The coolest person in my creative writing program is called Margaret. Now nearly 60, in her youth she escaped Mugabe’s regime in her home country Zimbabwe through force of will, spiriting herself and her infant children to Ireland. We get to read samples of her upcoming memoir in class. The way she writes takes no prisoners. She never asks the reader for approval; she only ever says exactly what happened, the propulsive nature of actual events being enough to make the chapters fly. The first sentence of one of her best is: “They wore leather jackets and shades and came in a white Peugeot.”
In December, our professor brought in gin to celebrate the last day of class. Margaret was telling me that gin is nicest paired with Irish strawberries when I noticed one of her tattoos: a tri-colored Celtic knot on her wrist. Part of it was green, she said, to represent springtime, her maiden years. The next third, blue, was linked to motherhood. The final third was purple, signifying the final stage of a woman’s life: cronehood.
Margaret is now a crone, she says, and it’s great. Her children are all grown up. She’s been through much and knows herself well. She is finally coming into her power, she told me, as she comes upon 60 – something she thinks people don’t often realize, instead seeing her as on the downhill slope. My conversation with Margaret reminded me of a Jenny Slate quote about growing older: “As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain and more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.”
Since speaking with Margaret, it seems I’ve been meeting cool older women everywhere I go. One named Gina was swimming nude at the Vico Baths, scaling walls of ocean out past all the men in their wetsuits, her pearl braids shining and flipping as she dove. I was scared to get in the water until she showed me how. The waves annihilated my senses upon contact, and then for hours afterward, I could feel them in my arms and legs, on the train, cooking dinner, even as I stood brushing my teeth before bed.
Earlier this month, I decided to try out jiu jitsu at a gym in the Liberties. I love the neighborhood, with its street markets and Republican murals. I love being an athlete again after four years, and I love learning something new. Plus, the school’s owner has a dachshund puppy named Toby present at every class who always wants to play.
At my first class, I rolled with a woman called Ness, who seemed about 40 and had the ropiest biceps of anyone on the mat. Never have I felt so safe in someone’s arms, much less someone ostensibly trying to compress my windpipe. Seeing the gorgeous skill and surety with which she grappled was half the reason I decided to go back to the next class, and the next.
It is now January, which many say is the harshest month in Ireland because all the Christmas decorations that made the cold romantic get put away. But I don’t agree: we have passed the solstice now, and the sun, though its shine is hard and bright as a diamond, is coming up, imperceptibly, earlier, and setting, imperceptibly, later. I am warm and inside, I have endless free time, and nowhere I need to be. Spring is coming, and then the rest of my life, in which I will hopefully be a crone who needs no one’s approval and belongs among the elements and fights with grace. There is much to look forward to.