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Jack's Take: Debbie, Barbie, and turning 60

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Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

This summer I turned 60. I know: it's a big deal. Many of my older Gay brothers never made it past 30, 40, or 50.

I came out at the height of the AIDS epidemic, in 1987. I was 23 years old and had just moved to Seattle from Cleveland, where I grew up and attended college. I'd joined a volunteer organization similar to the Peace Corps and VISTA called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. The Jesuits are the most progressive order of the Catholic Church, committed to social justice and taking action to right the wrongs of the world. My placement at the then Northwest AIDS Foundation (later called Lifelong AIDS Alliance and now just Lifelong) provided my first exposure to real live Gay and Lesbian people who actually had jobs and didn't spend all their time in nightclubs and bars, which was my stereotypical impression of what it meant to be Queer.

As I adjust to this new stage in life, I am happy to occupy a healthy, athletic body; enjoy the work I do to make a living; and am surrounded by loving friends who form my Seattle family. Despite these assets, I have to admit I'm still struggling with the concept of 60, because in my mind's eye, I've experienced many people in their sixties who've appeared crotchety and infirm. That is not me!

But how does one create a new paradigm for what it means to age happily and proudly? The first step, I think, is to celebrate one's age, and be grateful you are still standing. One friend recommended I shout from the mountaintops, arms in the air, "This is the new 60!"

That sounded brave, if a little dramatic, but I kind of did it when I threw myself a birthday party in June, inviting cherished folks far and wide. We shared chocolate cake, photographs, and sparkling wine, and I recited an inspired passage on friendship from The Little Prince.

I'm also getting back in touch with my favorite pastimes and hobbies from a while ago. During the pandemic, I bought a paddleboard and snowshoes — anything new to do outdoors. But recently I've picked up my tennis racquet again, a sport I grew up with and enjoyed playing for countless summers in high school and college. A younger neighbor and I rallied several times a week at Volunteer Park, and a co-worker and I recently agreed to meet to bat the ball.

Who knows? Will I succumb to pickleball? Only time will tell.

Streaming music from my tween, teen, and young adult years is also something that's giving me a new perspective and appreciation. I'm realizing half the time I didn't know the correct lyrics to songs I loved during my angsty adolescence. I guess that happens when you don't have your own stereo and headphones to blast your ears out! In the meantime, I've become acquainted with work by newer artists like Sam Smith and Dua Lipa.

Courtesy photo  

Last night my best friend in Seattle and I attended a concert featuring Debbie Harry of the popular 1970s-'80s band Blondie. Her hit "Call Me" from the film American Gigolo catapulted to number one my junior year in high school. And seeing Richard Gere in one scene of that film, without a stitch of clothing, forever cemented the song in my imagination.

Speaking of blondes and unforgettable movies, I joined countless others in attending a showing of the summer blockbuster Barbie earlier this month. From an early age, I coveted my girl cousin's Barbies and loved playing with the large styling head. I could comb her hair forever!

So, despite some well-placed hesitancy (a storyline revolving around dolls?) and outfitted in pink with popcorn in hand, some neighbors and I sat in anticipation in my favorite movie house, the Egyptian. The excitement and fun the film generated won me over. While one can argue about its politics, and whether Barbie is an icon of the left or right, the colorful art design and costuming, clever dialogue, and freewheeling adventure from Barbieland to the real world and back again sweep you up.

Maybe the wonderful thing about growing older is embracing the idiosyncrasies we all have. If we're lucky, and climate change doesn't incinerate or drown us all, we'll live to a point where we no longer need to make excuses, and we can just say, "This is me."

Don't get me wrong: there is always room for improvement and growth. The post—George Floyd and #MeToo years have proven that, as a society, we all need to keep developing our muscles around awareness and respect.

But our own personal history colors our identity, who we are. Each of us brings uniqueness — color, so to speak — to the world. Lately I've been bathing in that nostalgia, comforting or provocative though it may be. What is old is new again, in art or otherwise. Just ask Barbie.

Or as Debbie Harry wisely observed about her friendship with fellow auteur Andy Warhol: "I think the best thing he taught me was always to be open to new things, new music, new style, new bands, new technology and just go with it. Never get mired in the past, and always accept new things whatever age you are."

Sage advice to this tennis player who (so far) holds the line on pickleball.

Jack Hilovsky is an author, actor, and blogger who has made his home in Seattle since 1986. His first book,RJ, Farrah and Me: A Young Man's Gay Odyssey from the Inside Out, was published in June 2022. It can be found at Elliott Bay Book Co., Madison Books, Nook & Cranny, and University Bookstore, among other local booksellers.