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inklings by Kathleen McCall  • 

The Change

"Reinventing ourselves." A term for women, I suppose. Or not; I don't know so much about men, these days. Maybe they are reinventing, too. I don't read enough popular magazines to know. But I see the word used over and over in reference to women - women like me - in mid-life. Middle age. Not our Dark Ages, and not the Renaissance we yearn for, but that great featureless expanse - the Middle Ages. And those I know feel a restlessness, a questioning, what next? What now?

Our lives have mostly been a story told to us, even as we turned the pages ourselves, what happens next? And after that? We were breathless sometimes with it, even when it was bleak, or poorly written, or monotonous. We listened anyway, waiting. We thought of things that might happen, but when they didn't, we forgot all about them in the next chapter.

We did make choices - to marry, or not. To bear children, or not. To go through medical school; not to join the Peace Corps, at least not right now. We shaped our own paths out of the choices we saw before us, not intentionally closing other paths, but leaving them aside. Those elements we chose became our story, as it unfolded. The marriage became the divorce. The children became characters with stories of their own. We set our lives in motion, and the chapters went on of their own accord.

I know the middle chapters of my life well, as if they've been read to me over and over. How one thing led to another. Where there was foreshadowing, so clever I never even saw it. But I do not really see what happens next. And I know other women who are also beginning to wonder.

So we think of invention. Our parents are passing, or have passed, and our children too are passing, and our selves as we have lived them are beginning to change, maybe even to fade. We do not wonder how to fill our time - we are not retired, puttering with chrysanthemums, thinking of worthy volunteer work we might yet do. We remain harried and slammed and fretful, but around the edges - just the very edges - we see some sort of chasm, some frightening void of self - what do I do when I am done doing for everyone and everything else? What will be the story of who I am, then?

It sounds poetic, or profound. It's not. It's practical. It's women going to pottery classes, making improbably trite middle-aged pots, trying to remember what they loved before their love was expressed in a To Do list. And what will be next? What, in the end, will have happened?

We find it doesn't help to recall what we once loved, what we reveled in, what we did for fun - because we are not those girls. It's as useful as remembering that we loved Barbie, and collected her clothes. We must find our new brave passions. And not only must we do this, we must remember to do it, in lives that are still full of appointments and bank deposits and thank-you cards and returning phone calls. If love is what we make in our all our actions, what is it when we stand still?

I find myself not writing, because my writings are those of a middle-aged woman in transition, and there are so many of us here, and so many are writing. We are not at loose ends, not wandering around. We are going forward with a purpose, lists in hand, responsibilities clear; but we are also wondering, in odd moments, if this is really all there is. We are asking each other. We are thinking.

I have a sometimes Saturday lover, a diversion, to remind me of my girlhood, my physical self. I have long-standing friends whose love sustains me, and in whose eyes I feel valued for more than the everyday. I have tasks and activities beyond the possible, and I have friends of greater age than mine whose gentle loving scorn (when my pondering gets ponderous) reminds me that no, my life is not over, and yes, there will be much more to come.

Yet I feel a need - and I know I share it - to author something of that life, more than I have so far. To make something, some crooked pot, some plot twist, some change. Restless. Assembling my restlessness, my history, my dusty passions, my glimpsed chasm - my tools of invention.

§ § §

Kathleen McCall

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Kathleen McCall is a freelance writer, mother (yes, a freelance mother), daughter (ditto) and variously-employed long-time condominium resident. She writes essays, poems, fiction, letters of complaint, and firm resolutions to improve her behavior. She also writes this journal. Comments are welcome:

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