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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

contemplating cronehood

Right before the alarm rang early this morning I was having the most delightful and curious dream. I must admit that I’ve been having many strange dreams, the kind you have when you are a bit delirious from being sick and in pain, as I’m half way into week two of being quite ill (though on the road to recovery, knock on wood). But this dream in particular captured my attention.

I won’t recount all the details, just the part right before I was rudely awakened.  I was a waitress as a café, obviously enjoying my work very much as I was smiling and almost dancing around as I served and chatted with my customers. One of my customers was the lovely young actor Robert Pattinson, a.k.a. Edward the vampire from the Twilight saga. (Truth be told, I would have preferred that Daniel Radcliffe was one of my customers, as I’m a Harry Potter woman. But apparently I was not the casting director for this dream.) Any way, I approached Robert’s table, twirling and skipping, and joyfully served him his order. Suddenly, though with slow grace, he stood up from his table and faced me; he was quite a lot taller than I am, and he kind of bent down and reached toward my face, gently taking hold of and caressing my chin. Staring into my eyes, he said, “I find the little lines around your eyes to be so delightful, so charming.”

As the alarm sounded and I began to emerge from the depths of the dream, the last image I recall is the dream-Jenny smiling somewhat wryly at the dream-Robert and saying with quite a bit of sass, “Gee, thanks.”

After my daughter woke up and had a bit of tea, I told her that I’d had a dream about Robert Pattinson (who she thinks is “hot” though not as fine an actor as Daniel.). She gasped and asked for details.  As I was telling her about the dream and watching closely her reaction to what I was telling her, she said, “That’s really sweet that he said that to you.” Yeah, I thought, how terribly sweet that I dreamed that a beautiful young male British actor thinks the increasingly visible wrinkles around my eyes are delightful and charming. That's just great.

The dream, of course, has nothing to do with me having the hots for Robert Pattinson, nor does it predict that I am going to re-career and leave academe for waitressing (which would be less re-careering than retro-careering—food service: been there, done that.).  I’ll have to consult my colleague Gillian the dream expert, but the strong image I especially resonate to as I reflect more on this dream is the dream-Jenny who is twirling, skipping, smiling, utterly absorbed in her work as a waitress, e.g. as one who serves and nourishes others. Also, visually, the dream-Jenny appears to be the “real-Jenny,” me in my current form as a mid-life woman, in the here-and-now (though perhaps more energetic in her embodiment than I actually am currently) – silver shooting stars in my hair and increasingly visible wrinkles around my eyes. 

And the other strong image I can’t shake: Dream-Robert, sweet as he was, stopped dream-Jenny a bit short, thus the wry, “Gee, thanks” in response to his well-meaning complement. Until he gazed into my big dark eyes and saw and commented upon the wrinkles around them, I was fully embodied, un-moored to time, dancing through the unfolding dream story, unselfconscious, not a mid-life female waitress receiving a side-ways complement from a younger, foxy male.

I will pause here to say that my attitude toward my dream-life has always been first and foremost to honor and attend to the dream itself, to explore the story or stories inside of any particular dream, rather than by beginning with asking questions about what the dream is trying to tell me about things outside of itself. That’s not to say that in the process of reflecting upon and perhaps making some sense of my dreams I don’t wonder why I have had a particular dream at a particular time, what’s going on in my life that I’m experiencing or processing that my dream-consciousness might be offering me information about, even calling my wakeful attention to.  But I always start with the dream itself and work my way out from there.

And in working my way out from the particular dream I’ve just recounted in an effort to dwell with it a bit longer and see what insights might be discovered, I find myself moving backward to yesterday.

Yesterday was the second session of the gerontology course I teach this term, Women's Issues in Aging. The course is fundamentally a collaborative inquiry course, by which I mean there’s very little pre-determined content, because over the course of a few weeks as together the students and I create a learning community we determine together the focus of our inquiry. As the instructor, I design a framework for our inquiry, I model collaboration and collegiality, and I offer some strong, provocative questions as a way into the work, but everything else that happens is emergent, a manifestation of our ongoing learning together. 

So, here are some of the questions I offered as a starting place:

v     Who is a woman?  (And how do you know one when you see one?)
v     When do women begin to age? When does a woman become “old”? (And how do you know a woman is “old”?)
v     What are “women’s issues in aging”?  Are the issues women face as they travel through the life course distinct from those faced by men? 
v     What are the implications of looking at complex human reality from the standpoint of gender? What do we gain and what do we lose when we “slice” reality this way?
v     What are the ways women have been socialized which limit who we imagine we can be?  How do we resist social forces in small and large, subtle and obvious ways as women traveling through the life course?
v     What are our political and ethical responsibilities as educated women?  What do we feel is owed to us by society, and what do we feel we owe others?
v     How do we imagine our future older selves? How important is our gender in that imagining?

Of course, there are countless other kinds of questions, at different levels of analysis, which we could ask and explore, and I’m certain new questions will emerge as our learning community grows and we begin to collaborate on creating the focus for our ongoing work in the seminar. Already, students have been provisionally articulating new questions about global aging, aging in the LGBT community, social roles for older women, aging and appearance, and women’s agency/freedom/choice.

Another one of the questions we pondered yesterday in the context of a contemplation/free-writing/discussion exercise was:

If you lived your life in the present, whatever age you are, guided by “crone energy” and “crone consciousness,”[1] how might key features of your life look (such as relationships, work-for-pay, service, self-projects, etc.)?

The students participating in the course this time around are an interesting mix – they are characterized by a wide range of ages and gender identities, they are both male and female, not only Westerners but one student is Egyptian; they are not only gerontology students but students from other disciplines and areas of study, and both undergraduate and graduate.  They come from different family, lifestyle, spiritual, economic, and professional backgrounds, and they have various aspirations for their next selves, not to mention their future older selves. So imagine the material for discussion this contemplation and writing about crone energy and consciousness generated!

What do you imagine when you hear the word “crone”? What does crone energy and consciousness mean to you? Do you think of an old haggard witchy woman, face a wrinkled mess, body hunched over, dwelling in isolation but manipulating events from afar? Do you think of a wise old woman, a goddess of the cross-roads, a powerful healer, a kind (perhaps very opinionated) matriarch? Do you think of a beloved elder in your own life, aspire to grow into your own version of the example they set? Do you envisage your future older self as a crone – wild and wrinkled and wise? Or does your mind shut-down at the thought of envisioning your future older self, is the question of your old age, let alone cronehood, incomprehensible and impossible to contemplate? 

(And how might such provocative questions sneak into your dream-world? How might your aging-contemplations reverberate throughout your limitless consciousness?)

[1] Ray, R.E. (2004).  Toward the croning of feminist gerontology. Journal of Aging
            Studies, 18(1), 109-121.


Erica said...

Jenny, only your mind can take us on a journey from a dream with a hunky young actor to an envisioning exercise with "crone energy". I am, as ever, intrigued. Yet I can't say I am okay identifying with a future sort of cronehood, to me there is still a wicked, sinister undertone to the word, even though intellectually I understand the concept differently. Maybe I've watched too many Disney movies with my kids, and my impression is tied to those evil "mothers" of the genre. Perhaps it is time for some alternative envisioning!

Judith Auslander, MA said...

Jenny, How much fun!! I am going to dare to respond to your dream and to your questions.
First of all a dream is you talking to you - so the interpretation, from all my studies on dreams, is what it means to you. You are the only one who can determine why sexy young Robert (I also prefer Daniel - being a Harry Potter freak myself) would say to you what he did. Also, your response. Here you were dancing, skipping, feeling very young and free and enjoying your work tremendously respond as you did. There was a choice. You might have said, "Why thank you kind sir - I am proud of my wrinkles - earned everyone of them." Instead you took his comment as something negative.
The reason for this - I am assuming - is that as much as we (I am using we as generic for all of us women who are beyond our sexually perfect 20's) are really not as secure about our aging faces and bodies as we may profess. I know for me that I love the crone that is coming forth from inside of me - I love watching her blossom and form - yet, yet, yet - how much of me would like to suddenly look like I did at 22 - I am afraid a bunch. But at the same time - would I want to give up the crone energy - not sure! I love that old, beautiful, out there, not give a damn crone who laughs/giggles, dances, sings and waves her flabby arms up in the air yelling hurray - I made it this far.

Marylyn said...

Is this blog only for people in the Intentional Aging class? I'd love to comment, and keep up with this. I'm a 61-year-old woman who "stays in shape," and sometimes I wonder why I do. Part of me would LOVE to slip into "cronehood." Although the two things aren't contradictory, really.