Archive for the ‘Power of Memories’ Category
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
At 67, I am not dying. Yet. However, my age group is often treated as if we were at the start of a prolonged death march.
And I will rage and rage against the dying of my light and that of my generation.
We gave light and warmth to a world darkened by war and oppression.
Our generation was the offspring of The Greatest Generation, those who fought in WWII. My English father and American mother met during the war, and I was a war baby born in England to the sound of bombs, and spent my childhood in grim post war England.
Meanwhile, the 50s generation in the U.S. were smug, conservative in their victory, swathed in security and newfound luxuries, and determined to lead lives centered on doing the right thing. A woman’s place was in the home and a man’s in the workplace. Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” Then Elvis shocked the nation with his, “I’m all shook up!” until the bosses found a way – military service, movies – to calm him down, and eventually turn him into an overweight, drug addicted Las Vegas entertainer.
We grew up to become the generation of the 60s. We changed popular to have meaning – Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary. Women lifted their hemlines from mid-calf almost to their thighs, men were released from hats and formal wear, changed customs and attitudes relaxed – men and women could actually sleep or live together openly, and we protested when we disagreed with politics and national policy (Vietnam). Women aspired to and found work in former male only professions.
We overcame a stuffy Establishment to start the modern world, the one inherited by the current generation.
Then we stopped raging and protesting, and most of us settled into respectability, using our creativity and energies to create a better world for our kids. Women carved careers for themselves in a male dominated world so that nowadays, female executives are as much a part of the corporate world as their male counterparts.
We never thought we’d reach an age when the younger generation would start to shove us aside like old relics. We never dreamed the day might come when formerly successful professionals would be out on a limb, scrabbling for work – any work – in mid-life. Or that many of us would be no longer employable despite our qualifications and experience, or broke because of lost jobs, or family homes foreclosed or, except for some notable exceptions, shunted aside. We never thought we’d become victims of another depression caused by the greedy generation that followed ours.
Perhaps some of you can accept this and go gentle into the night of your life.
Or the alternative:
Rage, rage against the dying of our light for as long as we can.
I, for one, prefer the latter choice. What about you?
We raged when we were young and got things done. We still have our voices and we can rage again.
One voice added to another. Mine added to yours added to someone else’s and so on can build up to a lot of middle age voices clamoring to be heard.
Just imagine if a large number of us protested, for example, age discrimination in the workplace.
The same way we used to.
For one thing, it would shock the younger generation. That we still have it in us. That we’re not going out without a fight. That we’re capable of moving again in tandem, but this time against the entitled younger generation that has not learned from history that it repeats itself over and over again.
What awaits them in 30-40 years?
I’m not ready to be shoved aside. Nor are many of my generation or even older.
Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa at 67 after 28 years’ imprisonment.
John McCain was a presidential candidate (a grueling ordeal) at 72.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi may be making a long overdue return after years of house arrest.
The world is rife with people over sixty who have more than enough energy to go around.
To mention a few: Hilary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Martha Stewart, Nancy Pelosi, Arianna Huffington, Isabel Allende, Doris Lessing, Steven King, Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Richard Branson
How about the entertainment world? Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Diane Keaton, Martin Scorsese, Cher, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney.
I could add a lot more names and so can you, to that list.
Join my voice that you will not go gentle into the night.
Instead, you will rage, rage against the dying of your light.
Photograph courtesy of Veronica Valades
“I speak of our public history, and of our secret history, yours and mine,
I speak of the forest of stone, the desert of the prophets, the ant-heap of souls, the congregation of tribes, the house of mirrors, the labyrinth of echoes.” Octavio Paz
The home where I’m staying in San Angel in Mexico City is filled with memorabilia and antiques – a blend that makes me feel as if it’s inhabited by figures of the past. I’m surrounded by colonial religious icons and antiques as well as a wall collage of photos of ancestors. Six generations of brides, from my great-great grandmother to my niece, gaze down at me. Proud mothers oversee small children long grown and gone.
The echoes of their lives seep into me and fill me with nostalgia for when they were here.
San Angel, a former colonial village in the southern part of Mexico City, is reminiscent of a bygone era, with narrow, cobbled streets lined with town house fronts that often disguise stately residences. However, modern day has leaped in with a vengeance on the main street, Altavista, dotted with exclusive restaurants and designer name boutiques. One jewelry store, in a mansion surrounded by a large garden, reeks of wealth and splendor. What kind of extraordinary jewelry is sold in such a setting?
“I speak of the markets with their pyramids of fruit, all of the flavors and colors, the smells, the tide of voices – water, metal, wood, clay – the bustle, the haggling, the conniving as old as time.”
The two sides of Mexico are evident where, just a few blocks further on, I walk into the San Angel market, selling everything from cheap clothing to stinky, highly flavored, cooked meat taco stands.
It took fifteen minutes on foot to scale the socio-economic ladder.
“I speak of the buildings of stone and marble, of cement, glass and steel.”
I walk along the 19th century boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, towards downtown on a Saturday afternoon. Both sides are like small parks, tree-lined with spacious walking paths.
Some sights, such as the bicycle lane with families cycling down it, are new. (On Sundays, this main street is closed to all traffic except for cyclists.)
Other sights such as the high-backed, carved stone seats, have been there over a hundred years. My great-grandparents would have passed them in their carriage. My grandparents probably sat on them, as did my mother, and my younger self as a child.
Sadly, one by one, the gracious Victorian mansions on this avenue have succumbed, and been turned into 30-50 story financial and bank buildings. I count seven – maybe a couple more – of what I think of as the “old ladies” left, and these have been turned into banks, real estate offices and – horrors – an Oxxo store (similar to a 7-11).
Echoes follow my steps. Mine – as a child, an adolescent, a young woman walking along this avenue.
All the streets on one side of Reforma are named after rivers. I lived in four: Rio de la Plata, Rio Nilo, Rio Tigris, and Rio Guadalquivir.
My mother’s friend, a former Italian countess, owned the red, Moorish style house on the corner of Rio Nilo. A gracious house with marble floors, intricate curves and steps, and sudden specks of sunlight darting across mosaic walls, it was hushed and gloomy except for the garden, a place of enchantment out of the Alhambra.
Now it’s a Uruguayan restaurant, confirmed by boisterous voices and the smell of roasting meat. This former residential street is also home to restaurants of all types and ethnicity, even a Bread & Cie.
I glance at my former apartment across the street. What used to be the bedroom that I shared with my new baby is now a candy and soda pop store.
Echoes of our laughter follow me as I walk away.
On the corner of Rio Guadalquivir street is a slightly shabby building, a remnant of the 1950s.
The first condominium in Mexico.
How my great aunt sniffed at the idea that her close friends, Mexican film director Fernando de Fuentes and his wife, Elena, had bought one. “They won’t even own the ground they live on.” There, I gave my first English lessons to their granddaughters. It was two-floor splendor with all the latest in architectural advances. Today, it’s been divided into offices.
Further along this street is the ground floor apartment where I lived as a young married woman. The door is open so I glance inside. A real estate office.
Flashes of faces. Newborn baby. Little boys. Working mother. Days of wine and roses. All of us feasting on our youth. Where are they/we now?
All echoes of this city.
I have become the past, a walking relic of this city’s history.
Or have I?
On to Sanborns at Reforma and La Fragua, the second in this restaurant chain to be built after the traditional “House of Tiles” (1903) downtown. A hangout for young people in the 1950s and 60s. It always reminded me of my secret dates here with my first husband, Mr. Blue Eyes. I used to know my way around it, blind. Now, the whole layout has changed and I scramble to locate my friends. They, like me, are former high-flying professionals. Now in their sixties, they have found new opportunities in Mexico. They tell me what I’ve heard from others: there’s a big demand for bilingual, bi-cultural people like us with our skills and experience.
“Come back, Pennie. This is where you belong,” they say.
Do I want to become part of this city’s present and then of its past, again?
What do you think? Would you return to your past to make a new start?
“Is that music coming closer or receding, are those pale lights just lit or going out? Space is singing, time has vanished: it is the gasp, it is the glance that slips through the blank wall, it is the wall that stays silent, the wall.”
Excerpts from “I Speak of the City” by Octavio Paz
A honk, a shout, and I turn to see a car hurtling straight at me. One second and two steps back, and the car brushes by me.
What the hell? The light was in my favor. That car ran a red light and didn’t even slow down when I stepped off the curb.
I stumble across the street, thinking in Spanish, “No me tocó” – “It’s not my turn.”
A few more paces and I stop, tears in my eyes.
God, I’m angry, but at myself.
Here I am in Mexico City, where I lived for most of my life, acting like a blind tourist.
I’ve been away too long and become used to American ways.
Before, I knew drivers here don’t give a damn about pedestrians. People on foot, considered the lower order of beings, are the ones supposed to watch out. In those days, I always had a car. The only place I ever walked was to the supermarket two blocks away, and my high heels were a major impediment.
These days, I don’t wear heels, and I walk everywhere I can. For me, walking in Mexico City is both entertaining and a chance to revisit old haunts and renew memories.
I look up and see that I’m standing in front of a house that I once knew well. There, I met my first husband, an American who looked like a young Clint Eastwood with startling blue eyes. At seventeen, I was no match for his brash come on. We were married and I went to live in the U.S.
Then I found out his export business was not Mexican curios.
Bye, bye youthful dreams, but at least I’d got away from Mexico City, a place I’d wanted to leave almost from the day I arrived.
I first came – or was brought – to live in Mexico City when I was ten years old. Even in the fifties, this overcrowded metropolis was a shocking contrast to my seaside village in England. An ocean away, another continent, another culture. From a cool, clean climate to a hot, smelly one.
That move cost me my home, my father, my school, my friends, and my cultural identity. Letters from England took three weeks to a month to arrive, phone calls were too expensive to consider, and a trip “home” cost a small fortune.
I hated the food, the dusty odor that hung over the city, my grandparents’ home with its marble floors and high ceilings – the complete opposite of our comfy abode in England. I hated the kids at school, and the school, and Spanish – those yammering sounds – so much that I refused to utter more than the most basic words for one year.
If I didn’t learn to speak Spanish, for certain I’d be sent back to England.
All that happened was I got poor grades in school and nobody wanted to be my friend. Not that I cared. I didn’t want to make friends anyway.
After a year, my mother divorced my father and found a poor choice as a replacement.
Mexico became the home that I couldn’t wait to get away from.
After discovering Mr. Blue Eyes’ true occupation, I returned to England to find myself a foreigner in my own country. But I regained my father, my British accent, and even a former school friend, and in time, became a true Londoner of the sixties.
I’d have remained in England all my life, but circumstances drew me back to Mexico City. I meant to stay for two years, make a lot of money (in dollars vs. a low wage in English pounds), and get ahead in my chosen career – international advertising. Instead, I met my second husband, had two kids, and stayed another thirty years. While my kids grew up, I had a wonderful life, a high-flying career in a top ad agency, a beautiful home full of laughter, and many enduring friendships.
In those years, Mexico City became “home” for me.
Despite this, I missed the English-speaking world, one where I’d not be a foreigner.
So, in my fifties, after a forced early career retirement, I moved to San Diego, California. Ten years later, I had a comfortable existence with plenty of freelance work and time between jobs to pursue my writing.
To my surprise, I was homesick for Mexico. I missed my many friends, my Mexican family, the food, and even its craziness. Then I’d come to Mexico City to visit and I’d miss my easy going lifestyle, newfound friends, and my family in the U.S.
“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.” Maya Angelou
Am I like my half-American mother who grew up in Mexico, went to college and lived in New York until she met my father who took her to live in England? She was always saying how much she missed Mexico. After she returned, she hankered for anything English, missing everything except for the weather. For the rest of her life in Mexico City, she complained about “this country” and how much she wanted to return to “her” country, the U.S.
Mexico contains many of my memories, and much of my past.
In the U.S., I’ve carved out a new life, I’m forging new memories, and a future – but I miss the warmth of the familiar.
Or is home wherever I am?
What do you think?
I’d love for you to give me your opinion in the Comments section below.
Worse, do your memories hold you back from seeking new opportunities? Or make you see yourself as a has-been rather than an “I could be?”
Maybe there are times when you, like me, yearn for your days in the sun. We remember when we were big shots, or held important positions, or made six figure salaries, or had this or that, etc. This may lead to the next step down the road of “stinking thinking,” to comparisons with our current situations. We can feel victimized or sidelined by events beyond our control.
If we continue on that road, we may conclude that since those days are gone, what’s the use of trying something new? Why bother to pursue unfulfilled dreams or ambitions? Better just sit back and enjoy the rest of our lives.
“I mustn’t give in.”
Most of you, I’m sure, have heard the ballad, Memory from the musical Cats. Some of you may even know the lyrics based in part on poems by T.S. Eliot. The highlight is when the old cat, Grizabella, reminisces about how easy it is to leave her all alone with her memory of her days in the sun. All the same, this determined old cat looks forward to the promise of a new day and a new life.
I must wait for the sunrise,
I must think of a new life,
And I mustn’t give in.”
Let your memories lead you.
Memories are such a powerful tool that they can uplift us or devastate us, inspire us or cripple us emotionally, gladden our hearts or enrage us. They can exalt us or hold us back.
Instead of letting our memories of our days in the sun drag us down, why not use them to motivate us to carry on and fulfill our unfulfilled dreams, passions, ambitions?
True, we’re not as young, attractive, energetic as before but we have qualities we didn’t have then. The former high flying business executive or aging actor/musician/sportsman, etc. may not fly high anymore, but that doesn’t mean they have to stop flying.
Instead of our memories pulling us back, why not use them to pull us into the future?
Smile at your old days in the sun.
Mine began when I was just 18 and hit New York City with $50 (roughly the equivalent of $500 today), one year’s college credits from a university in the Midwest, and all the bravado of one of the heroines in the bestseller and movie, The Best of Everything.
I stayed in a small hotel on the Upper East Side ($50 a night) and on my first day, went to an employment agency I found in the phone book.
In a new suit, I was a personable, bilingual (English/Spanish), with typing and writing skills, 22 year old (why not? In those days, they seldom checked age or credentials), with two years at a Liberal Arts college.
I was sent for an interview in the international section of an advertising agency. (Think of the TV show, Mad Men, which for me is a nostalgic reenactment of that time.) They needed someone who could type out, proofread and even edit, in both English and Spanish, medical newsletters destined for South America. I aced the typing, spelling and grammar tests, but what clinched the interview and got me the job was a missing accent mark in Spanish.
That is how I began my 30 year career in advertising – because of a missing accent mark.
My advertising career ended in mid life with so-called early retirement. Then I had years of ups and downs before starting a new career that lasted a decade until the current economic environment slowed things down.
Make your today another memory worth looking back on.
If I could make it then, why can’t I make it again? And so can all of you in your late fifties and sixties who may think that you’ve come to the end of the road. Agreed that today’s demands are very different from then, and technology rules the world, and it’s tough keeping up.
But… it was tough for a woman trying to get ahead in the early sixties. Perhaps as tough as for a woman in her sixties trying to get ahead in today’s world.
I have to remember that plucky young girl in New York. Something of her must still be lying inside me waiting to come out again. I don’t have her looks or her energy or her age anymore. But I do have the wisdom of years of experience – and many memories that I can draw on to take me into my new day.
For that new day awaits us all, whatever our age, if we can just look at it as a new opportunity.
Instead of saying, “I used to,” we should be saying, “I can still” make it.
As Grisabella sings in the theatrical version:
“Let your memory lead you
Open up, enter in
If you find there the meaning of what happiness is
Then a new life will begin.”
Scenic photograph courtesy of Veronica Valades
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