The Choice Between Invisibility and Illumination

For years, now, there has been quiet murmuring among some artists I’ve known and worked with. After a certain age, it’s harder for some women in their mid-to-late thirties and beyond to participate in some artistic communities. Not impossible, not unwanted, just harder. Some of it is the nature of the communities, some of it is the nature of so many of our lives at this life stage.

We are, in short, pulled in a lot of directions and feel pushed away from certain destinations.

I often wonder, partly out of paranoia, partly out of reaction to some comments I’ve received from other artists, whether my stories, my history, my enthusiasm, my desire to learn, my weird time constraints, my age are even wanted as part of the team.

I think it makes some of the young ones and the older-but-differently-familied-and-much-more-entrenched uncomfortable around some of us.

Ok, around me.

This is my second career. I’m a 40-something newbie. I’m weird. I’m awkward. I have kids. I’m brusque. I am female. I tell jokes. I am, to some, a punchline, to others, an oddity. Most don’t really care one way or another (although some are unimpressed when I have to beg out of seeing a midnight show and drinks afterwards [where the bonding really occurs] because I have a meeting at 8am and kids who wake up at 5am.)

I fully concede it could be me. Just me.  Yes, I am aware of your entirely female improv team, Men-oh-Pause, and how they are all getting work doing wacky vitamin commercials.  Yes, I am aware that you are probably 40 and you’ve had nothing but great experiences. Yes, your director has 14 kids and she makes it work. Yes, you are a guy and you are respectful of women in your show and you think women have it easier in the arts.

Yes, maybe it’s me. It probably is.

But it also is some other women, too.

Are we welcome? Do we hide certain parts of our story? I certainly need to work on toning down the assholish parts of me, but that’s a good idea in general. These are all my story elements, my character, my experience, my input, but they are not my entirety. I am not Wife-Mother only. I am not Former Interesting Person. Most days.

We are the composite of many stories, many experiences, with the added benefit of time with which to reflect upon, learn from, and repeat these mistakes. I’ve collected a lot of life so far.

I’m not interested in being the cute one, the sexy one, the fuckable one, the manic-pixie-dream-girl one, the endearingly weird one, the Girl in the group, or one of the boys. I’m interested in the story, the form, the team, the message, the play, the poem, the passage, the dance, the scene.  I am the _____ one to people already — to my family, my job, my friends, my volunteer boards, and these are complex roles that inform other roles.  The only ONE I want to be in an artistic community is the ONE who is great to work with. I haven’t always been, but that is now my focus in all aspects of my life.

I am not implying that everyone involved in artistic communities feels this way, nor supports the tacit shushing of older women.  Often we shush ourselves.  I’m pretty sure most artists don’t give a shit about my home life or my age or my job or what I do during my free time. They want to know if I can do the job and if I am great to work with.  I’ve not always made that my focus, but that’s where that experience/wisdom thing comes in handy.

Nor am I implying that all women over 35 feel we are being erased but for roughly drawn outlines; but I do feel out of sync sometimes, and I do feel…not invisible, per se, but certainly like I’m phase-shifting.  Those moments when I do feel invisible are shadowed by those moments when I feel I am a more colorful person than I ever was, but that I’ve put myself into a darkened room.

I know I am not the only one.

So, what action to take?

Firstly, of course, keep getting out there. Do what I can. DO THE WORK and BE THE ONE PEOPLE LIKE WORKING WITH and SUPPORT my friends and colleagues as they undertake their own artistic ventures.  Be the support system we all need. Show up. Clap. Show up. Work. Audition. Edit. Perform. Do.

Secondly, I was chatting yesterday with a woman whose work and company I enjoy. I mentioned I often feel out of sync with other artists (and also other mothers, but that’s another post entirely).  She concurred and said she, too, has a tough time being creative while doing this parenting think.  I threw out the idea of having a women’s artistic group for age 35+ women…a sort of high-estrogen salon…where child care is provided as needed (although this group would not be limited to women with children, nor would children necessarily be a topic of discussion ever).  She was supportive.  I posted on Facebook with limited public response but quite a bit of private messaging — all positive. All feeling not-quite-in-step with the community.

I think there is a need for this and maybe it’s a good place to start. No project may ever come of it, but a community definitely would. We all need our people and our places to shine.  Or to be assholes together.

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