What is extreme old age like?

scribbled drawing of old man on a bench. Words: very old age is like... a rose? a button? a melody? a mouse? a plunger? a ruler? a scooter? a fishing rod? a cloud? a haiku?
Riddle: what is extreme old age like?

My out-of-control mouth suddenly proposed a new analogy for extreme old age. That should not surprise you from an old poet. Let’s see… what is extreme old age like, metaphorically?

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate [...]
 But thy eternal summer shall not fade[...]
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade ...

No, that wasn’t quite what springs to mind. (Hint: consider the international hit political play, The Vagina Monologues.)

My publisher said to me one day, “I have no idea what outrageous idea will pop out of your mouth next.” Here’s the thing: nor do I. Maybe I never have done — or maybe the legendary age-related loss of inhibitions has struck me. But when even the speaker is surprised by what she says, that’s kind of exciting.

This unpredictable blurting happened yet again last Saturday at a most serious and important event. We were pitching to the Board of Circa Theatre for a spot in their 2023 programme. Much was at stake! I had my 5-minute speech prepared, timed, and rehearsed. To stray from the script would throw our proposal into jeopardy. But still my mouth opened said something ridiculous, something I had never even thought before, not for one second.

But what is extreme old age like—literally?

Let me backtrack. “We” means a single venture partnership: an outstanding director, two brilliant producers, and a modest playwright (me), plus two others (an actor and a production manager) sick at home but present in spirit. The play proposed has a working title of 90 Plus, and is based on the words and writings of 14 people over 90 years of age, most of them local. It’s set as a panel discussion with various characters telling the audience at a conference on ageing about their personal experience of being over 90.

Because 90 is not the new 50 or 60 or 70: it is extreme old age, which is different in all sorts of ways. Yes, I’m hugely excited, terrified and proud!

Then, still on script, I said, “You can probably tell that the script is loosely based on Vagina Monologues. Like that play, our script has legs, because it is adaptable in the characters, the stories, and the casting. Different groups can make it their own.”

Comparing very old age to a body part

Then my mouth went rogue. “And it has other similarities,” said my mouth, or words to that effect. “They are both about something that more than half the world has got or will have. More than half the people in the world have got a vagina, and more than half will probably have an old age. Yet both topics are bathed in anxiety and ignorance so that most people never talk openly about them.”

I do believe that’s true. What is very old age like—from the inside? We don’t want to know, because we fear the worst. And that’s why I want my play 90 Plus to be widely available for groups all over the world to adapt and perform so that it becomes their play, representing their communities. That’s my dream.

But first things first. Cross your fingers that next year we get to show Wellington audiences a picture of real life after 90. These nonagenarians deliver a startlingly honest picture of their lives in extreme old age. And still they are positive: they say they are lucky, they are glad to be alive.

A recent performance of Vagina Monologues in Auckland, New Zealand

Follow Write Into Life

NOTE. The donation link below doesn’t seem to work in Reader mode. If you are determined to help fund my work to the tune of the odd cup of coffee, I think you have to see the button on my actual website. Sorry!

4 thoughts on “What is extreme old age like?

  1. judithhb says:

    Rachel, I can’t wait for your opening of the show. With various friends I plan to be there on opening night. I just have to keep looking out for it

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s fabulous! I’m hoping September 2023, so be patient!

  2. Pat says:

    What a marvelous idea!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I reckon!

%d bloggers like this: