The way I see it is this. There are 3 stages to life. First off we are born without a clue until we learn from parents and others who reckon they know everything about everything. The second phase is spent in rebelling against parents and others who reckon they know everything about everything until everyone is muddled. Then comes the last phase, the one of unlearning. It is a complicated process, sifting through all the stuff we have had drummed into our heads, then rebelled against in various unattractive ways. In fact, it is nigh on impossible to spin out such a thixotropic frame of mind because we have grown comfortably numb, wearing the familiar like an old coat, protection against the cold winds of life. Scrabbling through the old rules, the old patterns of behaviour, the routines and the ways our mother did it, or her mother or that before-mother who would have fainted clean away at the very thought of women in trousers, never mind see-through bikinis or no bikinis at all, is perplexing. A brain in knots. There are centuries of accepted norms to un norm, tangles of dense forestation to push through, ribbons and threads and chains to cut. It is tempting to give up. So what we do is one of two things. We decide to accept that we are a product of all those mothers and those fathers going all the way back to the Crimea or we park the lot and reinvent ourselves.
This, the latter, is huge fun. I can be anyone I want, more or less, excluding (obviously) Madonna, the Queen or Jessica Limewater the horse whisperer from County Down along with many others whose lives are not even remotely connected to my own. I am still me after all, living where I live, looking like I do with the same car, dog and home I have had for years. But a reinvention is an inner thing primarily I have found even as it can manifest its colouration, density and texture on the outside. A person may decide, after deciding to have fun with this, to start growing long sideburns or to wear jeans instead of those shiny suit trousers. He or she might choose a new diet, learn to play the tuba or take a course in Poetry for Beginners. It doesn’t really matter what is embarked upon. The key is to embark for embarking’s sake, to step out of the old even if the new is nowhere in sight. I remember my mum saying (often) that she did ‘it’ this way because her mother did it that way. Do you want to do it this way? I questioned. She shrugged. That’s not the point she said, turning back to the thing she wasn’t watching on television. It puzzled me, this unthinking way of life, the powerful hold of it, the refusal to change. When the programme was over I asked her if she enjoyed it. Oh, she said, I didn’t pay attention. Good Lord……..
In being whoever I want to be, bar those aforementioned, I can make my own mind up about pretty much everything unless, I have noticed, there is a man in the mix with definite opinions. This I now understand, having lived with men of definite opinions all of my life, to be a ribbon to the past. Once I notice it, I snip it. Even if the man is right and I get it wrong, I still want to find out for myself. I am curious about all those things from which I was ‘protected’ and besides, living just a bit dangerously is very exciting. There is a glorious euphoria in finally managing to do whatever it is the way I choose to do it. It may have taken weeks instead of minutes but it is my work and my way.
I can change the way I speak out now. I can challenge and make clear my boundaries. However, this third stage of life doesn’t always bounce along. Folk are surprised. Let’s say I was a doormat and they knew the doormat. It was a familiar doormat and everyone felt fine about wiping their feet on it. Lifting it and setting fire to it can be an unnerving upset for these folk. She has turned weird, they say whilst keeping their distance. However, there is a downside to the third stage and it’s a damn shame coming as it does just when a person is finally free to leap across rooftops singing bawdy songs into the night sky and startling the neighbours. This downside is is that the body is ageing and although bits are not falling off yet, they do ache or stiffen or bruise more easily. Fortunately I am not required to leap fences or rooftops any more, nor to offload a ton of hay bales but this doesn’t mean I can sit around all day bemoaning my not yet falling off bits that ache or stiffen or bruise. If I do focus on them then they will become my main think pattern and before long those thinks will turn into long sentences, spilling out of my mouth every time any poor soul asks me how I am. They also must not turn me into a beggar for sympathy. I ask a simple question with a yes/no response option. My mistake. ‘I don’t want to do Zumba but thanks for asking’ is response enough, whereas ‘Oh I wish, but I can’t because of my knee, yes this one. It’s Pamperloid Arthritis, have you heard of it, no? with complications, a big long list of them and it swells in the night, the knee not the list although it is a very long list and my mother had it in both knees poor soul and she had to stop doing school dinners and I have to sit for ages with it up, the knee that is and it’s at the wrong time you see, the Zumba that is, because East Enders is on that day so I have to get my husband’s tea ready early and it can’t be fish because fish doesn’t sit so it has to be mince which cooks itself and is kinder on my knee, not the mince but the standing’ is exhausting for both of us. I regret my question and just might be coming down with a knee issue myself.
So, no excuses about ageing. We all do it. Some of us get old before we are middle aged and some stay young at heart, dodgy knees notwithstanding. Getting old is not pretty, not really. Looking, as I occasionally do, into my magnifying mirror, I can no longer see the girl and this can either make me laugh or send me into a long term slump. I must decide to live all the way up to the end, choose my thinks, reinvent myself, consider my ‘how are you’ responses and get the hell out of myself ready for the next big adventure.