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Forever Fifty and Other Negotiations

Forever Fifty and Other Negotiations

by Judith Viorst, John Alcorn (Illustrator)

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Her bestselling verse has unerringly captured our follies and our foibles over the decades. Now Judith Viorst, in a witty and beautifuUy illustrated book of poems, looks at what it's like to be (gulp) fifty.

Judith Viorst's poetry collections, which include When Did I Stop Being Twenty..., It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty..., and How Did I Get to Be


Her bestselling verse has unerringly captured our follies and our foibles over the decades. Now Judith Viorst, in a witty and beautifuUy illustrated book of poems, looks at what it's like to be (gulp) fifty.

Judith Viorst's poetry collections, which include When Did I Stop Being Twenty..., It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty..., and How Did I Get to Be Forty..., have articulated our growing pains from single life to midlife, and have continued to delight millions of readers worldwide. Writing with the warmth and authenticity that have become her trademarks, Viorst once again demonstrates her uncanny ability to transform our daily realities into poems that make us laugh with recognition. Whether her subject is the decline of the body ("It's hard to be devil-may-care/When there are pleats in your derrière") or future aspirations ("Before I go, I'd like to have high cheekbones./I'd like to talk less like New Jersey, and more like Claire Bloom"), she always speaks directly to our condition. Her funny, compassionate poems shed a reassuring light on the fine art of aging, and will delight anyone who is now (or forever) fifty.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her seventh collection of verse homilies the prolific Viorst ( How Did I Get to Be Forty and Other Atrocities ) offers mild-mannered complaints about and righteous jubilation in honor of aging--specifically, turning 50. ``No, I'm not ashamed of my age,'' she declares, observing that maturity brings wisdom, though various vexations (``Face lift, or no face lift--that is the question'') follow close behind. Interspersed with her gripes is commonsensical advice: when youthful ``fantasies of magic and of mystery'' prove impractical, a spirit of compromise (the ``sweet pleasures of an ordinary life'') will come in handy. Though displaying her knack for penning advice columns in a conversational verse form, Viorst is not a poet, either major or minor: her lackadaisical, thudding rhymes and metrics owe more to the prosaic rhythms of coffee-break chitchat than to the sprightly, simple domestic music of traditional American-made doggerel. Literary Guild alternate. (Sept.)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 7.88(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

You Say You Want to Know How Old I Am?

I don't mind telling my age. I

honestly don't mind telling my age.

But why are you asking?

I don't pretend I'm still young. I

don't expect to be thought of as young.

So why are you asking?

I never lie about age. It's

undignified to lie about age.

But why are you asking?

We're only as old as we feel. You

know we're only as old as we feel.


why are you asking?

I'm told I look good for my age. I'm

often told I look good for my age.

Now why are you asking?

No, I'm not ashamed of my age. And

if you insist, I'll tell you my age.

You're what? Still asking?

You Say You Want to Know How the Children Are Doing?

Shawn teaches wind-surfing. Dawn is a certified midwife.

Kim has converted from atheist to Bahai.

Justin has finally fallen in love with a practically perfect person,

Except he's a guy.

Holly quit teaching first grade to go into arbitrage.

Keith runs a health club and Kyle's a computer whiz.

Robin, who's on her second divorce and fourth therapist, feels that she's starting

To learn who she is.

Brandon has dropped out of medical school to write screenplays.

Josh has abjured material wealth to do good.

Kirsten and Stacy and Maya and Tracy have opted for partnership track

Over motherhood.

Andrea is a professional acupuncturist.

Damian's making a killing in real estate.

Tara has already given birth to Rebecca and Joseph and Jacob,

And plans to have eight.

Kevin has given up socks and acquired two earrings.

Devon has given up sweets and eats nothing impure.

And so, if you want to know how thechildren are doing,

The answer is,

We're not exactly sure.

Wild Thing

I went for a walk in the sun without wearing my sunscreen.

I went out of town without making a reservation.

I placed my mouth directly upon a public drinking fountain, and took a sip.

I didn't bother flossing my teeth before bedtime.

I pumped my own gasoline at a self-service station.

I ate the deviled egg instead of the cauliflower with low-fat yoghurt dip.

I bought, without reading Consumer Reports, a new dryer.

I left my checking account unreconciled.

I know that the consequences could be dire,

But sometimes a woman simply has to run wild.

Exercising Options

I've been told that the vigorous moving-about of my body

Could discourage all ills from loose flesh to a heart attack.

But there isn't a fitness routine

That strikes me as anything less than obscene, so

I float on my back.

I respect those brave ladies who're burning their flab off with Fonda.

They still wear bikinis. I long ago switched to a sack.

But my horror of thickening thighs

Is surpassed by my horror of exercise, so

I float on my back.

I admire all those stalwarts out jogging in blizzards and heat waves

But if I want torture, I'd just as soon head for the rack.

Let my upper arms droop, I aspire

To no exertion that makes me perspire, so

I float on my back.

And I know that I richly deserve the whole world's condemnation

For the firmness that both my torso and character lack.

Yes, my body's a total disgrace

But there is this big happy smile on my face as

I float on my back.


On the way home with my husband from the dinner party,

I thought I'd very tactfully point out

That he shouldn't interrupt, and that

He shouldn't talk with his hands, and that

He shouldn't, when discussing politics, shout.

And that he shouldn't tell that story while people are eating, and that

He shouldn't tell that joke for the rest of his life, and that

He shouldn't have said what he said about that terrible lady in red because

She happens to be the-person-he-said-it-to's wife.

And that he didn't need that second helping of mousse cake, and that

He didn't need to finish the Chardonnay.

But after thirty years of marriage

I finally understand what not to say

On the way home with my husband from a dinner party.


I can't figure out if it's gas or a coronary.

I can't figure out if it's hostile or benign.

I can't figure out if I'm turning into a hypochondriac, or just being sensible.

I can't figure out when we stop supporting our children.

(At twenty-one? At thirty? Forty-nine?)

I can't figure out if not bothering to change the sheets in the guest room in between houseguests is ever an option, or always reprehensible.

I can't figure out why men won't ask for directions.

(Is this genetic or could they be retrained?)

I can't figure out, when dressed in the height of fashion, if I'm looking incredibly chic or slightly ridiculous.

I can't figure out if my tale is enthralling or boring.

(What are those facial expressions? Spellbound? Or pained?)

I can't figure out if wanting all the hangers in my closet to face the same way means I'm obsessive-compulsive, or merely meticulous.

I can't figure out if I've gone from stable to stodgy.

(Is "reliable" what I want as my epitaph?)

I can't figure out if helping yourself to a shrimp from your spouse's plate ought to be viewed as intimacy or intrusion.

I can't figure out if I've lost my sense of humor

Or if, after fifty, it just gets harder to laugh.

And I can't figure out if everyone else has figured everything out, or whether we are all in a state of confusion.

To a Middle-Aged Friend Considering Adultery with a Younger Man

It's hard to be devil-may-care

When there are pleats in your derriere

And it's time to expose what your panty hose are concealing.

And although a husband's fond eyes

Make certain allowances for your thighs,

Young lovers might look less benignly at what you're revealing.

It's hard to surrender to sin

While trying to hold your stomach in

And hoping your blusher's still brightening up your complexion,

And hoping he isn't aware

As he runs his fingers through your dark hair,

That you've grown unmistakably gray in a whole other section.

It's hard to experience bliss

When sinus intrudes on every kiss

And when, in the tricky positions, your back starts to hurt you.

And when you add all it entails

To teach him what turns you on and what fails,

You might want to reconsider the virtues of virtue.




Is a clean bill of health from the doctor,

And the kids shouldn't move back home for more than a year,

And not being audited, overdrawn, in Wilkes-Barre, in a lawsuit or in traction.


Is falling asleep without Valium,

And having two breasts to put in my brassiere,

And not (yet) needing to get my blood pressure lowered, my eyelids raised or a second opinion.

And on Saturday nights

When my husband and I have rented

Something with Fred Astaire for the VCR,

And we're sitting around in our robes discussing

The state of the world, back exercises, our Keoghs,

And whether to fix the transmission or buy a new car,0

And we're eating a pint of rum-raisin ice cream on the grounds that

Tomorrow we're starting a diet of fish, fruit and grain,

And my dad's in Miami dating a very nice widow,

And no one we love is in serious trouble or pain,

And our bringing-up-baby days are far behind us,

But our senior-citizen clays have not begun,

It's not what I called happiness

When I was twenty-one,

But it's turning out to be

What happiness is.

Text copyright © 1989 by Judith Viorst

Illustrations copyright © 1989 by John Alcorn

Meet the Author

In addition to her poetry, Judith Viorst is the author of other books for adults, including the bestseller Necessary Losses and her comic novel, Murdering Mr. Monti, as well as fourteen children's books. She is the recipient of various awards for her poetry, journalism, and psychoanalytic writings. The mother of three sons, she lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, political writer Milton Viorst.

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