Jan Slepian was astonished last year when Astonishment, a slim book of essays about aging she self-published in 2009 on Lulu.com, was adapted for the stage by Summit-based Dreamcatcher Repertory Theater. Those who know the 91-year-old, who has lived at the Winchester Gardens retirement community in Maplewood since she was 80, will be less astonished to learn that Slepian has a new volume out: How To Be Old: A Beginner’s Guide, also published via Lulu.
The new volume picks up where Astonishment left off. In 19 chapters with titles like, “How I Lost My Husband and Found Google,” Slepian, a former children’s book author, again mines old age for laughs. In “Exercise Tips,” she champions forgetting where you put your glasses or the newspaper so you have to make multiple trips around the house searching—“a geriatric marathon.” And “Ah, Sleep” confronts the elderlies’ vexation with the sandman: “My old pal sleep has turned into a diva,” she writes. The whimsical illustrations—the cover shows a granny galloping behind her walker toward a “continuing education” sign—are by friend and Newton resident Laura Schreiber.
Though modest, Slepian suspects How To Be Old—whose essays, like those in Astonishment, were originally published in Winchester Gardens’s community newsletter—will touch a similar nerve. “Everybody feels the things,” she says. “But being able to express them in a way that strikes people—that’s what I’ve done. I’m sort of tickled about it, to tell the truth.”