Changing the Road Signs: Adulthood, Women’s Roles, and Resilience in “You’re Aging Well”

Listen to this song on Youtube.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to always keep a batch of CD albums in the glove compartment of her Honda minivan. She’d play them on repeat whenever she drove us to playdates or appointments. Nearly every day, I’d hear “You’re Aging Well” by Dar Williams. At 7 years old, I didn’t quite grasp the meaning behind the lyrics. At 20 going on 21, I can now start to appreciate its message.

First released on her album The Honesty Room in 1993, this song deals with the process of maturing, especially for women, in a contradictory modern world. It also celebrates her relationship with mentor Joan Baez, who served as a primary source of encouragement in both her professional and personal life. The two recorded a duet version as well.

The song begins with a lament: “Why is that as we grow older and stronger the road signs point us adrift?” She declares that she will repaint the road signs, defying the paths society ushers us down if they are to leave us continually doubting – “You never can win. Watch your back. Where’s your husband?”

These lines encapsulate some of the contradictory issues that women face. We should be feminist, but can’t be too feminist for the sake of a relationship. Our friends might stab us in the back. We should have significant others, but we need to keep an eye on them. And if only our “lower calf, upper arm were half what they are.” Yet still we are tempted believe that these will lead to a “road of enchantment.”

These kinds of narratives rampant in our culture leave us “with a collection of sticks,” with which to “fight back the hundreds of voices.” We become cynical, absurd – well aware we can only eat “the poisonous apple… not a story we are meant to survive.”

But Williams offers us not just hope, but the promise of companionship in a world that seems indifferent. The refrain of the song is “I’m so glad you finally made it here. You thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell.” With age, we discover that with suffering comes empathy and understanding. Above all, while hardships can seem abnormal in a world where everyone is walking the road of enchantment, in fact, making it through to where we are today is a sign that we are maturing just as we should be.

It is the the final verses that I feel the most keenly. Sometimes, the “language that keeps us alive” that we’ve been searching for on this endless, misguided roadmap is given to us by someone unexpected or found in unexpected places. And when we’re lost, we’re frustrated. But some things can only be achieved through simply living life as it is, and the fact that we’re right where we are now is a sign that we are, indeed, aging well.

I’m so glad that you finally made it here

With the things you know now, that only time could tell

Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, and I am aging.

Oh, aren’t we aging well?

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“It’s been raining since”

It’s been raining since you were fifteen

And the men with closed fists stomped in the puddles

Rippling their rage into the present.

On rainy days, all you want is to read novels and poetry

And too much into the look of twilight reclining into my eyes,

Next to the window glossed with pearls.

But it’s falling down, a torrent breaks the pane and the weather men –

The ripples coil into waves and snake around you

In a suffocating embrace of seaweed and salt.

Isn’t it too dark to see in this storm?

If you wait a second, lightning snaps its fingers

And a comet tail of light bends over you for a breath

But even so, how can you follow the story

When it is dripping off the page

Back into the ocean? You exhale –

Flailing in the ink, wishing you knew how to swim.

Written January 14, 2019.

Parameters: freestyle, Pablo Neruda-esque juxtapositions, horror

Continue reading ““It’s been raining since””

I’m still dreaming about growing up

This poem is so old. I wrote it for a couple of friends who were dating and who requested a poem for Valentine’s Day as part of a Literary Society fundraiser. It was later published in our first ever literary magazine, which can be viewed here.

 

The thing about getting older and older is that you don’t notice

Until you realize that you’ve stopped splashing in silver puddles

And picking lace-thin dandelions

And making wishes on them.

 

You don’t like waking up early anymore and

Instead of listening to the birds and bells at dawn

And you throw the pillow on your head

Trying to sink back into sleep

(and sometimes wanting to stay that way forever).

 

But sometimes I catch your eye and you take my hand

And I think about silver puddles and lace-thin dandelions

And making wishes.

 

And sometimes I wake up to birds and bells at dawn

And instead of throwing the pillow over my head

I lay there and listen, and I want to stay awake

Because they remind me of the way you laugh.