On being a grand dame, or why I like Maggie Smith


First I think of Maggie Smith. Every time. She is the quintessential grand dame. She is incredibly unapologetic and she stirs admiration, she inspires courage and she lives with integrity.


In the past I have written about wanting so badly to fit in to the athletic model of beauty that is so prevalent. I generally eat less than 1800 calories a day and am usually on a diet of some kind. I work out whenever I am not injured and sometimes then too. And I recognize a sort of self-betrayal in this.


Lately I have been wondering about aging and what aging well would mean. I have begun letting my hair go gray and I have insisted that exercise must be joyful or I won’t do it. I have begun to imagine that I too could be a grand dame, that I too could live with the integrity and courage that I imagine someone like Maggie Smith to live with. 


When others look at me askance because I am overweight I want to raise my right eyebrow and look them dead in the eye. Dare them to comment and make fools of themselves. Sometimes I do manage a little anger but often I turn that anger on myself. And I wonder what it would be like not to do that.


When courage is called for and someone needs to speak up, often I do, but often my voice shakes and my words lack conviction. I hesitate and I wish I didn’t.


When I think of women of courage and authenticity I am inspired. I too want to stare down people who would disparage me. I too want to raise my voice when courage and compassion are called for and not hear it quaver. And I want to be fully who I am even when, or especially when, it’s just silly and it’s just fun and it makes me laugh.


And so I wonder if the process of becoming a grand dame isn’t about owning the desire to fit in and be liked, to be approved of. If it isn’t about recognizing that loneliness is the intermediate step between fitting in and stepping out on your own to find internal acceptance that doesn’t diminish or rely on other’s recognition.


I am beginning to realize that I can never hope to live as fully and joyfully as a grand dame nor command the respect of one if I try to make myself over into other’s expectations.  I must insist on being treated well and being valued.


One thing I am sure of though is that becoming a grand dame requires one to authentically like oneself. It requires a quiet acceptance of one’s flaws and one’s strengths. And I am beginning to believe that it requires one to mourn the loss of youth and a nubile frame, to go beyond that and accept aging. I am aware that sometimes being young and firm makes it easier to avoid difficult issues that seem to simply wait us out, hanging on the edge of consciousness until we can no longer ignore them. 


I am beginning to believe that being a grand dame means living on the existential cusp of being, where one faces dissolution and death as imminent and inevitable possibilities  and chooses life instead of despair. And I believe that becoming a grand dame means refusing to diminish oneself even if showing up fully makes others uncomfortable. 


As I think about the future what potential exists I know that I will never again be a sexy young thing but that I can become more myself. As a young woman I lived for others and sought their approval, met their needs, fulfilled their desires and when I was no longer able to do this I was discarded. I had difficulty even identifying what I wanted or liked.


Becoming a grand dame means choosing to honor myself as well as others. It means not participating in my own betrayal, my own diminishment. It means choosing positive self-regard. It means honoring my own wounds and respecting the brittle edges that surround them. It means finding that balance between being gentle with myself and being rigorous in maintaining my standards. It means showing up fully as who I am and doing my best to be unapologetic about it. It means accepting that my own power and ability to influence others, to effect change, and to speak wisdom.  It also means acknowledging that only if I can do these things will I be able to encourage other women, young women, to do the same. It is because of Maggie Smith and women like her that I feel I might be able to do the same. 


Tigger Unplugged

So last week I deactivated my facebook account. It appears it’s pretty easy to pop back on, see how you all are doing and what’s up, even share my blog, so I’ll likely be doing that from time to time. I won’t be on facebook full time for the near future though and I’d like to share why.

When I first joined facebook it was a means of staying connected to friends and family that I had left behind in Oregon while I attended seminary. I learned quickly to be cautious about what I posted as some people read tragedy or disaster into any whining or complaining post that I wrote. (I can’t say I’ve stopped complaining or whining though!). It’s really easy to let unfiltered thoughts become public in a format where other’s reactions are distant or unseen. I find that, for me, this can be a big issue. I find that I tend to share things publicly on facebook that I might not in a person to person conversation. It can feel really exposed and the interpretations that others make sometimes can be way off base. It’s easier to offend and it’s easier to scare people who care about me.

So I made my facebook public, welcoming all people, even those I had never met and likely wouldn’t meet. I changed what I posted and no longer wrote long notes or shared poetry. I became more involved in political comments and movements and recognized that what I posted would be seen by future employers, congregants, and work connections. I don’t mind a high degree of transparency and for the most part this has worked well for me. I like to be known for who I am.

The downside is that it affects my personal relationships. I can be a pretty exuberant person, lots of energy over here! And I do love to share. So when I am excited about something I want to bounce over and say, “Hey guess what!!!” and invite others to share my enthusiasm. With facebook this simply doesn’t happen. The reaction is typically, “yeah, yeah, I saw it on your facebook post.” There is no celebration, there is no enthusiasm, there is no authentic connection. We would have to be a very superficial and facile people if facebook posts were all that was needed to connect with each other. Even though I like to share and I can be very open, I’m just not that superficial of a person and I don’t believe you are either!

I long for authentic connection. I want to be present to the people I care about and I don’t want my presence to be dismissed as “already seen it, been there, done that.” Perhaps those who are so willing to dismiss me are never really going to be good friends anyway, but sometimes I think we (all of us facebook users, well some of us, me at least and a few I know) have simply gotten a little lazy. Perhaps we have forgotten how important it is to maintain a sense of curiousity, a sense of wonder for each other, about each other. I want to honor and treasure the gift of connectedness that I have with so many of you. I don’t want to be facile or superficial in my relationships. I want to treasure each and every one of you and if I bounce up all full of energy and I see that expression cross your face that says, “Oh God, not her again.” I want to know so that I can temper my energy and recognize that sometimes I can be a bit much. On the other hand when my heart is overflowing with wonderful things and the gratitude is running deep and I want to invite everyone to the party, if you are up for it, and I know not everyone is, but if you are and I can see it in your reaction, then hold on! Because here I come!Image