underwater

Such a fraught word, ‘underwater,’ especially at this moment in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and Hurricane Irma headed for Florida and the southeast coast, and Jorge up on deck after that, and the 1,200 people killed in floods in South Asia, and the 100,000 displaced in Nigerian floods. (Though ‘underwater’ probably sounds pretty great to people in the western US watching their worlds burn up in flame, as they choke on the thick smoke that turns day to night. What a world.)

And when we’re ‘underwater’ we’re in trouble, usually with financial burdens that feel insurmountable. Underwater is rarely a good place to be, or at least in the way the word is used outside of swimming. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the way my failing memory feels, and that’s what finally hit me. I feel like I’m underwater.

This image is associated with Lidia Yuknavitch’s wrenching memoir The Chronology of Water, and it came from the promotional materials for the book. (SO, JUST TO BE CLEAR, that’s not me. Obviously!)

(Oh, and did you know that photographs of women underwater are called Ophelia shots? Kind of disturbing, as is the fact that there is a GENRE of photographs of women underwater.) There are millions of pictures to choose from, but this one captured my feeling — the way her hair drifts around her head, disconnected and amorphous and shifting and losing form. My thoughts feel like that. It isn’t a feeling of drowning, of desperation, or even anxiety, in a strange way. It’s just a feeling of being untethered. Of watching this, of seeing it all kind of float around me but I can’t do anything about it. I feel it like I’m floating, a kind of silent, weightless peering around me. What was I going to do? What was I going to do? What was I going to do? Do you know what I was going to do, did I tell you? Was I going somewhere? Oh, I wanted to say something. Do you have any idea what I was talking about? Where was I going? What was I just thinking about?

And the fluency issue I mentioned a couple of posts ago — mid-sentence, several times a sentence, the word has floated away. I watch myself and see my vaguer eyes hoping the word appears, rather than my keen eyes searching for it. My pauses are more blank spaces than intermittent moments to locate just the right word.

Luckily it’s never a “where am I” or “who are you” issue, or any of the more dementia-like problems. It’s just more like my thought processing is happening in a completely opened-to-the-air space and it just drifts out and floats there somewhere, but I don’t know where or how to get it back to me.

I don’t know what day of the week it is (only a slight deepening of my norm, which is in large part, I suspect, due to the formlessness and lack of scheduling to my days, since I don’t work in an office and I don’t see anyone on a regularly scheduled basis and the days are all mostly the same — so my fear is that I’ll be in an accident and the EMT will ask me what day it is and I wouldn’t know that on my best day! Not a sign of trauma, dude!). I generally know what month it is, at least by the middle of the month. I can read and sustain a deeply complex narrative, and I can write and sustain a through line without any trouble. I just can’t connect thought with its consequence — if the thought is, “Go get cheese,” the second I stand up I don’t know what I was going to do. If the thought is, when Marc finishes talking I’m going to tell him about X, in the next second I don’t remember what X I had been thinking about. I can still find metaphors very easily, and see deep structures and connections.

And it’s not tip-of-the-tongue, it’s not that, it’s more this floating around me and away from me sensation. Truly it isn’t a bad feeling, except in specific, like if I really do want cheese and I’ve now stood up 7 times and then forgotten, and my standing-up muscles are getting aggravated at me. Come ON! Get it together! Or else quit standing up. Sheesh.

For some reason I am not flailing against it and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I feel instead like an observer, as if I’m watching and thinking, huh, that’s very interesting. Water, yes, that’s what this is like. I wonder if I were flailing more, fighting more, if I’d keep my thoughts more readily? I’m evaluating a manuscript on resilience, and one chapter is about cognitive process (and a section of that touches on aging) so it discusses the literature on mental exercise as a way to forestall decline. If I felt more flailing about this, more panic, maybe I’d jump on those exercises. Maybe I should do that anyway. But I’d rather knit and make beautiful food. Read and write. Take walks along my creeks. Take photographs of the world. Interact with my daughters throughout the day about their lives raising little ones, enjoying that regular touch and awareness of the fine details of that stage of life. Getting to be their mother they can share this with, which is really the longest-term dream I’ve ever had.

I was telling Marc over the weekend that I’m not rushing around anymore, as I used to do. Partly it’s that my life doesn’t work that way — what would I rush around to do?! And partly it’s just that I give fewer shits than I used to. Eh, whatever. Eh, it’ll get done, and if it doesn’t get done eh, so what. Tomorrow. Eh. Whatev. Think I’ll make some tea. And sit. And read. And write. So that slowdown feels of a piece with this cognitive thing, at least in terms of my response to it. Eh. Whatever. Maybe I’ll end up remembering that I wanted a piece of cheese, maybe I won’t. If I don’t remember what I was going to say to you, so what.

In some way this is the zen ideal: I am just in the moment, and it’s a loose and watery moment, a kind of vague-eyed moment, nothing sharp and fast about it, and here I am. Thoughts connect us to the next moment, and that connection is floating and sometimes floating away, so I’m left quietly in this moment.

As much as anything, I’m writing this as a way to fully articulate this experience — for myself, and as a record. Who knows how it might change, where it might be going, what this moment might’ve meant, but I’m changing. My precious, brilliant, speedy, blue-lit mind is going at 33rpm. It’s OK. Just kind of floatey. I don’t feel despair or even sadness; instead, I feel an awareness of myself changing, and I’m watching with curiosity and trying to accept with open hands.

I’ve mentioned my Australian friend Fiona Dobrijevich before, a beautiful artist, photographer, and daily swimmer (and photographer). Her Instagram feed is a daily wonder, and sometimes I open her to a new tab so I can just pop back throughout the day to gaze at an image she shared. She has a viewbook online — look at everything, but especially look through the Body of Water collection. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling this kind of watery change to my sense of self, but it knocks me out. Here’s an image she shared a couple of days ago, and I gazed at it for hours, all together. It feels so psychologically and personally familiar.

Anything I might say after that photograph could only be irrelevant or redundant. And so ciao. xoxoxo

blanking

It’s happening so fast I can see it, hear it, observe it. I’m losing words. The worst of it is my inability to speak fluidly, to simply say what I want to say. I’ll be shooting a little video to share with my daughters, standing at the closeby creek, and the many long, long pauses are increasingly common as I hit a blank wall. The most frustrating part is that I can’t get the simple words, like ‘pool.’ “And this . . . um . . . this is a well . . . um . . . still area.” Only more frustrating than that, even, is my inability to speak around the lost word, to find synonyms or descriptions or definitions. I usually can’t even get close, as ‘still area’ is close to ‘pool’ in the context of a flowing creek.

For example. Our well water is so gross — sulfur-smelling, and so full of iron it turns the toilet bowls dark gray-brown — and it also leaves a film on things as it dries. The dishes I wash so thoroughly, that are so clean when I put them in the dish drainer, look awful when they dry. There’s a film on them, and that word ‘film’ was impossible for me to find the other night. I was telling Marc how the floors looked after I finished scrubbing them on my hands and knees three times, and then after a final sponge mop, and simply could not find the word film. Nor could I tell him in any other way what I meant. “So the floors are very clean, but there’s a . . . you know, the water . . . you know, how when it dries?” He tried to fill in for me, “Did the water damage the wood floor? Is it stained?” And I couldn’t even approach my meaning. I said, “There’s a specific word for this, never mind never mind.” This morning I tried to explain something about my big camera on the tripod and couldn’t. Couldn’t even talk around it.

This has been happening for a very long time, but it is getting so much worse. I’m losing my ability to be articulate in speech, and I can’t tell you how painful that is, because being articulate has been one of my self-defining characteristics. It’s the aspect of myself I most enjoy, the aspect that feels most me to me. I can still be articulate when I write, thank heavens, but that’s because I can hit a missing word and pause, go searching for it through Google searches, let it be with an XX placeholder and come back later — strategies that you can’t do when you’re speaking.

And it makes me both scared and frustrated, so I get angry in the moment. I’m angry at myself, at the situation, at this roadblock, but the person to whom I’m speaking only sees the anger, the short temper, the flare. Usually this is Marc who bears the brunt. I feel for him. I try to be mild and compassionate with myself about it, and I’m reassured to feel like I’m still fully there, it’s just that I can’t get words — I’m not feeling like my self is disappearing, I have full connection to my own experiences, my memories, my presence, and I know what it is I want to say in its fullness, in its clear and specific articulation, I just lose the words I want when I try to produce them. Too often I just give up before I even start, I don’t try to explain anything that’s at all complex, like the way the lever on the ball and socket head joint on my tripod doesn’t close tightly enough to hold the camera at a 45-degree angle anymore. Or the way there is a film on the clean floor so it doesn’t look clean, but it is.

This loss is gutting, and just so very personal. I’ve always said that if a terrible accident befell me and I was confined to a chair, that wouldn’t be awful at all. Athleticism, or even physical activity, is not central to my identity, it’s not at all an important element of what makes my life worth living, or enjoyable. But verbal acuity is, for me. Incisive expression is, for me. My thoughts can be quite complex, and my emotional understanding is layered and intricate, and being able to give voice to that has always given me such a thrill, such pleasure. I love words. I’m just so verbal, it’s where my intelligence lies. I don’t have other forms of intelligence, but this is mine, and it always has been. I scored at the 99th percentile on the verbal section of the GRE, and wasn’t even surprised by that. This is my little pocket of gift. It’s all there, in my mind, and I can easily access it except in speech production. So that’s at least a reassuring feeling, even if it adds to my frustration: I’m still here. It’s all still there.

softly, and tenderly

During the night, I had an attack of something — maybe it’s seasonal allergies (central Texas is certainly known for them) or maybe it’s a cold — but I woke up all night with my throat feeling sliced every time I swallowed, and my head ached, and my chest felt heavy. Just an ordinary bit of bad, nothing more, but kind of low-level misery, you know? My ears hurt. I sound like Edward G. Robinson after a week of heavier-than-usual cigar smoking and scotch drinking.

I’ve been taking care of other people a lot lately, and cooking for others, and my cupboard was bare. What I wanted more than anything was to be good to myself, to make some very good food for me, some food that would restore and be good for my body, and my tiny miseries. I wanted to make myself a cup of tea, tuck a little blanket around my feet, make my bedroom extra cozy and welcoming for when I’d go back to it tonight.

sea-changeThis is a sea change. I didn’t belittle myself, berate myself for “whining,” wag my inner finger at myself, call myself names. I also didn’t wish someone else were here to take care of me. This is such a wonder.

On my way to the very good market, I listened to an interview with Gloria Steinem. She said she did not know how to make a home for herself until she was 50. Without thinking too much about it, she’d kind of had a background assumption that homes are made for husbands and children, and she hadn’t seen many women (or any women, maybe) making permanent homes just for themselves. This resonated with me too.

So I bought fresh, organic vegetables of all the colors — ruby red beets, glowing yellow-orange butternut squash, deep green kale, okra, peas, rainbow colors of heirloom tomatoes, deep brown wild mushrooms. I bought whole grains, wheat berries and farro and wild rice and French lentils. I bought tea. I lingered in front of the small batches of store-made fresh soup — vegetable, lentil, tortilla, potato, split pea, so many delicious options — pondering whether to buy one or just make a batch for myself, trading off ease since I feel bad against the pleasure of making. While I shopped, my heart felt the same as if I were taking care of someone I loved.

When everything was stowed away in my refrigerator and pantry, I made my bed and folded back the sheet and comforter so it was ready for me later. I went ahead and moved an armload of candles into the bathroom, and got out the eucalyptus salts, so I could take a soaking bath later. I put on my most comfortable clothes, my softest socks. I made a big cup of tea. I brushed my hair, a comfort to my aching head, and took some medicine. I smiled at myself.

“As if I were taking care of someone I loved.”

My dearest wish is that every woman would feel this way about herself, as worthy of all these things as all the others she cares for. Even if it doesn’t start to become clear until you’re 50, even if it takes hard work, even if it feels selfish at first, no matter what or how long the path, I wish this for you, too.

we have to pack a lot in a day

gfIt’s very far from perfect, and I only enjoy about 1/3 of it, but the Netflix series Grace and Frankie is one of my favorite shows. With those qualifiers — very far from perfect, only enjoy about 1/3 of it — how can it possibly be a favorite, then? That’s pretty nonsensical.

But it is about women in my general age group, and they are not a joke. When the story line cuts to their ex-husbands, I could not possibly care less. It’s so easy to find stories about men, just try not to! When the story line cuts to their grown children, I could not possibly care less (ditto) except as it relates to the various ways they treat their mothers. I want to see these women and how they figure out and live their lives. Grace and Frankie, the title characters, not their gay husbands or their spoiled (or indulged) kids. Grace. Frankie. (Especially Frankie. Lily Tomlin is wonderful.)

dragonHave you noticed how rare it is to find mainstream entertainment that is not about raping and murdering women? Pay attention, you’ll see. Sometimes there’ll be a female detective, but before it’s all over she too will be raped. Just wait. You’ll see. I read an interview with Lidia Yuknavitch and in the midst of it, she commented on how exquisite and rare it was when Daenerys hopped on the back of her dragon and flew away, saving HERSELF. She left, gaping below, the men who were there to save her and she fucking saved herself.

And then older women, rare rare rare. Rarer than dragons. One reason I loved Lucia Berlin’s short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women was that the main characters were all women, who were either saving themselves or fucking up their own damn lives. But very real, in every way, and often older.

And so along comes Grace and Frankie, 100% imperfect in every way, but when the story focuses on them, alone or together, I feel overwhelmed. There are women like me, look. (Well, not really, obviously, but they’re in my general age group.) Look! Look! Older women! When you’re younger, you hear about the way women become invisible as they age and even then it’s discussed in the context of men — as in, men no longer even notice you. For many that’s a relief, but even still it’s about men and that just pisses me off.

But the broader invisibility does matter to me, cultural invisibility. I want stories of real older women. Unfortunately, what seems to be interesting is what happens to older women when men no longer want them — oh no! Will they crumble? Will they find a way to survive anyway? I’ve loved watching Grace and Frankie figure out that it’s each other they need. That it’s themselves they need, and each other, and that’s rich and sometimes moving. They’ve got stuff going on — Frankie says, once, “We’re old, we have to pack a lot in a day.” At the end of season two,  they discover a business venture to do together that is specifically for older women (a line of vibrators that deals with arthritic hands, etc) and the response of people, a kind of disgust and abhorrence at the mere idea, just kills me. There was an actual bedroom scene with Grace and a man (Sam Elliott, luscious as always), and it wasn’t played for gags. It wasn’t about embarrassments of aging. It wasn’t about being dry. It wasn’t about anything except what it was about — an intense connection and fulfillment of long-held longing between two characters, one of whom was an older woman. And they showed her old-looking hands on his back, gasp! [It wasn’t odd at all to see an older man, of course…..though it was odd that he wasn’t with a 20-something woman.]

Almost all of my friends are women (Craig and Sherlock are the only exceptions), and most are roughly my age. I know for a fact that their lives are interesting, and rich, and not just about men or the tick-tock-tick-tock of life ending. But where are our stories? Where are the stories of grown-ass women whose lives aren’t just about their children, or their husbands? I am grappling with my own life as it exists beyond those aspects, with who I am beyond those aspects. I’d sure love to see and read stories of others like me. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

xoxo

a little tenderness

As we continue to wait for Marnie and Tom’s boy to arrive, I’ve been feeling cracked open with tenderness for her, and for Tom too. My primary focus is on my daughter, if only because of my own experiences of labor and knowing that she will be going through her own version of it and I can’t ease any of it for her.

Every time something generational happens — a birth into our family, obviously, but also celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries — I feel myself in the wheel of time. I experience where I am in that river, on that wheel, in that chain, whatever metaphor makes sense to you. For me, it’s always a wheel for some reason.

Lately, in witnessing the changes happening to my body, such as my hair getting grayer, the underlying muscles softening on my chin and jaw, and the subtler changes that show aging, like changes to teeth, skin, and fingernails, I’ve been seeing my grandmother in me. I’ve always favored her, my father’s mother; I’ve looked like her in the face, my hands are hers exactly, I was always told my legs are like hers. I don’t have pictures of her (but I remember her face and hands SO clearly), except for this one and unfortunately her face is turned away:

L to R: my dad, his mother holding me, and his stepfather
L to R: my dad, his mother holding me, and his stepfather

I love this picture so much because my dad looks uncharacteristically happy, and I feel like I see the person he might have been if his life had been otherwise. It’s no accident his mother was turned with her back to him, but rather a perfect representation of how she treated him, always. I called her Mamo (for non-US southerners, that’s pronounced Mah-maw), but her name was Delma Faye.  And that’s Papo there on the far right — even though he was my dad’s stepfather, I only knew him as my grandfather because he married my grandmother the very same day my parents got married, unbeknownst to either couple. I loved Papo so much; I really lucked out in the grandfather department. He adored me, and always brought me doughnuts, which he called “goldfish” for some unknown and never-asked reason. (Perhaps the origin of my childish passion for doughnuts. 🙂 )

Anyway. I can easily remember Mamo’s hands making biscuits, which were her specialty. Our fingers are long and thin, and our fingernail beds are very short, out on the tips of our fingers. My dad’s hands were the same, he had her hands too, but as I age, and my fingernails get thinner and develop ridges, they look SO much like hers it’s often shocking when I see them. I’ll be making something and my eyes fall on them and I literally feel a shock of both recognition and disbelief.

Her cheekbones, for sure. Her mouth, her teeth, her jawline, her chin. And all mine, too.
Her high cheekbones, for sure. Her mouth, her teeth, her jawline, her chin. And all mine, too.

And as my face softens with age, I look so much more like her, especially in the mouth and jaw, and it frequently takes me back. I’m turning into her, physically, and it really does take me by surprise even though it shouldn’t, since I’ve always favored her.

But maybe it’s striking me harder because my role as a grandmother is becoming fuller, and a bigger part of my life. Soon another little boy will call me Pete, the name that links me back to my own grandfather Big Daddy, and I’m looking more and more like my grandmother. And so I feel the wheel turning, and I feel deep tenderness for myself. I hope when my grandsons remember my face and hands, they remember them with tenderness too.

I don’t care much

Before I get to the point of the post, the title reminds me so much of one of my favorite songs from Cabaret (maybe because it’s titled “I Don’t Care Much.”) This video shows Alan Cumming singing it from the pre-revival show — and I got to see him back then! The performance I saw had Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. He was so amazing. Here’s the beautiful, sad, wistful song.

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Sigh. I loved him in that show. I love him in anything. But back to my real point in this post, which is that I don’t care too much any more. WHAT A RELIEF! Of course I do care too much about so very many things, and in fact my caring-too-much (though I would argue with ‘too’) is one of my central tendencies. But mercifully there are things I just don’t give two anythings about anymore, and this is such a relief — such as:

  • Whether my house is perfect when friends come over. Floors? Stuff? Nah, I don’t care. I have beautiful dark espresso tile floors, and this means that dust is quite visible. When I come home from my 12-day NYC trip each month, the layer of dust everywhere is noticeable, and the cobwebs in the corners are noticeable too, and often dotted with dead pillbugs (I’m sorry, little pillbug subjects, your queen mourns you). Usually I dust and de-cobweb right away, but this time I didn’t. And a couple of days after my return I had some book club friends over for dinner. Dust and cobwebs and all. Didn’t care. Assumed they didn’t care either. Having a friend over for dinner tonight and guess what: still haven’t dusted, still don’t care. Assume she won’t care, either. And if she does (she won’t), I don’t even care about that. (But she won’t.)
  • Whether my appearance is as perfect as I can make it. You might not think it, since I usually wear jeans and Converse, but I used to do whatever it took to be as ‘perfect’ as I personally could be. Even if I’d only gotten an hour of sleep, for instance, I’d set the alarm early enough to wash my hair and blow dry it before going out, even though it would be absolutely fine as it was. So I’d be exhausted and internally cranky, but my hair would be right. And no one cared! Because of course I’m not talking about having greasy, nasty hair, or anything like that. No one noticed, or cared. Since I’m growing my hair out it’s frequently kind of awkward right now, and I have a couple of gigantic waves in spots that make for a goofy growing-out. Meh, who cares. I sure don’t. Now I brush my hair, brush my teeth, put on some moisturizer, and head out if it’s an ordinary day. I’m meeting a friend for lunch today and had I gotten up early enough to wash and dry my hair, I could’ve forced that giant wave on the left into submission, but whatever. Good enough. I really don’t care at all what anyone thinks about my appearance. Why should I?
  • Doing things alone that everyone else is doing with someone else. Actually, I had to reach for this one, because this has never bothered me. I may be the only person at the movies, or at a restaurant, who is there alone while everyone else is with someone else, or a group. I don’t care! Why should I! It isn’t that I don’t enjoy doing those things with someone else, I do, but it is that I don’t care what people think about me being there alone. It doesn’t even occur to me to wonder if anyone notices me.
straight out of the camera, because I don't care. :)
straight out of the camera, because I don’t care. 🙂

Just as broadly as possible, I don’t care what people think about me any more. I used to, for sure. I used to assume I was being very harshly judged all the time — thanks, Mother, for setting that baseline by very harshly judging me and everyone else all the time — and it was horrible. It’s actually narcissistic, if you think about it, to assume that other people are focused on you. People are actually focused on themselves. 🙂  I mean, I don’t want to overstate this. It isn’t that I really don’t care, I care enough to do what I can, but if I miss some potentially-judging-me point I don’t care about that. I tend to my appearance. I clean my house. I don’t violate basic social norms. I just don’t care what others think about imperfections any more. Because actually, it’s almost all imperfection! And also, if you allow people to see yours, they are freer to show you theirs, too. See my cobwebs? Maybe you won’t stress out if your place isn’t perfectly perfect, and we’ll see each other more easily.

Maybe, too, it’s that I’ve let go of people who are cruel judges. And if anyone has come to my house and noticed the dusty floors and cobwebbed corners, they haven’t mentioned it to me. This is a fantastic, fantastic stage of life, and if you have a judgey little voice driving you to make everything perfect all the time, no matter what the expense, you might want to work on a little less caring, too. xoxoxo

skin

Today’s word for the August Break 2015 dealie is skin. I imagine Instagram will be flooded with tagged images of suntans, sunburns, skin slathered with cream, or skin dripping with water. For the first time in my entire 56 years of life, I actually have a suntan, and it astonishes me every single time I see it. There’s a full-length mirror on the back of my bathroom door, and when I step out of the shower I don’t recognize that tanned person, especially since my stomach is also tanned. I almost flinch, like it’s someone else’s arm or leg or body, because I have historically been pale, pale, pale. Not exactly gray-white, but definitely pale.

But my skin has always been my very best feature, always. I never had acne, or even many pimples. Once in a while as a teen I’d get one on my chin before my period, but that was it. Rare as hen’s teeth, blemishes of any kind. I always knew I was lucky to have the skin I had. And it has always kind of glowed, like it’s lit up from the inside or something.

Ten years old -- really great skin
Ten years old — really great skin
16 years old -- life was pretty awful and you can see it in my eyes, but my skin was still lovely
16 years old — life was pretty awful and you can see it in my eyes, but my skin was still lovely
high school graduation. So many people helped me be able to look good enough. Life was hard hard hard, but still my skin glowed
high school graduation. So many people helped me be able to look good enough. Life was hard hard hard, but still my skin glowed

During periods of robust happiness and health, it sometimes looked like peaches and cream. Lucky, especially since I did nothing at all to help it along. I never used moisturizer (because I also didn’t have dry or oily skin, it was just kind of perfect), and no real washing except a quick rinse in the shower, as long as I was at it. I got short legs, buck teeth with a very narrow palate and big gums, but I got that skin, it was the best visible physical thing I got in the genetics lottery. (And I don’t know where it came from — my mother’s skin is ruddy, my father’s was very dark and oily, and none of the grandparents had my skin. Hmmm. Thanks, distant unknown ancestor.)

It still looks good — for 56, yes, but even if you don’t qualify it that way. Now, though, I have started moisturizing it, massaging luxurious cream into my face and throat. Since my skin has become dry, that’s a totally eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head pleasure. In the mornings and at bed time, a few moments of cream and that pleasure, and I appreciate my skin more personally than I ever did. You can look at my throat in the picture below and see how unretouched and unfiltered the photo is. 🙂

May, 2015, with Marnie, whose skin was also always peaches and cream. In fact, one of her tiny-girl nicknames was Peaches
May, 2015, with Marnie, whose skin has also been peaches and cream. In fact, one of her tiny-girl nicknames was Peaches
The red one at the bottom means 'hope'
Hope at the bottom

And there is the fact that my skin is decorated! My spine is tattooed, as you know if you’ve been around here for long; those tattoos tell a version of my life and who I am. Several years after I got all the tattoos, my husband told me how beautiful my back is. He tells me that all the time. One time when he was telling me that, I suddenly remembered that my mother always told me I had such an ugly back. (She was great at doing that — things you never even dreamed you might be evaluated on, you’d suddenly find out you were failing at it.) So without realizing it, I made my back beautiful. Take that, mother (the 8th tattoo from the top).

And then a couple of summers ago, I got a large tattoo on my right outer calf. When I was in college, I’d gotten a barbed wire tattoo of a heart on my right ankle. It felt true of me (and the barbed wire connected me to Texas); but mostly, it was about keeping my heart safe. I came to hate it, because it didn’t feel true any more, but there it was — a barbed wire heart, glaring at me with its wrongness. I wanted exuberant growth to come out of it, a representation of the beauty of the family I made, and all the love we share for each other. A very dear relative once told me that when she was pregnant, she always wanted to paint a giant hibiscus on her belly, and that image stuck as one of life and love and children, so there are two very large red hibiscus to represent my daughters, and one very large sunflower which I chose for my son. Then there are little buds of both flowers scattered throughout, representing the next generation of my family to come.

there's the sunflower
there’s the sunflower; I don’t have a great photo of the whole calf, and it’s hard to take one myself

I want to get a spray of flowers on my right upper arm, starting at my shoulder and spilling down my arm toward my elbow. Working on that. My only hurdle is that my husband really really really doesn’t want me to do it. But: my skin. And I have become very, very comfortable in it, a blessing of aging.

It’s odd to see all the ways my skin is changing — the fans of soft wrinkles on my face, the crepey skin on my arms, the way my skin on my thighs is connected differently, more loosely, to the muscle underneath. I don’t yet have age spots, and my hands don’t look that different, but those things will come. I don’t mind any of it at all, and have even become fond of it. My skin is the outer wrapper of what’s inside me, and it shows my life. Scars, stretch marks, and now age, there it all is. I look at the odd little scar inside my left knee and remember the childhood accident that caused it. I search my left forearm for the very long, thin, now-ghostly scar I got from my little brother’s diaper pin when I was 6. The large scars on my right arm and hand from the external fixator when I broke my wrist in Boston. Round 1 of stretch marks, Katie. Round 2, slipping in between the ones from Round 1, Marnie. And Round 3, Will, found whatever little bits of unbroken skin were left. Surgery scar, hip bone to hip bone. Stories, my experiences, my life on my skin. I kind of love that now.