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A Question of Age

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“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 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

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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

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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.

Why The Guardian got it wrong with mid-life dating

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We all know a paper has to appeal to its market but when The Guardian commissioned a woman to write about mid-life dating, they’d already decided the narrative. Read the Stella Grey column and you’ll feel like you’ve been dropped into a world where women over 45 sit alone in a musty attic and once a week, they open an old trunk and put on the corset and black stockings that have never been worn for a lover.

The Guardian narrative plays to women who don’t like men as people

The Guardian narrative of mid-life dating was to be an endless cross-country run over barbed wire, where the woman found herself despairing at immature and capricious men who could not understand her glaringly fine qualities and just what a great catch she was. The subtext was clear from the start. “I’m an intelligent Guardian reading woman and you men just want bimbos.” Given that miserable criteria, it was never going to be a good read. Nor is it accurate.

If you’re any kind of self-aware and confident woman you’ll have the filthiest and most intimate encounters starting in your forties. I was never short of male attention, however as well as an endless stream of dates and a few relationships, my forties were like nothing before them. This is the time of your life when your brain and your pussy work together like fucking clockwork and you project it. Not overtly. No need for that. But all the women here at Advantages of Age and many others I know feel the same way. They were there. It happened. It’s still happening. There’s a lot written biologically about this but I just wonder if it’s nature’s way of reminding us that we now have everything we need to enjoy the sexy years we have left.

Newly separated or divorced does not make you single.

Being newly divorced hasn’t helped the Stella Grey column and I don’t think it makes her right for the task. Single is not the same as being divorced: the latter does not make you single and it’s a transitional, highly fluctuating state. It takes time for many people to become properly single. post divorce. Wounded people cannot deal with the chaos and modern dating is very different to when you might have met your partner of the past 25 years.

Single is as much about the correct mindset as your own place. It means you’re aware, ready and emotionally and physically up for the adventure. It means you know who you are, you understand what you’re not but you know how to make it work. Your self-esteem is solid.  It also means you know not to bet the house on a date or indeed on a relationship: you treat it as just another thing that you do. Especially with online dating. There is much to say about this lawless land, however I’ll borrow from my internet savvy niece: “Don’t take it too seriously. It’s just the internet stupid.”

 Stella Grey is a Guardian caricature: the ‘intelligent’ woman who can’t get laid

Men don’t give a fuck how intelligent you are when they meet you.  They look at your smile,  your breasts, your legs. They’ll twinkle at your humour. Or in my case, they want to touch my wild curly hair.  If they can imagine themselves putting their hands under your shirt or kissing you, they’ll probably talk to you. But that’s not just how men operate. Many women do as well, especially in their forties and fifties. If I can’t imagine having sex with him, then I really don’t care how many books he’s read. If the kisses are good, the books start to matter. If the sex is good, the books matter even more.

The point is that you can’t experience something if you are entering it with the aim of confirming your bias. And that’s what this column (indeed much of the Guardian’s supposed real life stories) feels like. This is not a dating column. It’s increasingly about a woman who doesn’t understand or even like men. A woman who doesn’t know how to say ‘Fuck me.’ And really, by this point in life, that’s mandatory.

We were just thinking that, Virginia.

1 Minute Read

“Odder still how possessed I am with the feeling that now, aged 50, I’m just poised to shoot forth quite free straight and undeflected my bolts whatever they are. Therefore all this flitter flutter of weekly newspapers interests me not at all. These are the soul’s changes. I don’t believe in aging.

I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism. And to alter now, cleanly and sanely, I want to shuffle off this loose living randomness: people; reviews; fame; all the glittering scales; and be withdrawn, and concentrated.”

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