Fans of my writing call me a “badass.” But that word, tinged with profanity, is often sanitized by prudent editors into “rebel.”
I am flattered by either description — I’m an 83-year-old, 4’9”, 97-pound woman — but I fear my fans are off base.
If I were a true rebel, say a Joan of Arc type, I would let my valor be heralded by others.
Alas, if I can’t trumpet my rebellious ways, if I can’t publish it on a blog, if I can’t share on Facebook, does it still have the veneer of defiance, or does it become a publicity stunt?
For example, for my 80th birthday, I got a tattoo on my right biceps. (My left was decorated at age 60.) I wrote an essay, “Why I Got a Tattoo Instead of a Facelift For My 80th Birthday.” Along with nixing facelifts, I called for women my age to let their hair go gray, and to never lie about their age.
Rebel or bully?
I pride myself on my tattoos because they have become a spark for elevator chat in my highrise where the majority of residents are 30-year-olds. When I expose my arms to prove fellowship with the fellow sporting a linear lineup on one arm, does he consider me a rebel, or bonkers?
One reason that friends think me a rebel is that I am bolstered by the belief I have agency. I am an Apple addict – watch, phone, iPad, and MacBook Air – thus I am an aberration for someone of my vintage. My comfort and adoration of technology allows me to follow my whims, which some may call “rebellious.”
As an example, I — a white woman — host a Zoom book group that discusses memoirs, novels, and nonfiction by Black authors. My rebellion, or dictator side, surfaces because I select the book and date and time for our meeting. A sort of good works tinged with tyrant.
Another of my efforts — admirable and a bit rebellious — is my habit of curating articles from daily newspapers and posting three paragraphs, just three, on my Facebook feed.
I always include the journalist’s name, and a suggestion to “Click below for all.” But I decide what my Friends will read with their morning coffee. Subjects typically include Black achievement, exposés of misogyny, LGBTQ+ issues, and anything about dogs.
One reason I’m having so much fun with my reputation is that it came late in life. When I graduated college in the ’50s, as a Jewish woman I was ordained to be a schoolteacher, marry a soon-to-be-doctor or lawyer, and live in a suburban home surrounded by neighbors just like me.
I fulfilled all.
But in 1969, I forced my family to chuck all that and return to the city to be urban pioneers in a complex that integrated races, ages, and incomes in rental and for-sale housing.
Good little Jewish wife disappeared, rebel showed up in her place.
Soloway, 83, is the author of The Division Street Princess, Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss, Bad Grandma and Other Chapters in a Life Lived Out Loud, and She’s Not The Type. Her articles have appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Huff Post, Next Avenue, Forward, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and Kveller. The Emmy Award-winning television series Transparent was created by Elaine Soloway’s child Joey and inspired by their family.