The poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph has become a declaration of independence for women of a certain age, my age and older. Since my birthday is this week, I am thinking about age more than usual. My question is, “When am I going to be old enough to be eccentric?”
Conventionality is useful at times to take the guesswork out of how to behave, and to provide lubrication for social interaction. However, it comes a point when conventions are a strait jacket to invention, discovery and self-expression. I am feeling repressed.
For instance, the other day as I was walking to the Manlius Library in the hot July sun, I became concerned that I had not worn a hat, nor had I applied any sunscreen. When I left home, it was cloudy and threatening to rain, so I had brought along an umbrella. No hat, and I detest sunscreen (which takes forever to apply thoroughly, and needs to be re-applied after just a few hours). However, it is important for me to avoid exposure to the sun (my father had melanoma). In a flash of inspiration, I opened my umbrella. What a wonderful solution, better than any hat or sunscreen. I had my own private, little spot of shade.
Of course, I knew I looked ridiculous, and that anyone who saw me would be likely to point and laugh. I would probably think it was weird to see someone walking with an open umbrella on a hot, sunny day. In fact, I do laugh at new arrivals from New York City who walk with open umbrellas when it is snowing – it is not the way Central New Yorkers deal with snowy weather. Everyone knows, umbrellas are for rain. But what about a parasol? Not fashionably correct, definitely démodé. The difference remains largely semantic, except, according to the dictionary, parasols are not generally waterproof.