Since I am older than just about anyone else I know these days (older cousins excluded), let me pass on a few things.

1) Your night vision goes straight to hell. I used to get very exasperated driving behind older people at night as they poked along. Payback is a bitch, guys. When it first started to happen to me, I kept wiping my eyes because it seemed like I was looking through dark gauze. Nah, just aging eyes. It's actually easier to drive in the country than in the city. Well, as long as no one is tailgating me. In the city the lights can be very distracting. In the country it's just you and your headlights. And oncoming traffic. And the guy behind you. But it's still easier than the city. Of course in bad weather it's all bad. You have been warned advised.

2) Your joints. Kiss them good-bye. Now admittedly mine are much worse than yours are most likely going to be thanks to lupus and whatnot, but even before that hit it was Creak-o-rama. As it was with my friends. It was pretty funny when we'd get together and the joint would be popping. So to speak.

3) You lose the padding on your feet. Really. Probably later than I did, again thanks to autoimmune diseases, but it does happen. For the past two years I was experiencing a lot of pain when I went barefoot and incredible pain even in socks if I stepped on something innocuous like a cord or something. I felt like I was walking on the bones of my feet. And it turns out that I was! Validation is good even when it's weird. I had no idea that it was also going to be a part of the aging process. Probably not until the 70s for the rest of you.

4) You still get freaking hot flashes. Females, anyway. Now part of that, again, is lupus doing its demonic thing with my body's ability to regulate my body temp, but even before that - yup, hot flashes. Not as frequent or as intense as during perimenopause, but they're still hanging on.

5) Skin. It's actually kind of fascinating how the elasticity and the texture of your skin changes over time. I don't think it's a bad thing at all, but it's a definite change. I honestly love how my hands look now with all of the creases and lines: It's like they're made from fine crepe. I don't know how to say this tactfully because I don't want it to sound mean, but I'm truly disappointed that I won't be around to see all of your tattoos in another 30 or 40 years. I wonder how they'll transform?

6) This last is mostly for me, but maybe some of you have had surgical work done. I had major surgery done on my jaw and mouth back in 1989. I have pins in my jaw and a metal plate in my chin; my jaw was moved back, the top of my palate was sliced and repositioned. It was a big deal. It was also 24 years ago. My bones have shrunk; the hardware is old. My jaw pretty much has a life of its own now. That thought that aging was going to affect the surgical changes decades down the road was never brought up. I'm not sure it was even considered.

7) Your aging body changes. You shrink. I didn't want to believe it, either! I remember talking with cousin Barbara about four years ago, laughing together as she told me how outraged she was to find out that she shrunk 1 1/2 inches. She yelled at her doctor :) "That can't be right! I'm very active. I eat right. I take care of my health!" Heh. And now it's my turn. I'm an inch shorter than I was a few years ago. Of all the changes that come with aging, this is the one that really bites me. Crazy, but there it is.

And now, since our power came back just a while ago (Yes! Yes! Yes!) I'm going to have something not microwaved to eat, and then I'm going to settle in for Game of Thrones. Life is good.
I had the great good fortune to be able to spend my last undergraduate semester as part of the Wesleyan University Program in Germany. (It was called WUPG and pronounced Whoopie-Gee by all of the participants.) I was thirty-five years old at that time and, of course, much older than the rest of the students. My age and the fact that I was a working-class woman who had just recently fought her way out of homelessness and poverty created a bit of a barrier between me and the young, well-off students who were also in the program that semester. Still, I managed to make friends with a few of the students. One of them, a young woman named Caroline, and I decided to take a short trip to Amsterdam during our semester break.

Amsterdam was a joy. It was a miraculous blend of modern architecture and centuries-old houses wrapped around canals and bridges and brightly colored barges. The Dutch themselves were a breath of fresh air after spending months cheek-by-jowl with the more uptight Germans. As our adviser had told us matter-of-factly before we left on our trip: "The Dutch have been wacky for about a thousand years now." He had that right. Friendly, helpful, relaxed, prone to laughter - they made me feel completely at ease being on my own in a foreign city. And yet the memory that comes first to mind when I think of Amsterdam is at once both more personal and more distressing than anything surrounding it from that trip.

Caroline and I had just left Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, and we were waiting at the corner bus stop along with about five or six other people. I'd found the wax figures to be disturbing (I've never been a fan) and the staging to be dark and disorienting, so I was happy to be out in the sunshine again. Our little crowd was mixed group, but my attention was taken by the elderly (to my eyes then) man dressed to perfection in a cream-colored suit and vest; he was wearing a hat (also light-colored) and I remember that his hat band and his tie were the same color. He was very attractive, as were all the Dutch who we saw (we used to joke that they killed the unattractive at birth, apparently), and in my memory he looked a great deal like the dashing Peter O'Toole. No one else was paying much attention to him - until he suddenly, in distress, gripped the street post; his whole body stiffened and then shuddered slightly. And he began quietly to cry.

I looked down and saw a puddle of urine forming at his feet, and his elegant pants were showing wet streaks. He was devastated, humiliated. No one knew what to do for him, and we all looked away. I didn't know whether to go to him or not, if my acknowledging what happened would just embarrass him more. The younger people were blushing and looked as horrified as he was. I don't even remember what happened after that, whether he joined us on the bus or stayed there, holding onto the post, shaking and weeping. I just know that I've never forgotten it, and I've never recovered from the shame of not knowing what to do to help him in some way. The truth was that then I couldn't imagine what I would do in those circumstances. But now I can.

I'm incontinent. I have been for a few years. It's not a big, shameful secret; it's not the end of the world. It's just a fact of life for me and for many others. To some degree it's a part of aging; it's also exacerbated by the two major surgeries I've had that moved my bladder around and left it sensitive, and it's definitely not helped by lupus, which in my case manifests in muscle weakness and nerve damage. So - I pee when I'm not really intending to. Not always, but often enough that I have to take precautions.

I never leave the house to do even small errands without hitting the bathroom first. If I'm going to be on the road a great deal, I won't take the diuretic that I've been prescribed to help control hypertension caused by disease and medications, and I'll let myself get dehydrated while I'm out and about. I also wear incontinence pads - and may I say here that I give huge, thundering applause to whomever came up with that simple but priceless idea. (I wish that the Dutch gentleman I wrote about had had access to them, but it was a different time.)

I am on occasion frustrated or (yes, I'm going to say it) pissed off when I can't make it to a toilet in time, but I am never embarrassed or ashamed. Because it's biology, not lack of moral character. I have enough things that I do consciously that cause me rightfully to be embarrassed or ashamed; I'm not taking up my time adding to that list things that are beyond my control. And I hope that neither will any of you in similar circumstances. It comes with the territory of living, and I'd rather live with it than give up the territory.

If I could go back to that day, given the experience and understanding that age has brought, I'd like to think that I would calmly approach the man and help him to someplace where he could clean himself up and regain his composure. Then I'd try to reassure him that he was not alone, and that he'd done nothing worth remorse or shame. At least that's what I hope that I'd do.

"Biology is destiny" is a controversial statement in gender studies and politics. But it holds some truth when taken as an argument for the human condition while aging. These things will happen: your hair will gray, your skin will lose elasticity, your muscles will weaken, your joints will ache. You could also have hearing loss, vision loss, mobility loss, muscle loss. None of this or their comorbidities is a failing on your part. My flist is growing up and growing older. I just thought you should hear this from someone a little bit farther up the road from you.
There were any number of odd or amusing moments during the trip that [ profile] sparky77 and I made to the University Health Center in London yesterday, but there was just one overriding theme: everyone we dealt with thought that Q was my daughter. Every time someone pointed out that my daughter could stay in the room, or my daughter could hold onto my things when I switched exam rooms, I was taken aback. I wasn't insulted, because really - who would be insulted by being considered to be a relative of Q's? No, I just couldn't grasp that I looked old enough to be her mother.

The process of aging is concrete, but the perception of aging is subjective. I'm 59 years old, but in my mind's eye - and what I see in the mirror - I'm around 40. And since Q is 30, you can see how I would be a bit shocked that someone thought I gave birth to her when I was 10 :)

It's very strange, this getting old thing. Getting older. Seventy is the new fifty. Sixty is the new forty. Left is the new right and forward is the new back. Blah-de-blah-blah-blah. I don't feel sixty(ish). Not that I know what that should feel like never having been this age before. That I can recall, anyway. I've slowed down not because of age but because of illness. If it weren't for this damn autoimmune nonsense, I'd be out there every day as I was two years ago, working around the paddocks, sprucing up the back field, trying to tame the mess in the garage, pulling weeds - working and enjoying it. My attitude hasn't gone decrepit, only my immune system.

I don't know why this effected me like it did. I'm not invested in looking younger than I am, or at least I didn't believe that I was. I don't dye my hair. I don't dress in styles that you young'uns favor, and no one will ever hear me address anyone else as "dude." In fact, I tend to bristle when someone tells me that a hair style or a clothing style makes me look younger. "Younger than what?" I think. I like looking my age. Except for the fact that my internalized age is closer to 40 than 60, apparently. Maybe it's because my mother died just a few weeks past her 70th birthday. Sixty is almost terminal in that context. She also looked a lot older than I do at the same age of 59. I don't have any friends nearby who are my age, and that's probably skewing my perspective. I'm at least ten years older than everyone I know around here, and more usually twenty years older. I tend to see myself physically mirrored in those around me, which may be something peculiar to me. Also, it just occurred to me that for most of my life I haven't looked my actual age. When I was 12, I could pass for 17. When I was in my 30s, people were shocked to find out that I wasn't in my early 20s. I rarely looked my actual age until recently.

I've been sitting here just thinking about this for the past 10 minutes or so, and I think I'm getting to be all right with this new perspective. I think I kind of like the idea of being thought of as being old enough to have Q as a daughter. Not just Q, of course, anyone her age.

When my friend, Peter B., turned forty, among his many presents was a black and white photo of him blown up to poster size. He was (is) a good looking guy: curly dark hair just starting to go a little salt & pepper, a bit of a clothes horse, the photo captured him staring at the camera through a stream of smoke from his ever-present cigarette, his Hunter S. Thompson-style sunglasses perched on his head. The caption of the photo read: The Quintessential Forty. I've seen great photos of women wearing "This is what 50 looks like" t-shirts. For me, I want the caption to be "Fifty-nine, and I'm fine." Or maybe something I'll come up with later that isn't quite that gag inducing :) I do look my age,and that's what I've always wanted. And as some aging rockers once wrote: You can't always get what you want / but if you try sometimes you might find / you get what you need.

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