I remember in my early twenties studying older women (old, as in over 30), and feeling sorry for them. How sad they must feel about the circles under their eyes and the frown lines along their mouth, the glances cast by their husbands and boyfriends at younger women, the desperation at the edges of their feigned passion for life…ugh. So embarrassed. Youth is wasted on the young, but so are brain cells.
Of course, now I understand this line of thinking of the result of swallowing the eyeball of the male gaze. Most of these thoughts bore from the corners of my psyche where culture, advertising and comments made by male members of my family festered into the shame of Blanche DuBois’ desperation. (Even though, as I learned in theater studies, Blanche DuBois really represented Tennessee Williams’ own shame about his homosexuality.) I actually wasted time and energy thinking about thus believed it true any woman who did not go out of her way to obsess about her appearance bordered on criminal behavior. How dare a woman just like herself? I, of course, always felt bad about my appearance.
Throughout my thirties, I lived in what’s fair to call terror of turning 40. I danced around my fears. I, literally, went out to dance salsa three to five nights a week, rushing out at 10:00 pm on a Monday night after a post-work salsa nap on a with sparkly top and some lipstick to some sweaty guy’s lead. I didn’t care about the guys so much as I wanted to live in the sensuality of my body before it became a decayed creaky old piece of furniture. Each night I danced as if it were the last hurrah. Some day I won’t be able to do this, I told myself. Even when it no longer felt fun, or I found the male attention I was supposed to covet nauseating and boring. I dated younger men, thinking that it would neutralize the old hag-ness that waited for me.
Even as I found greater confidence each year of my 30s, I started to panic. One night a few months before my birthday I called my mother and cried out, “I’m going to be 40!” the way I had once cried that my boyfriend had broken up with me.
“Any woman will tell you that her 40s were the best time in her life,” she responded.
A few months after that conversation my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I walked through the door into 40 more worried about my mother’s health. I was shocked to find that a band of men in ski caps didn’t kidnap me and put me in a dark closet, only letting me out to work and make social appearances. I still dated guys and felt like myself. But more so. I actually felt kind of relaxed And then came 41, 42, and 43, and I started to just feel kind of free, I seemed to acquire more “don’t-give-a-shit-ness” or what is also known as “zero fucks.”
I don’t love everything about aging, I hate dying my hair, and cracking in yoga…but it seems a fair price for the benefits of feeling like when I open my mouth, the person speaking is actually me and not some version
Right before my 43rd birthday my mother passed away. The sad irony is that after the anticipation, all that I really miss of my youth is my mother and my grandmother. It wasn’t my youth so much as a sadness and desperation that I was hanging onto.
Last August, I found myself one unemployed Wednesday afternoon wondering what to do when some voice in my head told me to go to Santa Monica College and sign up for a Jazz Dance class. It was literally 45 minutes before the class began, on the last day of registration, and, yet, I made it in time. I fell in love with the teacher and hardly noticed that I could have birthed three quarters of the class. I took the same teacher’s Modern Dance in the Winter and there I was literally the oldest woman in the class by twenty years. I never felt more age-less or cared less. I choreographed a piece with a group of 18-year-olds and listened to them talk about birth control, Taylor Swift, weight gain. I didn’t exactly relate to them, but I also didn’t feel a generational divide. I just felt like a dancer among dancers.
I’m thinking of becoming a dance major.