Sunday 8 December 2013

On Noticing that one is Ageing.

Eileen is with me this weekend.  She is sitting next to me on the other sofa, with her laptop, and between us are two trays of tea.  One for her and one for me.  The house is empty.  Giant Boy is with my cousin and his family, a long long way away in Oxford.  Fancy Girl has gone to Australia with her boyfriend, even further away than Oxford,  and my other son, Angry Boy who seems not to be so angry any more, is somewhere and still alive.

My lodgers, all of them, work at night (no, not like that) and are peacefully asleep during the day.  My newest lodger is passed out on her bed with the door open and is snoring peacefully.  She came back from her night duty at 8am and having got into her comfy pyjamas, put on a load of washing.  Only a half hour cycle, she said, I will wait till I put it all out to dry before I go to sleep.  And now, hours after the half hour cycle has finished, my lodger has still not moved from her room;  she lies on her bed where she fell, in her Eyore pyjamas, and from the open door comes the steady sound of deep snoring.  

There is peace in my house.  I am thinking about what to eat when I am next hungry, and am satisfied that whatever it is, I have all the relevant ingredients in the kitchen, and all is good.  It is nice to be old enough to have anticipated all my needs. 

I am thinking about ageing these days.

Me aged 40, taken by Eileen. I was a lot less wrinkly, a lot less sorted, and with my own hair colour.  
Eileen and I talked about it last night, she is thinking about it too.  I am 53 now, and though my inner life is constant and astonishing, my outer journey seems to have caught up with me.  I look in the mirror and see someone who really is 53.  I always thought I just looked like me, and worried only as to whether I was fat or thin.  Now I look at my skin and see it has aged and is puckered and falls in little wrinkles in places all over my body.  My neck has become looser and the skin is wrinkled.  My hands look like my mother's used to, bony and wrinkled.  It is not a question of fat or thin now, it is a question of fat or thin and older. Whatever my weight is, my body is still older.  Whatever I look like with my clothes on, without them, I am showing my age.  If I don't dye my hair, I am grey.  Goodness me, I say to myself, who is this lady in the mirror?  I know it is me because the eyes are looking at me as they have always done, but I am beginning to doubt the rest of the evidence.  I don't remember my chin changing shape like that, I don't remember my eyelashes becoming smaller, I don't remember all those lines showing up when my face is in repose.  I used to see lines only when I laughed, or frowned, or changed my expression.  Now I am looking at lines, deep lines, from my nose to my mouth, around my eyes, at the corners of my mouth, when I am not doing anything at all.  The face and body I have now is changing and taking me by surprise.

I have recently lost a lot of weight.  At last, I thought, I am the size I want to be.  Yum.  And with clothes on, I am just tickety boo.  But do we ever get to be the person we think we should be?  I have never really liked myself without clothes.  Even in the past when I was very thin and in my early forties, I saw deep imperfections.  I saw a body that was really quite unlovable, a body that didn't match up to the clothed version, a body to keep hidden in case anyone else saw it and was horrified.  How sad, I think now, to have been so wrong.  How sad, and what a waste. It shows much about my state of mind at that time, and I am sorry for that vulnerable, mistaken person with such a distorted idea of her worth.  Now, ten years and much experience later, I have again lost weight and achieved a good body shape, and this time I appreciate it but, my skin has changed.  I have varicose veins.  My stomach is completely shapeless after having had three such large children (Giant Boy was nearly 11lb, the other two were 9lb and 9lb 1oz).  There are no muscles there at all, it has always been a deflated balloon, but now it is even more obvious (to me) because the skin has become thinner and more marked.  And so, I am happy with my size, but concerned about the inevitable and obvious signs of age, and feel that you can never win.

Eileen was saying that women become less noticeable as they get older.  More invisible, was what she actually said.  How do I feel about that?  I feel sad.  On the other hand, what do I need to be noticed for?  It is much more important for me to be taken seriously as an Artist Extraordinaire than to have someone size me up with a gleam in their eye.  I don't want to be be invisible, I don't want to be too old to be attractive, and I don't want to be passed over.  I suspect that my feelings of attractiveness are changing too, and the fact that my body is becoming, quite naturally, the body of an older woman, has made me think of time, of what time I have left, of who I am and what I want.  Oh do we ever know who we are and what we want!  We do, we get an idea of both from time to time, but life is fluid and unexpected, and what worked for us once, may not work for us later.  Who we are and what we want develops, changes, moves on and does not stay static.  I am now, at 53, happy with my shape, and quite happy to stay this way.  But, I am aware that I am changing fast.  What was just a theory, the theory of ageing, is now a reality.  I will never go back to being younger.  Being this shape and older is good but the attention I receive is different.  I do not need nor want the same attentions as a younger woman, but I do want to be appreciated.  Eileen and I agreed that we want to be respected, and listened to.  I suspect that my best work is yet to come, which is a relief.  It's nice to think that as I grow old and start to become a prune, my work may become more and more interesting.

So here we are, Eileen and I, on our sofas, our combined ages are 106.  I look over at her and think she looks just the same as she ever does, and I am not asking her if she looks over at me and thinks the same thing in case she says No.  You are a wrinkled old bat, but you are very nice.  We will stop to have our lunch and then because we are old and wise we will go into the studio and Eileen will continue to edit her new film, and I will paint the first of the True Fairies that I have been working on.  No messing around for us.  Time is ticking, we have work to do.  I may be doing mine in smaller trousers (stretchy ones, they have to go over my varicose veins) and Eileen may look as she did to me when I met her at nineteen, but age is a funny old business, and it either spurs you on to do wonders, or it depresses you into doing nothing.

Me, thirteen years later, aged 53, taken by Alan who is twelve years older than me and doesn't make half the fuss.
And just to give it all some perspective

My mother.  At 83, she is beautiful and funny and old.  A good role model, and you can see where I get the tea thing from.