Thursday, March 29, 2007

But I Had on a Red Dress and No Hat


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

- Jenny Joseph

I love to read fiction but I've never read much poetry. That doesn't mean that poetry can't move me - I can remember at least twice in my life being moved to tears by poems that caught me unawares (seems like there's a lot of unexpected tears in my life lately, maybe I should invest in some nice handkerchiefs; I hate tissue dust in my eyes).

Back in the early nineties someone read to me the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph. I thought it was perfectly lovely at that time and I could see myself, maybe not in read and purple but in blue and orange or orange and green or some other god awful combination with a wine glass in one hand and pulling my oxygen tank with the other.

It always takes my daughter to make me do things I said I would never do and this weekend I broke my word by stepping one foot into the Slave Freedom Center. Her girl's group from church took an outing to see a play called Shakin' the Mess Out of Misery,a coming of age story about a girl raised by several women after her mother abandons her.

The play was very good, the actresses even better (it was an all female cast) and I recommend seeing it if you get a chance. Seems like it’s pretty popular these days and just googling the name nearly guarantees it's being performed at a theatre company near you.

As we stood waiting to enter the theater lobby, first one, then two then several women dressed in every version of purple and red you can think of came into the lobby. Most were in purple dresses or dress suits and church hats, but a few had on red with purple accessories; others were in pants suit. One lady had on a purple velvet tracksuit and a red baseball hat.

And they were all African American. Now I'd seen groups of white women Red Hatters everywhere but I'd never seen any black women in their ranks. I always figured that one day I would probably be the only black woman wandering around in a purple dress and red hat and either a) getting stared at by a bunch of angry white women, b) getting invited to join some congenial white women or c) starting a group of women on my own, black, white and otherwise. Well turns out I don't have to do any of the above. There are Red Hat Societies simply everywhere in all shapes, colors and sizes.

The women all looked wonderful and again, I felt that longing to be just a little freer, a little wiser and maybe even a little older. I even had on a red dress that day. Maybe that's why they let me take their pictures when I asked.

When I searched for the poem, I found a blog post at Time Goes By that takes real issue with Red Hat Societies for doing the exact opposite of the poem. The author of the blog, Ronni Bennett, certainly knows what she's talking about. Her "About" page is to die for and she has multiple years experience in media and especially as a blogger regarding societal elder issues.

In her article about the Red Hat Society she states:
There are now 400,000 members of The Red Hat Society worldwide in 20,000 chapters, and it is reported that the number of chapters is growing at a rate of almost 400 a week.

The idea of this group is that when members – who use such adjectives as “sassy,” “free-spirited” and “convention-spurning” to describe themselves - get together, they wear - all of them - a red hat and a purple dress. The genesis of this is a poem The Red Hat Society founder discovered a few years before her 50th birthday.

Given my position about older folks on this Weblog, I should welcome and applaud this club. From what members say about it, the group seems to provide them with a sense of empowerment for two often-devalued groups – women and older people. So I ask again, what’s my problem?

One thing is that I’m embarrassed for folks who describe themselves as sassy, free-spirited and convention-spurning. Like nicknames, these designations have weight only if bestowed by others, and people who really are eccentric enough to be so described are, I suspect, far fewer in number than almost half a million.

For another, I don’t see how wearing the same dress and hat as every other woman in the Society is a whole lot different from the men I see in matching suits standing four deep at the bar at Grand Central Station every evening after work. It seems, again, to miss the spirit of Ms. Joseph’s poem.

I think I can forgive this commercialization more easily than some of the comments following Ms. Bennett's post that seems really down on the Red Hats. It's not always easy for older women to make new friends and socialize. The friends of your youth may be scattered or gone; families may be scarce or simply uncaring; you may find yourself alone or in a new place and maybe need a friend. The poem, to me isn't just about nonconformity but also about how aging can be a very lonely and misunderstood experience. Younger people may try to pigeonhole older women into a stereotyped “little old lady” mode that just doesn’t fit or maybe just ignore older people all together.

Some of the comments after the Time Goes By post make it seem as if some societies may have formed Red Hat Gestapos but there are several posts that affirm Red Hat Socities as a group that’s all about friendship and weathering aging together. I've also learned enough about life to know that what people feel like on the inside may not be how they act on the outside. The poem is also about a women who went through her youth being to wise to be foolish and now maybe wishes she had been. I can easily believe that half a million woman would like to be able to show a little sassy foolishness now and again.

I found the Red Hat Society women lovely to talk to and their cheerful red outfits of red of purple were like a banner waving. We are old(er), we are together, we are friends.

I hope I’m that blessed when I am a old.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


In December we got a new-to-us red minivan. I love this car despite it being a major mom-mobile. I came out of Target the other day and walked to three other red Windstar's before I found mine. I used to always laugh at people who put stupid things on their car antennae but now I see maybe it's not such a bad idea.

I'd had the car for about two weeks when my daughter (previously known as Little Arabella but who henceforth will be known as Teen Arabella) ran into some trouble at school. Each year, the school, for free, issues them a school planner, which not only has the school calendar, but also has space for them to write down and keep track of their assignments. They are also to use their planner for their hall pass.

I guess the administration got sick of kids walking down the hall empty handed when they pass out these planners every year for free. So one week, they do a crack down on hall passes. My daughter gets sent to the bathroom without one. She claimed that bathroom was out of TP so she went to a bathroom on the first floor and got busted without a hall pass. Turns out she had left her planner at home and the teacher didn't write her a pass. *sigh*

The verdict was guilty and the sentence was one detention. I'm like, whatever, just go and get it over with. I spent way more time in detention than she ever has in school and I just can't get worked up over it. I got some of my better homework and casual reading done there and I figure she can do the same. Detention is a waste of time. Work detail for kids works much better because it's actually a deterrent versus getting to sit on your ass and do nothing for 30 minutes to an hour. Isn't that the nearly the definition of teenager?

Anyway, the next day there was some hair emergency and she was running late for school. She begs me for a ride. Mind you I'd already given her the "I'm-not-driving-you-to-school-anymore" speech because of days just like this one. But she was in such a panic, I finally just gave in and put on a coat over my pjs.

While I'm in the car, I feel the part of my brain that is all mom all the time kick into gear. I already know the answer, but I have to ask because I'm her mother.

"Do you have your planner?"

She goes through some requisite digging and a bit of grumbling about how I don't ever trust her but she finally has to admit, "I left it on my bed."

I pull into a driveway to turn around. She immediately turns into the whiny, screaming teenager from hell. "You don't have to turn around. I don't really need my planner (she's supposed to write her assignments in it daily). I can just get a teacher to write a pass if I need one (yeah, that worked out so well last time). I can't believe you're turning around. It's not even necessary. Gosh, you are so uptight about this and it's not even all that deep. I only asked you to drive me to school so I wouldn't be late and if we go back I'm going to be late anyway. Thanks a lot, Mom. I can't believe you're turning around..."

On and on she whines in an increasingly high pitched voice until she's nearly screeching. Mind you I'm already pissed that she's actually "going there" and talking to me in "that tone" but I'm trying to back out the driveway I pulled into and since it's only been two weeks, I don't have the knack yet of mini-van reverse.

They tell you to watch your blind-spots and for kids outside the car but they don't tell you to watch out for the ones inside the car. Before I could finish the sentence, "Be quiet, I'm backing up the car," I heard a terribly nasty crunching noise and through my side-view mirror I watched as pieces fell from my car. I'd backed into a telephone pole.

I burst into horrified sobs. I wheeled on her and screamed, "Shut up! Just SHUT - UP!" but she'd already fallen silent. I got out of the car and surveyed the damage. A gaping hole was now on the driver's side rear of the car where it had once been perfect. The bumper was dented. I looked up at the telephone pole, but it was stable and wasn't about to fall over thank goodness. There's no way the pole could have fallen without taking out a house in any direction.

I got back into the car still sobbing, howling.

"This is all your fault. Don't speak to me, don't talk to me, don't breathe in my direction. Just shut up!" I screamed even though she hadn't said a word.

I drove back to the house and went inside. She carefully avoided getting to close to me and went to her room and closed the door. I threw myself on the couch and sobbed until I just couldn't anymore. My feelings were all tied up in money and insurance and getting the car fixed and could we afford our high deductable (no) and just how much damage was done and what, oh what would Ye Old Matey say.

I finally calmed down enough to go survey the damage again. It looked ever so much worse than it was. I'd merely taken out the tail light. But that tail light is HUGE. it takes up so much of the car that it came away in chunks and made it look as if the body of the car had been severely damaged, however there was no actual damage to the car itself. Only the light and a small dent in the bumper.

I felt such a huge surge of relief I could actually feel my heart speed up again and I let out a long breath. I went in and drove Teen Arabella to school and even signed her in with the excuse that we'd had a small accident on the way in. Excused tardy, no problem. We still weren't speaking though.

I finally got the car fixed two days ago. Local repair shop, 5 minutes and $109.00 later (yeah, it's robbery but what can you do?) I have the tail light fixed. However every day that I drove that car I worried that we would get pulled over, despite our really good patch job with some 3M tail light tape. I hated even having Ye Old Matey drive the car just to the store. CPD doesn't need a reason to pull black folks over and the idea of him getting pulled over because of the tail light gave me many an anxious day.

A sheriff pulled behind me yesterday and it was all of fifteen seconds before I remembered that the tail light was fixed and there was nothing to worry about. It just bothers me that I should have the stomach twisting fear of law officers that I do. Unlike what they tell you in kindergarten, the policeman has never been my friend. I fear the police like I would a ravenous wolf or shark headed my way. I can't but help think of Yoda's words on fear:

Fear leads to Anger,
Anger leads to Hate,
Hate . . . leads to Suffering

Take it any way you wish, but this is my interpretation: fear of the police leads to anger at the police. Continued anger with the police leads to hating the police. And hating the police ( in essence, hatred of a fellow human being) makes for a bad experience any time I come in contact with them. They do not suffer, but I do, horribly. and I have a feeling they like it that way. That they intentionally instill fear so that people don't rise up against their tyranny. However generally the opposite happens because you can only push people so far before they push back.

I've forgiven my daughter. As of today, when we finish cleaning out the car and finally throw away the plastic shards of tail light that I tossed into the back seat after the accident, I am finally willing to let this go.

I wish I could throw away my fear and hatred of the police as easily. Maybe one day I'll find it it in my heart to forgive them for the wrong they've done to me, mine and black people specifically and to our community in general.

It's just going to take a while.

Maybe never.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Unexpected Tears

I was flipping channels the other day and stopped at Entertainment Televisions coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's very pink funeral.

I was just as shocked as everyone else when I heard the announcement of her death. The subsequent fight over where to bury her was just as shocking and strange as the media coverage of her. The reporters would be talking about the most solemn aspects of her death and subsequent trial, all the while showing pics of her in bikinis and striking sexy poses. It was hideous in the extreme and so blatantly gratuitous as to be shameful.

I suppose that's why E! TV's coverage her funeral seemed almost reverent in contrast. There were a few gratuitous shots but most of the clips shown were of Anna Nicole with her son, her partner and of Anna Nicole and her baby.

They showed one clip of Anna Nicole's mother holding the baby. Anna Nicole coos at the baby in the sweetest way saying, as mother's do, "Who loves you? Who loves you?" And suddenly the baby's solemn expression broke into a series of smiles that were like sudden sunshine after a rainstorm. She grinned right back at Anna Nicole over and over again. The love and bonding between them was so visibly strong.

I lost it. I couldn't believe it but suddenly I was crying, sobbing. The grip of emotion caught me so unaware that even as I cried, I couldn't believe I was crying. While I'd taken what, at best, could be called a passing interest in this story, I have not really thought much about Anna Nicole except for the nearly unavoidable news bits.

I haven't suddenly become obsessed with Anna Nicole but I'm not discounting my reaction either. I love my daughter so and the idea of not being able to have shared all that I have with her - the idea that, God willing, life has so much in store for her...

Anna Nicole was a mother. Whatever else she did or didn't do, she was a mother, who wanted and loved her baby. That all the money in the world could not help her only reaffirms what I keep telling myself: Money is not the key to my happiness. I can only be happy by counting today's joys and not putting off today's happiness until tomorrow.

I don't know what else to say except I have been made aware, through this tragedy, that I am grateful that my daughter and I are both alive and well and together.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I don't want to go another day without a blog post so I'll leave you with this quote from Good Will Hunting because it seems to fit my general mood and attitude.
Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll give it a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never had a problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Send in the marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number was called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some guy from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile my buddy from Southie realizes the only reason he was over there was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the skirmish to scare up oil prices so they could turn a quick buck. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And naturally they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what do I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better.

Why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.