A Woman Turning 35

Hello! I did not mean to disappear.

I have been absorbed into the wondrous world of KNITSONIK BOOK PRODUCTION! BOOK PRODUCTION involves loads of writing, and loads of knitting, and – in between – little bursts of gardening and cooking, where I think about writing and knitting.

carrot_plant

Somewhere between knitting, writing, cooking and gardening, I turned 35.

And today I want to say a few words about that. Fetch up a chair and a bucket of tea; this is an Opinion Piece.

basil_plant

Thankfully I had a wonderful birthday. We went for a marvelous meal with Brenda and Tonia; My parents came; a pair of bats arrived in the garden; there was cake and love and merriment, and the beer we brewed in honour of the occasion is a triumph.

But I had a weird trepidation about this age for quite a few years now; and it’s not difficult to understand why. If you type “A Woman Turning 35” into Google, these are some of the headlines that you get:

Women should start a family before turning 35 to avoid being ‘haunted’ by their decision to wait, experts warn
What does it feel like for a childless woman to turn 35 and be past your prime?
I Refuse to Freeze My Eggs!
Why Turning 35 Sucks. For Women.
What Scares Women About Getting Older? Everything!

Those headlines don’t exactly scream “Hey it’s so amazing to grow older, know yourself better and become wiser! Welcome to a new era of YOU!” Instead, the message is one of regret, fear, childlessness, of no longer having great boobs, and of being past your prime and an old hag (actual quotes). Together, these sad little articles represent the toxic journalism and insidious societal pressures which lurk everywhere, threatening to take the edge off joy for every Woman Turning 35.

Though some of the pieces are witty, first-person perspective pieces by women, the collective impression of the list is one of feminism having seriously lapsed.

Reading one article after another, I started to feel that somewhere in the amazing plethora of life choices now available to women, there is still really only one choice that is considered to be valid: get married and have babies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting married or with having babies, and I support those choices. However, contrary from the relentless tide of media articles saying otherwise, they are not the only choices. There can be huge richness in life outside of this prescribed path – and massive advantages to being older and wiser – which could be pointed out alongside the worries around declining fertility and grey hairs. I know from the rich well of friendships which I enjoy with extraordinary women of all ages that on the ground and in reality there are a million other ways to live and be and grow into womanhood, but this dominant media narrative chafes at the pleasures of taking any but the most conventional route through life.

Fortunately, one of the best things about being the age I am is that I now have the self-confidence to see the negative associations clogged up around being “A Woman Turning 35” as Just More Patriarchal Nonsense designed to undermine and rob women of power and confidence just as we are beginning to have some.

artichoke

For 35 can be a magical age.

At 35, I can say “I have been a practicing artist for over fifteen years” and it is true. I am proud of my work. I know how to make stuff and am finding my own voice, materials, and practices. This is a process with its own timings for every artist, but it is something which gets better with age. I think this is probably true for all career routes: let’s hear it for experience.

walnut_tree

I am also now old enough to have long histories with many esteemed friends and comrades in my social circles and professional spheres. Over the years I have developed a network of friends, artists, knitters and makers, who continually inspire me, and whose work and support encourage me in my own creativity. Long friendships and professional relationships often develop into fantastic opportunities to work with some of my favourite people, and I am enthused by collaborations in textiles and sounds: let’s hear it for fruitful collaborations.

manifesto

A Knitter’s Manifesto with Brenda Dayne.

KDD_teatowel

A Tea Towel with Kate Davies.

08_beautiful_Valeria

Field recording workshops, radio shows and performances with Valeria Merlini.

Age and experience have also taught me other useful stuff like the importance of wearing comfortable shoes; how to make amazing fruitcake; how to brew beer; how to write a PhD thesis; and how to make excellent jam. I can wire my own speakers; make a dinner when there is “no food in the house” (there’s always something); produce my own podcast; and file my own taxes. I know what a day rate for an artist should look like and can hold my own in an academic debate: let’s hear it for knowledge and life skills.

11_the_beer

raspberries

Mark

I did not know how to make a relationship like the one I enjoy with Mark when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Mark makes me laugh every day and is my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. We have nearly a decade of memories together and I am grateful for them all: let’s hear it for love.

sparrow

As I turned 35, what was on my mind was the Bechdel Test with its demand for a more equal representation of women and our lives in movies; Jack Monroe and her empowered, resourceful riposte to poverty and the complexities of being a young, single mum; and the troubling pink/blue divides that I am noticing in toy shops when I enter them to buy presents for the young people in my life. Why I care about the Bechdel test, about Jack Monroe’s rising media fame, and the colouring of the truck/dolls departments in the toy store is that they are all connected to a woman’s sense of entitlement. How it grows; how it can be crushed; how it can be cultivated: let’s hear it for the cultivation of equality.

And as I grow older, I am all about the cultivation.

japanese_wineberry

Mark asked me what I wanted for my birthday several years ago and I said “a wormery, please”. He teased – “ooh you old romantic, you” but – as requested – procured me my very own wormery. I love to tend this wormery, am fussy about what to feed my little friends, keep it free of predatory slugs and maintain its wriggly little inhabitants with the finer scraps of our kitchen waste. I have never gotten over the miracle that I can put old food into it, and visit later to find perfect, loamy, rich, nutritious compost which will nourish and feed the next generation of my plants.

compost

Continuing the tradition, this year, when Mark asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said “A VegTrug and some horse poo, please”.

vegtrug

Mark generously obliged, and we filled my VegTrug with horse poo and compost and plants, and then dug worms out of the old wormery to aerate and mix the soil. My carefully tended Kale, Beetroots, Carrots and Squashes went in. Just think: the generation of worms now burrowing through my VegTrug has grown out of our shared past, and is now turning the soil in which our future dinners are growing. For all of Mark’s gentle teasing about the wormery, I think this really is pretty romantic: let’s hear it for compost.

Every good gardener knows you must feed the soil to grow healthy plants. If my mind were a garden, I do not think Google’s highly ranking articles represent good fodder. I have therefore selected alternative pieces for a reading list on A Woman Turning 35:

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Is getting old a drag? by Donna Druchunas
Whisky and Women and The Great Scottish Tapestry 92-123 both by Kate Davies
I am a shepherd by Susan Gibbs
Birthday Surprises and All About the Turban both by Colleen Bowen
A Proper Tribute to my Mum by Joanna Dobson

I hope this list and my own reflections provide alternative perspectives on the dominant narratives that surround women aging. I want to propose that with the experience and wisdom discovered as we grow, we become not fading fruit, but blossoming flowers, or – even better – mighty trees. This can happen with or without children, with or without being married, but it cannot happen if we continue to write discouraging shite which limits the scope of women’s dreams. I want to know why a message about The Magnificence of Becoming is not the central one rising to the fore when you type “A Woman Turning 35” into Google, because it should be.

On that note, I must get back to my own garden, my work, and to the magical composting heap. More news of BOOK PRODUCTION soon, but – in brief – things are coming along grandly. The chapter I am currently working on is called “Plants” and is all about the huge inspiration we can find in the natural world and use in our knitting.

swatches

So please forgive the liberal use of gardening metaphors here, but gardens and plants and leaves and trees and flowers have been somewhat on my mind.

mess

When I was doing my A-levels, I was obsessed with Alice Walker and this poem she wrote has stayed with me since I very first read it; it feels appropriate to share it for all my comrades, for all our choices, for everything we create and make and cultivate and grow, for all our projects, for all our birthdays and for everything we are and everything we know.

A woman is not a potted plant

A woman is not a potted plant
her roots bound
to the confines
of her house

a woman is not
a potted plant
her leaves trimmed
to the contours
of her sex

a woman is not
a potted plant
her branches
espaliered
against the fences
of her race
her country
her mother
her man
her trained blossom
turning this way
and
that
to follow
the sun
of whoever feeds
and waters
her

a woman
is wilderness
unbounded
holding the future
between each breath
walking the earth
only because
she is free
and not creeper vine
or tree

Nor even honeysuckle
or bee.

~Alice Walker

fullers_teasel

seedlings

squash

20 Responses to A Woman Turning 35

  1. Jeannette Smyth says:

    happy birthday, big girl. go for the dharma. <3

  2. Betsey says:

    Yes! One of my favorite things about growing older (I’m 32) is my increasing sense of myself. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, more settled into “me”.

    Happiest of birthdays!

  3. Anna says:

    Thank you! The other stuff just made a giant tear of frustration plop out at how lame things are. But hooray for knowing better and not perpetuating crap things! Welcome to the 35 club!

  4. Jo says:

    I was feeling very pleased and at one with this till I scrolled down and found that you have the good fortune to be in a relationship. What can you say to those who have turned 47, who still have great boobs, and who are unhappily single?

  5. eileen says:

    What a beautiful thoughtful piece of writing. It really resonated with me around the issues of aging, given that next year I turn 60, not sure what that means in polite society. Seems I’m working toward finding out.

  6. Susan says:

    Love it! Bravo. I feel exactly the same at 63. So sweet to see young women learning it at 35. Love and richness to you

  7. Swantje says:

    Lovely, wonderful post! I had felt 21 (inexperienced, impulsive, spontaneous, curious, energetic) for so many years… I never saw that I got grey, a bit stiffer in the joints, slower in the head – I just kept doing new things, changed careers, moved, got into new stuff – and one day I looked in the mirror and saw I was totally grey! I was 45, had been married for 17 years and had 3 kids! That was 3 years ago. It was an utter shock and as I became conscious of my age over night I became really self conscious and uncomfortable in myself because I didn’t know what the ‘age appropriate lifestyle’ was meant to be. But now I am over it and just do what I do, started going to the gym to prevent my joints from getting stiff, may embark on a masters because I can still think, walk the dogs and do up the house… It is all a very personal and individual journey. Happy 35th!

  8. Elaine says:

    Excellent post!! Congratulations on your mind set about becoming 35. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.

  9. Lara says:

    Amen to this! I am sitting here with tears rolling down my face – such a beautiful post and I completely feel the same. Let us celebrate how bright and sparkling and amazing we are rather than focus on what we might lack. I am continually surprised by how limiting people are in how they see life. Here is to unconventional choices and finding our own ways.

    I heard Anne Karpf talk to promote her book on ageing which I thought was inspiring and I set up a positive ageing board of amazing women doing incredible things at all ages to remind me to stay true to what I know is important, take risks and live life.

    Thank you for being fantastic and inspiring as always.

    Big love, Lara xxxxx

  10. sweetea says:

    Oh HURRAH! I also turned 35 this year and felt the same way! Why would I be defined, indefinitely as it so seems, by my marital status and number of children I have (or have not)? 35! Not the end of our youth, but as you so eloquently stated….the time when we can appreciate the development of whom we have become at this moment. Beautiful.

  11. Happy Birthday. Wait till you get to 61.
    Jacqui

  12. Oh Felix, this is utterly GLORIOUS! I will be thinking all day about the possibility that on my 54th birthday in about three weeks’ time I will be further on the path to being a MIGHTY TREE! Huzzah! And let’s hear it for compost, indeed – and all the other magnificent things about which you write. And I am very honoured to be included in that list with some women who I find hugely inspiring. I am also almost hyperventilating at the prospect of the ‘plants’ chapter in your book. Raising my mug of tea to you and wishing you a deeply satisfying few months of working on your book, tending your plants and generally revelling in the wonder that is Life and Becoming!

  13. Kate says:

    SUPERLATIVE post, Felix! x

  14. Happy birthday. Having just turned 48 I can tell you that life only gets better.

  15. colleen says:

    I read this quickly this morning, and came back to it this evening to spend more time and savour its wisdom and inspiration. I LOVE the idea that we are Mighty Trees. Yes, yes, yes!

    (And belated birthday wishes, my lovely)

  16. nic says:

    Fantastic post, Felix. Here’s to compost and worms, grey hairs and happiness! (and to beer and cake, obv 😉 )

  17. Knit Nurse says:

    I think I was about the same age when I came to a similar realisation and it has stood me in great stead ever since. Believe in yourself, make time for yourself, and nurture and enjoy the people and things you have around you so that you will always have great memories and experiences to cherish and celebrate! Happy belated birthday!

  18. Allison says:

    Let’s hear it for experience and worms! (I have a happy little wormery of my own)
    Please keep showing us how to grow dyestuffs and brew beer and have adventures–

  19. Melanie says:

    Absolutely wonderful thoughts beautifully articulated .

    Very much looking forward to seeing you again soon in Shetland – to give you a big post birthday hug in person. M x

  20. Pingback: When I grow up | Inbetween Days

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