Brainy Aging Goddesses with Sensible Shoes: The Problem Is the Bifocals

Aging is more fun than you would think. At 50, Bilbo Baggins had his first adventure (The Hobbit).  The writer Mary Wesley published her first novel when she was 73.  And Harriet Doerr, who graduated from Stanford at the age of  67, was 73 when she published her first novel,  Stones of Ibarra, which won the National Book Award. 

The prospect of wrinkles, gray hair, plucking chin hairs, and the necessity of sensible shoes horrifies us women, but that is partly the Hollywood influence:  we are staggered by the beauty of goddess-actresses, though we are not immortal, and must cope without Dior or Chanel.  The image in the mirror changes, but if we’re lucky we become brainier as we age. That’s what they don’t tell you in fashion magazines.  

There are many, many challenges for middle-aged or older women.  You must deal with menopause, hormone changes, and age discrimination.  You must polish your rhetorical skills and persuade the insurance company to pay for your prescription skin cream (they prefer to fund the cream for younger women, which is surely discrimination) as well as those essential medications, without which you will die; you can go gray or experiment with time-consuming hairdos; you can enjoy shopping for smart flat shoes on sale or opt to live in cute sneakers.

Looks aside, you are likely to become smarter. Less time in front of mirrors!  Bizarrely, information you learned years ago  pops out of your brain and becomes so crystal-clear that you wonder if you are a gypsy with a crystal ball.  Suddenly you know those pesky place names in Latin poetry (Tempe, Socrate, Cypria) and the musical instruments (tibia, barbitos, tympanum) without checking the notes. And you can rattle off the Tudor family tree, whether from reading multiple biographies of the six wives of Henry VIII  or Hilary Mantel, who knows? 


I love my bifocals.  If you are in your forties, fifties, or older, you know the glamor of correcting both your nearsightedness and farsightedness with seamless bifocals.  They used to look like coke bottles, but no more.

But, alas, I find I cannot read books with tiny print, even with bifocals. 

I was in the mood to read Guy de La Bedoyere’s Domina:  The Women Who Made Imperial Rome, which sounded fascinating even though the reviewer in The New York Review of Books bashed it.  I paid little attention to her, because she used the essay to showcase her own theories, and devoted only a few paragaraphs to DominaI am loving this book, but the  print is so small I can scarcely read it. Yale Univeristy Press, couldn’t you have made the print normal size?  

AND THAT’S NOT ALL.  THE TIME HAS COME…to find a Greek dictionary with bigger print.

I was reading a Greek epyllion, the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, but  could barely make out the print in my Greek dictionary.  I have spent years poring over Liddell and Scott, the standard scholarly dictionary.  I once had to translate the Gettysburg Address into the Greek of Demosthenes (an assignment in grad school) with this dictionary.  It was more fun than it sounds–you perused the dictionary to learn which words Demosthenes would have used.  (But you had to be there, I guess.)

And  now I’ll have to read my Greek in strong sunshine with a bright lamp haloing my head.  I can think of no alternative.

6 thoughts on “Brainy Aging Goddesses with Sensible Shoes: The Problem Is the Bifocals”

  1. Because I’m super sensitive to motion, I can’t wear bifocals under any circumstances. They make me feel queasy and I fall down stairs. This is where my Kindle is very helpful. I was reading an old Everyman’s edition of a Trollope novel and having trouble with the little print. Downloaded for almost free, enlarge the print, and voila! (I’ve never figured out where the foreign symbols are on my laptop.)

    1. Yes, the Kindle & other ereaders are the answer! So absurd that people still trash them. Sorry to hear about your motion sickness. I do recall feeling that a bit when I first got bifocals. Just another challenge…

  2. One of the not-often-appreciated perks of ereaders is how much they can help people to continue reading long after Biology wants them to stop. I am 72 now (going on 25) and for the past eight years I have been troubled by eye floaters. I long ago discovered that if I set up my ereader with a black background and white type that the eye floaters blend into the black background and the white type optically burns through the overhanging filaments. It cures about 80 to 90% of the problem. Likewise, my wife (ha ha no age given there) uses ereaders to fix her problem which sounds very similar to yours. She reads with a very large font size. I still love books and read as long as I can with the processed, dead tree on my lap before turning to newer technology. I also like to collect limited edition books. I am presently making my way through THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM Trilogy in the limiteds from Subterranean Press. Although I am mostly reading on my ereader I keep the new books by my side to enjoy the illustrations. Likewise I collect older firsts of English Lit. I will often do such things as read favorite passages from Dickens or Trollope or others in the “real” book and continue in the ereader once my eyes become troublesome. Sometimes, as in Trollope’s book ORLEY FARM, the book’s illustrations are many and well worth looking constantly from screen to page. I love books and I refuse to allow aging to stop me from enjoying reading and collecting them if I can pretty much stop such things from happening with a dose of high-tech.

    1. We readers do face a lot of challenges! I, too, love my e-reader more and more as I get older. At first it was just a gadget; now I find that it soothes my eyes, and, like you, I often go back and forth between a Trollope book and the e-book version.

      Limited editions are great, and though I don’t have many, I recently stopped myself from buying a limited edition of Doctor Zhivago. That reminds me, I haven’t read The Three-Body Problem.

      And I am filing away this information about changing screen color in case I develop floaters! Thanks.

  3. I first had bifocals in my twenties, then didn’t have them for a while, and now have two kinds, both with lines since (to borrow a word from Joan Kyler) I get queasy with the no-line kind. One pair is for work (meaning computer work and reading from paper) and one is for, hm, when I’m out and about (meaning driving, distance, plus small amounts of reading). For most extended reading, though, I use a pair of glasses with only my reading prescription — only with those can I read comfortably for any real stretch of time, they make a huge difference for me, maybe because I don’t have to angle my head or the book to read with the thin reading part of the lens. It’s weird to have three pairs of glasses but it works for me, even with small print.

    All that said, I really wish I could come to love my ereader more. I bought a nice Kobo and like it okay, though much, much prefer printed books!

    1. I need more pairs of glasses, obviously! I didn’t like the e-readers at first, but they’ve grown on me. There is a very funny video at Green Apple Books in San Francisco called “The Kindle vs. the Book.” That was in the days before the device was universally accepted.

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