My Big Plans

Along with my recurring and highflown ambition not to be a bitter old bat, I also don’t want to be old and boring. I’m making a bigtime play, instead, at being old and interesting.

You know what that means. If you’re going to be halfway interesting, I keep lecturing myself, you can’t go around whining about your aches and pains all the time.

Easy, you think? Ha.

The trouble is, when  you develop a problematic body part (which seems to arrive with aging), it automatically becomes the most fascinating topic in the universe. Who cares about minutiae like world peace, bedbug infestations, or the Academy Awards when your shoulder hurts? Your world shrinks to the size of a 50-cent piece located a few inches from your neck and your formerly encyclopedic interests morph into an existential moan.

You’re not boring, you keep telling yourself, defensively. You are simply focused. That’s all. (Pain, like the prospect of execution, has that effect. How is it that you’ve spent most of your life hardly noticing your shoulder – specifically, the right one – and failing to give it the excess of attention it clearly deserves? You have been so remiss! But, anyway.)

Worse, you notice, you start to experience the rest of the world differently. You become a shoulder-centric person. If you don’t know what shoulder-centric means – and why  should  you, if you haven’t had shoulder problems? – here’s how it goes: In a roomful of people screaming about politics or literature, you can pick out the word “shoulder” from 100 yards away. You are irresistibly drawn to whoever uttered that word, since you know the two of you have so much in common.

“Did I hear you say you have a shoulder problem?” you ask, a little too eagerly. The other person, you will note, lights up like a holiday tree. “Why yes!” she’ll say. “How did you know?”

And there you are. You have a new best friend – and you know you’ll never lack for topics of conversation. Every time you see each other, you’ll be off to the races, swapping stories about your original injuries, your physical therapists, your pain, your prognoses, your existential woes.

Oh, sure — go ahead and criticize me for falling short in my efforts to be old and interesting. The fact is, I’m still trying to get beyond my little shoulder issues, but my right shoulder seems to have other ideas about our relationship. In the meantime, I should add, I am really quite popular in the shoulder-centric community for my ongoing commentary about living with a bum shoulder.

The funny thing is, life often saves you from yourself and the rut you’ve created. In the past few weeks, I fractured my third metatarsal on my right foot. A whole new body part, a brand-new community of fellow sufferers! Maybe I’m more interesting than I thought I was.

(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about being the kind of woman nobody writes rock’n’roll songs for



18 comments… add one
  • Margot Thomas Link

    I can join you in that conversation, frozen shoulder! The other topic might be color of hair.
    Totally enjoyed reading your blog

  • Comedian Jim Gaffigan does a bit about getting older where you wake up and something hurts and you say to yourself “well now THAT’s going to hurt forever.” Once shoulder-centric, always shoulder-centric I think.

  • Love coming here for a quick laugh. For me, right now, it’s the right hip.

  • I love your writing. And I can’t help but read your words with your voice in my head. I always thought someone could make a great board game about getting old. Like a combo of Life and MOnopoly, you’d have injuries and surgeries and prescriptions and visits from the grandkids.

  • Yep, I’m in that community, too with shoulder frozen post-stroke. I keep reminding myself not to keep rattling on about the minutia of therapy and accidentally copping a feel of somebody’s behind when my left had does its spastic thing. I wonder if there is an AASS, Association of Anonymous Stroke Survivors, that I could join.

  • No shoulder problems, but do not get me started on my back and thigh. Getting old has its drawbacks, for sure.

  • hilarious as ever, Ruth.

    my husband’s just tipped over into the world of achy joint conversations. my group is still have mind numbing cocktail conversation about redoing their homes. nothing sends me running for my car faster than someone showing me their paint chips

  • merr Link

    “The trouble is, when you develop a problematic body part (which seems to arrive with aging), it automatically becomes the most fascinating topic in the universe.” Hilarious – I was having this convo with a friend!

  • Ouch on both accounts. Hoping you find some relief, and if not (as Brette’s post suggests), then hoping you find more interesting friends who share your aches.

  • Ziva Link

    Since aging bodies tend to present problems, one of the most
    COMFORTING things to do is to exchange complaints with people in your peer group. As long as you don’t go on endlessly, listen as well as talk, maintain a sense of humor, one discharges some of the negativity and sometimes even gets helpful suggestions from others.

  • You shoulder people are okay but us knee people!!! Now that’s an exciting group.

    As long as we don’t have to climb any stairs.

    Love your blog,

  • Paul Link

    Wonderful, Ruth. One day I compared sports injuries with the 9-year-old boy I’d watched grow up next door. When I was your age, I told him, I was hit in the head with a baseball bat. He considered that carefully. He looked at my head, then my life. Without a hint of sarcasm or meanness, he said, “That explains everything.” I’ve learned to choose my ailment discussion partners more wisely.

  • Jenny M Link

    Thanks for the chuckle, Ruth. I just read this to a roomful of friends, none of whom are as old as we are, but they’re close enough to get a giggle out of it.

  • I’ve had injuries which occasionally remind me of their former selves, but so far (knock wood) the body parts stuff goes away before it becomes too much a center of conversation. really does narrow one’s focus when its’ there, though, you speak truly about that I’m facing being forced out of my home and neighborhood by new owners — it’s a challenge not to let that take over my thinking, and conversation. where there’s pain, I guess…

  • I will never, ever think of you as either old OR uninteresting, Ruth. And oh yes, right now, my world has shrunk to my neck pains.

  • Hi Ruth,

    Old and boring???? You couldn’t be if you tried. Love this. Smiling lots too.
    I’ve done things to metatarsals, too. The third, the fifth, maybe the fourth. And I’m probably NOT done.

    LOVE ‘N STUFF link:
    Nancy Davidoff Kelton

  • bonehead Link

    “… fractured my third metatarsal on my right foot”, alright Ruth, all I want to know is what were you kicking? Come on… you were doing a Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace workout, getting ready for a senior’s match with Chuck Norris right? I hope so, cause my money will be on you 🙂

  • You could never be old or boring, Ruth. You couldn’t be funnier.

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