On the cusp of this new year I had a birthday. I turned sixty. And turning sixty feels like swimming out of the channel and into open water. It feels good in this strange and wonderful way. I see the horizon, the only defining line. I feel an urgency to cast trepidation aside, say yes to every adventure. Sixty might just be the best decade of life: no limits and no time to spare.
That said, sixty is not for sissies, Sister. I’ve journeyed through storms, wrecked the ship, and washed up on shore. Many of us have earned our stripes. We are still on our journeys, plotting our way forward with intention. We’re skippers now and our course is guided by the stars.
I don’t feel sixty, or at least not my early skewed perception of what it is to be an older woman. I am aware that this could be denial. I have secretly avoided feeling middle aged throughout all my middle-aged years. I’m also that person at the reunion who thinks, “Wow, these people look older than me.” Perhaps my self-perception is blissfully unreliable!
I remember the time I’d come home for a visit when my Grandma Mae was very old. We were in her living room, talking a bit before going out to lunch together. She stood a bit stooped, her movements were slower and careful, and her hair was white. On our way out, she stopped at the hall mirror. Looking at her reflection she said, “I always see myself as a younger version of myself. Sometimes I’m startled when I look in the mirror and see this old woman staring back at me.” Her words and keen insight into her own perception made me peculiarly aware of my own sense of self. This was long after she’d stopped coloring her hair. We had always been brunettes together, Grandma and me. Now her hair was silvery white and shiny like the stars. I watched as she pulled her lipstick and a tissue from her purse, turned from me to the mirror and began applying her lipstick with small strokes. She loved Revlon’s “Really Red”. She turned to me from the mirror and said, “Put on your best red lipstick and you can face anything.” I didn’t realize then that she was teaching me how to be an older woman.
I think the hardest thing about aging is not the facial lines or the less sculpted mature body. It is the worry of becoming irrelevant. Of not being seen. There are few things more hurtful than feeling dismissed or not heard. I want to be seen. I want to stay relevant. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much. Teaching puts me in the strong learning current. There’s always more to know.
And, while we’re here, let’s stop and thump the heads of all the young women who have called me “honey, sweetie, dear,” and other vulgar, disrespectful ageist terms for older women. Yes, ma’am will do, okay?
I found an antidote to the worries of not being seen as we women grow older in Twyla Tharp’s new book, Keep It Moving. She advises us to take up more space. Stretch, amplify our daily movements, like dancers, so that we visually take up more space. She says, “During a meeting, spread your belongings out across the table instead of gathering them tidily on your lap.” Tharp advocates for a “personal Occupy More Space protest.”
We must be bold. The old lady undertow wants to drag us back to the couch and cookies, (and the damned wine). We must be intentional about exercising our bodies! We are in the deep water now. We must keep moving.
At sixty, I have finally learned the essential key to the best work out: consistency. These are the best workouts of my life.
Although I have been active for years, I have never been consistent. My workout schedule was always somewhere between boom and bust; over-exertion, followed by sand bagging. Until just recently when I fainted after a boom-style cycle ride. Dehydration was the cause. On that day my doctor sent me to a cardiologist. My new cardiologist told me that consistent exercise--not over-exertion--is the most sensible way to build stamina and muscle strength. He insisted I wear a heart-rate monitor to stay within the appropriate workout zones. “You’ll get a better workout,” he said.
While I always go pink for breast cancer awareness, I go red for heart health. Let us not forget that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, taking one in three of us every year.
Consistent exercise is the antidote. Movement truly keeps us young. Our body, our temple, is our way of being in this world. We can’t just live in our heads! So, I promised my dear old self I would bring consistency and the old-school black heart rate chest strap into my self-care.
Here’s where I have to say this heart rate monitor thing is exactly what the Hubster had been telling me to try for oh, a year or five. I refused. The black strap would look so uncool. I am so stubborn that I sometimes dismiss the best, most well-intended advice. This is what I call “the fixed mindset”, when I’m teaching my students. It’s a big negative, the very thing I caution them against when I’m teaching the power of having a growth mindset, the endless power of an open mind. Some of us really should start practicing the words we are preaching.
I’ve slowed my ride. Sometimes I feel that I am at the “back of the pack” among my fellow riders in the studio. I am competitive, so staying within the measured zone of this heart rate monitor frustrated me at first. But soon I noticed I wasn’t sandbagging anymore. I am becoming a stronger rider. I’m not dehydrated and exhausted after a workout. When I can, I add a workout during the week because I have more energy to do it. Recently, I finished a ride in second place. Okay, it’s probably because my friend Always-First-Place-Cheryl had to take an unscheduled bathroom break during the ride, but on that day, I was number two. Not bad for sixty!
Since the way we do anything in life is the way we do everything in life, I’m applying this lesson to the other desires of my life. Consistency is essential to keeping my writing life alive. Consistency ends procrastination. I have learned that if we make it to sixty--and don’t think for a minute I don’t count this long life as a miracle, a gift--there’s no more time for putting things off. Whatever is essential must be done now. Fulfill your life’s mission. This is our time. Feel the footprint on your ass. Put on your power lipstick, and be beautiful, no matter the years.