I think many of us assume, when we are young, that we will be chilled and sorted beings by a certain age; that this tremulous and gauzy curtain of adulthood will rise upon a world of perfection and that the mirror image will reveal a flawless character shining through an angelic visage.
I am now in the process of planning my sixtieth birthday party (and, yes, I am going to have one and raise merry hell!) – and, as I do so, I am blitzed by whirling images of the earlier Ali and her unrealistic expectations! You know the kind of thing: ‘By 20/30/40/50, I will be sensible/mature/sober/free from all neurosis/impervious to pain and insult/above it all…’
It staggers me to think about this human tendency, this unassailable urge so many of us feel to try and airbrush out (or hope that we can) all that actually makes us human!
How bloody stupid and what a sodding waste of time and precious energy.
So, and in no particular order, I have always been a worrier – and can remember vividly waking up from terror dreams, in which feathers featured prominently, aged three, and fretting about wetting the bed when I was not much older. Anxiety kicked in early, as did social shyness and psychosomatic illness. An excellent ear for music and a love of words also showed themselves before I was five.
Two weeks before my sixtieth birthday, I can safely say that my tendency to worry remains (and that anxiety is never very far away). Although I make a good fist of being socially adept and can, these days, throw a party without having a nervous breakdown or throwing up, my need to hide from the world when overwhelmed by noise and people is as strong as ever. Music and words are as essential to the nearly-sixty year old Ali as they were to the socially-awkward little Bambi.
I have not ironed out all my problems (and sorry, guys, I refuse to use the word ‘issues’ here) – and, in all probability, never will – but I have managed to control some of the worst of them. My temper, for example: I no longer throw things through windows or hit siblings’ friends on their noses with maracas when in a rit of fealous jage – and I am far less passive-aggressive than I used to be (though this is still a known weakness of mine!).
I am not an angel. I am not a cuddly archetypal granny. I am not smooth and forgiving and calm and passion-free. I have not, as yet, experienced any diminution of my essential life force, nor do I discount an eventual return to the glories of sex and love on the basis of age alone! Why should I?
I am every bit as curious, querulous, difficult, blunt, rude, bawdy and, at times, offensive, as I ever was – and any sliding towards an age-appropriate way of behaving (according to societal mores) is checked immediately with a surly and thoroughly unmannerly, ‘Fuck off!’
It is not that I am afraid of getting older, because I am not; it is more this: I have been a rebel for most of my life and am buggered if I am going to stop just because the Bus Pass is on its way! Sod that! If I were Booby, I daresay I would use the old free charabanc ticket to travel far and wide in search of toothsome young men!
I think niceness and traditional virtues are often both boring and vastly over-rated. Women, in particular, are still controlled by expectations of gentleness and kindness and patience and putting others first. I am capable of all of those – but I can also be a selfish and demanding bitch, a raucous old moo, a gossiping hag and a real ‘Me! Me! Me!’ merchant!
I know plenty of women my age who have given in to grey hair gracefully – and I respect them for it! But, for me, there is still intense joy and delight in being foxy-haired – and, though I would not go as far as dyeing the pelt in the hold to match that on the deck (not with my allergic reactions, my dears!), I will continue to be an unnatural red head for the foreseeable future!
Why do we so often beat ourselves up for not being better? For not conforming to stereotypes dictated by a Patriarchal Society? For believing all this bollocks about how to be a particular age? For still being ‘imperfect’ once we reach, and pass, our notional majority?
Far too often, this drive for improvement flattens the personality, crushes the spirit and turns us all into grey tubes of meat, faceless and characterless.
Human nature is cracked! A splintered and patched mirror! But, as many of us know, the light really does shine through the cracks – and the clarity and rainbow colours produced by shattered prisms of ‘perfection’ are, in their way, far more beautiful and arresting!
Plenty of time to be the epitome of angelic virtues when one is dead!
Embrace sixty? You bet I will! Why not? It’s a new land to explore and I haven’t been there yet! It could be really exciting! Who knows?!
A woman after my own heart, this one! Vulgar old besom – and all the better for being so!