women of substance

I was early for the first happy hour, of course, so I took this little photo.
I was early for the first happy hour, of course, so I took this little photo.

You know what’s really weird? Somehow I’ve gotten kind of popular. I WAS NEVER THAT GIRL. I was always the new girl, first of all, and I was the new nerd girl to boot. I was the really weird new nerd girl. And then, as an adult, I was always with my kids, or then in college and graduate school, and then working too much in New York. The way my life was organized in New York, I did things with friends one or two at a time, and had my small circle and that was that.

But since I had to start from scratch here in Austin, and since I jumped into meetup, I’ve made a whole bunch of friends who all know each other, to varying degrees. It’s fun — an entirely different way of doing friends than I’m used to, but fun. This week I went to a happy hour at Fonda San Miguel on Tuesday with some of the gang (co-ed), about 19 of us, and Wednesday night I went to another happy hour at Salty Sow with just the women, about 16 of us. At Salty Sow my friends seemed eager and very glad to see me (as I was to see them!), and as I sat listening to the various conversations, and joining one after another, I thought about something that’s been bubbling in my mind for a while, this idea of “women of substance.”

There are lots of women who come to these things, in my general age group, and of course I click with some and don’t click with others, for all kinds of reasons — interests, interpersonal styles, personalities, politics (though that’s not as much a hurdle as you might think), stages of life, maybe just the luck of the ease of a starting conversation. The women who have become (and/or are becoming) my good friends are extremely different . . . from each other, from me . . . but they all share a set of characteristics, I noticed. They’re smart. They’re creative. They’re down to earth. They aren’t bullshitters (I’m too old for any more bullshit). As Ann Richards said in her keynote address, we talk about how the cow ate the cabbage. We’ve all been around a great many blocks, we all have had pain and disappointments and plenty of starting over. We’ve all raised children. We’re all looking for other smart women. We love to laugh, and can be silly, but we are not silly women. Also, they’re not neurotic! That’s been such a refreshing thing — they’re pretty solid, they know exactly who they are, and they’re not always fretting and anxious and second-guessing every last thing. Strange, but so refreshing. I have yet to detect any competitiveness or jealousy, which is also very refreshing. We’re just busy being ourselves and enjoying each other.

Partly because I was married to a psychotherapist, partly because I was in a lot of therapy, partly because I am bent that way myself, and partly because it’s just kind of the New York way, my life for the last ten years has been extremely psychologically focused. Everything was analyzed, turned over, investigated, I wonder what’s really going on with her, what’s underneath, what’s behind, why why why. And I enjoy that, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t until I got here that I realized it was time to get out of my head quite so much. Many of my friends have done therapy, and they read a lot, and they can go there, but really? They’re just living their lives, having a good time, playing, getting off the couch, so to speak. My health coach Jeff said something similar — at some point you just have to get off the couch and make different choices. And so I go to happy hours and parties with my gang of friends and we laugh and make plans to play golf or bunco or go to concerts or to get out on the lake at 6am for some early morning kayaking before it gets too hot. We put our arms around each other in trouble, we give advice, we laugh. We talk about books and what’s happening in the world and our kids and men (a frequent topic, current and past men), and what it’s like to be who we are, where we are. Many of us are single, and most of us are in our 50s. I have yet to hear a single “poor me.”

if you know who this is, you know why this picture is here.
if you know who this is, you know why this picture is here.

It’s the most bizarre thing to me, being this woman. Really, so so strange. This is just another stage of my life that I never saw coming — like all the others. But if you’d asked the weird lonely new girl hovering around the edge of the playground if she could imagine this life, she’d have thought you were crazy. If you’d asked the scared and lonely young mother if she could imagine this life, she’d have felt lonelier because it was unimaginable. If you’d asked the depressed woman I’ve been several times if she could imagine this life, it would have made absolutely NO sense to her, as if you were speaking Vietnamese.

Happy Friday, y’all. We’re thick in the heat of summer, a long run of 100+ days in a row. Once again, 103. 103 yesterday, today, and tomorrow. August in Texas. Love to you, my dear women of substance who read my blog. xo

eatin and talkin

I’ll tell you what: there are some odd and cool places to eat in Austin. Remember, this is a place that cherishes its motto “Keep Austin Weird.” People wear the slogan on shirts, you see it on bumperstickers, small signs. Austin’s kind of funny; it’s got the old hippy contingent (which includes some young hippies), it’s got the heavily tattooed/pierced contingent, it’s got a hipster demographic, and it’s got high tech people. And the music people, can’t forget them. Like New York, it’s pretty hard to be so odd that people give you a second glance.

Last night I met three women my age at a place called Whip In, which started, I think, as a convenience store. If you go in the front door, it is a convenience store! If you go in the side door, through the patio (and past the red picnic tables under a nice cover) you’re in a great bar with lots of craft beer, and Indian food. I KNOW, RIGHT?! And—like everywhere else in Austin—there’s a stage in the corner for live music.whip inI had a craft IPA that was delicious and a bowl of chana dal, but the highlight was the three women I was with. Two I’d met before (including the one who so kindly invited me, Cyndi), and Sue was new to me. The moment Sue arrived, I knew she was from Chicago, and I was right. There’s just a Chicago thing. The conversation was very intense, very real, about life and the various joys, and the ways it has beaten us up. One woman described a friend of hers, a woman who was married to a man for reasons of convenience, shared resources, insurance, things like that. They don’t live together. We all said that if we’d heard that when we were young and newly married — oh so long ago — we’d have been aghast, we’d have thought that was just horrible. Now, though, we all said, eh, good for her. We’ve all been bashed by life; it’s pretty hard to be a 50-something woman without having had at least a little bashing. We have all been married and divorced, we’ve all raised kids who are now grown-ass people, adults with their own lives. The funny thing about my years in New York was that most of my girlfriends had never been married, and none had kids. I finally found a friend who was married and had kids, a rarity — at least in my crowd. So it was so so nice to have conversation with people who knew what it was like to do the things I’ve done.

the kitchen
the kitchen

We decided to get together in a month at a place called G’raj Mahal Cafe — more Indian food, and the kitchen is in a trailer. Oh so Austin. You should see pictures of the food; the naan will surely make you want to slap yo’ mama.

It was a very long drive home, from the far opposite side of town, and by the time I got home I was so deeply weary I collapsed in my chair. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to crawl back to my bed. This is entirely exhausting, being social with people I don’t know, even though they are nice and welcoming, even though they make it easy. Because I’m shy, I’m introverted. I look forward to Friday night, no plans, just staying in and regaining my energy. Saturday night, no plans. Sunday with Katie.

But tonight I’m going to a group that meets to discuss articles from The New Yorker. We read three specific articles from the most recent issue and then talk about them over dinner. Now if I could only find some people who read the New York Review of Books…..

good thing of the day: a comfortable, comfortable bed, just the right soft/hardness, with wonderful plump pillows, soft white sheets, and a quilt to pull up to your ears. especially when it’s a bed of your own.


meeting up

Well, I have to say that of course there are good ones and bad ones, like everything else, but Meetup.com is the most amazing resource for finding a social network, as long as you’re willing to put yourself out there, interact with complete total strangers with an open heart, and let the poor fits roll off your back. (That is an excruciatingly tall order for a shy kid who also happens to be depressed, though I am getting so much better.) As long as those willingnesses are in place I highly recommend meetup, even if you’re not new in town but just want to turbocharge your social life, find new friends, or find a gang. I joined 15 meetups here in Austin in an effort to find a new social world and explore my interests with other people:

I’ve had one bad experience, with the knitting meetup (though perhaps I bear a responsibility too, since I was in the throes of the bleak black nonstop crying depression when I went), but otherwise it’s been a fantastic experience. Last Saturday I found My Gang, a bunch of wonderful, warm people who took me in as one of their own, who brunched with me, talked and listened to me, commiserated with me, gave me recommendations, held my hand and smiled at me, and danced with me. I can’t wait to see them again. I’ve never had a gang! I wasn’t that kind of kid. I was the kid with scabby knees lingering near the fence at the edge of the school grounds, with greasy hair and one book under her arm and another close to her face. With crooked glasses and unkempt hair. And a wholly terrifying back story, a secret horrible life at home. My only friend back then was the other school outcast, whose great sin was that she wore pantyhose in 5th grade — the thick beige kind, with snags and pills. Only teachers wore pantyhose, but Pamela (also referred to in gossipy whispers as “trash”) wore them too. So yeah, that’s the kid I was. And those kinds of kids don’t really have gangs. But now, at 54, I have me a gang hell yeah.

Last night I went to a happy hour that was only open to women, and DADGUMMIT Y’ALL those women were amazing. They were all mostly my age (this being a “boomer” meetup after all), and you get a buncha 50+ year old women together and whoo boy. It reminds me of a joke I’ve heard a few times, making fun of that trashy store Forever 21, which apparently sells kind of slutty clothes. The joke is that Forever 31 sells yoga pants and white wine. The women at the happy hour were not having any of it, they had already spent their lives taking care of men and children and parents, they knew wine and they read books, and they had opinions, dammit. Mercifully (and this is because I’m in Austin) they were of similar political mind to me, and the language was salty, the opinions were passionately shared, the book talk was relentless, and the lives were rich and fascinating. Lots of the women were new to Austin, some coming back like me, others coming from elsewhere in Texas, and plenty coming from other states. I sat next to Dee, who just moved here from Seattle, and found a kindred spirit. We chattered throughout the happy hour. I’m Comanche, she’s Kiowa (her grandparents came from Oklahoma, obviously). I met a woman who is also an 8th generation Texan (!) and we talked about injuns and rambling and history and roots.

It was so much fun.

Things have shifted inside me, and lest you think “gee, that was quick, in and out!” I think I’ve been deeply depressed for months and only just realized it, finally, when the nonstop crying started. All medications work quickly for me, which is a real treat (especially with antibiotics, hallelujah, and antidepressants). I’ve been able to read more of Parallel Lives, which I heartily recommend. It pulls you in with the first sentence, and paragraph, and a little later the writing feels denser, more Hungarian-translated. Perhaps, though, the difficulty is my temporary inability to focus very well (even my eyes can’t focus! fascinating) but it’s really got something worth sticking with. I can’t explain it well yet, maybe when the rest of the glass gets cleaned I can say it more clearly. I decided I wanted to own a hardback copy because it’s obviously a book that I’ll want to annotate and re-read, so luckily I found a brand new copy from another vendor through Amazon, for $9. With free shipping (since I’m a Prime member). That’s pretty good! When I can get more engaged with the book, I’ll say more but for now, I really recommend it.

Tonight I meet my gang at Pinthouse Pizza for conversation, pizza, and handcrafted beer. I really look forward to seeing them. It helps me enjoy the rest of my time alone, knowing that at some point I’ll be seeing people I can talk to, because you know the forks just don’t talk back. I’ve tried. They’re terrible conversationalists. “How the hell did you get in the refrigerator? What the hell?” I ask. They’ve got nothing.

Partly because the glass bottom boat is starting to gleam; partly because I actually have people to talk to when I want; and partly because, I think, I’ve grieved so intensely for the last three months that perhaps I’ve got it mostly done, I am feeling good in my quiet and peaceful home, on my quiet and peaceful street, in my busy and getting-rich life. Everything in this old world is multiply determined, so there are probably a lot of other factors in this, but I honestly don’t care why. I’m relieved to find some peace, and some happiness, and contentment with the solitude and pleasure with the social stuff. I’ve been a life-long member of the Overthinkers Club, and I’d really love to turn in my card if I could figure out how. Getting older helps, getting relief from depression helps, and learning acceptance helps too, learning that not much is really under my control.

Happy Thursday, everyone. I hope it’s a good day for you, with something wonderful that you don’t expect.

good thing of the day: people. people who need people. are the luckiest people. in the world. and i need y’all, real bad. 🙂

burn baby burn

When I was in high school in Wichita Falls TX, I used to escape my terrible life by going to the Seymour Highway Electric Company, which was the name of the disco. This was 1976, so it was really in the thick of it all. Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, K C & the Sunshine Band, Donna Summer, so great. I didn’t have a place to live, so on freezing cold nights especially, I’d go to the disco, change into my dress in the bathroom, and go out on the dance floor and just dance and dance and dance, all by myself (because who cared! it was just a throbbing floor of dancing), spinning and twirling until I got out of myself. I’d dance myself out of hell and into bliss, and it worked every time. I never drank — couldn’t afford it anyway — and I never talked to or danced with anyone else. It was about those songs, that beat, those lights, and spinning and sweating into another place than my real life.

Last night I did something like that, although the circumstances are different. Now I’m 54 with osteoporosis, and I have more than one dress, and a home of my own. But again I danced and danced and danced, spun and twirled, and sweated and got out of my sad life. It was just wonderful. Back then I had that white girl afro and now I have long, long hair; I think I’d look strange now with an afro. 🙂

Yesterday I hung out twice with people from the North Austin Social Group, a Meet-up group of 1150 people. Mid-morning I met about 10 of them at brunch, and kind of fell for them. They were so warm and welcoming, and such kind and generous people. They really just opened their arms to me and I felt so good and didn’t want to leave the brunch. And then last night 27 of us met at a club that had a live band that specialized in 1970s music — fronted by a gorgeous black girl with a giant afro and some beautiful moves. I sat with some of the same people I’d met at brunch, and I danced a whole lot. At my part of the very long table were 4 women who’d had life happen to them, and boy I got a whole buttload of hope out of talking to them. AND, I told them about Grace, and that I needed to finish her quilt, and they said they’d come help me finish it — they immediately told me that, volunteered, and with big smiles. And they will, if I follow through. They kind of took over; one woman didn’t quilt, so they told her she could make the coffee.

The thing that’s so great about this group is that they’re people who just play together; they get together to eat, watch movies or sports, have parties, go dancing, have brunch, play board games, go to shows, hike in the greenbelt, take trips out to the hill country, whatever. It’s a social group, not a dating group. One of my new friends, Cindy, said it’s her safe place—a big bunch of people she’s always happy to see, and she’s safe just to relax and have fun, and there’s always something going on so she picks and chooses. One of the men I danced with last night, Marvin, is an ICU nurse and after we danced, while we caught our breath we talked about his work, shouting over Disco Inferno. I came home exhausted and happy. I swear, disco is as good as Wellbutrin.

Remember: I am an introvert, and painfully shy — especially with strangers. I’m terrible with big groups, and hate parties. And I’m depressed. Crazy, right? I pushed myself to go, and had to just suspend all my thoughts and feelings when I walked into the brunch restaurant, walking fast so I wouldn’t turn around and go home. I’m rejuvenated by time to myself, but then again that’s almost all I’ve had, so maybe that helped me be able to do this. But now I’ve crossed that threshold, now they’re people I know, people I’ve had fun with. They introduce me to new people, put their hands on my back as they do that, and make sure I’m not left alone. They’re really pretty amazing.

good thing of the day:  a late night that was exhausting, so I got a night of good sleep.