Jul 11 2011

“Magical thinking”, Groucho Marx and the power of denial


Author of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion, speaking at Tulane University, screen capture of image on university website

Joan Didion explored the notion of magical thinking in her compelling chronicle of the period immediately following the death of her beloved partner, John Gregory Dunne, when her yearning for his presence fed a disbelief that he could actually be gone. The book is a brilliant treatise on love and grief, on the ways a heart can inexplicably keep on beating, despite its broken state.

I haven’t experienced that particular kind of intimate loss, but I do think that the attachment many of us have to our own youthfulness constitutes a milder form of magical thinking. At the age of 35, despite physical evidence to the contrary, I felt much the same as I had at 16. And when I reached 50 a few years ago and was forced by the milestone to take serious stock, I was only willing to concede that my sense of my self had matured marginally – to about 25.

But there’s nothing like pop culture to remind you that in some arenas at least, the intervening years have, indeed, made a difference.

Standing in line adjacent to a magazine rack yesterday, I scanned the guilty-pleasure tabloid covers for some juicy gossip about the stars. But as my eyes moved from one unfamiliar face and barely recognized name to another, I was forced to acknowledge that time is, indeed, passing. Absent references to Angelina, Brad and Jennifer, or the starving or bad-behaving starlets of five years ago (when I must have been paying more attention), I was traveling in unknown territory. (Not that this is a bad thing: think about how much more room I now have in my brain for more important, illuminating or inspiring content.)

Let's subvert Groucho's famous line...

In the meantime, I take solace in the wisdom of Groucho Marx — adapted to a feminist perspective. “You’re only as old as the woman you feel,” he said, chewing on his cigar. I’m pretty sure the “you” he had in mind when he delivered this insight was male, but I am the woman I feel most often (so to speak), so 25 it is!