Monday, October 12, 2015

At what age?

Last week I was at Bridal Veil Falls with a group of writers on a walk-and-write. We walk and visit a bit, sit and write, share our writing, and then repeat. At the base of the falls, we stopped for a few moments. An older woman was there with her family. As we looked in the pool for the fish, she spoke to us. She had some opinions on where the fish were, why the sign said No Wading, and the history of the restaurant. As her family started to encourage her to continue up the trail, she turned back to us and said: "It's almost Halloween, so I can do this." Then she gave the loudest, shrillest witch's cackle I think I've ever heard. The rocks echoed with it. She laughed, and turned to go. We settled down to write, but as we wrote, we could hear that cackle repeated again and again up the trail, its echo diminishing in the distance. "It's almost Halloween," she had said. As though a holiday almost a month away makes cackling like a witch appropriate. But obviously, she enjoyed it. And it made me smile.

We were visiting another church yesterday and observed a little girl--probably 6 or 7 years old--coming in, holding hands with her dad. She had red hair and a freckled face with a big smile. She was dressed in a princess dress--light blue chiffon with lace and layers. Her knee socks, though, were the highlight.They were striped, although some of the stripes held patterns, in some of the brightest colors imaginable: hot pink, bright orange, deep purple, and red. She made me smile--and as she walked past, her demeanor and smile toward me made me think she knew the effect her whole being in this outfit had. I told my husband that I wished I had the nerve to wear socks like that in public.

So, both these instances make me think about cultural pressures. Some of them are good because they help us get along. Fitting in is important, and smoothing the flow of society is important. But so is individualism. And society allows some without too much comment. But it's the clothes and actions that sometimes step a little outside of the accepted lines that make me wonder. Little children and old people seem to get a pass. But in the middle, we conform unless we want to pay a price. I'm not sure how I feel about it. A few years ago we had a colleague who was an unusual dresser. He was extremely tall, so he would have been noticeable anyway. But he dressed unusually enough in bright yellow pants and bow ties (as examples) that he drew more attention. He didn't stay long--there were other issues--but I have wondered how much the individual style so outside the norms for the academy might have played into his leaving. Did his style keep others from getting to know him better? Is there a cost, in some places and in some groups, that is too much--and keeps those of us who might want to wear brightly striped knee socks in public only wearing them at home? Maybe when I'm older, it will be okay.

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