Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Age vs. Beauty

From a recent Spoken Word venue, at which I argued for Age against Beauty. Yes, it's a rant.

I am 53.

Let me tell you what that means.

It means that I was an American born during the cold war in Munich, Germany, where the sound of my parents’ late night, booze-fueled conversations with artists, educators, and social activists who worked for Radio Free Europe was the walla of my childhood.

Being 53 means that I embody the optimism and radicalism of the sixties, when giving peace a chance was not a slogan on a high end T-shirt, but a viable philosophy. And when women grew their underarm hair to declare their equality to men, instead of shaving their cootches to declare their insecurity over not measuring up to their boyfriends’ porn fantasies.

Being 53 means that I lived in New York City in the early 80s. Pre-AIDS, pre-economic crash, pre-snark. When young people still believed that they could make something so profound that they could change the world. Feminism wasn’t a confusing concept, and sex was fun because no one gave a shit about “the rules”. It means that I did cocaine in the VIP room of Studio 54 and danced with Andy Warhol. OK, he stood there and I shimmied around him. To be honest, that was all anyone ever did around Warhol.  Later that night I actually danced with Tony Danza and Phyllis Diller. Together. I have yet to meet another person who can make this claim.

Being 53 means that I got to work on an HBO television show for three years that nurtured some of the hottest, most relevant comedians of the late 90s and beyond.

I’ve written a bestselling book, married my best friend, been a beauty editor for a national magazine, backpacked through India, gazed upon the Panama Canal, walked around the Gaza pyramids, birthed two children, read most of the classics, lived in London, published in the New York Times, and chipped chunks out of the Berlin wall just after it fell. I’ve hiked to the base camp of the Matterhorn (the real one), occupied LA  – in a tent—with my family, danced with the London Festival Ballet, sold seven television pilots, met living saints, and walked the very steps that Ghandi walked before he was shot. I have stood amongst the funeral pyres on the ghats of the Ganges, looked through the smoke of burning bodies, seen my own death, and understood my existence to be both profoundly significant and utterly irrelevant. I have stood in a classroom teaching seventh grade English and wondered how any of us survive the wounding mortification of yearning and not getting. And I have squatted behind a lone rock in the middle of the Sahara Desert, digging a hole for my own waste, and realized that the only thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is shame. That, and thinking puns are funny.

You may be young. You may be beautiful. You may have already had a shitting in the wilderness epiphany by now. Eventually all of us do. But even so, when you – youth and beauty-- and I are together, I am the most interesting motherfucker in the room.

And even if you don’t agree with me. Even if you would still rather spend your limited time basking in the glow of already fading youth and beauty – because, let’s face it, physical beauty always, always wanes unless you’re Diane Sawyer -- even if you would trade every ounce of wisdom and courage you would gain by growing older, for a decade more of youth and beauty – I don’t give a fuck.

And that is the true beauty of aging – the pure lack of fuck that I give about anything that doesn’t make me a better, more compassionate, more connected, more useful, more committed, more sexy human being. If only to myself.

In the truest sense, aging is radicalizing. Surviving loss and facing an uncertain future, either breaks you or makes you a badass. Surviving loss gives you boundless compassion for the weak, the dispossessed, the miserable, the vulnerable, and the spiritually numb. Surviving heartbreak, teaches you that humility is not passivity, tears are not weakness, stillness is not laziness, and aging is not death.

Recently, I was at Ross, buying a particularly jazzy pair of fashion forward skinny jeans. The checker eyeballed me and said, “Senior discount?”

My jaw dropped.

What? I mean, seriously, what the fuck? Do I look like a grandma? I’m buying leggings that look like denim – no grandmother does that!

My younger self would have taken the checker on, would have protested my obvious youth. Or impressed upon her that I only looked worn out because I’d been up all night partying and screwing my brains out. But my older self doesn’t give a flying fuck. So I said, “Why, yes. Yes I am a senior.”

And I got the discount on my jeggings.

Because I am the coolest motherfucker in the room.

Originally performed at "The Write Club" -- Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles


  1. This one is awesome..I can so totally relate!!! I'll take the senior discount next time I'm asked!!!

  2. Wonderful thank you, I have just finished reading your book and have now shared this on my fb as it's funny, relevant and true, as it's now past midnight here in Milan.... Happy Christmas :)

  3. HAHA!! That is playing them at their own game and winning. Love the unexpected result and, as always, your writing entertains, moves and surprises me.