Ain’t it just a little scary sometimes * To find the lies that you know to be true * I’ll find you smiling about * Things You Don’t Have to Do. Driving on the turnpike this past week, I realized I’d found the hook for my birthday essay.
When I’m teaching younger audiences, I often reference a “wayback”, by acknowledging that I’m really old — and may or may not have played with dinosaurs in my youth. I had to stop doing that this year after I had a young lady who came up to me after the program, and stood in front of me twisting her hands and her eyes full of emotion, seriously like limpid puppy eyes. “Ms Aly,” she said, “I like coming here and you’re funny — but you shouldn’t joke about being really old, it’s not true”. Such a sweetheart, she made me smile and she made me think. Which in turn has brought us to our conversation today.
Not being Jurassic (although the shoes I would wear), I realized I’m old enough that there are so many things [I] don’t have to do. Amazing how truly revelatory that is for me. To this day, I have a hanky in every purse, backpack, and briefcase I own… I mean who doesn’t?
I was raised, as were many southern girls, to be a cross between Scarlett O’Hara and Mother Teresa. Daddy wanted me to have a good dose of Marie Curie thrown in the mix — so I can run a calculation, bake you bread, and flutter & flirt quite enjoyably all at the same time. Do you remember Enjoli — bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan & never let you forget you’re a man”? While lots of fun, being all things to all people routine sometimes becomes a bit hamster-like, while all I really need to do is reveal the eclectic, quite possible peach flavored (at least at this time of year) chaos that’s me.
Baby steps, you know. I realized I didn’t have to finish every book I started. I mean, I slogged through all of Casual Vacancy, and while I love my JK, she is not Anthony Trollope — nor should she EVER try to write like him again. If somewhere in the middle of page 140, or any other page for that matter, of some random book, I go wandering off on my own little tangent — there’s a good chance I won’t make it to the end.
Another thing I no longer have to do is stifle my delights. Y’all know that music resonates through me, coloring my veins to its rhythms. Yet, at times, I’ve secreted my Sting, my beautiful Dead, my beloved jazz, and various & sundry hip-hop on non-public playlists — because its existence or my delight wasn’t “warranted” and playing it offended. Why would I censor music? Me? Of course, that’s not saying time & place & consideration don’t matter. I have a rule with my girls, who listen to an incredible variety of music: no death metal or techno before Mama has her coffee.
I’m not ever sure which, I’m either a nerd or a geek. I love documentaries that tell me about some delectable fragment of history I didn’t know. Or going to a museum or a musical or a play, and there, life-size, and in technicolor is some performance, some artifact, a book, a soundtrack, or a soliloquy raining beautiful words. I get so big-eyed and joyful, I realize it can be disconcerting. Although, when I’ve had to play grown-up, I’ve clutched some tiny, little bit of that exuberance to mix with the ever so cool ennui of everyone else. Now I can enjoy it with my whole senses, hey, I’m a grown-up who doesn’t do ennui… (maybe not coolness either, I’m ok with that).
My darling girls and my career bring joys, delight and immense and abiding love. I can, and quite often do. tell people being a librarian is the best job in the entire world. Tangentially, I might think about changing careers a little bit, if I could be a singer/songwriter — though if you’ve heard me sing, let’s go with it makes me (and possibly tone deaf ducks) happy. My babies, you may have heard me talk about them every now and then, claimed my heart from forever. Watching them become the strong, funny, brilliant and kind women they are has given me moment after moment of intense, awe-inspiring delight and some deep blue fears and silvery, shivered 3ams. I don’t have to apologize for their primacy in my life, nor for a career that brings me such fulfillment
Two of my favorite movies, in addition to perfectly, perfect It Happened One Night, are 10 Things I Hate about You, and Brigadoon (ok, don’t judge it’s got music, dancing and Gene Kelly). I could give you a dozen Katherine Hepburn movies, Jean Arthur, and more… The point is I like romantic movies with strong women who want a partner, not a master. I love there’s conversation and connection mixed with the passion. The romance delights me. Maybe that’s why I love poetry so much — words tangled with emotion and rhythm. I’ve had a few poems written to me these past xxx years, and to this day they still make me smile. In high school, this sweet, sweet darling told me as he was writing his poem, with every word he thought of me (not bad for a 17yr old). Then he began. By the time he got to, “You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one,” I was trying so hard not to laugh. He was so sincere, it would have been like kicking a puppy, but how could he think I wouldn’t recognize it? General rule for a plagiarist is if you’re gonna, make sure the reader doesn’t know the source…. and it worked for another boy. Years later, for my birthday — I got this incredible calligraphy and cut paper art. The poem was tender and emo as could be, something I hadn’t sensed about him before. Well, of course I had to compose something for him. It took me weeks, for just the right phrases, and lord it was cheesy — but heartfelt cheese. I found out the artist he’d used and took my “masterpiece” to her. I explained how I wanted the art to match — sharing our heart (blech, I’m so sorry). She gave me a strange, little smile and gently explained that my love poem was something she’d had lying around. Her teenage son had composed it for his girlfriend, and then they broke up. Wow! It was the thought that mattered, right? I had my poem immortalized, and gave him the present — not saying anything because it might have been mean. Since then there have been other poems and other boys, and I still love my romantic movies with happy endings…
I guess where I’m going on this birthday week is that it’s taken me until now to get here. I’ve learned that there are some things I need to drop from my “to do” list. I don’t need to apologize for what I like and what I love. I don’t have to be perfect and most of the time that’s ok (I did say baby steps). I don’t have to become staid and old, life is too messy and delicious. Simon Armitage, the English poet and playwright, explained why he loves Homer’s Odyssey. “It’s not just enough to survive and to be alive and to fulfill your basic human instincts – you want a little bit of adventure with that.” I don’t have to settle for life; I want my life to be as joyous as EB White’s perfect quote, “I get up every morning determined to change the world and have a helluva good time. Sometimes it makes planning my day difficult”!