Let’s danceOriginal post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.
So, my car was in the shop for a month while the mechanic replaced a fuel pump and assorted parts that seem unusually hard to secure given that the car is foreign. And old. I got it back about a week ago, and yesterday I noticed some fluid leaking from the undercarriage. After contorting himself to try and figure out what it was and where it was coming from, my husband declared it oil, leaking from some age-pitted connector tube (I’m sure he called it something else but I’m not going to bother trying to dredge my memory banks for the actual term – see third paragraph for why). The car was born in 1998, by the way.
Last weekend, our computer’s hard drive went down. Irreparably. We carried it into our not-so-local Apple store. “Oh,” said another customer as we walked by the iPad table where he and scads of other people were fiddling around on the testers, “I remember that model.” During our appointment at the Genius Bar, the tech (nice guy, very sympathetic) weathered giving me the information that the drive was done and that there was no way to retrieve any data (i.e., my two completed novels, a manuscript-worth of short stories and poems – most of them not backed up since the last ice age, if ever). “But, you’ll get a fresh new drive under your extended warranty,” he said brightly. “With that – and I’d suggest you bump the memory to help it run faster – you should be able to get another two or three years of good use out of it.” The computer was born in 2008.
Age-pitted. Slow. Creaky foreign-born parts and irretrievable data. Story of my life. No, really. I was born in 1960, and this week I turn that age my mother taught me to dread. In case I was in danger of forgetting, I got my AARP card in the mail not so very long ago.
Around that same time as that plastic reminder of incipient decline arrived, I was doing research for a poem framed by Greek mythology (alas, a poem that now lives only in my imperfect memory) when I happened across a description of the Delphic oracle. Who, though she sounds like a place, was a woman. In the Wikipedia entry I stumbled upon this (emphasis mine): "Echecrates the Thessalian, having arrived at the shrine and beheld the virgin who uttered the oracle, became enamoured of her because of her beauty, carried her away and violated her; and that the Delphians because of this deplorable occurrence passed a law that in the future a virgin should no longer prophesy but that an elderly woman of fifty would declare the Oracles and that she would be dressed in the costume of a virgin, as a sort of reminder of the prophetess of olden times." I think I might have howled a little. I know I dashed off at least one despairing email to a friend.
An elderly woman of 50? Elderly?! Ay, ay, ay.
I know. The enlightened thing is to not get hung-up on a number. Small comfort when your 15-year-old daughter looks at you critically one day and says – casual as you please – “Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but I think your butt is starting to sag.” Or, when you’re watching a movie together and your daughter grimaces when the characters (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson) kiss. “It’s just not right,” my daughter explains. “Old people doing that stuff is just gross.”
Emotion knows nothing of enlightenment.
The problem as I see it, is that I’m entering an in-between place. Twilight or dawn, the border between countries, neither here nor there. A liminal fairytale space without characters to represent me: too young to be wise wizard or gleefully wicked witch; too old to be the questing knight or the princess with ever-dancing shoes. Or, if you prefer a non-fantastical analogy, I’m neither Archbishop Desmond Tutu endearingly shaking his septuagenarian bones on the sidelines when his South African Bafana Bafana team scored a goal at their first World Cup match, nor Shakira enticingly shaking her thirtyish ones on stage during her performance at the World Cup’s opening concert.
Thing is, nobody – even in the grand mythic cycles and fairy tales - knows a safe way to traverse those threshold, liminal spaces. They are always fraught with danger. Mirrors speak hard truths there. The land of the body can become sere when the right questions can’t – or won’t – be asked. Parents see their children setting off on perilous journeys for which they can provide neither safeguard nor road map. And we witness the young (seemingly unwounded and unsullied in ways we can hardly remember) catch a glimpse of the Grail we’ve long sought.
It’s worse for women. At least, that’s what my mother used to say. According to her, women disappear at fifty. Even extraordinarily beautiful women – the princesses turned queens. And if I think of the last time I saw Michelle Pfeiffer or Rene Russo or Sela Ward in a movie, I’m tempted to agree with her. Or when I hear stories about dating-after-fifty from some of my single friends.
Still, there’s got to be something in between enticing and endearing, right? I’m trying to find the right adjective – one I can embrace with heart, spirit and body – but maybe I won’t hit upon it until I get a few days, or months, or years, past the 5-0 marker.
Meantime, I’m figuring the trick is to keep dancing anyway. Maybe not on the forefront, maybe not on the sidelines, but somewhere in between. I seem to remember I had a pair of those ever-dancing slippers somewhere, back when I was a princess young and rash enough to go dancing all night, every night. If only I could remember where I put them….
Photo credit: Samantha Fein.