July 28th, 2012

#160: Don’t Get A Dog

What is it that makes middle-aged women not only run out en masse and get dogs, but become more attached to their dogs than to, say, their husbands and children?

Never mind, don’t answer that, I know what: The dogs actually like them!  Want to spend time with them!

While I understand, on an emotional level, the pull of midlife dog ownership, I am here to say: Resist.   And if it’s too late to resist, i.e. your youngest kid has gone to college leaving you as sole caregiver to his also-middle-aged dog, then at least resist making your relationship with your dog the most meaningful one in your life.

And if it’s too late for that?  Well, then you’ve got to run out and buy my new humor book Rabid: Are You Crazy About Your Dog or Just Crazy?   Track your rabidness every day on the Rabid tumblr, and commune with your fellow Rabidians on the Rabid Facebook page.

As with How Not To Act Old, if having a dog is inevitable, at least you should know how to laugh about it.

 

February 22nd, 2012

#159: Don’t Talk To Strangers

Want to make your kids so embarrassed by you that their faces burst into flames and they attempt to sink right down into the grime-covered floor?

Then go to a restaurant with them, spend some time acting like a normal person — you know, ordering a glass of wine, surveying the menu — and then, just when they’re starting to relax a little bit and think that this time being out with you might actually be fun, turn to those people next to you — yes, those absolute strangers — and start talking to them.

I mean, like you’re friends.  Yeah, like you are actually at the restaurant together.  Ask them what they do for work, where they live, how they heard about the place, whether their food is any good.  Then maybe move on to their marital status, fertility issues, money troubles.

This happened to us tonight.  We were in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, feeling all cool and young and hip, even though most of the other people in the restaurant were actually too young to be our children.  We were seated at a communal table but that was okay, since everybody was ignoring us, or if not ignoring us, being extra nice to us, as if we were visiting dignitaries from a faraway planet.

And then in walked a father and his teenage son, who sat down next to us.  I’ll call them G and K, because those are their initials (hi, G and K!).  And then….

Well, how did it start?  I guess we’re old, and we just can’t help ourselves.  We made some comment, and then the dad G made some comment, and pretty soon we were talking about where we lived and where we worked and whether we preferred ice cream or potato chips and what we were doing in 1982.

Meanwhile, poor 16-year-old K bore the whole thing pretty well, I thought, much better than our kids would have.  Our kids would have been mortified and would have been shooting us veiled yet pointed looks letting us know that they were going to punish us for all this random friendliness.

As soon as they were alone with us again, they would have hissed, Don’t you know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers?

But hey, G ended up buying our dinner: Thank you so much, G!  And so I invited him to my book party, you know, the one for that new novel of mine, The Possibility of You, that you were just about to buy.  And so it can happen that when you talk to strangers, they become friends, as long as you’re old enough to handle it.

January 17th, 2012

#158: Defy Expectations

As How Not To Act Old dictates go, this one is a tad sanctimonious, a bit fifty-and-fantabulous, a little “Yeah, you old, but you still got the mojo, Mama!”

And you know, we don’t buy that bullshit around here. We’re all about: Sure, we’re a little bit wiser, but our tits are saggy and we need gum surgery and this kinda blows. I mean, we may be in denial, but we’re not insane.

I have a selfish agenda, though, which is to get you all to run out and buy my new novel, The Possibility of You, which you can preorder (very good for me) or buy at a bookstore as of February 28 (also very good for me), and really, it’s very good for you too, because you already know you love me, and this is the best book I’ve ever written, and I promise you’re going to eat it up.

Unless you’re a guy, in which case, probably not so much.  Though you could possibly earn yourself some good-enough sex tonight if you buy a copy for your wife.

So where else does the “Defy expectations” part come in?

It comes in when I tell people about Possibility and the first thing they ask me is: “Is it funny?” And I gotta tell you, No, it’s not funny. It’s “complex and compelling and compulsively readable,” according to Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks, whose latest novel is Caleb’s Crossing. Peggy Orenstein, New York Times Magazine columnist and author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, called it “deeply satisfying and enjoyable and juice.” But alas, not funny.

You see, I’m defying expectations here. Not doing what I did before, i.e. not acting old. I wrote a bunch of other novels, like Younger, that were entertaining and yes, even funny. But I wanted to write a novel that was more serious, that was at least partly historical, that had an operatic story and and a complicated plot, and so I spent five years working on The Possibility of You, for no money and with no certainty that it would ever be published.

So I’m pretty damn proud of that and hopeful, too, sending my book out into the world, and also terrified that I took this huge risk that may not pay off, because everybody wants me to write funny, and this time, I didn’t.

I do have another funny book coming out in September from Bloomsbury, called Rabid: Are You Crazy About Your Dog or Just Crazy? I guarantee that HNTAO fans are going to love that one. And in May, Glamour magazine is publishing a book version of my infamous list, 30 Things Every Woman Should Have & Should Know By The Time She’s 30, with introduction and epilogue and some other stuff by me, which you can all buy for your daughters.

But The Possibility of You?  That one’s for you.  And isn’t reading a great novel the most fun you can have without laughing?

July 4th, 2011

#157: Don’t Fear the Wrong

Some old people, even some who are not my husband, are so afraid of being wrong — of feeling insecure, inexpert, foolish, stupid, whatever — that they work very hard at being right all the time. Or at least, at not being wrong, not doing or saying the wrong thing.

What’s, well, wrong with that?, you may ask. I mean, now that your ass has fallen, your gums have receded, your memory is shot, and your kids hate you, haven’t you earned the right to at least know what you’re doing? Being able to roast a perfect chicken without a recipe or a meat thermometer, rattling off the capital of North Dakota without the aid of Wikipedia — this sort of all-around expertise is all you’ve got left, goddammit!

But, according to Alina Tugend, author of the wonderful new book Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, our fear of being wrong and our need to be right can actually hold us — and yeah, that means you, honey — back in life.

“If you live in constant terror of goofing up, research has shown you’re less likely to be take risks and be creative,” Tugend says. “Those who fear goofing up also have a hard time listening to any kind of negative feedback, and therefore don’t learn from their errors and move forward – on the job and in life.”

At the same time I was mulling the wisdom of Tugend’s book, business guru Seth Godin sent out this blog post with a similar message: Fear of being wrong can keep you from taking the kinds of chances required to improve your life.

The good news, according to Tugend: As you get older, you can actually become more willing to let go of wrong-o-phobia and so take positive risks. “I actually find it easier to move out of my comfort zone in trying new things than I used to because I’m not AS worried about what people think,” she says. “That doesn’t mean I’ll embrace looking like a fool, but the benefits of learning something new – if it’s something I really want to learn – outweighs the fear of failing.”

May 2nd, 2011

#156: Downsize Your Dining Room

During one of my random tours of Twitter the other day (how are you supposed to use that thing?), I happened to notice that @EpsteinLiterary, aka literary agent Kate Epstein, claimed she’d sold her house in less than a day using the advice in a book she’d represented,

Okay, excuse the dangling sentence there, but I couldn’t remember the name of the book, so I wasted some time trying to track my order on Amazon before finally hauling my lazy ass up to the bedroom to check on the title, but then I had to make the bed and carry my husband’s dirty cups downstairs to the kitchen, where I felt compelled to repolish the countertops I oiled last night, and then when I got back to my computer I’d forgotten the name of the book again.

Sigh.

But now I have it. It’s Home Staging That Sells, by Starr C. Osborne. And yes, this is an Old Person Style Reminiscence, but I don’t go on like this very much anymore, at least not in print, so you’re just going to have to put up with it.

Though before I lose your attention completely, here’s a visual aid:

So anyway, I got this book, thinking ahead to the day in the not-so-distant future when we were going to be forced to dump unload sell our beautiful home, which absolutely does not need to have the entire foundation repointed or the front porch rebuilt, in hopes of discovering some simple, eye-catching things we might do to get enough money to put our last kid through college and rent a little shack down by the railroad tracks.

One of the really smart things this book talks about is the tastes of different generations of home buyers.  You have to realize you’re going to be selling your house to someone a generation or two younger than you, the book says, and stage it accordingly.  And one thing that people in their 30s and early 40s don’t care about, according to the book, is a formal dining room.

Brilliant, I thought, and absolutely true.  Young (well, young in their minds, but young-ish in fact) couples who’ve been living in the urban youth ghetto and are now transporting their newly child-encumbered lives to the suburbs have done without a dining room since….well, since they lived with mom and dad.  They don’t entertain by throwing formal dinner parties in dining rooms; when they have friends over, everyone sits around the living room or stands around the kitchen or heads outside.  Dining rooms are old as — old as Richard Nixon.

This puts me in mind of the A. R. Gurney play The Dining Room, one of my favorite plays ever.  (Forget that going to the theatre to see a play called The Dining Room makes you doubly-old.)  The play is about a changing cast of WASP-y characters over the years dealing with love, divorce, life, death, and changing mores, all in the dining room.   In 1982, when I saw The Dining Room with my brand-new husband, I only aspired to having a dining room of my own.  And now, thinking of dismantling the dining room of my life, searching for a video to post on this site, I found every scene from the play, no matter how badly shot or poorly acted, moved me to tears.  Here’s what I mean:

So yeah, if you want not to act old and to sell your house to a 37-year-old who makes five times as much money as you, downsize your dining room. Just don’t expect it to be easy.

April 7th, 2011

#155: Don’t Read Mass Market Paperbacks

OK, this may seem like an odd directive.  Why not: Don’t read trashy novels?  Or maybe: Don’t read any kind of fiction?  And wait a minute, didn’t you tell me way back at Number 42 that I wasn’t supposed to read anything at all? And what is a mass market paperback anyway?

A mass market paperback is one of those small, cheap, usually chunky paperbacks, usually with lurid covers featuring big purple type against a shiny black background and an air-brushed picture of a kissing couple or a gun.  They’re sold in supermarkets and they fit into a purse — you know, like your mom’s purse. Or, as my mom used to call it, her “pocketbook.” Pocket book: get it? (Thanks, Lee.)

My mother-in-law reads mass market paperbacks.  She reads them because they cost $7.99 instead of $13.99, because her favorite commercial authors are available in mass market right after hardcover, and because they fit in her, yeah, her pocketbook.

My daughter and son, however, who basically comprise my entire focus group of young people, never read them.  Never ever.   Ever.  Defying the dire predictions of the book industry, they do read books and neither of them has any desire for a Kindle and would use an iPad only for watching pirated television.  They even read fiction over non-fiction, but both prefer trade paperbacks — larger, more expensive, but most important of all cooler-looking and more aesthetically pleasing than the tacky little mass markets.

Ebooks are permissible, but only for hardcovers you must read right now, like Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad or Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom or Kate Atkinson’s (love her, great not-young yet not-old characters) Started Early, Took My Dog, all fabulous and worth buying in whatever form.  Bonus: The type is big enough on the Kindle and iPad to read while you exercise, which in my view is about the only thing that makes exercise worth doing.

But if you really want to not act old while you read, I recommend the trade paperback novel.  My favorite book all year was Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, a gorgeous, gripping, and insightful novel about a young person in olden times (you know, the 50s, when I and the author were both born) written with a grownup’s perspective and sensibility.  It’s about the Brooklyn of our parents and grandparents, before it became the Brooklyn of our children.  I defy you not to break into wracking sobs at the end, even if, like me, you read it on the beach.

Oh, and right, doesn’t someone you know have a birthday coming up that cries out for a copy of How Not To Act Old? (Available only in trade paperback and ebook versions, naturally.) I love you.

January 12th, 2011

#154: I’ve Decided: It’s “Don’t Dress Up”

Despite the confusion the New York Times brought to this issue,  I’ve decided after much deliberation and observation that the official How Not To Act Old dictate should be “Don’t Dress Up.”

The Evil Young are much more likely to go out looking like they cleaned the basement, got drunk, danced all night, had sex eight or nine times, slept for 20 hours, then rolled out of bed and went out for pizza without ever once combing their hair much less changing their clothes.

Middle-aged people, by contrast, try to look all cool and casual, but their jeans always fit and are freshly laundered and they’re otherwise tidy and pulled-together.  Not, I must add, that this is always a good thing.  Here’s the Pres in his Mom Jeans.

And how do you know you’re really old?  You show up for everything from grocery shopping to movie watching to plane riding way too overdressed: coordinated clothes, polished shoes, matching accessories.  You dress like you care.  Like anybody else cares.

Sigh.  When I’m dressed wrong these days, I almost always err on the side of being too dressed up, even when I think I’m dressed down.  I worry about which boots to wear with my jeans.  String on a necklace over my sweater.  Think I look hip and relaxed.  Then get to the seminar or the party feeling like I’m wearing the equivalent of pearls and white gloves.

December 21st, 2010

My Christmas Problem

November 10th, 2010

#153: Don’t Fear Death

I went to the cemetery today with my badass friend Mary Jean: historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, not that far from where we met and became friends as young moms 25 years ago.  A few minutes into our old people-style trolley tour, I looked over to find Mary Jean had put on her sunglasses:

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How freaking perfect is that?

Mary Jean’s dark sense of humor and style put me in mind, as we wound through the gravestones, of a number of things. One was my ongoing search for what constitutes great style when you’re too old to pretend you’re 38 and too young for the crypt.

When last I posted fashion photos, I was criticized for focusing on the don’ts. Couldn’t I be a little less mean, a little more positive?  Couldn’t I find any people who were doing things right?

Well, yes, today I found a few, besides Mary Jean:
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This fellow looks like he knows I was taking his picture, maybe because I came right up to him and pointed my cell phone at him and snapped a photo, while pretending to look over the field of gravestones to New York harbor.

But really, doesn’t he look great? Love the stocking cap, the orange and red combo, the keychain on the belt loop, the suede skaters’ sneakers. I wanted to rush right out and buy an outfit exactly like his.

I thought the woman below looked great too, in a French kind of way. You can’t go wrong with a big, well-knotted scarf, a Barbour jacket, natural hair and no makeup, slim-fitting jeans.
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And then there was this pair. Well, really, it was mostly him I was interested in. Lots of guys, young and old, wear tweed jackets and chinos, but what elevated this outfit was the peach shirt and the long, soft-looking (trust me on this) green scarf, wound artfully around the neck.
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If you’re an old guy, or gal, with a basic sense of style, you can take any outfit from ancient to amazing by adding a really special scarf: longer and more dramatic, in a more luxurious fabric and standout color than you may first be attracted to.

Back to Mary Jean. And those skulls on her glasses.  And the fact that her idea of a good time, like mine, includes touring a cemetery.  And that she’s not afraid to make fun of death.

I’ve been trying to come up with a title for a theoretical new spin on How Not To Act Old that my (yes, young) agent likes, but she thinks all my choices are too dark.

So tell me, do you like any of these?  Have any better ideas for me?

50 and F**ked
50 and F***ked (that’s freaked: count the asterisks)
Field Guide to the Evil Young
How to Rock Until You Die
Badass 4Eva

That last one’s for you, Mary Jean.

September 12th, 2010

#152: Tear Up Those Theatre Tickets

flickr-295119364-imageIt pains me to come clean about this, since, as a cultured person who cares about the future of art and wants to protect the finer entertainments — museums, the symphony, poetry, for Christ’s sake — against the onslaught of hip hop performances and monster truck rallies…..wait a minute, what was I trying to say?

Oh right: I feel like a shithead for ragging on the theatre.  The theatre is good.  The theatre is noble.  Noel Coward, Shakespeare, all the way back to those ancient Greek guys whose names I can never really keep straight: They all believed in the theatre, and therefore so should I.

Not liking the theatre is akin to not liking Mozart, or Picasso, to not appreciating a fine burgundy or understanding why Howard’s End is a brilliant novel.

And I do like the theatre — no, I love the theatre, truly honestly love it — about once every ten times I go.  Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, was absolutely mesmerizing last winter, and I’m not only saying that because my friend Jeffrey produced it.

The other nine times, I find myself sitting there thinking: Oh no, I have to go to the bathroom.  How am I going to get out of here if I have to go to the bathroom?  Will they let me back in?  I can wait.  I think I can wait.  But I’m going to have to get right into the bathroom the second intermission starts.  How am I going to get to the bathroom before there’s an endless line?  If I told everyone there was an emergency, would they let me go first?

Shit, what’s happening on stage?  I kind of lost the thread.  This guy’s head is in my way.  Why does that person keep coughing?  I wish I had remembered to bring my binoculars; I can’t really see the actors’ faces.  Who plays the mother again?  Oh no, I think I really have to go to the bathroom….

The only really positive thing about going to the theatre these times is that it makes me feel positively youthful.  I am often one of the youngest people in the audience, and since I live near New York, we’re talking Broadway audience, several hundred people.  Even when the play is hip, avant garde, with young stars and young themes, you look around in the seats and everybody is old, old, old.

I guess this is partly because the theatre is expensive.  But in the world of $14 mojitos and $865 Alexander Wang bags, that shouldn’t be a barrier, if the theatre had what young people want.

It’s cheering on one level that a play like Green Day’s American Idiot, which features punk music and exploding televisions and a cast energetic enough to light the Great White Way on their adrenalin alone, could be such a big hit.  I was dancing in my seat, along with a lot of the other white haired people in the audience.  But my 16-year-old son?  He was snoring.

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