Chapter 6: When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple. . .

Years ago in a vulnerable state of mind I saw a phonograph record jacket that depicted a glamorous, vivacious woman in a cherry red, sequined dress, and in a smaller picture off to one side, a subdued, paler, more timid version of the same woman holding a violin.

I imagined that as a little child I would have wanted to grow up to be a glamorous woman, but that my parents wanted the artistic violinist.  (Playing the violin had actually been one of many ambitions of my father for me.)

Looking back, I know that the path my parents set me on was what the innermost “I” wanted in my lifetime.  (Certainly my talents are not “show biz.”)  But there is still that urge to be a freer sort of person than would ever have passed muster in my childhood home.

These fantasies are akin to the poem, “Warning,” in which a woman looks on her life longing to be a braver sort:  “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,” Jenny Joseph says.  Might I take this to heart?  Isn’t there time to redress?  And shouldn’t I begin right away?

If one ought not to attack others, one also ought not to attack self.  This truth was brought home to me in a dream about an old coffee mug that years ago, when I bought it, seemed very “me.”

(The images in the design of a young girl were quite reminiscent of my hairstyle and my physique.)  In the dream I totally shattered my mug and then heard the words, “You don’t take very good care of things.”  When I awakened and reflected, I realized that I had criticized my old self to my husband (who had not known me then) rather severely.  I hadn’t taken good care of my earlier self because I attacked it when older and “wiser.”

Yet “she” is still a part of me, deep within.  And “she” wants to be loved, too.  How can I assimilate an earlier, fragmentary self except that I integrate her into my all-encompassing movement toward a better tomorrow, with a new self that I can like better?

On internal role models:  “In many respects I want to be like the [blank] of my dream—masterful, living a varied life, helping others.  If it is true that all people in a dream are aspects of self, then this dream image may be a genuine self that I am or could become.”

On self-actualization:  “I probably try too hard, and if I loosened up, I would come closer to being a true professional in living.”

On the contradictions of personality:  “Why did I want to be so directed in my life by others?  My response is to become compliant.  Even my sense of what to do with my life is based in part on what I perceive to be the best advice of others.  At the same time, though (somewhat paradoxically), I feel a deep sense of inner direction that would not be swayed by others.”

A prayer for less self-centeredness:  “I like occasionally to be the center of attention—really to enjoy myself in an extroverted way.  Help me always to be aware of the equality of my fellowman, and not to let such ego-satisfying experiences be detrimental to my best philosophy.”

How much of what we do exists only for ourselves?  Even a teacher learns better the lesson that she teaches than do her students.

I gained and lost the same four pounds over years.  (Only recently have I stabilized at a good weight.)  Was there something awry with my eating patterns?  I seemed to be sabotaging my best efforts once the weight came off by immediately increasing my caloric intake.  A minor obsession but illustrative of our society’s emphasis on good looks.  And who knows what “good” really looks like?

Our good points are the flip side of our negatives.  When we see those negatives in others, we usually don’t realize that we are projecting.  We get angry because we don’t like what we have seen within.  My red-hot anger is always seeing something that isn’t really out there at all.

Surely I have lived the metaphor of Eve, usually unwittingly.

It doesn’t make me a goddess; it just highlights the advantages of learning from the patterns of others—be they real or fiction or something in-between.  There is sometimes a very explosive truth to the reality that comes up when life is lived close to the bone.

Individuals sometimes “fight all the way” decisions that are providential.  This learned from reading anecdotal accounts of heavenly guidance.  Is this what has been going on for me as I resist library administration?  Not that anybody has asked.  I say ahead of time that I’m not interested so that I won’t be tempted with an offer I can’t refuse (an offer that “can’t” be refused normally appears, at least for me, to be ego-inspired).  I have to be certain that the ego is not the motivator here.  Perhaps I am destined to be in conflict about this for the foreseeable future.  Maybe I should stay in non-resolution until I learn what my soul is trying to tell me.

A couple of centuries ago, John Keats called this useful mechanism “negative capability.”  Non-resolution over a long period of time, I have learned, usually counsels “no.”