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.