April 03, 2005

Looking (around the corner) for the fountain of youth

Last night I saw the movie Monkey Business. It�s an old one, (I love black and white movies!) with Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and (that great beauty!) Marilyn Monroe. The storyline was about a very serious and brilliant scientist (Cary Grant) experimenting (at first) on monkeys (and then on himself and inadvertently on others) to find a formula to restore youthful energy. The antics that follow are funny, for sure, but also underline the ridiculous thoughts and behaviors that result from trying to be something other than what you are.

When I went into the Art Sales and Rental Gallelry at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to deliver a painting this week past, I was greeted by someone I�ve known for a long time. She had actually been a student of mine many years ago. Her first comment was �Leya, you look so much younger every time I see you!� And when I left, the same comment. I hear this a lot. Reminds me of Max Tivoli, who actually grew younger as he aged (in The Confessions of Max Tivoli). Maybe someday I will write an addendum to that book: What It Feels Like to Look Much Younger Than You Are! Max�s mother gave him one rule to cope with his condition: Always be what they think you are. Not good advice. Very confusing advice for him, especially when he had the emotions and desires of someone his actual chronological age. It is so hard just to be who you are without trying to fool everyone. But maybe that is what so many of us try to do anyway. And that is what made that book so endearing yet sad to read. The pretense and avoiding made it so that everyone was like magnets being rubbed together on the wrong sides: no real connect.

It is nice to look youthful and great to feel it, but most of all, I appreciate the experience age has brought to me. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the shock value of looking so much younger. When I got married at twenty-three, I looked twelve. The Justice of the Peace mistook my then pregnant (and older) sister for the bride. When I was pregnant with Tamar, later that year, I must have looked about sixteen. People stared at me with such pity in their eyes. In my early thirties, I was taken to be eighteen. Shortly after that, with the stress of divorce at thirty-five, I aged to look twenty-four for quite a few years.

Sometimes I get annoyed hearing �you look ten years younger each time I see you.� With the same person saying that it would make me be in the minus age group, not existing at all! When people ask me the secret of my youthful looks I usually say �Stress.� Actually it is a combination of heredity and attitude.

But does that mean there is something wrong with aging and showing it? I once took some (what I thought to be) beautiful photographs of my eighty-five year old step-mother. It was at the beach and the sharp summer sun enhanced not only the wrinkles on her face but the peacefulness of a full life. When I sent the photos to some family members, they found them unattractive, unflattering, too many wrinkles. Just goes to show!

Posted by leya at April 3, 2005 06:34 PM

The proper reply to "you don't look your age!" is something on the order of "Well, that's the age I AM, so that's what this age SHOULD look like."

Yes--that type of comment suggests that there is something wrong with being "older"--or maybe it's a deep awareness that becoming "older" reminds one that everyone is mortal.

Posted by: sue at April 3, 2005 08:25 PM