Opinion

Fifty Is More Than Just Gaudy or Nice

Julie Zickefoose  in front of Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Julie Zickefoose, in front of Kaieteur Falls, Guyana. Terry Moore for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Terry Moore for NPR
The author, pre-50.

The author, pre-50. Bill Thompson III for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Bill Thompson III for NPR
Zickephoose as a young woman, with microphone and guitar backup.

Zickefoose in her front-and-center days. Arthur Morris for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Arthur Morris for NPR

I have reached the age of invisibility. It happened slowly, it happened quietly, but I'm here. I didn't realize how much I enjoyed being visible until I disappeared.

I just got back from a trip, a long one with a mixed group of people. There were two women traveling alone — me and another woman who is in her late 30s, who became my roommate by default. And to my bemusement, I found myself pushed aside, overshadowed by my roommate, who was younger and prettier than I, although not any nicer. Nice doesn't actually work that well after 50. Nice is just that. It's not alluring; it's not sexy; it's just OK.

Without even meaning to, she grabbed the spotlight. Or rather, it was hers to start with. The young male guides hurried to help her with her luggage and show her interesting things. They shadowed her and attended her, flirted with her at dinner. How interesting! I could take care of myself, and I did. But it was odd, to be unseated from a throne I hadn't even been aware I'd been occupying for almost half a century.

For 50 years, I'd been getting special attention without even realizing it. And now it's time to get up and give the good seat to someone with more ... potential.

Suddenly, I understand what the red and purple get-ups, the loud laughter, the forced hilarity of the Red Hat Society is all about. Is it any coincidence that I've come to this epiphany in my 50th year? That this is the year that I become officially eligible to wear clashing colors and a red hat and hoot loudly over my cream-cheese-based dessert? No. It's not a coincidence. This, apparently, is the year that my young, alluring self disappears, and figures out how, when, or even whether to metamorphose into something more interesting. A drastic metabolic slowdown seems to be in perfect cahoots with the societal plan that I vanish into the throng of slightly fuddy matronly older ladies. Bring on the hidden elastic waistbands. They're sooo comfortable!

I don't think I'll be putting on a red hat and purple ostrich boa anytime soon, hoisting my joke scepter. I'm trying out invisibility for now. Maybe it has hidden benefits. Ghostwriting. I could be a ghostwriter. Or a spy. Who'd suspect a person who looks so little like Mata Hari?

Like the wind, I'll be visible only by the things I move: grocery carts, breakfast dishes, big piles of laundry. It'll be so cool.

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Books Featured In This Story

Letters from Eden

A Year at Home, in the Woods

by Julie Zickefoose

Hardcover, 224 pages |

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