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All Grown Up, at Last

Novelist Barbara Neely on embracing the person you've become after 65

2.  Sixty-five is as good an age as any to say yes to everything that isn’t harmful to you or others. Rewards follow.

If you dream of learning Swahili or taking a walking tour of Paris, go for it. If you can still fit into those hot pants and are still inclined to wear them, it’s strictly your call.

One of my throwback urges, as a self-taught author, was to explore what could be taught about writing. So I entered a university M.F.A. program. There were days when I felt as if I’d been thrown into the kiddie pool. But from this experience came many rewards: a stint working with middle school writers, a couple of semesters volunteering as a reading-writing facilitator for a group of adult women and plans to use my new degree to start a program for adult learners in collaboration with community centers and other groups. I hadn’t anticipated any of this at 60.

3. Ignore others’ definitions of who or what you should be at 65 and beyond. Run your own show, and be on guard against internalized ageism.

One of your generation’s most sterling qualities has been its belief in itself. You didn’t always get it right, but you fought for what you believed in. Just as you redefined what it meant to be young and socially engaged, I expect (and hope) you will redefine what it means to be post-65. I urge you to include a resurgence of the kind of sociopolitical activism that has brought us to a place where women’s equality is no longer a total oxymoron and a family of color occupies the White House. I look forward to your doing your thing once again. 

Remaking seniorhood in your own image won’t be easy. Someone will try to make you feel bad about not dying your hair, or about dying your hair. Someone will insist that you are too decrepit to do whatever they hope to exclude you from, or what they want you to shut up about. 

Worst of all, there will be days when you will look in the mirror with astonishment, if not horror. Get over it. One of my solutions is to look in the mirror more often, smile at the lovely lady and hope I look as good as she does when I reach her age.

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