Roger's Rules For Aging

  • Author, critic, essayist and bon vivant Roger Rosenblatt is a very humorous fellow. I'd say he is a witty fellow were it not for his assertion--in No. 14 of his soon-to-be-published book of 58 Rules for Aging--that "wit is a trick... Wit is comedy, not humor. Comedy cuts life off; humor enlarges and embraces it." I'd be equally tempted to say he is clever, but Rule 14 also states that there have been only four witty people throughout history, none of them being Roger. Mindful of Rule 30 ("Believe everyone--always"), I believe him.

    And, believe me, these axioms, inspired by a column the author once wrote for Modern Maturity magazine, are well worth reading, perhaps even worth following. As the author says in his introduction, "When I urge you to refrain from a certain thought or course of action, I do not mean to suggest that you are in any way wrong if you do the opposite. I mean only to say that you will suffer." Now that's practical advice.

    I have chosen 14 of Roger's 58 rules because a) I do not want to depress sales of the book when it comes out next month; b) we have only so much space in this magazine; and c) just because.

    Actually, a sample this large--nearly a quarter of the rules offered in the book (a few of them slightly condensed)--should provide you with a very good sense of whether or not you'll like it. Of course, whether you like it or don't like it, I would refer you to Rule No. 1 ("It doesn't matter").

    What does matter is that there is a chance, even if remote, that Roger is right in suggesting--there's no guarantee here--that you'll live longer and attain perfection if you follow his advice.

    IT DOESN'T MATTER Whatever you think matters--doesn't. Follow this rule, and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late, or early; if you are here, or if you are there; if you said it, or did not say it; if you were clever, or if you were stupid; if you are having a bad hair day, or a no hair day; if your boss looks at you cockeyed; if your girlfriend or boyfriend looks at you cockeyed; if you are cockeyed; if you don't get that promotion, or prize, or house, or if you do. It doesn't matter. (Rule 1)

    NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT YOU Yes, I know, you are certain that your friends are becoming your enemies; that your grocer, garbage man, clergyman, sister-in-law, and your dog are all of the opinion that you have put on weight, that you have lost your touch, that you have lost your mind; furthermore, you are convinced that everyone spends two-thirds of every day commenting on your disintegration, denigrating your work, plotting your assassination. I promise you: Nobody is thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves--just like you. (Rule 2)

    LISTEN FOR THE WORD "GREAT" It is my experience that whenever anyone says the word "Great!" in response to an idea that you have, or some work you have accomplished, or to a proposal you have made, it is time to pack your bags. I don't know how this happened, but somewhere in the annals of insincerity, someone hit on this ingenious word, which is used to mislead others, to keep them at bay, or to lay no meaning whatever. The cleverness of the response is that it says the exact opposite of what it means. The one who uses the word could not be less thrilled about you or your idea. (Rule 11)

    LISTEN FOR THE QUESTION "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" Should that question arise in response to an accusation, know for certain that the person who said it knows perfectly well what you are talking about. Respond accordingly. (Rule 12)

    BE NOT WITTY; NEITHER SHALT THOU BE CLEVER... There have been, as far as I can count, four witty people in history. They are: Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill, and Oscar Levant... A poet, who had been passed over for the Poet Laureateship of England, complained to Oscar Wilde: "It's a conspiracy of silence against me. What ought I to do, Oscar?" Wilde advised: "Join it."... Winston Churchill called Clement Attlee "a sheep in sheep's clothing," when he was not calling him "a modest little man with much to be modest about." Then there was this famous exchange:

    Lady Astor: Winston, if you were my husband, I should flavor your coffee with poison.

    Churchill: Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it. (Rule 14)

    ", unity, and harmony"
    "...the human condition"
    "...the human spirit" (Rule 22)

    NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO NOTHING No grand meaningless gesture. No unnecessary phone call. No gratuitous compliment. No retaliatory act. No desperate lurching for the approval of others. I really have to go on? (Rule 23)

    DRESS FOR DURESS... Choose an item of clothing for which you will be immediately recognized. Wear it all the time. Any momentary bad spell will disappear quickly. Having a signature outfit removes you from reality; you become like a character in a play. And, as long as you are generally successful, there is the presumption of success about you. I wear a navy blue crew-neck sweater on television most of the time so that people might notice the sweater and not the fact that I am sounding like an idiot. Knights wore suits of armor. You get the point. (Rule 39)

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