Creative Women Doing Sixty: Old Age Is ...
When I turned 40 someone sent me a postcard with Bette Davis holding a pillow stitched with the words Old Age Ain’t No Place For Sissies. It was like a battle cry for me to do something with my life. So, I finished a degree I had started when I was 18, learned to tap dance and drive a car, got married and moved to Canada.
In my 50s, I became a published author (my mother always said I could if I just put my head to it), divorced the guy I came to Canada for, and began a career as a job consultant for the unemployed. I thought all of that would surely qualify me for non-sissy-hood.
But then I turned 60. Sissy-hood seemed like a good out. There was no denying the first part of that quote now. I was into Old Age. It was official. I was surprised how deeply it affected me. I started to sink into conversations with myself on mortality and varicose veins. And I didn’t write a word. It was all very scary.
Thankfully, two things happened to turn me around.
First, I received a shoebox in the mail that contained all the letters I had sent my family during my decade in Europe in the 1970s. My mom had saved them all for more than 40 years. When she died, my sister sent them off to me with the note, “You should do something with these.”
Second, Beth McAuley began the Writers Support Package at The Editing Company and persuaded me (gently but firmly) to sign up. Together, she said, we would manage to pull the stories that lived in those letters out of me and onto the page.
It wasn’t easy.
At the first meeting, I examined all the reasons why this wouldn’t work. I hadn’t written for ten years ... so on and so on … Then there were some memories in those letters that made me want to hide under the covers for the next ten years ...
Beth listened then gave me my first assignment. Write five pages to expel all these demons of self-doubt. It worked, for the moment.
I felt like I hardly knew that 20-something-year-old-young woman who appeared in those letters. How could I from the perspective of this 60-something, definitely “older” woman, tell her story? But who was I not to?
As I started to write an interesting thing happened. I began to finally appreciate what I had done in the 1970s and what I was doing now. I became more understanding and kinder towards that Annie. I even forgave her some of the bad choices she made. I don’t think that would have happened if I had written these stories in my 30s or 40s or even 50s. I needed the new lens that my 60 years of life had given me to focus on her. I could now see in the letters and in the memories that have lived in my head all these years, this interesting, gutsy, sweet young woman who lived those adventures in the 1970s. The process of writing validated that experience then and the one I was having now.
Bette Davis was right. Old Age is definitely not for sissies. It’s for creating.
About Ann Eyerman
Ann has just completed her manuscript for Annie’s Odyssey, a collection of stories about her travels in Europe in the 1970s. Ann’s first book Women in the Office was published by Sumach Press (2000). In addition to writing, she coaches unemployed clients on the best approach to job search, creating a winning resume, preparing for interviews and keeping the faith in a bad economy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @AnnEyerman. For more about Annie’s Odyssey, visit Ann’s blog at http://anneyerman.wordpress.com/