Notes: This piece is a bit like Louise Erdrich’ “Advice to Myself.” But the struggle in this poem is more external. Both have the same underlying theme of revolt against the norm/expectations but the revolt that Joseph is trying to make here is not really an introspective one but more on persona vs. society.
I love how empowered the persona is in this poem. She is already at the point where she knows what she wants. Unlike the “Advice to Myself” persona who still has to pursue and decide what’s authentic, the persona in Jenny Joseph’s poem has her truths laid out before her. The problem now lies NOT with what she thinks is genuine or not BUT on how the people around her will accept the genuity that she has.
The thing is, social acceptance for “weirdness” has an age bracket. If a child exhibits a different behavior/outlook than his or her peers, it can still be considered cute (at some point). But continuous expression leads to lab tests, meds and reprimands. Even more so if one is already at the peak of adulthood. Suddenly, one finds himself thrown into a factory of deadlines and responsibilities where everyone gets hammered into a small box of sober people, always rushing to their businesses.
The respite only comes during old age where “weird behavior” is excused for senility or Alzheimers. I think the persona in this poem is looking forward to that- hence, the warning. If this is the case, then one can say that she has already accepted the fact that there are responsibilities that she needs to answer to- thus, she has to bottle everything until the right time.
And this is where, I think, the struggle takes place- The persona stops and asks, does she really have to wait until she reaches old age (a.k.a. “the right time“)? And her answer cements the point: She’s going to rebel against the order- NOT when she’s old already BUT NOW.
Far more important to the persona is the need to be true to herself.