Maggy, Almost 95
I’m 95 as of March 14th and remember Turning 70 as the ONLY decade birthday that bothered me.
I remember early 30s and 40s as the best time of my life. 40th and 50th birthdays? Not traumatic. By 50, I’d found a job that suited me to a T–secretary to the local high school principal. I was able to negotiate it down to a 10-month job, getting same time off as the teachers.
Turning 50, I was heading into troubled waters but unaware–my husband became ill and died at age 54. That decade moving into my 60s was difficult–widowed, with children married or off to college.
60th birthday I celebrated by retiring (one can retire as a widow at 60 with same social security terms as 62 if not a widow). And I wanted OUT of working. I was MADE to be retired “with interests” and time, time, time to pursue them. It was a foolish financial decision but right for me.
Hanging out at the library which I love doing, I almost absentmindedly drifted into finding the part-time work that would make the rest of my life interesting and fulfilling – self-publishing. And it got me out of my depression.
The 60s was the revolutionary decade that, among other things, got people into self-publishing. Many of those who did it were poetry writers, or first-novel writers yearning for validation. I was nothing so high-minded – it was the success of a self-published book Keeping Your Bug Alive (advice on keeping your old Volkswagen running well) that intrigued me. Information for a niche audience, the kind of book major publishers didn’t want, but had a small niche market.
I bought an IBM Electronic Selectric machine. Learned book-page typesetting and set out to not only write and publish my first book, but typeset books for other small publishers and a magazine.
The book I wanted to exist but didn’t, was a travel bibliography that included place-set novels. I’d always put together reading lists that included novels for myself when I traveled, and was pretty good at the library skills needed to do that. But I knew most people were not, there needed to be a compiled book of reading lists for travelers! I also knew no major publisher would publish such a book from someone like me without any professional credentials in compiling a bibliography.
And so while pursuing a correspondence course with the University of Wisconsin, “Writing the non-fiction book” I came up with a good title: Traveler’s Reading Guide—Ready-made Reading Lists for the Armchair Traveler—and starting with Europe, then, U.S. and Western Hemisphere, and finally the Rest of the World, I produced and published three paperbacks over the years.
Did I make a lot of money? No, because like so many book authors, we love the research, love-hate writing the book, purely hate marketing that book. And when you self-publish you have to do it all. Didn’t lose any money, but didn’t make a lot either.
I did however, get a good review in Booklist (the publication libraries use to critique books they buy). That led to a contract from Facts on File (a major reference book publisher) to do a single-volume edition, updating my series. I did that twice–in 1987 and again in 1992—and that did make some money. Turns out if you can get reviewed by Booklist, publishers take their word for it that the book is worth publishing—you don’t need professional credentials.
Turning 70 in 1990 WAS a bit of a Waterloo for me – malaise and feeling I’d really entered old age now.
A couple, long-time friends, who were taking a trip to Yugoslavia asked me to join them–added plus, no extra charge for singles—spend that dreaded birthday in Dubrovnik. I did, and spent my actual birthday on a day-trip cruise out of Dubrovnik with entire dining room singing happy birthday to me in Yugoslavian, and drinking champagne with my friends. By the time I got home I was over that temporary depression and have just been philosophical about aging since.
Also in 1990, I got interested in the Ross Perot movement to run for president because of his stance against NAFTA. He convinced me and millions more that NAFTA would be a disaster for America – and it has been! That political interest lasted thru most of the 90s.
By this time I’d also gotten hooked at the library on another idea for a book that didn’t exist – a book about playing sociable bridge. There are hundreds, thousands of books about serious bridge playing, not one I could find on sociable bridge even though sociable bridge players outnumber the serious players by the millions.
For reasons of procrastination, and I get feeling I’ll live forever, I never did get around to publishing that bridge book until the end of 2009, at 89, with the title Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? An affectionate look back at sociable bridge & ladies lunch. By this time self-publishing had become widespread, far easier than back when I started BUT one still must do the harder less fun job of marketing yourself. And so I started a blog, http://bridgetable.net as part of a rather desultory effort at marketing.
I’d still rather do the research, hang out at the library and on the internet gathering notes than writing the book. And I’d rather write it than market it.
Meanwhile I moved to retirement heaven in Florida near a daughter, still a political junkie, play bridge at least twice a week—and blog.
If people ask how come I do so well at 94 I emphasize the mental aspect. I do walk a bit, but I loathe sports–always have–and I don’t even take my vitamins as I should. I believe mental activity is at least as important as physical activity—perhaps more important. I do watch to see that I eat enough protein and greens, but don’t deny myself fried foods or yummy desserts when I eat out.
And I usually add–just for a laugh–have a martini every night and go barefooted as much as possible. [I kind of believe in that Asian stuff about all those nerve endings in the soles of one’s feet needing to be massaged by going barefooted or at least wearing thin-soled shoes.]
Just a couple months ago on 60 Minutes they did a piece on nonagenarians and what they have in common – came down to being slightly overweight and having a couple of drinks every day! I fit that.
My unscientific opinion is that heredity probably has more to do with reaching the 90s dementia-free than seems fair. But being mentally active is next – interested in life and the world, open to taking up new hobbies and activities that bring you in touch with a new set of acquaintances and friends. And, one thing more, learn to play bridge as early in life as you can. But it’s never too late – take it up in your 70s for sure if you’ve reached 70 without bridge!
First take up sociable bridge – if you have the DNA of a competitive person you can then move on up to the world of competitive duplicate bridge and engage in tournaments. If not, you’ll find sociable bridge just as addictive as the serious players find serious bridge. My motto is: “For a long and happy old age, it’s better to have played bridge badly than never to have played at all.”
What’s so unique about bridge? It’s a classy, classic game that’s been played in one form or other for hundreds of years. The whist of Jane Austen novels is the bridge of that day. Bridge is global. It’s cheap to pursue if you wish. It never bores, guarantees you social contacts long after old friends and much of your family have died off. You can play literally to the end of life—sociably or seriously–despite arthritic fingers that bar crafts (get a card holder), loss of vision as long as you can see enlarged numbers and differentiate the suits, and hearing – people can yell during the bidding phase or hold up bid cards.
Once bidding is over, you don’t NEED to hear.
And as long as you observe the rituals and manners of the people you play with that can range from relaxed to super-strict, if a foursome needs a fourth, you’ll get a call to play no matter how old you are.
For nonagenarians, I can’t think of another life skill more useful than playing bridge!