There’s a moment during his interview with writer Ian Brown when Steve Paikin wonders whether the author of Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year has been too candid in describing minute details of his aging process – pet names for his bodily malfunctions; his romantic life with his wife. “You have to put something on the line,” says Brown. “If you can’t talk about getting older, you fall back on ‘everything is great,’ or ‘everything is dreary’ and you miss the nuance.” Personal disclosure, “well managed” (as Brown reminds Paikin) are the pegs that lead him to greater insights about what he calls “adolescent elderliness“ and his endless, and often hilarious neuroses about what might happen and when, how to stave it off and make the most of what unpredictable time he has left on earth.
“How much life can you live in the fourth quarter, not knowing when the game might end?” he writes.
Brown got the idea for the book after posting to Facebook his impressions of what sixty feels like on the morning of the milestone birthday. From there he kept a diary, painstakingly documenting aches, pains (hearing aids, progressive lenses, hemorrhoids, faltering libido), potential failings (did he save enough money, did he play it too safe in his career), travels and sporting activities (can he still run, ride his bike in heavy traffic, swim in unpredictable waters), good times with friends, chats with his wife. He marks his losses, calculates his gains and wonders if he still has enough time to write a great novel, an HBO series, or a Broadway play. Has he left a lasting and positive effect on his children? Ultimately, he gives in to the opportunity the “fourth quarter” of life affords him.
Here, some short excerpts:
On fear of aging:
“This is new to my seventh decade: I can sail along secure that I will not put a foot wrong on the trail, and at exactly the same time be worried that I might put a foot wrong. I have a feeling this is the first sign of the doubleness of getting older, of becoming two beings in one – the aging decliner and the on-sailing stalwart; the settling body and the still-soaring mind – that defines what aging is, in many cases. (I would prefer that to a sailing body but a disappearing mind, or so I tell myself.) Suddenly there’s a ghost in the works, the ghost of the old man in me. What I can’t figure out is why I am so afraid of it that I try to ensure an orderly progress to the end.”
On physical decline:
“My morning ritual is always the same. Out of bed, kettle on, shower, shave, breakfast, newspaper, hearing aids. I’ve had the hearing aids for two years, to fix a familial pattern hearing loss that makes it harder for me to hear high frequency speech – women’s voices, for instance, and consonants, which define words form one another … The hearing aids cost me nearly $4,000: I can Bluetooth them into the TV or my cellphone, I can adjust the volume or redirect their little microphones forwards and backwards. I still hate the fact that I have to wear them, but they restore my hearing to the point where it is not at all necessary for people who see I am wearing a hearing aid to RAISE THEIR VOICES WHEN SPEAKING TO ME. I want to say, ‘Look, with the hearing aid, my hearing is probably better than yours.’”
On his legacy to his daughter:
“Had a chat with Hayley about books and writing and publishing (she has a summer internship as an editorial assistant, to see if she likes it). I told her to pay attention to her instincts, to what she likes and finds bottomlessly interesting, because that matters. I have no idea if this is good advice: so much for the wisdom of sixty.”
On age and attraction:
“Johanna maintains that as men and women get older, men start to look more like women, whereas women start to look more like men. That is the illusion, but the truth is that both genders devolve towards the middle, into genderless physical collapse. I find Johanna lastingly attractive, and admire her skin, which is a good thing, because I doubt I will ever touch new, unknown skin again, in an intimate way, now that I am no longer chronologically viable. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. And here’s the kicker: many days I am not broken-hearted that I won’t.
“I tell myself that if my own marriage ended, I would not marry again ... But there’s no predicting. Afraid of dying, of what’s coming down the road, I feel I ought to hedge my bets and behave, but there are no set rules, no matter what the self-help books say, and posterity doesn’t give a shit how you live. Everyone over sixty feels public prejudice against them, feels vaguely compelled to be sedate and proper, but everyone wants to smash the prejudice as well.”
On acceptance of aging:
“As of yet, this is a vague idea in my mind, a feeling, a sensation, as troubling as it is attractive: maybe none of this is my fault. Not even getting older. This is not as obvious as one might think: my father blamed himself for his aging, and could never forgive himself, either. But one’s life shapes itself, regardless of one’s efforts to curve it one way or another. I’m not saying to give up, stop trying, abandon all dreams, ye who enter here, merely that the best dreams may be the ones we least suspect. As I say, this is still an apprehension at this point, but wouldn’t it be gratifying (that’s the word) to think the shape of my life might emerge out of the future mist, and that it might still be a surprise.”
May we have a moment of your time?
Our public funding only covers some of the cost of producing high-quality, balanced content. We depend on the generosity of people who believe we all should have access to accurate, fair journalism. Caring people just like you!
Get Current Affairs & Documentaries email updates in your inbox every morning.