I met a wild woman at the weekend. What makes her a wild woman? Her whole self. She’s eighty next week and can’t walk more than a few steps without having to sit down and take a breath from her inhaler. She insists on doing things around the house even though it’s physically impossible for her now. She won’t use the walker her family have bought her, says it makes her look old.
We were having a little party for her birthday before the big family party. She didn’t want any of the ‘bubbly’ stuff (prosecco). She had her own bottle made up of three quarters vodka and one quarter seven-up. She sat and laughed and told stories.
She has delivered and reared twelve children and still takes care of one with special needs. Her extended family are all around her and adore her and want to do things for her and she won’t let them. She’s a wild woman because she has reached the stage where she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, she says what’s on her mind – regardless of how it might come across. She lives her life as she sees fit.
I’ve met a few more of them over the years. And as a woman I admire and fear them. Admire, because they too are doing what they want, when they want, whenever they want. They are always up to some scheme or another. They roam the land, turning up at your house out of the blue. They bring a breath of fresh air with them and blow all the cobwebs away.
They are wild women because they don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks of them. I want to be a wild woman too but I can’t. I’m too afraid and concerned with how it might appear to others if I was to do what I want to do.
I love these wild women but I hear what other people say about them. ‘They are great fun’ usually wears thin when they have either turned up uninvited, or not turned up at all. When they turn up and make themselves at home and then overstay their welcome or leave without a thank you. Then they become ‘too flighty’ or ‘too selfish’ or worse ‘they have issues and only think of themselves’.
And yet there shouldn’t be anything wrong with thinking of ourselves. We need to look out for ourselves too, don’t we?
Except I have this huge sense of responsibility that I carry. Responsible for bills and work and the home and making healthy meals and yes, even play. Because I know I have commitments to a family, a mortgage, an organisation. I’m responsible for how others are feeling or how they might feel. I carry this weight of responsibility around like a great big rucksack full of rocks on my back. My back and shoulders physically ache sometimes from the weight of it.
Why don’t I just put it down? There is no-one asking or telling me to carry it but I continue to do so. I don’t put it down because I fret and worry about how I would be judged – even though I’m probably the only one doing the judging. But I couldn’t bear to think that people might think of me as too flighty or that I might have ‘issues’.
The thing is I do have issues, as do a lot of us. I want to give up the boring day job that sucks the life out of me. I want to travel, make art and be free. Say what is on my mind or in my heart, without weighing up every word for how it might be taken.
In her book, ‘Women who run with the Wolves’, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, suggests that women need to reclaim and embrace their wildness. Through stories and poems she has gathered she shows that this wild woman is in all of us but we have been repressed and conditioned to ignore it.
In her book she includes an extract of a poem “Woman who lives under the Lake” where she talks about an old woman, a wild woman like those we see around us all the time offering to show us something important. We usually ignore them and then we find out that they really were something special. It ends:
‘She turns to go, her cloak falls open,
Suddenly, golden light … everywhere, golden light …’ (Estés, C.P., 1998, Women who run with the Wolves, p. 277, Rider)
I have had that book for many, many years and I have never been able to complete it, perhaps because I am afraid I will take heed of the call. That poem always stood out for me. At every stage of life wild women have been beckoning for me to join them and I have always resisted. I only saw the wild woman, I did not see their golden light.
I don’t know if it’s too late, I’m nowhere near 80 but I don’t want to be 80 and regret that I didn’t at least try to find her, wherever she might be.