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Craggy dancing

By Dina Stander

Life in a female body involves surrender to years of biophysical processes over which we have little or no personal control. The chemical changes that are triggered in women's bodies by ovulation may represent our essential connection to the web of life but, as I remember it, being female, adolescent and hormonal really sucked. No one warned me that being forty-five and hormonal would exponentially suck.

If you ask me, peri-menopause is way too perky a name for such a craggy state of body-mind. Now, just as my three daughters become ripely adolescent, I am hitting my own hormonal stride. Or is that slide...? Yeah, definitely sliding. I don't think I could bear to feel more vulnerable, but since 'the only way out is through' I may as well get on with it.

My periods still come like clockwork but after all these years the new power of PMS to bend mind and emotion takes me by surprise. The premenstrual wee-hours anxiety segues into daytime disquietude; the voices of my discontent begin to sing as round and round we go. I was beginning to think I was suffering from a multiple personality disorder until I realized how bored I am because they're all just versions of my self. What a hullabaloo!

Sometimes my blood seems old and used up. I never aspired to conventional beauty; I don't wear makeup. I am naive enough to have been genuinely shocked when I figured out that most of my friends have not gone grey because they dye their hair. In middle age, living with daughters whose youth oozes everywhere, it's easy to accept that the standard of beauty our culture so avidly consumes is not a benchmark I'll attain.

The French have an expression, jolie-laid, which roughly translates as beautiful-ugly. It describes someone or something that exists outside of conventional beauty, is instead made more interesting by an innate and transcendent contradiction to ideals of beauty. Or something so ugly that it has the power to fascinate us so thoroughly that 'ugly' becomes irrelevant. Jolie-laid is a state of physical being I aspire to because, nowadays, young men in shops call me ma'am and my kids say I'm old. My shredded vanity is the biggest joke of all. There is no way to hide my flaws and, still, I find myself in front of the mirror making sure whatever I'm wearing drapes to my satisfaction. Drapes!

Peri-menopause is a period of transition. Parts of ourselves are left behind or chucked out or, I confess, burned in the fire-circle in the front yard when no one else is home. It is hard to know sometimes what needs leaving and what wants keeping, or at least tucking away for reconsideration. There is a small sign on the front door of my house that reads: chaos is the natural order of the universe, welcome. Most people miss it on the way in and I have to repaint it periodically because it fades away. The equivalent of saying 'enter at your own risk', it is my little mantra, a daily reassurance that life is supposed to feel like this right now.

I am tired of inventing myself again and again, yet this seems to be what life requires. There are roles and layers, facets and permutations. There are elements and theories and, even in chaos, rules and laws. Dancing between my growing children, their ailing grandparents, and all the changes of middle age, I look for balance. On better days I find some, and perch, teetering, until I can laugh about being vulnerable without snagging on the barbs of a too-sharp tongue, or being swamped in shifting hormonal tides or the black backwaters of ennui.

The room where I write and make art is home to collections: small plastic items, bird nests, words, pine cones, old metal bits, bark, and stones. Cigar boxes, feathers, odd tools, doll parts. Among other things. I moved recently, a process which requires a great deal of touching, a slow consideration of objects that hold layers of association and meaning. The times and experiences that comprise my life seem strung like pearls, luminescent orbs knotted in random order on a thrumming silken line played out into the wind.

The new room has a west facing window that opens on a long view across an expanse of forest canopy and beyond the tallest towers in town--meeting the horizon miles away. Looking out is restorative. Hawks rise in thermal spirals. Crows make a daily pilgrimage to roost in a neighbor's tall oaks. I remember my place and it is safe. When friends ask how I am, I reply, "well enough," grateful to mostly mean it even if I am sliding.

So what if the hormonal soup I'm slogging through as my body ages seems specifically designed to make all of my relationships more complicated. So what if my untidy craggy dancing requires backwards as well as forward motion to finesse the swirling intricacies of peri-menopause. I may not be aging gracefully and it's certainly not pretty, but if this is the price of maintaining an essential connection to the web of life, then I'll keep up this craggy dance.

mmo : march 2008

Dina Stander is a writer, artist and Celebrant (a person trained in the art of ceremony who presides at personal, family and community events). She dances as well as she can in western Massachusetts. Email: dstander@deanbrook.org
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