Category Archives: getting older

the muse, the memory, the master

Ok -so uni is back. And this week it was my turn to post a workshop piece on the topic of ‘Nostalgia’.

The reading for the week was a piece by Bruce Chatwin called A Lament for Afghanistan. It was an ok piece. Sadly, I am not a fan of travel writing – am kinda not really a fan of travel itself. But part of this course has a focus on travel writing – being, as it is, a popular genre in creative non-fiction.

Anyhoo – the focus question to do with this reading says: “Chatwin’s memories of his travels in Afghanistan are triggered by thoughts of another travel writer, Robert Byron. Has any writer put you on a journey into your own past? Write about it, weaving your reading into the memory.”

I *knew* what I wanted to write about, but somehow I came out with a garbled piece about nursery rhymes, Enid Blyton and Little Golden Books. Gah!!! And I was running out of time (to say nothing of work deadlines and all that jazz).

Then, in a nice collusion of coincidence and intensity, I reached a point where the piece I wanted to write found its way to the very top of my brain.

The muse is a deadset mysterious thing.

Out it came. A piece about what is possibly my favourite book ever: The Great Gatsby. I could weep at the literary perfection of this classic. I loved it then and I love it now. (I even have the Popular Penguin coffee mug to prove it ;-))

But this is just a short piece, just a taste. I feel there is more as yet unsaid. It will come. When the muse says it is time.

Without further ado…

Of Cocktail Music And First Loves

The yellow cocktail music pulled me in. The words – exquisite, poetic and yet duplicitous – seduced me, while the tragic narrative broke me in two.

And in the protagonist I found myself.

I was fifteen, discovering ‘literature’ after a lifetime of books. It was the year when the whole world was wondering if George Orwell’s dystopian vision would materialise. I was, of course, perilously perched upon the Newspeak/ Doublethink/ Thoughtcrime/ Big Brother ride of the times. Contrarily, Emma thrilled me, because – and this was a surprise – I adored it. Catch-22 felt like a private joke Joseph Heller chose to share with me alone. And John Irving blew my mind when he introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of Garp.

Then came F. Scott Fitzgerald. And I fell truly, madly, deeply in literary love for the first time.

At fifteen – desperate to escape, dreaming so hard the dreams that would be my way out – The Great Gatsby gave breath to my deepest and most tender desires.

Metaphor captured me, made me listen: Her voice was full of money.

As a girl with pretensions to a writing future it hit me in my sweet spot.

And as a girl from a poor family, I got the metaphor on a visceral level. I envied girls with voices like Daisy. I was Jay himself – ridiculously smitten by an untouchable world.

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

This almost impossible articulation of a transformative love – a love which renders the subject powerless in its wake – sang itself off the page to me with heartbreaking lucidity.

My own first love belonged to that world too. A girl of poetic beauty, whimsical charm and gentle charisma.  Like Jay with Daisy, I never forgot her. She made her way in the world and I watched – West Egg to East Egg – as she transcended. Above. Beyond.

While I waited. Below.

And all the time, beneath my own swirling surface, there burned twin ambitions: to be someone. And to be someone for her. To be worthy.

And then. Slowly I moved forward. Running faster. Stretching my arms out further. Hoping that one fine morning

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no country for old women

Ok, it’s my birthday on Monday. I am *so* going to rock 41. Can’t wait.

But no-one really cares about 41. Not like they cared about 40.

So here’s one I prepared earlier – like, when I was 39.

But it still works. W.B Yeats gets me every time.

No Country For Old Women

In six and a half months I will turn 40. There, I’ve said it. Am I concerned about this big number? Not in the slightest. Should I be? The answer to that is a little more complicated.

I was the girl who always got asked for ID at nightclubs so I have never really felt my age. My nightclubbing days ended when I had my first child, and I expect that if I put on my party duds now and headed out on the town I would probably be waved (or laughed) through the door without a second glance by every bouncer worth his badge. But I still don’t feel old.

I think I still look the same. Or at least I did until recently. A few weeks ago I was going through some old photos and found one of me at a friend’s wedding about fifteen years ago. It’s one of the few photos that I really like so I proudly displayed it on my desk. “Who’s that, Mum?” asked Indiana pointing to the Ghost of Mummy Past as I scraped my ego from the floor.

Okay, so maybe I do look a little different but I definitely still feel the same. I am as ridiculously healthy as I have always been. I can do everything I used to do except for cartwheels – and that’s just because I don’t have time to practice. But trust the medical profession to rain on my Botox-free parade. It seems all my aging is happening on the inside – I’m a sort of modern, female Dorian Gray.

The first indication of a covert attack by the forces of time – my ruthless nemesis – came after a recent run of miscarriages. I considered myself the random victim of an unexplainable mystery. That is until a kind young doctor thought he was being helpful by giving me the old, “It’s probably your age,” routine. Excuse me? One throwaway line and I had traversed the generation gap.

The second wave came a few weeks ago when I noticed that a certain area in my breast had an ever so faint, niggling pain. Because I have had a lot of pregnancies (eight at last count) my breasts have undergone quite a few changes and I had lost sight of what was ‘normal’. I rang our local BreastScreen provider but – here’s the irony – because I am under 40 I am too young for a free mammogram.

Not prepared to wait until next year, my doctor referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound. It turns out I have a cyst in my breast which is supposedly nothing to worry about. Except for the fact that my Google search revealed that breast cysts usually affect “middle-aged women from 35 upwards.” Excuse me again! Middle- aged! Perhaps I do have something to worry about.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats was the first to declare that this is ‘no country for old men’ in his poem Sailing to Byzantium. And I have to say I was starting to agree with him. The poem declares that:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick,

Yes, I had started feeling a little paltry what with all this talk about age and getting old.

But I persevered with my friend Yeats. And I believe he has a solution. The next part reads:

unless

And it’s the ‘unless’ that is important.

unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress

There’s my answer.

I invite you all to my Getting Older Party. I’ll be the one in the corner clapping and singing loudly in my tattered mortal party dress.

Do you feel your age? How do you deal with getting older?

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