On Being A Seventy-eight Year Old Writer
Written by
Joanne Barney
January 2013
Written by
Joanne Barney
January 2013

For much of my life I’ve avoided old ladies. Not that I didn’t like them.  Mostly, they just didn’t interest me much.  A few of these almost invisible, women come to mind


            My grandma Anderl, a pudding of a woman who lived with my family for several of the last years of her life, her daily glass of bourbon, doctor-prescribed, she insisted. 

            Mrs. Kauffman, the housemother in my college sorority with her precise lacquered hair and manicured nails who taught me how to iron my marriage sheets. 

            Ms. Pedersen, the spinster English teacher in the room next to mine, recycling meticulous forty-year-old lesson plans on the use of the subjunctive and asking if I’d like to borrow them.

            The elementary teacher in the room down the hall, who at sixty, attained her life’s goal of becoming a school principal, just in time to be asked to retire. 

            The Medicare-eligible counselor, dissatisfied with daytime TV, returning to her job on the kindergarten story rug, even though it meant getting on all fours and leaning on at least one five-year-old to rise up.

            My unnaturally coal-black-haired, crepe-skinned, neighbor, with her push-up bra decolletage, searching the Internet daily for a newer, younger bedmate.

            The raggedy woman in the plastic rain cap, sitting on the park bench talking to anything that moves, squirrels even, about her dead husband, probably a sister of the wild-haired shopper at Fred Meyer leaning over the head lettuce, asking how it’s doing today.


For years, I observed these women and others like them.  From a distance, smiling a little, turning away. They had little to do with me, with who I was, with what my life was all about.


And now I’m one of them. 


Today I heard myself talking to the Brussels sprouts in the vegetable section.  ‘Nasty little buggers,” I said as I piled a dozen of them in the plastic bag. “Why did I marry a man who loves you?” 


Last week I ironed our new 500-count cotton sheets because the developing permanent wrinkles in the top hem chafed my chin.  “Should have bought polyester,” I muttered into my ironing board. Mrs. K. didn’t have that choice back then.


For some reason, in spite of already having a man to sleep with, I sidled into Victoria’s Secret this weekend and, with boobs smashed into steel-like armature pretending to be a bra, felt as if I were an ancient stand-in for Super Woman. I also gave up on the idea of hair dye.


A couple weeks ago, I advised the copy editor of my about-to-be-printed book that her use of salt-and-pepper commas needed to be tamped down; also, semi-colons, not to mention colons and M-dashes. “Want to borrow my Strunk/White?” I asked. I could hear Ms. Petersen cheering.


This lazy morning, I drank a third cup of coffee and glanced at the obituaries, followed by the want ads. Someone needed a tutor proficient in English skills willing to work with reluctant learners. I almost called for an interview when I realized I truly am not able to get up off the reluctant -learner rug.


This evening I poured myself a glass of Scotch and watched the seven o’clock news on PBS.  It was a nice way to end the day, even if my doctor did not prescribe it.  Grandma knew.


Tomorrow, I will receive the proof of Graffiti Grandma. I am to give the go-ahead on its publishing.  This will be a little like getting a principalship and then realizing that you don’t have the time or the energy to create your perfect school. And that from here on out, my goal will most likely be what it is for all old ladies:  one day at a time, seize that day, breathe, be glad to be alive and kicking; always carry a plastic rain cap in a coat pocket.


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  • Jo Anne Valentine Simson

    Really enjoyable post! And I SO identify! I didn't avoid older women when I was younger, though. Didn't know many of them (grandmas both died early), and those I knew were admirable: a college biology teacher and chemistry teacher. Amazing women!

    Still, as an older woman now, myself, I see how easy it is to be ignored, especially as a writer.

  • Joanne Barney

    I agree, Jenni, with everything you've written.  A certain freedom comes with age.  My mother, at 98,, who now speaks her mind about most things after a quiet, accommodating life,  would agree.  Jo

  • Jenni Ogden Writing

    Great blog post Jo; thanks to Jenny Bell for pointing in its direction. It is very freeing being oldish and (mostly) enjoying it. Having good health helps, having young grandchildren who don't notice or care about your age helps, and still feeling about 40 (or even 35) inside helps! Probably banning brightly lit mirrors helps too. And the joys of not having to clock in at work every morning, especially when it is a perfect day for a long breakfast and a good book, or being able to work on the novel until 2am if the mood is right, and then sleep in next morning. Love it!

  • Joanne Barney

    Thank you, Jenny.  I appreciate your words and I'll look for Mary Wesley--she'll be a good inspiration.  And you may want to know that I think 52 was the best time of my life in all ways.  I started publishing short stories, I got married to a nice man, and I changed jobs and found a new career.  I liked being 52. The whole (or half of it at least) was ahead of me  -- and is for you, too. Jo