For three decades, Martha Stewart has tutored the masses in how to achieve order and gentility in their lives. This month she has a new book out, on the subject of aging. It’s a departure for Stewart, in that the bundt cake recipe makes way for the do-not-resuscitate order, but the author is in her 70s now, and says this work has been a long time coming.
Author Chris Wright Illustration Jody Hewgill
NO MATTER WHAT you may think of Martha Stewart’s uncompromising approach to good living, you have to admire her pep. Here is a woman who oversees a multimedia lifestyle conglomerate, who has hundreds of branded products to her name, who lives on a farm in New York state (where, it is said, she is no stranger to the pitchfork), and who does all of this at an age when many would consider clipping their toenails a chore too far.
Now in her 72nd year, America’s preeminent housekeeping authority has produced a how-to on growing old. Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others is in many ways a typical Stewart title—tip-heavy, unremittingly hands-on—but anyone who’s looking to make Easter decorations using only elbow pasta and a glue gun will be disappointed. Aging can be a tough business, and the book does not shy away from this fact (see: “Types of Incontinence”).
Stewart hollered about all this (patchy cellphone connection) while en route to a meeting. She sounded busy, but not a bit tired.
Hemispheres: It’s been 31 years since you published your first lifestyle book, Entertaining. How many books does this latest one make?
Hemispheres: That’s a lot of books. How have you kept it going for so long—isn’t there a finite amount of advice that one person can offer?
Stewart: Not really. We work with the subject of living. To me, that’s kind of limitless. It can be handled in many different ways. In the home you have the kitchen, the living room. There’s health, well-being, fashion. And styles change. Over the past 31 years, so much has happened. It’s really interesting subject matter.
Hemispheres: What about you personally? How do you manage to keep this up?
Stewart: It’s my life’s work. You don’t just roll over and die. I enjoy my work. It’s all about curiosity, learning and teaching. I’m in my car, and I have three newspapers to read, several magazines to look at. I have a column to write on raising backyard poultry. It’s never-ending. Oh, and I have a KenKen puzzle.
Hemispheres: Tell me you’re not driving.
Stewart: No! In fact, I was reading to my driver about the pope’s departure, and I said to him: “Facebook has more followers than the Catholic Church.” Which is shocking. The church is 2,000 years old; Facebook is only about 8.
Hemispheres: I should mention that you’re talking to the world’s biggest slob. Within minutes of opening your book, I’d gotten a coffee stain on it. Is there a part of you that shudders at the thought?
Stewart: [Laughs.] No, absolutely not.
Hemispheres: You are known as a perfectionist, though—there’s a story about how you color-coordinate Post-it notes with the décor. Is there a point when one can take this sort of thing too far?
Stewart: Yes, I can be perceived as a perfectionist, but I think that has way more to do with being organized, artistic and coordinated than it does with being picky.
Hemispheres: You’re a big animal lover—three dogs, five cats, 25 canaries. Isn’t there a conflict between having pets and good housekeeping? Don’t they shed and have accidents all over the place?
Stewart: Animals have always been an important part of my home life, and I find that well-cared-for animals add a tremendous friendliness to a home. Despite the fact I have many house pets, my home does not smell or look dirty, and when you sit in a chair in your navy blue suit, it will not pick up dog hairs.
Hemispheres: What is it about you that makes you such a dab hand at this housekeeping stuff?
Stewart: I think I’m coordinated, if that’s the right word. I’m coordinated in many ways. But I don’t want to come off as “Oh, I’m so great.”
Hemispheres: One of the remarkable things about this book, and your career in general, is the breadth of stuff you give advice on. One minute you’re telling us how to bang in a fence post, the next you’re outlining a Pilates regimen. Is there anything you’re bad at?
Stewart: I’m not a great downhill skier. I can cross-country, where you can’t break anything. I’m not good at the really physical yoga. And I’m no good at the Sunday crossword puzzle. Never have been.
Hemispheres: Living the Good Long Life is an ambitious undertaking on your part, in that it goes beyond How to Keep Matching Sheets Together in the Closet.
Stewart: It took about three years to put together. It was a big project and I’m proud of it. It’s a helpful book, and an important book. In almost every country the population is getting older. It’s called the “silver tsunami.” As the population gets older, we’re going to have problems.
Hemispheres: You’re known as someone who helps people keep things tidy and nice; here you’re in more serious territory. Do you think some of your fans will recoil from this?
Stewart: If they do, they don’t understand what we’ve been doing. We cover a tremendous amount of stuff. It’s not all cooking and entertainment. I’ve written books on gardening. I wrote a book about how to start a business. These are important subjects, and I think we’ve helped people gain confidence and made their lives richer.
Hemispheres: Yes, but here you’re looking at stuff like decline, disease, death. Those aren’t Martha Stewart-y subjects.
Stewart: They are in a way. Unless you’re healthy, you won’t be able to have all those nice dinner parties.
Hemispheres: One of the things that you recommend in the book is that people laugh regularly. Do you consider yourself to be a funny person?
Stewart: I’m not a great joke-teller, but I do have a sense of humor. I started thinking about this because of laughter yoga. This man in India has a program of just laughing—hee-hee-hee!—and all of India starts laughing with him.
Hemispheres: You also tell us that feeling old can be self-fulfilling, which rang true for me. I’ll be 50 this year, and I feel a bit washed-up sometimes.
Stewart: No, you’re not. I went to a 50th birthday party about 15 years ago, and someone said, “Oh, you’re just middle-aged,” which brought the reply “How many people do you know who are 100?” Well, that’s becoming more common now. They have tests to see how long you’re going to live—I think I’m going to reach 110, unless I get eaten by a shark or something.
Hemispheres: But it’s easy to feel left behind, isn’t it, when it comes to things like pop culture and technology?
Stewart: It changes so fast. I have in my pocketbook two BlackBerrys, one for phone calls and one for email; my new iPhone, which I love, for tweeting and Instagram; my Galaxy notepad—have you seen that? Oh my gosh, it’s a phone, a tablet, it has all your games on it, email. It’s fantastic.
Hemispheres: What else is in your bag?
Stewart: I have my iPad, my wallet, my passport, not too much cash, credit cards, a bottle of perfume—what else?—a little makeup bag, Post-its for marking things, sunglasses, my schedule, my herbal tea … Ooh, and my new Samsung Galaxy camera, which has Wi-Fi, so I can tweet.
Hemispheres: You’ve said you’re getting more creative as you get older. Are you an artistic person, as opposed to craftsy?
Stewart: I built a painting studio for myself, which I hope to use one of these days. I’m more into contemporary art than I ever have been. I studied art, so I know all about the Old Masters, but I never paid much attention to contemporary art before, and now I do. I don’t collect it, but I like to look at it.
Hemispheres: You’re 72 this year—an age when many people have hung up their boots to enjoy a bit of leisure time. Have you any plans to do this?
Stewart: I have no intention of retiring anytime soon. I still feel that there are many things to be done, that my creativity hasn’t waned, and to be sent out to the pasture prematurely, for me and many others, would be the worst death.
Hemispheres: Finally, what is your stance on the doily: pro or anti?
Stewart: We love doilies so much that we’ve invented a punch for our crafts line that creates custom doilies in circles, squares, ovals and rectangles. It’s fabulous.
Executive editor CHRIS WRIGHT lied about spilling coffee on Stewart’s book: It was beer.
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(“Law & Order: SVU,” 2012)
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