dear old (love, older): a film festival on aging


Me again. I’m blaming the garden that we haven’t exchanged proper letters since it woke from it’s nap in April and latched back on to Mommy. With each windy day’s dump of leaves, my big, beautiful baby is gradually releasing its grip. I confess I feel relief.

I’m writing because it’s as if Netflix and Amazon are “reading” our little archive of letters—three pairs, filed in my blog’s database under the rubric “Dear Old”—then inferring via their algorithms that I have the topic of aging on my mind.  As a result of clicking on “Top Picks for Margaret” and “Related to Titles You’ve Watched,” I have lately been hosting an impromptu film festival for one, themed to the subject.

My fete opened with the 2006 movie “Venus,” which earned Peter O’Toole his final Oscar nomination. He plays an aging actor (Maurice), as does his friend in life and this role, the splendid Leslie Phillips (as Ian). Ian’s young grand-niece, who features herself an aspiring model, is sent to care for him. That plan misfires badly, but she and O’Toole do much better.

It’s not pure Pygmalion, nor “Lolita,” but there is some of both with a dominant note of pure tenderness. The relationship between the two old gentlemen friends is pretty swell, too. We should get so lucky.

When “Venus” debuted, the “New York Times” review said it demonstrated, “how complicated, how impetuous, how alive older people can be,” and I say, yes, yes, and yes. One little moment:

“What do you do to her at your age?” Ian asks Maurice.

“It’s a very difficult thing,” he replies. “I’m nice to her.”

Being nice to ourselves as women—also a very difficult thing sometimes—was the subject of your latest blog post, Katrina. I loved the passage where you wrote:

“Ah, and there it was again, this age-old, heart-breakingly cruel thing we women do to ourselves. We compare ourselves to someone else and come up wanting. We…feel our own contributions mean less, are worth less, amount to less. We assume other women must have things all figured out, and that we must be the only ones stumbling along in the dark, unsure of our choices, managing invisible aches and pains, uncertain of our purpose, hesitating to take the next step.”

I could create a festival of films exploring that, but back to my current theme:

The next night’s feature provided another window on aging, portrayed not in the story of a new affection but of a longtime love struggling for oxygen. “Le Week-End,” with Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan (no one has a voice like hers, no one) depicts a second honeymoon to Paris, 30 years in.

“People don’t change,” Nick says.

“They do,” says Meg. “They can get worse.”

Footnote: What I didn’t know until I did my homework is that “Venus” and “Le Week-End” are by the same director, Roger Michell. Maybe the algorithms were actually suggesting a Roger Michell film festival, and I mistook it for one on older age. I like my story of what happened better.

I didn’t need Netflix to suggest “Olive Kitteridge,” the new four-part mini-series from HBO, the story of a Maine couple aaround retirement age or thereabouts. I merely had to hear (and read) the fierce and fantastic Frances McDormand speaking out about the subject of women and aging on NPR and in “The New York Times.”  McDormand, who stars as frumpy but outspoken Olive and was also the catalyst of the whole project, isn’t keen on contemporary cultural standards like having work done, dyeing hair, or dressing like a teen at our age.

“‘Olive’ is her answer to an industry and a society that she finds perverse in their fixation on youth,” the Times says.

It was my friend Erica’s suggestion that I watch “Transparent,” and this might win the prize so far in my series, which I suspect will be ongoing.

Of course you already know the story: Jeffrey Tambor, at like 70ish, comes out as trans to children who used to call her Daddy. Imagine hiding oneself—something we all do in smaller ways, often based on the self-doubt you wrote about the other day—so entirely for so long.

Speaking of coming out from behind a secret:

I’m ignorant.

At this point in my life, I don’t want to write a bucket list (and come to think of it, “The Bucket List” is about aging’s last stage, when facing terminal illness). I want to write my ignorance list—to finally get the dirty secrets of what I don’t know off my chest. Let me explain.

People often comment that I know things they find impressive, saying, “How did you get so smart?” or the like. When I was a kid, family and close friends nicknamed me “Encyclopedia Britannica,” because I crammed in what seemed to be deep pockets of knowledge.

Here’s the truth: The holes in my knowledge-base are so vast, it shocks me. Those deep pockets in my memory banks were really, really narrow, more like fingers in a glove than pockets at all (and usually about obscure topics). They still are.

FYI, there are no penguin species in the Arctic (nor polar bears in Antarctica).

No, Burkina Faso (in the news for its violent leadership shift away from a longtime dictator) is not a new nation. I guess I never got the memo when in 1984 it changed its name from Upper Volta.

My geography in general is shaky, truthfully. I mean, where does the Midwest begin and end, really? I could use a history lesson or two to fill in some big blanks. My grasp of opera pales beside what my 19-year-old niece’s, a regular opera-goer. (I don’t get out much, and I’m only interested in what I am interested in. Maybe I will work on widening both policies.)

Want to confess what ignorance we have been hiding all these years? Might make a good next pair of letters, no?

Love to you meantime,


P.S. – A little more “Venus” trivia: If you have watched “Broadchurch,” one of the recent procedural dramas from the U.K. that I cannot deny addiction to, you will recognize the Jodie Whittaker, who apparently made her debut opposite O’Toole in “Venus.”

Yes, I have already seen “Happy Valley,” and “Hinterland,” “The Fall,” and even “Southcliffe,” too, and am hoping those damn algorithms turn up loads more just like them. The days are under 10 hours apiece now, so streaming therapy seems the best antidote, no?

a series on aging: part 4

THIS IS MY THIRD in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Katrina Kenison, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. She’s Old (just 56) and I’m Older (turned 60 this year). Who knows where it’s going, but since the subject keeps coming up, and we’re both writers…well, you get the idea. Read along. You can work backwards to the three previous pairs of letters that started the conversation starting at this link.

  1. “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” is one of my top movies for fabulous and feisty older characters (and actors). And as a 67-year-old Wisconsin gardener, we consider ourselves to be Midwesterners, albeit Upper Midwesterners! Angled down across Wisconsin from top right to lower left is the “line” marking where the Eastern hardwood forests meet the tall grass prairie.

  2. Just finished dumping contents of the terra cotta pots on our patio into our compost pile because it was predicted to be the last warm day for some number with the jet stream forced south by some storm up in Alaska. Came inside to find your post on aging and streaming at your tender age of 60! I am 69, or as Dear Husband and I refer to ourselves, “6 going on 7” (still children at heart). Yes, we are fortunate to be aging. So many never get the chance.
    I love to plan (look forward). I love to make lists (and remake the lists after a couple of days working hard to line-through the completed items). So planning to be able to cope with the garden as we age, making lists (and prioritizing the list) of things that MUST be done to enable aging here in the yard, and doing the stuff that MUST be done are all joys to me. Because our garden is important to us. We love to travel, but make the trips short so we don’t lose out on sharing the first tomatoes, or keeping up with the weeding, or just basking in the twilight at dusk in our own Eden.
    It’s all in what you enjoy and find important at this particular time in your life. Most of our friends couldn’t care less about their gardens. But there is a special smile for us when we deliver an already 2-foot-tall amaryllis around Dec 15 for their hearths. They share what is important to them with us. We are blessed, aren’t we all in this land, at this time in our lives?

  3. Ann Hondrogen says:

    Thanks for the watch list. Check out Last Tango in Halifax with Derek Jacobi. Based on what you’ve been watching, I know you will like it. Best to you.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Ann. Have seen Last Tango, yes. I love the co-star Sarah Lancashire, who plays the daughter of Celia. She is the star of Happy Valley (which I also mentioned in the PS) and is superb in that.

  4. Donna Edwards says:

    Delight in following your thread.
    Looking forward to perusing the suggested films, books, articles.
    Want to share a recent find: “My Afternoons with Margueritte”. Another treasure that travels w/aging: “My Antonia”.
    Thank-you, truly.

  5. Kate French says:

    Oh, dear Margaret, I so agree w/your film recommendations. I also suggest “Away From Her” a 2006 film w/ moving performance by Julie Christie & others. xo to you.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Kate — and thank you for that suggestion. Love Julie Christie (“McCabe and Mrs. Miller” is one of my alltime favorites) so this will be a treat.

  6. Lacey says:

    I admit that I must be ignorant about films because none of the recommended titles are familiar. :( Nor the actors. Perhaps *I* need a film festival weekend.

  7. Susan A. says:

    68 now and gardening on 3 acres. Not much time for sitting on my butt. Sometimes the gardening chores are mind numbing! The best thing I have discovered is audio books free from my public library through an app called Overdrive. I also drive a lot for my 3 days a week job. I listen to a couple of books a week. Right now its Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club. I also listen to Margaret’s podcast on my iphone.

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