I was having breakfast with a friend earlier this month. We are both turning 60 in 2013. We were discussing the reaching of this next milestone in our lives. We talked about the physical changes involved in aging. We talked about wrinkles and liver spots. We talked about losing hair where we really want it and... the sprouting of hair in places where it is most unwelcome. There is also the graying of the hair everywhere. Actually, at this point it is pretty much gray. There is the need for glasses and both of us are teetering on the edge of needing hearing aids.
We talked about our parents and the foibles they are facing. We laughed about how they can drive us crazy. My friend wondered if and when our children will look at us in the same light. I suggest to him that they probably already see us in some combination of being old, slowing down, losing it, and driving them crazy.
Everyone is concerned about looking good. Looking good often includes looking youthful. For many, this concern has become an obsession. There are those that color their hair. Many of us workout and fight to stay trim. If they can afford it, cosmetic surgery is not out of the question. Faces are lifted. Tummies are tucked. Stomachs are banded. Eyes are lasiked.
We talked about how we would never do most of these things. First, we were not that vain or that obsessed. Second, we cannot be bothered with coloring our gray and thinning hair. It is an expense that we prefer to avoid and a routine we could easily do without. Lastly, we decided the wrinkles and other markings of age have been earned. They show our age. They show our passage.
Interestingly, there is a good market for fashion and furnishings that have an old and well-worn look about them. We no longer buy brand new blue jeans that take a really long time to break in and then they last a really really long time. Today, we buy blue jeans that are already broken in. They are pre-washed and look worn. They are more comfortable and we pay more for them than denim that has not been pre-washed.
Oriental rugs have long been popular. Really fine rugs can be very expensive but they can easily last over a hundred years. Today, however, there is a market for very old really worn almost threadbare rugs. These rugs are extraordinarily expensive.
The same applies to a certain class of furniture. Sure, you can buy a brand new leather chair or couch in which the leather is uniform in color and looks perfect. The chair or sofa over the years will gradually wear get that Ralph Lauren "life well lived" look. Why wait? Again by paying a premium, we can buy a chair and couch that are brand new but look fifteen to twenty years old.
We realized that people want to look young but will pay a premium for this weathered and aged look. Well worn is well admired. We thus decided to choose another word for the graying and wrinkles that come with age. Why should we value this in our clothes and furnishings but not in ourselves? We decided to use the word patina. That is what we look for in aged and worn leather. Why not embrace our own patina that naturally comes with our age.
My Parents: My parents, Aram and Manoushag, take great care of themselves. They eat well and exercise. They both look great in their 80s. They embrace this lifestyle and it has paid off for them. My father had an aortic valve replaced on June 25 of this year. It was quite a serious surgery. His surgery and recovery went very well simply because of his lifelong focus on health and fitness.
They do not try to hide their age at all. They embrace a simple lifestyle. My mother has never colored her hair. My dad simply shaves his head. They are not obsessed with trying to look younger. They are dedicated to taking care of themselves. They eat right, they get plenty of rest, they exercise, and are committed to this simple and effective way of life.
As a result, they look their age. They are good looking at their age. They look good but they do not try to hide their age. They have wrinkles. They have the blemishes and spots on their skin that are inevitable. We were with them over the Thanksgiving holiday and I had to admire how good both of them looked. My Dad particularly looked dapper to the point where he could model for octogenarian fashions.
There are many other people who are doing the same thing as my parents. I am always bringing up my friend Ara Topouzian. I am certain that just before getting to this paragraph, he is licking his chops to chastise me on another rambling bambling letter. So, to diffuse him, let me note that while Ara is more like me, his father, Armen, is exactly like my parents. He embraces the same simple lifestyle and has achieved the same wonderful results.
My parents and Armen have that patina of age I am talking about here. It is indeed a lifestyle. It is an economical lifestyle to boot. They are an example that I know I should follow. It must also be noted that my parents and Armen are not unique. There are countless number of people who do the same. Maybe, quietly, it is a movement that is growing: The Patina Lifestyle.
Bridget Bardot vs. Joan Rivers: I have always been fascinated by Bridget Bardot who turned 78 this past September. Of course, I was fascinated with her when was a sex kitten in the 1950s and 1960s though I only really noticed in the late 1960s. What fascinated me the most, however, was her decision to retire in 1973 at the age of 39. She understood that her youth was fading and wanted no part in trying to prolong it. I think she was also tired of the constant attention and handling. She was tired about being obsessed over by fans and her managers in the industry. She also wanted to focus on her real passion that developed at that time: animal activism.
As her intensity and dedication to animal activism increased, she paid less and less attention to her physical self. She was most definitely a pin-up girl in her modeling and acting heyday. In her retirement she became the poster child for what famous actors and actresses of yesteryear look like today. These comparisons are always popping up on the internet and the most striking, negative, comparisons are highlighted. In one sense, compared to her days of being called a sex kitten, she looks horrible. From another perspective, she has just let nature take its course. After years of being poked, prodded, curled, coifed, dyed, colored, and made-up, it is apparent she simply no longer cares. Bridget Bardot has jowls and a wrinkled neck. Her hair is always unkempt and, if colored at all, is always showing roots. It is hard to believe that it is the same woman who personified the term sex kitten.
She opted for patina and only cares to focus on her cause.
Joan Rivers is the exact opposite of Bridget Bardot. Joan Rivers has had so much plastic surgery that her before and after photos are equally dramatic. Instead of going from sex kitten to grandma, Joan Rivers has gone so-so looking to bordering on the ridiculous because the skin on her face is so taut. Her looks are exaggerated. Her face has been pulled back so much, she looks windswept, no, wait, hurricane-swept.
What does it matter really what Joan Rivers or Bridget Bardot do? Everyone is free. We are free to spend all our time looking young and youthful or we can spend all our time doing something else. We are after all living in parts of the world that are for the most part tolerant and free.
OK. Bridget Bardot may not be the best model for this. She has gotten increasingly more bizarre in recent years with her political views. Maybe Katherine Hepburn or Jessica Tandy might be better examples.
Uniformity and Entropy: There is another strong factor in society. It is a movement toward uniformity. What was it Joni Mitchell wrote and sang, "give me spots on my apples but save me the birds and bees?" We are obsessed with everything looking pristine, unblemished, perfect, and uniform. We cannot even have carrots that look like they do coming out of the ground. You can never really get all the dirt out of the crevices. We can never clean them up enough so that they do not look the roots that they are. So what have we done, we shave and grind them into almost uniform pure orange pieces and call them baby carrots. Sure, part of it is saves the effort of cleaning fruits and vegetables but it also makes them look more appealing. It seems that patina is not appetizing.
When I was a mere child and first learning about the world, I was not happy to learn about the constant change in the world. It really made no sense to me that things wore out, broke, rusted, or decayed. I thought the world should be perfect. I am not sure I got this idea but it was a very strong feeling. Perhaps, it was being the first generation to grow up with television or being raised in a time when people really believed that they could conquer and master nature. This feeling lasted until I took a physics class in high school and learned about the concept of entropy. Entropy is a complex topic that can be quite involved and mathematical. What I most remember is that one interpretation was that nature tends to move from order to disorder. Disorder and randomness is the state of equilibrium. At least this is how it seemed when I first learned about this concept. It made sense and defined things in a way that I was more accepting of how the universe works... not that the universe cares one way or another.
In this light, the aging process, the graying, wrinkling, and wearing out all makes sense. Patina is a natural progression and can be admired and valued rather than abhorred and avoided. We have all seen photos of people who have lived the simple agrarian lifestyle that look so good in their later years. They look noble and we can't look at those photos without thinking "that is the way to age!" and “their lifestyle is the way to live!”
Yet, we are conflicted. We are constantly bombarded with images of what beauty and glamour are. The recurrent images are those of youth, beauty, and unblemished metrosexual uniformity. The twist is we are made to believe that our choices with parameters make us unique. Yes, I chose the turquoise LaCoste polo and you look equally individual in your Ralph Lauren taupe one. Wait, we are both wearing jeans... no worries, your shirt is tucked in and mine isn't.
No matter how hard we try, we do tend to wear out. Entropy always seems to win in the end.
The Patina Lifestyle: Patina also implies an aging and graying with style and grace. It is akin to something we might call managed entropy. A leather chair does not get that valued patina from abuse. You don't leave an expense leather chair out in the rain and elements to get that desired patina. If you do that, the chair will be destroyed. To get that desired patina, you have to take care of it. The patina comes gradually over the years through consistent use and wear. People are the same. To get that desired patina, we have to age and gray with style and grace. We have to take care of our physical selves. We all know people who have done that and witness and admire the results they get.
As has been written in this letter many times before, we know what to do. We know what it takes to get that patina discussed in this letter. It is living well. It is eating properly, getting a proper amount of rest, managing stress, and exercising. There was an article I just read about the people on a certain Greek Isle living 10-12 years longer than the US average. The advice is not anything revolutionary. It is basically what we all know and find so hard to do. It is what is listed above.
There is also mental and personality patina we should all be striving for. It is a mixture of wisdom and attitude. Our personalities need to reflect our years. Mental patina needs to age and gray with style and grace.
This concept of patina applied to human beings could catch on. Remember you heard it here first. I envision an entire liberating movement for people. Avoid surgery. Stop coloring your hair. Live right and develop a patina you can be proud of. Age and gray with style and grace. I foresee infomercials with those fake popielesque audiences clapping and cheering at each minor revelation of the Patina Program. We need a tagline that is catchy and pithy.
I would, of course, have to host the thing hawking the entire program which would include books, videos, meals, bottled water, bicycles, athletic shoes and apparel, yoga wear, sunglasses, hats, t-shirts, and whatever else I can think of. I would trademark copyright incorporate the program. There would be a website and a logo. I am thinking about using the Greek letter rho, ρ, as the stylized p. There would be double symbolism as rho is used to represent the linear correlation coefficient in regression analysis. We are correlating, of course, good living with good aging.
If this is going to happen, I will have to get some plastic surgery, hair plugs, and a stomach band so that I can look the part as the godfather of this movement. I would, of course, have to take several before and after photos to use in advertising and in the book. I know, this is totally against what I have laid out here, but this has to be done in the grand tradition of good old fashioned US marketing and not having to practice what one preaches especially when revenue is involved. Well, this last bit is more a topic for a future letter.
Graceful aging and graying to us all! Embrace the Patina Lifestyle.