Friday, October 24, 2014

Thoughts on my birthday, Zellweger, and the quality of life

I have been thinking about my age a lot recently. I am turning fifty-four on Monday. That’s one year shy of fifty-five, which seems definitive only because it is undeniably mid-fifties. Whereas fifty-three is sneakier, still hugging the half centennial mark comfortably, like a baby chimp.

            Also, my father has just been diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. This perfectly ordinary life event has thrown me into a state of constant rumination about aging, death, and what medical experts call, “the quality of life.” And, while I endeavor to help my father make choices that empower him and make him comfortable, my thoughts inevitably turn to the quality of my life. What do I want the rest of it to look like? How can I maintain my own happiness in such a terrifying and cruel world? I’m not just talking about cancer. I’m talking about ISIS, Gaza, Fergusson, the NRA, Climate Change and it’s deniers, and gun-toting crazies who could easily walk into my sons’ schools, firing rounds of bullets into their coltish bodies, ripping through their flesh, robbing them of their lives and me of one more night of tucking them in, kissing their sweaty heads and telling them I love them. And that is not a complete list.
            Which brings me to the Renee Zellweger controversy, generated by a media that feeds upon itself and pounced on by a public eager to be distracted from thoughts of ISIS, Gaza, Fergusson, the NRA and all the rest. I am going to leave Ms. Zellweger alone. But what I do want to talk about is “quality of life”, particularly the quality of life for American women, and even more specifically for women of a certain age. Imagine me saying this under my breath and behind a raised hand, in much the same way folks in the fifties muttered, “cancer”.
            I have looked at Ms. Z’s photos, read several blogs about them, formed my own opinion, and even participated in a few back and forth comments about them on Facebook. And the most striking thing to me about all that I have read, has been the frequent attack on society. “Society doesn’t let women age”. “Society expects us to conform to a set beauty standard.” “Society doesn’t judge men the same way.” As if “society” is a thing apart from us women. A thing that we can’t control. Holding us hostage like an abusive boyfriend. Smacking us across the room for being too fat, then demanding that we make it dinner and serve it on a tray while it sits in front of the TV guzzling a cold one.
            Except that is that it is not.
            Society is us. And every time that we lie about our age. Every time we slice into our faces, breasts, and asses. Every time we shave our pussies clean – we are participating. We are complicit. We are victims. And our quality of life?
            So ladies, if you are angry about the way that society views older women. Stop whining and do something about it. Come out of the closet. Grow a pair. Declare yourself to be a survivor – because you are.
            I often tell my boys that I am not smarter than they are. However, I have lived on the planet a lot longer than they have, which means that I’ve learned a few things. My knowledge, yes wisdom, about life and love and humanity and writing and art and happiness and sadness and death – is worth something. It has taken me almost fifty-four years to accumulate. With it comes a thicker waist and lines around my eyes. But it is valuable. And I do not need society to tell me that.