With the release of the first episode of the A Wrinkle in Time podcast, Noelle McCarthy reflects on what she's learnt while making the series.
One of the nicer things was feeling - at the tender age of 37- relatively unqualified to tackle the subject of ageing. So I asked everyone I could think of to tell me about it.
Many of the experts - scientists, medical professionals and health-care workers all had thoughtful and provocative things to say about the cultural, social and emotional aspects of getting older. The academics, including philosophers and historians were helpful in explaining possible reasons why there’s so much pressure on us to maintain our youthful vigour in an era of increasing longevity.
But the great thing about ageing is that it happens to all of us, so everyone has an opinion on the subject. There are some well-known personalities in this series: Buck Shelford, US news anchor Tom Brokaw, former MP Winnie Laban, activist Helen Kelly and New Zealand Poet Laureate CK Stead, but I also interviewed friends, colleagues, people who answered online adverts, friends grandparents, residents of rest homes. Anyone really. For the past six months, ageing was my preferred conversation topic.
A Wrinkle in Time video trailer, filmed by Diego Opatowski, edited by Claire Eastham-Farrelly.
That didn’t always go down well at parties. We don’t live in a culture that permits us to grow old without a struggle, and to a certain extent, it’s no wonder. As Bette Davis said “old age ain’t no place for sissies”.
Wrinkles, grey hairs, slowness. Cancer, dementia, osteoporosis. The physical consequences of getting older may not pretty, but there’s no mileage in minimising them, nor is there any point in pretending that it’s not in the post for us. And we all know what’s waiting at the end of the process.
The researchers I spoke to are on the cusp of major anti-ageing breakthroughs, but there’s still no cure for mortality. Like ageing, death is an inevitable part of being human. This is something of a downer. A series about gradual decline and increasing physical difficulties isn’t the most appealing prospect for listeners. There were a few weeks there when I wondered how to do this.
And then I met Daphne. At the age of 100 (she’s turned 101 since we started) she is the oldest person in the series, and one of the first people I talked to. It went badly. I can see why, with the benefit of hindsight.
I thought talking to elderly people about ageing would be fun, and cozy. We’d have a chat, they’d share some memories, maybe offer me some wisdom about getting older. I had no idea of the extent to which very old age changes us, mentally and emotionally.
Five minutes in, Daphne started crying. I felt awful. I also realised how little I understand what it is actually like to experience the world at the age of 100. Ignorance is always a useful starting point, even if it’s scary.
Daphne helped me push past my preconceptions and start asking questions. How do our brains change as we get older? Who will look after us when it becomes necessary? What do we want for the end of our lives, how should we plan for it? We need to be thinking about the answers to these questions in an era where an increasing number of us are going to live to be Daphne’s age and older.
When her niece Margaret explained the extent of Daphne’s resilience, how she’d recently overcome her grief and depression at the loss of her sister, and made the decision to keep going, and come down to breakfast every morning, the penny dropped and I knew how I wanted to approach this.
Getting older is not easy. It involves a range of challenges, mentally and physically.
A Wrinkle in Time does not sugar coat it. But by presenting a range of voices all talking honestly about the surprises and joys of the process, as well as the hard bits, it does, hopefully, underline the part of ageing I took the most comfort and hope from.
We’re all in this together - you, me, Daphne, Professor Faull, Gaynor, Michele, Ella, every person you hear in each episode. Aspects of the ageing process are scary, but the gift of the experience is empathy.
When we talk about ageing, we are talking about what it means to be human. I knew this when I started, but it took making this podcast series to really bring it home.