I am staying in the bedroom of a twelve-year-old. My goddaughter’s domain is a cross between a doll house and a cupcake shop, with every surface an altar to the things, people and places she loves. A menagerie of animal figurines surrounds the flat base of the lamp, a bulletin board brims with cards and illustrated lists of “favorites,” little clay sculptures cluster around a vase of feathers. Owls blink from calendars and pictures cut from magazines. Books, both purchased and ensconced in clear plastic from the library are stacked, one serves as a pedestal for a nest with bits of lavender and grape stems birds gathered from the vineyard in which she lives. There are no posters of teen idols or rock stars, for her romance is still pairing two lizards in her hand, while at school the machinery of mating is beginning to chug, as kids couple up to kiss on the playground and girls start “let's eat only smoothie” clubs, training bras for anorexia.
I am sleeping in her twin bed, remembering my own pink and aqua youth, while attending a writing workshop in a nearby town. Although it is potentially unisex, not restricted to females as is the Goddess Circle group sharing the grounds, the thirteen of us are all women. I am told by our charming male leader, the demographics are typical in age as well—half the group is in their sixties and seventies, women with reading glasses and soft gray hair, who dress in pretty comfortable clothes. All across the country women like them fill retreat rosters as they paint and quilt and dance.
They sit together at the lunch table, a young giddiness to their exchanges that reminds me of my goddaughter, who at recess still makes and exchanges friendship bracelets. I sprint toward my fellow attendees (yes with a knee that twinges on long hikes) hold the door open (with a minor tennis elbow), aware my frailties foreshadow things to come, and yet in their own writing they do not focus on the physical or emotional losses any long life accrues, they choose words like “becoming” and “discovering.” They are now free from dependent children, liberated from careers, released from the demands of spouses (by now they are either widowed or marriage has settled into a harmonious hum). With one foot still in the trenches, I watch their ease—they wear freedom like the soft pashmina scarves around their shoulders.
From fifteen to fifty, the sweet meat of our lives, women abandon this inner journey, often to focus on motherhood and caregiving, necessities lest the human race fail to continue. We turn outward as well with our endless appointments of self-enhancement, trying to secure our place. If we do stab at self-expression, it is often done with guilt, one more thing on the “to do” list. On most counts men do not wither as we women do, even through fatherhood and careers, they unapologetically enjoy sports and cars, hide behind newspapers and computer screens, a continuum of self-creation and preservation. My own lover calls it “Daniel Boone-ing” and will disappear to Alaska to fish, hike in the woods solo and escape into a big screen television for a football game while I make sure his cold ones are cold.
Here at this workshop titled, “Writing Wild to Change Your Life,” I find the women are unearthing a feral friskiness. Julane, who tells me at 73 she is just beginning to write and her husband of 80 has become a potter, says “I am loving our life.” Ren (without the “W,” although we all want to add it, she is such a pretty bird), in her seventies has us enthralled with an essay on taming the weasel of self-doubt, that like a ferret stealing your car keys, has kept her from a lifetime of self expression. Another woman likens her journey to standing in a dinghy just pushing off the from the shore, we all relate to the image of tottering.
As my own ovaries release their last pearls, I find myself looking beyond the gilded carousel. I have been riding a grand one, like the kind they have in the center of a city zoo, jockeying for the prettiest horse that takes me up and down. I am beginning to gaze past the brass ring. I see older women watching the animals. They wink at the tiger with its citrine eyes, coo to the anteater who sweeps the earth with her coarse hair and nod to the kangaroo who bounds purely for bliss.