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The Art of Aging - Fabulous Femmes of Advanced Years

01 February 2012

For many of my friends it’s the year of the big 0, mostly 60 but quite a few hitting the Shakespearian span of three score years plus 10.   The main reaction is disbelief.  How did I get this old so quickly?  Where have all those years gone?  The soon-to-be 70-year-olds are strangely angry – as if living long is a bad thing.

In the past I’ve parroted the same mantra whenever a big 0 birthday comes  – “getting older is way better than the alternative.”  

But since I met Bel Kauffman, my mindset has shifted.  She’s 100 years old1 and living life to the full.  Upsweep of blonde hair, huge glamorous round sunglasses and a red scarf, she’s on her feet, entrancing us, without any notes for 20 minutes.

Sure she leans a little on her cane, but what we notice is how smart, funny and witty she is.  At one stage Bel loses her thread for a tic, “I would never have forgotten what I wanted to say at 99,” she quips.

On the benefits if attaining her century she says, “Whenever I’m asked to do anything I don’t want to do, I say ‘no thank you’ and when I’m asked why I say, ‘I’m 100 years old.’”  And Bel is still working, teaching a course in Jewish humour at Hunter College in New York.

Since we met a few months ago wherever I look there are more fantastic and fabulous femmes, nonagenerian and older.  My list is growing so I’ll just give you a taste:

Eva Zeisel, a Hungarian-born designer who at 105 marked the occasion of her birthday with publication.Prison Memoir about being imprisoned in a Leningrad cell for plotting to kill Stalin.  Her editor said, \"She is very, very sharp.\" Though her vision and hearing are failing, Eva is working on new designs, including a ceramic egg holder

Tayo Shibata who for years enjoyed a beloved hobby: classical Japanese dancing. When her son urged her to find a pastime that wouldn't be so hard on her back, she started to write poetry. Her first collection hit the bestseller list, selling over 1.5 million copies. \"A flower bloomed from a century-old tree,\" the 99-year-old told her fans. 

So far my oldest Fabulous Femme is Frederica Sagor Maas who died in November 2011, at 111.  A scriptwriter for silent movies she arrived in Hollywood aged 23.  At 99 she published her memoir, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood, in which she described the bosses she worked for as “chauvinist honchos”.

So here’s the thing, if – and I know it’ll only some of us, a minority, but why not be optimistic – we live to 111, or even 100 or 90, and we’re still productive, having fun …  then turning 60 or 70 is … a mere trifle.  

Instead of looking back at where all the years have gone, we need to be planning new lives, new beginnings, adventures, consolidation, development …  After all there’s a whole lotta living to do.

If you’ve got your own Fabulous Femme role models over 90, please write and let me know about them.   I’m compiling my list, making a little book about them to have ready and waiting for those of you about to have a BIG birthday.