Kathe Kokolias, 63, calls herself a "late bloomer": She
began to write about 10 years ago ("if you don't count 30
years journaling," she notes on her website).
She moved back to the Capital Region in 2001 after nearly
40 years away, and soon began to participate in local
women's writing groups and attend memoir-writing workshops
at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. Last year,
Kokolias came out with a small chapbook of personal essays,
"Spandex & Black Boots"; she talked about writing and aging
recently when reached by telephone at her home in Colonie.
At just 50 pages, "Spandex & Black Boots" is a quick
read, but it offers many insights into what it feels like
for a woman to grow older and suddenly find herself wearing
a perpetual "cloak of invisibility."
In the title essay, for example, she writes, "By the time
I hit my mid-forties -- skin starting to sag, extra pounds
padding my hips -- I was banished to the realm of other
women of my vintage, and became invisible overnight. One day
I existed -- an attractive woman being acknowledged, admired
-- and the next day I'd disappeared."
On the bright side, she says, invisibility has its
rewards: "You can get away with a little bit more. Your
makeup doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to be
dressed to the nines, because no one's going to notice
Many of the essays touch on the way the process of aging
feels from the inside. In "Adolescence Revisited," she
speaks of the difficulty of making new friends in a water
aerobics class for seniors in a newly adopted town, and
refers to herself as a "lonely little girl lingering within
this grandmother's body."
Public perception notwithstanding, Kokolias says that her
life actually began to get better than ever from about her
40th birthday. "Forty was a great year for me. I got my
bachelor's degree, became a grandmother for the first time,
and took a ride down the Grand Canyon with 13 other women."
Her reason for returning to this area, where her son and
three of her grandchildren live (three are on the West
Coast), was to be a hands-on grandmother, "going to
softball, baseball or basketball games, picking up one of
them if they need a ride, or doing whatever it is I'm
requested to do."
She says she worries about her grandchildren navigating
our culture's images of beauty. "They'll probably be
worried, 'Am I thin enough? Am I pretty enough?' And you
want to say to them, 'That's not what's important; it's are
you doing good things for other people?'?"
Asked if she thought the process of aging was different
for men and women, she talked first about hair color. "When
I used to work in an organization, I found that from about
age 45, or even from about 40, women had to keep on dyeing
their hair all the time, because as men get gray they're
considered distinguished, but women are just considered
She then paused and said, "But really I think both men
and women have a tough time getting old in this country.
Elders aren't venerated the way they are in some other
cultures. You don't see the multi-generational households
here like you do, for example, in Mexico."
She mentioned the social structure of Tahiti as described
by Margaret Mead, in which "the young people go off and have
fun while the older folks stay home and take care of the
kids." She said that while some seniors might not take to
this idea and might prefer to be left alone, she herself
loves "watching the kids grow up and being a part of their
She added, "I just wish all six of my grandchildren lived
Kokolias recently was one of six winners of an AARP
magazine six-word memoir contest. The topic was "Our
siblings, ourselves." Her entry: "Rival at 10, sidekick at
She is already at work on her next book project, to be
printed by Troy Book Makers later this year. "What Time Do
the Crocodiles Come Out?" will be a "mosaic," she says, of
travel essays (about Mexico, where she spent five of her 40
years away) and personal essays, and "I've got some recipes
in there, too."
Elizabeth Floyd Mair is a freelance writer in