WRITING SHORT: 15/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Between the second and third years of law school, I was one of thirty-two summer clerks at a major Boston law firm. We were all sure what we did and said that summer would determine whether the firm made a job offer. Actually the firm had already decided. It took really bad behavior not to be hired. But we didn’t know that.

To ease our way through the summer, each clerk was assigned a mentor. Mine was a senior associate who’d been a published poet before becoming a lawyer. He didn’t hover. But he was always friendly, helpful and generous with his time when I came to him. One day, a partner made a light remark about one of my research papers as we passed in the hall. I went to my mentor: “Is this something I need to think about?” His reply: “Never don’t think.”

At first I assumed he was telling me how to succeed at the firm. Later I began to wonder whether this intelligent and widely read man had also been offering wisdom about how to live. Never not thinking is not the currently trendy “mindfulness.” It means always looking behind the obvious, the conventional, the clichés and soundbites offered by pundits, politicians, talking heads, even by ourselves to ourselves. It’s hard to do. You can quickly develop a headache just thinking about never not thinking. But if you don’t, aren’t you living a lie?

When I later came back to the firm as a first-year associate, I sought out my former mentor to explore this interesting proposition. He had become a partner. His secretary asked what it was about and said I could make an appointment, but he had a lot on his plate that week and probably wouldn’t have time for a while. I did run into him now and then at the Friday all-lawyer lunches. He would smile, offer a pleasant nod of recognition and move on. I was no longer his assignment.  Now that’s something to think about.

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WHEN DOES “OLD” BEGIN? — A GUEST POST

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[Although I’ve begun to think of people in their 60’s as “still young,” I realize that’s just a matter of perspective.  There was a time when I thought 50 was “old.”   Here’s a piece by Martha Mendelsohn, a New York-based writer colleague of mine who’s at least twelve years younger than I am. It first appeared in the Winter 2011-2012 issue of Persimmontree, an online magazine of the arts by women over sixty, as a response to a request for short pieces about “The Next Step.”  I enjoyed reading it when it was published there, and felt it certainly also deserved a place in a blog about getting old in a world where most other people, who appear to be getting younger every year, have begun to treat you as if you’re somewhat older than you still feel.  I should add that Martha has curly streaky-blonde hair, probably wears a size 2 or 4 and looks damn good — not just “for her age” but for any age.]

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 ACCEPTANCE

by Martha Mendelsohn

The members of my book group were downing the dregs of the Manchego and wine when L. cleared her throat: “This may sound like a weird question—but do I look okay?”

Surely that was a rhetorical question. “You look more than okay,” we hastened to reassure her. With her twinkling blue eyes and deep dimples, L., at 68, was still an undeniably attractive woman. “Because as soon as I got on the subway,” L. continued, “a man, who couldn’t have been under 50, offered me his seat.”

A groan of recognition arose. It seemed that all of us recent Medicare recipients had been subjected to this particular brand of public transportation gallantry, and none of us appreciated it. Maybe we could no longer take the subway steps three at a time, but we went to the gym, chased after grandkids, and still worked. We were not about to throw ourselves under the train tracks for these unwanted acts of kindness, but we deemed them offensive.

J. was the most outraged. She had spent much time and money having the quotation mark between her eyebrows and other signs of age erased, but that didn’t stop a passenger from insisting she take her seat on the crosstown bus. Someone suggested: “Next time, just say, ‘Thanks, but I’m not pregnant.’”

I find myself thinking that the only time anyone should cede a seat is for a pregnant woman or any passenger, whether 19 or 90, with an obvious infirmity. Why shouldn’t an obviously still-mobile person of a certain age be allowed to remain standing? I was on the bus with my husband when a not-so-young woman bolted up, begging him to take her seat. (He acquiesced reluctantly.) “This man plays eight hours of tennis a week,” I informed her, even though in truth it annoyed me how much time he spent on the courts.

For now, hoping to head off seat offers, I hide my under-eye pouches behind sunglasses. But I encounter other affronts: At doctors’ offices, I routinely am called “hon,” “sweetie,” and “dear.” Will the time come when I feel grateful for such endearments and those thoughtful riders willing to yield their seats? Will I ever reach the point where “pushing 70” doesn’t sound like it refers to my mother?

The next step is to accept my age. To accept the seat.

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[Martha has also written a page-turner of a YA novel which is scheduled for publication in April 2015 and may be pre-ordered at Amazon.  It’s called The Bromley Girls and is about a Jewish girl’s experience with latent anti-semitism as a sophomore at an exclusive and expensive girls’ private school in Manhattan in the 1950’s. If there are young readers in your extended family and circle of friends, you may want to check it out.]