courage

tattoosOne of the tattoos on my spine is for the character that means courage — the third from the top. I’ve thought a lot about courage over my life. I got the tattoo out of some sense that I’d been courageous in my life, but when I chose it I hadn’t really thought as deeply about the idea as I did in the years after I got it.

Courage means doing something WHILE you are scared. If you aren’t scared, it doesn’t require courage. If you are filled with adrenalin and testosterone and you race into the fray filled with the belief that you’re going to prevail, that isn’t courage. That’s just being fired up. Courage is what it takes to put your hand out, your foot out, scared that you’ll be chopped down for it. Sometimes courage is quiet, sometimes it’s loud, but it’s not courage if you aren’t afraid you’ll lose big. It’s not courage if you might lose a buck or two, or take a punch. You can afford to lose a buck or two. A punch hurts for a little bit and then it’s done. I’ve taken punches, I know what I’m talking about.

I’ve had some courage in my life, I’ve put my hand and foot out in ways that could’ve gotten me killed, although those instances were just about staying alive — and I don’t discount them, but when it’s a life or death situation it’s a little different. But more often than I’d like, I have had a failure of courage. I’ve allowed my fear to swamp me. I’ve taken easy ways, ways that didn’t make me feel [at all] good about myself but they seemed do-able. I’m ashamed of myself for those choices, each and every one.

And I’ve spent my life afraid of men. It’s no mystery why, and it’s understandable. And I haven’t beaten myself up for it, even when I’ve wished I could be braver. I get it, I have every reason to be scared. It’s the rare woman who can’t find a reason to be scared. Men are afraid women will laugh at them, and women are afraid men will kill them.

They rape us. They beat us. They murder us. They belittle us. They decide our fates. If we’re lucky, they “let” us decide things for ourselves.

The only good thing about the orange monster is that he just keeps pushing his horror out to the edge, farther and farther, and finally we come out of the shadows. Me too, someone did this to me. And to me. And to me. Men did this to me, too. And to me. Yes, and to me. And to me. I am afraid for my daughters, a man did this to me. And to me.

And so finally, finally, I find my courage. I want to live to the end of my natural days, however many they may be. I’d love to be 115 and just die in my sleep, that would be great. I would love to see my grandchildren have children. I’d love to be wrinkled old Pete, cackling and cussing and saying come here, let me kiss you, you sweet thing. I hope I get that chance.

But I am also done. I’m done hiding in the shadows in the hopes that no man hurts me again. I’m done hoping a man doesn’t hurt someone I love, or even another woman I don’t know, but I see it happen. I’m DONE. And I have the orange monster to thank for that, for shining a light on the country I live in, the vast numbers of people who think he’s just fine, and even worse, the vast numbers of people who don’t say a word. Their silence is every bit as complicit as the voices of those who think he’s great. If you haven’t said anything in the wake of the most recent terribleness, you are on the other side of the line from me. And fuck you.

I’m going to get self-defense training. I’m going to look men in the eye — not daring them, exactly, but not hiding from them. If I witness any woman anywhere getting any kind of harassment, no matter how “banal,” no matter how “joking,” no matter what, I’m the avenger. Women are not objects for your fun, fuck you. I can’t fight every single battle in the world, I have to pick and choose. I wish I could fight for black people, that’s a worthy fight. I wish I could fight for immigrants, they deserve to be fought for. I wish I could fight for poor people, for the mentally ill. I can’t fight for everyone. I’m one woman. I’m one older, pissed off woman, and I have to pick my battles.

I am a defender of women. And whatever comes of that, let it come.

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

*waving my hand, hello!!!*

Well, I know I seem to have disappeared — not just since my last post, which was more than a month ago, but really since August. In September I only posted twice, in October four times, and in November twice. And here it is, December 10. There has been a lot going on; a slow descent into a very dark place, and the slower than anticipated coming out of it, and then our trip to Vietnam and Thailand that was preceded by my trip to Chicago for Marnie’s baby shower, and followed by a couple of days in New York. Also, I’ve been writing on a big project so my spare writing time has gone to that book.

And so here I am, still here and grateful if you are, too. I’ve been thinking a whole lot, and I’ve become obsessed by the subject of self-deception. We say that phrase lightly, but I can’t figure out what it means. I understand deceiving someone else, but if you know a thing how can you deceive yourself about it? If, for instance, you really hate something and choose/decide/have to do it, and you tell yourself you don’t really hate it, you know you hate it and that’s why you’re telling yourself you don’t hate it. So you aren’t deceiving yourself, you’ve just decided to tell a story to others — to deceive them. Or let’s say you have gained a lot of weight (which you obviously know about) and tell yourself you don’t care, you like yourself however you are, there are at least a couple of possibilities. One is that you really do! So there’s no self-deception there. One is that you don’t, but you say you do for all kinds of reasons. You aren’t deceiving yourself because you know you don’t. And then the Freudian/subconscious thing — deep down you know, but you aren’t aware of it….and so you aren’t deceiving yourself!

Honestly, I cannot figure this out. I’ve been reading a lot of philosophy and psychology texts, and it seems to be popping up in the good literature I’ve been reading, prompting me each time to call out to Marc, read the passage to him, and continue the discussion that has obsessed me. If you know a thing and tell yourself something different, you know the thing so you haven’t deceived yourself. If you don’t know the thing but you tell yourself something that isn’t right, you don’t know the thing so you aren’t deceiving yourself. AAAAARGH.

And so another obvious question is why have I become obsessed by this topic. It’s like my frustration over people who write books wondering why there is something instead of nothing (my unhappy review of that book here) — it’s an unanswerable question, so the real question is why are you pursuing the question, what does it mean to you? What would the different answers mean to you? I can’t yet figure out why I’m obsessed by this issue of self-deception, but boy am I. If we’ll be seeing each other and having a glass of wine or something, expect a conversation about it. You might prepare. 🙂

this is the first book of the series -- keep going through all four
this is the first book of the series — keep going through all four

On vacation I read all four of the brilliant Elena Ferrante books, the Neopolitan novels. I’m going to write a post in a few days looking at the books I read this year, because there was a very interesting theme, but for now I’ll just say a few things:

  • Stop everything else, get these books, and read them. (Here, click here, I’ve made it easy for you — the EFerrante page on Amazon.) I haven’t been so affected by a book, so personally moved, in such a long time. And I was moved in a very different way. Moby Dick moved the hell out of me and still leaves me in awe, but it’s a kind of distanced awe. These books leave ME in awe, rather than my opinion. I can’t get it right, I haven’t yet figured out how to talk about it, but just read them.
  • It’s very hard to notice what’s not there. You may notice it in an abstract way, but it’s hard to notice the feel, the texture, the heart of something that’s not there, and reading these books made me so keenly aware of how rare it is to explore the richness of real women’s lives and interiors. It made me achingly aware of how invisible our true experiences are, how fleeting is the glance we’re paid, and it’s rarely a real and true glance. When I finished the fourth book, I turned immediately to the book selection for book club this month and just could not do it. The main character, a young boy, a mahout, in Istanbul in the 16th century. Stock characters, including the princess he impossibly falls in love with. Evildoers and false everything. I just could not possibly care less. (When I couldn’t read the book club selection, I decided to start Moby Dick and couldn’t. All dudes all the time. Even the whale is a dude. Then I decided to read Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle, which I can almost always read. Couldn’t do it. The only other book that left me unable to read anything else afterwards was Moby Dick.) I have wondered why in the world I soaked up Orange is the New Black the way I did, greedily, and felt sad when the season ended and there wasn’t more to watch. It wasn’t the prison melodrama, it wasn’t the ridiculous Piper storyline(s), it was the stories of the other women, the black women, the Hispanic women, Red, the former nun — their lives and struggles and big fronts. The end of the last season, when Black Cindy’s conversion to Judaism takes a real root in her, well, I can’t even think about that without crying.

I need the stories of real women, and they’re much harder to find. Women write male characters, and on occasion a man will write a female character well; at the time, I thought Wally Lamb wrote Delores so well in She’s Come Undone, the whole time I thought the author was a woman. But I want women authors writing about women, so if you have some recommendations I’d love to hear them. Not the Brontes please, or Jane Austen. (Nothing against them, I’m just looking for something else.)

To work for me — a happy Thursday to you all! Mine comes with zero sleep the night before, so it’ll be an interesting day. I’m so lucky to work for myself, at home, so if I crash I can do that. There are so many ways I’m lucky it’s hard to keep count. xoxox

Grace and Frankie

Fonda and Tomlin
Fonda and Tomlin

Have you seen this show, Grace and Frankie? It’s available on Netflix, and I watched the first season. It’s made by the same woman responsible for Friends, Marta Kauffman. The male leads are played by Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen, and they have four adult children among them. I was hopeful for it,  and maybe it will improve in the next season but the only thing I found of value in Season 1 was the deep pleasure in watching Lily Tomlin. She brought something wonderful to the role and could make the most inane dialogue interesting . . . because she is so interesting to watch. And I just love her style in the show. I want all her outfits and jewelry and her fantastic hair.

Much of the press, however, seems to focus on how great Jane Fonda looks (“for her age,” which is 77). And she does, of course; she’s got great, straight posture, she’s stylish, elegant, thin, and beautifully-groomed and dressed. But her appearance and style are not my cup of tea — I’m more in Lily Tomlin’s camp, even though I am not nearly as stylish as she is (though I’d love to be). But there is something that feels sad to me about Jane Fonda and her fearful focus on how she looks at her age. I read an interview with her in which she talked about having been a person who was valued specifically for her appearance, which left her worried about maintaining it lest she lose her value. She acknowledged having had plastic surgery on her face, which “bought her a decade,” and said she regrets it.

And that just pissed me off — for her, for us. This isn’t some new thought of course, it’s just that dadgummit, even at 77 it still holds sway. I feel for her, and for us.

And it isn’t that I think Jane Fonda is not intelligent, but it’s Lily’s intelligence and talent that shines out of her. Maybe that’s because she has never been regarded specifically for her appearance so she didn’t find her value there. I think she is attractive and enjoyable to watch, and I even find her prettier than I find Jane Fonda . . . but perhaps that’s because I see her intelligence coming through. For all I know, Fonda is outrageously intelligent, but she has traded on her appearance and sexuality and so that is her currency.

I’m glad I was not the prettiest girl, even though of course I desperately wished to be. It felt impossibly far away from me so I never even tried to get close. I don’t think I’m ugly, by any means, but my gifts were slanted more heavily to the interior than the exterior — and again, I’m not saying I’m ugly. I’m tall, and have a long neck and high cheekbones, physical aspects that are valued in our culture. I wish I’d found my way to cherish and revel in the variety of gifts I was given at a much earlier age, but hey. Whatev. You do what you can where you are, and then you learn and do better.

It also feels silly to me that this is some kind of imposed dichotomy — pretty or smart. We do the same thing to men to a much lesser degree, at least in the way we organize our assumptions. And then when age comes into the picture, it becomes even more infuriating. Maggie Gyllenhaal lost a role because at 37 she was considered too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Sigh.

I’m glad I am exactly who I am, exactly at this moment. I’m glad I’m who I have been, all along the way, even though I do also wish I’d found my own value much sooner.

Enjoy your Saturday — rainy, no doubt, if you’re in my other home (yay rain!!!), and sunny if you’re in my east coast home. xo

ripening

that's her, at age 16. She met me dad when she was 17.
that’s her, at age 16. She met my dad the next year and ran away with him.

When I was a little girl, I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman in the whole wide world. Even more beautiful than Cher, and I adored Cher. My mother was just 18 when she had me so she was always young, but still — aging happens to us all. I remember one evening I saw the softening of the skin and muscle of her cheek and told her how beautiful I thought it was, the way her skin was getting so soft. (I hadn’t been paying attention, apparently….) Ooo-wee did she get mad about that! Super mad. She got her first big face lift when she was 48, apparently, though I haven’t seen her since she was 47 and I was 29. She’s 75 now.

But I really did think that was beautiful, the softening of her face and features. I’ve always believed that I will never get plastic surgery. That’s me. You do what you need to do, obviously. But I want to look like who I am, I want to have the face I earn along the way. George Orwell said, “At fifty, every man has the face he deserves.” That needs to be my actual face, whatever it is. (And I passed 50 six years ago.)

It’s still startling to see the physical changes. The slight sag of the skin in the middle of each jaw. The sagging and wrinkling of the neck. The strange thing that is happening to my arms and legs, the way they’re looking like my grandmother’s. And the other day I even noticed that I’m getting fans of wrinkles coming down from my eyes onto my cheeks when I smile. That the smile marks around my mouth are more numerous. It’s startling! It is. It seems to be happening when I’m not looking.

I’ve noticed that there are two broad ways women approach aging. One has what sounds to me like a hostile edge: Fuck you, aging ain’t for sissies! Everyone will be eating my dust, I won’t be one of those tired old women, eat my dust! The other has a gentler sound to me, focusing on being exactly who I am, with grace. Embracing aging and changes, aging gracefully, accepting and taking very good care of what is. For me, that just fits my own way of being a little better. It’s certainly less prone to cartoons of old women shaking canes while wearing purple hats, but it’s the way for me. I suppose a third way is just to age without spending too much time or energy pondering it and worrying about it!

Meryl is willing to let us see her at 63 -- although with a full face of make-up. Still, she has the face of a beautiful 63-year-old.
Meryl is willing to let us see her at 63 — although with a full face of make-up. Still, she has the face of a beautiful 63-year-old.

Of course you rarely see older women. You rarely see them in the media, except to make some kind of point (even if the point is that she is sure old and so….you know….surely too old for whatever the issue is). I mainly use Pinterest to collect vegetarian recipes and fitness stuff, but it occurred to me to look for aging-related pinners and boards because I do want to take the best care of myself now, and as things continue to change. My body requires more care, my skin requires more care, and my appearance has changed. Since I rarely see older women in the media, I turned to Pinterest and of course there were lots of photos of models with flawless, wrinkle-free skin and flowing, thick, snow-white hair. I guess you never get away from Photoshopped perfection, no matter how old you are. But there were images of more ordinary women too, and material about taking care. Beautiful hair styles and clothing, all on older women. And so I’m collecting the images for myself. And some are wearing a leather jacket with a lot of zippers and Converse, and they have tattoos. Because it’s still me aging, I’m not turning into a different person. Just an older version of me.

And I know some beautiful women my age and older, including my gorgeous friend Nancy who is my role model for all things. If you saw her and talked to her, you’d think she’s my age. She isn’t. And my book club friends, all but one of whom are roughly around my age, and who inspire me with their style and with the honest conversations we have. Various women I know around the world who are being who they really are at every age. That’s really all I want to do, and I want to do it with grace. Be my very best self for all my remaining years, whatever that is, and do that as gracefully as I can. And maybe my best self as I get older becomes a bit wilder! If that’s who I become, ok! But I don’t want to set it up as a battle, a war, a fight.

One very cool thing about Marnie has always been true, even when she was three. When she was three, three was the age to be. She didn’t want to be four, three was the best age. When she was four, she didn’t want to rush to five, four was the age. And on, and on, and on. I’ve felt the very same way; I haven’t wanted to go backwards to an earlier age, and I haven’t longed to get to an older age (when I was younger!). I’ve always kind of liked the age I was. And so now I say it again: my favorite age is now.

integrity and persistence

A couple of days ago I saw something flying through Facebook about this being National Women’s Month or something. And my first — and very loud — thought was a nasty, sarcastic one. Oh, aren’t we lucky, acknowledge us for one month of the year and then go right back to trying to take away our rights. I heard my bitterness and it made me feel bad.

That bitter feeling is a familiar one to me these days. I hate the way we talk to each other now. I hate the way our politics have become so laced with acid (pointing that finger back at myself too), I hate the way people troll and bully others just because they believe they can get away with it, I hate the contempt we all seem to have for each other, except for the people in our immediate life. I hate the contempt so many have for poor people, for marginalized people. And I feel great despair about it changing, exactly because of how we cannot talk to each other.

This morning I just happened to catch the tail-end of Meet the Press, a show I never watch. John Lewis was on the screen, speaking in his quiet, urgent, non-rancorous way. This isn’t from this morning, but he’s here in this clip talking about Selma.

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It’s funny, because about a week ago I was thinking about gay marriage, and how we do seem to be getting somewhere even though it’s still being fought with nastiness in parts of the country, including Texas. But it’s getting somewhere. Would I have thought it really would be possible several years ago? Would the early gay activists have thought it really would happen some day? They were so busy fighting for such basic things I wonder if they even thought that far ahead.

Women in this country haven’t even been voting for 100 years yet. African-American people only been voting for 50 years. So that means we’ve only had something like a democracy for 50 years. When African-Americans started fighting to be treated as human beings — as human beings — the fight ahead was so incredibly long. When women started fighting for their rights as human beings, the fight ahead was so incredibly long. These two groups are still fighting.

acknowledgement of a hero
acknowledgement of a hero

And still, change happens. It’s slow, it goes forward and then backwards, but then forward again. I have to believe that we will get there, and I know we can’t get there the way we are now. John Lewis is always asked if he’s bitter, and he always says that he’s not. That he has never been bitter, that he is not bitter now. He came up in a system that believed in love, and not bitterness. He’s quiet, he’s very serious, he sees how things are now, but he just quietly keeps moving forward. Today a step forward. Tomorrow a step forward. His movement is bigger than him, and today he steps forward.

It’s great to find a person you can emulate, a kind of hero. A person to call to mind when you feel despair. John Lewis is that for me. That kind of integrity, plus that kind of passion, is what makes things happen.

Happy Sunday everyone. <3

what if we all quit agreeing?

If you weren’t watching it when it happened, here’s Patricia Arquette’s fantastic acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Oscar she won for her performance as the mom in Boyhood:

As so many people have said, it was Meryl Streep’s and Jennifer Lopez’s spontaneous ‘hell yeah!’ reactions that were just as bracing.

I remember someone asking why the slaves went along with the system. On any given plantation, there were more of them than there were of the white owners and enforcers. I find myself thinking about this all the time, as our country and the world get worse and worse, owned by fewer and fewer people. As we women go along with silly focuses on our appearance, our manicures, our dresses, our figures.

I don’t have any answers, and my sphere of influence is super, super tiny.  But I do wonder why we slaves just go along with the system.

always at my own speed – a slow awakening

I just hate being a cliche. I nearly didn’t start college at 36 when my husband and I divorced and I had three young kids because I felt like such a cliche — trembling and scared single mom gets her education! Luckily I slapped my inner self and said, “Self, don’t be such an idiot. Get your damn education.” Sheesh. And here again I find myself feeling like a cliche — older woman waking up to what it means to be a woman in our culture.

It isn’t that I have spent my 56 years believing that women should be quiet and serve the coffee. When Marnie was 2, I was writing Christmas cards and Marnie, standing beside me, asked me what the card said on the front. I read it to her — “Peace on Earth Good Will to Men” — and she said, “Peace on Earth Good Will to WOMEN.” She had to learn that somewhere, and I believe she learned it from me. It’s been in my mouth, always, care about women and women’s rights as human beings (still and even more quickly being stripped away now). I’ve lobbied, marched, written letters. Marnie my girl went off to Smith College, a choice I urgently encouraged and reveled in. Just women, a fantastic environment for women to get their voices clear and loud.  It startles me still that some mothers discourage their daughters from going to women’s colleges (“but where will you meet men?” . . . seriously????). I was thrilled that she made that choice.

But for myself, it has been harder. I defer. I stop talking when interrupted (to be fair, that’s true when women interrupt me too). So much of my deference to men is invisible to me, it’s so automatic. I spent much of my life waiting/hoping/expecting to be rescued by a man. Realizing that I was partly appalled by the woman in my self-defense class who went on and on, pummeling the man in the sternum, made me realize that deep inside I had an idea that women should not behave like that. (Again, to be fair, I think no one should pummel an innocent person, but I had a specific reaction to that woman doing it.)

And I trash talk. Again, to be fair, I trash talk men and women. Vicious and cruel judging was the blood sport I grew up with, and the habit still resides in my cells. I’ve rooted most of it out, but it still comes out about silly superficial things. Last night I clicked through a slideshow of outfits people wore to the Grammys and thought Good grief, Madonna looks ridiculous, I’m sick of something something something. Another woman’s outfit nearly prompted me to make some kind of caustic comment on Facebook. And it hit me all at once: I am never again going to trash talk a woman, any woman. I’m starting there. I’d like to stop trash talking completely, but it feels especially important to stop saying negative things about other women. The culture does that for us loudly enough. Cruelly enough. I have to speak up when anyone jokes about ‘resting bitch face.’ I have to speak up about the fact that the bulk of television “entertainment” involves the rape and/or murder of women. Think about that. Once you see how prevalent it is you’ll be sick to your stomach.

I need to stop using hedging language when I speak. “Well, I guess I think…” NO. “I think.” I need to stop saying, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I need to know what I want to do and say it when I’m asked. And not wait to be asked, for that matter.

I don’t need to be anti- others, and certainly not anti-men (except for anti-rapist-men and anti-violent men and anti-those in power who are trying to strip away women’s rights), I just need to start supporting women in a fuller way than I have in the past — and that includes myself as a woman. That’s where I have to start.

here is a strong woman. Me.
Here is a strong woman. Me.

challenges

The Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy of Austin offers free self-defense lessons to women every January and February. They started doing this in January 2012 as a community service after a series of attacks on women and the murder of a woman on New Years. Each session is four weeks long — one in January, and one in February. I admire them very much for making these classes available to women at no cost. The teachers are a couple of women and then several of the male teachers participate to give women a chance to practice the techniques on men.

It’s hard. My first class yesterday was just so very hard, even though the moves they teach are not really that hard. They don’t want to teach us “tricks” because we might not remember them — especially in a crisis, and especially if the crisis happens long after the class ends. Instead, they are teaching us a way to think about our responses. A way to react to keep ourselves in a defensive mode. We move from and protect our center lines and move toward and attack their center lines. We begin, when threatened, by simply putting our arms out directly in front and to the center: STOP. Women are trained to be nice, not to cause a scene, not to embarrass others unnecessarily or unfairly. STOP.

kfsd

See? Nothing too complicated there. So what’s the challenge? These were hard for me:

1) At the opening of the class, the main guy in charge talked about avoiding trouble as our primary strategy. He said that if you’re attacked, as a woman you are blamed. It’s hard, it’s wrong, it’s unfair, it’s everything awful, but it’s true. He said just being smart, he obviously wouldn’t walk up to a biker bar and climb on one of the big bikes and rev the engine — that’s asking for trouble! Unfortunately for women, leaving home can be trouble. Walking from the store to your car can be trouble. What were you wearing? Asking for it. Why didn’t you scream? Asking for it. Why didn’t you fight back? Asking for it. Novelist Margaret Atwood said that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid of being killed.” (from a PBS documentary titled No Safe Place: Violence Against Women.)

So the challenge is to find your own sweet spot between staying home all the time and assuming that every man you pass is a rapist or murderer. I knew all this already — every woman in the room knew this already, it’s why we were there — but it was still upsetting. It was the spoken out loud context for us all being there on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, all us women and all those teachers.

2) The main woman teacher asked if we all knew about resting bitch face. Of course we all did, and then that kind of broke my heart. If we don’t smile we have “resting bitch face.” Instead of just resting face. Ordinary face. Unsmiling men don’t have “resting bastard face.” It was also hard because I am a default smiler, and when I’m nervous I smile even more. If a man is making me feel nervous or scared, I smile furiously. It’s a very old habit, and hard to break. We were told to make eye contact and be assertive in our stance and make that face. I realized that I’m afraid I will smile and that will be the reason an attack against me is my fault — that will be what made me asking for it. Being a woman in this culture is so hard.

3) It was physically challenging for me, even though I’m so much more fit than I’ve ever been. I wasn’t expecting that! But moving hard and fast with your arms repeatedly for a long time is exhausting. At one point I was so dizzy and exhausted I felt like I was going to faint. Everything was spinning and my head was doing that buzzy thing it does before I faint, and I felt like vomiting. I had to sit down, and no one else did. Since no one else did, and since there were others in the room who were much less fit than me, I assume that I was making it harder on myself, and that’s probably true. I was probably clenched and responding as if I were literally saving my life. Next Tuesday evening I want to focus on that and try to be more relaxed and loose. But oh that was hard.

4) In the last 15 minutes of the class we had to hit men. This is, in fact, an important part of the class — to get past our inhibitions about hitting someone. The men in the class were there because they want to help women protect themselves. They were all soft-spoken (there’s a sign in the room saying to use a soft voice, too) and gentle, and none were threatening looking. In fact, it was hard to imagine any of them being threatening looking. They weren’t buff and muscular, although they’re very good at kung fu. We women were all in a circle around the perimeter of the room and the men moved around the circle, pausing in front of each woman so the woman could punch him squarely on the sternum.

We were taught how to make a fist: with your hand open, curl the fingertips down to touch the very top of your palm. Now, roll your fingers into a fist, starting with the pinky finger. Place your thumb across your middle joints — not over the top of the pointer, not with the thumb tucked in. Then you hit with the edge of your fist — the pinky finger edge.

The first man who came around to me was smaller than me, and I watched the woman to my right punch him. I heard her punch him; it’s a hollow thud sound, and it’s very hard to hear. He stood there unmoving as she left-right-left-right-left-right-left-right punched him, over and over. Then it was my turn and my stomach hurt. My eyes filled with tears. I punched him once and immediately apologized because I thought I’d done it wrong, and just punched a knuckle into him instead of the flat of my fist — surely that hurt. I could only do it a few times. It was very hard, emotionally.

One woman in the circle had no problem hitting him, she was like machine gun fire: slam slam slam slam slam slam, for a couple of minutes. She had a fierce expression on her face and was not the slightest bit apologetic. I simultaneously admired her and was appalled by her, and that tells me something about myself, something I need to face and move past.

There were several men and I should’ve practiced hitting the next man who was coming around the circle — a much bigger man, taller than me — but I just couldn’t do it. I had to leave.

I’ll have to push myself to go next Tuesday evening. I won’t want to, I know that. Our moves against the men are going to intensify and become more aggressive, and at some point we’ll be bringing them down to the floor. I dread that so much. I’m afraid of being so physically challenged again, although at least next time I’ll be expecting that and won’t be caught off guard by it.

Feeling sad and upset and crying about the fact that all this is true for women is a complete waste of my energy, even though I did have to have a bit of a cry when I got home from the class. I need instead to focus my energy on making myself strong, learning ways to keep myself safe, and then living out in the world exactly as I want to live. Not expecting trouble around every corner, or in every man, but being ready in case it ever is.

My main task today after my weekly call with Marnie is babysitting sweet Oliver while his mommy and daddy have a date — LUCKY ME!!!! Oh how lucky I am in all the ways. Lucky Oliver is in this world, lucky I live here so I can do this, lucky his mommy and daddy welcome me with all the love and warmth they do. Lucky lucky me. Here, I’ll share a bit of the luck with you: he’s 10 months old, moving toward 11. Isn’t he getting big?

sweet happy baby
sweet happy baby

it’s WHEN???

Christmas is what? When? In a couple of days? I’ve had anti-Christmas years, like the one where we were so freshly grieving Gracie’s death, the dread, grim holidays of 2012, and I’ve had anti-Christmas years where it was just a huge race to the finish for everything else — the years when I was in college and graduate school and the kids had their school stuff, and we didn’t really start even thinking about it until all that ended.

But this year, I’m so completely lost in time and space I am shocked that today is December 22. Whoa. Nelly. I have my tree up, as decoration for the party last week, but I have done zero bits of Christmas shopping. Zero. I ordered a couple of things for Oliver from Amazon, and they’ve arrived at Katie’s, but that’s it. I haven’t written a single card, though I have been the enormously grateful recipient of so many, and I thank you with a bighearted smile for them. Between coming back from steamy SEAsia on December 9, and immediately catching The Worst Cold I’ve Had Since the 1980s(TM), it has completely snuck up on me. I’m sorry, people in my life, for being a pathetic Christmas partner this year.

Today I’m going to Katie’s house to help her wrap presents, and to make Christmas cookies, so maybe that will at least shift me a bit toward the spirit of it all. I know so many people who’ve had a terrible year (and/or are still right in the heartbreaking thick of it), so the concept of Christmas spirit is just too far removed from their hearts right now. That’s not it for me! My year has been a wonderful one, and we have our darling Oliver, and so it’s not about a willing heart and mind and spirit inside me, it’s just these circumstances.

And it’s going to be 72 degrees here today, which in my earlier all-Texas life made sense. But ten years in New York City have left me a little bewildered by this crazy warm weather.

Argh, I am just still out of whack. And in writing the day’s date above, I realize that for the first time in my entire life, I didn’t even realize it was my dad’s birthday on Saturday. That is shocking, and perhaps partly attributable to this same thing, but also certainly due to the way I finally got to let him go. He doesn’t haunt me anymore.

The last couple of days (boy, this is disjointed and rambling, kind of like me this morning) I’ve spent time with the women in my life — breakfast with a bunch on Saturday, and then Moroccan chickpea soup and champagne (followed by my very first martini) with another. Every day I’m so glad to be a woman, because I get to have these rich relationships. Gosh, aren’t these women beautiful?

gorgeous Jennifer was behind the camera for this one, bummer.
gorgeous Jennifer was behind the camera for this one, bummer.

And not just to be a woman — a big enough gift, that is — but to be a woman this age. Last night Cindy and I were sitting at the bar of a fancy place near my house, having our post-dinner martinis (mine with olives stuffed with blue cheesemmmmm……) and talking about life, death, make-up, stray hairs in the weird places, family, and I was completely unaware that anyone else was in the bar. No idea if they were listening in, no idea if people were sitting next to us, nothing. It was just me and Cindy talking about our lives, and I kept having light shining into me from her.

Christmas may not make any sense to me this year, and I’m not going to push on that. If it does, it will, and if it does, it will happen Christmas Eve at Katie’s, and Christmas morning as we all dazzle ourselves at Oliver, who won’t quite know what’s going on with everything but how great that he will be surrounded by so much love. His mom and dad, and his Pete, and his Grampy — the first Christmas I will spend with Grampy, my kids’ father, my first husband, since they were in school. I’m so looking forward to that too. A re-assembling of a family group.

OK, rambling out.

hair

I’m mad. Indignant. Annoyed. Flat-out pissed. Confused. Bewildered. I look at the calendar, what year is this? I keep looking at my watch….wait, it’s almost 2015, right?

I was a little kid in the 1960s (b.1958) when women had fantastic short hair. Twiggy. Mia Farrow. Audrey Hepburn. Jean Seberg. The sexy women had these very feminine short haircuts. My mother wielded a mean straight razor and gave us girls pixies too, though for herself she favored the Cher hairstyle of the period, long, super straight, waist-length. But it was just nothing for women to have such short haircuts. I never gave it a second thought. Although we showed up every time the doors opened at the Church of Christ (ours was the extremely rigid, uptight, you’re-all-going-straight-to-hell type) where women were not supposed to cut their hair, we were only a for-show church family. We showed up, glummed our way through the dirge music and hung our heads at our hellishness, walked out and shook the preacher’s hand, stopped at Luby’s for lunch, and went along our very un-religious way. Mother’s hair was not long for religious reasons — she thought it made her look amazing. (And it did.) But cutting our hair short? The style! Sassoon, everyone was doing it!

I continued to keep my hair short; the only question was how short, and what color. Once I even disastrously shaved my head. I never wanted long hair, never thought I “needed” long hair, never thought I didn’t look like a girl without long hair.

When I met Marc in 2005 — cosmopolitan man, New York City his entire adult life, Chicago before that — he said he wished I’d grow my hair out. He likes long hair on women, it’s beautiful. Well, OK. I went through the hell of getting it through the miserable period, then just let it keep going. By the time I moved to Austin at the tail-end of 2012, it was quite long:

So you can imagine the horrible stages of getting from the hair on the left to the hair on the right. I do have very nice hair, and I thought it was attractive, but …. oh, the buts:

  • It took so much time to fix it.
  • Most of the time I wore it twisted up in a knot anyway.
  • It irritated me to death, all the time. Even sleeping was a pain in the head if/when Marc would lean on my hair.

The woman who was my boss at my publishing job in New York also had long hair that she wore in a French twist every single day. Every day. One time she told me that only her husband got to see her hair, which I found to be so strange, like a religious thing. Like the Jewish women who wear wigs in public, the Muslim women who cover their heads. She was a blond, not-religious white woman.

When I cut my hair off into the asymmetrical bob that came to my shoulders, my husband wasn’t happy about it but there was still long enough hair to be soft and touchable and he could deal. I cut it shorter, and he liked it much less. Several days ago I cut it shorter still, into a pixie, and I was shocked by how immediately I felt like my self again. Ah, my old self, there you are, aaaaaahhhhhhh. I love it, love it love it love it. It takes zero time to fix it, I’ve learned that over the years my hair has become quite curly around my ears and towards the back so that’s new, and I think it’s just cute as can be. But my haircut and “woman”? Didn’t put those two things together for a second.

And then, on Tuesday, I had my poetry group Christmas party. Some of them aren’t on Facebook so they hadn’t seen my haircut, so when they walked in they were shocked. One didn’t recognize me, she said. But it was this exchange that really started off this whole puzzlement. The men in the group were standing around the table and I passed by to get some food, and one of them said to me, “Most women can’t carry off a haircut like that, but you really can. You can carry it off.” The others agreed, with more ‘positive’ comments like that and vigorous head nods. Big smiles. Oh yes, you can carry it off. Most women can’t.

That struck me then and it has stuck with me since. This idea that women are supposed to have long hair, that anything else is some kind of weird aberration that is only OK if you can carry it off. Which apparently I can. And my husband’s “feelings are hurt” that I cut my hair so short.

I’ll tell you. If I had my way, if how I looked were solely up to me, I would have full sleeve tattoos on both arms, a spray of flowers across the top of my right foot, and hair that was more along these lines:

but  not so much in the eyes, that drives me crazy.
But not so much hair in the eyes, that drives me crazy. And maybe not that shade of lilac, which I couldn’t carry off with my skin tone. But some kind of crazy color, yes.

So there really are two parts here — three, maybe. There’s the part that makes me consult my watch in absolute confusion, what year is this????? Luckily I don’t care one little bit what men think about how I look. There’s the part that makes me feel constrained by my husband’s tastes, because I do care a little bit about what he thinks of my appearance. And there’s the maybe one about a woman my age, although this documentary puts lie to that idea:

[embedplusvideo height=”350″ width=”604″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1ApczHA” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/nWKTfqivbRQ?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=nWKTfqivbRQ&width=604&height=350&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8927″ /]

Yeah, if not for my husband’s taste, I just might look more like this:

woman

I guess I just don’t get this thing about hair.

community and connection

womenThose women don’t look exactly like those of us in my beautiful book club, but they kinda do. We may not all dress like that (we totally could if we wanted to!), but the general vibe is so us. Bent over laughing, big drama hands (gee, maybe that’s me? I hope not…), smiles, friendship.

I suppose if you get six to eight grown women who have raised their kids (or are in the throes of teenagers, the sweet baby of our group) there’s going to be very little that shocks. All you have to do is scratch any topic and two or more of us have dealt with it in our lives in some way. Divorces, mental illnesses, mild to severe, rebellious kids, drugs, addiction, starting over, falling in love again, anxieties about parents, worries about work, dreams. But you know, while those things might be quite common, some people don’t want to acknowledge them in their own lives. And that’s fine, no one should have to reveal anything they don’t want to. It’s just that among my group of friends in the book club, we seem to be open about our lives. Oh, you too? Yes, that happened to me. And what an incredible treasure that is, a community like that.

And since we are all bookish women, and truly we are, which is a delight of my life, bookish stories abound. Her mother was a librarian and the whole family read for fun, no television. Books saved that one, and this one was so bookish that her fiance was warned — you know about her and books, yes? And in a moment of such sweet delight, while we were talking about the dangers of eating while we read, I mentioned that scene in Little Women where Jo sits in the attic to read, with a basket of apples by her side that she ate while she read. Heads were nodding, oh yes, I remember that. I said that scene stuck with me and I always wanted to do that but I never have. And the wonderful woman who hosted hopped up, grabbed a bag of organic Fuji apples from her countertop and put them in my hands. Here, eat these while you read. Is anyone in this world luckier than me? I haven’t met them yet, if they exist.

I’ve never wanted to be a man, despite Freud’s theory that we all secretly want that. I am so grateful, so deeply grateful — again — for being a woman because it allows me to have these kinds of connections with these kinds of women. We’re really all quite different, but we share a welcoming and accepting sensibility. Whenever we part after book club, we walk to our cars talking and laughing, and I hear the sound of us lingering in the air as I unlock my car. I smile all the way home, remembering what she said, wishing I’d had a chance to talk to her a little more, but oh so happy I’ll have more chances.

Fly day again, Austin to Newark and on into New York. A thrilling day on Saturday, celebrating my friend/brother Sherlock — 50 years old now, and 20 years post-heart transplant. And oh how happy I am to get to be there for the celebration. There was a bit of celebration for my yesterday too: that dreadful horrible thing grinding in the background has ended, and she did not win. I was so happy I ate a whole watermelon. 🙂

Enjoy your Friday, I hope it’s the kick-off of a wonderful weekend!

repurposing a word

The other day I was having my wonderful weekly phone call with Marnie. That’s truly a highlight of my week every single week, and we’re good about being sure it happens. We send a note if Saturday isn’t going to work (our usual day) and coordinate another day. On rare occasions we just have to skip a week, and when I’m on vacation we don’t talk on the phone at all. I feel out of whack if we don’t talk regularly. So in this past call, I was telling her about the group of women in my daily life now, how deeply important they are, how I finally feel like I have people I not only could ask for help if I were in trouble, but I would ask for help. That is shocking to me, because I have never been able to do that, ever, but if something happened I would send out a message to them and they would help me, I know it. I love these women, so much.

well, it's usually wine we're drinking...
well, it’s usually wine we’re drinking…

And Marnie said, “I’m so glad you found your coven.” I loved that! I’d like to strip that word of its witchy origins. I’d like to use that word to mean MY WOMEN, my boon companions, the women I can’t imagine my life without, the women I’d call in the middle of the night, the women who would call me in the middle of the night, the women who will encircle any one of us in trouble. The women who will hold the net under each other. The women I need to talk to immediately to share my good news. The women I know will take my side with bad news, the women who will put pretend hexes on anyone who hurts me. Just as I would do for any of them (double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble…..that’s the only fake hex I know, but I can do a mean stink-eye and I’m the queen of the cold shoulder).

Lots of people who read my blog have lived in one place for a long time, and have friends they’ve known and loved for decades. Friends through their marriage(s), through the having baby years, through the hard years of raising kids, through various lives and careers and ups and downs. I don’t really have that, gypsy that I am, although I do keep friends from wherever I move. Judy rocked Will when he was in kindergarten every single day when he went to the clinic with a tummy ache. She knew there wasn’t anything wrong with him except he missed his daddy, who had left, and so she held him and rocked him as long as he needed. That was 1992, and she is still my dearly beloved, even though she lives in Alabama and I live here and we rarely see each other. But she was there when I divorced my kids’ dad, and when I started college, and I was there through some difficult times in her life, and so our bonds just are. They are, and always will be.

Somehow these women, my coven, moved into that stage in such a short time, and I am so so lucky. I can’t explain it. We are all women of substance, thoughtful women, deep thinkers, generous, insightful (and self-reflective), with great big hearts. Most of us are very funny. We’ve all loved so deeply, and we’ve all been terribly hurt, betrayed, shocked by life. We’ve all come to this point in our lives with strength and personal power.

My local coven — Anne, Cyndi, Deanna, Debbie, Dixie, Faith, Karyn, Lynn, Nancy, in alphabetical order — the most amazing women, and my friends. We help each other move; when a washer floods, one offers to come pick up all the wet stuff and wash and dry it and return it; we do things together for fun; we admire each other and respect each other; we have differences, political and spiritual, and we can talk about them and love each other; there is no gap if a bit of time passes and we don’t see each other for one reason or another; there is no competition among us; we will tell each other the truth; we learn a lot from each other; we offer what we have in times of big or small trouble. Tears fill our eyes when something wonderful happens for one of us. Tears fill our eyes when trouble comes to one of us. We have each other’s backs. We encourage each other. We celebrate each other, and not just because we’re always happy for any reason to be together for a good time (though we are). We are all competent, strong women, and that’s a force.

since I'm in Austin, I guess it'd need to be a cowboy hat.
since I’m in Texas, I guess it’d need to be a cowboy hat.

This may be old hat to you, but it isn’t to me. This is a brand new hat. It isn’t that I’ve never had friends . . . I have! Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had friends. But this is a group of friends and we all know each other and although we don’t all hang out together — there are subgroups — this is my gang. My coven. I’m so glad to be a woman, because I don’t think men typically do this, they don’t get to have this. (I suspect Dixie’s husband Karl is an exception, but then again, he is exceptional.)

I know without a doubt what I’ll say in my gratitude email when it arrives later this afternoon. I am grateful for Katie and Oliver being so healthy; I am grateful for Marnie who makes such an effort to be a regular part of my life, still; and I am so thoroughly and deeply grateful for my coven. My gang. My deeply wonderful and dear friends, who enrich my life and who touch my heart, and allow me to touch theirs.

As I’m writing this, I think about all my other friends — hugely important friends, those of you here and there, many also in Austin, and in far-flung places, friends who add to my life and enrich it, friends I love with all my heart, friends I consider to be my sister, friends who make me laugh and laugh and cry with me, friends who would comfort me in trouble and who celebrate with me when good things happen, and allow me to do the same. I love you all. You also have held the net, and cried with me, and I count you with deep gratitude. And you may feel lucky, but I have to say that I am the luckier one.

not really dancing in the dark

Except for the stomach flu days, I have been waking up at 6am, lacing up my sneakers, eating a banana and drinking a glass of water, activating my pedometer app and my mapping app, and hitting the streets for a 2-mile walk. Austin is a pretty safe place, and my neighborhood is a quiet little corner of the city, established homes, no trouble I’m aware of.

womanStill, in my neighborhood there aren’t very many streetlights, and there’s a creek running through, and passing those dark areas — especially the darkest ones with the creek below — is kind of scary. My spidey senses are all activated, and I only wear one earphone to listen to the podcast, so I can hear if someone is walking nearby, in the dark. There is very little traffic on the residential streets, so any car captures all my attention, especially if it slows down. There aren’t many walkers in my neighborhood at that hour, so anyone I see captures my attention, and intently.

Yesterday I varied my route (always thinking about things like this — don’t be predictable, in case someone is paying attention) and walked along three relatively busy streets. There were more passing cars, of course, and that gave me a bit of security, but only so much.

But I’ve been noticing what happens when I do pass someone, which happens at least a couple of times each time I walk. When I am approaching a woman, we both keep our heads down. Often, as we’re alongside each other we glance sideways without turning our heads. We do not slow down. I don’t change sides of the street or vary my route in any way, but I also don’t smile and acknowledge her, and she does not do that to me either. We are fast, focused, heads down, a little sense of grim. Yesterday I passed a woman pushing a stroller and I felt so shocked and disturbed, realizing that I thought she was putting her child in danger.

When I pass a man doing anything at all, I become almost rabidly attentive. The men often try to look me in the eye and smile and say something — probably knowing the fear of a woman alone in the dark, and so trying to show they’re not a threat — but that does not work. For me, anyway. A few days ago, before I got sick, I was walking in my neighborhood and an older man approaching me stopped in the middle of the street and was looking up at the stars. As I got closer, he laughed gently and said he was looking for the Big Dipper. The next day I passed two different men jogging; they each nodded at me and said some kind of greeting and kept going, but I looked over my shoulder continuously until they were out of sight.

Yesterday, I passed an employee of a quick oil change business. The business was just open and had no customers yet, so the employee was sitting on the step in front of the door, and all my senses caught on fire. So much ‘entertainment’ in movies and on television involves the kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of women, in graphic detail, and so my mind had dozens of images and storylines at the ready: he was the only one there, and there was a room in the back, and he could grab me and hide me there and do whatever he wanted, then throw my body into the woods and creek behind the business. I heard him speaking but never turned my head to look — was he speaking to me, or was there another employee there too? Do. Not. Look. Just keep walking.

As I walk, I chant reminders to myself. Think to stomp him on top of his foot. Remember to use my elbow. Go for the throat, use the heel of my hand into his nose. SCREAM, don’t worry if it turns out to be nothing.  I want to get some kind of device to carry with me — some kind of spray, something that makes a piercing sound — but that doesn’t change the world I live in, which is a world in which women think like this so automatically they barely recognize it. I had lunch with a friend a couple of days ago who has a black belt in karate, and she spoke of how transforming that training was. I could take a self-defense course. There are all kinds of things I can do to be smart and take care of myself, and yet it’s still a rapist’s world, and that just breaks my heart.

Busy day for me today, and tonight I’m going to see that new movie Gravity, about the astronaut. More on that tomorrow. Happy Friday y’all, and take good care of yourselves. I happen to need you very very much. xo

wondering

Not too long ago I wrote a post about wanting to get myself out from under the male gaze. I’ve also been writing lately about how much I love my girlfriends, and in those posts I generally write about the things we talk about (because talk we do, in great volumes). I’ve recently noticed that I always emphasize how one of our frequent topics is men — men or boys — and I usually italicize that, to emphasize it. Yesterday afternoon a beautiful dear friend came over and that was the primary subject, and then the primary subject later at dinner with a bunch of friends.

Must we talk about men? Is this something specific to young women and to women of my age group? The women in my age group spend so much time talking about men; most are single for a variety of reasons and have other things to talk about, but the bulk of our conversation seems to end up and then revolve around men. Finding one, complaining about them, comparing them, discussing possibilities, trying to figure them out, trying to accommodate ourselves around them.

This morning I was thinking about this and I’m just so tired of it. I have no interest in finding a man — not that I hate men (well, in some ways I do, but that’s another point), not that I want to avoid all contact with them — I just don’t want to talk about them all the time. I was even thinking about setting up a meetup group for women where we don’t talk about men, surely there are other women like me, who just want to live their own lives and not have them circulate around the question of a man. But the more I thought about it, the more problems I saw with that idea. When I am with girlfriends, I can talk about the things I want to talk about and hope they go there with me, and when they start talking about men I can try to reintroduce other subjects, but they’re still women who want to talk a whole lot about men. (I love them! I love them! I love my girlfriends, it isn’t that…..)

Today my friend Lynn is coming over for lunch. She just returned from a mission in Chad with Doctors Without Borders, and she lives to travel. She had an unusual childhood, as I did, and she’s not a typical woman of our age group. We’re alike in many ways. I doubt we’ll talk about men, and I love that. She does, though, want to find a relationship, and I don’t. [after lunch: SO MUCH great conversation! A bit of talk about a particular man, but because it’s my current situation with Marc rather than just a conversation about men. Very different.][also: I adore Lynn.]

This reminds me of that Seinfeld episode (what doesn’t!) where Jerry finally finds “the perfect woman,” his doppelganger, a woman JUST like him. Janeane Garofolo played that role, if you remember the episode. Their relationship didn’t last because they were both too similar and it was boring. I think of that as I think how much I’d like to find other women just/mostly like me, women who love to travel and who want to live their very own full lives and don’t want another relationship with a man, women who love to read and write, women who love the things I love more or less. I don’t think that would be boring. I kind of thought that it’d be easier to find women like that in my age group, women who — for a variety of reasons — were ready to be the center of their own lives. Maybe I just haven’t found them yet. Or maybe I’m weird and broken, maybe it’s a very very strange person who doesn’t want or need a close relationship. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s just that I do need and want close relationships, just not with a man at the middle of it all.

it seems so simple to me

This is a serious post, political, in the same way a glass of water is a political issue. And just like a glass of water, it’s clear and obvious (to me, anyway!). If you do not believe in gay marriage, do not marry someone of your own sex. If you are against abortion, do not get an abortion. That would seem to end the discussion, wouldn’t it?

So often, the people who want to enact these stances into LAW forbidding anyone from doing them are Republicans (especially but certainly not exclusively Republican men) who think — otherwise — that government should stay out of their lives. And of course none of this is monolithic. Some people who consider themselves Democrats want these to be laws. Some Republicans do not. Of course. And the abortion issue is complicated, especially since it is framed as “the abortion issue.” Another euphemism: this is about “women’s health.”

For the past week, I’ve been so focused on the issue of women’s choice for self-determination. I was overjoyed that DOMA was overturned and realize there are so many states — including my own — where the fight is not at all over. But especially here in Texas, after Wendy Davis’s incredible 13-hour filibuster, the pink-sneakered issue of women’s rights has been loud. It’s an issue of having the right to decide your own life. The right to your own body. I have the right to my own body, unless people with certain religious beliefs make the laws forcing me to live their religious beliefs.

thousands of us there
thousands of us there

I have been so ashamed of Texas politics, but so incredibly proud of some Texas politicians, including Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Kirk Watson, of Austin. I have been so incredibly proud of the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who stormed the capitol last week when Wendy was filibustering, and took the filibuster the rest of the way. It is so right that it was the people who stopped that bill from becoming law. That was so right, and I was disappointed not to be there in the gallery, or in the rotunda. So I went to the enormous demonstration yesterday and it was so good, seeing the thousands of people who came. Here is the transcript of Wendy Davis’s remarks on the capitol steps. I hope she keeps on talking and standing up. I hope she runs for governor.

humor helps, right?
humor helps, right?

Our mistake is in ever debating the rightness/morality of abortion because it’s not the point. Facing the question of an abortion is surely every woman’s last wish. It’s a nightmare, it’s the longest, darkest night. It’s hard, any decision is surely easier. You struggle in the dark, in the night, and while I do know some women who go into it lightly, they are certainly a minority. If you believe abortion is murder, if you believe you will burn in hell if you have one, that is YOUR price to pay, and your nightmarish choice to make. No one can make it for you or pay the price you’ll pay, but you ought to have the right to struggle with that because you will pay all the prices, whatever decision you make. Have the child, a lifetime of prices. End the pregnancy, a lifetime of knowing that. No legislator is in that dark room with you, no legislator holds your hand, helps pay the bills, carries the load, does one damn thing to make the choice — whatever it is — easier.

Instead, the real issue is whether we have a right to decide for ourselves what will happen to our lives. That’s the essence of it. I find it so hard to fathom, and in fact it makes me nauseated, that half of us don’t have that simple right. I mean, we should, Roe v Wade made it possible, but states get to pull this bullshit that Texas is pulling. Whatever percentage of women would make that choice is irrelevant; a friend tried to argue the question of half by pointing out the large number of Catholics, religious women of other faiths, etc., who would never consider having an abortion. But that’s not the point at all. They would never make that choice as if it were a choice to be made. For them, I suppose it is a choice of sorts, although it’s an empty choice because there is no alternative.

My heart breaks over the issue of abortion. It’s horrible, and I find it hard to talk about. But the question of whether any woman has the right to make whatever decision she feels she needs to make for her own life is not at all hard to talk about. Some states are making it harder to get birth control and next to impossible to get an abortion, effectively converting their female population to baby factories. And in the real irony of it, these are the same states that damn and condemn women for having more babies than they can care for, the same states that cut all kinds of funding that affects women and children. Why do we accept this?

Why do we allow our lives to be taken away from us — and this is a question being asked by people all over the world, now and all at once, it seems. Marnie posted this link from The Atlantic, an article depicting the protests from all over the world by people who cannot just sit by any longer. Being in the crowd at the capitol yesterday, and looking through all the images in the linked article, I feel hope. Ah, look at all of us! But I know it’s misleading, because here we all are, shouting and being gassed and assaulted and in some cases, being killed (or killing ourselves in protest), but the men in power keep going. Until they don’t. And I hope and pray we all get loud enough, and don’t stop, and keep coming back no matter what kind of shady crap they pull, as they are pulling at this moment in Texas. I hope and pray we just keep coming back, over and over. And when they stall us, I hope we get some more friends and come back even louder. And we keep coming back until it’s done. It’s a war of wearing-down. Our illustrious Lt Gov Dewhurst said with a smirk, describing the 2-week period of the next special session, “No human being can talk for two weeks.” His glee and delight at that made me want to vomit. He has no interest in having the law shaped by what the people of Texas want — evidenced, obviously, by his actions during and in the wake of the filibuster — and he  doesn’t even mind saying publicly that he’ll win by setting up the game so he’ll win.

There is a growing movement to turn Texas blue again, and it’s not an idle dream. Texas was historically a hard-core Democratic state — yellow dog Democrats, which you know means that we’d vote for a yellow dog before we’d vote for a Republican. That’s who we always were, until the mid 80s. We had a brief revisiting of our roots when Ann Richards was our governor, but we sank right back into the Republicans’ and Tea Partier’s slick hands. The demographic shift is coming, as our state moves to a Hispanic majority, but there are still an awful lot of us Democrats here, and the irony is that all this disgusting crap the Republicans are pulling — illegal tactics, they’re caught red-handed — is mobilizing us in a way they surely never intended.

If you are against abortion for any reason, you have a right to that belief! And it’s probably a religious-based belief, so recognize that you are being guaranteed the right to your religious belief! If you feel so strongly about it, then help women you know when they are facing that decision, offer them help and your thoughts, maybe, and your love and care. That’s about the limit of your rights as far as I am concerned.

There were two big reasons I did not think I could ever move back to Texas after living in New York. One reason had to do with my real pleasure at living in New York, having all that available to me, all that richness and culture and possibility. But the bigger reason had to do with Texas politics, and my shame and disgust over them. Last week, though, watching Wendy Davis filibuster, watching other senators supporting her, watching the hundreds or thousands of people — mostly women, but lots of men, and people of all ages — in the gallery and in the rotunda, I realized my mistake. There is a lot of work to do here. This is the place to be, and I am so glad to be here. I will be back at the capitol when the session is reconvened, and if I am arrested, as others are, I’m grateful to have family and friends who will make my bail. There is so much work to be done here, and in other states. There is so much work to be done around the world, and if we all stood up, it would really help.

in love

You remember the feeling — you see him/her and your heart races, you just feel so large and connected to the world, maybe you even cry a little bit. Your edges dissolve, and you love the world, it’s all so beautiful.

How did I ever miss Mary J Blige’s version of One? I love Bono’s version, always/still, but last night I happened to see Mary J Blige’s version and here’s a still from the video that’s going to relate to the post. Look at that beautiful, beautiful woman. So strong.

if you click the image you'll go to the video

I’ve sat across the table from female friends, from pairs or groups of women, and just felt so much love. Felt so safe, so watched out for. It’s a different experience now that I’m older; the women I hang out with are all about not having it, not having idiotic politics, not having me see myself so incorrectly — not. having. it. — supporting each other when our kids hurt us, encouraging each other when trouble comes, helping each other when trouble comes, jumping in immediately with both feet. In January, when I was at a disco with my gang my first time getting out of the house, I was at a table talking with a bunch of women who were asking about me because we’d just met. Everything was so fresh and all I could do was cry, and I was telling them about Gracie, and about her unfinished quilt, and immediately they said, “We’ll come help you finish quilting it.” No hesitation, not a pause. One woman said she didn’t know how to quilt so she’d “make the coffee.” They all reached out to hold my hands, they put their hands on my shoulders, smiled at me with such care. Women. I am so in love with women. Look at that woman. She is so strong, so tough, and so beautiful.

My last night in Ubud, I was at a restaurant when 8 women walked in and took a large table nearby. Some wore headscarves and some wore hijabs and some wore nothing over their hair. They were my age to a little older, and they were clearly old friends. Our tables were on a platform, and nearby was a fountain for handwashing because the menu had things you eat with your hands. I watched them during my own dinner, watched them laughing and talking together, encouraging each other, sharing. I watched them walk — in pairs — to the handwashing fountain, I watched them point out the step down to each other. I watched them leave, and as one woman passed me she nodded her head and smiled at me, a secret handshake kind of recognition and acknowledgement. I watched them hold the elbow of the older woman as she stepped down.

And this, I saw this sign in the little village outside Ubud where I stayed, and it rocked me to my core:

CREATION
CREATION

LOOK AT WHAT WE DO. And we lead, and we organize, and we nurture, and we are just so fucking strong. And it pisses me off more than I can even articulate that we just let the political world — mostly men, but women too — take away our rights. But this post isn’t about politics, it’s just about how much I have grown to love women. I think younger women are often competitive with each other in a way that finally slides away when we get older; at least, that’s my experience. Mothering can be competitive, and we can be threatened by other women if we are unsure in our relationship, and we might tear each other down for a lot of reasons. Of the three worst bosses I’ve ever had, one was a woman. We are complicated and not just one thing, but boy howdy, I so love women.

A good 99.99% percent of my blog readers are women, and so let me just tell you how happy I am that you read my words, that occasionally you leave me comments, that you pull for me and encourage me, root for me, help me however you can when I need help, you’re happy with me with things are going well, you share yourselves with me in a range of ways, and I feel such great love for you. Can we possibly do without our girlfriends? I can’t.

that certain age

friendsLast night I met my friend Margie, ostensibly for a drink but when terrible traffic made her more than 30 agonizingly frustrated minutes late we added dinner to our plans. She was in a much better mood than I’d have been in, after sitting through 10 changes of the light before she could redirect her route. She wanted me to meet her friend Paula, so it was a kind of friend ‘fix-up’ evening. Margie is just outstandingly beautiful, I keep finding ways to steal glances at her. She’s vivacious and smart as hell, and with a big heart and good politics.

Since she was so late, Paula and I spent that time meeting each other, and we never had a minute without talking. When poor frazzled Margie arrived, we took a booth and were off to the races. It was great. I watched us talking, leaning in, brainstorming, talking about work and men and children and politics, listening and asking questions, gesturing a LOT, six hands flying through the air, an occasional screech NO HE DIDN’T, and I thought just how fantastic it is to be an older woman. How absolutely great it is. I know at some point things shift, but boy it’s such a powerful time of life, my favorite so far.

wwWe talked about men, oh what a topic that is, giving me the chance to ask what’s with the young ones hitting on me all the time (long vigorous topic, that one, and seriously dude, I have children about your age come on), the ones who do not respect no, age differences, and the frequent strangeness of old men. That was such fun, it kind of felt like the tables were turned in some way. And it made me relax, because this whole men thing is stressful in such a strange way. I’d been hoping for the superpower of a cloak of invisibility by this age, that’s what you hear about, but it hasn’t yet happened and I need some of those fancy wrist shield thingies that Wonder Woman wore so I can deflect intrusion. We talked about kids and soon-grandkids, all pride and love and heart. We got pissed off at meanness and stupidity.

I’ve been off-kilter my whole life. As a young woman most of my friends were significantly older; I had a couple of friends close to my age, but I just got along so well with old women. When I had very young kids I was friendly with the other mothers at the bus stop, but then at 36 I started college and my friends were 18-19, and in grad school they were 22-24. I got out of whack and never had life stages in common with friends. In New York my dear friends were often close to my age (but I was always the oldest), but we didn’t share some basic life stuff in common. They were unmarried/never married, and they did not have children, with one exception. They were always kind and interested enough in hearing about my kids, though I was always kind of wary about just going on and on. But I was in a marriage and they were dating or trying to find someone to date, so I’m sure they did with each other what I did with Margie and Paula last night. It’s really so wonderful to have friends with the same landmarks, the same struggles. Margie’s daughter is due to give birth any day, her first grandchild.

I’m so glad not to be a man. I have always been glad not to be a man, but it’s apparently linear: the older I get, the gladder I become. Only a man would come up with a theory that all women just want to be men, STUPID FREUD.

Happy Friday y’all, my ladies. Love those women in your life and tell that girlfriend just how precious she is to you. I know you have at least one you couldn’t do without. Maybe several, like me. xo