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At 85, Here’s What I Know for Sure to Be True

Lessons from a woman who has been there, done that.

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portrait illustration of woman surrounded by her favorite things
Ana Cuna
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After 85 years of life, much of it in show biz, I’ve learned a lot about love, loss, relationships, Hollywood and how to stay (relatively) sane, hopeful and perseverant. I’ve shared these lessons in The Book of Annie:  Humor, Heart and Chutzpah from an Accidental Influencer. This collection of essays and random observations span growing up in a three-room railroad flat in a Bronx ghetto to landing a recurring character role on Seinfeld to becoming an octogenarian TikTok star with more than 400,000 followers.

Those fans seem to think that I have acquired some wisdom that’s worth sharing, so here are some of the most important lessons I dole out in my book:

Do not be imprisoned by what others think of you.

My younger self was constantly criticized for being too talky, too opinionated and too blunt in expressing those opinions. And now, instead of being criticized, I am being celebrated for those very same qualities! I wasted so much energy trying to fit in, trying to please others, trying to be what I thought people expected me to be. Because of this, I totally neglected to own who I am and to take pride in being an honest, straightforward, strong woman — until now. Oh well, better late than never!

Answer “Yeah, why not?” — to opportunities that come your way.

Some of my greatest successes came from taking a chance on the unknown — including marrying my Danish husband one month after meeting him because he needed a green card. That was 59 years ago and we’re still enjoying getting to know each other. I also, at the age of 83, said “Yeah, why not?” to a young friend who had the insane idea of putting me on TikTok. This resulted in my becoming an “influencer," whatever that means. Of course, you have to use a little judgment. I wouldn’t say “Yeah, why not?” to an invitation to go bungee jumping.

Here is how to find a truly good life.

A comfy home. A loyal partner helps.

Satisfying work.

Hanging out with fun people.

Spaghetti. Lots of spaghetti.

But the big winner in the Happiness Challenge seems to be spending time with people you love and who love you back. Lots of scientific studies show that loneliness is bad for your health.

As a New York transplant in Los Angeles, I live far away from my closest friends and family. So, I’ve learned to be aggressively proactive in creating a social life. I started a neighborhood women’s group. We meet once a month and plan events like Memorial Day barbecues. I got a bunch of writer friends to get together every week. We share professional tips and contacts, and lots of raunchy jokes. I always let people know when I have no holiday plans. This resulted in four Thanksgiving invitations.

Never buy retail.

“Used” is the new black. I have a closet full of cool clothing, and a home full of valuable antiques, rugs, art and collectibles and I’ve gotten them all at thrift stores and yard sales. I would never spend four digits on some stupid designer handbag; I’d rather use my money on blissful experiences, like tickets to a Broadway musical, or a great meal in a beautiful garden restaurant — preferably in Italy.

My obsession with thrifting turned out to be unexpectedly profitable: I discovered that I could sell a lot of my secondhand items, and ended up with a semi-profitable little side business specializing in vintage fashion. You might have seen some of my ‘60s necklaces on Mad Men, all purchased by Janie Bryant, the show’s legendary costume designer.

Break rules. Follow your gut and heart.

We all grow up brainwashed into believing in certain rules about how to live and with whom to live. Back in the Bronx, the mantra was always, “Stick with your own kind!” I’m so glad I disregarded that decree. Exploring the other kind has added much richness to my life.

And then there are all those rules about how to be a good wife, and how to be a good mother. I knocked myself out trying, unsuccessfully, to conform to those demands. After many painful fiascos, I finally learned that instead of being a slave to the rules, I now trust my own instincts and think for myself.

For example, I no longer apologize for wearing socks with sandals and elastic-waist pants. And you will never catch me wearing stilettos. The glamour is just not worth the pain.

Don’t let your age define you.

At the age of 85, I have never been more productive than I am now. I’ve discovered that, as you get older, you have to keep doing stuff that brings you joy. I had a mother-in-law who had multiple physical problems: her eyesight, her hearing and her muscle strength were all greatly diminished. But she loved to entertain, and nothing stopped her. When I expressed my amazement that she was serving homemade ginger ice cream, she said “I still do everything I’ve ever done: It just takes me twice as long.” 

I hope The Book of Annie is a book for everyone, of all ages. We all learn from our failures and glory in our triumphs. What gets us through it all is perseverance. Getting my book published was certainly no easy task.

Most publishers in New York turned it down, saying “We love Annie, we love her voice, but we don’t know how to sell this.” Then one night I dragged myself to a party that I was not in the mood to attend. I only went because of my "Yeah, why not?” mantra. At the event, I met a woman who works in publishing. I told her about my book, and she said “That sounds just like something I’m looking for. Tell your agent to call me.”  Sometimes, all you have to do is show up.

 As you age, what's one thing YOU know for sure? Let us know in the comments below.

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