Make it New: Letting Go of 20/20 in 2020

by Julie Riddle

During my annual eye exam last November, I asked my optometrist if she was ready for the “2020” jokes she’s sure to hear from patients in the New Year. She looked at me blankly. Then she smiled and chirped, “Ha! I hadn’t thought of that!” I was instantly troubled by why I had thought of it. Had my brain suddenly become prone to crafting puns? 

I left the appointment with an updated prescription. As someone who began occasionally wearing weak reading glasses two years ago, I am now the dismayed owner of new reading, computer and distance glasses. My vision is evidently beating a hasty retreat from 20/20.

My optometrist is young – 25, or she could be 35 (I’m lousy at gauging ages accurately anymore). She’s also cute and sporty and brims with positivity. I like her a lot. She recently joined the practice after my former optometrist retired. He was solemn and pasty, and during his exams I worried for him, working day after day in a subdued, windowless room, asking a conveyor belt of patients the same hushed question: “Which is clearer: one, or two?” How could he stand it?

Of course, my concern had more to do with me than with him. Seemingly resigned to his lot in life, he stoked in me the sense that I was trapped on a conveyor belt gliding ever faster toward grim inevitability. 

Whether I like it or not, 2020 has arrived and it’s going to be a doozy: this is the year I turn 50 and my husband and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I’m pretty proud of the anniversary number. The birthday number – and the physical and mental changes that have begun to accrue with each passing year – is still a little incomprehensible.

I’ve long heard that as women in the U.S. age, our looks disintegrate to the point where we become invisible and irrelevant in our beauty-and-youth-and-sex-consumed culture. But I’ve also read that many women embrace the candor that rises from their bodily rubble and are happier than they’ve ever been.

In the spirit of embracing my emerging candor, I present to you a selection of mostly shallow insights I gleaned last year and plan to “lean into” in 2020. (#Idocareaboutdeeperissues #I’mturning50!)

  1. Cutting my own bangs is never a good idea. It never was; it never will be. Just…no.
  2. Don’t mistake emptying my inbox for meaningful achievement. 
  3. My so-called “platform,” which a few short years ago seemed absolutely essential, is not a helpless infant that I must keep alive by feeding social media daily, or ever. 
  4. My soul, however, will die if I don’t feed it books and art and silence.
  5. I’m pretty sure that my life, like my senior year of college, will turn out just fine and be a lot more fun if I loosen up, quit trying so hard and quit worrying so much. 
  6. Same goes for my carbs intake. 
  7. Just relax the abs already. As one woman posted in a lengthy Facebook discussion about real women’s bodies vs. magazine images, “Can’t we be allowed to have our tummies?” 
  8. Don’t become that person-of-a-certain-age who gripes about the latest technology. Keep up with the times, or at least stop making faces.
  9. Wait: to make a decision, make an online purchase, speak those words, send that email. Regret-sparing clarity comes in the space of waiting.
  10. It’s okay to go gray. 

That last one’s a toughie. During 2019 I conducted an informal observational study, and I found that not only do 98 percent of women over 50 color their hair, but 98 percent of women over 20 color their hair. The time and expense this demands is mindboggling, not to mention the special shampoos, conditioners and other products required for maintenance. Why do we women do this to ourselves? Oh, right. Invisibility. 

My new optometrist doesn’t color her hair. I think I like her so much because she makes me feel hopeful. She treats a stream of patients cycling through a small, windowless exam room, yet for my appointments she bounces through the doorway, bright-eyed and smiling. She can fix whatever ails me. Dimming vision? Dry eyes? No problem! She seems like the type of woman who will let her hair go gray. She seems like the type who will remain positive as she ages. She inspires me to remain young at heart.

Here’s to staying sporty in 2020.

Julie Riddle is the author of The Solace of Stones: Finding a Way through Wilderness (University of Nebraska Press). Her essay “Shadow Animals,” published in The Georgia Review, received a Special Mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXIX: Best of the Small Presses and was nominated for a National Magazine Award. She is the craft-essay editor for Brevity and the creative-nonfiction editor for Rock & Sling. She works as senior development writer at Whitworth University and is editor of Whitworth Today magazine.

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