“But I Feel 40,” Or, Saturday Morning at 8:32am


Well good morning everyone.

Last night we had my company’s Holiday Party. I wore the Narciso Rodriguez dress, again, and got my hair up onto my head in a slightly fantastical construction. One piece dangled down, in a ringlet. Let’s pause to give vivid matte red lipstick its due.

Updo For Gray Hair

The curl fell enough, over the evening, to skirt the Prom In Small Town look. Maybe even to add a post-modern fillip. Or so we will believe if you permit. I scolded the High WASP voices telling me not to Make A Show, and walked out into cold and dark San Francisco.

Throughout the night, with both hair stylist and colleagues and their families, I found myself discussing the idea of age. Can I request a favor? We need to work on phrases like, “I feel 30!” Let me not forget my manners. I will add, “Please.” I believe what we really mean when we say these things is, “I feel like the construct of 30 to which I subscribe!”

You know ? We assign all sort of attributes to imaginary age states, most likely to balance the inexplicable shortness of our life against its concomitant magical length. That’s a lot of big words. What I mean is that with any luck we get a lot of life to live, and it’s still awfully short. So, in an effort to get our arms around the concept of Our Lives we try to figure out what it Will Be Like when we hit age 30, or 40, or 70. (I think this is particularly pronounced for women, given the age phase dependencies of our fertility. A subject for another day.)

But we’re just imagining things. We are always imagining anything about getting older, because we don’t actually know.

As a result, when we arrive at 55, and put our hair up into an ironic Deneuve “do,” so complex that we can still smell hairspray in the morning, we may think, “Oh, I feel young!” But we don’t. We feel 55, and adventurous. We feel 55, and in sure-footed possession of our experience. As Steinem said, famously, when told she didn’t look 40, “This is what 40 looks like.” And feels, and talks, and acts like.

Seems like a small and picky detail of language. But I don’t think so, not really. We are always searching out meanings, as humans do. Language is how we pin meanings to the board, like butterflies under glass. As we arrive at one age or another, we need to merge our experience with our construct of the age we reach, not try to locate our selves in imaginary youth.

I don’t want 40 getting all the credit for 55′s work.

So far, the only bad things about aging I’ve run into? Hearing and memory decline, needing to say, “Oooof!” when I stand up, and the closer proximity of my death. But I don’t want to think, “Oh I feel young,” as a way to characterize my state. I want to pin this to its correct spot. 55 isn’t the new 40. 55 is just something we didn’t understand, before. We need to pay attention to the lives we live, and reconstruct our imaginary age phases to match reality.

The day will come, with any luck, when I am 80, or 90, or 100. Then, and only then, will I really know what it feels like. And, with any luck, I expect to be jettisoning more imaginary ages.

Hair credit, no compensation received round here, Joseph Cozza Salon.

57 Comments

  • 12/10/11
    9:51 am

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    Amanda said...

    Wow, you look beautiful. And you are right, about these mind tricks we play on ourselves. I am 31 and it doesn’t feel at all like I thought it would. I still feel like “me”, or more like, 24 me with more experience, and clarity. But no, I am not 24 I am 31 and this is what it feels like (unexpected white hairs at all). At least I didn’t expect them until umm, 40. Thanks for this. And hope you had fun at the party.

  • 12/10/11
    9:59 am

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    Marsha Calhoun said...

    Brava! I have long had similar thoughts. As one who consistently feels much better at 60 than I did at 40, both mentally and physically, I applaud your resolution to honestly embrace 55 for what it is and resist the popular impulse to confuse feeling good with feeling young. Youth was fine, but there is something sort of depressing about spending the rest of your life being nostalgic about an earlier period that was not without considerable limitations, or worse, attempting to persuade others that you have magically not progressed beyond it. Let’s hear more about the current experience and how it can be enhanced!

  • 12/10/11
    10:02 am

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    valentine said...

    Just wait until you get to be 60! It’s a whole new threshold. So much to look forward to.

  • 12/10/11
    10:09 am

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    Miranda said...

    WOW! You look hot! We as a society, are so hung up on age. I liked the years when I forgot how old I was. I’m so aware I’m 55. I sometimes think I am modifying my response to life, to what I think a 55 year old response should be. I’m trying for just “being”.
    Thanks for being such a lovely example of what 55 is for you. Oh, by the way, you have such a beautiful and elegant neck (just like my daughter) :)

    12/12/11
    12:19 pm
    Danielle said...

    You do look hot! Helen Mirren is another great example of a hot lady in (later) mid-life. And I believe she’s part-WASP too.

    I really appreciate your perspective on aging, especially the part about feeling your age and adventurous. Thank you for sharing.

  • 12/10/11
    10:17 am

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    Beth Dunn said...

    You look beautiful! I think fear enters my mind when I think of aging. It isn’t age, its not feeling well that I’m afraid of
    xoxo
    SC

  • 12/10/11
    10:18 am

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    Kristin MacKillop said...

    Thank you for a very eloquent rendition of the sentiment that the rest of us have been striving to verbalize for so long.

  • 12/10/11
    10:25 am

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    lauren said...

    bien accompli, you west-coast belle de jour.

  • 12/10/11
    10:34 am

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    Susan Tiner said...

    I love your hair do, so elegant. I do agree with your thoughts on aging but I still feel like I’m about twelve years old.

  • 12/10/11
    10:37 am

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    Pat Hoar said...

    You look gorgeous but please tell me the name of the lipstick , I go to New Zealand on Monday and my only hope is getting it at duty free, I should think. I have had an unimportant bronchitis , feel and look 100 need to buy lipstick for 24 hour journey, all worth it though to see my son and family. thanks Pat

    12/10/11
    10:42 am
    Lisa said...

    Makeup emergency! All right, you jump the comment reply queue even though I am behind, behind, behind! It’s Sephora Red 420 on top applied with a lip brush, Chanel’s #05 lip pencil to line and do a base layer underneath, then a little cheap pink lip balm from the drugstore to top it all off, in the middle of both upper and lower lip. SFO has a Sephora in the airport…

  • 12/10/11
    11:12 am

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    Englishvers said...

    How beautiful you look with your hair up and that curl softly swinging. Our inner age is more important.

  • 12/10/11
    11:13 am

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    déjà pseu said...

    You look gorgeous there, so very elegant. The thing I hate about those “50 is the new 30″ types of expressions, is the underlying assumption that 30 is *better* than 50. Our culture tends to value limitless possibility over wisdom, experience, serenity…those things that come with age.

    12/10/11
    12:07 pm
    babette said...

    +1!, deja pseu

    12/10/11
    4:54 pm
    Paula said...

    I would not say 30 is per se BETTER than 50. I would say it’s just a fact, we can’t deny: When my mother was 50, she looked like her mother at 30. One generation ago, woman age 50 looked older than woman age 50 look today. I assume this is what the “is the new” is all about. Not about being better, having less wrinkles or looking YOUNGer, but about remaining visible. Maybe like Patti
    http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/
    “is the new …” is also about our grandmothers, they become invisible and faded from the radar. I am glad, my mother, age 70, resists to fade from any radar but remains visible. Roarrr!

  • 12/10/11
    11:16 am

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    Kathy said...

    Great post and I’ve had very similar thoughts on the subject for years. I don’t like the idea that a large portion of my life has already been lived, but I am grateful that I have lived it, and am looking forward to lots of new experiences like grandchildren, etc. I have never felt a certain age, or paid much attention to actual age. I just try to keep on feeling like me!

  • 12/10/11
    11:19 am

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    R. said...

    Thank you for posting this. It echoes my thoughts, and is so well-expressed. It has always bothered me that if one looks “good” at a certain age that it’s automatically turned into the compliment of looking younger.

    Sure, we don’t want to die – and being youthful makes it less likely – but can’t I look good as my own age? Does every compliment have to “reassure” me that I don’t look/act/feel my age?

    (rhetorical umbrage)

    R.

  • 12/10/11
    11:36 am

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    Helen Tilston said...

    You look very beautiful and I am sure you had a lovely evening.

    Helen x

  • 12/10/11
    11:38 am

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    The Broke Socialite said...

    Stunning..per usual. Could not wait to get over here and read the prose!

  • 12/10/11
    12:08 pm

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    Candy Dye said...

    You look stunning!

  • 12/10/11
    1:23 pm

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    Sandra Jonas said...

    WOW!! Lisa you look fantastic, and that is no surprise.
    Re the age issue.. At a (very) significant birthday I said to my mom, “I don’t feel any different than when I was 30ish” she, 90, said “Neither do I”

  • 12/10/11
    1:49 pm

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    Pam said...

    So beautiful, and so wise. Thank you, Lisa.

  • 12/10/11
    2:41 pm

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    Maureen said...

    I turned 40 this past September, and I have to say your comment about not wanting to give 40 all of 55s work is priceless. I am so grateful for each decade – for the good, bad, and the learning that stems from both although most often the latter. Bravo!

  • 12/10/11
    2:49 pm

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    Laura said...

    Oh, well said, so VERY well said!

  • 12/10/11
    3:05 pm

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    A Gift Wrapped Life said...

    All I know at 57 is that I don’t want to be 30, 35, 40, or 50 again………….I just feel like a more experienced and wiser version of myself at those ages and I like it that way. I look straight ahead and just worry about staying fit and strong so I can enjoy it. All the other worries of those younger years is gone and that is just fine. Besides that………..I really like your hair and it does show off you neck. Hope the party was fun. XO

  • 12/10/11
    3:19 pm

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    Town and Country Mom said...

    Did you write this just for me? ;) I’ll try to heed your words. I’ve already decided that beginning tomorrow I’m declaring the year, rather the life, of jubilee! And you are stunning! That hair!

  • 12/10/11
    4:05 pm

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    T said...

    Perhaps these phrases are also used to mean “I don’t feel as old as I thought I would at this age”. And perhaps, feeling young is meant to mean feeling as energized as one did as a young person, rather than as one with fewer life experiences.

  • 12/10/11
    4:29 pm

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    Sarah (Semi Expat) said...

    Stunning updo and you look really wonderful – great lippie too! You are so right when you say that “55 isn’t somehing that we understood before”. I don’t know what I feel sometimes – the same as I have done before but a wiser and more experienced version and probably and more accepting and contented version too when I pause to think about it. A thought provoking and amazing post as ever Lisa – how I love your blog. XX

  • 12/10/11
    4:59 pm

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    Paula said...

    Is this really you?
    Fantastic hair-do! You look like a new person, very unfamiliar. Stunning!

  • 12/10/11
    5:01 pm

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    Vivelavie said...

    Very lovely hairdo! Maybe a different earring? This one kind of disappears vis-a-vis the hair. Wonderful profile, worthy of envy.

    I can empathize at 51, my outlines have never been more defined, my partner says I’ve never looked better and he’s known me since my early 30′s. But: this is the result of being 51, needing more sleep and the acknowledgement that I’d better love now than never. And watching my Parkinson-beset old mum – my father passed away in May – and trying to guess how much and how little separates me from her.

    What really gets my hackles up is when given my age people tend to respond that I have kept up well. I am not a mummy who’s well preserved! I am sick of these expectations. What if I had been ill, experienced early menopause? What commentaries then? Do people think at all? Or feel, for that matter?

  • 12/10/11
    5:34 pm

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    Dawn said...

    You look beautiful (still giggling over Small Town Prom, though I do love the style) and I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment. You are 55 and fabulous.

  • 12/10/11
    5:51 pm

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    Russian Chic said...

    Dear Lisa, you look stunning! Elegant, refined and never overdone.

  • 12/10/11
    5:52 pm

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    The Next Beyond said...

    Just as I’m about to sit down and pen a post titled “Checking In On 35″, you go and give me fodder. I really appreciate what youre saying. Your age is your age, you are you. I wish younger women went around touting their old souls as much as older women go around touting their young skin. Personally, I’m aging well and I’m starting to get caught up in it. Like it’s an asset. Like it’s money in the bank. And that worries me. Vanity doesnt usually work out well for anyone. Also, finally, I love your swirly, knotty low bun. And, hello.

  • 12/10/11
    7:38 pm

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    Susan said...

    Your post is so interesting to read—as it always is. We are who we are–at any age. We notice the aging, sometimes with trepidation, others times with a kind of fascinated interest. I love your hair in the photo–inspirational for sure. I should TRY this!

  • 12/10/11
    11:11 pm

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    Faux Fuchsia said...

    Love the updo.

    Mean never go around lamenting their age or workshopping it.

    Go figure.

    You really do look excellent.

  • 12/10/11
    11:46 pm

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    Jen C. said...

    Wow, you look really great! Anyway, I want to tell you that your blog has been really interesting to read. Visitors who may be interested in learning more about the sometimes dark and secret, often misunderstood world of over 40 phone sex providers are also welcome here.

  • 12/11/11
    2:47 am

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    That's Not My Age said...

    Love the ironic Deneuve do and your thoughts on the ageing process. Beautifully said, as always. We need to seize the day (or the age?) rather than hankering after youth.

  • 12/11/11
    3:17 am

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    pve said...

    Lisa,
    I wanted to read more. Your words speak volumes about your radiance and ageless grace living in a world possessed by number defying gravity odds.
    This past week, I hosted a ladies night and I think the next invite will include
    “Wear your hair up and paint your lips red!” For heaven’s sake, we as women must really enjoy life no matter the age and if it involves an occasional curl, or slathering of heady perfume – so be it. These are just the sort of necessary niceties that make life more enjoyable.
    Gloves also do it for me. I wore a french twist on my wedding day and white kid gloves. Let’s hear it for the kids.
    pve

  • 12/11/11
    3:53 am

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    one soul said...

    Beautiful, whatever the age, or construct.

  • 12/11/11
    5:13 am

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    Fuji said...

    Gosh, you look beautiful. That hairstyle is worthy of a queen.

    I find the societal focus on youth and beauty embarrassing. Shallow. Lacking in substance. And when I inadvertently participate I cringe and self correct. It’s really all we can do.

  • 12/11/11
    6:31 am

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    materfamilias said...

    Your hair is lovely — as are you! And you speak the truth, eloquently. I couldn’t agree with you more and have often quoted La Steinem on exactly this.

  • 12/11/11
    6:53 am

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    Pat Hoar said...

    Thank you so much , I feel better already.. Have a wonderful holiday or break , I am not sure how long it is in America, cannot wait to get lipstick…. Pat

  • 12/11/11
    8:40 am

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    metscan said...

    The age of a woman. It has always been an interesting subject. When we are young, we wish to be a bit older, when older, we wish to look ” a bit ” younger. Anyone who denies this, lies.
    Looks play a mighty role, we compare ourselves with women younger or older, and finally decide to be satisfied with our age hitting nicely somewhere in the middle.
    Age 34 was my best age. I felt great physically and mentally. But I was in the very beginning of my real life. Real life, with it´s joy and horrors. I lacked all the experiences, that have moulded me to the woman I am today.
    I would not have it any other way.
    Like everyone else, I enjoyed your post. Thank you.

  • 12/11/11
    9:08 am

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    Rosemary Murphy said...

    Forget numbers – I’m way ahead of you anyway! Health and happiness are the things that make us feel, and look, good, whatever our age. A number of blogs seem so concerned about what is or isn’t age appropriate. If it makes you happy, wear it, I say!

  • 12/11/11
    9:41 am

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    chicatanyage said...

    Love the hair very elegant if a tad high maintenance. Our chronological years are such a label. What do they really mean, our physical, emotional, intellectual age. All of these may vary at any given moment.

  • 12/11/11
    10:30 am

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    Madeline said...

    I found myself agreeing with everything you said, with exclamations of EXACTLY! I have recently turned around and grabbed 57 and pulled her close, instead of trying to wish her away. The mid fifties allow us to throw off the constraints of youth and become more fully ourselves.
    You looked lovely in the photo, as always, and I now know what to do with my blonde ringlet hair, when I need to dress up !

  • 12/11/11
    10:32 am

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    Madeline said...

    Ps-Just the other day i thought to myself, “if I can’t wear red nail polish at 57, then when the heck can I”. Very liberating for the old school gal.

  • 12/11/11
    11:18 am

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    Miss Cavendish said...

    Have only been to one company holiday party when in the publishing biz (academics do it differently, you know).

    It was a rented townhouse in midtown New York; dinner downstairs, dancing upstairs. I wore a dark-brown-with-turquoise-pinstripe wide-leg trouser suit, straight from work.

    Most curious memory: a cover designer asked if I was British b/c I danced like I was. Hmmm.

  • 12/11/11
    12:25 pm

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    The Style Crone said...

    I admire your hair and your writing. As we age, it as if our culture fears us; perhaps it is because we are closer to death. We are reminders of the impermanence of life and the fact that everybody gets old. I have to say that my 60th year was my best in so many ways. As I flirt with 69, I find myself curious about how it will be to cross into 70. What will I put on the dance mix?

  • 12/11/11
    4:55 pm

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    Latha said...

    You look gorgeous! Even more gorgeous prose…love, love, love.

  • 12/11/11
    6:58 pm

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    miss mindless said...

    The hair is perfect. Love. You are so chic!

    I need to calm myself down about turning 30 in 4 months. If I spend each year obsessing about the next, I will be 55 and wonder what happened along the way. Thanks for your perspective.

  • 12/11/11
    7:00 pm

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    MJ said...

    You look wonderful. And you’re exactly right about wearing our ages like the badge of honor they are.

  • 12/12/11
    9:20 am

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    sisty said...

    Your hair looks gorgeous, perfect! The single best advertisement for growing one’s hair at our age, IMO, is how great it looks when it’s put up.

    Did your hairstylist do this? I’m the same age as you, and I’ve never gone to a hairdresser for anything other than a haircut. When my mother was the same age, she went fairly regularly to the “beauty parlor” to get her hair fixed if there was a special event coming up, or sometimes just because. I was just thinking the other day that this tradition was a thing of the past — when 50 was the old 50 — but clearly I’m glad to be wrong.

  • 12/12/11
    6:14 pm

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    Duchesse said...

    I wrote a post called “Please Let Me Be Old”, after having similar thoughts. I find people’s (nearly always women’s) urge to reassure me that I don’t look my age as offensive as people saying “You look fantastic, have you lost weight?”

    How our culture fears and reviles age. We must speak, as forthrightly as you have in this post, or we only fuel that ageism if we are “nice” and respond, “Why, thank you!”

    Wow, that’s a terrific updo!

  • 12/12/11
    8:50 pm

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    Reggie Darling said...

    Excellent and thought-provoking post. I love the Steinem quote. As a fellow 55-er, I agree with everything you wrote here about age-concept. And, by the way, you rocked that hairdo, lady-woman! fondest–Reggie

  • 12/12/11
    11:08 pm

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    Bob said...

    This post perhaps your finest for both of the sexes over 50 to read, and cherish. So pleased to follow Reggie in commenting, as I feel fabulous about me now, and agree with him that you rocked the hair. Quite elegant and stunning. Loved the tip of blond in the curl! (yes, my weakness) Enjoy all the parties of the season!!!

  • 12/13/11
    8:25 am

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    Tabitha said...

    Oh you look so beautiful
    Right now I feel about 80, my face seems to have gone doughy. I don’t think I’m going to enjoy ageing.

  • 12/13/11
    8:27 am

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    Tabitha said...

    And yes, I reread this, gave pause and learned something from you.Thank you LIsa.

  • 12/13/11
    9:35 am

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    Marilyn @ Pink Martinis and Pearls said...

    We all could use a dripping curl from time to time. I also bought yet another red stick o’ fun this season. You look stunning… and blonde? Did I miss a change along the way? :)

  • 12/14/11
    4:22 pm

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    Sarah said...

    You look beautiful and elegant. Perhaps it’s the old school days admonition about earring size or a general preference for restraint in jewelry, but I think your choice here is perfect. And hear, hear for recognizing the social construction of age!

  • 12/16/11
    1:08 am

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    Ruth said...

    I think the days when I feel my age, or the one I used to be, or the one I will be someday, are a better barometer. My face fools too many people to be a good judge of age (a blessing and a curse, as Mr. Monk used to say). I’m just hoping to be whatever age I am gracefully!

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