As someone going through early signs of “the change,” reading Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke has been both captivating and somewhat bleak. It’s a heavily researched memoir, a dissertation on menopause – a word that still feels a bit dirty in our mouths thanks to some man still running the system.
As Steinke reminds us, menopausal women slowly – or sometimes not so slowly – become invisible in society. She explains the physical and emotional changes through personal experience, research, and carefully interwoven quotations from poets, authors, and psychologists. It’s a great read.
There is something so helpful in having someone light the path for you, even if they illuminate the grimy, spooky parts of the forest to come. Perhaps especially for this reason.
In her discussion, Steinke includes the relationship with her deceased Mother, assessing her Mother’s lasting influence and sorting through pieces of her Mother’s broken identity in midlife: her unraveling marriage, her loss of self, and her rage toward men and society at large. Now that Steinke is past fifty and has gone through the change herself, she is able to see her Mother’s middle-age rage through clearer, more compassionate eyes.
I am trying to see myself with more compassion lately, too.
As I write this, there are fake skeletal bones still strewn across my yard from Halloween, though they are disorganized and misplaced by the wind now. Remnants from the festive holiday. A jack-o-lantern sits rotting on my porch, his teeth turning inward, spots of black mold beginning to appear inside his hollow body.
I don’t know why we haven’t moved or thrown away these items yet. I have told myself it’s for my 9-year-old son. He does, after all, have an aversion to moving on. But there’s been something poetic and cathartic in these remnants for me. These everyday reminders of a time well-celebrated.
Maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the clinging of my own self to the ground. I see myself in those fake bones, an attachment to the here and now, a reminder of what I’ve lost, of what’s still here, and of what’s needing to be buried.
Steinke describes being physically and/or figuratively born from her Mother three times: at birth, in adolescence, and shortly after her Mother’s death. But she intuits “she must go another round or else her Mother won’t stay buried.” As a reader, this seems to mean incorporating her Mother into the long arc of the story, weaving her into the collective “women’s experience” within a patriarchal society that is downright demeaning toward women, particularly those past a certain age.
I am grasping this same concept as I near 47, as my fertile years grow closer to ending. Only, I am unsure how to reckon with lost youth, aging/dying parents, and the call to rattle the cages of midlife. It’s all quite a tall order to contemplate at once.
But contemplate we must.
Maybe part of moving on, of carrying our knowledge with us and coloring our picture of the future a pretty color is deciphering which bones are fake and which ones are real. What part of my past have I imagined is haunting me vs. what really needs to be reconciled? Which part of my youth needs more dirt on the expansive plot? What can I do to heal the many wounds inflicted upon me for being female in a society that somehow still seems to favor the male sex? And most importantly, now that I am at my strongest and wisest, with so many stronger and wiser years to come, how do I shut out the voices that might try to muzzle me for being past some artificial prime?
It’s a lot. I know.
Thankfully, we can work it out with each other and with books like Steinke’s.
For now, I think it’s time to gather the fake bones from the yard. To feel my feet still upon the ground and take stock of what to put underneath it.