I decided years ago not to accept the prevailing view that women should look no older than 25 (whatever that means, especially these days). So I've pledged never to dye my hair or get plastic surgery because the premise behind both is that the things that naturally happen to us if we're lucky enough to live past our youth — going gray, getting wrinkles, and the like — are shameful and should be covered up.
I've confronted some of the changes in my appearance later than others: I've always looked younger than my age, I've always been thin, and while I do have obvious strands of gray, they're by far outnumbered by the dark brown color I've had all my life.
But my first gray hair gave me pause, my smile lines weren't greeted with a grin, and I didn’t immediately see the need for reading glasses. I exercise for my health, but I do compare myself to my former self/younger women/celebrity peers on occasion, and I don't always feel at ease with how I measure up.
Cherishing the constants
My strategy for accepting physical changes is to try, with greater or lesser success, to focus on the things that last. The older I get, the more I realize (for better and for worse) that the “me” who looks out through my eyes has traits that have nothing to do with chronology. I may look ridiculous if I invest too heavily in the media version of beauty, but inner beauty is something I can take with me to my grave, even as the inevitable decline of the rest of me hastens on.
Or can I? I haven't seen Still Alice, the Julianne Moore movie about a woman whose Alzheimer’s starts to manifest around the age of 50. I'll be 49 in mid-February. My aunt, who lives in Atlanta, has Alzheimer's. She has no idea who I am, which isn't surprising since I only see her once a year, but she also seems to have no idea who her daughter or my mother is, except in spurts. What part of who she was remains? The answer is fluid and certainly not something she can hold onto.
Actually, this grim reminder of the vagaries of life inspires me. In January, despite spending the week after Christmas away from the piano, I returned refreshed. On the one hand, I got great pleasure from playing easy warhorses in preparation for a concert. On the other, I started listening to CDs my dad made from cassettes of my long-ago performances. This led to creating a mental list of pieces I'll never play again, because I'll probably never do a better job than I already did, and they're too much work at this stage of the game.
If that doesn't sound inspired, it isn't. The inspiration came after I played three short pieces a week ago at a local event and wasn't completely satisfied with two of them. I'd practiced, but not with the urgency I've felt before. My contemplation of resting on my laurels had sapped some of my focus, and the results were less than satisfying, even though the audience liked the performance.
A Janus perspective
There will come a time when my only choice in certain aspects of my life is to look backward rather than pressing forward. And I realize that some things are slowly slipping away now. One example is that my ability to play from memory, a struggle since I had a concussion as a teen, has become an increasing challenge. Which makes me like everyone I know, but also reminds me, yet again, that nothing lasts. I am as I am today, and that's the only thing I know. Or rather, I am as I am this moment — 24 hours is a long time.
So the things that I cherish, that matter, aren't guaranteed. If I want my novels published, I have to keep honing my skills and risk rejection by seeking an agent or publisher. If I want to feel fulfilled as a pianist, I have to keep drawing from the Divine well that helps me continue to be as expressive and skillful as possible. If I want a good relationship with my children, I need to relate to them with respect, compassion, and integrity. And if I want to stay thin, I need to manage my chocolate habit.
Because nothing remains as it always was without my investment, and nothing will be accomplished if I don't do the work required. And I have to work while I can. And I don't know how long that will be.
So I focus on not the things that last, but the things that matter. Which will also change. Novel thoughts? No. But sometimes it takes a while for certain ideas to go from my head to my heart.