Metamorphosis

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Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”

I felt no different when I woke at 2:00 a.m. than when I had fallen into bed four hours earlier but, as is my habit when I wake in the wee hours, I checked my phone for the daily horoscope – to be prepared. The usual exhortations about my love life and relationships glowed in front of my eyes. Then I read the “If today is your birthday…” bit which said:

 There will be numerous occasions over the coming year when it seems as if you are at the mercy of events, and to a large extent you will be. But that does not mean you cannot bend those events to your will. You’re smart enough to make it happen.

I stumbled out of bed in the dark to the bathroom, flicked on the light and looked in the mirror to inspect the damage of a 4th consecutive night of crappy sleep. A strange woman with grey hair looked back at me.

My 59 year old self, the one who had caramel coloured hair, wept.

Now you’ve done it. Now everyone will know. You’re old, she said.

My 60 year old self giggled. I liked the woman in the mirror, the one who isn’t a fake.

Anyway, I asked for it. I asked the stylist to dye my hair gray. I bent the inevitable to my will. I didn’t let it happen or give in, I MADE this metamorphosis happen.

**

In May, I saw a documentary about the 19th century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. You might know him because of his “Great Wave off Kanagawa”. Over a lifespan of 89 years, he renamed himself according to where he was in his growth and production as an artist – over 30 names.

According to the Japanese horoscope, which measures the calendar in 12 year cycles, 60 is a magical age because it represents a full life span. Back in the 19th century, if you lived to be 60 you were lucky and the stars granted you a life to start anew. So, at the start of his “second life”, Hokusai named himself “Old man, crazy to paint”. More on that later.

Hokusai believed that at 60 his artistic life was just starting and that by 100 he would

…perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I’m 110, each dot, each line, will possess a life of its own.

This magical age occupied my mind both before and after seeing the movie. For the past year I sought the help of a therapist to sift through troubling and perplexing behaviours and attitudes that frequently left me angry, hurt, and isolated from friends and family. I knew I didn’t want to start into my sixth decade feeling bitter about life and where I was at – or not at. Having discovered the joy of writing in the last 5 years but having worked for nearly 40 years in mostly soul sucking cubicle farms (aka office work), I was feeling like I’d squandered my life. The therapy and the exploration of why and what caused the anger and hurt has liberated me. It’s as though a maid swept through my brain and tidied up and put away stuff I don’t need anymore. Call it the Marie Kondo, she of the “Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up”, approach to mental health. Coincidentally, Ms. Kondo is also Japanese.

**

My 60th birthday arrived a few days ago, along with a card from a dear, far-away friend which exclaimed the age in big, bold baby blue embossed numbers on the front. The last time I received a card with a number on it I think I was 16. Poor 59-year old me gasped in horror but 60 year old Susanne laughed out loud.

Like Hokusai, 60 represents a new beginning for me and so my birthday cake held one candle. What an opportunity! I get a second chance to get life right. Reflecting on what I learned in therapy, and continue to learn, I’m thinking a lot about how to proceed into part two. The old me would have laughed at the list, the clichés, but the reborn, one year old me decided to do this:

  • Love myself.
  • Encourage others.
  • Say kind things to me and those around me.
  • Pay close attention to the people closest to me.
  • Engage and commit to the person in front of me and give them time.

To you this probably sounds like stuff a normal, rational person does all the time, right? But these were hard to do in my first life when I waded hip deep in a drainage ditch of gloom and doom and woe is me. Now I’ve washed off the mud and had a shower and applied baby powder. I’m starting clean.

The grey hair – the new doo – symbolizes my metamorphosis. It speaks to acceptance of my chronology, the chronology that lead to part two. And of course, I’ve given myself a new name, inspired by Hokusai, something that will help me further bend events to my will.

Hello. My name is Old woman, crazy to write.

IMG_20170817_071933 (2)

The new doo.

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58 thoughts on “Metamorphosis

  1. You are looking mighty hot in your new “do,” and I love the new attitudes. You are absolutely right – cherish each day now, do what moves you, continue to celebrate yourself and Happy Birthday!
    You are an awesome writer. I love your posts and would make an effort to be a real-life friend if we lived closer. Rock on, Susanne!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww. What a lovely thing to say – about being friends. I hope if, for whatever strange reason, you found yourself in Ottawa that you would let me know. I’d love to meet you in person.

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  2. Coincidentally, I had a birthday this year also and my ‘if today is your birthday’ said that you (meaning me) will be given temporary shelter by a group of transvestites, and your habit of tipping waiters only for exceptional service will devolve into a vulgar display of ostentatious wealth. Once you pass 350 years of age I find they tone down the love life stuff and go for the jugular: cash, real estate holdings, e-cigarette paraphernalia–all the stuff that is truly meaningful.

    Love the new doo and the new Sue.

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    • I think the e-cigarette paraphernalia is all smoke and mirrors myself. I have to wonder why at 350 you would bother with vapes? Or maybe that’s the secret to your longevity – that and living in paradise.

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  3. Thanks for calling me “young”, been a while since anyone said that!! By the way, just found out that Cynthia’s blog has been resurrected! I read the poems, the comments and it felt like Cynthia is reborn.

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  4. It’s a good cut and color for you! I love it! I wouldn’t fast forward away another 16 years of my life for it, but I do look forward to embracing my gray. My mother has beautiful silver hair like her mother before her, and so do I, but not enough yet to let it shine.
    Happiest birthday wishes to you — and your new life 🙂

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  5. I want to echo what Maggie said. This post spoke to me in many ways and I too found myself reflecting on your words. I wish I had been able to read this when I was approaching my 60th birthday. Mine was filled with sadness, feelings of lost opportunities, and wondering where did the time go. I like your approach so much better – a second life.
    Yes, you are a role model and your new hair is gorgeous! 🙂

    Happy Birthday – hope you’re still celebrating!

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    • Thank you, Joanne. I admire your restless feet walking the Trans Canada trail, a feat past my ability now but no regret. There’s still lots to do! The challenge is picking the thing that picks at my brain hardest and loudest and then getting on with it. Yes, still celebrating!

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      • … ” picking the thing that picks at my brain hardest and loudest and then getting on with it”. On the days when I’m the unhappiest, it’s because I’m ignoring that thing that picks at my brain.

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  6. Lovely! And I like the haircut!
    When I first came to clinic here 17 years ago, an elderly woman asked the front desk to switch doctors after she saw me. The front desk asked why. “Dr. O. is too young!” She switched to Dr. C. and we gave him grief for months, because he is 9 years younger…. and I quit dying my hair….

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    • That’s hilarious, Dr. K. but I also get the point of view of the patient. It seems like every doctor/specialist I meet appears too young to be doing their job. Perhaps they should get grey highlights. to lend a little gravitas to their visages. Here’s to the natural look on mature women!

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      • I am a small female. With dyed hair, people think that means young.
        Once I had a woman who was saying that she had no time to exercise, over and over. At last she said, “When you are MY age….” I looked at the chart and her and said, “I am OLDER than you! And I exercise!”
        We both just glared at each other, but once I said that, she reconsidered.

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  7. This rings all kinds of bells with me, having just celebrated my second ‘1st’ birthday too! Also, bizarrely, asked my stylist to colour my heavily highlighted hair back to its natural ‘ash’ blonde; it is closer to grey, which oddly makes me feel younger. Love the freshly rinsed attitude going into the second half. Enjoy the ride!

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  8. Well done on getting yourself sorted – it is never too late! You are actually running ahead of me. I didn’t let my hair go natural until after 65, nor did I really get into painting until then either. And I didn’t look in the mirror and laugh with sheer joy at the craziness of it all until 65 and retirement hit. With my stunning head of silver hair (who knew!) glimmering about me I feel reborn. As I’ve always wanted another name, the one I have has never felt like me to me, I wish I’d known about Katsushika Hokusai’s inclination to name changes earlier. I realise that while I know of his art, I do not know of him…….. Still, a rose by any other name 😀 You look stunning! And the best is yet to come ❤

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  9. 60 was very hard for me too. (61 now, 61 was boring) 50 was wonderful. But you are right. We have time to get it right! Great post. And I didn’t know you could get your hair dyed grey. LOVE LOVE LOVE your haircut! It’s so cute, and cute in grey too!

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    • I look forward to boring old (ha ha) 61! On the other hand, 59, although a tumultuous year, was a major year of introspection and sorting and sifting through the past and without it I wouldn’t be feeling as good as I do about 60 and beyond.

      Thanks for the hair compliments. Is it ever low maintenance! I don’t think I’ve brushed it since I got it cut on Wednesday. Love that!

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  10. I love this post. Kudos on your transformation to gray and to fully accepting your 60-year-old self. Love the cut too. When I turned 70, two birthdays ago, I was lamenting the wasted years, and “Now I Am 70!!!? What is up with that. I’m not even grown up yet. And now I am old!!” I’ve was having a rough time with it. More than at 60. Then I opened a Dove chocolate and read the message. “Be Grateful for your age.” That straightened me right up.

    Now we are traveling full-time with a tiny trailer as our home. I feel sad sometimes we didn’t get to do it sooner, that I’m old, that I can’t do what I would have been able to do at 60, 50, etc. But then I remember. Oh yeah, I too am an old woman crazy to write, that this is my time and I must not squander it with lamenting the past.

    Happy birthday. Thank you for a wonderful post.

    By the way. It was’t until we started to travel last October that I finally allowed myself to go gray!! Wish I had done it at 60!

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    • 1. I didn’t know Dove chocolates had messages.
      2. You’re traveling full time? I’d love to do that, but have yet to convince husband.
      3. I’m 61 and contemplating letting the grey win…did not know you could die it grey!

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      • Yes, grey is quite trendy as it turns out. A woman I work with – much younger – who died her hair grey and it looks so pretty on her. And then I started noticing all kinds of younger folk with obviously died gray hair, including a hipster chick in a shoe store yesterday. Who knew?

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    • Like Dawn, I didn’t know Dove chocolates came with messages. To hell with fortune cookies – give me chocolate!

      It is so true that those of us who live past 60 damn well ought to be grateful for our age. It really is an extraordinary gift and I’m so happy I had my head examined so I could enter phase two with clarity. Cheers to no lamenting! Roll on, Martha. Or should I say, write on?!

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      • Both!! And yes the individually wrapped Dove chocolates have messages. Not long after my mom died I was thinking about her (a lot). I opened a Dove chocolate and it said, “Take care of yourself.” Something mom would have said. Just sayin’.

        And Dawn…it took me a long time (obviously) to convince my husband to let it all go and go traveling. I had almost let go of the dream. But a year ago May he woke up and said, “I’m ready.” We started our travels October 28, the day the house closed.

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