The summer is over. As are the frazzled first weeks of a new school year, the pleasant stresses of having guests in the house, and the cozy/grumpy ambivalence of the old lady interrupting my afternoon reading.

14124008_336035186734076_1040199786_o
The Old Lady

I find myself craving a schedule, and some aspects of predictability.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever stop measuring my life in school terms rather than calendar years. But I do like the extra, nearly obligatory, reevaluation that a new term brings.  It’s a natural time to begin new projects, set new goals.

This is day 1 of a month long experiment with biphasic sleeping.

It is day 1 of 8 weeks of prep for the upcoming 16 weeks of marathon training.

The gorgeous winter break run in Northumberland is the a carrot in front of me on the morning intervals.

And with the final edits of my next poetry book having been sent off to the publisher last week, there is another new beginning.

 

My birthday is Saturday. A big one, but I don’t recognise all the maxims people toss around about ageing. I’m ageing. I like it. Not only is the alternative death, but I’m happier with myself and in general every year that passes.

jærenme

Slowing down? Getting forgetful?

I’ve always misplaced my keys.

When I was 24 I had a boyfriend threaten to break up with me every afternoon, because I spent at least  half an hour (every afternoon) searching for my car in the university lot. Things like that don’t happen anymore. (Neither that particular form of absent-mindedness, nor that particular unhealthy relationship dynamic.) 

My joints are stiff. They are also stronger. So are my muscles. I have much better balance and trust myself physically in ways that I would have never dreamt of at 30. If I break something, I’ll heal more slowly. I’m aware of that. But I also know how to (and do) take care of myself as best I can, and that there are – and have never been – any guarantees regarding the health of this body. I know now not to take it for granted.

The big difference I have noticed this year (my 50th – during which I hiked a 14-pointer for the first time, and went downhill skiing for the first time) is that I’m learning what is important to me, and choosing more carefully how I spend my time. I’m no longer interested in the latest fads. I don’t need to stay up-to-date and “relevant” because much of that information it isn’t relevant to what is important to me: I don’t need the social clout of celebrity gossip to try to stay in step with my peers.

And sometimes it is just a case of “been there, done that”: Lady Gaga’s mermaid in a wheelchair, anyone?

IMG_20160420_134954
My fiftieth birthday present to myself.

I can honestly say I have much less fear and anxiety when it comes to what other people think. (Notice, I did not say “no fear and anxiety”: we all fear the trolls, I think.)

Yes, I’m the only mature adult on the slope with her arms out “like an airplane landing” – but that is not “childish” or “child-like” – it is fearless, make no mistake. 

“I’m too old,” is what people say when they haven’t found the courage to say, “I don’t want to.”

I know what I want.

Now.

And I know that what I want is also likely to change. At least I hope so. 

I’m not bothering with snap chat or vine or whatever the latest social media is, not because it is “too complicated” (like so many people promoting ageism whine), but because I spent a month teaching myself Flash right before Mac decided not to use it with the iPad, and it became suddenly obsolete. All those containers for information become obsolete.

People don’t. The content of life doesn’t.

Choosing where and how and with whom I spend my time on this earth is wise, not a sign of failing intelligence.

I disavow all self-deprecation when it comes to ageing. 

Young people are amazing and have a lot to offer. But, as far as I can tell, teenagers don’t need pandering to.  The ones that are bright have moved into the realm we know of as “knowing we don’t know” anyway. Let’s be smart enough not to undermine or discount our own value. If you have lived 50 years and think you have nothing to teach a 16 year-old, or that you-at-50 have nothing to learn from an 80 year-old, well…. I’m really not sure what to say. 

I’ve been lucky to have a few wonderful role models to prepare me for this shift. The people who, after life stops forcing changes on you (education, job, kids), still seek out change and growth. I love you/them for that. They’ve made me realize that, beyond the curtain where media doesn’t venture, there must be a pony*.

If I am “slower”, it’s because I take  more time to rummage through all the prerequisite knowledge I’ve gathered before drawing conclusions. Hell, I should probably aim at being slower in that way. That would be the wise thing.

Maybe the wisest thing is no longer being afraid to write a friend – or my kids – and say, “I miss you. I want to see you.”

I will slow down, slowly and surely, but the turtles that hold up our place in the universe are damned wise – all the way down.

I believe I have just written my middle-age manifesto. 


*Yeah. A reference to an episode of a very bad 80s sitcom. The little girl suspects that all good things happen after bedtime. She’s right. There was a pony.

“You may begin to notice that you’re invisible. Especially if you’re short and gray-haired. But I say to whom? And so what?” – Grace Paley

 

Reading Brainpickings this morning.

I have been thinking a lot about this “invisible” thing. Wondering if it is true. Thinking, yes, I suppose “I” am invisible to Make-up companies, to Coca-Cola, to Nike… I’m fine with that. Maybe it is because people like me are too experienced to be seduced by the idea of buying an identity, so companies don’t waste their money trying. I know from experience what works for me and I research alternatives based on recommendations, not images. I’m not “stuck in my ways”, but I am less-easily manipulated. That the media realises this seems like a compliment – or at least a (-n unwitting) recognition of my resistance to dazzle.

12622519_975338355855194_1068449626315872291_oAm “I” invisible to the television networks? Well, maybe it is because “I” don’t watch much television these days because I realise that my time is limited and no longer want to spend a lot of it in a fictive world – or a world dedicated in part to the worship of fashionable, crass ideals? Or maybe simply because the sponsors of programs want to reach a demographic that they can still manipulate?

I’d rather go for a run in the woods. I do find books and films about people my age, if I look. They aren’t the blockbusters. They are the quiet books and films, without product placements or merchandising. There are stories out there, behind the loud curtain of 30-something.

I will be fifty this month, and I am not on my way out of the world. I think I see much more of it now than before. I am also far less concerned with how much of the world sees “me”. I am not any more invisible than I was at 20. In fact, I am probably increasingly visible as an individual, rather than a knock-off of a stereotype for someone’s consumption.

A wolf-whistle is not evidence of a person’s visibility.

I was probably 6 or 7 when I first remember making something. I made my grandfather a birthday card; rhyming couplets in my own handwriting, and a watercolor of the two of us fishing from the side of a lake. It was on thick, cream paper. I can’t remember where the paper came from. I remember the wonderful fuss he and my grandmother made over my artwork.

20160216_172747
My youngest made this years ago. I would have panicked had I known he was in the other room with a knife. That same year, my oldest made me a calendar with his own artwork. Best Christmas Ever.

My grandfather used to take me fishing. I always use the phrase “used to” loosely. There wasn’t a lot of consistency in my childhood and if I did something more than once, it feels like a “used to”.

So, it follows that I “used to” make handmade cards.

In reality, I don’t think I was much older than 8 or 9 when I decided I wasn’t a good enough craftsman to give handmade gifts anymore: they were childish, imperfect, “charming” with a bright smack of condescension from Aunt S.’s lips.

Teachers pointed out that I should use the left-handed scissors to avoid the sloppy, jagged edges that I always seemed to wind up with. Left-handed scissors made no difference. Cramped my left hand.

I studied art in school. In college. I won little, local awards for poetry. But unless it was sanctioned by the gatekeepers who put monetary value on things, it was amateurish in my mind, and amateurish was a bad word. I was aiming higher. I always prefaced, and undermined, my attempts at crafts by explaining that I was a lousy at it.

I was an idiot.

In my twenties, I met a woman who became a mentor to me. We had talked a lot about being kind to our inner little girls. I decided to make her a doll for Christmas. It felt like an important thing to do. A process that honored what she meant to me.

I was dating her son at the time, and he made it clear he thought that was a childish thing to do. So I didn’t show him. I sewed the doll from scratch. Set her hemp hair in corkscrew curls with wood glue. I have a photo of the three of us. Two of us have faces a bit red from crying.20160216_175720

Even my boyfriend had to reluctantly admit it didn’t turn out as crappy as he’d imagined it would. (We all go through our phases.)

But it was many years before I made another object. I wrote books. But they were published by other people, illustrated by other people.  Once I told an artist friend of mine that I was going to start making paper. She smiled and said that people spent years learning how to make paper. She’d been to Korea and taken a workshop on paper-making, but didn’t do it herself out of respect for the craft.

I didn’t make any paper.

I decided to learn Flash instead. I made interactive poetry videos. But after hours and weeks of work, I felt that I had put nothing real into the world. Nothing I had put my hands on, nothing that other people would put their hands on. It matters to me for some reason.

So, four  years ago I took a bookmaking course. I told myself and everyone else that I was doing it because craftsmanship was something I knew I sucked at, so I couldn’t take it seriously, wouldn’t be competitive about it.

Who knew that it would take me so long to learn that what it takes for me to make things well, is a desire to put them in the world that has nothing to do with my own ego. It has to be an act of love.

After just three months of dating, I gave my now-fiancé a handmade book of poems.

A flash file just wouldn’t have been the same.


 

Thanks to Suzi at Blue Car Painted Green for the prompt.

 

 

 

 

 

There is a very interesting Ted Talk that I have been thinking about lately. Stella Young, who is physically disabled, talks about her frustration that stems from being held up as an object for what she calls “inspiration porn”.

In a very strange way, I can relate.

I’ve been thinking about “inspiration porn” since I let loose on a friend’s Facebook post last week. She was upset about the way the church heart rockhas looked the other way when it comes to the sexual abuse of children. She said that it had to be stopped “because it ruins lives”.

It is a fair enough statement. Child abuse, and the social narratives surrounding it, does contribute to the destruction of some lives.

However, sexual abuse of children has to be stopped regardless of the fallout.

It is wrong. Period.

There should be no need to parade out examples of victims who have turned to drugs, or taken their own lives as part of the argument against the sexual abuse of children. Lives should not be moulded into poster slogans.

I see two problems with perpetuating the “ruined for life” stereotype for the cause:

One is the stigma that speaking up brings in its wake. No one wants to be labeled as damaged. I remember all the years when my children were small, and the concern I had that people were looking over my shoulder (because, after all, another thing we so often hear about is the “cycle of abuse”). Any opinion I had on gender, violence, abuse  or even sex in general was often disregarded as biased.

If you do speak up, it is important to tow the party line.

The second problem I see is the guilt I know I feel when I say, “You know what? I’m doing as well as anyone else out there.” I feel like I am undermining the cause. An apologist of sorts. I should be screwed up. And, yes, when I say that my problems have little to do with my childhood experiences, I have heard: “You’re in denial.” The claim of having thrived, despite it all, is held up as proof of how essentially messed up I really am.

And then I can’t help but wonder: Maybe I really am more damaged than I think?

The fact is, I have been more damaged by the way society handles victims of child abuse than I ever was by the incidences of abuse themselves. And that is a frightening thing to say out loud. I prepare myself for a barrage of questions and accusations when I do. I struggle with the response to the onslaught of circular reasoning: Sexual abuse causes emotional damage, so if you haven’t been emotionally damaged, there was obviously no sexual abuse. Not real sexual abuse, at any rate.

People who have experienced sexual abuse are pressured to choose a camp: Be fine and have your experiences invalidated, or choose to assume the role of victim or one as damaged-but-surviving.

It isn’t okay to murder a homeless person who is incoherent, who has no family to mourn her; while, say murdering a young mother of two would definitely not be okay. What is morally wrong, isn’t measured by the damage done.

The sexual abuse of children is not okay.

But, you know what? Some of the children will be, if we let them.