These thoughts came to me in the shower so I apologise for the dampness of the post; droplets are still trickling from my wet hair. Earlier as I reviewed the familiar terrain of my body I was reminded of the significance of my recent birthday. There was the undeniable proof of my history and, to my mind, it was ok. I’d always thought that Lucien Freud would have been a good candidate for portraitist but then, I never moved in his circle and he’d never have chosen me.
Among the many cards and gifts I received was a book: Things to do at 60. Curious – what is this strange discourse? Are there things that no-one younger can do? I haven’t read it so I don't know if I'm to accept a contraction or expansion of experiences. But I have read about a 93 year sheep farmer living alone on a hillside with no mains electricity. I read about her ‘rescue’ so she could live out her remaining days in a stuffy, overheated, cabbagey care home. I've read about the average life span of a woman in Burkina Faso, who can expect to die at 52. I wonder how she’d feel if she knew there were things that could only be achieved eight years after her death. Or whether she’d care.
What this post is really about is the external forces that construct bizarre ideologies and attempt to impose them on us. In our desire for sociability we carefully ‘like’, comment at Face book’s bidding and ‘share’ like little lemmings. I have ‘friends’ I’ve never been friendly with and friends I love but I read all their posts with equal appetite thinking that, in some way, I know them. I hardly know myself. But this I know, my body will tell me in in its own time what I can do. My mind is already showing its maturity; only now do I realise what I wish I’d known when I was younger. It’s ok not to pretend to know everything. It’s ok to forget things; sometimes it’s necessary. It’s ok to ask people to slow down and explain things clearly. It’s ok because I don’t think we decline mentally in the way prevailing discourses would have us believe. Maturity gives us the confidence to accept and admit our limitations and find a way to progress within them. So it’s ok.
I remember now a woman who died at 85. She didn't’ want to die, she fought it with a strong mind. It was not an easy death to witness as she was swallowed into the miserable depths of another of our society’s processes: The Liverpool Care Pathway – what a hell hole of a mess did they make of that. More Care, Less Pathway is the title of the pathway's July 2013 review. Once upon a time, the 85 year old was vibrant and young but the pathway worked to strip all that away. I even wrote a poem at the time to try to work out what I hated about the irresistible conveyor on which we were both travelling.
So today I looked at my soapiness and the lack of special fixtures in my shower and I said, 'sono ancora in gambe': still on my legs, which brings me to thinking about cultural discourse and attitudes to aging. In Italy there are idiomatic descriptions that do not delimit people. On their legs means they are about the place, lively and engaged with life. It is a positive reference to their state – it is never, ever qualified by that most damning of expressions: ‘for their age’.
Someone recently asked, ‘did you ever think you’d be doing this at your age?’ I didn't know how to answer then and I don’t know how to answer now, except to say ‘what has age go to do with it?’ If I can I will, if I want I’ll try, if I can’t I’ll find a workaround. But what I won’t do is read that bloody little book. I think it was Rousseau who said we must treat with people as they are not as they should be. Enlightened man that, and Robert Bage by the way.
Music, music, music. How about love in excess as it’s the festive season – Maria Callas singing O Mio Bambbino Caro because she would have been 90 today and Freddie Mercury because it’s World Aids Day and love is crazy…