Doris McCarthy’s Ninety Years Wise
Second Story Press, 2004

This is another book that I discovered thanks to Shelagh Rogers’ The Next Chapter.

You know how sometimes you hear a name so many times and you keep meaning to investigate and then, suddenly, something happens and it shifts from a “someday I should” idea into a pressing and almost overwhelming need to explore?

That’s what it was like when I heard the December 27, 2010 edition of this radio programme (which you can listen to in podcast here), which pulled a conversation with Doris McCarthy from the vault.

It reminded me immediately and powerfully of the summer that I spent listening to (and re-listening to) May Sarton’s journals kept in her later years.

It also reminded me of the intensely gratifying experience of hearing Diana Athill interviewed.

And it pulled at my recollection of having heard Shelagh Rogers in discussion with P.K. Page (which you can also listen to here).

As my friend Margaret has said, there are people in our life who teach us how to age. (And, she would continue, with a quiet laugh, how not to.)

These are not women I have known but, nonetheless, they have made a contribution to teaching me on this score. And, now, I’m adding Doris McCarthy to that list.

Because on hearing that interview, I immediately needed to fill the gap in my understanding. I needed Ninety Years Wise. (And now I need to do some other kinds of exploring, but that’s yet to come.)

As with Sarton’s journals and Athill’s memoirs, what lingers from this volume is the woman’s voice. Whether discussing the proces of aging, or the importance of solitude, or the demands and joys of an artistic life, or daily routines, or four-legged companions, it’s her way of being that I find so inspiring.

Here is a longish bit from the volume that should give you a hint of whether you’d enjoy it as much as I did. (Or, at least, you can marvel at the fact that she’s recording this in her 92nd year.)

June 27, 2002
The morning starts with first light, and I am glad that it wakes me before sunrise. I lie in bed stroking Tigger, who has spent the night with me, waiting for the magic arc of the sun to push above the far shore. Then I pull myself up and out of bed, ready to haul my nightie off and wrap myself in a towel, slip into my sandals, and make for the water. Each year I have to choose a spot where I can get in without sharp rocks but where there is a handhold so I can pull myself out again. I have not yet scrubbed the algae from the first two steps, so I promptly slide into deeper water – and today it is cold! I am out again as quickly as I can scramble, but before I can even retrieve my towel I begin to feel the warm glow that is my reward for taking that frigid plunge. Worcester has come down to the water to watch me, and he accompanies my retreat to the cottage but keeps getting ahead of me and falling on his back to beg me for a tummy rub.

I’m not-too-shabby with a tummy rub, but I’ll need to practice with rocks and algae if I’m to manage anything-even-slightly-resembling-this in another 50-some-odd years.

Who has taught you something about how to age lately?

PS If you now have that immediate pressing urgent need for more? You can check out this site and even send an e-card.