Monday, February 21, 2011

Another reason not to jog

. . . is stress incontinence. The kind where if you cough really hard, or sneeze so the roof flaps even a little, or just try to run in place as part of a shape-up routine your son is roping you into, a little bit of pee is forced past the sphincter. That little ring of muscle is all that keeps you from one of the major horrors of homelessness. You can get a surgeon to tie you a little tighter in that area with a noose of surgical thread, but I prefer to just not jog. Now why should this formerly snugly fitting biological washer begin to relax? It's not like a baby came out of that hole and stretched it out so bad it can never go back. You can Kegel it up to a tighter fit, to some extent, but part of the aging process is this progressive relaxation of what used to be tight and firm and I don't think Botox in that area can do anything positive.
Yet another indignity. Ah, well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Day

I meant to write something good for once, a happy bit of news from the other side of fifty for those who fear it or those who are already looking back at some peak, never believing they'll feel that good again. But, hey, good news lacks conflict, therefore momentum, therefore interest. My travel tales that play best in repertoire are the insect stories, the vermin difficulties. Non-travelers would rather hear the horrors than the glories, since they continually scavenge the newspapers for reasons not to leave home. And if you're looking, you can find.
Anyway, love. I could write about my relationship with my husband, how great things are, how well we understand each other, tidbits on the physical side of things--but I cannot. Unlike the tell-alls on TV, or unauthorized biographies, shows like Sex and the City, I can't reveal details. I'd like to, but it would feel like treachery, betrayal. The real person I'm having this intense relationship with deserves my reticence. If I tell others, I am actually according them greater intimacy than the person I really feel it for. So--no deal.
I dislike Valentine's Day for just the same reason. It is more about being seen to have a sweetheart who will publicly declare his affection than the quality of that affection in private. Another horrifying example of the modern preference for being seen as loved over really being loved.
I do like chocolate though.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


It happened twice yesterday. One moment fine, the next in tears. This has got to be the mood swings of menopause. I have felt nothing like it since pregnancy, and if there are some women who are subject to this sort of bumpy ride their whole life, then I feel for them. Do we all go through periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium like toddlers do? We may fool ourselves for a few years that we've got it all figured out, we're over the hump, should be smooth sailing from now on in! Then--this.
Is it writing, discovering what I think as pencil presses into paper, that has made me all trembly, emotional and adolescent? Is this the way all writers feel? Or just all menopausal women? For some of my age cohort, I believe it is the growing conviction that they have made a bad bargain--they have put others' needs before their own for so long, they don't even know what they want any more. And they're furious at the whole world for not having mentioned this would happen if they waited so long . . .
How can I scientifically discover if it is writing or menopause or the stress of the sandwiched generation? If I stop writing and it continues, is it menopause or generational stress? Since I can't remove menopause or escape the sandwiched situation, perhaps writing is the only release valve available to me, and if I stop doing that, I may implode. You can only live your life in one direction. No do-overs.
Also, I find I have no peers. I have not had many over the course of my lifetime, but at this moment: none. I know no one who has been mated as long or as fruitfully. No one with both a teenager at this time of life and four aging parents who are as demanding and emotional as teenagers. Who vacillate between shouting for my help like toddlers and pushing me away to regain their adult autonomy. All of them believe I should just be able to intuit which they need when. I continually miscalculate and am blamed for not helping them the right way, for not allowing them to be masters of their own destiny.
For my friends with no children, any word I utter about my son is a squirt of acid in their face. If I complain about his behavior, I am ungrateful; if I praise him, I'm bragging, rubbing their nose in their lack. For those with no husband, again if I complain (even humorously), I don't know how lucky I am. If I praise him, I am preening and showing them up for not ever getting that perennial female brass ring: a man. Or not being able to keep one.
No, no, and again I say, no. I am only seeking to share my version of the human comedy. We all need to hear one another's stories. This is the only way any of the crazy things that happen or we do or we do to or for each other will ever make sense, fit into the chaotic puzzle we all live inside.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Not Crazy (Yet)

I woke up with the strong impression that someone had sneezed, someone else had slammed a door and shouted, "Gesundheit!" But recently I fear I am subject to auditory hallucinations. Sirens, timers going off, the heat turning on, the refrigerator cycling off--all clang with the crack of gunshot to my ears. I wonder if I am losing my grip on reality. I mean, more than usually losing it. When I was younger, my strong devotion to the separation of reality from unreality was like the difference between sun and shade at the equator. Now I'm not so sure.
From the bathroom came a percussive report. He--my husband--was on the ceramic bowl releasing quick blasts of gas, louder and stronger than most sneezes. Ah, once again, my dream was reordering actual events into a slightly elevated understanding, taking gross reality and transforming it into something fit for polite society. Likewise, his snores became cave winds, lion roars, train whistles, lovers' whispers. Am I crazy or just inventive? Mad or imaginative? The thing that seems to be changing fastest as I age is the length of time it now takes me to decide between dream and reality.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Full Body Scan

In the 54th year of my life, here are the things that I have noticed: hair, stable in its mix of white and dark for the moment, but always a few more wiry ones in the new strands, and strong return to the massive cowlick. A subtle hatching of crinkle lines on my forehead, around my eyes, the beginnings of those German pursed lip lines that I used to be able to make appear and then would erase magically when I smiled. Now, there they are no matter how serene I feel. The rest state of my face looks accusatory now, pissed off, like a combination of Hilary Clinton and Judge Judy. No wonder people back away if I flash them a glance. Each earlobe has one big dent in it, north to south. It's too big to be a wrinkle. Perhaps a crunkle? Horrid age spots appear monthly, new ones, in inconvenient positions, not where beauty marks should be. Chin and neck holding stable, but for how long? The skin of my chest which is exposed if I wear a scoop neck still feels smooth to the touch, but is likewise getting patchy and mottled. In interesting patterns, though. My once perky, though never large boobs are settling lower. Nothing a well-fitted underwire can't manage, but the days of fitting a pencil under each one and watching the No. 2s drop to the floor are long gone. Upper arms can flap like wings if I'd like them to. And lifting weights will not bring them into firmness ever again. The skin around the muscle is loosening and drooping. It is still very soft and soothing; all my little nieces and nephews somehow find it delightful to handle and bounce and caress. How can I be so mean as to keep them from such a sensual pleasure, just because it is slightly annoying to be used as a giant blankey? I can't summon up a sense of outraged amour-propre to fend them off. They manhandle me with the best will in the world. Who am I to deny them such comfort?
The skin of my hands and forearms is beginning to look like a balled-up piece of paper reflattened. Lotion is still able to make this surface less cross-hatched looking, but only temporarily and soon it won't work at all. I remember my grandmother's skin after 80 being still soft and quite beautiful but permanently marked all over with the tiny diamond-shaped patches, peaked and dented. My fingernails have become ridged and brittle.
All this is still under the radar. No one else might even notice a tenth of it, not even my husband. But practiced observation skills and a certain low level of health vigilance keep me apprised of these downturns. I'm watching the slippery slope. I'm not skidding yet, but it's only a matter of time.
None of what has fallen, drooped, discolored or dried has yet made any inroads on my lifestyle. Nothing above the waist anyway. Below that meridian it may be quite a different story.
I never had the flat abdomen of the stick leg girls of high school. Never. And now all that gravity which shouldn't be cumulative or conspiratorial (it's a physical law, not a moral punishment), seems to be increasing exponentially. Now every yoga pose, every five minutes of cardio, every kettlebell swung is only a staving off of the inevitable. Another German soldier losing his life at the Battle of the Bulge so that Hitler can commit suicide a day or two later. Maybe a week. And what is it for? I was no Catherine Deneuve, no Vanessa Redgrave even in my youth. Even when I was young I disdained throwing away my time on earth in anything more than routine body maintenance. Renovation, subtle or wholesale, did not, still does not, interest me.
But to continue. What was never that taut to begin with has softened further. The significant portion of Sitzfleisch I've always been saddled with now puddles about my bones and remaining muscle tissue. The ghosts of previous fat deposits slide past the extant ones as connective tissue melts like candle wax. It doesn't bother me particularly. I have no interest in competing on the physical, visual level with young women of today. Why would I now enter a silly race I can't win?
Blobs and bloobs of ever less controlled flesh and skin hang and flap and annoy. Inside each knee the crescent of extra flesh expands. Above the knee, skin hangs in rumpled curtains, like an unbent elbow, or a baggy suit of elephant hide, luckily not gray or the analogy would become a horrifying reality. Halfway up my thigh, the excess weight of years past is making its ghostly presence known in dimples and swags and effusions where it once burgeoned. The top half of the thigh is almost twice the circumference of the lower.
And the leg below the knee is still solid and trunk-like and covered in man-hair on the inner surface, smooth as ivory on the outer. Shaving my legs now takes half the time and is still not worth the effort as I have decided to wear pants from now on out. I don't want to look at my legs any more (never did), and at no point were they an asset to any of my endeavors: mating strategies, grade point average, or the pursuit of philosophy, so I now intend to keep them healthy, useful and out of sight. They're mine. They do the work I require of them, they do not also have to be window-dressing that attempts to advertise my inner worth or respectability.
My feet. Well, my feet were the one constant in my embarrassing series of wardrobe malfunctions called shopping. I could always find shoes to fit my feet. They still look like they're too small to anchor this particular body to the earth, but they don't look too bad otherwise. I never wore high heels (no, I couldn't take the pain, and no point--my legs would have required hydraulic lifts, not just the altering of the heels' angle to make them look better), so I don't have the mangled toes and damaged nails that that torture visits upon the vain. The heels are hardening up, but if I slather them with moisturizer morning and night, then pumice the hell out of them in the bath, they don't crack into painful fissures. It's a constant struggle though. If I go on vacation and forget to do the daily maintenance routine, a crack will appear to punish me.
Looking back over this, I see I may have exaggerated, slightly. It's not that bad. Only I really notice it. The public parts are still presentable. It's just that the decline behind the clothes goes on undetected, unnoticed, and easily ignored. Then about once a week, I catch sight of my own ass in the mirror as I step into my underwear and--Yikes! I'd forgotten. In my mind, my body goes back to its best possible moment when I'm not looking. It skitters back to that one summer when I thought for once I looked good in a bathing suit. Which tells you how long ago that was. My optimistic mind is carrying that image around as its reality, despite all evidence to the contrary.
To sum up: I now resemble a waxen votive figure left too long in the strong sun. I appear to be attenuating to a skeleton above the waist, with the melted wax pooling lower, making my usual pear-shape even more pronounced. But I can't complain, despite all the cranking above. All the parts still work well.
Full body scan complete. That will be $3000.