Maintaining the milestones
“She can still walk by herself!” The nonagenarian enters the room, to oohhs and aahhs, as onlookers might marvel over an infant taking its first steps.
As we age, mere acquaintances offer unsolicited observations about our most basic human and social functioning — i.e., feeding ourselves, keeping up personal hygiene, or even conversing meaningfully. Publicly appearing decent is all we are called upon to do, now that conventional physical attractiveness is outside the equation. Just as it is with the very young, we ask the elderly (or their care companions), how old they are. Common civility is greatly reduced at either end of life.
Being an artist gives me a rarefied statistical edge in graceful aging as shown by such living legends as the National Artists F. Sionil Jose (92 years old) and Bienvenido Lumbera (85), who remain productive and engaged.
That public male achievers outnumber women might be attributed to their having wives who take on the daily drudge work so they can figuratively flap their wings. Or as Manong Frankie declared: “I celebrate myself.” (Hear, hear, Walt Whitman! But Tita Tessie takes the orchids.)
Venerable crones I have known selflessly served in the public sphere and figuratively died with their boots on: my mother Carolina Griño Aquino (89) for the Philippine Judiciary Foundation, MCLE and Tahanan Outreach Projects, and also the former senator Eva Estrada Kalaw (97), whose biography I helped write. Both had spouses fully supporting their public careers. The political power of Filipino women still derives from the male’s, like Eve fashioned from Adam’s rib, or Cory from Ninoy and Imelda from FM.
In the arts, the writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando (84) had both an adoring father and a supportive husband. The late Edith Tiempo ran the famous Silliman University National Writers Workshop yearly with her husband Edilberto. Lone aging women like me, whether in or out of the arts, must fend for themselves.
And so on the cusp of official seniorhood, I qualified for screenwriter and novelist Ricky Lee’s “Trip to Quiapo” screenwriting workshop: Out of 5,000 applicants, not quite 100 of us made the cut. I belong to “Batch 15,” coming 14 years after Ricky’s last “Trip to Quiapo Batch 14.” It has been quite a trip—over three months of immersion in foreign and local cinema, writing exercises, pitching premises and producing a full-length feature-film script with dialogue in Filipino. And we “betchies” still meet each week in fellowship, stoking the creative flames.
In such jejune company, I think of Ricky (69) and myself as akin to Gandhi sleeping with nubile virgins and drawing upon their vitality. But we are not psychic vampires and bring something to the table, too. Thus a fortysomething gushed that if he lived so long, he wished to grow old like me. I looked at his receding hairline and was ever so grateful that I don’t even have to dye my hair. Char!
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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, 60, is an award-winning writer, visual artist, and social concerns advocate.
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