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The Vacuum Issue 10 spacer Issue 10
Growing Old Disgracefully
by Rosie McMichael
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Wisdom: wise sayings.
Wise: oracular, balanced, cunning, clever, reflective.
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As daughters of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, war and the liberal arts, women of my generation, babyboomers (born in the 20 year span between the end of the WW2, 1945, and 1965) realised that we didn't have to live by the same conventions of the previous generations. With the coming of the 70s, women's liberation and the contraceptive pill, we realised that our lives as women did not have to follow the formerly usual paths. Those were, either get married and be a stay at home housewife with a squad of weans, or, be the spinster daughter who lived with her parents, looked after them until they died, was an unpaid babysitter for her married siblings and ended her days with her knitting and a houseful of smelly cats. Any married woman who left her husband and got divorced was a disgrace, and equally, a single woman who set up her own household was seen as more than a bit odd.
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Times have certainly changed. My first experience of babysitting happened when I was 16. The baby was 3 months old and started wailing as soon as his parents left the house. An hour later, my mother arrived to see how I was getting on. She found me and the baby crying our heads off. There and then, I swore I would never have children, and I haven't. I lived a fairly ordinary life, fell in love, got engaged a few times, but when the question of children came up, I had to back out. I knew I didn't want them, nor did I want to wash and iron anyone else's clothes, cook and clean for them or be tied to any timetables other than work ones for which I was getting paid. So I carried on going out when I felt like it. If I wanted a drink, I went to the pub by myself. Sometimes at gigs, people, especially other women, would ask "Who are you here with ?" and when I replied " on my own", they would say that they couldn't do that. I couldn't understand THEIR attitude.
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Apart from men, I've had a lifelong affair with music starting off with traditional Irish (the boyfriend who played uillean pipes and took me to the Crosskeys near Randalstown every weekend ), disco when I lived in the U.S. in the 70s and frequented a gay club called the Pink Elephant, various kinds of folk (now called world) music when I got involved with Belfast Folk Festival in the 80s, adding on blues and country in the 90s and now in the noughties, introduced to dance, techno, trance and fairy metal by my cousins Obi Juan and DJ Druid. 2 weeks ago, I did the door for Chicago DJ Robert Owens at Thompsons, and 2 weeks before that, for Belfast Reggae Society's Bob Marley memorial night. This week, I'm going to see Snow Patrol in the Empire and a bluegrass band in the Errigle so my affair goes on.Why should it stop?
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A few years ago, I joined a group based in England called G.O.D. an acronym for growing old disgracefully. It is a group for women over 40 who have decided to live life for themselves after, in many cases, decades of marriage/relationships. They are doing things that they have always wanted to do, e.g. learning new skills, going dancing again, writing, painting, travelling alone, all things they were unable, or had felt unable to do before. They no longer feel that they have to act their age, but have released themselves to no longer worry "What will people think?" . My mother used to say this to me when I visited her at weekends, went out to the pub or a party and came home with the milkman, but I didn't care then and I still don't. Recently I have started asking people to put rubbish in bins, cyclists to get off the footpath and vandals to stop damaging trees. I've been threatened a few times. Am I going too far ?
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We have all seen the reports in various newspapers that 40 is the new 30, 50 is the new 40 and so on. A new name has even been coined for people who don't act their age: adultescents. But why should we? As long as whatever we do, one, makes us happy and two, doesn't harm anyone else, what's the problem? I certainly intend to carry on as I have been doing. I know that I made a wise decision, for me, not to get married or have children. Although my friend Geordie Two Dogs read my hand a couple of months ago and said that I was going to get married, if it ever happened, we would have to live in separate houses. Besides, I'm still looking.
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My friend Keike, an artist, is coming over from Berlin next week and I am having an exhibition of her work in my house in November. Sorry, invitation only. This is your life. Have the one that suits you.
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