The Other within Us: Feminist Explorations of Women and Aging

By Marilyn Pearsall | Go to book overview
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a storm of sex and memories at once faded, bloody, and raw, like Applebroog's palette.

In performance Rosenthal the Crone is the spectacular beauty of flesh that moves, as if it is calling up the wind and called by the wind, and flesh that roars and shrieks in underground pitches and sings sanity in a lilt and a growl.

Ancient peoples believed that postmenopausal women retained their menstrual blood, called wiseblood. Wiseblood made wisewomen. While certain cultures treat menstrual blood as a defiling fluid and American slang refers to menstruation as the curse, menstrual bleeding also signifies being cleaned out, purified. American society treats old(et) women as if they suffer from the retention of blood that pollutes them: An old(er) woman is her own worst enemy. Blood is dirt, and as anthropologist Mary Douglas writes in her pollution behavior study, Purity and Danger, "Dirt is essentially disorder" and "A polluting person is always in the wrong." The aging woman is dangerous, as a polluter who is a manifestation of transitional states, which represent the undefinable. As the older woman passes from beautiful to ugly, as culturally defined, from moist to dry in menopause and skin and vaginal changes, and from womb, associated with the generative earth, to tomb, associated with earth as burial ground, she is neither one condition nor the other. The transitional person is in danger and she endangers others, but contact with danger is contact with power. The old(et) woman is a power source, whose (non)identity/excess of identities identifies and energizes human being. 38

You who go by the name old woman
Your afterbirth is the knowledge of finitude and infinity

I feel the energy in my mother's hand, which I hold now when we walk together. As in earlier years, our handholding signifies love, but the passage of years compounds the meanings of touch. She moves slowly, in the rhythm of old age, and she needs my support. I squeeze her hand to keep her from death, as we and my father tour the botanical gardens near their home, to keep her on my side of the divide between here and the Green Bay. The three of us admire the rose garden, and I read plaques that say things like: TO ED, YOUR LOVING BROTHER; WE REMEMBER MARY, A GARDENER OF THE SPIRIT -- HER FRIENDS; FOR OUR PARENTS, IN MEMORIAM, THE SYLVAN SISTERS.

O Mother and O Father, I will bury your bones with roses.


Notes

Work on this paper was supported by a Junior Faculty Research Award from the University of Nevada, Reno. I especially appreciate the travel funds that allowed me to inter

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