After directing several successful films, Sam Taylor-Johnson took time off to “build family.” When she came back to Hollywood, she was sitting around with a bunch of industry people, and they asked what she’d been up to.
“Just had my fourth kid,” she said.
“Moving on,” the man replied, turning away.
Yeah, we get it. Simply making new humans doesn’t count for much. Youth, looks and material success is all that matters in some small minds.
That guy might not have been impressed, but I am. Ms. Taylor-Johnson, the director of Fifty Shades of Grey, is 47. She married husband #1, produced her first two kids, battled colon and breast cancer, weathered a divorce, worked in film, met her new husband, a guy 20 years younger, had two more kids, and went back to work, with her husband staying home to take care of the children. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a powerful image of womanhood.
I think this is a new way of growing up female, and it’s strange and intriguing to me. It’s almost as if the woman can drop in and drop out depending on what moves her at whatever stage. Taylor-Johnson exemplifies this way of living, which is actually based on a very old model. When women aren’t restricted by the patriarchy – no offense, all you wonderful feminist men out there – they blossom in amazing ways. I think we’re coming back to understanding this, to maybe allowing it to happen a little and seeing where it goes.
In an interesting essay on how Cheryl Strayed’s journey should empower young women everywhere, the author Krista Simmons celebrates the resurgence of feminism, in that we are moving away from viewing it as the art of hating men, to an understanding that all people should have equal rights (you can see from the comments that it’s a bit early to celebrate). The author is proposing a new (old, but pushed aside) way of looking at how women might live.
“I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told,” writes Cheryl Strayed.
In the same way, we might decide to tell ourselves a different story about aging. We could invent new ways of thinking about it and living it. Who’s to stop you/us?
I’m talking about a paradigm shift, what Oprah famously publicized as the “aha moment.” All you do is hold up the familiar object, turn it around a bit, and see it from a different angle. For example, what if you could time-travel back to the fifties, and you’re a senior in high school, but you know about the future. Would you jog for exercise through that 1950s neighborhood? Would you let your family smoke? Would you wear jeans? Go barefoot? Burn things in your backyard incinerator? How would your friends, family, and neighbors see your weird views?
In the same way, I think we’re coming around to thinking differently about aging. Many of us are seeing the stupidity of trying to model our fine, mature selves after younger people. Culturally speaking, we’re beginning to value the gifts of longevity as much as smooth skin. If you want to see examples of this newly-appreciated power, check out this article, Old Masters: After 80, Some People Don’t Retire. They Reign. (Great title, right?) It’s by Lewis H. Lapham, who’s in his 80s. My favorite snippet from the article is where 85-year-old naturalist Edward O. Wilson explains how he started to see things differently, wherein he says, in part:
…about 10 years ago, when I began reading and thinking more broadly…
Wilson implies he began to bloom in a new way at the age of 75. That makes me feel very excited about the future, and I hope you’re beginning to feel the same way.