame.

Thankfully, with a great deal of personal work, I have had many visits home in the past several years where those voices were a very low murmur. Sometimes, they were totally quiet. Sometimes they flared up, but I had the relief of knowing that they were not “real.” It made a huge difference. I was not a victim to them. I could observe them and know the truth.

So imagine my surprise when, on this visit, I noticed a totally new form of that old shame.

This shame? It actually had to do with the shame of having gotten older.

I could not believe it. I actually felt ashamed for having aged.

In reflecting on this, I realize that as I am the youngest, when I am around my aunts and uncle, I have been carrying this sense of responsibility somehow to stay young forever. To stay that little girl. Well, my physical appearance belies that illusion. I will always remain the youngest in relation to them, but I am no longer young by any means.

So why the shame? I know that our culture creates an atmosphere of shame around aging, so it makes sense. But around my own loved ones? Wow. That just blew me away.

I actually had to stop myself from apologizing for having aged. I am still trying to process that. I have some unraveling to do for sure.

For now, I breathe and find compassion, once again, for the young parts in me that still feel like all of my value is tied up in my looks.

I take myself by the hand yet again and say, “I love you, just as you are right now.” It is a ceremony of self-love, and if I were to do it a million times, it would still never be enough.

Inspired by The Daily Post: ceremony

A Wrinkle in Mine

I recently got sent to a casting that actually welcomed wrinkles.

(Full disclosure: I am still not sure how I feel about being invited to attend the casting!)

Here is the actual wording of the casting notice:

These men and women are portraying people who were leftover hippies in their youth. They were drug users back in the day; this is how they contracted Hepatitis C. Bright Eyes are important. Somewhat weathered faces would be beautiful.

Now, there are some pretty “out there” notices that come across one’s computer. I have seen some real doozies. The wording used for many women’s roles can be pretty atrocious. (Also, those dealing with race and skin tone.) There is actually a blog that collects such notices, to “out” the people writing such sexist descriptions called Casting Call Woe.

This issue has gotten some press over the last few years, and there has been a commitment by some in the industry to do better. Rachel Bloom took a poke at this with a hilarious-in-a-sad-but-true kind of way in a well-publicized tweet in 2016.

I think the above notice handled things pretty gracefully, I think. It is unusual for “weathered” and “beautiful” to be in the same sentence in the advertising world. Knowing the casting director for that job, I am not surprised that the notice was so sensitive. If only they all were.

I have come along way in choosing to move through the remainder of my time on this planet with dignity, passion, grace and creativity. I am committed to being a part of changing the way our society views aging and older people.

And yet, I get called in for such a casting, and I admit it: I am relieved that I was not cast.

Sigh. I guess I have more work to do around this issue.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: wrinkle

On Agelessness*

* I was inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: age to re-visit a blog post from last year after an incident this morning further pointed out to me my continued sensitivity around this issue.

On this fine morning, I went to the grocery store after a run. I was wearing a NYC Marathon shirt, and the man ahead of me in line had one on as well and sparked up a conversation. He nicely offered me participation in a neighborhood running group. I asked if it had a variety of levels of runners (I am not a fast runner,) to which he said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a woman who everyone loves who is your age. Yeah, there’s lots of people your age.”

Now the thing is, I was thinking we were pretty near in age. I certainly wasn’t thinking I was in some whole other generation than him! Yikes!

Clearly, I have more work to do.

You see, I discovered two years ago that I am severely prejudiced.

It was a shock. I didn’t know that lurking within me were truly vile and discriminatory feelings and thoughts about a huge portion of the human race.

I didn’t know I was an ageist.

According to Wikipedia: Ageism (also spelled “agism”) is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.

Lemme back up. I was having an especially terrific day.

There are days when, as an actor, you are just filled with joy because you feel so in the flow. This was one of those days.

I was on my way from a great voice lesson. I had a while to do an errand and then later was going to rehearse and then do a staged reading of a very special play that held deep personal value for me, with amazing fellow actors. What could be better than that?

I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some kale (what is it about me and the grocery store and this issue?!) I was at the register when it happened. The woman checking me out said the following words:

“Do you qualify for the 55+ discount?”

I was shocked. Then outraged. Then mortified. And ashamed. In that order. Appalled and dripping with disgust, I looked at her.

“What?! Do I look like I’m 55?!! Oh. My. God. Kill me now.”

(Yes, I actually said “Kill me now.”)

Poor thing tried to backpedal it.

“Oh, I just thought…you eat so healthy…so maybe…”

Which made it worse, because she was inadvertently inferring that I’m actually older looking than 55 but eating so well that it doesn’t show?!

I left the store, kale in hand, attempting not to spin out on this.

I wanted to enjoy the rest of my day, but knowing myself and how my brain works around such things, I knew I had a triage situation in regard to my frail ego.

First, I tried different paths of logic. Oh, she didn’t really take me in before she said that. She probably says that to every one, right? I don’t look my age. Everyone says so. And my real age is not 55, so she obviously didn’t even take me in.

I’d slip into anger occasionally.

How irresponsible of her. They really shouldn’t let those cashiers  offer that discount willy-nilly. They are just asking for it!

By the time I got home, there was a new voice inside making itself known. A voice that said, “Hey, you. What’s so bad about being associated with being 55?”

I mean, truthfully, the level of disgust I felt at the mere suggestion that I could ever be 55!

I began to examine this, go deeply into it. I discovered that being over 65 felt OK. I mean, I know I’m going to be a rocking 65-year-old.

And 70? Look out! I want to be one of those cool Septuagenarians who astounds people with their vitality and continued accomplishments.

But 51-64? I want no part of THAT club. No way.

Where did this come from? This abhorrence of people those ages? I wasn’t born rejecting a whole segment of the population. How did this hidden inner belief system come to be so strong in me?

And better yet, what can I do about it now that I know about it?

I don’t want to feel such a distaste for any of the years I am lucky enough to have ahead. I thought I had embraced ageing when it first started appearing in my mid 40’s…I looked at how I felt about it then and really thought I had decided I was gonna forge a new pathway for generations of women to come by embracing my later ages. By celebrating the changes as they came. By being a vibrant, sexy woman at EVERY age.

I thought I had decided that I was gonna be a one-woman revolution and reject societal, cultural pressure to look young no matter what the cost for as long as possible. To be on TV and in films at my age and not be ashamed or embarrassed because I am not young anymore. To blaze trails. To be a part of a change that embraces beauty at every age instead of the age-shaming we are bombarded with from infancy through all forms of media.

I thought I had chosen this path.

Little did I know that sure, I was great with aging as long as I still looked 38-48. That was cool.

Little did I know that when I looked in the mirror, reviewing the changes I could see, there was this part of my brain that must have decided “Sure, this is acceptable. I can live with THIS.” But that all the while that seeming acceptance actually held a hidden silent caveat: “As long as it doesn’t get worse than THIS.”

How insane it seems now. But that must have been the invisible internal logic.

Oy.

I can’t stay frozen in time. I cannot choose the face I will keep for the remainder of my life in this body.

My face and body WILL continue to change as time progresses. I am like every other human who has ever lived and aged.

But. I can choose all of the things I thought I chose before. I CAN embrace. I CAN blaze a trail. I can be a one-woman revolution.

I can choose to reject what advertisers and media cram into my psyche on a practically moment-by-moment basis. Anti-aging, this, anti-aging that. (“Anti-” opposed to, against!)

I do not have to believe/embrace or live from the beliefs that:

After 40 it is all downhill. Middle age is something to dread and fear. Women become invalid and invisible once they hit menopause. Life is meant for the young. Old people have no relevance. Old people cannot remember things. Old people are “out of it” when it comes to modern technologies or cultural references. Blah, blah, blah.

Bullshit. It is all designed to make me fear getting old and to buy skin creams and such as if my life depends on it.

When I shared my grocery store story with a friend, she said she could relate to my outrage. She said she wasn’t going to age “without a fight.”

But I don’t want feel like there’s anything TO fight, you know?

Or rather, I am gonna fight. But not aging.

I’m gonna fight Ageism.

Look out, world. Here I come! Who is with me?!

To find out more about ageism: www.legacyproject.org

#beautifulateveryage

Steady Pace

He rubbed his knee quite gingerly, as if to say, “Come on, old Boy. We’ve come this far. Just a bit more to go,” before rising to head out for his daily constitutional.

Once up, he paused a moment, giving his body’s sundry parts time to adjust to the height, though in his mind, he was already half way down the street.

And once his body was ready, he started out, one step at a time.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: gingerly