twenty-eight? really?!?

birthday card 2That’s the card I bought to thank London friends for hosting my talk, Old Age Sucks and It’s Going to be Great, last Wednesday night. It was well received by a bunch of smart people, among them my younger colleague in the Sehgal piece at the Tate Modern, Will Jennings, who gently corrected my statement that most people don’t want to think about getting old. “My generation does,” he said, “You grew up in a period of plenty, but we’re aging into scarcity – no pensions, no job security, no water – and we have to think about it.” Point taken, and it’s why it’s so terrific to have all ages in the audience.

Will also generously described my talk on the Tate Facebook group as “full of interesting observations, comments, ideas and humour” and “highly recommended for young and old (whatever ‘old’ is).” Old, apparently, is anything over 28 – or at least that’s what sells birthday cards. This one sat alone in a little card shop in Islington, but I had a vision of it being part of a whole line, in which “18” gives way to “28,” then to “38,” then “48,” “58,” “68,” “78,” “88,” and “98.” Which would be depressing, because it reinforces the notion that women should lie about their ages. But which would also be kind of great, because it would convey that age is a continuum and offer a counterpoint to the demoralizing and ageist “under 28”/”over 28″ binary. 

It dawned on me only embarrassingly recently that most of us never think of ourselves as old. I know I’m not young, that politicians and policemen are increasingly my juniors, that grandparenthood is a new stage of life – but I feel far younger than I am. Older all the time, for sure, but not old.  From everything I hear and read, I’m likely to feel the same way at 68, and 78, and 88, especially if I avoid the birthday-card rack.

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