Monday, April 30, 2012

You're old, I'm old . . . Get used to it----20 reasons why growing old is great

You're old, I'm old . . . Get used to it----20 reasons why growing old is great
By Virginia Ironside

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

There are no footnotes, no references, no further readings.  This book is all Virginia Ironside, and it is delightful.

If you’re over 50, you’ll love this book.  It is full of amusing little stories — just short vignettes with which you will quickly identify.

Ironside is a story teller.  In her section on “Public Speaking” (now, I wonder how I discovered that section!), “The prospect of reciting ‘To Autumn’ by Keats at a school concert when I was young reduced me to a gibbering wreck.  My palms sweated, my legs trembled, my heart thundered and I felt sick.  Now — I can hardly bear to admit this — if anyone asks who would like to deliver a eulogy at a funeral, I feel my hand shooting up before they’ve even got the words out. . . “ (p. 51).

On “Exercise” Ironside writes, “My exercise routing involves getting out of bed, going downstairs, having a bath, going upstairs to sit at a computer, going downstairs for a cup of coffee, and occasionally walking to my car. . . “ (p. 66).

What I especially liked is not just the great writing, the directness Ironside has with readers, her honesty and straightforwardness, her willingness to self-disclose with abandon, but the great quotations she incorporates throughout the book.

        She quoted Kingsley Amis who, “on being asked at seventy whether he had sex, replied that he was delighted when his libido vanished because he suddenly realized that for sixty years he’d been ‘chained to an idiot.’”

        She quoted Logan Pearsall Smith, lexicographer, who said, “Another sunny day!  Thank God I don’t have to go out and enjoy it!”

        She quoted John Barrymore, who said, “Die?  Certainly not.  No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”

        She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature but beautiful old people are works of art.”

        She quoted Francis Bacon (along with three others at the beginning of Chapter 17, “Time,”), who said, “I will never be an old man.  For me old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”

Besides the numerous quotations scattered throughout the book (and there are nearly one or two per page), each chapter also begins with a well-chosen quotation or poem.  Those scattered throughout the book are so neatly incorporated, so quietly and elegantly subsumed by her narrative, that they simply add to the attractiveness and glow of what Ironside writes.

I have never really thought of myself as “old.”  And yet, when I read Ironside’s musings about ailments, memory, confidence, spare time, death, sex, recession, work, downsizing, looks, young people, travel, funerals, boring for Britain, alone again, old friends, time, never again, wisdom, and grandchildren (all of her chapter titles), I realize (a sudden, uncontrollable, internal yell!), “Holy Shit, I AM old!”  This material is entertaining simply because Ironside is so witty, charming, endearing, and cool.  (My mother never liked reading anything about getting old, because it reminded her too much of her stage of life.  I find such writing illuminating and supportive — just like the last portion of Ironside’s book title: “Get Used to It!”

My wife and I have taken ten cruises.  This is what Ironside says about cruises: “ . . . the rub about cruises and old people is that so many other oldies have the same idea.  And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be trapped on a floating prison with dozens of people with crutches all over the place . . .” (p. 134).  She continued in another paragraph, this quotation put into brackets: “(I also don’t want, incidentally, to sleep in a room the size of a small coffin in a bed the size of a schoolgirl’s pencil case, nor do I especially want to learn Flower Arranging on the lower deck portside on Friday afternoon, not indulge in Scarf-Tying Class on Monday morning in the Royal Tea Lounge on the Promenade Deck . . .” (p. 134).  My wife and I don’t attend the ship’s activities either.  What we like on the cruises we take are 1) excursions, 2) time to relax and read, 3) great food that my wife doesn’t have to think about or cook, and 4) moderately good entertainment (sometimes even outstanding).  What makes this book fun is reading about another person’s impressions.  The world is full of characters, and Ironside, for all her warmth and charm, is truly a character.

There is no question that Ironside celebrates the great things about being old.  Look, for example, about how she describes getting ready for a funeral: “Arranging a funeral isn’t difficult or distressing.  On the contrary, it’s a real pleasure to organize things when someone dies.  It gives you a sense of control, a feeling of doing something for the person who’s gone, and it also gives you something to take your mind temporarily off the disaster that has just befallen you, so that you’re not completely overwhelmed” (p. 145).

This is the kind of book for which you dress in your most casual attire, take it out to the back porch, find a comfortable chaise lounge in the shade, have a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade nearby, settle down and relax, and leisurely read at a sedate, undemanding, slow pace knowing, in advance, that it will bring pleasure, contentedness, and true happiness.  It’s like being next to a cracklin’ fire, all wrapped up in a warm, snuggly blanket, on a cold, crisp snowy winter’s evening, huddled down in your favorite lazy-boy recliner.  Now, that’s indulgence!

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