‘Reaching 60: I’ve survived with more than wrinkles and a need for afternoon naps’

Jul 20, 2019
Gabrielle has finally reached this marvellous milestone, but she felt it somewhat anticlimatic. Source: Getty Images

Once upon a time, turning 60 was a fuzzy goal, a milestone with little shape or definition. Wasn’t it just another number? Of course, I’d still be the same person, except my family would be older and I might be a bit slower. At 60, I might enjoy a better quality of wine and restaurant, maybe plan a few trips overseas, have a warm place to sit and read and plenty of cups of tea.

Well I turned 60, and it was quite the anticlimax. Cleaning up after the celebration, I felt that the only real changes between 50 and 60 were a few kilos, friends who went home a little earlier, a little less sleep and loads more time to fill. Like turning 50, 60 felt like it should have been a big deal, but the sun still came up, piles of washing sat in readiness and meals waited to be made.

To anyone who asked, I said turning 60 is nothing, there’s no change, I’m still the same. It’s all good. Except I’ve noticed recently, that are a few changes, stealthy ones, surprising ones.

I first noticed it when we were discussing current reading material and I said, “I’m reading Brandon Sanderson’s Stormbringer series.” Some polite nodding — you know when people agree because they don’t understand what you mean but would rather not embarrass you?

A few minutes later, my friend Melanie held up her phone and said “Brandon Sanderson? Stormbringer is science fiction fantasy!”

I defended my choice, but realised afterward I’ve only been reading science fiction fantasy since I began writing again last year. And I enjoy it, it’s like Game of Thrones with magic swords and such. But I haven’t read science fiction since I was in my teens. Hmm. Forty-plus years ago.

Stealthy change number two surfaced about a week after my birthday. Dearly Beloved Daughter was choosing music for an upcoming road trip from my phone.

“Mum,” she said, scrolling through my lists. “Blawan? That’s trance music.”

I nodded. I didn’t even know what trance music was until last year, now I’m surprised at how well it fits with my life.

Then I remembered the biggest discussion in recent months, The Birthday Dinner Entrée.

It being my birthday, I’d wanted to serve an authentic prawn cocktail at dinner, chilled prawns over a bed of lettuce with tangy seafood sauce, fresh lemon and white pepper. In a champagne glass, as styled by the Women’s Weekly in 1970. Many loud discussions and a lot of stiff silences ensued when I tried to put my foot down about this: I can’t tell you what the compromise ended up being, but there were no prawns in champagne glasses.

Discussions about my entrée preference usually ended with the observation I was trying to get back to my youth. I vehemently disagreed. Turning 60 was just another number.

Now, I ask myself — these new interests? Science fiction fantasy, trance music, throwback food styling? Who am I now?

What I know is that I regularly enjoy looking into life’s rearview mirror — it’s so different. There are no mobile phones, no texts, no microwave ovens, no social media, no Internet, no email. Laughably bad outfits and haircuts. Letters with stamps on them. Photos in albums. Earnest conversations about things forgotten a day later. Vinyl albums and tape decks. Good memories of John Travolta in tight pants and the Women’s Weekly, weekly. Live bands, platform shoes and souvlaki at 2am. Projects started and discarded, broken hearts and fads for a day.

Show me the person at 17 and I’ll give you an idea of the human at 60. It’s clear to me now that reaching 60 means you’ve likely survived with more than wrinkles and need for afternoon naps.

Is it a subconscious willingness to try new things, to experiment within established limits? Is it a new blooming of teenaged confidence that small changes will be ok? To be 60 now is to be both armed and disarmed with life, simultaneously wise and ignorant, in a second spring of cautiously youthful courage. Perhaps survival is its own joy?

Now, excuse me while I put on my Yeezy boots, there’s a Pokemon near my house I want to catch.

Have you celebrated your 60th birthday? What was the occasion like for you? How do you feel about your 60s now?

Keen to share your thoughts with other 60-pluses? You can sign up as a contributor and submit your stories to Starts at 60. While you’re at it, why not join the Starts at 60 Bloggers Club on Facebook here to talk to other writers in the Starts at 60 community and learn more about how to write for Starts at 60. Community blogs published on the website go into the draw for some great weekly prizes.

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