Joining the Circus

I once spent time with a group of women artists. There were two older women, one who dressed very well, wore makeup, and was very hip. The other was more hippie than hip. She had thinning gray hair, which she wore long, and she went outside to paint every day in a plain sweatshirt. The younger artists flocked around the well-dressed woman, while I hung out with the other woman. We distracted each other from our writing and she made me eggs and rice (I can’t describe the dish exactly, but it was very good). She was in her late seventies, plain and unglamorous on the surface, and has been an artist and writer most of her life.

However, my friend joined the circus at age 60, just after her husband of many years died. She has written a series of novels about the circus. She went to Southeast Asia with a younger companion; she went climbing in the Andes. I saw her at AWP, her hair is still thin and gray, but long, she wears lipstick and long earrings, and a crocheted top. We went to lunch. She talked about her travels, not as a tourist, but as a human being. She talked about observing poverty, and participating in the generosity of other cultures. Her travels were intensely lived.

When I walked back to the conference with her after lunch, I wondered. Why was she walking alone when I saw her? Where is her coterie of young grad students, hanging on her every word? I couldn’t help but think that if she were a man, there would have been a panel in her name.

Who do you listen to?

 

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5 responses to “Joining the Circus

  1. Anytime I see a coterie of young artists hanging on every limb and word of someone, all I can think is that that “someone” loves that shit. Ick.

    I’d suspect your friend had exactly what she wanted and needed in you: one real person to have a real conversation with.

  2. One of my former professors made a similar observation about how book festivals would go. One time he was in a tent and felt honored when he saw so many people lining up for a signature. That’s when he also realized that his booth was next to Ethan Hawke’s and that the scads of young, attractive women standing in the long line were there to meet Hawke and not him.

    It’s tough when Western culture is so image-obsessed (as opposed to wisdom focused).

    When I was right out of college, I was lucky in deciding against moving into a cops reporter position. Instead, I took a job as an editor for two small free monthly publications that allowed me to interview Amish people and the elderly–in essence, two of the least sexy groups you might imagine. To this day, I will never forget their stories. The reason they have such great stories is because they are used to watching and listening instead of doing everything possible to get someone to pay attention to them.

    I notice the hot people, but I usually listen to the quiet ones.

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