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?
THE ONLY PROBLEM IS…BIFOCALS!
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 Domina. I 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.