Sometimes the invisibility of ageing women can be a nuisance. I speak, the room whirls round me, then the same words come out of the mouth of a man and everyone drools. But there is little point in foot-stamping; that changes nothing.
(I recall talking with Paul, my mentor, about this - and he was appalled. He'd never noticed older women . . . I rest my case.)
It has evolutionary advantages. The only logical reason for women to live so long after the end of their child-bearing years is to raise children. So - say your village is attacked; if those caring for the children are invisible then a few dead men matter less.
And it has its advantages. For instance, earlier this year I drove down the west coast of America. I found myself in a little cafe in LaJolla, sipping a cappucino, while three women at the next table seemed totally unaware of my scribbling in a notebook, looking up every now and then to check who was speaking. And here, roughly, is a transcript of a corner of their conversation. I shall call them A, B, and C.
A. 'Well, I had this job, in Silicon Valley, and it was so paid, well you know what they pay there, thousands, hundreds of thousands. We had this wonderful house, in the mountains; it was just darling. But then they effectively asked me to choose between work and family (she shrugs), so here we are.'
B. 'Oh, that's such a wonderful story!'
C. 'Oh, and you are such a wonderful mother.'
(They talk about the wonderful things they are doing with their children.)
B. 'I've gone back to school, so I can help little B with his math.'
A. 'Oh, that's so cute.'
B. 'And I've given my daughter a diary, so she can record the way she feels.'
C. 'Oh it's so important that daughters feel good about themselves.'
A. 'Oh self-esteem is the most -'
B. 'I talk with my daughter about her feelings all the time.'
A. 'I want to go to meditation with my daughter.'
C. 'Meditation is wonderful. The pregnant mothers I work with, they do this meditation together, and go into this womb-like trance, and then they all stay connected to each other, sort of embraced by the process.'
B. 'Isn't that just beautiful?'
And so it went on. (In my notebook I commented that this was another reminder of the things that obsess us when we are removed from the necessity of foraging for our own food or keeping ourselves safe.) I have yet to weave this into a short story, but I can't help feeling that all this mutual adoration hid some serious envy. I'm not sure I believe A's tale of deciding to leave Silicon Valley for her family; and, if it's not true, why does she feel a need to make this up? What is B's daughter really writing in her diary? And what do the pregnant women in C's medication class think when in the throws of labour?
On a lighter note - a lad on a bus intended me to hear this: he clambered on with a large musical instrument, bumped into everyone on his way to the back seat, and the turned to his friend and shouted for us all to hear, 'Have you heard, like, Verdi's fucking requiem; it's fucking great!' (I think he wanted me to be shocked.)
So - what have you overheard recently? And does it find its way into stories, or simply simmer in the pages of your notebook?