Last Christmas my dear friend Sam Warren gave me a book called “The Novel Cure” by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, as a present. This is like a dictionary with all ailments from A for abandonment to Z for zestlessness (or what my friend would say “losing one’s mojo” or disenchantment). It’s the most wonderful literary vade mecum prescribed for literary souls which will find in a cold the perfect excuse to go to bed with a good book! Ah, how many excellent stories I’ve read in the delirium tremens of high temperature! Oh I praise those long novels that have nursed me through bouts of bad health and foul moods.
I have been happily browsing around its pages, surprised at the variety of physical, emotional or imaginary ailments depicted/enacted/represented in novels and stories. As I had a somehow a bout of “zestlessness” during the last week, I got through the guide and stop on the M, for Menopause, as it resonates with this phase of my feminine cycles. Anyway, under the ominous subtitle I found three recommendations:
Miss Garner’s Angel by Sally Vickers
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller
I’ve been wanting to read more from Doris Lessing and what a better excuse than this recommendation. The book is about Mrs. Kate Brown, a 45 years old woman who have done everything what is expected from her: caring mother, loyal wife, good friend and helpful neighbour…she has kept to the rules, not only in her behavior but also by keeping her weight and cultivating certain tamed look (domesticating her marvelous red mane to please and placate her husband and children); being the organiser and super mum, both efficient yet suffocating, and putting everybody’s needs before hers (sounds familiar?). When she finds herself on the prospect of spending the summer alone and being offered a new stimulating job, she starts navigating through her own situation and how she got to be this “conformist” woman. Conforming in the sense, of accepting, pleasing and giving herself the form that is expected from her. She becomes pretty good at her work in a diplomatic international organisation (Global Foods), but she realises that it is because her domestic organising skills, honed in her work as a housewife and mum! What if these identities disappear, what is being left? Why every so often we let others define us as “women” based solely on accepted roles: wife, daughter, mother, female worker, etc… what if we take out these roles, who are we then? The amazing thing about this book is how Doris Lessing manages to take you into the very head of the main character: you walk with her, feeling how her ‘wild” femininity awakes with the change of scene, and how she starts questioning who she really is.
Identity is one of the topics that is brilliantly tackled in Christiane Northrup’s great book the Wisdom of Menopause, and she stresses is that this is the opportunity to renew ourselves as our bodies are changing in such a dramatic pace, as difficult and challenging as adolescence, but with more experience and the wisdom of the years… Of course, it is not always easy to let go so many things we take for granted: empty nest, looks, health, securities, even the idea of having a “future” something to look forward in time… I thought the book was pretty adequate when my own birthday marks a peak in my middle age, a beginning of the change, with new temperatures, new feelings and a new old body too. Although, as an eternal optimist, I’ve tried to “embrace changes”, well, this is not always easy! In the novel, Mrs. Browns deals with the issue of looks: she remembers a time when she was a young woman, desired and admired by men around, and how through the years, she has tamed herself thus diminishing that subversive allure. For the new job, in this summer before dark, she re-examines her identity, she buy new clothes, got a new haircut highlighting her red glossy hair: she is now visible. People look up her as a pleasant, mildly attractive woman, she even got a lover…. But she can also become invisible, old frumpy clothes or her own attitude in a slow mode of walking will do the trick.
Who is that in the mirror, she wonders?
Lately I have found myself wondering similar questions: who is this woman in the pictures? Who is looking at me on the glass…. (I heard of a woman who covered the mirrors in her house because she could not get to terms with what she had become…and this is a very attractive and witty lady!)… I have not come to that yet, but I carefully edit my selfies… is it because the image of who is in the random photo does not correspond to the vision in my mind?
Waiting for my plane at the airport I watch the screen at the Victoria’s Secret shop: the models are confident, sexy, big smiles, lots of fun. Just how I feel today! so what about an inverse “Shallow Hal” situation (like in the film Shallow Hal with Gwyneth Patrol and Jack Black, who plays Hal Larson, a superficial man whose fixation on the physical beauty of women gets in his way to find love and happiness. By a twist of fate, he meets a famous couch who gives him the gift of seeing the inner beauty of people around him). I play with the idea of seeing myself through a Shallow Hal lens, brimming happiness and confidence, enjoying my purpose of “living beautifully” through an embodied expression, having fun, feeling good. In this case, however, I will be beautiful for myself, knowing how nice I am, feeling blessed with what I have here and now.
I smile… and walk… I stretch my back, shake my glossy hair and look confident… I am a VS Model… oh yes… I live beautifully and I feel good!