The Big Lie of Age and Writing

The message is loud and clear: youth has value but life is basically over in old age. It’s in the preponderance of youth in television shows, movies, on magazine covers and advertisements. And it teaches us to fear aging. It is a lie.
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The message is loud and clear: youth has value but life is basically over in old age. It’s in the preponderance of youth in television shows, movies, on magazine covers and advertisements for everything from toilet paper to glorious vacations—not to mention the billion-dollar surgical and cosmetic industry. It’s in the gods of profit; young people buy more stuff. And it teaches us to fear aging.

It is a lie.

This guest post is by Babette Hughes. Cleveland, Ohio native Babette Rosen Hughes is a bootlegger's daughter whose father and uncle were murdered by the Mafia. Ms. Hughes is the co-author of Why College Students Fail and author of the memoir, Lost And Found. Her published columns, articles and book reviews can be found in the Saturday Review, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Magazine and the Cleveland Press. Babette and her husband are parents and stepparents to eight children and now reside in Austin, Texas. 

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The Hat jacket

Age is not a disability, it is a second chance at life. I’m 92 years old and Post Hill Press has just published my three-novel Kate Brady series; (The Hat; The Red Scarf; The Necklace); I’m working on my fourth novel (Searching For Vivian) and fifth book, and am a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post.

Ask anyone if they’d like to go back to their youth and most will emphatically say no—some will actually shudder. And no wonder. It’s a time of career worries, relationship worries, money worries, kid worries. A time with no idea of who we are or even what we want in life. And without preparation from our culture for the challenges of marriage and child-raising, we are out there on our own, winging it, doing our best.

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Age gives us the freedom from those hectic years with the wisdom and time to write. The creative richness and energy of the unconscious mind doesn’t care how old we are. We are as young and as old as the characters we make up.

Life, after all, comes in a bundle—the good, the bad, the disappointing and even the tragedies are all of a piece. When we accept the whole bundle with moral nerve and a certain toughness, we choose life. When we choose life, it chooses us. In other words, accepting the lot instead of the chair and the TV makes us emotionally and spiritually better able to survive the hits that life can dish out and endows depth and richness to our writing.

According to the New York Times, by 2030 the number of Americans 65 and older will grow to 72 million, up from 40.2 million just five years ago. Still, colleges and universities have paid little attention to this thriving demographic. At the age of 89 Doris Haddock began walking the 3,200 miles between Los Angeles and Washington DC which took her 14 months. Kimani Maruge enrolled in the first grade at 84. Grandma Moses began painting at 75 and lived to 100 still painting. At 93, Tao Porchon and her 23-year-old dance partner swept ballroom-dancing competitions in New york, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. A Japanese woman, Mieko Nagoka took up swimming at the age of 80 and at 100 became the world’s first centenarian to complete a 1,500-meter freestyle swim. At 103, Hidekichi Miyazaki holds the world record for the 100-meter dash in the 100-to-104 age category in a respectable 29.83 seconds. Both women are from a culture, Japan’s—that, unlike America, reveres old age.

[How Long Should Novel Chapters Be? Click here to find out.]

Age makes us freer, calmer, less lonely, better friends with ourselves. We have more of an edge and more softness. Our likes and dislikes are crisper. We understand more deeply the people we love. We know the green of spring for the first time, the thoughts in our heads, our mistakes. As old as we are we understand the cliché for the first time; that each moment is gone forever, never, ever, to return. We love more and are also strangely removed; an observer, as if we are already looking down from heaven.

Meanwhile, we have writing to do and a life to live.

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