Again, for the too-many-eth time in my life, I have been typed.
You see, while I was making movies, traveling the world, rocking out at concerts or trying to find a still center, learning new skills, hanging with friends, being the change and enjoying my life, I slipped past forty --- and kept on going.
And while I barely noticed, apparently, as a woman in mid-life, I don't matter anymore.
TV execs believe I'm either wrapped up in children and spouse (great pursuits, but I have neither) or concerned with little beyond the latest fashions, cellulite cures and celebrity gossip.
That's interesting? Give me a freaking break.
Radio programmers, obsessed with their second childhoods, elevate tween idols and one-trick ponies to a status far beyond their talents. (Yes, I know that it's really all about the greenback dollar.) Those who realize I'm still breathing are quick to offer me nothing but soft and easy, thinking I'm content to stroll down memory lane while I crank up my victrola.
I am entirely uninterested in the shades of Stewart and Manilow grinding out yet another anemic, label-mandated take on the American songbook. (I bet Rod's rumored blues album might have been worth a spin, though, and twenty-five years ago Barry did have the voice to do justice to some classic tunes.) But if I listen to standards now? I prefer Diana Krall and Peter Cincotti and Clay Aiken ("Tried & True"): singers who can sing, artists who can interpret, musicians who put something fresh into those oft-repeated songs.
If I want a smoother, modern groove, I've got the vibrant John Legend, the quirky Jason Mraz and the passionate Alicia Keys. When I want to listen to some of my favorite musicians from the Stone Age, I'll pass on the automatons stuck on nothing but greatest hits and take The Eagles or Neil Young, still writing and performing new music with the energy and invention they had when they were half their current ages.
I still look for what's new, and I appreciate the back catalog, which contains the roots of "now." My playlist has some Arcade Fire, a little Plain White Ts, a bit of Lady Gaga and much more, while reaching back to Bob Marley, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole by way of Chris Isaak, U2, Tracy Chapman and The Clash. Absent are Welk and Liberace and Lombardo, all names I have seen music critics use to dismiss the taste of adult women. (That was my grandmother's era, but not her taste: she was all about gospel, where my parents listened to Brook Benton, Billy Eckstine, Cole, Sinatra, classical and the occasional Broadway cast album.)
Some in the media have pushed me into a premature walker, if not an early grave. I'm supposed to be toothless, addled and frail, I guess, and so terminally out of touch that I can't even notice the contempt they heap on my old grey head.
The truth is this: every one of us who doesn't die prematurely will age, will likely be diminished in one or more capacities and will eventually pass on. God help the ones who think this doesn't apply to their lives.
Though time passes inexorably, it isn't a requirement that anyone give up an inquiring mind as the hands of the clock turn. It's always possible to learn something new and to try something different. And innovation isn't the sole province of the young.
I have noticed that some people who are called old are among the brightest minds, the most liberal thinkers, the most adventurous spirits --- and I have seen people who haven't reached thirty be rigid, timid and embrace the most life-limiting tenets I've seen in decades, adhering to some truly fossilized notions.
I don't yearn for Eisenhower or the faux innocence of the Happy Days era of the 1950.
I am too young to have been a hippie or to have gone to Woodstock, but I grew up in the echo of those times.
I didn't burn my training bra, but I learned a lot from my older sisters-of-the-spirit about demanding our place at the table.
I heard the voices of Stonewall, and knew that equality must be extended to all.
And I said it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.
So I wonder what kind of fool would think I am interested in a homogenized life now? If anything, I search the edge, I scan the distant vistas, even more than I did in the days of my youth.
I think about the stereotype of the complacent, docile, middle-aged woman, and then I look at my friends. An award-winning general education teacher who advocates for inclusive classrooms. A noted television director, with "Lost" and much more on her resume. A geologist for the National Park Service. An opera singer and teacher at a major Los Angeles university. An event coordinator who plays all over the tri-state area and beyond in an all-woman rock group. A newspaper columnist, a real estate agent, a builder of schools in Africa, an assistant director of film and television. Yoga instructor. College professor. Activists. Travelers. Sky divers. Rock climbers. River rafters. Lovers of life.
None are tucked in a corner, rocking away and knitting shawls. None have blue hair, baggy dresses and sensible shoes. But what if they did? What if they'd chosen to be traditional homemakers, grandmothers doting on their children's children, baking cookies, wearing lavender and lace, listening to soothing music? Their lives, their choices, right?
What's it to you, to dismiss or criticize them?
Where does this mockery and loathing of women over 40 come from?
Too often, it's from men over 40, describing not what it real but some distorted imagining of fifty years ago. They forget that the grandmother of their youth might have been Rosie the Riveter, playing a vital role in the defense of freedom, or active in the movement that sacrificed health, freedom and reputation to bring voting rights to both genders. Or perhaps this earlier generation of women "simply" worked to feed, clothe, house, educate and comfort the long-ago young incarnations of these men who speak ill of women today. I doubt that most of these men would talk about their own mothers and grandmothers with such contempt, but it is apparently alright to do so when it comes to other women.
Don't be so tiresome. Grow up. Stop it.
Some people will age well, I know, while others will not. Some will stay engaged in life, while others drift and dodder. Some are strong and healthy, while others spend years or even decades in declining health.
I'll pass no moral judgment on any of them. I know that Life can be one hard-hearted s.o.b. but I am not the type to give up and give in.
Here in the middle of life, I continue looking toward the far horizons. I love my life, and I stay engaged in it.
But when I am old, I will not be silent. I will not sit quietly just because someone somewhere expects me to.
I plan on having a loud, clear voice and a crazy mane of white hair, worn as a banner of achievement. And, by a life lived fully, I will be well prepared to kick some ass.
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