Getting older means … letting loose your inner eccentric

Getting older means … being less fearful of speaking up and out.

Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, francophile and single mother of three young adults. She knows the value of support networks after almost losing her life in a car accident 10 years ago – on the day she planned to leave her marriage. Her website, diywoman.net, was created to provide a similar support network. There, she writes from practical experience about issues of interest to people over 50. Today, she shares the discovery of her ‘inner eccentric’.

•••

There is a story in Helen Garner’s 2016 collection of short stories Everywhere I Look titled The Insults of Age. She rages against the condescension masquerading as kindness directed towards her: ‘Are you right on those stairs, Helen?’; ‘How was your shopping, ladies?’ and the final un-take-backable ‘Helen. You. Are. Seventy-one.’

My first ‘insult of age’ happened three years ago.

While I was living in France, a friend and I visited the Scriptorium – a museum of ancient manuscripts – in Avranches, Normandy.

‘Good morning, ladies,’ said the nice young woman at reception. (How does she know we aren’t French?)

‘Bonjour,’ we said. ‘Deux billets, s’il vous plaît.’ We’d show her who’s not French.

She smiled sweetly.

‘Do you have a senior’s card?’

The looks on our 57-year-old faces told her everything she needed to know.

She tried to backpedal immediately, but the damage was done. Stupid Scriptorium. Stupid Avranches. A cloud descended on our day that only a chocolate almond croissant and a decent coffee could lift. And anyone who has been to France knows how hard it is to find decent coffee.

It was the first of many tiny barbs reminding me that the 17-year-old’s eyes through which I still see my world are surrounded by crow’s feet and laugh lines.

In The Insults of Age, Garner passes through forlornness to liberation at the realisation that her recently acquired invisibility brings with it the relief of no longer having anything to prove.

The world bristled with opportunities for a woman in her 70s to take a stand.

As she lists the many forms her newfound liberation takes – shouting on planes, fighting for a place in queues – I found myself revelling in her refusal to play by the rules.

I have been a chronic rule-abider for most of my life.

But I, too, have found myself taking a stand in public places. The first time was in a post office. The lunch hour queue was long, made longer by the training of a new staff member. A man behind me started ranting and I – newly employed in a job for which I was almost entirely untrained – turned to face him.

‘She. Is. Training,’ came out of my mouth. ‘Have you never had to learn something new?’ His mouth snapped shut. He stood in the queue meekly until it was his turn. And from that day forth, the ladies in the post office always greeted me warmly. My inner monologue had somehow found its way into the external world and it felt good.

This is not to say I’ve turned into the unfiltered eccentric my children tell me I am. (I keep that persona for their benefit alone.) There have been plenty of times since then when I have stopped myself. I still remember with regret standing behind a man in another post office (clearly hotbeds of dissent) as he berated the small, polite woman behind the counter for her perceived incompetence. His tirade lasted on and off for five minutes. She, like the other employees, was of Asian appearance; a fact that fed into the man’s diatribe.

I glared at his back, heaved and sighed, and ultimately said nothing. When my turn at the counter came, I apologised to the woman in a VERY LOUD VOICE for the man’s appalling behaviour. Even now, I remember the incident with regret. In my heart, I know I failed her.

The most recent unfiltered public expression of my feelings happened last weekend at 3.30 in the morning.

I was standing at the door of the apartment downstairs in my robe and slippers, my wingman by my side. We had been listening to the occupants’ domestic argument for half an hour when we decided, somewhat fearfully, to take direct action. We didn’t know what kind of reception awaited us behind that door. An inebriated young man opened it and apologised for the noise.

‘Everything’s okay now,’ he said.

‘Is she all right?’ I said.

‘No, I’m NOT,’ came a slurred female voice from somewhere inside the apartment.

‘You can come in, if you like,’ said the young man. ‘I promise you everything’s okay.’

I declined his offer, saying, ‘Just keep the noise down.’ As he started to close the door, in a voice loud enough for them both to hear, I said, ‘And don’t hurt each other.’

In the frantic pace of our daily lives, we often tend to our own needs (in this case, my need for sleep) and fail to see what’s going on for others. My world has been as inward-focused as most. Now that I’ve found my inner unfiltered eccentric, I’m going to let her loose in public more often. Sorry, kids.

Just like Helen Garner, I have discovered that the world bristles with opportunities for a woman of my age to take a stand. I plan to go ahead and seize them with both hands. And get loud.

Have you discovered your ‘inner eccentric’ and taken a stand you wouldn’t have when you were younger? Have the years liberated you?

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    COMMENTS

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    patti
    3rd Mar 2019
    9:57am
    That's something getting older is good for - I no longer care what people think of me, especially when I stand up for myself or others. The crowd of teenage boys who swarmed at me on my painful knee, causing me to almost fall, had obviously decided I was invisible. Loudly, I said "I'll wait, then, shall I?" Which earned them a dressing down from a man shopping close by, suggesting they have some respect and consideration. I was quick to thank him. Not sure if it made any difference to the kids though!
    Rosret
    3rd Mar 2019
    10:44am
    It would have made a difference. :)
    Anonymous
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:19pm
    Ouch - like the young boys who swarm into the 'oldies only' lane at the pool and crash into the ex with the bad back and hip and such....
    chrissie
    3rd Mar 2019
    11:37am
    Mainly teenagers with mobile phones welded to their ears or hands walking through shopping centres or just streets who seem to have no regard for anyone else. I usually head towards them and very rarely do they move so I can get past. I usually get a disdainful look, once an apology, but it doesnt worry me. I am nearly 80, about 5ft and have pure white hair so I think you could call me invisible on the outside but like patti I dont care what anyone thinks and I say what I think.
    Anonymous
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:23pm
    The ones I love are those that do a kind of Apollo Thirteen and swing about from one side to another on the footpath or in a shopping centre without ever making eye contact (that way they don't have to accept any responsibility for being in the way)... so far off in La-Laland that they just don't seem to notice other people... do a Sir Lancelot and use your walking stick as a lance... old bloke once did that to a kid screeching down a crowded footpath on a skateboard - speared him dead centre... arse over tit.... passersby applauded ...
    Anonymous
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:25pm
    'Ere - what happened to walking on the left side of a footpath? Where I grew up the main street footpath had a yellow line marked down the centre...pedestrian traffic flowed fast and smooth... now it's 'stand by to ram, Mr Christian.. take 'em head-on'! Get a shopping trolley and just go straight ahead...

    3rd Mar 2019
    12:18pm
    In case you haven't noticed - I've always been in touch with my inner eccentric... love a twist on words.... love to have different thoughts on issues from the mainstream.... a mere fish swimming in a sea of ideas ...

    Hmmm - my son has the same kind of sense of humour... poor lad...
    Doodlebug44
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:19pm
    Oh, I'm so glad it's not just me!! I thought I was turning into a grumpy old lady. Just lately I have taken to speaking my mind and standing up for what I believe is wrong, not sitting back and keeping silent. Sometimes I embarrass my kids but I don't care, bad manners is not an excuse for treating someone badly.
    Anonymous
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:27pm
    I've been speaking up online and publicly for years now - figured I had a set time in which to try to set right some of the dire course alterations taken by my once fine nation and people..... so I'd better get on with it .... also write an autobiography for your descendants to know about...
    Gammer
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:20pm
    I am inclined to speak up in some situations - usually on behalf of other older folk.. such as on public transport - I’m fit enough to stand at 70 years old, but I have suggested to young people sitting that they give up their seats to some other less agile/fit older person and they always have (much to the appreciation of my fellow travellers)!!
    Virginia
    3rd Mar 2019
    9:41pm
    Butt sometimes old people do other oldies a disservice as they get embarrassed and refuse an offered seat. Of course that person doesn't offer again; but I have told youths on a crowed footy express that if they were my grandchildren I would be so ashamed that they stayed seated whilst someone my age was left to swing around.
    BERRYUPSET
    3rd Mar 2019
    12:47pm
    Ha!good article I see myself at about 40(prime) but `I `m 80..still very fit/healthy(get the odd nudge nudge wink wink)from the ladies..thats until i look in the bathroom mirror OMG so to remedy that I`ve changed `MIRRORS` :-)))))))))))).
    I don`t enjoy being called `ol timer`or pop youre old now OR worst of all being tapped on the hand when given change and told have a good day me ol darlin!On the train yesterday a KIND young lady got up and offered me her seat !(all in good fun)
    Anonymous
    3rd Mar 2019
    1:21pm
    'Mirror, mirror - on the wall,
    Who's the finest one of all?"

    Said the mirror standing tall,
    'Not you, old mate - he's down the hall!'
    Anonymous
    3rd Mar 2019
    1:36pm
    Mirrors tell lies.... so do scales sometimes...
    Zen
    3rd Mar 2019
    1:28pm
    In a less conscious culture ... which most of us live in ...these sorts of articles in mainstream media, do offer some insights for a new way of being as you age.

    We don't have to be so preoccupied with our own lives ...or focussed only on helping our children and their children... we can be concerned for many people and create a more collaborative caring community!
    Virginia
    3rd Mar 2019
    9:35pm
    Last night I travelled home from the city by train There was a man old enough to know better so I reminded him, "Seats are not for feet". This is a habit usually of the young which I simply abhore. I wear nice clothes and I don't want to sit in what there shoes walked in!!!!


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