Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Seniors and Soul

Being an older woman in an ageist culture is a lot like wearing an evening gown to a baseball game or being a vegetarian at a pig roast. I’m used to not fitting in. At sixteen, I was reading Shakespeare when other girls were thumbing through the pages of fashion magazines. I always cared about what in another century was called “the life of the mind” and wore the wrong shoes while caring. I remember Gloria Steinem’s famous remark in 1974 when told she didn’t look forty – “This is what forty looks like – we’ve been lying for so long who would know?” Women are still lying about their age, with botox and surgery. I remember the stereotypes of dear biddies with lace doilies everywhere and a propensity for tea drinking. The doily darlings were my grandmother’s generation. Except for special occasions, I practically live in jeans and a sweatshirt and I’ll take a cold beer over hot tea any day. Often, I receive left-handed compliments like “You look pretty trim for a woman your age.” I’m trying to imagine me saying to Wolfgang Puck, “That was a superb duck confit, for a partially balding man.”

The thing that bothers me most about America’s collective aging phobia is its soullessness. What else can obsessive concern about your face and body looking young be called? And how else can those scarily emotionless faces locked from surgeries be described? I saw a funny, bizarre, and totally wonderful film last night. Written and directed by Sophie Barthes and starring Paul Giamatti, “Cold Souls” is about “soul trafficking.” Giamatti plays an actor who puts his soul in storage and rents the soul of a Russian poet but he finds he misses his own soul and wants it back. Here's a quote from Salman Rushdie: “There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self. To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.” Best self and soul seem synonymous. Each of us, whether writers or waiters, has a “best self” that comes from within, not from fashion and facelifts. I recognize my soul when I am praying or writing, easily and gratefully. No surgery required.