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Old age means slowing down: what contemporary writers think about ageing

Mar 23, 2018 at 20:51 • Older generation

Open discussions on Age as an Art are now a tradition. This time around we invited the following literary figures to a comfortable room in the Volkhonka Mansion: the poets Vera Pavlova and Akh Astakhova and Aleksandr Tsypkin, the author of the short story collection «Zhenshchiny Nepreklonnogo Vozrasta [Unaging Women]». The meeting was moderated by the journalist and director Fyokla Tolstaya.

Old age has been «pushed back», and the panellists believe that post-retirement age is a great time of life: you are still active and healthy, but for you to realize yourself, certain conditions must be in place, yet in Russia, it is even difficult for a senior citizen to get a job, unfortunately. The guests also talked about their visions of their own old age. The issues discussed also included purely practical matters; how to dress appropriately for your age, whether it makes sense to live in an extended family with children and grandchildren if you can afford to get your own place; and deeply personal questions: whether you can divorce after the age of 70, what the right way is to go about writing your last will and testament.

The discussion turned out to be honest and sincere, and the guests seemed to have already got used to the fact that you can talk about old age in public, that the word «old age» carries no shame and that you can treat ageing as a happy period in life. Gathered in the room were young people, for whom the subject of old age is not something they think on a daily basis, and senior citizens, who are now in a position to live for themselves and have some alone time. They asked questions and shared their own opinions.

Below are the most interesting snippets of the discussion.

What to do in old age

Aleksandr Tsypkin: To tell you the truth, the only thing I’m now thinking about is what I’ll be doing between 60 and 80. I’m all for meeting with friends, listening to music, but old age slows you down physically, while your brain still does its thing. These days, virtual reality lets you travel, learn new things … Do whatever you like! In my old age I would like to be among the first to move there. I will use whatever gadgets I can get my hands on.

Akh Astakhova:

The age in your passport isn’t important;

Only the soul knows how old we are.

I believe that it is more important to stay young at heart, whatever your age. I had and still have a very good example – my biology teacher. She is now 80+ years old. She worked at school well past her retirement age, taking either problem pupils or those in whom she saw potential and developing their creative talent. She taught them meditation, liked to stage shows. It is that person who influenced my outlook and development as a poet; after all, it is thanks to her that I began writing poetry. In my latter days, I would like be of use to the younger generation.

Vera Pavlova: I have a verse that gives a precise answer to the question, «What will I do in my old age?»

At fifty, give birth to twins,

Give surplus milk to newborn grandchildren;

At sixty, write a symphony in five movements,

Conduct with a choir on the opening night.

At seventy, enrol in a class of calligraphy,

Classical dance, oriental martial arts,

design, aircraft piloting.

At eighty, learn how to cook, sew, knit, embroider,

Weave fabric, carpets, rugs, lace and baskets.

At ninety, have all my teeth removed,

healthy as they are.

But what can you do

If a new crop is on its way?

My best friend Valentina Polunina likes to say: «At 65 I retired and got married.» Now I can proudly say something along those lines: next month I retire and publish a book of erotic poems. And also get married. This is the way I’ll mark my retirement.

Old age expectations

Akh Astakhova: I find it hard to reason whether second youth comes at 50; after all, I’m just 30. It is this sort of watershed; you start asking a lot of questions: about children, family life… Our mentality dictates that a woman comes into adulthood at 30, and you need to meet certain expectations that date back to the Soviet era. But I have noticed that these expectations are shifting further and further: I watch my mum, I listen to what she says, what questions she asks me, and I understand that old age used to come much earlier. Now the time frame has changed a lot.

If your family has a long-living member

Aleksandr Tsypkin: When I was born, our family included all my great grandmothers and all great grandfathers. Many of them lived to see 100…. My grandfather died fairly recently, and I had time to interview him. For three hours we talked about everything. And I’m happy that I had a chance to record everything. And my great granddad was a well-respected physician; at 86, he would get up at 6 in the morning and travel by tram for 1.5 hours to give a consultation. All those who have a long professional life and are intellectually active feel alive for a long time. They are definitely enjoying their life.

Akh Astakhova: My gran was my friend. I would spend the whole summer with her, and I definitely had fun. More fun than playing with my peers.

Vera Pavlova: My gran Roza lived to be 100. When she was 98, I wrote a short story about her. I bring her the magazine with the story, I say: «Gran, this magazine is about you.» She answered: «All right, let’s read it.» She took the magazine and started reading. Without glasses. «Gran knew quite a few poems by heart…,» Gran reads about herself in my short story and says right away: «What do you mean, knew? I still know them.» I promptly switch on my recorder, and Gran recites by heart: «You are still alive, old dear, so am I…». In its entirety and without a single mistake. In our old age, we cling to what we love the most. Gran loved poetry most of all.

A meeting with great-grandchildren… in virtual reality

Aleksandr Tsypkin: Our great-grandchildren will learn everything about our generation when they discover our social media. We don’t quite understand it yet, but we will be able to teach them with our correct posts on social media. They are certain to discover them. Wouldn’t you like to know what your great-great-great-grandmother wrote the day Pushkin was killed? And our pages will be accessed. When we write our posts on social media, we leave guidelines on living for the generations that come after us.

Right to … divorce

Vera Pavlova: I lived for 13 years in New York and watched television a lot. They kept running wonderful human-interest stories about old people. Some of them have stuck with me. Mr N and Mrs N filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage because Mr N found her love letters dating back 40 years. And here’s another one: After 50 years of marriage, Mr N and Mrs N had a traffic accident and were put next to each other in intensive care. Mr N passed away, but the monitor continued to show a heartbeat. Physicians could not understand what was happening until they noticed that they were holding hands, and the monitor was picking her heartbeat.

Old age and the sense of style or how to dress when you’re a senior citizen

Vera Pavlova:

I confess: I’m forty-nine.

I have my mantra:

I was the Swan Princess,

And now I’ll be the Ugly Duck.

But watch out, old age,

You may lie, but not too much –

I will still be the one who is

The most beautiful in the class

Aleksandr Tsypkin: If you have taste, it will never let you down: either in your youth or old age. But I think the sense of style in old age is much more important.

Akh Astakhova: The most important thing is how old you feel, what your inner emotional state is. Forget about the words «can» and «cannot». You may have seen online the video about an elderly woman whose favourite colour is green: she has green hair, she wears nothing but green. She is a true inspiration because she is free inside.

What to live for

Aleksandr Tsypkin: This is time for yourself and no mistake. And if this allows you to find time for your grandchildren, then you should enjoy your grandchildren. And if this allows you to find pleasure in love, then you should enjoy love. This is an age when nobody owes anything to anybody: the children have grown up, the parents are buried.

Vera Pavlova: I recall the words of the poet Oden: Man is required to be happy before God, and he is required to make happy those around him and alleviate their pain. And where is here time for yourself? Make happy people around you and alleviate their pain! And being happy is again for God, not for yourself.

Message to future you

Vera Pavlova: Don’t forget about your books. I write so that I don’t forget at the eleventh hour.

Aleksandr Tsypkin: I need to remember that this is my life, and nobody else knows how to use it best. I will never listen to anybody’s advice.

Akh Astakhova: I would always like to remember myself as a child. It is flashes from my childhood that make it possible to keep the link to my inner child.

Age and old age: the difference

Vera Pavlova: Old age means slowing down in the metaphysical dimension. You can keep your momentum until the day you die or you can lose it at 25. Or you may never gain it at all: you come into this world as an old man.

Aleksandr Tsypkin: Any person will grow old overnight the moment they stop developing.

Akh Astakhova:

Picture this: the last dawn,

Lying in his bed, surrounded by physicians,

Is a man of eighty-plus —

Without a shred of doubt, without a trace of sadness.

He looks at the wall: a portrait hangs there;

In it, with a million-dollar smile,

Is a beautiful woman of forty —

Without a shred of doubt, without a trace of sadness.

And the doctors realize: he is ready to depart!

May they meet in the hereafter,

The man and woman of no age –

Without a shred of doubt, without a trace of sadness.

The Age as an Art discussions are a special project of the 6th Society for All Ages National Conference, sponsored by the Charitable Foundation of Elena and Gennady Timchenko. sponsors of the Age as an Art project: AO Raiffeisenbank, Gett and the Serebryany Vozrast [Third Age] volunteer centre. The project coordinator: the PR agency PRP Group.