In a society obsessed with living longer and looking younger, what does middle age mean nowadays? How should a fifty-something be in a world ceaselessly redefining ageing, youth, and experience?
Marina Benjamin, author of The Middlepause, will provide some of the answers when she joins the Chichester Speakers Festival.
Her session will be on Saturday, February 25 from 10-11.15 in The Assembly Rooms, North Street.
Promising hope and heart and cutting through society’s demands to work longer and stay young, Marina will offer a clear-eyed account of midlife’s challenges.
“I think it is easier now in some ways to be in your 50s, and that’s the trap. You have a sense of continuity that things will go on forever. We go to the gym, we maintain our health, we still dress young, and there is less generational change now. People work later, they eat at the same places, they dress the same, so it is easier to persuade yourself that life isn’t going to change. It is easy to talk about 60 as the new 40 and 50 as the new 30, and we say these things mantra-like, but ageing is actually a material reality. There can be a false security, a bit of denial, but life changes quite rapidly.
“There is the economic imperative for us to be working longer and later. But I suppose I am talking about loss and bereavement and ennui and boredom and struggling with that duty of care both to children and to parents, that intergenerational care that you are in the middle of, that you are stretching yourself very thinly. “
Aspects Marina wanted to explore in the book: “I wanted to write a book that was not going to soft-pedal the hard stuff but still be an enjoyable read. I didn’t want to write a tub-thumping, rousing, wonderful ‘Let’s grab it!’ type book. That kind of cheer-leading sounds hollow to me. I wanted to write a genuinely-uplifting book about a way through the difficulties. I think it is through struggle that we improve ourselves, that we make progress as human beings. Wisdom is not something that is suddenly given to you when you are 60, but once we get to this point, we have to learn from the struggles and we are in a better position to look beyond them. Culture has neglected to draw up the blueprint for the second half of our lives. I wanted to reverse the idea that the second half is just a waiting game…”
Has she managed to resolve all the issues in her own life?
“Yes and no, but I feel like I have found ways of moving forward that are inspiring. I will always regret the loss of youth and looks and energy, and that is something you can’t recapture. But there are other things that are worthwhile, that are rewarding if you stop chasing after things that you can’t have. Some people even see it as a relief to no longer be desirable, not to have all these expectations upon you.”
“And I have certainly got better at enjoying the moment. It has improved, and I don’t mean enjoying the moment in a bacchanalian way, but a multi-dimensional way, joining up past and present. I have given up trying to compete with the 30s somethings. You have to give up grievances against your parents. There are a lot of middle-aged people that have still not escaped those kinds of grievances. It’s also about being responsible for yourself. It’s not feeling that you have to compete in the marketplace of desirability. It is about being free to be yourself.”
For full details on the festival, see www.chichesterspeakersfestival.co.uk.
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