On Being an AFWA – an Ageing,…

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On Being an AFWA – an Ageing, Female, Would-be Author

4 years ago

by Kate Smart

Do men and women grow old differently?  Of course they do, at least in a superficial sense: biologically, socially, politically and culturally. But do these superficial aspects count?  We all must face ageing and death.

Western culture has been under various forms of patriarchal control for centuries.  Women, supposedly, lacked the capacity to reason, to manage their own property, or to vote. That has changed, of course, and yet when I look on the internet and television, and at Western media in general, I marvel at how little change there has been since the 1970s in terms of how women are perceived and portrayed. In some respects, we even seem to have travelled backwards.  But, perhaps, the media doesn’t really count.  Perhaps real lives are different.  They generally are.

The great thing about getting older and becoming an AFWA (or an AMWA) is that, as time passes, you – I – become aware of a multiplicity of selves, and you – I– might even find, at some point, that you – I –  can become friends with some of these selves.  Or, more intriguingly, from the point of view of my own writing, you – I – can become frenemies with these selves.

As a writer you – I – can draw on these patterns of light and shade, and on an evolving  appreciation of process, growth, decay, loss, and the ultimate poignancy of love in the knowledge of mortality.

So much for the positive side. 

But what does it mean?  And what are the wider implications?

It means that you become aware that you are subject to yet another of these well-known,  invidious, pseudo-ironical, and rather offensively-flavoured ‘laws’, such as ‘Murphy’s’, and ‘Sod’s’.   

I’ll now provide an example:  I dropped my toast this morning, and it landed butter side down.  Har de har.  How amusing (not).  Butter is too expensive and nourishing to fling willy-nilly straight in the bin, but who, aside from my neighbour’s dog, would choose to eat toast with cat hairs, carrot scrapings and dust on it? Someone with very strange tastes, that’s who, and I wouldn’t want them living next door.  Perhaps your floor is cleaner than mine; perhaps I’m being presumptuous.  If I’m not, you are, like me, thusly (yes, unlikely though it sounds, ‘thusly’ is a real word) thrust into a ghastly dilemma-style vortex of, quite frankly, horrific and unimaginable proportions.

You think I exaggerate?  I do not.  Please Read On. 

You have choices. To remove the butter and save the bread, perhaps re-toasting it under the grill (the toaster would be ruined by the inevitably residual butter), thereby turning it into shoe-leather, which might come in handy at some point, but which is likely to be quite inedible. Or start from scratch and make fresh toast. Only (imagine!) the post-person is hammering relentlessly at the door with an Amazon parcel for the dreadful shouty woman three doors up, and you are in a hurry to get your washing out before the rain comes on and you don’t want to miss the Jeremy Kyle Show because your disabled cousin’s dentally-challenged adult children are on it with their…oh who cares.  This is a prime example of how Time gets Wasted as Life Goes By.  And AFWAs have no time to spare.

The ‘law’ to which I refer, by the way, is a strange law for which no name has yet been invented (I might give it some thought). The essence is that the more years that go by, the more quickly they pass, and the more aware you become of every wasted second. 

There is urgency to life as one ages.  You have only just adjusted to the shock of looking in the mirror and seeing one’s mother, when friends, family and acquaintances start succumbing to the various ghastly diseases that inevitably occur in later life, and one wonders how long one’s own luck will hold out. It was Alexander Pope who said, rather stating the obvious, that terminal illness in the young was like a premature old age.  And Bette Davis said that ageing isn’t for (excuse the politically incorrect term) ‘sissies’.  We AFWAs cannot afford to be ‘sissies’.  We must press on, making the most of every minute, before the Grim Reaper steps on our coat tails and yanks us down to the Nether World.

However, it’s all an awful lot of Hard Work and sometimes one just wants to sit by the fire in one’s velour slippers and winceyette jammies and ‘veg out’, and, if you’re lucky, have someone congenial bring you a mug of cocoa with a hefty slug of sherry in. It must be understood that time spent ‘relaxing’ like this is never wasted, because it is times like this that worthwhile ideas tend to swim up  from the unconscious and puzzles are solved.

It must be acknowledged, equally, that sometimes it is simply too late.  Once you get past a certain age (and I am unsure of what that age is, because it varies from one individual to the next) you have to recognise that there are many things that you will never do again, and that many early ambitions will be left unfulfilled.  The sense of promise and possibility at a new-day dawning diminishes.  That is for sure.

You – I – must come to terms with all of this, because it is the essence of How Things Are. We must travel to a point within ourselves where it is somehow all, all right. And if it is not all right, we must somehow learn to tolerate and accept it. This is my journey, now.

We as writers bear witness to our lives and to the times in which we live.  Even if we write about the past, we are writing it through a prism, which is our own present perception.  We cannot recapture a moment, ever.  We can only describe it as we think it was, or would like it to have been.

What keeps me writing as I age?  I have never stopped wondering ‘why’?  ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘why is life so poignant and short and filled with apparent loss?’  I don’t expect ever to find an answer, but my ambition is to keep on wondering, and seeking, and learning, and I thank God, or Fortune, or whichever, for my faculties and my remaining health and the ability to do so.