When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple

Two recent discoveries are giving me pause lately.

One, a rediscovery, is Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning:

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.

And the other revelation-worthy discovery is a line I heard from Bob Parsons, who says,

“They can’t eat you.”

I like Joseph’s poem for the joyful anticipation she expresses of getting older and acting a little crazy; and that, by the end, she’s realized that now’s as good as any to start. Why put it off?

And Parsons’s quote of “They can’t eat you” is damn liberating. I’ve been replaying various life mishaps — dashing onto stage before my cue in a production of Paquita when I was sixteen, getting confrontational and mouthy with some strangers at an Old Country Buffet in 2001, and half a dozen of those say-something-embarrassing-when-the-room-suddenly becomes quiet instances — with never-yielding levels of  shame for years. Hearing Parsons’s words for the first time instantly washed away half the anxiety I still carry about those events.

And now, looking forward, I better understand that being afraid that you’re not doing it right — whatever “it” is — is silly because the older I get the more I understand most of us are just winging “it” anyway. And if things don’t go right? Whatever: they didn’t eat you. You’re still here.

Worrying about your failures (past, present, and future) is exhausting.

Therefore, I hereby declare the following. I will no longer be afraid of:

…Failing to know. If I don’t understand something or want to know more, I will ask. Even if I think I should already know it, and even if I feel dumb asking. It ultimately doesn’t matter how you acquire new knowledge, just that you get it in your brain.

…Failing to blend. Most of the time I’d like to be invisible. However, there are things I want to do in the upcoming year or so that might mean I have to stick out a little. Even though every internal alarm I have disagrees, sticking out can be valuable and even, dare I say, fun. (Probably.)

…Failing the first time, or the second, third, and so on. Between you and me, there are so many projects I don’t start because I know they won’t meet a certain expectation level in the beginning. If I don’t think it will get at least a B- grade, I usually don’t even try it. The reality is that the first website I build, real pillow I sew, or painting I watercolor are all probably going to be disasters. But putting the time and money into something you know isn’t going to turn out the first time isn’t a waste — it is an investment in your growth and education.

…I’m also trying to use the word “fail” more, because overusing a word you’re sensitive to takes away some of its power, right?

Trying to get into this mind frame won’t be easy or comfortable, but I think it will be a valuable exercise.

And anyway, “They can’t eat you.”

Here’s hoping you try something that scares the crap out of you.

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