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Let’s end a shocking prejudice | Cannes Lion


0 Minute Read

You don’t get less creative as you get older. Disruptive thinking doesn’t belong just to the young, and you can’t put a price on the value of experience. Why then, are we an industry tarnished by ageism – especially when diversity is such a hot topic across the industry?

Read the full story here: Let’s end a shocking prejudice

Fuck The Ageing Black Hole, I’ll Take The Freedom


5 Minute Read

I wasn’t going to write about this at all. I was going to write about being A Recovering Drama Queen. Finally. However, very much still in the process of ‘recovery’. It’s an age and awareness thang.

However before I could get to the computer keys, I read about endurance swimmer, Diana Nyad’s memoir – Find A Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life, came out last Thursday on Pan Macmillan – and was compelled to write about what was touched in me not just by her feat, but by her bloody-and-be-damned attitude to ageing.

Oh, what a razzle dazzle of a woman. Beyond belief. First of all – the feat. At the age of 64, Diana Nyad swam unassisted from Cuba to Florida. That is 110 miles through seas infested with venomous deadly box jellyfish and sharks for 53 hours without a rest. She was the first person to do it. That is phenomenal.

But before that were the amazing amount of failures. Which make her feat even more incredible. Nyad was one of the world’s best endurance swimmers in her 20s. She’d attempted this swim at 28 in 1978, failed and given up. Two years later, she retired. At 60, she decided to try again. Spurred on by her mother’s death.

And she failed and failed. Stung by box jellyfish, stopped by an asthma attack and more. Her friends who were very involved as back up, begged her to give up. She refused. She had a silicone mask made to protect her from these jellyfish because ninety percent of the people touched by their tentacles die. She was stung but didn’t die. After all her unrelenting tenacity, she actually did succeed at 64 in 2013. Hallelujah!!

What I love about her attitude to ageing is recounted in her memoir. Someone suggested at one of her talks that she was too old to attempt this swim. She is still incandescent about this kind of ageism. Even now. “Age, gender, nothing should be a barrier,” she insists. “I’m not 25, I’m not 45, I’m 66 and I can’t do anything about cosmetic ageing. I look in a mirror and of course my face is going to show the years lived. Same with the body. I carry more fat than I did when I was younger. What am I going to do? Worry about that? Talk about not being in the moment! Any moment I spend fretting that I’m not younger, it’s just a waste.”

She then informs the Observer journalist – the piece that inspired this one – Carole Cadwalladr that the photographer had just enquired if she’d prefer to change positions to a more flattering angle. She erupted with the sort of fire spirit that we admire at Advantages of Age. “I couldn’t care less,” she insisted, “It’s what I do and what I say, and how I live that’s important, not how I look. My looks aren’t my issue and it’s just very freeing.”

Okay, I’m not quite there yet. I still do care what I look like and what photographs of me are like. But I’m 63 and I am beginning to understand the breadth of the freedom that comes with ageing. That I can make choices based on what I want to do, rather than what society, the media or even what my tribe dictates. I can be my own dictator. In the last few years, I have grown my hair long again. The convention is still that older woman shouldn’t have long hair, that their faces will sag and disappear into the hag look. I cut my hair into a bob when I was 43 somehow persuaded by conformity. Pushed by a boyfriend. At 60, my desire for lengthy tresses returned. So I allowed myself the luxury of length. Hair is a sensual pleasure and there is a be-quiet-sexuality message in the obligatory cutting.

No, I’m not about to swim even across the local Grand Union Canal but Nyad’s message around ageing feels supremely loud and clear. Don’t be cowed by comfort zones (your own) or limits (your own). And find your voice, live your life. Be free. Which doesn’t have to be narcissistic.

One of the freedoms I have reclaimed recently – is the freedom to speak my mind politically and to go for the edge. To not be afraid of showing that I’d like a radical change in society, that years of Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron had silenced my anger against the inequality we live with. But no longer.

A few weeks ago as I stood in Parliament Square shouting: “Shame on you” at the Blairites who were trying to bully the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn – who is committed to social justice and a much fairer society – into stepping down, I felt totally inspired about this kind of potential change. I also imbibed the unity and strength of 10,000 people coming together in 24 hours via social media and in being there together. This was no rag bag of ultra lefties, this was a huge crowd of ordinary people who wanted something better and were willing to get out on to the streets and demand just that.

It was electrifying and inspiring to be part of truly going for something bigger that I believed in.

You can read an extract from Diana Nyad’s memoir – Find A Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life here.

We’d love to hear from you what you’ve found freeing about getting older… please tell us at info@advantagesofage.com

 

Whoops, I didn’t forget to have children


1 Minute Read

I’m rarely asked why I chose not to have children. I’ll admit the idea of missing out on mum politics and a school run did disturb me but it passed. People I know have never felt the necessity to discuss the topic with me, probably because I didn’t. I recall reading a strident Polly Vernon, vehemently defending herself from the barrage of people who seemed to approach her daily, yes daily I tell you, to inquire as to her fertility choices. I’d hazard an educated guess that when faced with intensely personal issues, the stress comes not from others but more likely is a result of our unresolved selves. It’s somewhat far-fetched that your hairdresser, newsagent or the guy at the pub will constantly engage you with, “So what are you doing tonight? Thinking about having children?”

I’ve never had a change of heart. Barely eleven years old, I recall thinking to myself – indeed I may have even loudly announced it to nobody in particular – that I was never going to have children. My father ensured our home life wasn’t stable and it left a legacy. On reflection I realise that I didn’t get the chance to enjoy being a child, and the idea of being responsible for one was far too scary. Nonetheless, at the time I thought I was odd. I hadn’t even thought of marriage. However, what I had come to think of as my errant woman brain turned out to be a full-time, clinically depressed one. I took and still take anti-depressants, drugs that my psychiatrist said might have to change if I wanted children. No way. Now I’d got the right ones, after so many false starts, I was finally feeling like me. I wasn’t about to do something that would alter that state. A life marked by years of inconsistency and instability finally had a floor, albeit a shifting one, but it was the most security I’d had and this was no time to go rogue.

I told him it was sorted.

“What do you mean?” He said in the same voice he said everything: his steady, educated but slightly uninformed voice that ensured he got the information he wanted.

“I mean I’m not having children. As much as I think they’re adorable and the idea of a squeezy toddler makes me smile and go gooey, it’s just not going to work. It’s too much responsibility and I’m still dealing with the fallout of being a grown up toddler myself.” He thanked me for doing part of his job for him, then out of interest I asked him how high the stakes were for a depressive having children. The figures weren’t good. That applies both in terms of producing a child who would have to face a life where the moving men drop into your brain, as well as the spectre of post-partum depression from my end. I didn’t want to end up in the news, demonised by social workers because I left my kids in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket.

By the way I adore kids. No that’s wrong. I love, love them. I love them for being interesting and creative people and fun. I’m a fairy godmother, an anarchist auntie and they’re not just cameo roles. I’ve played a huge part in the lives of my godchildren – yes I’ve changed nappies and dealt with school runs (the politics of the latter was far too much for me) as well as the fun stuff – and it’s been utterly fulfilling. It’s also been just enough, enabling me to enjoy my own inner child, who likes to play. I like the fact that a piece of cardboard can be a car and that when I’m with them I can be in the moment. Now in the advantage of my age (my new name for middle age) I don’t get questions, however I see the questions debated in articles from the UK and Australia where many people are old and alone.

“But aren’t you afraid of growing old alone?”

Ah now you’re talking future. In order to maintain non-panic in my life and give the impression of being the most resilient depressive in the world, I have a dirty secret: I live for the moment. Not the future. That’s too onerous. You see why I love the company of children? So the idea of having babies as some sort of insurance, a security blanket for old age, has never entered my head. It’s a strange notion in this era. Children go travelling and meet tall blonde men on beaches whom they follow to a foreign place. (I did) They study abroad. They work abroad. They become drug dealers and go to jail. They build lives that people could not have imagined 40, 30 even 20 years ago.

“It’s nice to have children around as you get old.”

What is old? Will I get old? I might die before then. I might be hit on the head by a coconut, struck by lightning or taken by aliens. Seriously I know so many people who have kids they never speak to. And others who have children they don’t like, where the feeling is mutual. I know one family where the only child joined a religious sect and was never heard of again. So this concept of being around, let alone kids being around, well it’s all a bit abstract, to me anyway. Word to the wise: If your reason for igniting your ovaries is to bring security in old age, I’d seriously rethink it.There are no guarantees they will be there or even bring you joy. Having said that, I do get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see generations together, but there’s no envy or self-pity. It’s the same feeling I’ve had when I see young children with their parents in the park. It makes me happy. A bit like watching Toy Story.

“Aren’t you scared of dying alone?”

The adage goes there are two moments in life when you are totally alone. Before you make a speech. And just before you die. Having just experienced the death of my friend Bob, his children were in his thoughts but as seizures and incontinence took over his body, he didn’t want them around. Some of us don’t get old. Happily, even with there are still many families where the children are around to provide comfort in old age or can quickly hop on a plane when needed. However, there will come a point, regardless of who is around, where we will all feel alone. From a personal point of view, I’ve lived my life feeling alone in a crowd of people I know, leaving parties after five minutes because I’ve felt disconnected. So the idea of being old alone doesn’t concern me as long as I have some friends who are still alive and most importantly good health. Because ironically, the thing that people value most as they grow older is independence. My mother who has not been sick a day in her life is 86 and not a day goes by when she doesn’t reclaim her independence. While she loves to see us and have us around, I know it’s that ability to run her own life that keeps her from being alone.

A Question of Age


1 Minute Read

“real age, as I came to see from the genuine pieces that passed through my hands, was variable, crooked, capricious, singing here and sullen there, warm asymmetrical streaks on a rosewood cabinet from where a slant of sun had struck it while the other side was as dark as the day it was cut.”

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

For years, I used to pretend I was younger than I was. I looked younger and therefore I could get away with it. I wouldn’t lie, I just wouldn’t correct people if they suggested a lower number of years. During my 30s, 40s and 50s, this ‘puella eternis’ attitude of mine persisted.

Then I did start lying on dating sites, specifically the Guardian one. I realised that unless I lied; men my own age would not look at my profile. I was gripped by the internet deceit over age and I shaved ten years off. But I didn’t feel good about it. I felt like a pawn in a system that had already been designed. And that was so not me!

Where was all my rebellion now? Stuck in the fear that men wouldn’t notice me. Ah, there’s the rub for all women over 40 who Tindr/Craigslist/web date.

Approaching sixty was a turning point. I’d seen how a French friend had proudly embraced her fiftieth at her party in Provence. She didn’t simply have a party; she declared her age, she owned her herstory, she sat comfortably on her throne and thoroughly relished her years in words and song. She did not blanche and turn away. She steamed straight into the oncoming traffic. I declared to myself that I would do the same in my own way as I crossed the bridge of ‘old’.

At my sixtieth weekend event at the incomparable Voewood House in Norfolk – there are stuffed swans in the corridor, a letter from Damien Hirst in the toilet and an original drawing by Jean Cocteau in the mistress bedroom – I did not hold back. I gave a speech, wrote a poem The Ineffability of Age, which is about how unspeakable my age used to be for me, and had a ritual where I crossed the threshold to join the elders. The irony was not lost on me that we struggled to find willing elders. There was no way that I was going to avoid this declaration of sixtydom. Mind you, I noticed that I didn’t announce it on Facebook. I merely put up the photos without qualification so there was still reluctance there. A reluctance to be seen as old, that’s what it was.

Oh, but then I fell for a seventy-year-old. It wasn’t in my vision. My invocation was for a younger man or at least one my own age. Now I felt as if I was crossing the abyss-of-no-return-to-youth. I felt resistance – in fact a distinct horror of this development, a surge of I-want-to-be-still-seen-as-young and then gradually I surrendered. Not gracefully but with a wry smile. After all, I was being tended by sensual, loving hands accompanied by a brave heart.

Three years later, I have sunk delightedly to another level of acceptance. I am old but I feel fit, sexy, creative, desired, fulfilled, adventurous, curious, alive and healthy. It is possible for these qualities to be synonymous with ageing. I know some people find this idea difficult. I just had a heated FB discussion with a Tantra teacher who insisted that – “I’m 51 but I don’t think of myself as old.” – because to her, old signified tired and lacklustre.

But Advantages of Age tells a defiant tale, one honed in the issues of The Face and ID magazine. And to the tunes of The Slits and Patti Smith. And the words of Anais Nin and Simone de Beauvoir.

It also means that that we at all of our ages – the women in the hot tub who created advantageofage.com range from 44 to 63 – embrace our fulsomeness together and challenge the pervasively negative media and societal narrative of ageing. I love our intergenerational aspects. Why shouldn’t women with a 20 year age gap hang out together and reap the benefits? And yet it doesn’t happen often enough in the UK. I remember being in Havana during Easter, 1998 – older Cuban women danced with younger men, older men, younger women, older women and they were so hot, so flirtatious, so sensual. Of course, I joined in. Totally. And admired their unabashedly confident sexuality.

What are the stories we tell in our media and mouths about ageing? That we’re unattractive, that our skin sags, that our vaginas are dry, that we have no energy, that we have slipped into a ooze of belly fat and cream cakes, that we are boring as shit, that we are grey and featureless, invisible to the horny male eye, beset by groans and aches, that stair lifts are imminent, that the we have lost our desire and our sparkle.

Well, fuck that for a narrative. We at advantages of age are in the process of turning the tables. Literally and metaphorically.

Gender—good for nothing | Prospect Magazine


14 Minute Read

From childhood, I experienced being female as an imposition. Growing up between two brothers, I was the one who had to wear stupid dresses, and worry about (the horror, in my day) letting my panties show on the swings. My brothers got to take off their shirts during sultry North Carolinian summers, while I wasn’t allowed to, even during the years my chest looked just like theirs.

Yet the impositions were just beginning. Periods were hideous. Did my brothers get puffy once a month, suffer terrible back aches and go back to wearing smelly de facto diapers? I was the one, too, who had the fear of God put in her about getting pregnant. In comparison to their sons, my parents clearly had reduced expectations for my career prospects. Ruefully, at 87, my father finally conceded last year: “You know, we may have underestimated you.” He still hasn’t quite brought himself to admit why: I was the girl.

But I was historically fortunate. By the time I entered university in 1974, a revolution was well under way. As I understood it, “women’s liberation” meant that the frilly cookie-cutter template of femininity had been chucked out. Being female was no longer defined in terms of skirts, high heels, and homemaking. Men and women were equal. Both sexes were just people. We had entered the post-gender world.

Source: Gender—good for nothing | Prospect Magazine

Make Wit not WiFi


1 Minute Read

Time was when the only accessories to be seen with in your local cafe were a black coffee and a cigarette. There are parts of the world where this still happens, but unfortunately these now tend only to surface in war zones. Militias like a short black and a smoke. If you’re already walking a emotional tightrope with caffeine and cigarettes, this may be too much excitement for you.

Fact is, smokers tend to be the more interesting people and are naturally open to conversation. “Do you have a light?” is one of the greatest unhailed, chat lines ever. It’s pretty much gone. As has coffee. Instead we are offered the impersonation of a caffeine flavoured high-lactose solution. It is a beverage but it is not coffee. The dumbing down of cafes continued when some fool created muffins which attracted women dragging prams, nay thrones, bearing children called Persephone and Titus. That was the moment when wit began to leave the cafe.

"This looks like a good place for a cafe," said Lena. They all agreed.
“This looks like a good place for a cafe,” said Lena.
They all agreed.

And then came Wi Fi. Fucking Wi Fi. Like many modern folk I have it at home. It is most useful for booking travel and watching pornography, as well as cross-referencing recipes for Lime and Coconut Tart. But I do not feel the need to be seen with WiFi in cafes, more to the point Wi Fi Cafes do not attract people who are funny and clever. Quite the opposite. Wi Fi is a drawcard for frugal, bespectacled types with Cross Faces, especially men who sigh with rabid displeasure when you ask to share the table. He is busy sending Facebook messages, however there is the real possibility he is a writer because he has Word on his computer.This leads me to think I may be a hairdresser because I own scissors. Writers rarely work in cafes and most certainly do not have a shiny Mac: he or she has a ravished keyboard with a totally faded ‘A’ that has been replaced twice in six months. When a writer goes to a cafe, they go to escape the book that has come to a dead halt, to discuss NOT WRITING with other writers who are officially NOT WRITING and to figure out what they can do about it. And laugh nervously at their impending doom.

This got me thinking about my favourite writer, Dorothy Parker and her posse who spent their time at the Algonquin’s round table hazed in cocktails and cigarettes, where they discussed NOT WRITING and flirted with words as well as each other. The wit flew in all directions. Gems like Parker’s,”You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think,” emerged when Dorothy’s pals required she use the word in a fresh sentence. Today, Parker would be updating her Twitter, where her “What fresh hell is this?” would be misconstrued deliberately by women who decided she was anti-feminist and she’d be blocked. Noel Coward and Robert Benchley would be engrossed in You Tube watching cat videos while sucking on cigars. When asked by a press agent,”How do I get my leading lady’s name into your newspaper,” George S Kaufman would not have responded with the elegant,”Shoot her” because he was Skyping. In Paris at Café De Flore, Sartre would be looking around at the shiny equipment with disdain. “But I have no choice, I need to text,” offers a punter. “Nonsense,” retorts Sartre. “You can choose to kill yourself.” Sitting next to him, Dali would be engrossed in wondering how a shark could produce words. Hemingway would be in a manly rage because he’d written a bad sentence. Annoyed by all four words, he’d throw his laptop in the bin, and immediately take out a new one because that’s what a real man does.

Aside from an ashtray inbuilt into a barber’s chair (which I once saw in Beirut) I think one of the great signs of civilisation is the café conversation that starts anywhere and goes everywhere. People arrive with no agenda, just money for coffee, ideas in their heads and the knowledge that if it’s one of those days, they’ll leave with an intellectual orgasm.

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