I’m Not 60…I’m ‘Sexagenarian.’

On September 20 I passed a milestone that everybody said would be very difficult: I turned 60. It seems like just yesterday that I turned 50 and friends were warning, “Fifty is nothing…but you’ll really feel it when you are sixty.” A few years ago a formerly heavy colleague, newly slim, confessed that “I had to get my diet and exercise in order, because I didn’t want to turn sixty and realize my body has totally fallen apart.” And it’s become popular for women’s magazines to have features called, “Sexy at Any Age,” with photos of gorgeous celebrities grouped by their decade. For some reason it stops at 59, unless they are talking about men.

So post-birthday, I’ve spent the past week waiting to feel the axe of old age upon my head, and guess what? Nothing has happened. My hair is no grayer and my body is no more stooped or saggy than it was last week. This new decade is not as scary as it seemed when I was 10 years away from it.

It could be because we have many friends now who are post-60 and say it’s a blast if you have the right attitude. Several friends at my 60th birthday party last week were living proof: they looked fit and gorgeous; passionate about their grandchildren, work, interests and travel; and as carefree as eight-year-olds. Not a bad place to be.

Here’s one thought: maybe the key for surviving the 60s is to think and act like you did in “the 60s.” I have to admit right here that I sat on the sidelines during the free love decade (and am happily married and have no plans to start such debauchery now.) But my mind was more open and I felt the possibilities were endless. So why not make a mind-blowing change in the concept of what it means to be 60-plus? Let’s start by declaring that we’re not in our 60s…we’re “sexagenarian.”

Doesn’t that sound better?

Ten years as a sexagenarian sounds pretty exciting. I’m now in the company of people like Helen Mirren, who, someone once declared, “put the sex back in sexagenarian.” Being a sexagenarian sounds as racy as being a dancer in “Hair,” something I wasn’t allowed to see in the 60s. It sounds as daring as wearing a Catholic school uniform with fishnet stockings (which I kinda did, in 1968.) Yet because of the “gen” syllable, it also sounds vaguely healthy, like oxygen or a yoga retreat. I like it…I’ll take it!

So I now have a whole ten years in this fun new decade before I have to redefine my age all over again. It’s probably not too early to start thinking about how to spin the 70s, which are already looking challenging. Somehow “septuagenarian” doesn’t have the same ring. If you read or watched “Game of Thrones” you know that a “septa” is a humorless female religion teacher. It also sounds too much like “septic.” Maybe we can think of something different.

And don’t even get me started on octogenarians.

The Less Said, the Better

Does being quiet mean being surly, like Patriots Coach Bill Belichick?

Does being quiet mean being surly, like Patriots Coach Bill Belichick?

Do we talk too much? Maybe it’s the winter, or maybe it’s that I’m getting older and running out of earth-shattering experiences to talk about, but over the past few months I haven’t felt like talking very much.  Memo to my loved ones and friends: it’s me, not you.

Seems I am in good company. The New York Times last weekend did a great story about how freelancers and sole-proprietor business owners often forget how to hold a phone conversation, since much of their communication is via email and text. And a new book on the best-seller list, “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, talks about how introverted people are less valued than the dynamic fast-talking extroverts, and automatically presumed to be less capable leaders. The adoration of extroverts came about when the U.S. switched from an agrarian society to one based on manufacturing, creating more goods to be sold — and hence, a need for more smooth-talking extroverts to sell them. Cain points out that today Harvard Business School encourages its students to be confident extroverts and persuasive talkers, even if the ideas they are promoting are only 55 percent developed. She also says that some of history’s most dynamic business leaders have been introverts rather than extroverts, but skilled at bringing out the best in others. And she says that introverts can still be sociable and have great conversations, but they just need lots of time to decompress afterwards. I’m reading that book now and it has been a revelation. I am starting to understand those friends and family members who just don’t like talking on the phone.

Have any of you ever wished that you didn’t have to talk so much? When I was growing up, quiet people were considered weird, depressed or difficult. It was difficult to row the boat the whole time with them. It was much cooler to be a good talker, to be spontaneous and “outgoing.” I think I knew in my heart that I was quiet and thoughtful but felt I needed to talk to have friends. And if I was around someone who didn’t want to talk – either because they were naturally shy or reserved, didn’t know me or didn’t want to know me – I’d feel panic. My response was to talk more to fill the void, often with bad results. I also talked because I felt that being vivacious and a “people person” would make me more lovable. The real me is actually more introspective and better at having a quiet and meaningful discussion with one good friend than a roomful of strangers.

Having to shift gears quickly from focusing on one person to focusing on another is challenging. This compulsive need to talk when I didn’t feel like it has led to much foot chewing after I  invariably say the wrong thing. I think that is why I like to disappear into the kitchen or take pictures when at parties; it’s easier for me when I don’t have to talk. It is also why I went into writing, a profession that requires more listening and note-taking, and some thought before one communicates through the written rather than spoken word.

Maybe it’s OK to be a man, or woman, of fewer words. Just ask New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, master of the one-word answer. Or Bartleby the Scrivener, whose only conversation was “I prefer not to.” Or plenty of other legendary and literary figures who were the strong and silent type.

Still, I worry that a quieter me won’t have as many friends. Will my loved ones will be upset or think that I love them less if I don’t talk as much, when nothing could be farther from the truth? I also worry that being more introspective will cause me to brood too much; that maybe it’s healthier to get out there and engage with other people and put my inner life on the shelf.

Can one be silent and strong?

Can one be silent and strong?

A few weeks ago when my grown children were visiting for Christmas, we had some times when we would just sit silently on the couch and disappear into our Iphones. I felt bereft during those times and responsibility to fill the void. Had I lost my connection with them? Did their lives on the other side of the country and on another continent have a stronger gravitational pull on them? But the funny thing is…those connections crackled to life when we just went out and did something, without a need for constant talk. My daughter Rachel and I took a nine-mile hike around a nearby lake, and sometimes we talked and other times we didn’t. The I-Phone that drew much of her attention in the house became a GPS for helping us find our way around the trail. We had some great conversations when we were not busy concentrating on the trail and the scenery. I felt proud to be able to share this hike with her.

Maybe, whether one is an extrovert or an introvert, the key is less talking and more doing.  What do you think?

How to Win at Bingo

I always liked Bingo because it is totally based upon luck. One does not have to think strategically, or be smart, cunning and ruthless. I suck at Monopoly because it requires all of these things.

In Bingo you merely watch and listen for the rattling of the cage that delivers your fate to the metal cup. You toy with your chips, peer at your neighbors’ cards and take a breath just before the gray-haired church deacon calls the letter. Then another quick breath as you wait for the number. Your ears perk up after each sonorous call, waiting for a triumphant cry from some noodge in the far corner of the room. Each silence gives you a thrill of hope, allowing another rattling of the Bingo cage and yet another chance for victory.

The very randomness that makes Bingo so satisfying also makes it frustrating. In some games everybody else’s numbers are called except yours. The Bingo cards in front of you are as unpopulated as the Great Plains, while others’ cards are spangled with clear red chips as garish as a Times Square hooker. Or maybe you have finally have a row all filled up for the first time that evening, but this particular game requires four corners instead. It’s fair but unfair.

Haven’t played Bingo in years, but yesterday felt like one of those games. It was rainy, boring, lonely, frustrating. My card was empty. I was not busy enough and had far too much time to think, which for me quickly devolves into brooding. A year ago, when I was working at a job that I did not love and pulled in too many directions, I felt a different kind of stress. That felt like having your Bingo card covered with many chips, but nothing that would give you a win.

Yesterday I checked my email and Facebook every few seconds, watched the phone for the red message light, snacked on pretzels, halfheartedly puttered instead of focusing on what I really wanted to accomplish. I was waiting for other people to pull my number and make things happen for me. Big mistake, and one that I have made time and time again. A mistake that I’ve warned my kids never to make, yet I continue to make it myself.

But I managed to pull myself out of it by being proactive, making myself do things that I really didn’t want to do at first, just to overcome my inertia and get me rolling again. I called a housebound friend and made plans to take her to lunch. I finally mailed my daughter that book that I thought she would enjoy. I defrosted some chicken and found something creative to do with it for dinner. By the end of the day the sun was peeking out and I felt better.

And I realized that while both Bingo and life can be random, one can still maximize the chance of feeling on top of the game. Over time I’ve realized that I need these things :

B – Bed rest. If I don’t get enough of it I can’t function.  Do what you have to do to get it…get as physically tired as possible, avoid alcohol at dinner, give up watching “The Walking Dead” late at night.
I – Interests. It could be work, hobbies, anything that gives you great pleasure, or at least gives you something to accomplish.
N – Nutrition. Whatever works for you. For me it’s avoiding white bread, alcohol, sweets. Others give up gluten or red meat.
G – Getting out. If you don’t have a paid job to order your day, schedule other things – workouts, volunteer duties, a walk with a good friend, anything.
O – Others. Stay connected. If nobody’s calling you, call them. Make plans.

And finally – Free Space. If you’re busy it gives you some breathing room. If you’re not busy enough, it will make you restless and bored enough to brood a bit, wallow in self-pity then snap out of it and make things happen.