Older & Bolder: Life after 60

24 / 08 / 2015

Earlier this month the Victorian Women’s Trust, in conjunction with Melbourne University Press launched Renata Singer’s new book Older & Bolder: Life after 60. Renata contrasts the stories of the pioneers of active, productive old age against the anxieties of those facing the milestone of turning sixty, considering each viewpoint in the light of revealing research. Older and Bolder is her rallying guide to living audaciously in the last third of your life, and we’ve been lucky enough to be able to publish an excerpt from the book here in Sheilas. 

She loves being old, she says, because, ‘All my life I had to do what I had to do – like we all did. To study, to work, to raise children. And now I don’t have to do anything. It’s liberating. Whenever anyone asks me to do something I don’t want to do I say, “No thank you”, and when they ask “Why?” I answer, “I’m 100 years old.” It’s the most marvellous excuse.’ – Bel Kaufman

During 2012 and 2013 I interviewed twenty-eight women, aged between 85 and 100. Each interview lasted two hours or longer, with follow-up emails and chats on the phone with the women and their children as this book progressed. Because I wanted the insights they offered to be relevant to all of us, I chose women from varying backgrounds, in different economic circumstances, educated and not so educated, single, widowed and married, and with a wide range of life stories.

Who else but the women who’ve gone before us, who pioneered living to ninety and beyond, can teach us how to make the most of the last third of our life? They have generously shared with me their lives and their lessons, making me want to live those coming years as fully and joyfully as they have. I hope that reading about them will do the same for you.

Many of them learn languages and play the piano, read the latest books, swim and exercise. They develop new projects, travel as much and as far as they possibly can to new places, and do their very best to stay engaged with life and with people. I’m impressed with the sustained effort they put into creating full and interesting lives, whether completing a PhD, or sending a card to every grandchild and great grandchild on their birthday, or working out the logistics of their next trip or celebration. They are not sitting around waiting for life – or death – to happen to then.

‘Don’t think that you’re ever too old to learn new things,’ was Bel Kaufman’s advice. I’ve learned so many new things through the writing of this book that at times I thought my brain would burst. The women showed me that there is so much more to learn if I’m lucky enough to have those extra years to live.

In this latter third of our lives, we have the time to put what we’ve learned, and are continuing to learn, and our skills and experience, to work for the things that we care about. The opportunity for activism is here – remember, you’re never too old to change the world. Older women are involved in political organisations, and in organising and lobbying for causes such as saving the dingo, protecting human rights and those of animals, and caring for the environment.

As well as being part of multi-generational and mixed-gender groups, older women also set up their own activist organisations. One of my favourites is Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a nation-wide US group founded in 1989 ‘by a feisty group of lady hikers,’ who use the deference to their age and experience to get publicity to protect public lands. In Australia, Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children was formed because older women felt they had to speak up for the more than nine hundred imprisoned children and work for their release. The potential for us to flex our political muscles never goes away.

After you’ve read this book I’m hoping that you’ll want to ask yourself the question I’m now trying to answer: What am I going to do next?

Speaking of older women and activism, be sure to check out the wonderful Karen Pickering’s piece on the Knitting Nannas Against Gas in Sheilas this edition!

Older and Bolder is published by Melbourne University Press and can be purchased through their website here. As a special gift to our Sheilas readers,  add the promo code VWT20 at the checkout to receive a 20% discount on both the paperback and e-book. Free shipping is available when using this code and purchasing the paperback.