I have a friend who tells me, on occasion, I am
"a walking compendium of old-wives' tales and misinformation". This analysis usually follows when I have suggested that something she has told ME might not actually be the case. Neither one of us is ever convinced. Sometimes we dig a little deeper in our own defense and one of us says "Well, who told you THAT?!" I am at the age now where I can't remember who told me what, and if I do I don't like admitting that my source, on reflection, may not have been reliable. I suspect she feels the same about what she so roundly defends when I ask her about the origin of her information. We've both tried the "oh I read it somewhere" ploy, but since neither of us is likely to remember where we read it, that doesn't hold, either.
This little conversational drama has repeated itself over many years, but now it is under the grave threat of readily available information at our fingertips. The debates about who wrote what when, or what famous person was born where, are swiftly put to the test of the internet and imdb or Snopes.
All I can say is, my mother and grandmother and earlier generations would have had nothing to talk about if they had been able to access the real information immediately. The conversations over the backyard fence or the telephone would have been over in a flash. Can you use lemon juice to bleach lace? Do you have to put eggs in the cake batter? What's best for a chest cold -- goose fat or vapor-rub? Can you use baking soda as a substitute for baking powder? How do you tell if your turkey is done?
Two people could debate about these issues, and suggest other approaches to solving the problem, for quite some time. Add a third, and you might have even more information brought to bear.
And men could talk for hours about the best way to get from here to there and back again. Or whether a certain drug store was on the northwest corner or the southeast corner when they were kids. And which team scored the most points last year could take the conversation into warp wobble.
The realm of gossip, of course, is another world entirely. And opinions spun as fact fit quite nicely into that domain as well. These are not the bits of conversation that are instantly verifiable as fact or fiction. Personal experience has to be brought to bear in order to sift anything useful out of these conversational games, if, indeed there is anything. Energy-intensive, emotionally charged work, and usually you wind up right back where you started. The old game of telephone still 'rings' true today. If you can track the story back to the beginning, it bears no resemblance to the story you heard in the end.
So my question today is, "Who told you that?" Who told you whatever you are doing that makes you uncomfortable is the thing you HAD to do? Who told you that you were too short, too tall, too fat, too thin? Who told you how hard you had to work to be worthy, or what kind of conversation was acceptable at the dinner table? Who told you all those life rules and regulations you take for absolutes? Parents, teachers, books, mad men, ad men, television, and now the internet can tell us all a lot. But, if it doesn't quite seem to fit YOU, maybe now is the time to check with the only authority there is on you just to see if it's something you can do without or modify. And that turns out to be, of course, you. So check with yourself when you hear somebody telling you something that is supposedly the absolute truth about you. You don't need the authority of the internet or somebody with a PhD after their name. Although gathering some insight with the help of true friends or experts about process is immeasurably helpful, in the end you need to check with yourself about what is right and what is true, what you can throw out and what you can keep. What pieces of this or that will you own and continue to test FOR YOURSELF? You can tell if it fits, or if it doesn't belong to you at all.
I am finding that this kind of self-testing is more important than ever before, for me. As I age I want to spend the time I have in ways that are true to who I am, and finding that out is as confusing and complicated now as it was when I was a teenager. Lots of people out there advertise the joys of retirement as this or that, and for me a lot of the this or that does not fit the me I am today. Bringing up this subject is hard because I am surrounded by people who are "oh so happy in retirement," or "oh so can't wait until I retire," but I am not one of those people. I miss my work, I miss my colleagues. I do love some of the things about no longer having to work, and of course the time I have with my grandkids is very special and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but am I happy trying to be someone else's idea of retired? I am not. Still searching for what fits. You too?