Digging Deep and Thinking About Jenny Joseph’s Warning
The last couple of weeks have been difficult. Not only have I been dealing with my reactions to the ‘tempest in a teapot’ but I have been doing a lot of hand stitching and, for me, stitching time is introspection time.
Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate, or not, in that I have not had a lot of conflict in my life. Perhaps it is because I was well schooled in the art of ‘avoidance’, perhaps it is because I have enjoyed the exchange of ideas with people who didn’t always agree with me but respected our right to differ in our thoughts and approaches. Maybe it is because one tends to draw to themselves people with similar values, in this case, when necessary, calling a spade a spade. In my recent experience I have come to realize that I have been dealing with people who shared values that differed from mine.
Many years ago I was attracted to the poem ‘Warning’ by Jenny Joseph. For anyone unfamiliar with it, I found it on a website and have copied it below. One commentator on this site made the observation that because she had ‘acted out’ and pushed boundaries when younger, she did not feel the need to rebel in middle age and senior years. I, on the other hand, was a timid conformist as a young person, doing what was expected, both from society and family. When I first read this poem it really resonated with me. I think I was in my mid-forties, combining a young family and a family business with an effort to establish a new career while maintaining some sense of self-identity separate from my various roles. In the years prior, in addition to my family responsibilities, I had been active in community groups and spent many hours involved in volunteer work. I had perfected the skills necessary for recognition as a successful young woman of the 1970’s. But then in the early 1980’s I rocked the apple cart (love the images created by these sayings from my childhood). The husband of a friend told me, he blamed me for his wife’s restlessness. Little did I realize that my return to university to complete my degree and my ensuing quest for a career focus had unsettled a number of women with whom I had enjoyed countless hours of companionship.
Part of my restlessness, and my slow distancing from past activities, revealed that I had developed a reduced tolerance for gossipy conversation and the tendency to form ‘closed’ groups or cliques within a community. I became more interested in issues and less in who was doing or saying whatever. I became more outspoken about my interests and my reaction to situations. I started to push back when I disagreed with attitudes and situations I encountered. At times I found myself in no-man’s land, between traditional female responses and behaviors, and the feminists of the time. A close friend and I coined a phrase that always bring a smile to our faces although time and miles have separated us for many years. ‘Everything in moderation?’ was our mantra at the time. Often finding ourselves ‘out in left field’, we were suspects held at arms length by those in the various ‘camps’ around us. A new group of friends emerged, ones who were not afraid to be themselves, to reject the expectations of society and who could discuss and resolve issues when they arose through honest communication.
For the fifteen years before retirement I found myself in an aggressive male-dominated workplace. My tolerance of the female tendency to avoid difficult situations, to seek a high rating on the ‘niceness’ scale, fell by the wayside. In my world at the time, these traits were seen as weaknesses. Honesty in relationships and seeking resolution to conflict through communication became a natural reflex. Because my attitudes were changing, I became cautious of female dominant organizations. At the same time I enjoyed a large circle of female friends who operated as independent thinkers.
After retirement, and after moving halfway across the country, I sought ways to learn more about my chosen home. I reached out and sought people with similar interests. I failed to think about the nature of the groups I joined. In one, a more traditional female circle, I ignored the niggles triggered by the actions of some but not all of the members, by the reaction generated when I spoke my mind. I enjoyed the opportunity for social interaction. Fortunately, as time passes, I am finding people in other groups who are more focused on common interests. Groups where I feel I can be myself and express my thoughts without censor, where I can disagree, adding to the discussion and not be concerned about how I am rated on the ‘niceness’ scale.
While stitching this afternoon, CBC’s Ideas in the Afternoon was being broadcast. Today’s program, ‘The Fool’s Dilemma’ was playing in the background and parts set me thinking about my emotions and introspection over the past two weeks. Yes my pride has taken a blow, yes my feelings have been hurt. One of the ideas that was put forth today was that people who always put a positive spin on events are often deceiving themselves. Realists often become depressed. Do I say ‘Good riddance’ and move on or do I get caught up in endless analysis of how I could have handled the conflict differently.
In the end it all goes back to this mid and late life rebellion that I feel towards situations where someone tries to control me and my actions, where someone assumes an attitude of entitlement that I feel is undeserved. Do I crawl back into my childhood shell of conformity or do I stand up for what I believe? Unfortunately, Jenny Joseph’s words captured me years ago and I’ve reached an age when I need to be true to myself. Jenny, your words have been both a blessing and a curse!
Warning – Inspiration from Jenny Joseph
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.