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