“Growing old, by definition, is giving up who we were” – Monique Issele
On Tuesday, 16th February, a hard core militant, une Digue Rouge (a Red Dyke), a woman I found to be très interessant et plus nubile, Thérèse Clerc, died. She was 88 years old. For the past two years, I had a baby daydream that I would go to Paris and spend an afternoon talking to her. She believed, “old age is not a disease, it's the age of great freedom”. Four years ago, she said “I do not know if at my age I am still capable of passion, but I have not closed myself to it”. The same year, at the age of 84, she found love again with Monique Issele (seen above). They are women who have imprinted a positive image of ageing, one that resonates with me. Not the picture that the press bombard us with. Sick, decrepit, dependent without agency or autonomy. Particularly women. Her death caused me to remember the first moment I was made acknowledge my age. No, ageing is not something that either occupied my thoughts or consumed me with obsessive fear. It was simply another chapter to be written. One, I had convinced myself I would do with the grace of a swan. Factually, I was aware that as we age, the needs of our body to function, change. I went to the health food shop, explained what I was experiencing and the nice lady smiled very sweetly at me and said “one moment please”. On her return, she handed me a package “these should do the trick”. Vitamins for women 50+. Well, I’ll tell you my mental response. You know that scene out of the film Fried Green Tomatoes, when Evelyn is waiting for a car to reverse so that she can have the parking space? The one where the two young women speed around the corner and take it? And Evelyn says to the two women when they get out of the car “Excuse me, girls, I’ve been waiting for that space”, to which they say “face it lady, we’re younger and faster”. Evelyn takes a moment, hits reverse, then accelerates into the girls’ car shouting ‘Towanda’. I walked out of the shop, without the package saying to myself “I’m only forty f**king nine”.
Last week, I got an email notification, advising me that my short story Second Chances had not been successful in a competition. The truth is, I knew it wouldn’t be. Not because I was being defeatist, but from experience. With the exception of one of my pieces of writing, (I exclude newspaper) all my other work, (which I put forward) has been published or positively critiqued in America, never Ireland. The last play I wrote was described as so dark it was unrealistic and too intense for a normal audience. Without any level of advocacy available to me, I pulled it back from the Dublin Fringe Theatre Festival submissions consideration process. The subject matter of the play was domestic violence. The whole experience made me recoil, swearing I would never share my work with the Irish mind again and then promptly threw the manuscript into the fire.
I realised, several weeks after walking out of the health food shop, it wasn’t the ageing process that I had a problem with. The incident revealed a fear that had been invisible to me up to that point. A fear that I would not experience and know all the things I had dreamed about. That somehow, time was running out on me, and I really didn’t want to die without knowing those things. Ignoring people’s perceptions of you, of age, of woman can be exhausting. Energy that is more constructively placed following your dreams and your goals. When you have spent over forty years of your life fighting internal demons, as I have, such perceptions can be debilitating. Now, I’m fifty one.
If I had shaved twenty words off my short story Second chances, it could have sat in the flash fiction category. A category I find challenging and enjoy over most other forms of writing. The subject matter, is about infidelity. A lesbian whose partner cheats on her with a man who is diagnosed HIV positive. Submitting it was an exercise in ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. A test that I had really arrived into the age of great freedom. I read Eamon’s blog about improving your craft, a source of great guidance and comfort, and then I did something I have never done before. I read the winning entry. Sweet Lord, it was a very powerful piece of writing. I read mine again. Then I read the winner’s again. I was wrong. It was not about my content. I had stepped away from the emotion of the situation, which was ineffective. I let go of the Gormla I used to be and saw that the skeleton of my story had merit, I just needed to work on it.
Yesterday, knowing I will never meet Thérèse, the woman who gave me butterflies in my stomach and fed my courage, I started writing a story about what an afternoon in Paris, talking to her, might have been like. Doing that, in turn sparked an idea for another writing project. A project that requires a lot of research. So, for the moment, my essay writing has been paused, and replaced with this blog. A blog about a woman who is ageing and proud to say “face it girls, I’m older and I got more insurance – Towanda”