Gingery Brown

Female, age 51 – (click on image to enlarge)

The curious thing is, I had a moment of panic because I have no idea how old I am and I thought, I’m going to have to work this out…but I was born in ’59 which means I am 51, but I had to do the math. It’s a bit scary that I was panicked about whether or not I was going to be right. My chronological years on this earth have been 51 and a half. So how do I feel about the way I look? My feeling about this has changed because like my age, I have been rather unaware of it.

I was at a conference where I had to go into i-photo, i-booth or something, I looked at myself on the screen, animated, because I had to take a video of myself and then play it back. It was 10 seconds, but it was extremely interesting because I saw myself in the third person and that was odd. I didn’t like what I saw which didn’t surprise me on one level, but I saw details that I was unaware of. When I look at myself in the mirror, I tend to look at myself as inanimate and I now saw myself animate. That was the biggest difference. What I didn’t like about it wasn’t that I looked middle-aged – which of course no one ever thinks they will be or are – but saw characteristics. My lips suddenly disappeared and I showed my teeth and I thought, how odd. I don’t like that. Sometimes I feel myself being my sister and I saw it (in the video). Sometimes I do it deliberately because it entertains me. So how do I feel about how I look? I don’t care because I haven’t got enought time to feel about how I look and there’s nothing I can do about it. Or rather there’s nothing I’m prepared to do about it because I feel that my personality determines how I look and I have to be happy with my personality. I am relatively happy with my personality.

I’m not (affected by anti-aging product advertising) and the reason I’m not is because the biggest flaw (maybe it’s not a flaw – it is to my mother) is that I’ve never really seen myself as a woman…it’s not been them and those people, but that’s what women do and that’s what grown-ups do. Like a child going, oh well grown-ups drive cars and women wear make-up. It never occurred to me that I would. The
few occasions that I did, I felt it was fun, but it was fun because I was being an actress. It wasn’t me, but it was me acting it and I enjoyed putting on that role, putting on the make-up…but I never felt…it was a costume even if it was an emotional costume as opposed to a physical or facial/make-up costume. Therefore, since I never identified myself as a woman, I don’t feel manipulated by the fact that I’m not maintaining my woman-ness by maintaining my outward appearance of youth.

Consistently, I have always been caretaker from very young and that hasn’t changed. That’s been consistent. The form that it takes has changed, but wherever I am, I’m happy to put the little, blue, flashing light on and race to people. The poor things sometimes have no need to be rescued whatsoever. It’s like the little old lady waiting to cross the street and there’s a little boy scout coming up and saying, It’s OK, I’ll take you across the road! Carrying her across the road, she looks bewildered. The scene suddenly pans out and you see boy scouts on the other side of the road, walking away because she’d just been brought over by them. She was just orientating herself, going, well that’s nice I’ve crossed the road. Now she’s being carried back across the road by another set of boy scouts…and that’s sometimes been me. People are quite happy with what they’re doing, being rescued by me…poor, poor things.

So that hasn’t really changed, but obviously the role I see myself in now is…teacher, I think; in all those roles, teacher to my child and teacher to the people around me. That is typically how I give care, by facilitating in some way.

(Regarding accomplishments) because I never identified myself strongly, I never identified myself as having those goals. It never occurred to me that I would marry and have children. Not because I thought I was going to be Jane Goodall or pioneer in some way, but simply because I never…I don’t know…it’s something I’ve always found odd…maybe because I never thought of myself as a woman or maybe even as a human being, but there were clear, set identities that I never prescribed to so there was nothing to achieve. Do I feel I have fulfilled my life, is a different question and I’m not sure that I have. I could wax lyrical about, there is no greater thing than raising a child and if I’ve done that then I have given to humanity, but that would be a speech. I had no expectations of where I would be at any one point; nothing was that defined.

I knew when I became a teacher that whatever I did, I would teach. I’ve done other things. I used to system manage computer networks for large organizations, but the way I system managed them was to teach the users how to use the system so they wouldn’t break it. I’ve always felt that if you give people the skill set, they can have autonomy. When I was a manager it was the same way. You teach them what they need and then you don’t have to manage them because they do it themselves, and it’s so much easier.

But have I achieved what I wanted to achieve? No, because I had no expectations. Am I happy with what I’ve done? Yes, but I didn’t have a pre-set. I didn’t write a 5-year plan. Have I got more to do? Yes. Am I trying to work out what that is? Yes and I hope I always am. I hope at 80 I’m still thinking, what am I going to do next? I also realized at one point, I’ve never done anything for more than 5 years. Although, I’ve always done the same thing, which is teach, in one form or another.

(If I could change anything in my life) I think it would have to do with, not things I’ve done, but who I am, which prescribe what I’ve done. So I think if I could change something in my life, it would be something I would change in me, which I think would be my level of confidence. I think my level of insecurities have caused me to hurt people. I don’t believe I’ve ever intentionally hurt anyone, but I think I have hurt people through omission. I think I’ve hurt people by not keeping in contact because it didn’t occur to me that they wanted to keep in contact. My insecurity, that fact that I didn’t feel OK about myself, made me make assumptions that caused other people pain.

I view the aging process as sad when I see it in other people. When I see people lose faculty and be aware of it, become ill and lose other kinds of faculties and have pain and be aware of it. So the loss, I see as sad. I see it in myself as fantastic because I have to come to terms with that loss and yet at this point in time I haven’t lost anything. I’m aware that I will lose things, but at this point in time I’ve lost nothing except neurosis and that is so liberating. Getting older and seeing patterns, is reassuring. It means I care less as well because I see rhythms. I remember somebody saying something to me when I was 19 and I didn’t understand it… they were 36 and they said, it’s OK I can wait. I’m patient. And I thought, how can you be patient at 36 because you’re time’s running out? That was because I was 19. I thought you would become less patient. I didn’t understand how people getting older could become more patient because they had less to become patient with; but it’s because you see rhythms and that I love. So I love the perspective of age. I love that I scurry around and I do things because I care and because it’s what needs to be done, but not because I’m scared or worried. It’s because it’s what should happen…I enjoy the moment of where I am; so that I find very liberating.  I think that’s just magnificent. And also…I really do loathe the expression, don’t sweat the small stuff because I have a very visual image, but I agree with it. I just don’t like the words. The aesthetic is bad, but it’s a nice (expression).

That’s what I like about being older and teaching. I liked it when I was young…I taught when I was in my early 20s. Then I left formal teaching for a long time and I came back when I entered my 40s. I liked both of those extremes…when I was young, I really got where the kids were, not that I necessarily enjoyed the things that were popular with them. We had different tastes, but…I enjoyed them (the students). I came from a completely different social background and a completely different experience of life. I liked taking from them what they had and taking what I had, and instead of having ham and bread, we had a ham sandwich. I liked that and I like now being much older and seeing a different perspective and saying, you know what? Let’s look at this from a different path and see it differently because it’s not that bad then. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get into college. You’re going to be just fine. I remember I used get very angry – very frustrated – when people would say, everything happens for a reason. It made me angry because it denied the importance of things that had been. Does that make sense? I think you can give reason to everything that has happened.

(Regarding things I would like to do) I want to see more. And I’m not sure exactly how to achieve that, but I want to show my son the world. I don’t mean, let’s do a whistle-stop tour around Europe, oh look…yes this is…We went to Rome over the summer and it was lovely. We did the touristy things that we needed to do, but we also stayed in an apartment and ate at the local tratorria. So that’s the kind of thing. I want to take him…so you see it, different areas…I’d like to do that on a more profound level as opposed to the postcard version… That isn’t necessarily appropriate to do with a child, but I want to widen his perspective because he’d appreciate it and it would be fun. Actually, I want to learn how to have fun. I don’t think I’m very good at it. I think I’m a little bit too much of your Protestant work ethic. It was kind of instilled in me at a young age; ironically, by two people who never worked a day in their life and spent their time being drunk and eating too much. So I think I would like to learn how to have fun.

(Regarding what I am most proud of) Well, because of the Protestant work ethic, it’s hard for me to admit to anything I’m proud of. So it’s difficult to say I’m proud of anything. My parents were not like this at all. It’s a huge disservice to them, but culturally it was a what-are-you-looking-in-the-mirror-for kind of culture.

What was most challenging in my life – all the points in my life – is letting go, I think…um, no. I know what it is. Not being able to relieve somebody else’s pain. That’s the key to all the points of trauma. Interestingly, in the moments of most apparent trauma, the end was fine. Things like my father and my husband dying, actually them dying was OK. The most awful moment was, when my husband was dying, was one night when I couldn’t help him. It was awful and I don’t think I did it right. The right way would have been to stop the pain, but the doctor wouldn’t come because it wasn’t his patient. I couldn’t make it happen. You were in a system…A culture does two contradictory things. It tells you, you have to be part of the system because otherwise the system doesn’t work. Yet, our heroes are people who buck the system. They see that at this point, the system’s broken and they manage to circumvent it and they mend it by bucking the system. Therefore, at that point in time, when you aren’t strong enough to buck the system, you crucify yourself.


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