Today I am delighted to welcome Tracey Scott-Townsend on to the blog with a brilliant guest post about her poem Not Invisible!
Not Invisible by Tracey Scott-Townsend
As I approached that time of life, I kept hearing it said that women become ‘invisible’ in middle age. I struggled to understand what this meant. Since my youngest (of four) child left home recently at the age of nineteen I’ve experienced a great rush of renewed enjoyment of life. That’s not because she left, as such! It helped that I was moving permanently back to Hull, the UK City of Culture and that so much was going on here at the time. On my first night back (which was also the day we moved her into her new house-share back in Lincoln) I performed a ten-minute poetry set on the poetry stage at the city’s annual Freedom Festival. It was my first ‘gig’ so I felt like a new fledgling myself. Far from becoming invisible I was moving forward into the light.
Another thing I did was ditch the television. This has made a huge difference to my life since I no longer feel ‘tied’ to being in front of one at certain times and on certain evenings in order to catch once-favourite television programmes. Most evenings at about 9PM I choose something to watch on catch-up or Netflix but if there’s something better going on in real life I’m out there! For example Phil and I have been to see lots of local bands since we moved to Hull, and always keep an eye out for what’s on at the theatre. We were lucky in that in the official year of City of Culture there was so much free or very low cost live entertainment available and that Hull is a friendly and welcoming place.
I try to integrate with friends of all ages in order not to become ‘invisible’. In Hull we are lucky to have several spoken word open mic events per month. I have also recently been invited to join a local stanza of the Poetry Society for monthly discussion and friendly critique.
Social media is something I’d find difficult to give up. Without it I would never have been able to keep up with the adventures of my children and other young people that I know. This in turn has made me see the potential for my own real-life adventures. The Vagabond Mother is my sixth (as yet unpublished) novel, about a middle-aged mother who sets off on the backpacking trail in search of her missing son. Although I haven’t been to many of the locations myself (yet!) I hope to start covering some of them as my husband, our dogs and myself set off to Europe in our van this year. My youngest son, a seasoned foot-traveller, fed me the information for the novel. Ellie, the main character in my fourth novel The Eliza Doll, is a middle-aged woman who has given up her home to live in a converted van with her dog, Jack. She sells handmade dolls at craft fairs and reflects on the stages of her life that have led to where she is now.
I recently wrote a poem called Not Invisible. I asked women friends and acquaintances to tell me how they felt about being middle-aged. I wanted to know how they felt their fully-developed personalities compared to themselves as young women and I also asked them to tell me how the memory of their young selves influenced what they choose to do now that they’re older and have become mostly free from family responsibilities. I was humbled to receive responses from seven or eight women, and I set to the task of threading their contributions into a hopefully seamless poem. I think most women will find themselves in there somewhere. Here it is:
In my young-adult days I was frivolous and needy
As a young mother I tried too hard to please.
Now I’m adventurous,
Successful and cheeky
And I have been for a while.
My motorcycle helmet has taught me
That I don’t always have to smile.
She replaces the helmet on her steel-grey hair
And sits confidently back in her chair.
Beneath the visor you can tell her
Mind is on her next adventure.
Friday afternoons in my art college days
I chose fabric from the market,
The next woman says.
I made a complete Saturday night outfit
Right down to my hat and bag,
Without a pattern,
Just my imagination.
I designed myself the way I wanted to be.
Like me, says another. I still have some of my curtain-fabric skirts
I loved the big, bold prints.
I travelled to different cities to see my favourite bands
I danced all night
And slept at railway stations
Because there were no trains home.
My younger self was restless
Now that I’m older I don’t feel much different
Apart from the Arthritis!
I piloted an aircraft, solo when I was seventeen, the fourth woman tells.
Now I’m seen as the village wise-woman,
Resourceful, reliable, helpful and calm.
But that achievement was what made me feel I could do anything.
She sits down.
I was a punk, says one.
I trekked up the Lost World Mountain, says another.
The rest of the women join in –
I took the magic bus to India,
I lived in a commune by the sea,
I abseiled down the Humber Bridge,
I was the one who climbed the highest tree.
Then they spent years known as Mother, known as Wife,
As the woman at the supermarket till,
As the one who organised the bills.
They were the accountant, the doctor, the solicitor, the receptionist.
The bra-fitter at Marks & Spencer
The nurse at the hospital,
The door-factory manager.
They were the one who made sure your belly was full
And you went to bed on time.
You thought they’d be lonely when you all left home
And their retirement party at work was done
But now they’ve stepped out of their roles
They’re on a roll.
They’ve started all over again
And it’s just like when they were young.
It doesn’t matter that their backpack’s now on wheels
And they have to remember to take their pills
And they wear comfy trainers instead of heels
And they don’t drink as much as they did
Because it goes straight to their head
When their busy day is done
Their favourite thing is to go to bed
And have a good book.
I said a book.
Middle-aged characters have such a story to tell. They’re not only what they appear to be on the outside: they are all the ages of girl and woman in between. They’re made up of the layers of their life, like images printed on sheets of tissue paper and laid over each other. I’ll finish with a snippet from another recent poem of mine, Maiden Remade. The poem is one-quarter of a quartet about four stages of a woman’s life. Maiden Remade is post-menopausal, coming to terms with her new body which has limitations as well as a sense of freedom. Most of all, the maiden remade understands that she needs to embrace acceptance. She will never be the same again. She’ll never be young again: have skin that snaps back into place when pinched; nurse her own child at her breast, or run like a deer without her knees giving way. Once she accepts these apparent limitations, she frees herself up to think about what she can do.
We can’t see clearly without our glasses on
Though clearer, in some ways
Than ever before.
We don’t mind the folds of flesh
As we undress.
We let our bodies fall
When fabric releases us.
She doesn’t need to try and ‘look sexy’ anymore. Anyone who is going to love her is going to do that because she is what she already is. The acceptance of and comfort with her transformed body image, and her new sense of adventure due to her release from mass-catering and home-making for a brood that has now fully-fledged, gives her an inner glow which makes her a new kind of sexy. It doesn’t stop her pondering on the years that have slipped through her fingers like water, though:
In the changing room we once
Held a baby on the bench with our knee
Struggled to dress ourselves,
A toddler pulling at our clothes.
Now we shed our clothes
With hands free,
Thinking of how
Seem no more than a moment ago.
About the Author
Tracey is the author of four published novels and an inaugural poetry collection. Her subject matter is both deeply personal and at the same time comments on the universal human lived experience. Mothering, sexual love and a strong sense of place is at the heart of her writing. These themes have followed on from the inspirations behind her paintings during her 20-year career as a fine artist.
For years Tracey has written her works in a shed and since her recent house-move back to Kingston-Upon-Hull she has recreated this intimate space in a sectioned-off area of the spare room.
She has now ventured into the local Spoken Word arena by taking her poems off the page and into her mouth to deliver to a live audience. Having spent most of her life behind the pen and the paintbrush she is surprised how much she enjoys the performance aspect.
Tracey is the mother of four grown children. She’s married to Phil and they enjoy travelling in their bus-with-a-woodstove with their two rescue dogs, Luna and Pixie.