Back when I was in my early 30s and just getting my career as a writer off the ground, an editor I was working with commented, “Personally, I feel that women can’t really be good writers until they’re at least in their 40s.”
At the time, her opinion surprised me. Yet over the years, I’ve come to agree—especially in the area of crime fiction. From Agatha Christie to P.D. James, I’ve found that the more venerable the writer, the riper the prose—the result of having done more, seen more, thought more, and concluded more. When it comes to Writers of a Certain Age, their plots tend to be cleverer, their heroines sharper, and their books generally just more fun.
But I’ve found that having an enriched perspective when it comes to creating characters and concocting plots is only one of the many benefits of aging. Yes, benefit. That’s the word I used. Because whenever my friends moan about getting older (which seems to keep happening more and more often), I can’t help playing the role of devil’s advocate.
It’s true that there’s a lot to be said for hair with no gray in it, foreheads with no lines in them, and skin that doesn’t look like it’s made out of crepe paper. And many less obvious body parts, from joints to bladders, don’t work quite as well as they used to.
Still, while they say that getting old isn’t for the faint of heart, being young isn’t as carefree as people like to pretend. Establishing a career, finding a mate, even feeling secure about being able to pay the rent every month all make the 20s, 30s, and even 40s pretty darned stressful.
In short, I find there are many advantages to this stage of life. It’s a club in which membership is unspoken. There are no dues and no newsletters, no name tags or secret handshakes. As for the initiation, we’ve been working on that for years.
So, with apologies to David Letterman, here’s my own Top Ten List of the advantages of becoming a Woman (and a Writer) of a Certain Age.
10. Not having to care about how we look in a bathing suit. Neither does anyone else. (Fun fact: Dame Agatha Christie was a surfing wahini!)
9. Never having to study for anything again—not finals, not driver’s tests, not licensing exams. (Of course, the one thing I’ll never tire of “studying” is human nature.)
8. Getting off the treadmill of work. No more needing to work our butts off doggedly pursuing new projects, struggling to reinvent ourselves to fit whatever a particular job description calls for, or accepting any kind of assignment that comes along even if it makes us gag.
7. Exercise and diet with the goal of feeling good, not looking good.
6. Enjoying ourselves immensely when our adult children come to visit—and letting out a sigh of relief when they go back to their own lives.
5. Feeling free to give up on a book if it doesn’t grab us after the first few pages. I suspect this type of confidence when it comes to making judgments about others’ words on the printed page also improves Writers of a Certain Age’s ability to judge (and improve) their own!
4. Not worrying about whether we’ll ever accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish in life. Either I’ve already done it, I realize I’ll never do it, or I’m working on it now, doing things like joining the Y so I can swim whenever I feel like it, traveling to exotic locales, and allowing myself to indulge in an entire day of accomplishing nothing but getting lost in a book I can’t put down.
3. No more menstruation! (Goodness, whoever came up with that idea in the first place?)
2. Not agonizing over what I’ll be when I grow up. Not that I can’t try new things; just that I don’t have to be so goal-oriented about it. This newfound freedom also enables me to explore different genres, different types of characters, even different writing styles.
In a hurry for Number 1? Happens to me, too. Let me tell you a story… I’ve got the time.
A few weekends ago, my husband and I were meandering along a charming country road dotted with wineries and farm stands on Long Island’s North Fork. Being a Woman of a Certain Age, my thoughts eventually turned where they always turn: the question of where I’d find a soon-to-be-needed ladies room. I wandered into a rustic building. The only person behind the counter was a woman close enough to my age that she undoubtedly had the same fond memories of both David Cassidy and Davy Jones that I did. Instantly recognizing kindred spirits, we smiled at each other warmly. “I don’t suppose you have a restroom…?”
She hesitated for only a moment. “It’s not open to the public,” she said. “But you can use it.”
I wasn’t surprised. Grateful, but not surprised. After all, the woman and I are members of the same special club.
And the Top Advantage of being a Woman (and Writer) of a Certain Age is—
1. Being part of that community, embraced by a warm, sympathetic group of people who fully understand that we’ve got to look after each other—and that when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, even if it means breaking a few rules.
Cynthia Baxter is the author of two mystery series, Reigning Cats & Dogs (Bantam Books) featuring Long Island veterinarian Jessica Popper, and Murder Packs a Suitcase (Bantam Books) featuring travel writer Mallory Marlowe. Her most recent book is a psychological suspense novel, The Housesitter (Dark Corridors), available through Amazon.com and iTunes.