Over the last eighteen months I have been on the move.
My elder son has started at university in Scotland and my younger son is busy planning his gap year in the States. Having spent the last ten years on my own ‘gap year’, I have recently remarried and moved into a working vicarage. In the process I have acquired a whole new set of roles as well as a beautiful step daughter whose love trials have taken me back to my own eighteen year old self.
In the midst of these shifting life plates I have experienced my own deep murmurings.
I have turned 50.
In the move I came across a photograph of my teenage self in one of those boxes that I hadn’t opened in years. It was taken at my debutante party – my ‘coming out’ party – at the yacht club in Vero Beach on the east coast of Florida in the 1970s. I am sitting beside my grandfather. While I glance self-consciously to my right, maybe a little anxiously, my grandfather stares straight ahead, on top of his game, like a mafia boss contemplating a hit.
It touches me.
When I was turning from a girl into a young woman there were social conventions and peer group expectations. There were grown-ups to dodge my way around and also to help me negotiate my way through. There was the promise of adventure and there was lovely day-dreaming. There were parties.
But now, standing on another threshold, I face an unknown future with few signposts. And the places to which I have always gone for inspiration – the films and magazines and fantasy characters that played such a key role in the creation of my younger self – have simply disappeared. They have dried up. I feel bereft.
What does it mean to be newly married again at this age?
What do I take with me and what do I need to let go?
Who now are my role models and my muses?
I am still a little anxious, looking over my shoulder for clues. Only now the girl in front of the mirror at 18 stands there at 50. Maybe less wilful, she is still wondering what lies ahead.
I want to open up a new conversation with my younger self in order to reconnect with how I got to where I am today. To make sure that she comes along with me. I don’t want to loose the spirit of the girl inspired by adventures of Huckelyberry Finn, or the teenager with her Singer sewing machine who spent hours making creations more inspired by Cosmo Cover girls than Simplicity patterns. Much to my parents’ horror.
In these get-ups I created at fifteen for my lanky hollyhocks body, just coming into flower, certainly nobody ever thought I would end up a vicar’s wife. Least of all me.
I’ve been playing all my life. But do I have to stop?
Can I still play the romantic lead in my own life?
Where do I look for inspiration and guidance?
Something tells me I am going to have to dig a bit deeper. I’m going to have to use my wits and my skills in a different way. I’m going to have to look in new and surprising places.
As a designer, stylist and more recently a photographer I’ve spent my career trying to create beautiful things. Now I realise it’s not about fashioning beauty but finding it. And finding it in the everyday things around me. When I look now at women in their 50s I see so much beauty. And I want to know their story.
I was never a great reader – until recently – but I have always been a keen looker. I see whole stories in images. The placement of a hand, the curve of a back, the colour of a room: these are my clues to the narratives. So I’m going on a journey to learn about some of those stories and then recount them in this blog. I’m going in search of my peer group.
As I did in my debutante year I am still looking to my gang to show me how to navigate towards the next horizon. Still my age and older, the women in my gang will now show me how to be 50 with style and grace.