The expression as I first heard it was “middle age is ten years more than me.” I used it as the punch line of a very clever song, “Middle Age,” that I wrote at the age of forty-five. Over the years, I’ve revised the song several times, adding verses as things got more difficult or impossible, creaked, ached, fell out or off, and popped up on my body and into my mind. The current version, which will appear on my album Outrageous Older Woman, is retitled “Creeping Age,” and the punch line is: “Too damn old is ten years more than me!”
The above is an explanatory preface to my justifiable rant about mysteries in which the protagonist, or perhaps a sidekick or quirky relative, is described as elderly, or alternatively, spry or feisty and resentful about being perceived as elderly—and then revealed as being in her sixties. It’s usually “her,” and the offending books are usually cozies, most often those their authors or publishers label humorous. I love my cozy writer friends, but if a book is really funny, it doesn’t need a label. Readers will figure it out when it makes them laugh. The term “humorous” is as unnecessary and irritating to some of us as the laugh track on a TV sitcom. For me, I’m less likely to find something funny if I’m coached to do so.
Oddly, the same writers who clearly consider their characters in their sixties over the hill sometimes make the currently fashionable comment that “sixty is the new thirty,” or as I recently read in one such work, “sixty is the new forty.” If they really believe the latter, the words elderly, spry, and feisty are out of place. Forty-year-olds have careers. They are sexually active without having to giggle about it. They acquire new knowledge and continue to develop emotionally. The same can be said of the women I know, including myself, who are eligible for Social Security and Medicare.
In the revered Nero Wolfe books, published between 1934 and 1974, Archie Goodwin has a way of referring to an older woman as “on the shady side of thirty.” When such a woman is attractive, he remarks on it with surprise. If you think about it, the fact that this sounds fairly absurd today (unless, perhaps, you’re a nineteen-year-old boy) illuminates the way in which sixty really has become the new thirty in our day. I’m not denying that some things, including my memory and my joints, don’t work as well at sixty-seven as they did when I was younger. But for heaven’s sake, write—and treat—women my age as grownups, not little old ladies.