More Reading for the Tenth Meeting — AGING

Some of our members have sent in more suggestions for our upcoming meeting.

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First, here’s a link to the story I sent out the other day: “Mother’s Day” by George Saunders.

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Hulya sent in a link to an article with an, ahem, eye-catching title:

Firming the Floppy Penis: Age, Class and Gender Relations in the Lives of Old Men,” by Toni Calasanti and Neal King.

Click here (Firming The Floppy) to read.

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Setenay sent in the following poem:

Weathering – Fleur Adcock

My face catches the wind
from the snow line
and flushes with a flush
that will never wholly settle.
Well, that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young forever, to pass.
I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
and only pretty enough to be seen
with a man who wanted to be seen
with a passable woman.

But now that I am in love
with a place that doesn’t care
how I look and if I am happy,
happy is how I look and that’s all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake,
my waist thicken, and the years
work all their usual changes.

If my face is to be weather beaten as well,
it’s little enough lost
for a year among the lakes and vales
where simply to look out my window
at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors
and to what my soul may wear
over its new complexion.

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She also suggested an essay on aging by Grace Paley, “My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age.” Click here for the link.

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I have a couple of others.

One is an nasty, but famous, poem by the contemporary poet Frederick Seidel. Despite its surface aggression about the “total nightmare” of an old woman’s body, I read it as being, more interestingly, about the total nightmare of an old man’s habits of mind, his self-hatred, his pinched and painful outlook, if he has refused to age. (It is never clear, when reading Frederick Seidel, how much distance —  if any — the poet has from the assholic poet-narrator of the poems, also called “Frederick Seidel.”)

Here is a youtube video of Seidel reading it aloud, if you can stand it:

 

The other poem I include here is by Philip Larkin:

The Old Fools

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
			Why aren't they screaming?

At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It's only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here. Next time you can't pretend
There'll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they're for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines -
			How can they ignore it?
	
Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside you head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can't quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun's
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
			This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
			We shall find out.

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I am looking for more explorations of a woman’s experience of aging. Please hit the books and send them in!

See you Monday (for the movie 45 YEARS at 7:20 pm at the Landmark Shattuck Theatre in Berkeley) or Wednesday for the meeting. Or both!

 

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