Let’s Talk with Karla Brandenburg

What is “Old?”
by Karla Brandenburg

My mother always said old is a state of mind. You’re only as old as you feel. I gotta tell ya, some days I feel pretty darn old!

Last year I was at a birthday party with my daughter and one of her friends came up to her and asked, standing beside me, “How old is your mother?” I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Was she implying I looked old? Acted old? Or was it the opposite? I didn’t ask, I didn’t really want to know the answer to that question.

And then there was the time I was at work and meeting with one of my colleagues. We were discussing parental tax issues and she also made a comment about age. “I don’t feel my age, do you?” And she was younger than me. My response to her was that there are days I absolutely feel my age (and more!).

Age40Everybody has their own opinions about what is old and how they age, and a lot of that depends on your current age. When you’re 16 and you look at a 21 year old, you might say “wow, you’re old!” And then when you turn 30, you hit that “what do I have to show for my life?” (as if it’s over) and so on and so on as the years increase.

A year ago, I was given an anthology of short Christmas stories, sweet romances. One of them was about an “older” woman. You don’t see a lot of romances that deal with characters of a certain age, and although I enjoyed the story, I was offput by the health issues of the hero. He had a pacemaker, which felt a little cliché for an “older man.” The characters were presented as late 40’s, early 50’s. While I realize health issues increase with age, and certainly the pacemaker was not a stretch, as a reader, I felt those characters were entitled to a few more “healthy” years.

And then I thought of my mother again. I would often share with her “fun” videos featuring old people, and she was highly offended that I found them entertaining, in her opinion, based on the age of the subjects. What she missed was that those things were entertaining despite the age of the subjects involved. There was one where an old couple was waiting in a doctor’s waiting room with a large atrium. They sat down at a piano and did a duet, mimicking an old Victor Borge routine where they switch places on the bench. I always loved those old Victor Borge clips, and so did my mother, so I didn’t understand when she didn’t think it was a cute video! My mother refused to acknowledge age.

In the series I’m currently working on, I ran into an interesting issue with the mother of one of my families. She had five children and the series focuses on those siblings, so when I introduced a man in the mother’s life, I started to do the math. Too often we think of mothers as old, but based on the ages of her children, her life is far from over (which she was only too happy to tell her oldest daughter!).

As a reader, I prefer to read about characters within a certain age range, but with this latest series I stopped to wonder how many people would be interested to read about an “older” woman’s second chance at life and love. Would that be too much like an older couple playing musical chairs while playing a piano duet?

 

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Comments

  1. tinawhittle says

    I never really thought about how old I was (or wasn’t) until I decided to stop coloring my hair. I love the silver streaks, but now I get senior discounts without even asking (the young folks seem to think that any woman with gray hair is obviously so aged that she just doesn’t care anymore, that being the only reason a woman would do such a thing). My husband is almost completely gray and he never gets the unasked for discount. So now I am in charge of buying everything, because cheapness knows no age.

    • That’s so funny, Tina. I’ve been toying with going au naturel, especially since I’m hitting a “biggie” this month and am just plain tired of the time (and money) spent at the salon. It’s the growing out that scares me. I was about 3 years into going to the new salon when my then stylists sheepishly, carefully asked me if I was over 55. I said yes by a long shot and then found there was a senior discount. (My fault for not looking at their official price list.)

      On the flip side, another ‘grandmother’ story. We were taking the kids to the Queen Mary one summer visit, and I told her there was a senior discount. My mom’s a notorious pincher of pennies, but she was reluctant, but looked at the list. She went with the AAA discount!

    • I got the senior citizen discount once my hair color started to change, too. When one young man (Jobany!) said “I gave you the senior citizen discount” without my husband and me asking for one, I told him I wasn’t old enough, and he said “that’s okay, I gave it to you anyway.” Oh well!

  2. You’re only limited by your physical restrictions and your imagination in what you want to do (not counting having the funds or free time). In that respect, you are as young as you feel. I could still be the teen who used to hide in the swim club cabana to read a book. Sometimes I feel just as awkward as I did when younger about making small talk at a social occasion, if I’m not with other writers. So while our perceptions and experiences change, inside we’re still that person we were years ago in many respects. Old? It’s a state of mind. Just don’t look at the sagging middle, and I don’t mean my story.

  3. jmjackson054 says

    Yes, and the flip side is that “young” keeps extending its reach. I remember my grandparents referring to my parents as “the kids.” As a teenager I thought that as a howl. As a grandparent, I totally understand.

  4. maggietoussaint says

    I’m excited about older characters, but then, I have been one for many years now. My backdoor neighbor 3 moves ago used to say I had an old soul! I think some of the issue of “old” is perception. People have calendar years and still act spry. Younger people have infirmities and barely creep along.

    To tell you the truth, I used to be able to spot an “elder” by their hair and clothing styles. That is SO not true in this day and age. Even worse, I can’t accurately tell if a younger person than me is anywhere from 25-50 without some context clues. I gave up trying to figure it out and celebrate each person for who they are!

    • Right on, Maggie. I’ve had people tell me all my life I’m an old soul, and I say that about my son! Maybe that’s what my mother meant when she said you’re only as old as you feel. Not so much physically, but intellectually. Emotionally. Your world view. You’ve given me something more to think about!

  5. The older I get, the more I see how many “younger” authors have very little understanding of what “old” means. One of my publishers had in imprint that featured 40+ women as protagonists, but when I was writing for them, I considered that young.

    My parents bought a water ski boat and learned to ski for their 25th anniversary. Years later, when the family visited my daughters (probably about 5) mentioned old–which to them was defined as “you have lines in your face and walk with a cane. I asked how old that was, and they said 60. I pointed out that their grandmother, who had been water skiing with them was in her sixties. They revised their definition to 80.

    In my books, I try for characters of all ages, and sometimes they even demand a little romantic interest.