Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial


One of America’s funniest women asks, “If sixty is the new fifty, when do I get to be thirty again?”

Nicole Hollander grew up in the nineteen-fifties, when women of a certain age put on weight, got a really tight perm, and rode the backs of their house slippers into the ground. Oh, for those uncomplicated good old days. Today, your fifties and sixties are deemed your most creative years—you can’t lie around like a slug unless you suddenly want to be seventy with ...

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One of America’s funniest women asks, “If sixty is the new fifty, when do I get to be thirty again?”

Nicole Hollander grew up in the nineteen-fifties, when women of a certain age put on weight, got a really tight perm, and rode the backs of their house slippers into the ground. Oh, for those uncomplicated good old days. Today, your fifties and sixties are deemed your most creative years—you can’t lie around like a slug unless you suddenly want to be seventy with nothing to show for it. Luckily, in Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial, Nicole, creator of the beloved Sylvia comic strip and one of the pioneers of the genre of humor about women and their cats, guides us through the important decisions that come in one’s mature years: Accept the senior citizen discount or feign indignation? Get plastic surgery or just a really good haircut?

Nicole applies her ironic wit to such topics as whether to lobby Harry Winston for a foundation to provide chauffeur-driven cars and diamonds to women over fifty or instead focus on finding a château to buy in France and turning it into the first nail spa in the Loire Valley or perhaps a shelter for French strays. She tackles a range of female obsessions: men, friendship, beauty, money, weight, and a few peculiar obsessions of her own, such as researching loft-size mausoleums with huge mobile homes your family can stay in when they come to lay flowers or angry notes on your grave, the very latest thing in burial arrangements.

With wicked humor and fantastic riffs that take you places you never expected to go, Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial is like Nicole’s idea of heaven: tiny cupcakes served continuously.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Nicole Hollander has hit the nail on the head—or rather, the high heel on the spike. Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial is wry, filled with the hallmark Hollander wit, and ultimately, profoundly moving. Everyone who wrestles with changing perspectives on families, friends, and their own unpredictable bodies will stay up late, as I did, to finish this book.”
—Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski novels

“One of my favorite moments this decade was catching Nicole Hollander onstage with the early chapters of Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial, and laughing in a theatre full of equally hysterical women my age. The wit alone will sustain me as I age—but the smarts, unabashed lip, and unforgettable zingers make me want to stick around for the triple digits.”

—Mary Kay Blakely, author of Wake Me When It’s Over and American Mom

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767926539
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/18/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

NICOLE HOLLANDER is the creator of Sylvia, a nationally syndicated comic strip that appears in major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and the Seattle Times. She is a popular speaker who recently launched a career as a monologist to further her twin desires to speak in public and get paid for it. In 2006 she had several one-woman performances in Chicago. She has published sixteen collections of Sylvia strips, as well as Female Problems and My Cat’s Not Fat, He’s Just Big Boned

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
If 60 is the new 40 when will I be 30?

The sixties are your most creative years

I’m with the girlfriends. I am all abuzz with my news. I say, “The sixties are the most creative time in our lives. Women get a second wind in their sixties, they conquer new worlds, make change happen, reinvent themselves, make a contribution.”

“Uh–huh,” says Audrey. “Who told you that?” “It’s everywhere,” I say. “The sixties are the new forties. You can’t pick up a magazine, a Sunday supplement, a book, without being told that this is your time. Now! Don’t lie around like a slug. Make it happen.”

“Well,” says Audrey, struggling to get up from the couch, “I guess we better start. As I recall we are all in our mid–sixties and if we don’t get busy, we will have missed the moment and will suddenly find ourselves in our seventies with nothing to show for it.”

“I have some suggestions,” I say shyly.

“Well, of course you do. It’s too much to expect that in your sixties you would suddenly notice the need for silence and for contemplation, for being by yourself and leaving others alone to think their own thoughts,” says Audrey.

“Please,” I snarl. “I’ve spent too much time in silent meditation. I say it’s time for action.”

“That silent meditation,” asks Audrey, “was that, like, for five minutes sometime in 1976, during the Carter administration?”

“Okay. I’m for making waves,” says Bitsy. “Let’s march for peace, for getting out of Iraq…for an immigration plan that is compassionate, for health insurance, just like the French.”

“Oh, you mean, protesting for stuff like rescuing our democracy,” I say wistfully. “Civil liberties, all that ACLU stuff…Or fighting for education or public television, making the word feminism okay to say out loud again. And the environment and global warming and cars that guzzle gas?”

“Yes,” says Audrey. “I could get behind any one of those things.”

“Well forget it,” I say. “That’s not really the kind of thing I had in mind. Let those in their thirties take up the mantle of the big action, crowds of thousands, marching in the snow. I will chug Baileys and hot chocolate while I watch them on TV. I will criticize their signs, their organization, their choice of celebrities, all from in front of the fire, while I crochet baby clothes for imaginary grandchildren. That was not really what I had in mind when I suggested that we contribute. I was thinking of becoming litigious…in a small way. Or of making a nuisance of ourselves in the cause of helping others by pointing out their shortcomings. Now is the time to go to Trader Joe’s and say, ‘You have fabulous food on the whole, your prices are fair, but your sushi is dry and unappetizing and your cooked chicken and turkey, both bland disasters.’ This is the time to bring a class action suit against the airports where men can get a shoe shine and women can’t have a manicure or a little touch–up on their roots to save their lives.”

“Wow,” says Audrey. “You sure you can fit that into your tight schedule?”

“Yes,” I say, ignoring the sarcasm. “I am sixty–seven, I have the time, and I have the energy. I can even interfere in friends’ lives in a more consistently persistent way than I ever have before. I can stand, firm, combative, yet loving, and say: ‘Audrey, get rid of that ugly couch before the termites carry it off and there are other colors besides white to paint a room.’ ” I look around. “Sally!” Sally has been looking out the window while I’ve been helping Audrey.

“Sally,” I say, taking her face in my hands. “No more instant coffee. I can’t take drinking brown water anymore. I will not stand for it. I want you to go out and buy an espresso machine, something that runs about three thousand dollars. It’ll be worth it. You’ve got a few good years on your car yet, you don’t need to buy a new Mini Cooper in ivory and black.”

They are both in tears. I’ve done my work, time to watch my TiVoed Gray’s Anatomy. Yes, I have TiVo and a satellite dish and I am certainly eyeing those phone/online/e-mail doohickeys to carry with me all the time, in case someone asks, “Do you know when the train for Lake Forest stops here and when it arrives in Lake Forest?" And I can quickly look it up on my BlackBerry–like thing.


The next day Sally calls with a question. “What happens when we are like ninety and no longer in our ‘creative years’…?” she whispers. “What happens when we are truly old?” I haven’t the heart to tell her about assisted–living facilities. I tell her we will arrange to have her eaten by tigers.

Okay, what about assisted living, which are by all accounts dreary places filled with old people moving slowly about with walkers, looking for their next craft project?

I am sure that by the time I’m ready for assisted living, we will have a more enlightened attitude toward dying and Craigslist will offer heroin for barter or sale. A pal of mine said his mother lived with him the last year of her life and preferred Tylenol 3 to all else. He said, “Ma, you're blasted.” She reminded him she was ninety.

Really, I should plan ahead; cultivate high school students, the ones with knowing looks, the scary–looking kids. Give them my business card; tell them to have their cells on all the time. I’ll be in touch very soon with a business proposition.

Is there a woman among us who can tell a joke and remember the punch line?

I’m terribly excited. I tell the girlfriends that I have always wanted to tell a long convoluted joke that starts: A minister, a priest, and a rabbi walk into a bar…using a heavy Irish brogue. Although it seems to me that the funniest jokes often involve nuns and four-letter words. Even one of those jokes could be improved by performing it with an accent. In fact, one of the few jokes, really the only one, my husband ever told me, involved nuns in a cornfield with crows and an expletive. He has a Hungarian accent, which made it even better.

My mother and all her friends were incredibly witty. They could do twenty minutes off-the-cuff on a husband with a cold, but they didn't tell jokes. My mother could never remember a punch line and she was totally hopeless with accents, so the shaggy dog story about two leprechauns and the tiny nun, told with an Irish accent, was forever beyond her reach. “Girls,” I say, “this does not have to be our destiny. We have two more decades than we thought to learn how to tell an ethnic joke.”

I give them an assignment, which involves choosing secondhand joke books on eBay. I caution them against riddles, knock-knocks, and puns. I once spent a lovely afternoon at a bar on the beach in St. Pete. The blonde bartender knew a hundred blonde jokes, even phoned her boyfriend when she couldn't think of a punch line: “Why are blonde jokes one-liners? So men can understand them.”

Pick a favorite joke. Mine would be one that involved lawyers. Here’s a short one: What do you say about a lawyer buried up to the neck in sand? Not enough sand. But the one I want to find would start: A lawyer, a clergyman, and a gay kangaroo walk into a bar…The joke must take longer than four minutes to tell, must be one that demands that you force your audience to continue to listen even if their eyes glaze over, that you ignore their shifting in their seats and stay immune to their attempts to change the subject or to tell their own joke. This is best done when liquor is part of the scenario.

When you complete the first part of your assignment, we will bring in the voice coaches. Soon we will be ready for the ultimate test, taking our joke to the neighborhood bar, able to tell it with an Irish, Italian, Spanish, or Yiddish accent as the situation demands.

Wait! My new favorite joke is Why is a man better than a vibrator? Because a vibrator can’t change a tire or replace a lightbulb…Ask your guests to come up with a new punch line. This is a fun game to play at a bridal shower.

Finding your true vocation around forty, give or take a year

Now that I have the bonus of twenty or so years of renewed energy, I can start a new career. In fact, I must start a new career or be considered a slacker.

I’ve always wanted to be a detective. Oddly enough, I never wanted to be Nancy Drew. No, never Nancy Drew. She seemed too suburban, too gentile, and not gritty enough. I didn’t want to be Sherlock Holmes. Come to think of it, those two had a lot in common. “The game’s afoot!” The adventure and the puzzle. They were not haunted by their cases or plagued by bad dreams. I don’t think Nancy had a substance abuse problem. She was high on life. I didn’t want to be Sam Spade or Hercule Poirot or Andy Dalziel or Inspector Lloyd or Commander Dalgleish or any of that lot.

I want to be Lew Archer. I want to wake up in my office on a broken-down foldout couch in my underwear and look around in vain for fresh coffee grounds, and, finally resigned to my fate, rummage around in the trash can to find yesterday’s filters. I want to fight for the desperate innocents, attractive and unattractive, who turn out not to be quite so guileless or guiltless and in the course of things be arrested and knocked out and tied to a pipe in a flooded basement and get the girl and lose her and make jokes along the way and wryly admit at the end that things are not as they seem and justice is stumbling blind and corrupt. I have always wanted to be a detective.

What to do with all those bonus years

Now that we are over the shock at being told by the media that we have twenty or thirty years more to live, in more or less good health and with more brain function than we thought we would still have by now plus untapped creativity and energy, we’d better find something great to do with these years before we are suddenly eighty–five and we go downhill faster than the Jamaican bobsled team.

I have an idea. I don’t really feel a need to go back to school and become an opera singer or a chiropractor or even a dog whisperer, but I think I can pick up a little extra change to cover my recent vices like having to have private swing–dance lessons, private Pilate lessons, and to purchase French shoes more often than other women. Did you know that my feet are exactly the right shape to wear French shoes? Not Italian. I am saved the expense of Ferragamos and I think they're kind of frumpy anyway. As I say, I need a little extra cash. Did I mention I eat all my meals out?

So here’s my idea. Many people will want to start new careers, but they are hampered by not having the proper degree or experience or maybe no experience. I will offer to write or fabricate as much of their resume as they need for a particular opening.

By the time the powers that be get wise to them, they’ll be really old and ready to retire. It’s not like anyone is going to apply to be president of Harvard or a translator of obscure languages for the U.N. Because if you get caught lying about your credentials in that kind of job, it makes the papers and embarrasses your grandchildren.

Say you’re like my friend Sidelle. She woke up one morning and realized that she was too old to start a career as a welder of massive outdoor steel sculpture, but she thinks she might be really terrific as an outsider artist. She asks me to prepare an artist statement and resume for her new career. I do.


Listen, I’ve always been an outsider artist…before it got religion. Here’s the thing: I would put the kids to sleep and then I’d go to the backyard and smoke, and I'd do a little painting. Yes, from my head, things I imagined. Sometimes I’d paint while the laundry was in the dryer. I painted in the Laundromat.

After a while people would come by to see my paintings. It was like, “Let’s get a pizza and see what Sidelle’s up to.” Then I had a show at the Guggenheim. No biggie. They just came by one day and asked me. Yes, painting has sustained me through a difficult life…that and a joint.

Then she thinks it might be more professional if I make up a list of her exhibits. I do.

Exhibits/One Woman Shows
The Van Dietzenque Gallery, Alaska
The Royal Academy of Art, Iceland
Vergahoffen Gallery, Greenland
Urban Intuitives, New Jersey

And then, just in case she has to fall back on teaching, I give her a PhD from The Little College under the Volcano, Samoa. I can do the same for you.

Wait! I hear my vocation calling: Catcher in the Rye for adults

Today I have to renew my license at the DMV, conveniently located in a neighborhood I never visit, on an angled street that I never use. I know that I will get lost, and should I fail the exam I will have to console myself by myself.

I would pay anything to a companion for the trip to the DMV. One who would drive, sit with me waiting for my number to be called, and say something witty while my photo is being taken. My mother cut her picture out of her license because it was unattractive. When she was in Disneyland getting over my father’s death, a car hit her even though she was on the sidewalk. When the police came, they were horrified that she had cut her photo out of her license. She said, “Officers, I’m the victim here.” And I believe that settled the matter.

Yes, it helps to have money at this time in your life. It’s easier to make large changes if you don’t really need money. Perhaps you could be one of those people who’s so embarrassing to their families that they are paid to stay away. Perhaps that has only happened in movies. On the other hand, my plan, the providing of personal loving assistants, has the benefit of offering interesting, highly paid work to those who must work and a wonderful companion to those who were smart enough not to have put all their assets into tech stocks, while also leaving room for the middleman who can bring the two of you together.

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Table of Contents

Epiphanies     11
If 60 Is the New 40, When Will I Be 30?     15
When I Am Old, I Will Live in a Castle     49
My Big Birthday     75
Why Can't a Man Be More Like a Woman?     81
Cats Never Qualify for Medicare     97
Almost True Stories of Aging     111
Lonely     135
Return to Lust     145
My Coffee Is Not Up to My Standards     181
Tiny Vices     191
The Bad Food Diet     207
Disastrous Apparel Decisions     217
Rethinking My Hair     227
Find Me an Old Guy with Rhythm     237
When Science Is Not the Answer     247
Raking over the Past     263
The Afterlife I Deserve     293
Born Again     305
About the Author     319
Alternative Titles     331
Acknowledgments     335
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