Have you seen this brilliant time-lapse sketching of a woman's life from infancy to old age? The video is well worth the four minutes' viewing time -- magical!
Or have you looked at this New York Times article by Susan Minot about the glorious series of photographs taken by Nicholas Nixon of his wife and her three sisters, every year for four decades? Aging AS beautiful. . .
I was pleased to stumble across both of these as I was deciding how, or whether, to post a few photos I took this summer while my newborn granddaughter slept and slept and slept on my chest and I played with my iPad, having never known how to take a "selfie" with it before. . . .
Honestly, I recognize that context is so important here, and priorities shift in the face of the precious new, all that burgeoning sweet potential, but I have no qualms about those moles, the naso-labial creases, the neck I'm supposed to feel bad about . . . .
Even earlier this summer, as Nola sat on my lap while we wandered into Narnia via the foxed, slightly musty pages of one of her mother's childhood books, her fingers traced with considerable fascination the swollen branching veins that lend a rich topography to the back of my hand. She followed a stream from my little finger to the bony centre of that hand, then pivoted to follow another stream up between ring and middle finger, reversed to head down a larger tributary into the dip at my wrist, then up to where the river plunged underground somewhere under the forearm. And then she moved to my other hand. Played the same game.
It was distracting, but it reminded me palpably of my own long-ago fascination with the loose plumpness of my maternal grandmother's upper arm, the velvety-soft delights of the wrinkles there, their tiny ripples. . . The memory feels anchored to my 5-year-old self, perhaps 6, and I can sense a mixture of annoyance and amusement and fondness emanating from my Grandmother, can vaguely remember some self-deprecating comment as she distracted me with a cookie or an errand. She wouldn't have been much older than I am now, mother of 10, grandmother by then to 35 or more (yes, really! I have something like 50 maternal-side cousins now).
What would she have thought if one of her adult daughters had taken a picture of her, lounging over breakfast in the sunshine (that is very hard to imagine her doing, I must say) just because said daughter thought her mother looked beautiful?
Would she have felt the faintest flicker of annoyance, suspecting an element of . . . what? being patronized? Surely not beautiful. . . this hair, unstyled yet in the lazy summer morning, . . .Are you mocking me, daughter, you beautiful young woman? And yet I know this girl well, must look again, see myself through her eyes. . . .
I don't need to look beautiful, you know? I think it's important to stress that. I even think I mean it, know I mean it, although I surely like to look attractive. As in, something about my look will attract, will engage, will hold my fellow beings' gaze long enough so that we can begin to interact on other less superficial levels. But looking beautiful, as conventionally understood, I don't need. I need to see the beauty in myself, though, and to accept it when and where others see it. In my age-risen knobbly veins, in my crazy curls, in something about my absorption in a book on a sunny morning.
I went looking in a favourite book, Joy Kogawa's Obasan, for a passage I thought I remembered, a passage that parsed the gap between the way the narrator's Japanese-Canadian forebears appeared to viewers of their photograph and the way she remembered their physicality. I've flipped through the pages again and again, stopped at the post-it notes I've littered the pages with, and I can't find that section. Did I create it from my own understanding of the novel and my memories of my grandmother, my own memories of how often photographs fail to capture the fullness of a person? No matter. While searching for it, I found this description of the titular Obasan, the narrator's aunt, the aunt who raised her after her family was split apart by Canada's internment of the Japanese during WWII. Obasan is now old, the narrator, Naomi, muses, as is her house: Squatting here with the putty knife in her hand, she is every old woman in every hamlet in the world. You see her on a street corner in a village in southern France, in a black dress and black stockings. Or bent over stone steps in a Mexican mountain village. Everywhere the old woman stands as the true and rightful owner of the earth. She is the bearer of keys to unknown doorways and to a network of astonishing tunnels. She is the possessor of life's infinite personal details.
I'm not there yet, I know, but well on my way. And there is beauty there. By the time I get there, I want to have the wisdom to see it!
Alyson, at That's Not My Age, has been offering some wise words on ageing and on being old, via a variety of smart women. Check them out , if you haven't already.
I'd love to see your feedback on anything that strikes you here, although any questions I come up with feel archly formulaic, somehow. So I'll leave the forum free for you to shape, brilliantly, wisely, as you do. And please, please forgive me for the temporary hurdle of word verification. The Spam was just becoming too much, and I hope this will throw the beasts off-track. . . . But you, you I never want to deter, so please, I'm waiting for you to vault that word-verifcation bar and chat. . .