The Crazy Business of Aging

Now in her 60s, this child of the Sixties is grappling with the ticking clock that gets louder with each passing year

In my 20s, I was a Bad Girl. After turning on, tuning in and dropping out, I traveled across Europe in a VW bus, took a freighter from Bilbao, Spain, to Puerto Rico, got busted for hashish upon entry and nearly spent the rest of the decade in a San Juan prison. My man and I tried our hand at "going back to the land" (a misnomer, since I grew up in the suburbs) from Colorado to British Columbia. Our last stop together — with our infant son — was a plywood shack in the Trinity Alps of Northern California, where we had no plumbing, no electricity, no source of heat and our nearest neighbors were bears. After it became clear that if we stayed there we'd die of exposure when the snows came, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and became a single mother at 25.

I spent my 30s trying to recover from my 20s. My son and I lived for a time in a household of women devoted to consciousness-raising and creating a new model of communal living, which lasted for a few, mostly good, years. I was an actress, the director of a theatre company and a playwright; my play Jacob's Ladder, about a recovering hippie single mother, was produced off Broadway. But for all its glory, writing plays was not exactly a lucrative career path, so I supplemented my income by becoming a journalist, essayist and author. And, refreshingly, I married a wonderful man who actually had a real job and wasn't stoned all the time.

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In my 40s, in addition to reporting stories about health and psychology for magazines such as Vogue, Glamour, Redbook, and Self, I became a seeker and wrote about my exploits in the inner world. I consulted psychics, shamans, shrinks, astrologers, past-life regression experts and spiritual teachers from a smorgasbord of traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and the Kabbalah. After taking one self-help workshop too many, I wrote "Women Who Run with the Poodles: Myths and Tips for Honoring Your Mood Swings," in which I advised readers to lighten up and send their inner child to summer camp.

In my 50s, I became the caregiver for my aging, widowed mother (this would be the woman I went fleeing from in my 20s), as well as a grandmother. And because the way I make sense of life is writing about it, I wrote about these and other milestones, too—in O, the Oprah Magazine, where I was a contributing writer, and More magazine. From the first days of my granddaughter's life, it became clear to me that my boomer generation was going to put our own stamp on grandparenthood the way we had done with marriage, motherhood and career. It also became clear to me that no writer had yet told the truth about this wondrous, juicy, sometimes thorny role. And so I edited "Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother"—the anti-Hallmark take on the subject.

Now in my 60s, this child of the Sixties is grappling with aging. (And a little shocked by the very fact of it.) Although I'm healthy and fit (well, pretty fit), the ticking clock gets louder with each passing year. Still, this time in my life is as exciting as it is daunting. I find myself wondering how women of my generation are going to redefine — to the degree possible — this business of getting older. How are we going to be different from our mothers and grandmothers? How will we be the same?

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Given my history of seeking the truth — always with a sense of irreverence — and somehow always being on the forward cusp of the movements and zeitgeist of my generation, I'd like to turn my attention to dealing with the challenges of this new, scary yet thrilling stage of life. My columns will reflect my personal pursuits and those of people I know to both stave off the inevitable and make peace with it: the great balancing act. I want to write about our struggles, triumphs, flops, fears, joys — everything from the mundane (what, if anything, to do about my wattles?) to sex, marriage, trying to be a better grandmother in my 60s than I was a mother in my 20s, remodeling (my husband and I are about to start renovation on the kitchen of what — yikes! — may be the last house we ever buy) to ultimate spiritual questions.

In other words: How to live now.

Tags: aging