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Emails to my Therapist

17 and 71: Facing Aging, Aging Face

Dear Nicholas, As my brothers and I were packing up our mother’s house, I took the high school picture of me off the wall and saw I was at that moment wearing the same hairdo and a black turtleneck just like in the picture– at 17 and again at 71. It was a strange moment of facing aging.

The Face Has Changed

Fifty-four years since that first picture. No surprise that I’ve aged. But I was startled to note that my style apparently hasn’t budged. Or perhaps more accurately, after years of different haircuts, I’m back to my set point. (BTW, I did not look quite like that at 17; my parents had my school picture colorized and I’d bet the lab deleted some frizz too.)

On my birthday, I’m saying farewell to 71. I didn’t think of this as a “big” birthday until I looked again at the old picture. Somehow reversing the 7 and the 1 felt significant. What a difference a change of sequence makes! And now I’m on to 72, an increasingly dignified number.

What Stayed the Same

The bangs, the turtleneck, the better parts of my inner world–they’ve stayed much the same. As for my surface style, I must have fallen permanently under the spell of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I did love their music. Didn’t realize I was trying to look like Mary. And it was the mid-60s then when I was supposed to be looking toward hippiedom, not back to the beats. I sure didn’t know I would go into old age under the beatnik influence.

Hello to 72

Two things must be said: I’m delighted to be alive and healthy. And I know that to my eighty-something pals I’m far too young to be concerned with age. A third thing: I’m lucky and grateful my health and physical self haven’t changed more.

Even so, I do notice the change, as I’ve mentioned before. Several times.

Not Backing Off

I was just now reading a journal article my psychologist husband Bob brought home, “The Analyst in Winter” in Modern Psychoanalysis. The author, Lucy Holmes, talks about such matters as the time when an aging therapist stops taking on new patients for the years-long process of analysis.

And I’ve heard more than one 70+ person say they hesitate to get another dog because they wouldn’t want to leave it in the lurch by dying.

Well, golly! I’m not going to stop doing anything I want to do as long as I’m able to do it. Good thing I’m not a pro ballplayer or a movie star.

I’m convinced that having lots of multi-year projects is the key to living forever.

Not My Last Car

A friend of mine went to buy a new car and the salesman said to her, “Now you need to think about that this is your last car.” She was horrified. He barely avoided getting slapped. Telling the story to her equally indignant and somewhat younger friends, she said, “Y’all, don’t ever tell anybody it’s their last car.” (Have I told you this story before? I do repeat stories these days, but then I did that back when I was 17 as well.)

The Stars

I browsed a few horoscopes about my year of age 72 and picked out bits I liked.

1. “…People born in the Capricorn sign…. have impressive ambitions that will get fulfilled this year…!” Also: I’m to make substantial money doing what I most love, but must be patient until September.

2. “Avoid overworking yourself in 2021. Success is bound to come your way, but your heart and mind need to be replenished….”

3. “You are called upon to rid yourself of guilt about under-performing, and to develop faith and trust in a larger more spiritual plan.”

4. “…A new, radiant you will emerge…”

Plus, the entire Internet seems to agree I should avoid excessive spending. Seems like a reasonable trade-off.

(I got an Indian horoscope reading in Varanasi when I was researching my novel Sister India. What I remember is the guy told me I could talk about any subject without having “touched” it, without having done any study. Didn’t take that as a compliment.)

Instead of 72 candles

So how will I celebrate the unfolding of this auspicious year?

*By lingering over it, savoring it as much as possible.

*By trusting that the nation and the world will have a good–a steadily improving–year.

*Maybe by giving my heart and mind more rest. After the holidays in lockdown, I think I’ve already got a start on that.

Thanks for listening to these birthday musings. I’m happy to entertain advice on how to be 72. And, confident in the knowledge  that we are all going to live forever, I wish you an excellent year.


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  • Betty Matteson
    January 13, 2021 at 8:35 pm Reply

    Happy Birthday! Your blog reminded me of an elderly friend, long ago, who proudly told me she was on her third last car.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 13, 2021 at 8:41 pm Reply

      May we all have many “last cars.” Thank you, Betty!

  • George Krichbaum
    January 13, 2021 at 8:52 pm Reply

    My dentist’s office manager asked me if I’d be available for a six-month check-up on July 8th. I said, “I’d give world’s to know.” She didn’t laugh…

    • Peggy Payne
      January 13, 2021 at 9:20 pm Reply

      Funny–and I understand, George.

  • Lee Grohse
    January 14, 2021 at 1:15 am Reply

    Congratulations on 72! Well done! And the flip is so cute! I also have tried short hair, and even though I can admit it may actually look better, I just feel like I’m wearing someone else’s hair and grow it long again. And I still opt for the splashy colors of youth. Understated good taste is not in my repertoire. One of my favorite memories of Ken Lessler is that he once told me the way I dressed “bordered on costuming.” It’s a good thing to intuitive know who you are at your core and to have arrived at some outer compliance with that. I intend to go to the grave with my gaudy colors and long hair (at least whatever is left of it!). Life will close us all down sooner or later, but no sense in closing down early. So, girl, toss that hair, put on that black turtleneck., and buy that new car when you want it!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 14, 2021 at 2:04 am Reply

      I heartily approve of your fashion philosophy, Lee. Nice memory of Ken, too. And I like the idea of inner and outer matching–mostly matching, I guess. Just need to consider the nowhere-near-the-last car. My current vehicle is dented at three of its four corners and the catalytic converter is in its own old age. I’m fond of it, though.She may stick with me as long as the turtlenecks. Happy costuming!

  • Nancy Johnson
    January 14, 2021 at 3:43 am Reply

    As a 72 year old friend, I have to say that I approve of your hairdo. I have the exact same style, coincidentally. I’m sure bangs make us look young. I’m sticking with that. I may or may not not have my last car, but I’m pretty sure I have my last hairdo!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 14, 2021 at 5:44 am Reply

      Good choice, Nancy. Bangs are also a sunshade, very helpful at this point. May we both have decades more cars!

  • Mary Ann Anderson
    January 14, 2021 at 3:36 pm Reply

    In November, I made it to age 74. That’s very hard for me to believe as I still have that 17-year-old brain.Laughter helps!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 14, 2021 at 3:49 pm Reply

      I’ll probably be 74 in about ten minutes, Mary Ann, given the way time works now. A seventeen-year-old brain is a good thing to have.

  • Mary Lambeth Moore
    January 15, 2021 at 1:09 am Reply

    Peggy, I love these musings — you make me smile and you inspire me, too. Wonderful ways that you’re celebrating. Happy birthday!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 15, 2021 at 2:07 am Reply

      Thanks, Mary. I particularly appreciate this from you as I was a bit uncertain about posting this one.

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