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TED2014

Isabel Allende: How to live passionately—no matter your age

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Views 3,276,712

Author Isabel Allende is 71. Yes, she has a few wrinkles—but she has incredible perspective too. In this candid talk, meant for viewers of all ages, she talks about her fears as she gets older and shares how she plans to keep on living passionately.

- Novelist
Isabel Allende writes stories of passion. Her novels and memoirs, including The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, tell the stories of women and men who live with passionate commitment -- to love, to their world, to an ideal. Full bio

Hi, kids.
00:13
(Laughter)
00:14
I'm 71.
00:16
(Applause)
00:18
My husband is 76.
00:20
My parents are in their late 90s,
00:23
and Olivia, the dog, is 16.
00:27
So let's talk about aging.
00:29
Let me tell you how I feel
00:32
when I see my wrinkles in the mirror
00:33
and I realize that some parts of me have dropped
00:36
and I can't find them down there.
00:39
(Laughter)
00:42
Mary Oliver says in one of her poems,
00:43
"Tell me, what is it that you plan to do
00:46
with your one wild and precious life?"
00:50
Me, I intend to live passionately.
00:53
When do we start aging?
00:58
Society decides when we are old,
01:00
usually around 65, when we get Medicare,
01:02
but we really start aging at birth.
01:06
We are aging right now,
01:09
and we all experience it differently.
01:11
We all feel younger than our real age,
01:14
because the spirit never ages.
01:18
I am still 17.
01:20
Sophia Loren. Look at her.
01:23
She says that everything you see
01:27
she owes to spaghetti.
01:29
I tried it and gained 10 pounds
01:32
in the wrong places.
01:34
But attitude, aging is also attitude and health.
01:36
But my real mentor in this journey of aging
01:41
is Olga Murray.
01:45
This California girl at 60
01:47
started working in Nepal to save young girls
01:49
from domestic bondage.
01:53
At 88, she has saved 12,000 girls,
01:55
and she has changed the culture in the country.
02:00
(Applause)
02:02
Now it is illegal for fathers
02:03
to sell their daughters into servitude.
02:07
She has also founded orphanages
02:10
and nutritional clinics.
02:12
She is always happy
02:14
and eternally young.
02:16
What have I lost in the last decades?
02:19
People, of course,
02:23
places, and the boundless energy of my youth,
02:26
and I'm beginning to lose independence,
02:29
and that scares me.
02:31
Ram Dass says that dependency hurts,
02:34
but if you accept it, there is less suffering.
02:38
After a very bad stroke,
02:41
his ageless soul watches the changes
02:43
in the body with tenderness,
02:46
and he is grateful to the people who help him.
02:48
What have I gained?
02:53
Freedom: I don't have to prove anything anymore.
02:56
I'm not stuck in the idea of who I was,
03:00
who I want to be,
03:03
or what other people expect me to be.
03:04
I don't have to please men anymore,
03:08
only animals.
03:12
I keep telling my superego to back off
03:15
and let me enjoy what I still have.
03:18
My body may be falling apart,
03:20
but my brain is not, yet.
03:22
I love my brain.
03:26
I feel lighter.
03:28
I don't carry grudges, ambition, vanity,
03:31
none of the deadly sins that are not even
03:36
worth the trouble.
03:38
It's great to let go.
03:40
I should have started sooner.
03:42
And I also feel softer
03:44
because I'm not scared of being vulnerable.
03:47
I don't see it as weakness anymore.
03:51
And I've gained spirituality.
03:54
I'm aware that before,
03:57
death was in the neighborhood.
03:59
Now, it's next door, or in my house.
04:01
I try to live mindfully
04:06
and be present in the moment.
04:09
By the way, the Dalai Lama
04:11
is someone who has aged beautifully,
04:13
but who wants to be vegetarian and celibate?
04:15
(Laughter)
04:17
Meditation helps.
04:24
(Video) Child: Ommm. Ommm. Ommm.
04:27
Isabel Allende: Ommm. Ommm. There it is.
04:31
And it's good to start early.
04:33
You know, for a vain female like myself,
04:35
it's very hard to age in this culture.
04:39
Inside, I feel good, I feel charming, seductive, sexy.
04:42
Nobody else sees that. (Laughter)
04:47
I'm invisible.
04:50
I want to be the center of attention.
04:52
I hate to be invisible.
04:53
(Laughter) (Applause)
04:57
This is Grace Dammann.
04:59
She has been in a wheelchair for six years
05:01
after a terrible car accident.
05:03
She says that there is nothing more sensual
05:05
than a hot shower,
05:09
that every drop of water
05:11
is a blessing to the senses.
05:13
She doesn't see herself as disabled.
05:16
In her mind, she's still surfing in the ocean.
05:18
Ethel Seiderman, a feisty, beloved activist
05:22
in the place where I live in California.
05:27
She wears red patent shoes,
05:30
and her mantra is that one scarf is nice
05:33
but two is better.
05:36
She has been a widow for nine years,
05:38
but she's not looking for another mate.
05:40
She says that there is only a limited number
05:42
of ways you can screw —
05:45
well, she says it in another way —
05:48
and she has tried them all.
05:50
(Laughter)
05:52
I, on the other hand,
05:55
I still have erotic fantasies with Antonio Banderas —
05:56
(Laughter) —
06:00
and my poor husband has to put up with it.
06:01
So how can I stay passionate?
06:05
I cannot will myself to be passionate at 71.
06:07
I have been training for some time,
06:11
and when I feel flat and bored, I fake it.
06:14
Attitude, attitude.
06:17
How do I train? I train by saying yes
06:20
to whatever comes my way:
06:23
drama, comedy, tragedy,
06:25
love, death, losses.
06:27
Yes to life.
06:30
And I train by trying to stay in love.
06:33
It doesn't always work,
06:36
but you cannot blame me for trying.
06:37
And, on a final note,
06:40
retirement in Spanish is jubilación.
06:43
Jubilation. Celebration.
06:47
We have paid our dues.
06:49
We have contributed to society.
06:51
Now it's our time, and it's a great time.
06:53
Unless you are ill or very poor,
06:56
you have choices.
06:59
I have chosen to stay passionate,
07:01
engaged with an open heart.
07:04
I am working on it every day.
07:06
Want to join me?
07:09
Thank you.
07:12
(Applause)
07:14
June Cohen: So Isabel —
IA: Thank you.
07:19
JC: First of all,
07:23
I never like to presume to
speak for the TED community,
07:26
but I would like to tell you that I have a feeling
07:29
we can all agree that you are still charming,
07:31
seductive and sexy. Yes?
07:33
IA: Aww, thank you.
(Applause)
07:35
JC: Hands down.
IA: No, it's makeup.
07:37
Moderator: Now, would it be awkward
07:40
if I asked you a follow-up question
about your erotic fantasies?
07:41
IA: Oh, of course. About what?
07:44
(Laughter)
07:46
Moderator: About your erotic fantasies.
IA: With Antonio Banderas.
07:47
Moderator: I was just wondering
if you have anything more to share.
07:50
IA: Well, one of them is that — (Laughter)
07:52
One of them is that I place a naked Antonio Banderas
07:58
on a Mexican tortilla,
08:00
I slather him with guacamole and salsa,
08:03
I roll him up, and I eat him. (Laughter)
08:06
Thank you.
08:10
(Applause)
08:12

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About the speaker:

Isabel Allende - Novelist
Isabel Allende writes stories of passion. Her novels and memoirs, including The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, tell the stories of women and men who live with passionate commitment -- to love, to their world, to an ideal.

Why you should listen

As a novelist and memoirist, Isabel Allende writes of passionate lives, including her own. Born into a Chilean family with political ties, she went into exile in the United States in the 1970s—an event that, she believes, created her as a writer. Her voice blends sweeping narrative with touches of magical realism; her stories are romantic, in the very best sense of the word. Her novels include The House of the SpiritsEva Luna and The Stories of Eva Luna, and her latest, Maya's Notebook and Ripper. And don't forget her adventure trilogy for young readers— City of the BeastsKingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies.

As a memoirist, she has written about her vision of her lost Chile, in My Invented Country, and movingly tells the story of her life to her own daughter, in Paula. Her book Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses memorably linked two sections of the bookstore that don't see much crossover: Erotica and Cookbooks. Just as vital is her community work: The Isabel Allende Foundation works with nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area and Chile to empower and protect women and girls—understanding that empowering women is the only true route to social and economic justice.

More profile about the speaker
Isabel Allende | Speaker | TED.com