Monday, February 16, 2009

On Cottesloe Beach

About nine years ago my husband said the worst thing he’s ever said to me. We were laying on the beach in Zihuatanejo with some friends, drinking and playing cards, utterly relaxed and a little high and discussing, as so many couples do, our current crushes and the ones we’d be allowed to – oh what’s it called – you know, the exceptions to the fidelity rule. 
Obviously all the names were of the celebrated and illustrious sort, for I’ve yet to meet any couple secure enough (or idiotic enough) to openly discuss each other’s attractions to the real and the next-door and the familial and the best friends in our midst. Anyway, when it came to me I listed my usual suspects, for I tend to fall rather faithfully the first time around. My husband has heard the same four or five names repeatedly over the years; I know his, he knows mine. There’s an odd comfort in that. 
And then I paused and said ‘But I think my top one right now is Heath Ledger.’ And this husband of mine reared up on one elbow – we were all laying on our towels in the sand – and barked, honestly barked, practically spitting the words out – ‘Heath Ledger! But you’re old enough to be his mother.’ 
Old enough to be his mother? Shouted as if this idea wasn’t some brilliant original sin but an atrocious crime someone should really pay penance for. Lock her up! She likes younger men! Oh you hideous horrible crone – look at you, you’re 40 years old for god’s sake. What surprised me was his attitude. After all he’s twelve years older than I, so in truth he could have sired me, legally, in some of the sadder of our Fifty States. Why was he so repulsed by a nineteen-year age difference? 
But then it occurred to me. It wasn’t the difference in age.  It was the direction. 
If I’d cooed Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Sean Connery, everyone would have nodded, Ahh, yes, wise age-appropriate choice. But obviously my erotic compass was off, pointing wildly due South instead of decently North.
So. Have I mentioned how unabashedly pissed I became? 
How righteous in my indignation? 
How, after two split seconds of stunned (and hurt) silence, I reared up as well and shouted the first two things I could think of. One, why was it singularly appropriate for every crush of his to be as young as his own daughters? And two, why was it so commendable of me to appreciate men 10, 20, 25 years senior but appalling if their ages decreased instead of progressed? And then I asked when the hell did he become Sophocles?
Now I suppose I should be thanking the fates in some Oedipal/Electral way that this truly was the worst thing he’s ever said to me. I suppose I’m lucky that way. And I suppose it should also please me how prescient my tastes were, and how over the years I’ve been able to torment him for his own appalling choices (Denise Richards, yes, Denise Richards) while pointing out the brilliancy of mine. 
But it also makes me realize that by 37 or 38 I had turned a chronological corner, at least in society’s eyes, and that I was too old for some things. Some people. Some dreams. Some desires. Perhaps the words hag, biddy, gorgon, harpy, harridan, shrew are too harsh, but the dictionary still offers them up when you type in ‘old woman.’ Perhaps it’s utterly ridiculous to consider human years like the rings of a tree. But I’ll admit this, shh, tell no one: when my nephew told me last year that his 22 year old friend found me ‘really hot’ I wasn’t merely delighted. I was vindicated. 
   Which brings me, at last, to this photo. On New Year’s Eve we sat on Cottesloe Beach, just outside Perth in West Australia, overlooking the Indian Ocean. It’s gorgeous, iridescent, unspeakably blue. Wild parrots gather in the Norfolk pines at dusk, calling to each, finding their mate. Each night hundreds of locals sit on the shore and watch the sun sink into sea, and for once that verb ‘sink’ does no justice to the act. Here on the other edge of the world the sun doesn’t just vanish, it melts. It’s liquefied, a living lava lamp of orange and magenta and scarlet, taking a full ten minutes to finally disappear. 
It was one of Heath Ledger’s favorite places in the world. 
He had such excellent taste.


  1. Oh my, oh my. This is a good one, and for so many reasons. First of all, when choosing your celebrity lover, it seems to me it'd be understood that reality is sort of suspended. In that world of silver screen dreaming, we're all game, no? We're all lovely. We're all eligible. We're all the same age; rather, age doesn't count. Or so I would have thought. To prove my point, one of my husband's choices is Katharine Hepburn (the Younger) and she's not even alive. Time is our friend, in this game. We can manipulate it as we wish. Which is as it should be. The second thing I want to say is that I appreciate you all's honesty in this game. We don't play this game, but maybe we should. And if we did, it involves, so far, an actress who's dead and my choice, Andy Garcia, who reminds me of my husband anyway. So. Hmmm. Not very interesting, huh? And all of this babble, doesn't even relate to the POINT you were trying to make, which is so very true. And, yet, I am happy to report, that here in Italy, the statistics favor women in this game...who in greater numbers have affairs with younger men. Hmmmm, what's at work inside the culture that makes this the case? I wonder.

  2. First of all, let me say, that you have some set of knockers in that lovely photograph. Next, allow me to say, that you are lava--all of you, from eyelashes to eyeteeth, from internal organs, to your external hard drive. And, I love you, and I love your words.
    So there

  3. And I think, as much as I detest our country's obsession with age and beauty and perfection and on and on, I also appreciate some parts of it to a small degree. Which is rather arbitrary and insane of me, I'll admit. But sometimes I wonder if we all wouldn't fall into the 'not going to take care of myself anymore trap' if we didn't have societal (and spousal, and friend-al and celebrity-al) pressures to occasionally deal with? Or maybe I should not use the Queen's 'we' and just say 'me'. Maybe there are impossible standards to keep up with, to uphold - and every time I look in the mirror in a true light I see another sixteen things I'd love to pull back, pull up, erase, change, smooth, correct, fix. And maybe this sick stupid obsession with all things young (in America) is literally killing some of us. But it simply can't be true that all older women are unappealing and we should just throw a burka on and be done with it, because men and women of substance find something lovely and worthwhile in people of EVERY age. Constantly. We do play this game because of some of the truths it reveals about each of us. And also because it reminds us that there are others out there - albeit famous and forever out of reach - that float our individual boats. We don't need to throw our real-life crushes in each other's faces, which i think is a godsend. But we don't pretend for a minute that we're not sexual beings unattracted to others. But Charlotte you brought up such a great point: what's at work in our very young culture that keeps making youth a top priority? Why do we allow our society to keep demanding we keep up? Why? What are we afraid of? Besides, oh, everything?

  4. I’d be curious to know if there was a little something more to Mr. Husbands’ initial reaction, something more than the mortifying thought that his ultra-hot, sexy, intelligent, vibrant, lovely wife could be attracted to a younger man she herself could have birthed? Perhaps with Sean Connery? Maybe, just maybe, he found comfort in the older men you couldn’t have because it was a silent indicator you were both headed in the same direction as well, making him okay in your eyes? Knowing your husband, I could be way off. But perhaps this was his very own Denise Richards Moment?

    And really, Denise Richards? You know, blow-up dolls at Spartacus aren’t that expensive.

    Now that I’m hovering near 41, I’m realizing just a few years ago when I said I had no problems with the physical effects of aging, I may have actually meant I had no problems with the physical effects of other people aging. I now detest seeing photos of myself or catching a glimpse in the mirror. I don’t like what I see now. I do consider myself very lucky to be reminded every day by the perfect man that I’m beautiful exactly how I am. Even if I do always think it’s a lie.

    Why do I think this way? It’s so absurd. Is it really society that demands we keep up, or is that an easy way out? I recently saw a woman speak, Lena-Maria Klingvall. She was born in Sweden in 1968, the same year as me, with only one fully developed limb, her right leg. It was recommended she be put in a special facility, but her parents refused and raised her on their own. She’s an athlete, with multiple gold medals in swimming, an accomplished singer, a painter and writer, all of which she does with the toes on her right foot. She spoke of going to the beach for the first time as a child, and as everyone stared, she said with a huge smile, “I felt so special, they were looking at me and no one else.”

    This woman radiated true peace and joy to be alive, utter happiness with herself, and I felt envious. Envious to live a life without arms and only one leg? No. But what extreme does it take to completely love and accept yourself every step of the way? She said something that really struck me, “My brother was born 15 months later than me without a handicap; or that’s what they say. Most handicaps are invisible.”

    How true.

  5. I agree with WNTD. I think Rick maybe is kinda threatened by the fact that you are attracted to that younger man. I mean, what real decided to follow that wild hair...Hmmmmmmmm.

    And as for our age, I have the exact same experience. I walk down the street every day looking at older women and actively appreciating their beauty, even picking out the ones that inspire me. "Maybe I'll be like her..." And yet, that same appreciation isn't directed toward myself.

    I think there are a couple problems. (If not more!) One, at least for me, is that society doesn't use age, visually (at least not much), as a beautiful image. We're always fudging a bit, right? Like an ad about wrinkles, usually features a young wrinkle-less woman (though I'm beginning to see beautiful older women in ads...slooooooowly). Remember when "fat" was beautiful, back in the days of Renoir? And people were actually invited to see/admire beautiful images of overweight women? Today we talk the talk, but we don't walk the walk. Older women are admired ad nauseum for what's INSIDE them, but not for what's on their outside.

    In fact, I'd like to say right here, that one of the things I wish we'd done better in our book, was show women in their 50's and 60's and 70's and 80's oh my. I wish we'd gone on for pages and pages with pictures of the way they are. The beautiful way they are.

    The second problem I have, is that I don't know what my own maturity is supposed to "feel like." I just feel like I've always felt. Or so it seems. I know I've changed, learned, grown...but that doesn't seem to have a time attached to it. I feel as young as I ever did, on the inside. And so when I see myself, it's sort of a disconnect. Oh, that's me! I'm never quite prepared for it.

    I think we need to make a concerted effort to find our own beauty. B/c we know it's there. If it's in others we see, it's in us too. It's only logical.


  6. georgiegirl8:39 AM

    First, I would like to say that I think Rick reacted the way he did because deep in his soul he knew Heath would have adored you too, Janetska.
    Second, and much more important, you leave breathless,my dear. I have read your words and all the comments, and the tears are flowing.
    I know that both you and Charlotte are very busy people, but I think you owe it to America to write another book.....I appreciate your blog....but just think how many other women (and men) you could reach by writing a book for all to read.
    I love you my brilliant sister.

  7. Lis, THANK YOU for saying that...I want to do another book too...just waiting for Janet to say, "Yes." --Charlotte p.s. What a great sister you are. I hope my girls can learn to support each other the way you support Janet.