I grew up in a family that had a lot of rules, like you had to take your shoes off as soon as you walked in the door; place perishables (milk, cheese, ham) back in the fridge ASAP after you use them or you’d get ptomaine poisoning. I couldn’t figure out why my husband didn’t get sick when he didn’t refrigerate his turkey and Swiss sandwich—my mom NEVER let me take a perishable like cheese and ham as a school lunch because freezer packs didn’t exist back then. Cars had to be replaced every five years! As I grew from kid to teen, I found out there were some other rules that only applied to me, the daughter, from my mother—I needed to get married before I was thirty, or I’d be too old and undesirable; I had to wear my hair off my face; I had to wear long shorts because my legs are big; I couldn’t wear black until I was thirty (then when I was thirty that’s all I wore before my two-year-old daughter told me to wear more pink!) and I had to have fun before I had kids. The implication being that you lose your attractiveness and verve when you’re out of your twenties. Who made up these stupid rules? If I had listened to these “mom rules” I wouldn’t have started Irish dance, guitar, violin at forty years old and I would still believe I’m too old because I’m over thirty.
Serena Williams, who won her 22nd Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last weekend, said it best during her interview in June’s Glamour magazine:
Who says that your thirties is when you’re supposed to be done? I would like to know who made that rule! I was talking to my mom one time, like, “Gosh, I’m 30.” And she’s like, “In your thirties you’re even stronger than in your twenties.” I didn’t believe her, but I have played better in my thirties. And I played pretty well in my twenties, don’t get me wrong! But my consistency is better, my momentum is better, my wins are quicker.
Go, Serena! I’ve found a lot of these rules stop you from dreaming and doing, which can also involve making mistakes—maybe my mom wanted to protect me, or maybe she was handed down stupid rules for how women should show up in society and she was only perpetuating the madness. Or I suppose when you reach a certain age (thirty-five?) you’re supposed to have short hair, or you’re not supposed to dye your hair weird colors, or you’re supposed to give up your sport—ice skating, Irish dancing, ballet, running. In grad school, I remember when Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones) visited NC State and the paper said she wrote her first novel when she was forty—and the paper remarked how she was a late bloomer. I was angry. Who made up the rule that forty was old to write your first novel? I wonder if she was a man would they have given her such grief? I do think that societal norms have shifted since 2004, so that it’s more acceptable for authors to have written their first books in mid-life or beyond.
Since I started having real guitar gigs, I’ve met musicians who’ve been playing guitar/violin/banjo since they were teens or younger, but I’ve also met musicians who have only been performing professionally for five years—and they’re in their fifties! I started learning guitar less than three years ago and only started performing regularly at open mics a year ago. And maybe it’s my peer group, but I’m finding a whole lot of musicians, poets and visual artists who started making a career out of their art at a “past their prime age.” You’re never too told! And in fact, learning something new and challenging makes your brain work hard and KEEPS you young!
I still hear my mom in my head, especially when a member of my family leaves the milk out on the counter—“AACKK —we’re all going to get ptomaine poisoning!” So I have to remind myself if that “rule” is true or not. Most of the time it isn’t.