Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Still visible

I’m delighted with the responses to my question, “Who do you think you’ll be at 58?” Thank you for your wit, honesty and candor. May you all grow old without too much annoying grace and having shucked whatever is false in your lives Thank you, Lucas – for knowing about what we might call “institutionalized invisibility.” I lift my glass to you all.

This may be part one of a rant.

Anyone seen the Hallmark cards by the hilarious dozens congratulating on us on being able to blow out that many birthday candles or get out of bed unassisted? The cards on wrinkles and rheumatism and drooping butts and zero libido, on bad hearing, failing vision?

“There are only three ages for women in Hollywood – Babe, District Attorney and Driving Miss Daisy.” - Goldie Hawn.

Aging, in this culture, especially (but not entirely) for women, is considered a liability combined with a crappy Hallmark joke.

If you’re the type to stand for that sort of dismissal.

I’ve been chewing this since I was thirty-five – and nothing made me chew harder than the AHA moment I had while reading the following excerpt from an interview with Gloria Steinem (then sixty-one).

“It’s complicated….Old is not a thing. We’re the same people, going through a different stage….

Fifty was the end of this long familiar plateau that you entered at 13—you know, the country of the female stereotype. And when I got to 50, which is the edge of this territory—indeed, the edge used to be 35, 40, we’ve pushed it to 50—then it was like falling off a cliff. There was no map. Now it’s true that I had been fighting with the map. But you’re enmeshed with it either way, whether you’re obeying it or fighting with it. It was very difficult. So I’m not saying it’s all cheerful. I’m just saying that even though you realize the only country described to women is this 13-to-50-year-old country, there is another country after 50. It’s so exciting, and so interesting.

Remember when you were 9 or 10 or 11, and maybe you were this tree-climbing, shit-free little girl who said, “It’s not fair,” and at 12 or 13 you suddenly turned into a female impersonator who said, “How clever of you to know what time it is!” and all that stuff? Well, what happens is that when you get to be 60, and the role is over, you go back to that clear-eyed, shit-free, I-know-what-I-want-what-I-think, 9 or 10 year-old girl. Only now—you have your own apartment.”

I was not surprised to hear Marigoldie comment that she could envision 46 but not 56. It’s not on the map. And it might not be just because of the distance in years - the collective page goes blank there and the empty space is a little fearful – filled with hallmark jokes. No image bank of women between District Attorney and Driving Miss Daisy until recently. Now we have Olivia Soprano and Ruth Fisher. The bitter and the evil to the insanely repressed. (If you have a list of positive images – be my guest!)

The other thing Steinem said that really hit home was this:

“In my case, and in the case of some other women, it takes a lot of years even to question your conditioning.”

So here I am (and many of my sisters and brothers, I might add.) Questioning. All of it. All the collective wisdom of the tribe. Steadfastly refusing to fall off the cliff or the map. Or to think of our beds solely as a place for sleeping or our bodies as an inconvenience or to dismiss ourselves and sit in the corner.

And here is what I’d rather see on the greeting cards. Take note, creative geniuses at Hallmark.

“Perhaps one has to be very old before one learns to be amused rather than shocked.” – Pearl S. buck

“Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.” – Benjamin Franklin

“These are the soul’s changes. I don’t believe in aging. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism. “ – Virginia Woolf

and best for last…

“Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor…Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Gift from the Sea.

Ready? Altering our aspects to the Sun? And shedding shells? Marko – watch out for that van load of ex-wives!

Much love.

3 comments:

Jessie said...

LJ, this is a lovely essay. The Anne Morrow Lindbergh quote speaks directly to me and to the things foremost in my mind of late. My mother would have been in her mid-30s when Gift from the Sea came out in 1956. She kept a copy on her nightstand for years and I remember trying to read it one day, but of course I was much too young to make sense of it. Looks pretty interesting now, though!

LJ said...

I confess I haven't read it - but will. I did a lot of searching yesterday - for the interview with GS and some non-Hallmark quotes on aging. The one from Gift from the Sea blew me away.
I think that the shedding of shells is foremost on my mind, too. And interestingly, almost without exception, women friends my age have a gift rule now - you can't give them (us)ANYthing that can't be eaten, put in a vase or planted in the ground. We are all unloading or trying our best to unload our lifetimes of stuff. And that, of course, is just symbolic of a deeper attempt to shed what doesn't fit and is not necessary.
Thanks for commenting, Jessie.

Teri said...

This is great, LJ. I love the Steinem excerpt.

I'm looking for a shortcut off the map. Now.