This Is Us

I’m Too Old to Write About My Life

I used to be known for personal writing. Now I can’t bear it.

Photo: novales5 / Getty Images

I’ve recently had a revelation that should have been obvious but for some reason wasn’t; the older you get, the less charming it is to tell stories about yourself.

As someone who spent at least the first half of her career mining her life for interesting/funny/embarrassing/emblematic-of-larger-cultural-phenomena anecdotes that I could write up for magazines or whip out at dinner parties, this sparked a bit of a crisis. Who am I if can’t take my daily micro-dramas and recast them as zany antics for fun and profit? What happened to the girl who could turn a bad date into a 1,500-word women’s magazine article? Why am I no longer inclined to produce endless verbiage about the various rooms of my home? (I wrote an entire book about my obsession with houses.) Is it because I currently live in what is essentially a one-room apartment and have a Murphy bed?

Or is it because I’m old enough to know better?

(For the record, I could write about my Murphy bed if I wanted to. I happen to love it. Murphy beds—now typically called “wall beds,” which is much sleeker terminology—are well-designed space-saving devices that, at least in my case, still allow you to sleep on the expensive, extra-firm mattress you have leftover from your previous life as a bonafide grown-up living in a real house.)

But I digress. Let’s get back to the question of being old enough to know better. It begs more questions. Old enough to know what better? And is this knowing, whatever form it takes, actually better, or does it signify a worsening relationship to the material facts of my life?

The late legendary writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron famously said that “everything is copy,” but she was young when she started throwing that line around. (The phrase, it turns out, had come from her screenwriter mother, who would say it to her young daughters as a way of helping them see that even the worst situations can be made into great stories.)

Ephron may have written a hilarious tell-all about her first marriage, but she was a younger woman then, telling the story of her even younger self. As she got older, she wrote and directed movies telling other people’s stories. Her last two books, the bestsellers I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing, were collections of personal essays about aging, but she kept it quippy and close to the vest. “This is for women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negligent housekeeping.” That kind of thing. When she was 30, Ephron wrote a 3,600-word essay on breasts and it became a classic. You’ll notice that when she was 50 she did not write 3,600 words on hot flashes. She wrote about wearing turtlenecks.

When you’re young, you think that everything you’re experiencing has never been experienced by anyone before, ever.

As it happens, I’m wearing a turtleneck as I write this; not because I hate my neck, as Ephron hated hers (I actually quite like my neck), but because it’s freezing in my tiny apartment. I am, however, engaged in various levels of warfare with plenty of other things about myself and, guess what? I’m not going to tell you about them. I’m not going to talk about body parts or bodily functions or my sartorial coping strategies for same. Nor am I going to tell you about my finances, my relationships, my health, or the contents of my closet, refrigerator, or medicine cabinet. I’m not even going say anything further about my Murphy bed. When I was 30 I would have happily talked about all of this and more. When I was 28, I wrote an entire article about searching for the perfect bed (I wanted a sleigh bed; it was the ’90s, alas) and how this search — along with a penchant for towering pillows — was Emblematic Of The Female Experience™. At 51, I can assure you such subjects would be of no interest to anyone, least of all myself.

Is this because people are generally willing to nod and smile while a young person regales them with the details of her life but don’t really want to hear about a middle-aged person, least of all a middle-aged woman? Perhaps in part. But, more than that, I think my reluctance to write about myself comes from what may be the primary difference between the young and the old(er). When you’re young, you think that everything you’re experiencing has never been experienced by anyone before, ever. When I was in my twenties, I would walk down the streets of New York City with the belief that no one in the history of the world had ever walked these particular streets in this particular way. I would then go home and write many thousands of words about this. Sometimes these words found their way to publication and sometimes they didn’t, but either way, I thought I was saying something new and special.

Today, and even in these “unprecedented times,” I can’t think of the last thing I did that struck me as new or special — at least new or special enough to write about and expect anyone to read. I’m pretty sure an alien spacecraft could descend onto Broadway while I was walking my dog and I wouldn’t have much of a take.

That’s not just because everyone around me would have whipped out their phones and begun Instagramming and TikTokking and YouTubing and whatever else-ing about it before I could even get home and fire up my laptop. It’s because finding something unique to say about the situation, finding something that wouldn’t be drowned out by what everyone else was saying, would require me to assume a position that suggested no one else had seen quite what I had seen. I would have to convince myself that, when that spaceship touched down, no one was walking down the street in quite the same way I was. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from growing older, it’s that usually everyone is walking down the street in exactly the same way: preoccupied with their own problems and, nowadays, engrossed in their phones. At this point, it seems plausible that a spaceship could land on Broadway and no one would see it because they’re too busy texting or looking at Instagram. I’d write about how depressing that is, but that would make me seem really old.

Weekly blogger for Medium. Host of @TheUnspeakPod. Author of six books, including The Problem With Everything.

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