Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Old Mermaid

On Sunday when we were loading up the boat to come home, I was walking on the dock with a huge Rubbermaid bin in my arms and there were two men, leaning on a rail, talking, and there wasn't room for me to pass because one of the men's butts was sticking out and it was as if he didn't see me. As if I was invisible, standing there with my heavy burden, needing to get by him to the boat.
Just as I was saying, "Excuse me," a woman who was on another part of the dock said something like, "Honey..." and the man straightened and let me pass but he never said anything like, "Oh, sorry," or "I didn't see you," or, well, anything.
And it's completely impossible that he didn't see me. My footsteps alone on the wooden boards had certainly alerted him to my presence.
I am still wondering what that was about.

I realized a few years ago that I was no longer really on the radar screen. This happens to most women, I think. No longer do we walk into a room or down a street and garner any sort of attention. It is only when this happens that we realize that we had been getting attention all along, all of our lives since we became teenagers, perhaps, and to cut even more deeply, we realize that no longer do we seem to register with check-out people except as another cog in the wheel of their day. There is no longer any need for anyone in the service industry to register us at all except with the merest of polite attention.
Unless we are asked if we qualify for the senior discount.
Which does not help.

It's odd because like I said, we may have not even realized we were getting any sort of special attention, attracting any sort of gleam of real connection before it disappeared. I see it again when I am out with my daughters- there it is- I am not making this up. It happens all the time.
Until it does not.

I was thinking about that this morning as I walked. Today's walk was a sort of agony, as so many of them are. My iPhone's pedometer app said that I took 7,957 steps on that walk and each of them was filled with a sort of hate on my part for the action. And as I almost always do, I wondered why in HELL I was doing this, this hateful thing, this painful walking which never fails to remind me of the Little Mermaid and how each step she took after legs replaced her tail was an agony.
And why do I do it? Why do I force myself out the door every weekday morning to experience that again? Oh sure. Because I want to lose weight, I want to lower my cholesterol, I want to feel stronger, better...so many good reasons.
But mainly, I think, because I feel that at the age of fifty-eight I have given up so much, and so much has been taken from me by time and living, that I need to hold on to whatever it is that I can, no matter how effort it takes, no matter how much it fucking hurts.

Does this make sense?

I don't know.

When you're young, the whole world and its possibilities seems to stretch before you. You are told, as a child, that you can do ANYTHING. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, be a dancer, open a restaurant, a bakery, travel the world...anything.
And then you take this path and then that one and before you know it, you've eliminated the possibility of one thing and then another. Or at least, in your own mind. It seems impossible to go back, start down paths which would take so much time and so much effort that reaping the benefits of them would be, to say the least, hardly cost effective. And some things, well, unless you start to train for them young are never going to happen.
Beauty pageants and dance careers, for example.

And so life seems to narrow. Maybe not for some. Some people seem to have a gift for reinvention. I think of Jimmy Carter and how his life expanded after he left office and how vital his life and mission are, perhaps more so now than when he was president.
I am not Jimmy Carter.

Perhaps I am only feeling sorry for myself today. This is quite possible. Pain can do that to you. It can sap whatever confidence and ambition and enthusiasm you have right out of you. So can being ignored on a dock by a man your own age on a beautiful Sunday morning, your arms straining to hold a Rubbermaid bin, thinking that surely he will move his damn butt, surely, and let you pass by. You are two inches behind him, he is obviously neither deaf nor blind.
Have you disappeared entirely?

I wonder if this is why some older women adopt a gypsy-sort of demeanor with wildly colored clothing and heavy make-up and tons of jangley jewelry. Why some women chop their gray hair off into crew cuts and wear earrings the size of stop signs? Paint their nails and lips brilliant scarlet and wear silk scarves and shawls with fringes that tremble and wave as they walk?
"Look at me!" these women seem to demand. "I am not only still here, I am most definitely alive and you will notice my presence, you will see me, you will hear me, you will stand aside when I want to pass!"Is that what those fucking stupid red hats are all about? Red hats and purple scarves? Merely an attempt to recapture some of the attention that youth had provided so easily?
Older age and old age do not even garner respect any more. Not in our culture. Not usually. Maybe for someone like Bill Clinton or yes, Jimmy Carter, or even Hillary Clinton but certainly not for most of us.
We are simply dismissed. We are no longer worthy even of true eye contact.

I should have told that man, "Move your ass, you rude motherfucker."
Why didn't I?
Do even I myself feel as if I have disappeared? Do even I doubt the fact that I deserve to take up space on a dock, on the planet?
Does my pain remind me that I no, I have not? Is each one of those 7,957 steps a tatto that I am stomping into the earth telling it in no uncertain terms that I am still here? Still very much alive, still capable of...something? Even as I withdraw more and more into myself, this small place where I live?

I think T.S. Eliot said it all in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock, a poem which I loved and which captured me when I was so very young that the very idea of the mermaids not singing to me was nothing more than a wisp of smoke on a far distant horizon.

Well. That's what I'm thinking of today. And I guess I am writing these words as my own way to ask and answer the question of whether or not I am truly fading into complete unimportance as I age, as I become so obviously and painfully invisible.

Here. Here's the poem. You probably already know it. I am going to go hang my clothes on the line on this beautiful day and then, I think, I will dare to eat a peach.
And take some Ibuprofen. And go to town.
Maybe I should wear a purple dress. I have a few. I never wear them. It may be time. Although honestly, it doesn't seem to matter much any more. It doesn't seem to matter much at all.

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  Prufrock and Other Observations.  1920.
1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
        S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;        25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;        30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go        35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—        40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare        45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,        50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—        55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?        60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress        65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets        70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!        75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?        80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,        85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,        90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—        95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,        100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:        105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,        115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …        120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.        125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown        130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


  1. It is always such a goodness to revisit Prufrock to remind those of us who strive for poetry how much we need to stretch how we can never stop not really. Thank you.

  2. Of course it was another woman who told the man to get out of the way...

    I can't really talk because I am still young, but I see the dreams dwindling or the missed exits and at some point you can't really turn around.
    I'm trying, and will try, to take as many as I can.

    The mermaids may not sing to us, but we can sure as hell sing to them.

  3. I've been reading your blog for a long time but rarely comment because, who am I? (That's me, fading into the background.) But the part about old ladies jingling and jangling reminded me of a lady who cut my hair the other day. She asked me, "I don't mean to offend you, but you're an older mother, aren't you." (I'm 32 and have a two-year-old.) I just agreed with her and when I got home I made a comment about it on my facebook page and made a joke that I needed to dye my hair because my gray is showing, and I do. My friends were upset for me but I really think that it was kind-of nice to have someone tell me what they really think. (And it makes for a funny story later.)

    I love reading your blog, and just wanted to say so.

  4. Sometimes, less often, I still get the look. And then the telltale flicker... You know, the one that means fading and blurriness. What can I say, you are right. Our light may shine less brightly over distance, but it burns brighter nearer the center, where those who love us live.

  5. This is exactly how I feel. Thank you for enunciating it. Thank you also for the poem.

    I have been imagining a change of image for myself, more jingle-jangly and gypsyish. Now I know why.

    Thank you.


  6. I know what you mean, but I think the dude on the dock was just an asshole.

  7. I am sorry that some rude asshole could even make you think about these things. I know that as we get older, our dreams can fade. I'm not even terribly old yet but I sometimes feel sad at what might have been that is now long gone. Still, I think you are an amazing writer and even when I don't comment (which is usually), I am always here reading and feeling inspired by your words. So no, you are not invisible but a poetic soul who gives us a glimpse into the simple joy of your life that we all look forward to and enjoy. I for one am glad to have found you.

  8. A-ha! You ARE a poetry-understander. That makes me happy.

    And yeah, you shoulda kicked his arse, or as they say here in GA, kicked his ice.

  9. YOu are so right, and its easy to think of things to say afterwards, but that man was one unhelpful so and so, and deserved to have had something said to him... did his mother not teach him manners.... even if he was making a point... and some blokes think that female emancipation means they can be as rude as they wish, it was a most unhelpful action to take... so no wonder you were fizzing... and yes, you are right, that is exactly why the ladies dress up and put on too much lipstick... havent quite got to that stage, but I can feel it coming!!!!Hope your husband made you feel much better later after you told him... hugs from across the pond.. Janzi

  10. Madame King- Somethings just fucking resonate, don't they?

    Rachel- YES! Take as many as you can!

    Sarah- I'm sorry. WTF???? Thirty two is not older for a mother these days at all. And gray hair is no sign of being older, either. Anyway, thank you for commenting. Thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

    Joan- Yes. You're right. I know. Thanks.

    Invisigal- Go for it. Let's not disappear.

    Stephanie- I think he was too.

    Kelly- Thank you so much for breaking your silence. It is really meaningful to me to hear from people. So, yes, again, thank-you.

    Nancy- I just wish I'd called him a rude motherfucker.

    Janzi- I asked Mr. Moon what that had been about in his opinion. He said, "I have no idea." But he'd noticed it too.

  11. Okay, so I found myself thinking about this on my short walk this afternoon and I think that that was all about that dude. It wasn't about you being invisible AT ALL. He needs the attention. He needs to be noticed in whatever cheap shot way he can manage - like taking up the whole damn dock with his stupid ass.

  12. Stephanie- Ah, I wish it were all about him. But no, that was just a major example of the obvious.

  13. My grandmother expressed to me the same experience.

    I say wear yellow or red or neon pink or gray- whatever makes you feel true and alive- and fuck anyone who doesn't see you or sees you and dismisses you or sees you and thinks, "What in the hell is that crazy woman wearing?"

    Fuck 'em.

  14. Well, except for the mermaid lines, I was never a Prufrock fan --Eliot's voice is a weak man's whine in my ear.

    But you and this post? It makes me cry -- so fucking strong and authentic and TRUE.

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  16. N2 said...
    I think slowly losing any shimmer in the eyes of men is a bit inevitable for women, but it is much more blatant in the USA. We are more about external appearances here. Be glad you don't live in LA!

    I am afraid many of us have forgotten what it means to "have manners" in our everyday interactions.

    Do you feel that men and people in general treat you more authentically when you are in Cozumel and that that is part of why you like to go there? I know it is part of what attracts me to Europe.

  17. See Kate Run- Well, I would rather dress in whatever suits me and let the world deal with it as they will. Somedays that may be red or purple but most days, it will be black. Most days, to be honest, I stay home where it doesn't even matter. Except to me.

    Elizabeth- Well, he was an old man and he was whining, I guess. I can't judge, doing more than a bit of whining myself. We made each other cry today. I guess that works out, baby. I guess it does.

    N2- Your question about Cozumel is very interesting. I think that when I am there, I am a different me and one who is happier and less apt to give a shit what anyone thinks of me and yes, there is more eye-contact. I think there is less judging due to age alone. It's very interesting. I have been going there since I was in my early thirties and I see changes in the way I am treated. But not like here. How much I can attribute that to my own attitude and how much to the attitude of the island, I do not know for sure.

  18. You wade right in and say the things we have been thinking about but have not been able to articulate with the power and truth you manage here. I am in awe of you and I am so grateful for you in my life.

  19. And my favorite line that seems to relate to what you are saying"I grow old... I grow old and I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."
    I don't feel invisible yet. But can tell that the day will be coming because America is about youth. Maybe all humanity is about youth. And we aren't so young anymore.

  20. So glad to see Prufrock and read it out loud.

    Today I got the 'senior discount' at the supermarket and I wondered how they knew I was old enough. Duh, I look it!!!! Sheesh.

    Growing old. It's an interesting journey, one we all must take.


    XXX Beth

  21. My mom used to say that women become invisible when they turn 40. She said, "All those men who hold doors for you when you're 25 slam them in your face when you're 45." So I know exactly what you're talking about, having heard similar complaints so often from her.

    For what it's worth, though, I also think Steph(anie) is right -- that guy was just an oblivious jerk, and we all run into people like that every day. I am amazed at how oblivious people can be to those around them.

    I love women who do that gypsy-ish thing, as well as the short-hair Susan Powter look. If I were a woman I would definitely go in for all that. Not the red hats, though.

  22. What you said about not realizing you were noticed until you're not just about caused me to fall out of my chair. Seriously woman - you can write the things that are a part of me that I never would have known how to put onto paper. You were so absolutely accurate with that.

  23. Angella- Well, sometimes I say what I mean to say and sometimes I just sort of drift. But believe me when I say that I am SO glad you are a part of my life too.

    Syd- It happens for women a lot more quickly. I promise you.

    Beth- I sure don't feel very gracious about it.

    Steve- I just can't bring myself to cut my hair off but perhaps I should wear my silver more. I don't know. Like I said- does it matter? Not unless it matters to me.

    Jill- I believe it's a fairly universal experience. Sigh.

  24. This is a fabulous post, Mrs. Moon.
    I, too, dislike my invisibility which seems to come and go like the fog. I often wear orange. It's my favorite color--and I walk a lot. If some rude fat man runs me down, he will have a harder time claiming he didn't see me.
    I'll bet that guy sees his youthful thin self in the mirror, and could not fathom that his ass was blocking you.

  25. One of my very favorites, Mary Moon.

  26. I would have bumped his fat butt right out of the way, then smiled sweetly and said, Oh, excuse you, when he bitched about it.

    I remember the first time I didn't get the look. It was on my 30th birthday.

    I got the look yesterday from someone at a bookstore, and I swiveled to see who was behind me. It was for me, and that made my day. Even though it's sexist and stupid of me to feel that way, I want someone to realize that I am here, that I am.

    And I was wearing a short (translation just above the knee) skirt. And screw anyone who tells me it's too short, or I'm too old for it. I have pretty good calves, and if I want to show them I'm going to do so.

    XOXO, Pamela

  27. This post made me feel, and think, and ponder. Thank you for that. I'm still chewing it over.


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.