Today on Longreads we’re excited to launch a new series about age and aging, called “Fine Lines.” It will be mostly personal essays, written by a diverse group of writers from a range of age groups, with corresponding interviews on the Longreads Podcast. The essays will touch on every aspect of growing up and getting older: culture, states of mind, physical and mental health, relationships, sex, spirituality, style, money, career, fashion, beauty, food, recreation, and death.
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Why a series on age and aging? Because we live in an age-obsessed culture, but also one in which each generation seems to define “adulthood” differently than the one before it. Particular attitudes and milestones are no longer necessarily associated with reaching certain birthdays. It’s as if somewhere along the way, the Baby Boomers burned the guidebook for what you’re supposed to achieve when, and the generations to follow have been making up their own rules.
This is also a personal obsession of mine — ever more so as I get older. I’ve always had a strange relationship to time and aging, and wonder constantly what each period of my life is supposed to mean. Perhaps it’s because I seem to be living off-script, without children (or grandchildren) helping me mark the passage of time. I often wonder, How old am I supposed to act? How old am I supposed to feel? Because at any given time, how I act and feel never quite match the numbers.
How old am I? The first number that often comes to mind is often 15, except when it’s 11. A questionnaire on BiologicalAge.com suggests that health-wise, I am 37, but a survey on AgeTest.com tells me I am 29. According to the information on my birth certificate, however, I was born in October of 1965, making me, at this writing, chronologically speaking, 52.
I am the oldest on the Longreads team, by kind of a lot. (The youngest on the team is literally half my age.) While I have a long and varied resume, and enjoy occasionally blowing my colleagues’ minds on Slack with comments that underscore how long I’ve been around, I don’t necessarily feel more mature or “adult” than the rest of them — gray hair, arthritic joints, hot flashes and occasional lapses in memory notwithstanding.
I find age and aging to be confusing and mystifying, and therefore fascinating. And as I get older, I only have more questions. Like, why do we give birthday cards that make jokes about getting older? Why are so many people ashamed of their age? Why aren’t I?
I want to know how other people — Gen X women like me, but also people of all genders and different backgrounds, at different points in their lives — are processing getting older. Because it’s happening to all of us, all the time.
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The first piece in the “Fine Lines” series, “Gone Gray,” by memoirist Jessica Berger Gross, is about her decision, at 45, to stop dying her hair, and how it has, in some ways, actually led her to feel younger.
We hope you’ll enjoy it, along with the rest of the series, as it unfolds.