by Anne Brierley
Menopause: my second birth
As a child I remember the occasional comment about so-and so-going through ‘the change’ (uttered with a tilt of the head and a raised eyebrow - in words not so much spoken as mouthed, or voices dropped to a stage whisper) it was the only reference to menopause I’d had from my family.
Now my son affectionately pats me on the head and mutters things like - ‘you haven’t mentioned menopause today mother, well done’.
It’s gratifying to see the attention focused on menopause now - what a relief to begin to see it gradually normalised and examined in public rather than yet again women being asked to sod off and quietly get on with their.. women’s things.
However when it finally did come to my attention, I was so NOT focused on menopause (not that, not me - surely ? I didn’t order massive hormonal changes with a healthy dollop of insanity to go, for heavens sake there must be some mistake) I thought I was in the early stages of some terrible neurological disorder.
My doctor, heavily pregnant, eyed me suspiciously, clicked her pen and offered me antidepressants
‘I’m.. not.. DEPRESSED!..’ I hiccuped at her wetly between sobs.
After much subsequent digging and searching, a wise woman told me that this was actually a sacred period of my life and my second birth - giving birth to myself this time, the two grumpy fledglings I had already birthed were just a practice run.
Ah, a metaphor I thought, compare it to the pain of pushing a fully grown and outraged woman out of your fanny. Perfect.
Menopause has made me more fearless
I’m a visual artist - amongst other things, but It took a long time to call myself an artist without inwardly cringing, for too many reasons to go into here - so you can call me a creative person if you like - or not if you don’t like, I don’t care - see, that’s what the menopause does for you.
It took the rollercoaster of hormonal disequilibrium - the peeling, the pulling and the shrugging off of layers of myself that I’d accumulated and was carrying around needlessly, to arrive at the beautiful place of grumpy arseyness I currently inhabit.
Its my little island - I go into my shed (my studio) pull up my drawbridge (feck off and make your own dinner, mother’s painting) and there I exhale.. and paint. Or draw. Or print- and if i don't like it I chuck it, and if I think it might be a portal into some interesting line of enquiry - I keep it and play with it ’til its finished.
I like painting a lot. I like it more than buying clothes or having a better car or even going to the dentist - so while I am money poor, and definitely need new shoes - I am time rich. Before you ask no I’m not on benefits, not that its any of your business.
What propels me to creativity?
There was a whole lot of reassessment going on, a restructuring - but before you can re-structure something you have to examine how it was constructed in the first instance.
How did I arrive at this place? (this place being the construct of me, a white western working class (northern) woman in the 21st century.
Who decided I should act a certain way/ fulfil these expectations and why?
In whose interest?
What were the pressures and forces that shaped me?
Somewhere around the age of 8 I was pinned by the intersectional tectonic plates of culture, narrative, family, community. In fact, even at 54 my dad is still hoping that I’ll see sense and get a job in a bank (think of all those transferable skills he says hopefully.. )
But then the plates shifted - the radical hormonal drop that Caitlin Moran likens to drug withdrawal kicked in, everything fell away and I was left staring down a very large crevasse, if I fell I wasn’t sure if there was a bottom to it - would I emerge out the other end, a bit wrinkly but wiser and dignified? Or would I be (and it was looking increasingly more likely) completely insane, unable to touch my toes, with an alarming tendency to spontaneously combust at the most inconvenient of moments, and if that wasn’t enough - with the added bonus of vaginal atrophy?
But back to the construction of the construct, let’s go back to the beginning.
One large step for womankind
As a child /as a young person, what we see around us, shapes us.
It had taken 50 odd years on this planet to form and shape me as I was and it was all unspooling in front of me.
I remember a story about a 9 yr old Whoopi Goldberg yelling at her mama to come see Lieutenant Uhura the black lady on tv who definitely wasn’t playing no maid. She knew perfectly well even at nine, that life imitates art.
The images of sci fi astronauts (and a couple of real ones for you know, spice) are a projection of cultural fears and hopes. They range from1950’s through to NASA in 2000 - I randomly picked images (sometimes I photographed them from the tv screen sometimes culled from stills photography) Ideally this work needs to be seen as a body rather than individually - it is as if the astronauts are in some sort of non verbal conversation with each other. Regarding each other - they are floating, disconsolate, disarticulated and carapaced.
I have always - in some measure -used the art I make to orientate myself and to process and mediate complex ideas and information. There has to be some sort of shifting ground between deliberate and accidental in the making of the work which allows me to articulate ideas to myself.
What was the result of all this astral enquiry? Im not sure - if Im honest, the astronauts are fairly quiet on the matter, other than embodying and containing what I was feeling as a way of expressing it when words failed me.
The meteor storm has for the most part, passed and I find myself asking:
‘What will I allow myself to do and to be in this third act?’ And of course, ‘What would Ellen Ripley do?’