Author Sheds Humor, Kindness

            On October 7, the Mattapoisett Public Library, under the direction of Jennifer Jones, once again gave the community an opportunity to hear directly from a highly regarded author and journalist, this time Steven Petrow, probably best known as an essayist and journalist writing for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today.

            Petrow has also written several books that speak to the issues around AIDS and the LGBTQ community including “Dancing Against the Darkness,” “When Someone You Know Has AIDS,” “Lost Hamptons,” “Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners,” and his most recent release, “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old.”

            Petrow explained that the latest book is derived from some of the copious lists he has been keeping for decades. “I was always a great list keeper,” he told his virtual audience. While his lists aren’t necessarily of the “to-do” variety, they can inspire action. He said one list contained such notations as “not limiting the age of his friends,” “lying if it is kinder than telling the truth,” and “not joining an organ recital.” His book delves into the sublime, the real, and the really real, like how to talk to aging parents about their final wishes.

            The author’s humor shines through even when discussing tough personal matters, and it is that humanity that engages the reader and allows them to explore how these issues around aging impact their own lives. Petrow writes in a style that carries the reader along with him as he explains how the list became chapters in his life thus far.

            Take for instance the chapter on his mother’s fashion choices.

            Petrow describes his mother as a person who never allowed her age to influence the colors she wore or the fashions themselves. Living in New York City exposed her to all the best labels, and she wore them well into her eighties. He wrote, “I had long known that my mother – a plain Jane by day – was more of a Pucci and Gucci girl at night. Mom had always had Cosmo girl sexuality that once struck me as ‘mother inappropriate,’ but she was extremely comfortable in her skin.”

            His mother shunned the little old lady knits and “was never bound by sexist, ageist rules like no miniskirts after 40 or the prohibition on sleeveless tops after 50.” That chapter, for all who have believed it was time for elastic waistbands, is titled, “I’ll Never Stop Rocking Those ‘Too Young for You’ Outfits.”

            The titles Petrow developed from his lists and then the book are, for the most part, joyful; he wants the reader not to be weighted down and worrying over aging issues, but instead embracing what one still has and sharing the gift of being yourself with yourself and others.

            Some of the chapter titles are, “I Won’t Color My Hair Even If It Worked for Diane Sawyer,” “I Won’t Pass Up a Chance to Pee,” “I Won’t Repeat Stories More Than One Hundred Times,” and the more poignant, “I Won’t Be Unkind to Those With Dementia,” and “I Won’t Depart This Life Without Someone Holding My Hand.” This last title, according to Petrow, is “the mother of all fear” many people have as they advance through the years of old age.

            Petrow shared that a population of seniors heading into their later years are doing so alone, either by choice or circumstances, and that the number is growing. “One of the painful flip sides of Boomers’ living longer is that more and more of us are doing so without a spouse or partner. Unattached older Americans is nearly 20 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” he shared. That percentage is even greater when you consider members of the LGBTQ community.

            Petrow suggested to his readers, “We don’t have to allow isolation to creep up like a fog and swallow us from view.” So, what’s the fix? Maintaining connections, forging new ones, and staying within sight, he says.

            The simple act of helping others or paying it forward is a theme throughout the book, a theme he has crafted from his own experiences. Sharing those experiences with humor and kindness gives the reader a full view of a person unafraid to expose his vulnerabilities, for therein lie the connections that keep us out of the fog of loneliness and in the sunlight of friendship.

            To learn more about Petrow’s works, visit

By Marilou Newell

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