Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy at a Funeral

Yet again I do not feel what the others feel when the others feel it. At my cousin's daughter's funeral, a girl the same age as my son, I was not feeling that bizarre apprehension others seem to feel when it easily could have been them. I know I was supposed to feel as if a bullet had just gone whizzing by my head. And I told someone that. My son, his daughter, a car, an accident, 911, brain dead, organ donation, funeral, distraught teenagers and their first brush with their own mortality, a wailing in the aisles of the cinderblock church. Cheerleaders and stoners weeping in the pews. The youngish priest built like a linebacker purposefully bringing his brow into the tented triangle of sorrow. His face relaxing as he told charming anecdotes of Darla, pinching up again to swing the censer.
I knew how it was assumed I'd feel, but I didn't feel that. I stood, I sat, I knelt, I listened to the mass, I sang if I could follow the tune. I was there, wasn't I? I did my best to witness and fulfill the procedures required. But in the middle of the funeral, a wave of well-being surged through my body. And it wasn't just the animal thrill of being alive in the presence of death. I've felt that. This was something deeper and more significant. A welling up from some place in my core that told me this: if, by some chance, the same horror would happen to me, I'm ready. I'm living my best life even now. I have few regrets and none serious. I do think I've done my best, and though I haven't always gotten the results I'd been hoping for, in other ways I have led a charmed and generously appointed life. Death won't be able to cheat me of that. I stood in that church flushed with pleasure.
Of course, the only reason for my happiness at a funeral that others might be able to understand would be some twisted and evil kind of delight that a worst case scenario has occurred and reconfirmed my negative and hateful cynicism. But it's not that. I hope this essay communicates that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Welcome to Jupiter

Mars and Venus aren't real places. Men aren't from one and women from another. It's just that certain cultural habits of mind lead men to wound women in a particular way and women to wound men in a different way and some members of each sex would rather retreat to the sureties of the same-sex societies they knew before the whole sex-and-love issue came up. Wouldn't it be great if you could get everything you needed from your gang of girlfriends at brunch? From your gang of guy friends banging each other over the head with toy light sabers? It would, wouldn't it?
But it would also get boring. Women need men to shake up their perfection and pointless fussing. Men need women to give them a reason to stop being barbarians and work toward something, anything. Women need to get their hands dirty, go outside GirlWorld's safety zone: men need to learn how to take care of babies and get a glimpse of the bigger picture, beyond competition, prizes, money. The problem with the patriarchy is not that it's never right, but that it is only half-right. Same with the matriarchy. Those who believe if only women ran everything it would be a more humane world are overlooking the fundamental flaw: half of humanity would have to try to deny their very nature, just the way many women have to in a patriarchy.
And are these really sex-linked traits? Woe betide the sensitive individual born with male apparatus, the mainly rational individual born with a vagina.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tyranny of the Tablecloth

How I have expressed my love all these years--by listening. How they have expressed their love for me all these years--by giving me presents that if they'd been paying any attention these many long years, they'd realize I have no interest in. Purses, dishes, stemware, linens, towels. I'm supposed to like this stuff because they like this stuff and the way they imagine their own continuation on this planet after their death is in the hands that have learned how to smooth the ironed crease from a tablecloth. The ability and desire to take these things seriously will be passed down genetically, and the skills involved will be transmitted from mother to daughter in apprenticeship mode. My mother honors her mother by requiring me to wrangle my offspring into following her canonical rules.
But the slavery to the tablecloth stops here. I have no daughter. Even if I did, I'm sure I wouldn't require her to enter unquestioningly into this traditional progression. But because I will not do this thing, uphold the proven moral order in this way, all my choices are thus suspect. I am not taking my responsibilities seriously. I must be a shirker.
My point is different. I do not shirk my responsibilities as I see them. Please allow me to choose from the heavy smorgasbord of responsibilities available to a woman my age. Clearly some that I find important mean nothing to them and I have refrained from scolding them about them for years. But if they begin scolding me too frequently, I can always start!
Whenever I express my thoughts on such topics as this, I am told I just don't understand how normal people feel. I do see how they feel, I just don't believe it's my job to fix their problems. Especially their self-inflicted problems. Like Thanksgiving.
The holiday season is now upon us. For me, it starts the moment my mother brings out her lists and begins assigning roles. This is her theater, the theater of happy family relations, of papering over the vast cracks between competing worldviews of the many-eyed beast that is our family. I am enjoined to slave at the rock face of family togetherness and to slave with a smile pasted on my face. I am a daughter; I'm supposed to please my mother. I am a woman: I'm supposed to like this holiday fussing. Don't we all? It's only natural.
This is the season during which I am expected to force my two abstract randoms to not only go along with customs that have little or no charm for them and no reason or nostalgia value, but also to enter into the spirit of the season. They are Jews by birth, actual or honorary, and atheists by choice, so Christmas especially is a species of voodoo to them. Symbols of an ancient mystical cult. Why? they ask. And my extended family does not know why and is angered by the question. Because. That's their answer. Because we've always done it this way and we had so much fun in the past doing it this way that the only way to have more fun now or in the future is to follow the format. The proven format.
And when my two abstract randoms fail to enter into the spirit of the season, all heads swivel towards me. They believe I have failed. Failed to explain how important this is. Failed to take my native tribe's side against the outsiders.
I have failed.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Men Want Paradise Too

We've probably all seen one of these recent fart-driven comedies on TV or the movies about what men want: Wedding Crashers, Two and a Half Men, The Hangover, The Ugly Truth, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Knee-deep in dirty sweat socks, pizza boxes everywhere, constant TV or video games, in fact a grimy pigsty inhabited by cavemen who still somehow believe they are attractive to women.
This is, of course, a gross exaggeration in order to ratchet up the humor stakes--at least, I hope it is. Anyway, the reason it is funny is the grain of truth within: Most men don't like to clean up, themselves or their den. They don't want to dress up, go out, hit craft fairs, art crawls, or fancy restaurants. The only reason they do any of these things is when women, women who might sleep with them, want them to. Require them to.
But most men are not cavemen. They believe themselves to be nice decent human beings who perhaps see no reason to shave, put on a tie, or God forbid, a suit. Let's not talk tux. What they share with these over-the-top Oscar Madisons is this deep-seated belief that no matter the exterior, they deserve female companionship. They, unlike many women, don't believe they need to change something about themselves to deserve love. Lots of women will agree in principle that they should meet men halfway. Many men want to be met more than halfway. With little or no reciprocation. There are even those who want women to give it up freely, for nothing--and then go away.
I am reminded of Elizabeth Bennet refusing Mr. Collins' proposal in Pride and Prejudice. My husband often accuses me of having no compassion for the slimy Mr. Collins. That's not true. I do feel sorry for him. Just not as sorry as he feels for himself. Obviously he does not have the skills he needs to find a wife in the regular way. He has to resort to a version of shooting fish in a barrel. No, what I object to is such a common women's complaint about men that it crosses all centuries and all cultures. Mr. Collins wants to be understood by Elizabeth, loved by Elizabeth, given every benefit of the doubt--without having to bother his thick head with seeing anything from Elizabeth's point of view. Mr. Collins has worked out what he wants from her and he just doesn't understand what the problem is. Why won't she do as he asks? (Of course, in Jane Austen, the only time a woman can make herself heard is in refusing a proposal. The culture is so constructed that that is the only moment in a woman's life when she has any say in the direction it will take.)
Even today, some men have this weird belief that women should be more like men: moral, independent, untied to any other consideration than their own desires. Just like men. But as soon as women actually begin to live exactly like men, as independent moral beings, women find their own need to understand, pamper, and forgive men for being short-sighted and me-centric all the time just dries right up. Some men think that women should just let men do whatever they want--because they'd let women do that too, wouldn't they? (Well, not really. It's just a talking point, but whatever.)
But women, many of them, want harmony. Even if they do no go so far as to want perfection (see below), they are not so wedded to having their own way that they couldn't compromise to suit all parties. Many women want to do things together, not separately fulfill separate desires. They want to bake the cake and eat it too. Not just gulp down the ingredients serially. They want love with their sex. They want sex with love. They want the visuals and the essentials. They're not afraid of work; they just don't want to be the only one doing any. In their search for harmony, they continue to hope that there is something they can do to improve the situation. Sometimes there is. Sometimes not. Sometimes the guy is too close to Mr. Collins to be affected by any action of theirs.
Obviously, this is far from the last word on this.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Persona

So I'm reading Philip Lopate about how even personal essays need conflict, how you have to examine your flaws, but without giving in to self-disgust, not constantly underrate yourself nor give yourself too much credit. Parade your quirks, then implicate yourself . . .
So the trick it seems is to hone a slightly insecure persona, one that has bizarre, faintly ridiculous foibles that make you more like the Twizzler-munching Twiggies who want to be on TV or at least in a magazine.
Even if that is not who you are.
Even if that type of persona does actual violence to your real self. Because what are doing having a self that can't be sold? Buffed, tweaked, positioned--sold. That's what everyone wants--right? And if you dare claim you do not, get ready to be painted self-righteous and moralistic and no fun at all. You are impeding commerce.
But then Philip (I can call him Philip, can I not?) ends with this quote: "The process of turning oneself into a character is not self-absorbed navel gazing but a potential release from narcissism: You have achieved sufficient distance to begin to see yourself from the outside. Doing so can be liberating."
And I love Philip all over again.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

O, My Son

So this morning I'm getting dressed, putting on underwear, slathering salve on sticky icky sections of my anatomy (see below), when my son bops into my bedroom to grab the laundry basket. I am caught with my fingers just leaving my you-know and I, to cover my embarrassment, hop out of my room, 95% naked, the bare backs of my knees draped with downed panties, the rest of my generous flesh flopping about in a frog dance. I make it to the bathroom. Whew! He is 15. There are so many ways for a son to misinterpret a mother's nakedness, actions, attitudes, beliefs. One can never know what damage is being done to his delicate (or brutal) psyche. One would have to be ignorant or arrogant or both to think that one has any kind of control over any of that. It would also be disingenuous to believe it simple or overdetermined. (What am I talking about here? You tell me.)
Meanwhile, bless his overgrown gangly body still harboring a little-boy heart, he asks me, " What is it? Are you afraid of me or something?" He seems to believe my frog dance of embarrassment a gesture of fear. That I fear him. O, my son, I do not. I only fear for you.
I am, briefly, speechless.
"No. No, I'm not afraid of you." But do I have any business instilling in you a body self-consciousness that has done me no favors? Embarrassment about one's own icky sticky bodily functions and urges? If you do not have them now, is it my job to break you in? Will you also suffer, as I have, in being the only unself-conscious animal in the room, otherwise full of vicious punishing beasts? People who have had their animal reality beaten or shamed out of them to the point where they can not trust their own simple desires? People who no longer know what they feel, how they feel, are forever separated from the words for their own feelings? No, not my job.
"Not afraid. Never afraid." O, my son.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Paradise Seekers

I don't know if you can spread the truism to all women, but a bunch of my female relatives do want paradise. Paradise here on earth, starting with blue dishes. Moving on to new curtains, which eventually become window treatments, new kitchen counters, pull-out racks in their kitchen cabinets, the side-by-side with the ice dispenser. They have a picture in their heads of their ideal home, and they have been ameliorating the premises continually, repainting the dining room, putting a door where the window used to be, glassing in the screen porch. A house to them is Play-doh waiting for the hand of the Master Decorator.
Hotel rooms, too, need their furniture rearranged, that table over by the window instead, one chair facing the other so you can sit with your feet up. Nature must be tamed as well and forced into this aesthetic, beautiful to look at from the windows, but you mustn't touch it. Green lawns, trimmed trees, groomed beaches, sunsets admired from deck chairs along same. It's not that this vision is not beautiful: it is. But it is also sterilized, requires someone's maintenance (not mine, I won't do it!), and somehow still needs airbrushing in the photographs. In fact, it needs photographs. Its beauty must be framed and mounted, taken out of context and repositioned over the sofa. Scrimmed, screened, cut down, managed.
Bird-watching is the perfect sport for these paradise seekers. If you put out feeders, the birds come to you and display themselves right in front of your picture window. No need to clomp around in the muck looking for them. The only drawback is the greedy squirrels come to gobble up the seed. A bit like the hungry 12-year-old boy who cuts a hunk out of their cake before they've had a chance to frost it. So the women who desire paradise bang on that window to chase the squirrels away, although it sorely grieves them to have to do so, and shoo those boys away from their lovely cakes: "Here now! Get away out of there! That's not for you!" When, of course, it is.
They want paradise. They want someone to make paradise for. They want that someone to appreciate the paradise made for them. They want that someone to deny and alter and reverse his very nature--his testosterone-produced aggression, his hormonal competition, his desire to take a hunk and bite into it. The very desire that brought him to the woman in the first place.
This tension--women who want to be desired, but also want to remake the boudoir into a place that must never get dirty; men who want the soft compliant nature of woman, but want her to resist other men with tooth and claw--is human culture. This border between competing desires which must be continually renegotiated results in culture. It will never be resolved, solved. If it could be, we would reach stasis and die.
Next up--what many men want. They have their own idea of paradise.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Slippery Slope

Okay, this is kind of gross, but I have crotch problems. Nobody, but nobody, wants to hear about this, so here goes.
Patterns of fat deposition after the age of 50 and my genetic truckload of pear-shaped inevitability make all my extra blobs collect below my waist. First this meant that my callipygian form pouffed out in back, a bustle of extra flesh. Deep ass crack became deep ass crevice became deep ass crevasse. Now I can not keep that flesh apart for enough time in the day and night, naked or clothed, so the flesh is not let to dry and that leads to chafing and itchy red splotches. Yuck, right?
Next, in my efforts to deal with this moisture problem, I began the habit of ass-spreading. Sit down, separate ass cheeks. Stand up, press knees together to separate ass cheeks. It seems to work most of the time except when it's hot or when it doesn't. Not enough to bother a doctor with, and besides, what would a doctor say? Try this cream. Lose weight. Get normal. Be a man. Suck it up, cupcake.
Yeah, so. In fighting this running battle--which is what we are all doing on this side of 50, at the top of the slippery slope, hoping to hold on for a little while longer before the accident or catastrophe befalls us that makes it not a running battle any longer, but a last ditch defense until the death--I am holding my hoo-hoo closed up tight like a sphincter and the ass crack wins while the hoo-hoo loses. A warm moist closed environment that is no longer being flushed out periodically by my periods. That's right. Two months gap now. Of course, my first thought was: yeast infection. So I went to the drug store, bought the suppositories (what an ugly word for a yucky thing) and used the hermetically sealed plunger deal to stick a little bullet up my vajayjay. And then slowly it softened and melted out and stained my underwear even though I put a pantyliner on and then it didn't even help. So what is it?
I looked online (mayoclinic.com) and found out it might be sexually transmitted (no.), or bacterial (maybe), or atrophic vaginitis or some non-infectious source of irritation like scented pads or douches or sprays or creams (no.). So maybe it's just the poorly aired plastic bag of a middle-aged woman's coochie that has some low level bacterial thing going on--or we have to consider atrophy. It's old and dry and thin and fragile and subject to opportunistic infections, but what can be done about that? Is it time for estrogen rings and HRT patches? So soon?
And here I thought that finally being freed from the seemingly endless round of menstruation would be a liberation. More like one step forward, three steps back. Get ready for the anxious scanning of the slippery slope for handholds, little scruffy bushes to cling on to.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What I See

One day on the bus I saw a big, milky-skinned beauty, strawberry blonde hair in a piled-up coiffe, clutching her purse into her soft round belly, her v-neck revealing a generous cleavage, her one big toe poking from the peep hole in her worn black patent leather flats, the nail badly polished in the first place, chipped now.
We are all, first and forever, bodies.
Within this description, only these few words, one can see whole worlds of hope and aspiration, desperation and almost certain defeat. She is a beautiful girl. About twenty. Her skill in putting up her hair is not matched by a corresponding taste in clothes or accessories, and nail polish is beyond her. Her hopes for her beauty are not supported by any strong interest in her own beauty. Her body is the house she lives in; it is invisible to her now. Despite her own lack of interest, there is a way in which she is counting on her body to solve the problem of what she is to do with herself, her life, her future. Because she doesn't want to trust to her mental capacity, to her ability to come up with an idea that will take her to the next step in her life. It will be a great relief to her to be chosen, claimed, married. Then she will know what to do, who to do it for. Later, when the river into which she will throw herself (her husband, his ambitions, his priorities) changes course and leaves her high and dry on a sandbank, she will explain to all who will listen that she had no choice in anything that came her way and hijacked her life and left her where she has ended up. That was just the way it was at that time. How could she swim against the current?
She is 5' 9"--taller than a girl needs to be, so she feels aggrieved. She gently curses her genetic load. She wishes she were shorter, more muscular, like those spunky little cheerleaders who seem like guy magnets. Her creamy skin--her best feature--she would trade in a heartbeat for taut abs and a killer tan. She has no idea how to gracefully inhabit what she does have, only how to uselessly covet what she will never have. She believes if only she had that tan, those abs, she'd be happy. Because some guy would be intoxicated by her form, her beauty, and then she could love herself if he loved her.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy Pants

I was walking along my normal exercise route, the street of stately homes in our fair city, when I heard the jingle of dog tags behind me. A young woman between 20 and 25 was jogging her little gray whippet behind me and closing fast. I stepped to the edge of the sidewalk because somehow dogs adore my ankles and even more the crotch of my pants, so I try to give them wide berth. She passed me, moving the dog to her other side, keeping herself between me and the dog. She said as she passed, "I love your pants. They're so happy!"
These are my anomalous pants. They are stretch capris made by Bandolino, and they are splashed with giant flowers in red, orange and fuchsia, green ferns in the background. I own nothing else like them. The rest of my wardrobe is fuscous. (Yes! Go look it up! I found it in the dictionary myself while checking the spelling of fuchsia, which somehow I wanted to be: fuschia.) But here's the story--there's always a story--I found them at a consignment store near one of my favorite coffee shops and I grabbed them along with a pile of other summer-weight pants in my usual fuscous color palette because they looked like they might fit me.
I hate shopping. I hate shopping so much I almost wish I lived in a nudist camp. Almost. When I had tried them all on, the only ones that fit me even halfway decently were the Bandolinos, these loud size 10s with a wide, flared waistband that not only fit me, but, I flattered myself, actually flattered my natural shape. I can't wear drawstrings, elastic waists, drop waists, or low-rise jeans (way too much muffin-top). I hate shopping, but I loathe shopping for pants--so disheartening. So when I found these way-too-colorful capris and then saw the price tag said $11.00, I went for it.
There's a way in which they do not represent my personality to the world. They are not in my usual taste. My usual taste is darker and more subdued and makes me look like a schoolmarm--according to my mother-in-law, and I don't disagree. These Bandolinos give the impression I'm about to hijack a pontoon boat on Lake Minnetonka with an ice chest, a pitcher of margaritas and a bag of limes, muttering under my breath: "J. Caldwell Littleton the Third, if you and those goddamned boys ever get off the golf course, you can go to McDonald's again tonight, for all I care!"
They are happy pants. They make me chuckle when I see them hanging in my closet, when I look down and see the outsized petals conforming to my legs. It hardly matters if they do not convey the essence of my personality to the world at large. But maybe they do. I'm happy; they're happy; we're both happy together.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Who's Listening?

You see, I assume people are telling the truth. But the world in general assumes--almost has to assume--that everybody everywhere always lies.
I'm 53. I weigh 146 pounds. I love my husband. My son is intelligent, but since he is 15, he has the social graces of an 8-year-old. And now since I am asserting these various "facts" in a non-fiction piece, which one (or ones) will you begin to doubt? "146--who is she kidding? And when a 53-year-old woman says straight out that she loves her husband, in my experience, that means she has successfully hen-pecked him into some minimally acceptable format and she's proud of her handiwork . . . "
When I was a young woman, I noticed that no one listened, actually listened, to what I said and I wondered if it was just me they weren't listening to. But it wasn't. Men don't really listen to women, they are too distracted by the amazing way their lips move--"Ooh! look at that! Look how when she says the letter 'O'--shit--what's she saying? Do I need to listen to this part? Has she gotten to the part where we spar about where she'll consent to do the dirty deed? No? I'll check back later, shall I?" And that's if they're looking at you at all.
Women don't really listen to other women because they know that at least 75% of what they themselves say is just a  litany of social anxiety and all you need to do is contradict whatever comes out of their mouths, just to reassure them--"Does my ass look too big in these pants? I thought the pink ones went better with the lipstick I was wearing at the time. What do you think? Oh, you agree? Oh, goody, I thought they went better, but I wasn't sure. Are you sure? Really? Are you sure sure? Or are you just agreeing to make me feel better? No, I really want to know, because I'd love it if you agreed, and of course I'd feel better if you truly agreed, and I'd be absolutely devastated if you didn't agree, because I already spent the $79.99, but what do you really think? Now truly . . . " It sends you mad, that. And I don't really like doing it, and yet I have done it, from time to time. Agreed, that is, when she looked like a big pink rubber eraser.
But it wasn't just me the men weren't listening to. Or the women. They weren't listening to anybody. Men can't listen to beautiful women because the beauty is like a stun gun. They can't listen to ugly women because--why? In-between women--there are no in-between women. Men don't like to listen to other men either, unless forced to by the hierarchy they find themselves trapped in and then they only pretend to listen to those higher than they are, while plotting to use this boring info being passed to jump over their heads. Anyone higher up in the hierarchy who can force them to stand there and listen is someone they already hate and are planning to circumvent. Anyone else is just yammering on about the statistics of choice and who gives a shit about boring stuff like baseball or rockets or horse racing? That's way boring. Now golf ball trajectories--that's fascinating stuff. Let me explain it to you. Depending on the force of your swing and the wind speed . . .
And women can't listen to men because--now, do I really have to explain this to you? You don't know this yourself? You're kidding, right? Okay, okay, okay, you asked for it. Golf is BORING. Baseball is BORING. Cloud chambers are BORING. Investments, real estate, wine, pork bellies, the length of your penis, the fact that at the age of 47 you are STILL obsessed about the length of your penis--all BORING! And for exactly one reason. You're kidding, right? You really don't know this? Because it's not about ME. Or someone I know personally, or a celebrity I like. Or about how to lose weight quickly and effectively without any effort on my part. Oh, don't tell me about the exercise. I'm not going to do that. Or the part where you change the way you eat. I can't do that. It's just mean of you to even suggest...
And of course, by the time anyone is 53, they have gone through several phases of self-selling and have had to reorganize themselves and all their component parts so many times that whatever tenuous hold they used to have on who they are, or were, and what they want, even what would be minimally acceptable at this point, has gone through some serious slippage by now. Self-selling. That's right. To get into college, those personal essays. To get a job, several jobs, the resume. To convince some baboon to out with you. To lure him over from some troop of baboons clustered around the bar. To convince him not to leave you. To explain to him how sorry he'll be if he does. To convince a totally different baboon that you are in fact the perfect one for him--the only one--see? Look at my mouth when it makes the letter 'O.' Yes. That's what it will look like wrapped around your . . .
Anyway, strangely enough, when I was younger I still believed that one major reason people didn't listen to me was that I was too young to actually know anything worth listening to. But no. I have found that as time slipped past, faster and ever faster, that the more knowledge I accumulated, the more my opinion on things became worth seeking out, finally, the less time I was accorded to air it. In fact, when I was young and at least fresh-faced if not beautiful, people turned toward me and kept quiet for a short time while searching my face for the exact degree of beauty they could wring out of it. That pretending to listen was the price they were willing to pay to examine you thoroughly. And decide how to categorize you. Is she jolie? or maybe just jolie laid? I have to think about this some more. "Ah, yes, I see. Can you give me another example of . . . make that 3 examples of . . . Now, what are you talking about, again?"
Now, as a woman of 53, I can safely say that I am easily categorized in 10 seconds flat and as a result, am not allowed a second sentence before most people's eyes glaze over and shift to someone else's twinkling little ass cheeks over my right shoulder. And I suppose I should be angry about it and stomp my little no-longer-young feet and take this kind of treatment personally. But I can't. By now you've maybe noticed I require more than 10 seconds to get warmed up and rolling.
And, yeah, 146 is on a good day. Not today, of course. Never today.

Monday, July 19, 2010


The reason I have no advice: the trick is to give of yourself without giving yourself completely away. But for each person that balance is so different. All of us must learn this balancing trick whether we are from Mars or Venus, childless or fecund. The problem arises in American society most poignantly when this gathering of libertarian individualists is saddled with offspring. Mothers are to learn a huge capacity for selflessness, and overnight, with no preparation and are allowed less leeway than fathers. Everyone believes that the balance they have found, or been deeded, is the only righteous one. By the numerous pursed lips around you, you will discover the parameters of allowed selfishness for mothers. It is a narrow path, and silently trodden in misery by many. You are just supposed to take it--on the head with a hammer, up the ass with a poker, whatever--and then at five p.m., you can have a drink. Mommy's Time Out is a brand of table wine I have seen in my local liquor store. The label shows a woman sitting in a rocking chair facing the corner of a room, a small table next to her with a glass of wine on it. This is available in both white and red.
Even if you are good at finding your own balance, there will be people hissing at you to find a different one, a better one, one that plays better to the chorus of other mothers, one that photographs better for Christmas cards. Even your nearest and dearest may blame you for doing it wrong--i.e. not as they would. All around me are older female relatives who continually instruct me that I am giving too little of myself in some ways: why am I not baking cookies, cakes, pies? That's what mothers do! That's what they did. You can't leave him alone like that! Or conversely, too much of myself in other ways: I shouldn't lift him up like that. Can't he play by himself for once? Why do you let him interrupt adults like that? (Oh, you mean, like you interrupted me just now?)
All in all, they want me to stop paying so much attention to that self-centered little id over there, or that big id over there (my husband) and come pay attention to them. Hey, don't I understand that romance and motherhood are fine and beautiful while they last, but that the greater part of a woman's life is actually more rewardingly spent with her women friends and relatives? What? You don't agree? But that is a truth universally acknowledged!
And these women, lovely all of them, are beset by bizarre consolatory habits that are now dragging their health down. They didn't find that wonderful a balance, but sought consolation in banana bread, chardonnay, or quilting. And if I do not save my brown bananas, or have a wine cellar, or own a sewing machine, it's clear that I am doomed. I have had it adamantly explained to me in no uncertain terms that knitting will ward off depression. Well, not if you knit like I do.
I don't actually believe that keeping my hands busy will prevent me from dwelling too deeply on my situation and despairing at its utter tragedy. Thought is not a problem for me. I like it. Consciousness is bliss, not ignorance. Ignorance is inevitable, but can be remedied. Once lost, it can never be regained, thankfully. And you still have to find your own balance.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Big 5-3!

The morning after my fifty-third birthday, we were on the S-bahn coming in to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof when some graffiti caught my eye. It said, Hello Toxic Crone. I was happy the greeting was so positive. It could have read, Shut up Toxic Crone. Now I'm not usually one for waiting for synchronicitous bits of information from the universe to come along and make me veer from a calamitous rut of habit. I don't take random billboards viewed along the the side of the road stating, "Whoa! You've passed Pine Beach Road!" as clarion calls to action. I'll decide for myself, thank you. But it did get me thinking. I don't want to be toxic to anyone, and yet all around me I am faced with what my son calls "bad stares." Comments I have made just to get a laugh, or with a faint hint of sarcasm, have been taken at face value as direct and harsh criticism. And even when I follow with, "I'm kidding. I'm kidding!" it doesn't help. If you have to explain the joke, it's no longer funny, is it? They feel misunderstood and I feel misunderstood and no one's happy. I fail to remember they have no sense of humor and they fail to remember that everything I say must be taken with a handful of fleur de sel.
They don't get self-deprecating. Perhaps they feel such a poverty of self-esteem that they can't do anything else but peptalk to themselves? I don't know. I don't feel that. My feeling is that absurdities abound, and everywhere deserve comment and reaction, lest we fall prey to them. Lest we hunger for hamburgers when we see them on TV, for example. Lest we believe there is only one way to understand our actions, our words: the way they were meant. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
Happy Birthday to me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Women My Age

Here is a poem-like production of my daily writing.

Women my age
Are untapped repositories of what not to do,
Who not to trust, how not to give yourself away like that.
Furious bundles of what circumstance has made them
And why they shouldn't be blamed for how things turned out.
It's really someone else's fault.
Her parents, who praised her only for her people-pleasing skills,
Her ex-husband, drat him to hell, who made her open up
And expose herself only to laugh in her face at her weakness.
The selfish people she works with who don't understand
How much she has already suffered without having to put up with
Their irresponsibility, their cubicle shenanigans, their laziness.
They are outraged at being demoted to mere wallpaper on
The backdrops of someone else's drama.
First it was their mother's saga,
Now it is their hugely entitled and whiny children's.
They are relegated to crazy first-wife status,
The reason that playboy-wannabe was out of there.
Their priceless advice is floating freely everywhere
But not the ears to hear it with.

I have more of these, and nowhere to put them.
Is it a poem?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Expecting Perfection

So here I am reading along in Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life, by Faulkner Fox and chuckling, especially at the part early on where she wants to devise a pie chart of her unhappiness as a mother with young children and I'm fine with her going to therapy to try to find some answers, interested in her feeling that the therapist seemed to be trying to catch her in some lie, in the therapist's assumption when she said she was a writer that she was delusional, in her assessment that she wanted what men had: the right to keep doing her own work when the husband and kids walk in the room.
I thought, "Here is a woman who who has faced some of the same challenges I have and can write in a witty way about what she thinks and and understands of these events and feelings," and then I get to the beginning of the next chapter. "I began to fantasize about being in a house with a man and a child when I was 23." (p. 15) What had been flat terrain between me and Faulkner Fox began to have ankle-high hurdles that it was not impossible for me to step over, but I was going to be more skeptical. By page 28 (page 28!) when she mentions the herb garden in the back yard where "we buried our sons' placentas" she had lost me. The hurdles were now neck high and I put down the book and considered whether to keep reading. I haven't yet.
Faulkner Fox. Who names a little baby girl Faulkner? You've got to be kidding me. And if it wasn't her parents, if she chose it for herself, it's even weirder.
It annoys me that the only books about such topics are regularly written by the people who have even fewer ideas than I do about how to get on with life in our new century, people whose fantasies don't rise above some Lifetime Channel fuzzy-focus poster, people who incorporate other cultures' traditions willy-nilly in some bid for multi-cultural inclusiveness, or just have no clue what's important, so try to do everything they're vaguely drawn to aesthetically. I'm expecting feng shui if I do pick up the book later.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


You know, you think you have some kind of control over your own identity, but you don't. You think if you dress a certain way or act a certain way, flip your hair back and laugh toward the ceiling, people will believe you are carefree and charming, but you may be fooling yourself. They may not think that at all.
I wake up every day and assemble my uniform, take a pair of pants from pile A and a shirt from pile B. I don't spend a lot of time working out what each combination says about me, I don't want to use my time in that way. I just want to be comfortable and not have to think too hard about which shirt goes with which pants. I wasted and was forced to waste too much time on that pursuit in my youth. And I didn't even succeed all that well according to the photos taken at that time, so I'll be damned if I'm going to waste any more of my time on that stuff now. I don't wear make-up or pluck my eyebrows. My graying hair is short and finger-styled every day or two. I'm completely aware that this combination of visuals screams LESBIAN! to those for whom pigeonholes were invented. Clearly I'm not primping in the way that is usually used to signal sexual availability to men, so voila! that must mean the other thing. The either/or of linear thinking.
You may think your intelligence shines through your eyes, that your every gesture denotes a grace and ease of living in this world without a crippling sense of how other people see and perceive your persona. You may think that, but in thinking that you are more self-conscious and posing than you'd like to believe. Your capris and goofy bumper sandals proclaim you as a member of the soccer mom league whether you like it or not. Out in public with your child, your IQ takes several undeserved hits only because in deferring to another's needs, you can not project your own personality strongly enough to have it maintain any shape at all.
And there you are, staring out of the wrong pigeonhole.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Genetics of Hypercritical Visual Distinction-Making

Let me explain. My family prides itself on its talents in aesthetics.
My grandma told me while eating cantaloupe that this one wasn't quite as good as the one she'd had about five years before. That had been the best muskmelon she'd ever eaten. I had to admire her perseverance. She was 93 at the time and still finding her opinions of produce fascinating and noteworthy.
My mother never enters my house without pointing out what needs work. That front bannister is loose; that's dangerous, I should get that fixed. Above the toilet is a patch of bubbled paint where a leak upstairs soaked through. I should call the landlord. Those concrete steps in the back are a disgrace. Call the landlord. That path to the garage (that I don't use, because we don't have a car) is uneven, somebody could trip and sprain their ankle. I should get that seen to.
Yup. I should. I actually have called the landlord. But that doesn't get it taken care of. Plenty of advice from homeowners that doesn't really translate for us renters. I can see it too. Don't remind me.
When I visit my mother's house, I also notice things. Little nests of my dad's body hair drifting into the corners of the bathroom. Dust built up behind decorative Buddha heads on the dressers. A certain proliferation of chicken-themed pottery in the kitchen. Balled up tissues crammed down the sides of the recliners. But I figure they know this and don't need to be reminded that all of us can see these transgressions against operating room cleanliness, perfect home maintenance. I try to ignore the nests and the dust, I scoop out the tissues and toss them in the trash without comment. If they don't see those flaws, they're lucky. If they do, they know they're there, they don't need me to point them out and make them feel bad about not being more on top of it.
People-watching with my mom is an unending episode of "What Not to Wear." Other people's houses (probably including mine) are full of decorating faux pas. There is no accounting for other people outside our family's bad taste. Even within the family, my mother would maintain that her version of the family aesthetic is the best. For years, I agreed with her when pressed for my opinion. I was constantly being drawn away from my examination of human evil (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Andersonville, All Quiet on the Western Front) to weigh in on whether these candles matched that tablecloth. And it was true. In the set of our tribe's interior design, my mother's was preferable to all the others. But, No. 1: I don't care that much about it, not enough to spend time or money on my own decor, and No. 2: if I did, I'd choose a palette less pastel-oriented and far less flowery. But I don't care.
And I don't want any chickens.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's Summer Already, Damn It!

Okay, I'm invited to a pool party at my mom and dad's condo on Sunday. I don't want to go; I don't want to swim; I don't want to be cornered into jollying my son and husband into enjoying themselves at what is essentially a twenty-year shuffleboard tournament with my aging relatives. My mom is the most upbeat and delightful member of this aging rogue's gallery and somehow feels called upon to be a kind of super cruise director in charge of fun for the whole group. She cooks up day trips, checks when the gardens or museums are open, works out the best place to eat lunch after the requisite two hours of cultural enhancement. And then invites me or my sister, or both, to help her jolly along the cranky seniors. In her place, I might be tempted to do so, too. It's either take charge of it herself, or just sit in front of the ball game on TV and criticize the food.
Still, I don't want to sit around the pool in a swimsuit. I especially don't want to do it to make other people feel they are pleasing me or my son by setting the usual discussion of weather, traffic conditions, and shopping desires around a bosky pool. I don't want to be forced to swim ("But you used to love swimming!" Yes, I did, Mom. Things change.) by the fact that no one else will go in the water with my son, so I'll get guilt-tripped by the elder generation, who if memory serves, never swam with me in similar situations because there were always hordes of bratty cousins to do it for them. My son has the misfortune of being invited twice monthly to what are essentially nursing home fun fairs. I am supposed to entertain the bored seniors who have too much time on their hands and nothing to do or think about but when to invite us over again (i.e. besides doctor's appointments), and also to convince my son he's having fun, fun, fun!
Even more, I don't want to spend even one minute with my thighs exposed to the air. This is not because I care so very deeply about how they look, or how they look to some theoretical bystander. The party will consist only of family members who either don't care what my thighs look like (the males), or those who do but whose thighs are more problematic than mine (the females). I just don't want to go there. I don't want to look at them myself. I come by my hypercritical visual distinction-making genetically, and it's almost impossible to turn off once stimulated. Also the problem-solving gene. So if forced to sit around a pool with my naked knees in front of me, the puckery thigh thing distracting me from all possibility of contiguous thought processes, I'll get cranky too. I'll start imagining what could be done to ameliorate the "water trapped in silk parachute balloons" problem that my thighs now present to the world, and when liposuction arises in my mind and then is disgustedly dismissed, I will have traveled a well-worn thought trench one more time. One more time than I wanted to. I'm trying to avoid situations where I place my admittedly not-perfect body on some lazy Susan of self-scrutiny, because it's just a waste of time. I had to quit CorePower Yoga for the same reason. The yoga I was trying to practice for health and flexibility was starting to stress me out because of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the studio. I was spending all my meditative moments in body comparison studies. I couldn't help it. Most of the others were young and fit, but which was the fittest? Whose thighs did I envy the most? How utterly non-yogic.
Of course you could argue that you just have to ignore certain features of the modern world, the competitive, surface-only nature of life as it is lived here and now, but putting myself again and again in such situations where 75% of the milieu is practically toxic--better just get out. I'm fine with my legs qua legs. They work well, they take me where I want to go, they just fall down in the aesthetic department. So don't look.
Of course, what I want and what will happen are often very far apart.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How You Should Live Your Life

I have no advice. I used to hide behind a mask of silence that led people to believe I agreed with them, but mostly I didn't. Now I find in the new middle-aged blurt phase I seem to be in, that when I express my opinion, it is taken as a condemnation of any other way of doing things. A judgment on others' lives. This is not what I mean, or what I want.
For example, if I express my delight in my son's sense of humor, somehow this is taken as bragging, or worse, a criticism of the glum teenagers of others. Or a wounding reminder of others' childlessness. Most people don't want to hear about your child, especially those who are waiting for you to shut up so they can tell you about their cat.
No, I do not know how you should live your life. I often hear other women my age explaining to each other how young people should act. Which college she should go to, how he should get a job already. It's their life, let them handle the day-to-day. There is no way that your experience can help them; they live in a different world, they are differently constituted.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Run Now and Again

Every woman who thinks her husband doesn't understand her should have a sister-in-law like mine, Joanie. My brother is a typical Midwestern guy, a toolhead, asks for a circular saw for Christmas, a sports fan with an insatiable need for jerseys, a guy who feels he conquers the world on his riding mower. But he loves his wife. He just doesn't have clue what she's on about. She says, "Go get Ben from day care," and he gets up to do it, is halfway to his car when she shouts after him, "Wait, don't forget his stuff--his sweatshirt, his lunchbox--listen!" He comes halfway back to hear her instructions and then, foolishly believing the instructions are finished, starts heading out again. She calls after him, "Listen--listen," and he comes back into the living room from the kitchen, "last time I didn't gather up all his stuff, it was gone the next day. I asked them where it all was and they said look in the lost and found, and that's where I found his winter boots . . . " By this time, my brother has given up the idea of forward progress or of pleasing her, because he knows very well what's coming next. Here it comes: he waits until she's done talking and then for three more beats and she says, "Well, what are you waiting for? Go get Ben!" and he just shrugs and chuckles to himself in the car on the way over, no way to win, is there?
He does everything he can for her, he tries to listen, but he can't read her mind. He always guesses wrong--is going to get Ben first or is listening? Which? She wishes he would just do what she tells him to do, and he's trying. He wishes she could see how this feels to him, like being chained up in the yard. But he loves her, like a dog he loves her, and he accepts being chained up in the yard. He just needs to be taken out for a run now and again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


So, of course, I'm reassessing my reassessment. More voices have weighed in and many of them are slightly more ambiguous than the big thumb's up I scored two weeks ago. Again, they said, good effort, but are you sure you want to use a dream in this story? What about the husband, shouldn't we know more about him, and maybe not all from the wife's point of view? Why don't you introduce him earlier and let us, the readers, make up our own minds about him?
Yes. Yes. Yes. I see what you're saying.
I see that my stories often come to a "cute" ending. Two hand claps and that's all settled now, isn't it? That the interstices should be elaborated or perhaps cut out altogether, I can't decide. Of course, no one can tell you the answer to the question I'm really asking, which is: is it any good? Will it ever be any good? And who do I want to tell me that? And who do I need to tell me that? Because some people's opinions--good or bad--would not satisfy me.
Grump, grump, grump.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The New Me

It's a week now. Officially. I've been reassessing in light of the news I got last Wednesday that, yes, I had finally done it. It was a story, it was what I wanted to say, and it was said well.
I've molted the old restricting skin of the writer who thought she could do it, but hadn't done it to her own satisfaction yet. I'm morphing into a new form now, under a wet and wrinkled skin, no idea what the new shape will be. I'll be as surprised as anyone.
I have no idea either if this is the more significant turning point, more significant than publication. Could be. It feels almost exactly like finding out the difference between fake love, the one you took for love because you didn't know, you didn't have any idea--and then the real one comes along. Suddenly it makes no difference that nine out of ten classmates had no idea what I was on about, because liftoff has been achieved and I'm flying now, waving to all those still on the ground. I probably won't understand when most of them achieve liftoff. After all, a great deal of published literature is not to my taste. My earlier frustrations can be seen in a new and brighter light. They now make a weird kind of sense.
I have to think about this more.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Early Morning

I have no trouble falling asleep at night. I only wake if the bladder presses or if the noise level sharply rises to my left. Recently the poor fellow has a sinus infection and this is bringing his usual low-riding street rod muffler snore into the trumpeting elephant range, so at 1:30 or 2 am, I find myself gently awoken, then the bladder will keep my from digging back down into sleep. I stumble to the bathroom, then the kitchen for half a glass of water (no more, or I'll be up again in an hour), check the time just for reference, then back to bed. A gentle nudge of his top shoulder and he rolls slightly, the snoring abates and it's back to dream land. After another long sleep with various kooky visuals (closets full of halter tops and miniskirts, none of which are suitable for me to wear to the wedding--whose wedding is it, again?) the scenario repeats itself. Hours seem to have passed, empires conquered and lost, screenplays written, filmed and discarded, yet when I hit the kitchen again, only 2 hours have passed. The sky is still dark and dawn nowhere near. This time when I return to the warm blankets, he is moaning, not in pain, but because the codeine-laced cough suppressant has flicked off some autonomic nerve switch that keeps all our moans inside and silent for most of our lives. I touch his temple with my fingertips and he stops. But when my fingers lift from his skin, he starts again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oh, To Feel Hungry Again!

Every holiday and vacation with the extended family has become an endurance test. How many specialities and treats can be hoarded for the delectation of the tribe and then how many can you refuse before your elders take offense? They stocked up just for you! How can you be so rude as to decline to indulge? Especially since your indulgence allows them to sneak just a little off your plate. They shouldn't, they really shouldn't, but just a taste, a nibble really. Here in New York, the only activity my in-laws still have energy for is eating lunch at restaurants. But does that mean we can have moderate suppers? No, it does not. It's all-you-can-eat buffets for lunch and then the emotionally freighted comfort foods prepared especially for us in the evening.
I haven't felt hungry since 8 am ten days ago and won't again until two or three days after we get home, because after a week in New York being plied with Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean and home-cooked foods, we land right into Easter dinner my parents. They haven't spent the last week being wheedled by overeaters to try a little more, just a little more, why won't we please them and eat? My parents want us to want to have a big holiday feast with them. But it never ends. The cycle is so tight that there is no downtime between special days anymore.
I know very well that it is the very cemented nature of my family rootedness that makes me want the freedom of anomie. If once I got some anomie, I would probably run straight back into the entangling arms of my family.

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Search of Anomie

Yesterday was my day off--my vacation from my "vacation"--the one day while we're in New York that I get to do what I'd like. Well, within certain limits. I leave the apartment at 9 am and usually go to Times Square to look for a half-price ticket to a Broadway play. So that's what I did, but the big board didn't have much I was interested in seeing, the lines were very long and I didn't feel like waiting in line for something expensive I only half-wanted, only to get to the box office and find they were sold out. The two shows I almost wanted to see were "God of Carnage," about the crazed behavior of the nouvelle riche of Paris, or "Looped," about the nutty, outspoken Tallulah Bankhead. Well, I hardly needed a $60 reminder of the varieties of bad behavior in living rooms and restaurants on this earth. Contradictory and over-emotionally charged dictates from people you feel you must please (or at least humor)--the comedy in those situations has worn extremely thin for me. I made the mistake a year ago of going to "August: Osage County" and spent three hours in a parallel universe of dysfunction that was far too realistic.
So yesterday, I left the ticket line and walked south until I reached the West Village. Trees flowered on the little side streets. I walked until I was tired, found a cafe and read the New York Times. Then I walked some more until I ran across an Italian restaurant that appealed, so I spent my time and my $60 in a quiet solitary lunch without the hissed recriminations, or the forced feeding that reigns at my in-laws' dining table.
What I could not have: time alone with my husband. His parents assume we get plenty of that at home, but they're wrong. Whatever time we have is sucked up by his job, activities at our son's school, other family events. I can have a little break in New York, but my husband can't. His parents have no compunction about playing the guilt card on him as often as they like.
Walking alone, eating alone--I had a brief experience of detachment. What if no one knew where I was, no one waited for my to come home? For a moment, it seemed an enviable freedom, and one I might choose if I believed that it was that or suffocation. I did have to get back, though; if I don't return to the apartment by (latest) 6 pm, the anxiety goes off the charts. Thankfully, we go home in two days.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Little Spiral of Pain

Okay, so I'm a little stressed out. I know I'm stressed. I can feel my face twisting into a little spiral of pain which looks more like worry or anger to those who see it. The soft, lightly etched skin around my left eye twitches, flinches really. Yesterday a muscle on the right side of my nose tensed repeatedly against my will. I'm gritting my teeth and the muscles involved are tired. My temples beat with tension. I left my glasses at home today and maybe it's a good thing because they have been weighing heavily on the veins in my nose, light as they are. My shoulders are hiked up as high as they'll go. I might as well be tensing for a physical blow.
We're on our way to New York to visit my husband's parents. When I tell people we're going to New York for spring break, I can see they imagine a fun-filled week of Broadway plays, museums, walks through Central Park. But that's not what it's like. It's seven days in a dark overheated apartment, trying to shield those I love (my husband, my son) from the psychological gnawing they'll suffer at the hands of my in-laws. It's not emotional abuse, not quite, but my husband will never please them, give them enough of himself, get the praise he works so hard for. It's never going to happen.
I have to practice detachment. I have done it before and I will do it again. My capacity for stress is pretty high, maybe too high, and I have worked hard to try to spread it out, not take on too much, but my capacity is not infinite and I don't want to find out what my breaking point is.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What I'm Trying to Do

I wish I knew. If I did know, maybe I wouldn't have to write so much stuff down. All I do know is that it won't fit on a cocktail napkin, in a photo caption, on a list of how-tos. The story, my story, the way I see the story is too complex for a sound byte, a blurb, or a movie poster. What happened before, how it came to this, is too important to me to leave out. And I'm finding telling my story to friends and family is not as satisfying as it once was.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Joan Didion said, and it's so true it's frightening. The chaos of our biology, flattened and mutated by our cultural overlays requires us to think up a new story almost every day about why wake up in the morning, why put one foot in front of the other. If we fail to come up with a convincing story, we might not get out of bed, we might just stop dead. And the curious thing is, that story doesn't have to satisfy anyone but you. Circumstances continually shift and our lives are in constant rewrite. What seems like a perfectly acceptable reason to do something at 25 is a terrible reason at age 50. But does that mean that it was a mistake at age 25? No. Not at all.
I'm trying to explain how I feel. I'm trying to explain what I know and how I know it. I'm trying to understand how to live in the particular, highly peculiar situation I find myself in. I don't know if I'll succeed. But I have to try.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Act Your Age

It's vaguely embarrassing to be hit with the writing bug so late in life. My family, my friends were quite used to me being just like them, muddling through with no more than the next day's to-do list on my mind. Which is plenty, believe me, for anyone in our complicated world, but they can't quite believe my defection. Am I expecting--gasp!--to be famous? Or rich? Or what, exactly? They don't get it. And why am I not watching TV and reading the newspaper like normal people do?
Isn't this something I should have gotten out of my system back in my adolescence, or at the latest, in my twenties? It's almost shameful at my age, to be thinking that I could start such a big project and expect to be able to finish it. It's too late to do things like go back to college, or start a whole new career--isn't it? I should act my age.
And then of course, because I have a teenaged son, why am I not focusing more of my efforts on his behalf? Why not live vicariously through him? All this naked striving on my own behalf, impossibly ambitious and unseemly. What can I be thinking? Isn't it time to rest on my laurels (what laurels?) and think about retiring or my 401K plan or my living will?
All I can answer is I paid attention, maybe too much attention, to what everyone else wanted me to do for too long already. Right after college, I was urged to be practical, get a job, start supporting myself. I did. Then when I had a baby, of course the baby came first. Now that he's in high school, I have more time to pursue my own plans and I'm going to. If not now, when?

Up next: what I hope to accomplish at this late date.

Friday, March 19, 2010


My son is a vegetarian. We took him to the farmers market in Toulouse and there he got a good look at whole pigs hanging from the butcher's hook, cow tongues lolling in the meat case, and entire tetes de veau. He was horripilated. Then he watched a woman eat a whole bloody plate of steak tartare (with a raw egg broken over it) at the Brasserie Lipp in Paris. That was it. He said: "No more meat for me!" and after only six months of occasional bacon-eating, he has stuck to his philosophical guns for over half his life--from age seven to now, age fourteen.
I'm not a vegetarian, but at home we eat vegetarian--all of us--because it simplifies the cooking and leads to smoother relations all round. The only difficulties arise when we go to big family holiday dinners, like all of them, that feature meat. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Easter, and the usual summer barbeque season. Of course, the whole extended family has become a minefield of specialized diets--diabetics, low-fatters, South Beachers, low-cholesterolics, and then the myriad and various personal dislikes to be factored in. Deciding on one menu everyone might like is almost impossible, or as the Italian say, quasi-stratosferico. I am frequently begged to reassure my mother, my aunts, whoever, that my son will eat, and even more, will enjoy some cheesy casserole they believe he should like. I say yes. I don't know if he will, the track record is spotty, but better to deal with the fall-out when it arrives, rather than waste tons of time wringing our hands about it for days and days before the event. If he doesn't like something, they feel I betrayed them. They look at me as if I deliberately misled them, as if I encouraged him to be a vegetarian just to upset their menu plans.
Not me. I keep a secret stash of prosciutto in the fridge, carefully hidden in camoflaging wrapper and no one's found it there yet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Le Mot Juste

I had no idea how liberating writing a blog would be. I write down all my inner thoughts and fears, launch them out into cyberspace in perfect security that they will never be read. It's more secure there than in a diary with a little key. There it joins the vast tsunami of personal info that's sloshing about all over the blogosphere to the extent that no one ever looks at any of it. This is tremendously freeing. No sense of writing for an audience, no possibility of hurting anybody's feelings. And no sense that anything I write down on these little screens will ever come back to bite me in the ass. I see now that I had a last remaining magical notion that some opinion of mine, once written down in cold black ink would somehow clang through eternity as a given, rather than a talking point. If I had written more when I was younger, perhaps I would have abandoned this silly notion earlier. But I suffer from a common malady among writers: I think words are important. I think the right word is very important, sometimes even crucial. Le mot juste and all that, when perhaps le mot juste pour maintenant is a more workable notion.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

After It's Gone

So now I'm a formerly fat person. I now have the opportunity to leave that former self in the murky past. People I've met in the last ten years don't know this salient fact about me and now I have to decide whether and how much to tell them. And most people don't want to hear about it. If they've had the genetic good luck never to have to think about their weight, they don't want to hear about your weakness; if they are deep in their own struggle with extra pounds, they can't envision defeating them. I can see the look in their eyes, the look I used to share: the "you can't possibly know the pressure I'm under" look, the "easy enough to say, but try my life for a couple of days" look.
Yeah, I know.
So even though I'd like to be truthful and sympathetic, that's not how my story plays when told. Thin people don't care, heavier people can't hear. It's like the new boyfriend who doesn't want to hear about your past. He'd rather believe you were always like this and just waiting for him to come along and appreciate you. Anyway, according to thin women, I'm still fat. According to my kindred, the fat women, I'm thin. So I'm shit out of luck. Neither community will let me in.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How I Lost the 60 Pounds

Lots of hard work. It's like a full-time job. This won't read like your typical motivational story--if those actually motivated anyone, we wouldn't need so many of them.
First, the decision. I can't live like this anymore. Too painful.
Next, the research. Available in any library or bookstore. I decided to go the low-fat, high-fiber route, with increasing doses of exercise. Everyone knows what works.
Then, the commitment to cooking, menu planning, and portion control.
Lastly, limiting the challenges. Eating out, buffets, parties, holidays.
Sounds easy, right?
I probably spend more time each day planning what I'm going to cook and eat than most of the chefs in those quirky little start-up restaurants. But it pays off. My food is good. I feel satisfied. Every single day is easier now that I'm not lugging around an extra 60 pounds everywhere I go. I save so much time not berating myself for having eaten something I didn't even want. That time saved is applied to menu planning. I spend much less time worrying about how I look or examining the passing crowd for that one person who is bulkier than I am, the one I can feel thinner than. I don't do any of that anymore. When I see someone big--really big, like the strings judge at my son's music festival--I wonder instead what his story is. What hurt is he eating to keep from feeling? What anger is he unable to express in any other way than a slow strangulation of his own life?
Because it's not easy being fat. Not easy to eat beyond the point of comfort, into gastric distress. Not easy to beat yourself up every day about your own bad habits and then continue them. Not easy to walk around in the world absolutely positive everyone's looking at you and your excess bulk and judging you. It takes a great commitment to pain. I wasn't able to do it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The History of Pain

What pain?
It's hard to remember the worst of the thoracic outlet syndrome, because now with a little attention to my posture as I write, frequent breaks and flossing my ulnar nerve, I feel pretty good. I'm back to occasional numbness in the right hand and stiffness on the right side of my neck. Slowly it will recede until I can't remember that either, won't be able to recall which side it was on.
Flossing my ulnar nerve looks like I'm slapping paint on the wall next to me, right hand out to the side, bending at the elbow. It feels good, though. Not the tingling associated with your foot waking up after it's been asleep. More a cool clear trickle of water down a dry gully--ahh!
Rotating my head for the physical therapy exercises I can hear a grating sound--my neck vertebrae grinding on sand. Circles with my left shoulder (not the bad one) make a horrid crunching sound. Melba toast under teeth. The paint-slapping more features a tough fibrous-sounding snap past the bones in my elbow which is pretty alarming, but is followed by such relief I put up with it.
Turns out I have little capacity to withstand pain. I thought I was stoic, but what I am is pain-averse. I will change my habits in a hot minute if they give me any negative feedback. No wonder I can't smoke or drink!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Human Variation

I saw a woman  walking down the street ahead of me the other day and it must have been glare off a car window or something, but bright light shone through between her legs. Yes, between her thighs right up at the crotch. She was skinny, yes, and wide-slung, and she could have carried a tennis ball there if she wanted to.
Human bodies are so various, so infinite in their permutations. That area on me would never allow the light of day to penetrate, not even when I was a little girl. My legs have always rubbed together--noisily in corduroys or patterned tights, stickily in warm weather, swimsuit or skirt, chafingly on the hottest days. My jeans wear out there on the inseam long before the knees give out.
And now as the middle-aged sag begins its slow downward pull, my collarbone becomes more prominent, my ribs above my breasts stick out and my thighs take on the excess. Like candle wax it all seems to melt and flow downward. The outer thighs, too, sproing out on each side with thick wodges of extra flesh. From where? I'm the same weight as before. Yes, wodges troweled on from some unknown fat source. I know, wodge is not a word. But that's only because Shakespeare didn't have this problem. If he had, we'd have a word for it already, and it wouldn't be up to me to make one up.
By the way, not envious of skinny women. They have their own challenges. But they'll have to write their own blog about those.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Willows One-Man Mobile Self-Propelled Dirigible Gasbag

Wha . . . ? I heard something. Was the furnace pump grinding its gears again? Whoa. No. There it was again. No wonder it woke me up. And again. Gaseous exhalations from under the down comforter next to me. He sits up. It woke him too. Off he goes to the bathroom.
I call him the "Little Willows One-Man Mobile Self-Propelled Dirigible Gasbag" after an early blimp from 1907. There have been times when I thought I'd find him sailing about the upper corners of the airspace above the bed. How have the seats of his pants withstood the numerous onslaughts? It's a mystery that should remain unsolved.
Positives to this situation? Can there be any? Yes, there can.
My own pooting pattern is as the song of the nightingale versus the foghorn of his. And then there's the daily potential for comedy. He sits at the computer amending his class plans and I ask him if he minds going out to my mom and dad's for dinner on Sunday. He lifts up one buttock and--brraapp!--lets one rip.
"I'll take that as a no," I say, and his laugh rings out, louder, if that can be imagined, than the hot breath out the other end. His laughter loosens the sphincter again and, whoa, both at once.
We are helpless in the clutches of this hysteria, and we do not want to be delivered from it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It Takes a Village . . .

and my village wants me out.
Some years ago now, I went to church, because not going to church while my grandparents still lived would make a bigger statement, cause a rift I didn't want to have to leap, but then I couldn't restrain myself from pointing out the arbitrary nature of the hand gestures. I made up my own sign of the cross that involved touching the nose and then the finger tips together for the benefit of my fidgety little cousin in the pew in front of me. He was, of course, highly diverted by this and didn't remain bored and undiverted as one should in church, as a child. I was distracting him from God. Somehow the fact that he was rapt could be felt through the airwaves and all the mothers in the vicinity snapped their heads around to see what he was doing--whatever it was, he shouldn't be doing it!--and saw him looking at me. Obviously, he, evil little elf or not, could not be blamed for not paying attention in church if I was distracting him. Invisible daggers flowed from five pairs of eyes into my head.
What? I thought, I've distracted him from this equation: God is Love, Love is Boredom, Boredom is a Twitchy Inability to do anything that might please yourself, Twitchy Inability is Good Behavior, Good Behavior is the Death of the Self, Death of the Self is Knowledge of God . . . stop me when you disagree.
But the biggest problem the village sees in my behavior is my inability to understand human weakness. Can't I see that most people need God as a crutch, as an opiate to withstand this vale (veil) of tears called Life on Earth? Why can't I leave them this crutch? Why do I insist upon kicking it out from under their arm and shouting, "Walk! Walk! You know you can walk!" Just because I don't find that hypothesis necessary, why do I laugh at those who do?
I don't believe I laugh. I believe I am only asking them, asking seriously, what if you subtracted this assumption from your list? What then? Would you view the world differently? Would you be happier? If illusions are making you unhappy, miserable in fact, why are you holding on to them? Need we all follow this ancient template of right living? How's it working out for you?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

4th Floor Walk-up

My mom came over one afternoon, ensconced herself on my recliner and picked up the article I had been reading before she arrived. It was an interview with Deborah Eisenberg. As far as I know, my mom doesn't know who Deborah Eisenberg is, has never read any of her short stories, doesn't like short stories compared to novels, and has cut back sharply on her reading. Nevertheless, she got sucked into the interview by the marvelous seductive voice, until she got to the part where Deborah explained that she and Wallace Shawn were moving out of their apartment into a fourth-floor walk-up nearby. Deborah is in her 60s and the picture of her with her dramatic white hair still streaked with black on the cover of the article, a woman with a ladylike presence and self-possession that my mom identifies with, perhaps led her to express her dismay at this move. "A fourth-floor walk-up? At their age? That's terrible!"
"Why?" I said. "They're not inviting you over. You don't have to climb all those stairs."
Her eyes bugged out at me. She closed her mouth to a thin line.

It's been a while since my mom and I saw eye to eye on many things. We tend, like the nice Midwesterners we are, to just keep away from those many topics we disagree on. But if we were to examine it, break it down, it might go like this. Probably my mom doesn't approve of about 75% of my life. We don't have a house, we don't care about decorating, our rented apartment seems cramped and uncomfortable to her and makes few concessions for the comfort of guests. We didn't get married until after the baby was born, just to get the health insurance we needed. It took us forever to settle down and do what everyone else does right away after college. I have no career; we have little socked away for retirement. Almost everything I have done in my adult life has been a bad idea according to her. For a long time, I thought she didn't mind that I was going my own way, that she trusted me to find my own way forward. But maybe she has thought all along I shouldn't have wasted all those years in graduate school, or traveling. I should have been working, saving for a down payment on a house, getting a proper job.
Was I doing everything wrong, because it wasn't what she did, it wasn't what she would do if she were in my place? I guess that's why she didn't approve of Deborah and Wallace moving to a fourth-floor walk-up. She couldn't imagine herself at the age of 75, now, moving into a less convenient, more physically challenging space. If she could not imagine it for herself, she put an emotional fatwa on anybody doing it. Likewise, driving at night.
I blame celebrity culture. TV shows everyone the horrid ways that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are misusing their time and money. Most of us can do little to enter the conversation other than expressing our disapproval. "They" are not doing it "right." This assertion itself implies that the TV watcher does know how to do it "right." This smug self-satisfaction permeates all they do, all they buy, all their other opinions and aesthetic choices. We are all truly multi-cultural now. We are not to sneer at others' ways of doing things, but we are invited to, encouraged to. We love to, because we're not supposed to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Second Adolescence

The process of becoming a writer seems to make anyone, no matter their age, hypersensitive. No one understands just how hard it is to sit there and sift through your own past for wounds and stick your finger straight in and find out just how much and where it hurts. Or, if not your hurts, those you are feeling for someone else so you can tell their story. Then to add insult to injury, no one thinks it looks like hard work. They all think they could do it, too--and better and faster than you do--if only they had the time.
Then you offer the results to your writing teachers, your fellow students, your treasured readers, and it's just like junior high all over again. You want unconditional love, but no one in junior high can offer you that.
Next, how do I incorporate the various reactions to my pages? Those who like it I dismiss as know-nothings, those who do not as missing my subtle point. Should I change it to please this one or that one? Should it have more plot and less rumination, like R. says? Or get more inside the characters' heads with all the incremental steps put in, as A. says? Am I way too harsh, as many fellow students say? Should I read it into a tape recorder? Will that magically solve all my problems? I am working so hard and it feels like I'm getting nowhere. Spinning my wheels, obsessing on crap, just making everyone else's life miserable as I fail to put two words together with any success. Strangely, people still respond to my personality mostly positively. A few odd looks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Weight of Backstory

I've never been thin. At age 12, I looked basically as I do now, but with a  young face--heavy thighs, womanly hips, big butt, much smaller on top. For about three months in college, I went below 140 pounds, for one week of that below 130, due to infatuation. Pushing away food, living on air, on the chance of seeing him between classes. One week. Then it was over. Never happened again. Due to my sincere love of food, I averaged 155 for much of my 20s and 30s. But I was up to 165 when I got pregnant at 37. Then I gained only 20 pounds in the nine-month period, lost more after the birth due to breastfeeding, but started to gain again in the lengthy sleep deprivation that followed. About four years of broken, inadequate sleep and I hit my personal high of 207 pounds. So tired I needed a double breakfast to get going in the morning, so tired at 4 pm I had a piece of cake or a cookie. I ate dinner full, but knowing I'd be up two or three times. I couldn't sleep, so I ate. Being too full probably added to the poor quality of my sleep. Finally, I could barely bend in the middle. I couldn't get down on the floor to play with my son.
I said to myself, That's enough.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Writing Rules!

Sit down, apply pencil to loose leaf. Wait.
That's all I usually have to do these days and it comes. I don't know what will come--aphorisms, titles, journal entries, story ideas, dialogue for stories in progress, philosophical musings--but something. See? Even this, watching myself watch myself writing. This week, not so much, though. Maybe because I'm over-impressed by my four-year anniversary, maybe that I'm cycling through another knowledge acquisition phase, wherein I read voluminously and watch movies obsessively. These times are fun, too, not quite as good as writing a lot, but useful.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Teflon Bubble

I go on and on about how I look good for my age, and I know that many people may take it as bragging about the genetic luck I was born with. But ten years ago, I was sixty pounds heavier and hoping every day to see someone on the street who was heavier even than I was, so I could say to myself, " At least I haven't let myself get that bad!" Cold comfort. I discovered in that period that I was grumpy and defensive before anyone said a word to me. That I traveled in a teflon bubble assuming people were judging me and finding me wanting. Others had no right to do that to me, though; that was my job. How did it come to that? And why is it no longer true?
Stay tuned: Body Blog by Barb can answer all your questions.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Odalisque 2010

Swimming has been surprisingly body-positive for me. I hadn't thought it would be. Yoga in a mirrored studio became increasingly dismaying two years ago. But I discover now that I think I look better in the buff than clothed. Strangely I'm beginning to understand why a nice modest woman might let her boyfriend or husband talk her into having her picture taken nude. Especially if she believes she is not pretty and he begs to differ. She might secretly want proof that she is or was beautiful in one way at one time. She may not think at the time about her children getting a hold of it in years to come.
I don't have any such photos myself, but even a bra and panties dig just slightly into me and start the illusion of rolls of flesh. Jeans=muffin-top for someone with my shape. If only I could get Ingres to paint me as Odalisque!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Fourth Anniversary

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my daily writing habit. What do I have to show for it? Hundreds of pages of drecky journal, thirty short story attempts, ten semi-serious poems, dozens of kooky titles with no story attached (A.I. for Dummies, Living with LCD, Titles Are My Weakness, etc.), improved typing skills, fifteen new friends, a new or renewed purpose, a heightened sense of the ridiculous, and a gratitude for mortality. I won't have to do this forever, just until I die.
Either writing is driving me crazy or keeping me sane. But which? I also have twenty rejections--it should be more, I know, but I hate the business end. I'm doing a DIY MFA, to spare myself the ritualized hazing of writing workshops. Now that I'm "in touch with my creativity," it's time to ask if the sensation is an enjoyable one.
Yes! It is! I find that my longstanding skills of cafe lounging are really starting to pay off. Ditto procrastination in house cleaning. One of these days, an example of my deathless prose will sprout off the tender tendril of a state university literary review and get an even chance of curling and drying on the vine. One of these days.
Until then, I'll rant from here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

Couldn't sleep Sunday night. Thoracic blah-blah-blah acting up, couldn't find a comfortable position where my hand wouldn't go numb. I lay awake about two hours. If I'd had any wine for dinner, I probably would have attributed my sleeplessness to that. Or if I'd overeaten. But sometimes I think it's just the brain demanding thinking time.
Too many inputs. TV, movies, internet, radio, conversations, work details, life logistics. And so many of us are bored if we don't distract ourselves constantly while we're awake. We don't give ourselves enough time to process all these inputs--then we wonder why we can't sleep. Distraction is perhaps a species of denial. So thinking in the middle of the night is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you don't indulge in self-recrimination about how tired you'll be the next day. This may not be something you have to fix about yourself. Just stare into the dark and breathe.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Not so many yet. I do have tiny etched lines near the eyes, deepening creases on my neck, and two saggy little points about a third of the way from my chin to the corner of my jaw bone. This latter detail is an inheritance from my mother that she cannot see on herself or its repetition among her sisters. The first time I mentioned it, "Look, I'm getting the matrilineal chin points!" she said in some shock, "I don't have those, do I?" Um, yup, you do, Mom.
Recently she gave me copies of some pictures taken at Christmas, she and Dad with each of their children and our families, four in all, in front of her Christmas tree. Her face in each of the pictures is so nearly identical to the rest that it almost looks as if her face has frozen into a special "for photographs only" grimace. I wonder if this is on purpose. Does she know it's happening? Can she see it in the photos herself? I don't mean these comments as some sort of criticism of her, surface vs. interior or whatever. But it is curious and I wish I could ask her. But I'm afraid to; she seems so touchy on the subject of her looks, now in her 75th year. All she said about the photos was that the beautiful new jacket she bought for the holiday parties made her look fat in the photos, and that it was too bad, because she didn't think it made her look fat in person.
What is expected of me is the usual: "No, it didn't make you look fat in person. Oh, too bad, the high sheen of the fabric creates a glare that reads in the photos as a rounded belly." So I said that. But what's sad to me is that the photo will become more important than the event, has such impact on her view of herself.
My worst wrinkles, by the way, are on my earlobes. Go figure.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

18 Days

Eighteen days. Eighteen days since my last period. It used to be one of those 28 days like clockwork things, then about three years ago, it shortened to 24 days. I don't know why I expected it to go the other way, to get more infrequent and then disappear altogether, but I did.
Intellectually, I'd prefer to be done with it, the mess, the accompanying mood shifts. I have heard many women get a burst of energy when it's over, and I'd like that. My mood shifts are not strong enough to be noticeable except in hindsight. One day a month, I'm cranky and tend to lose patience with my husband or son, but it's never a whole big drama. Still, I'd like it to go.
As soon as menopause is behind me, I'll be glad. I wish it would hurry up and be over. So far, I don't feel any need medicate or control this process, a complex feedback loop that will not respond linearly to any homeopathic remedy you might throw into the mix. It would be like trying to control the weather or push clouds. You might, in fact, make everything worse.
I have not yet desired to stop or turn back the clock. Not everyone feels this way, I realize, but I have not yet found a period in my life I'd like to set in amber and continue indefinitely. I'm always hoping for more--more information, more experience, more and different pleasures. And so far, I've been lucky.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What Looks Like Work . . .

I know I sound cruel to my elders. I hate it that I feel this way. I'd like to go back to an earlier me, one that didn't count the cost of each action I take on behalf of others. My own helpfulness has led people to believe that my grasp of logistics and strong arms will be forever at their beck and call. Surely, we all share the same goals?
Problem is, we never discuss these goals. I cannot discern these goals from the traditional hoopla surrounding the holidays. To question the necessity of any one element of the hoopla is to become a killjoy. The illusion that everyone loves the Christmas season is a fragile bubble only a Grinch would pop.
My elders are bored. They worked so hard--for their houses, their children's education, their retirement--but now they have nothing to do. They live like the idle rich, but they don't know what to do with their time. They hope I (or my sisters) will help them fill it or kill it. They look forward to holidays as a goal for all their underutilized energies, as a time when they feel entitled to exact more than the usual desultory efforts from us.
I'm not bored. I'm working. But my work--writing--doesn't look like work to them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nostalgia for Past Pleasure

How many times can we do the same thing, over and over and over, and still pretend it gives the same pleasure as before? I was feeling cornered by the third day of holiday cheer, that no part of my mental space was left to me. All of it was commandeered by the needs of the group. So I sat down with my dad's laptop and played a mindless game, Snood. My fingers kept clicking the mouse, while I desultorily chimed in on the absolutely statutory conversation. As Julian Barnes said in his memoir piece, "The Past Conditional," (New Yorker, Dec. 25 & Jan. 1, 2007) the certainty that some of my family members have always shown that they know the correct way to proceed in all circumstances has been "usefully clear in childhood, restrictive in adolescence, and grindingly repetitive in adulthood."
It was delightful when we were children to have a complex Christmas ritual, the month or more of preparation, the illusion of plenty for a time when we were in fact usually economically challenged. We were churchgoers then, too. Now it is so difficult to trump the plenty of everyday that two weeks of excessive calorie intake and two Christmas trees with a mountain of presents under each still leaves the younger generation vaguely underwhelmed. These are the kids who annually are treated to three to five birthday parties to cover friends, school, and both sides of the top-heavy family.
Nostalgia for past pleasure seems to be fueling this escalation of effort and spending, but as far as I can determine, it is not in fact giving the perpetrators the pleasure they seek to recapture. Which is the definition of neurosis--to keep doing the same thing again and again, even though it doesn't work, in the hope that this time it will.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This is the Way We Do: Holiday Edition

What is accomplished during the holidays?
We check each others' bodies for gross changes. We explain to each other the thickening lenses of our glasses, the weight lost or gained, the blood sugar levels, the cholesterol. We are amazed for each other by time's dragging pull on our weak, soft flesh. We check for gray hairs, doubled chins. We notice the humped upper backs on our parents, their diminishing stature. We repeat to each other anecdotes and family received wisdom. We check each others' children for common familial genetic traits: tongue-rolling, round or flat buttocks, the curved arc of flesh inside the knee. We discuss the emerging character of each others' children. We boast about our own kids, while looking for the secret negatives in our siblings' broods. We seek to vindicate our parenting style. We try to convey the highlights of the past year or month to each other; in seeking to explain our life, others take our words as advice, assume we are recommending it as the single righteous path to happiness. It's not. It's just what we've found out so far, our own singular take.
My story is no self-help book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get It In

About the writing thing. Yeah.
Over the Christmas break, I found myself getting a bit edgy, then cranky. At first, I couldn't figure out why. Then it dawned on me that with both my husband and son home from school (my husband's a teacher), I had to carve out an hour or two from each day for writing, whether they liked it or not. When they're in school, I don't have to account for every hour they're not home. When we're all "on vacation," somehow I do. It's hard to tell your closest loved ones that you have a priority, any priority, that you believe trumps their claim on you. I don't like to do hard things, like explain myself. Maybe that's why it took me so long to get back to writing?
It got worse on the actual days around Christmas and New Year's, because not just my immediate family, but a whole room full of the extended family--none of whom would (or should, for that matter) believe it crucial that I tiptoe away and get in a little scribbling. They all have their own reasons to love or hate holidays, and I can't expect any sympathy from them on this point. But somehow I still seemed to feel it was all their fault I couldn't.
In a related story, my sister told me last year that she had finally figured out that when she kept her ears warm in winter (with earmuffs, in her case), she was a much kinder and gentler person. When she said that, I answered, "And when you know that about yourself, it's your duty to do all you can to make life on this planet that much better for those around you. But new earmuffs."
About halfway through the Christmas vacation, I had it figured out, woke up earlier, and got the writing done, then joined civilized society with a lighter heart. So my point is, now that I know this about my own mood states, whose fault is it if I fail to get a little writing in?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hair is Where?

Well, not where it used to be. I used to feel like a Neanderthal woman, thickly pelted on forearms and shins, but now years of Lycra-wearing has worn off the worst of it in those areas. I still have hair in abundance where the modern sleek young women have waxed everything to rubber doll smoothness--or so I'm given to understand by TV shows and magazines. There are fashions in these things as well as clothing and hairstyles. Brazilian used to be a nationality; now it's a private hair style, a menu item on the waxing board.
So, swimming. Recommended by my masseuse to "open the shoulder." I used to love swimming, the cool sensation of water flowing past my skin, the buoyancy, the semi-weightlessness. I felt lithe and graceful in water, a mermaid in her element. Something I never felt on land. Swimming was the only exercise I could enjoy. All others made me sweaty, chafed and frustrated, were linked with humiliation and ill-fitting gym suits.
Now, however, the bother of going somewhere, undressing, getting all wet, drying off again, and getting redressed just seem like a huge hurdle. Until the shoulder thing. At least I can swim. I was on the swim team in high school. Before anyone gets overly impressed though, all you had to do to be on the swim team was show up at the pool and put on a suit. No try-outs, no cuts. I learned the strokes, I became a better, more efficient swimmer, but I never got any faster really. I finished every race two or even three lengths behind the winner. The coach kept nominating me for the three-inch trophy for perseverance, or dedication, which should have had engraved on it in parentheses, "despite lack of improvement." Happily, I was not my lap time. I was not my beautiful stroke. I was not how my body looked in a swimsuit.
It has never ceased to startle me that there are poor souls who continue to grasp at the straws that rain down on them in an indifferent universe for any hint of who they are, what they should do or be. I can feel a global sympathy for that plight, but I do not know how it feels.
Of course, I have other problems.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No More Slouching

What I can't do any more, due to thoracic outlet syndrome:
1. slouch like a teenager
2. cross my legs
3. hold a pencil for 3+ hours per day
4. type in this blog at my old outmoded computer desk, the kind with the keyboard slide-out thing
5. curl up on the couch to watch a movie on DVD
6. sit up in bed and read holding a book in that cursed right claw.
All of these are long-standing habits of mine, habits I'm going to have to break if I don't want to be in pain. I certainly don't want to become too acquainted with "pain management."
Oh, well, on to plan B.
Swimming. Next post: "Hair is Where?"

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Generals' Table

I'm going to get back to the body here pretty soon. These days I spend way too much time at the generals' table, where my elders complain about their ailments, aches and pains, pleasures they've been forced to give up. In the officers' mess of a professional army, the lieutenants' table would be discussing women and sex, the majors food, wine, and cigars, and the generals their gout. Somehow I prematurely joined my parents and their friends at the majors' table when I was about 14, and have stayed there until recently, when they all turned into generals.
My mom can't eat peppers, cucumbers, or cantaloupe; they cause an untoward volume of gas. My aunt will not eat tomatoes; I don't know why. My mother-in-law would rather die than eat green vegetables: literally! If I should perchance fail to remember one of these arcane prohibitions, they are horrified. How could I forget such important details about them? Don't I love them any more? None of them should eat white bread or sweets, but that is what they want, and bake, and bring to my house to get it out of their own cupboard where it will tempt them. No, thank you, don't bring that here! I don't want it either!
I want to go back to the lieutenants' table. Anyone know where it is?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not Crazy

When I told friends about my involvement in an intervention, they all asked me--all of them!--whether I thought they were alcoholic. I don't know! Why are you asking me? Are you telling me the whole truth about your drinking habits? If I say you aren't an alcoholic, will that give you some kind of esoteric permission to continue to drink as you do, possibly step it up a little?
What I do know is that living with people who are addicted can make you crazy. That the addicts I know are very clever and can turn things around to make you feel like the one who is in the wrong. You're not doing enough for them, not letting them have fun, not being understanding enough. And if you dare to call them on any of this, they turn it around and accuse you of being controlling.
According to AA, if you're asking people if you're an addict, you probably are. If you say you are not an alcoholic, then for sure you are. Is AA a cult? Is the entire American culture to be viewed only through a 12-step lens? If so many people are addicts, does that mean that 100% of the American population is addicted to something? Can my coffee addiction be equated with meth addiction? Once again, Americans show their preference for the easy answer, the one-shot deal, the magic pill.
Are you an alcoholic? The answer is, it depends. I don't know. Are you? Do you need everyone else in America to be addicted to something so you can feel better about your own dependencies? If so, you probably are.