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Posts from September 2008

The Symbolism of a Doilie

My mother has informed me that her leg spasm was not, in fact, a result of my venting to her. She said this in both a detailed phone message (they are usually very brief, my mother is not a technology maven, so she really was stating and giving a message) and then again, when I spoke to her the next day. I appreciated her saying this; I take it as her way of saying: “keep bringing it on daughter, I can deal with your venting, I’m here to hear the venting, and I will continue in my role as Vent-Receiver-in-Chief, leg spasms or not.”

A good friend of mine has been telling me for years that not only is she unable to vent to her mother, but if anything, her mother vents to her. She is the ventee not the venter. While she can analyze why this is the situation, you can still tell that this pains her, she has no one with whom she can mentally curl up and be mothered. Most of her life has been that way: being the responsible child compared to her mother who needed mothering, and the responsible sister cum mother, too.

I think about this because the two of us talk a lot about our daughters and how we are interacting with them. (Her daughter is 17, and mine are 17 and 12.) It seems that the way we have been daughtered determined how we have mothered our daughters. My more laid-back approach surely is a reflection of my understanding that they know I will be there to catch them and to coddle their egos and bruised selves whenever necessary, because that has been my experience. But rather than think that she is better mother than I am (why, why do I do this to myself all of the time) perhaps her more intense involvement in her daughter’s life is because that is what she would have wanted—needed, even—and so she is giving her daughter what she was lacking. It is not that one style is right, or even better, but it suits our own experiences.

Perhaps there are parenting styles like there are body types. And maybe the whole nature vs. nurture argument is passé, since how we were nurtured was determined by nature (that gene pool that we got from mom and dad) which naturally resulted in a certain type of nurture.

My friend has told me that whenever her mother brings a gift for her home, it always comes with a companion doilie, or rather a piece of antique lace. The bitterness with which she talks about the doilies and her mother’s concern for not scratching the surface of a table is especially evident after a discussion of how her mother is, well, unavailable for venting. The doilie and her mother’s attention to it is what she would have liked. And so to ensure that her daughter does not have the bitterness from mothering that she has, she has become a doilie for her daughter.

My mother still insists on using coasters. Me, I never use them (except at her house, I don’t want to get one of her looks). If you get a ring you get a ring. Life goes on.

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Sunday Morning at the Coffee Shop

Why are there so many men sitting at tables alone? Why am I the only solo woman? It makes the fact of my divorce and pulling apart of the family even worse. And I am here because I don’t want to be at home, confronted with the fact of four individuals and not a family. Where to go? I guess I need to come to terms with the reality and not the lost illusion.  

Lipstick: Why Doesn’t It Stick?

I’ve been thinking about lipstick lately, and not just because a lot of pigs seem to be wearing it, but because it doesn’t seem to like me. Now I know that that might sound like a strange claim, but it’s true. Lipstick is to my lips as truth is to some people’s mouths. (Okay, off the politics trail.) Seriously, why do we women buy something that so obviously doesn’t work? Is it something in our make-up (oh, look, a pun from the English teacher), our passion for optimism?; our belief in the best in everyone, in spite of all evidence?

Tube after tube I buy, and tube after tube comes off within moments of application. Yes, I have tried the all-day application type, but guess what, it comes off too. Maybe it would stay on if I didn’t talk, and eat, and drink, and, in general, use my mouth, except to smile that is. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen.

I like lipstick, I really do. I even like putting it on. Gliding that waxy silky layer of color across my lips, sometimes it’s warm and sometimes it’s cool, depending on where it has been. The very anticipation of that gentle touch makes me think of a kiss coming my way. The act is very sensual, and I don’t think that is a bad thing to do for the self: acknowledging that I am a sensual being and not only in relation to a boy.

My mother, whose make-up habits would cause the world’s cosmetics companies to seriously try to sell lipstick to pigs since she wears so little make up is of the “can’t leave the house without lipstick” generation, has influenced my determination to always color my lips when going out in public. Which is why this dilemma is so basic. If so many women view lipstick as a wardrobe essential, then why can’t the cosmetics companies make quality lipstick that stays on for the course of a normal day? Even in the course of a normal hour?

This is surely not the same as asking for a mammogram machine that doesn’t hurt; we’re talking about lip color that stays on. The all day stuff that I have been buying lately has an awful habit of selectively sticking. So I have a ring around my lips where there is still some color, but on the inner-most part—the part that I think is supposed to have the most color—absolutely fades. I’m thinking that it’s not a good look. Red raccoon rings around my mouth. Ugh.

Honestly. What is with these companies? I guess they have been getting the message that the color is not staying with regular lipstick, hence all the “all day” stuff that abounds now, but you’d think that they could come up with something that works for real women and not just models in commercials. Is it hard to make color stick? If crayon can stay on a wall, couldn’t wax stay on a lip? Maybe Crayola needs to come out with a line of lipstick. I’d buy a box of Crayola lipstick in these colors: Cranberry, Maroon, Mauvelous, RazzMatazz, and Violet-Red.

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Another Saturday Morning at the Coffee Shop

This morning, while reading far too much election-related material and attempting to do some writing in between commenting on new and “old” revelations at my favorite café, my friend, who is separated from the virtual twin of my ex-husband, came in. She was full of more heart-wrenching drama of the tribulations of what her nasty husband is doing to her and her daughters. Tears were barely stopped by coffee shop napkins; my goodness, how do our lives devolve to such a state that in our forties we wonder, we honestly wonder, how life could have gotten so bitter. And we wonder, too, if it will get better.

And thanks to comments from readers of this blog, I was able to transmit some of your encouraging comments to her. I was your vessel to tell her: yes, it will get better; yes, this will end; yes, you are loved by your friends; and, yes, you deserve better. I thank you for making me believe that for myself, and for her, and for all of the women who are drowning in tears wrought by their once-loved ones—listen, listen to your friends and let their words drown out those spewing from the evil man in your life.

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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Twenty-Three

Getting Physical (Abuse, that is)

As I held the telephone receiver in my hand with the 911 operator asking me what is the problem, and with my husband screaming at me about his career—I was numb. I didn’t answer her. I had called, but I was overwhelmed by the situation. I had never been so scared in my life, scared for my life because of my husband, but fearful, too, perversely (or as evidence of how cowed I was of him) of the consequences of calling the police on my husband. “Luckily” he yanked the phone cord out of the wall, solving that dilemma, and enhancing the existing—the existential— one, of his now physically violent behavior.

It had started as another of our fights which ended with me (as usual) trying to get away from his insults and threatening attitude, and with him following close behind me, as if I were the energy he needed to keep going (which surely must be the case). I went down to the basement, hoping that he would not follow, hoping that he would stop, hoping that I could get away from him in my own home, hoping that I did not have to go out for an escape drive, hoping that my not answering him would result in his losing interest (as some experts suggest) in harassing me. Alas, he followed me down the stairs into the basement and to the laundry room in the very corner of the basement.

As I bent over to pick up clothes to do a load of laundry, keeping myself busy with the rhythms of a normal life, he was there—near me, menacing me with his physical presence. It was as if he was an anti-peacock, ruffling his black feathers to warn and threaten his peahen instead of to entice and woo her. Suddenly, I felt something hit me on the side of the head—he had kicked a large garbage bag at me. “Luckily,” it was full of other garbage bags so it did not hurt too much (physically), but it bent my glasses and knocked them at an angle. “You hit me! You hit me!” I screamed, partly in shock that what I had feared had finally happened, and partly to protect myself from a continuation or intensification.

His reply, as always, was to deny, deny, deny. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.”

What, I would fabricate that? I would be cornered in the basement with this six foot tall big guy and I would lie about the outcome? That was insulting. Goddamn it, why won’t he take responsibility for his actions?

I went upstairs, acting on some kind of behavioral auto-pilot, and told my daughters that I was going out for a while, afraid that it would seem that while saving myself I was leaving them. Then, I went to the phone in the kitchen and called 911.

When he saw me pick up the phone he started yelling again, this time, “My career! My career!” Unbelievably, he was placing his guilt onto me; he was trying to make me feel guilty about something that will happen to him because of what he did to me, as opposed to what he had just done to me.

When he yanked the phone cord out of the wall I realized that I really needed to get out. Shaking, I got into my car. As I closed the door I realized that I had forgotten my keys. I held myself as tightly and as compact as possible and went back into the house for them, terrified, terrified of this man who I had once craved. When I got back in the car, I realized that I was barefoot, but I was not going back for my shoes. (I had never driven barefoot before.)

As I was pulling out of the garage, he came out holding the phone in front of him, “For you,” he said.

It was the 911 operator calling back. “What happened, what’s the matter?” she asked me in a concerned tone.

I closed the window, locked the door, and started to blubber into the phone, a true bawling blubber, “my husband kicked something at me.” At that moment it was so hard to speak; speech was another rung up the evolutionary ladder from where I was, it was too hard to find words amidst the emotional turmoil. The operator said that she was sending some police cars over. I was thankful that I did not need to give an address because I was having such a tough time focusing on speaking. I told her that I would be waiting at the end of our drive, fearful of being at home with him. I drove up to the top of our little four-house street and parked. Still stunned at the negative development, I sat there and cried.

Finally, three police cars pulled up, one male officer in each. It seemed excessive, but also comforting. They asked me what had happened; I explained it as calmly as possible, as objectively as possible. Why did I feel a need to be objective, to be the detached observer relaying what she had seen? Did it make me seem more reliable, more truthful, more intelligent, more trustworthy? Who knows, but that’s the persona I thought I was conveying, not the dismayed, battered, wife. Maybe I didn’t want to be that woman, and so I acted as if I was someone else.

They went to the house to get his side of the story.

While I was waiting, a neighbor pulled up, stopping his car beside my car, rolling down his window to talk to me. I needed to wipe my eyes before I could open the window. “Is everything okay?” he asked. I replied that it was, and thanked him for asking. Why is the husband across the way concerned about my welfare when my own husband obviously is not? Why is this man who goes hunting and calls people “buddy” more tender than my charismatic lawyer husband? I know this shows my bias, cultural and educational, but it is true. Why does this man, who I barely interact with except to say “hi,” stop to inquire? I know my husband would have just driven by if it had been this man’s wife at the top of the street and three police cars at his home.

When the police officer I spoke with came back, his deepest insight was that my husband “seemed to be mad at the world and that he did not intend to kick anything at you.” Amongst other things I wanted to say. He had been three feet away from me and kicked a bag in my direction, what was that if not on purpose? The police did suggest that I not go home immediately. I didn’t. But why did they not tell him to leave? Why did they not issue a restraining order on him? Why was I punished for being punished?

When I did return, I saw that he had taken that bag that he had “innocently” kicked at me; moreover, it wasn’t even in the garbage bins in the garage—it was gone. His guilt, though, was not. My naïveté that he would not hit me was gone.

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Size Does Not Matter

I think that it’s time for evolution to turn the dial on women’s brains. It’s time for us to stop being programmed for the “strong silent type” and to be programmed instead for the “empathetic conversationalist type.” Out on the savannahs of way back when it might have been important to be with a man who could hunt (bring home the uncooked bacon), but now, now those strong silent types are unsuitable for modern life, or at least for modern life with women who have left the savannah and are edging their ways through those cracks in the ceiling.

Tall, dark and handsome. Marlboro Man. Man’s man.

Why are these images of man perceived as the ideal man? The masculine powerhouse is supposed to be the gold standard, and not, unfortunately, the man who might lag behind and chat with a woman who is carrying all of the supplies, and offer to help her. We get the Marlboro Man on the range with his horsey and cigarette. We don't have an accountant steadfastly going through the commitments of his life.

And I bought into that. mr. ex was a 6’ Israeli plane-jumping, war-fighting, opinion-giving officer who fit my image of tall, dark and impressively-built, certainly the opposite of the pre-dentistry student and lawyers-to-be I had dated. And now, now I find myself needing to tell myself not to overlook the quietness and calmness in some men. It certainly is time to respect and value a word of kindness far more than an image of taking the world by storm. Yes, there is a need to change my perception of what is valued in a man.

I remember a friend calling a friend’s husband “evolved.” This entailed his preferring to be at home with his wife and family rather than out on the range playing games with the boys; and it entailed his delving into domesticity without the threat of a divorce hanging over him. It also entailed asking about his wife’s feelings and revealing his own. I sat there in awe of this man, this woman, and their relationship. But I also still felt that my hubby, the aggressive, workaholic, ladder-climbing lawyer, was quite the guy, even if there were no hints of evolution about him. Now, now I want the evolved man, but the question to be asked is: Am I ready to be with an evolved man? Or, have I evolved enough to value him?

While I have surely been bitten by the venom of a narcissistic man’s man, is there still a part of me that sees that as the ideal?

This year I will be co-teaching three of my classes with a special ed teacher: a man. (Don’t get any ideas, he’s married to a teacher who teaches across the hall.). In the two weeks that I have worked with him I have found him to be thoughtful, intelligent, patient, and empathetic. His four-year-old son has been sick this week, and this man was haggard. He had not slept, since his wife is five months pregnant, he was up with their son. He was consumed with concern for his son; he was keeping track of his temperature as some fathers would their son’s ball-playing ability. He was pre-occupied. I could not remember a time that mr. ex had been pre-occupied with anything but himself. And what I saw in this evolved man was goodness, a goodness with which I enjoy sharing half of the day.

There is hope for me, I feel it. I hope that I will recognize that the qualities of which I am most proud in myself and my friends, will be those I honor in a man. Those would be: compassion, intelligence and humor. Traits that might not have helped a man on the range, but certainly traits that will help a man be in sync with a woman on her evolutionary ladder. 

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Later that Night

When he came home on Monday night, I could tell that he was raring to go for another round. I was in my room, with the door open, working, preparing to teach my two religious school classes that I will be teaching on Tuesday nights. The word scum came out of his mouth, the tape recorder friend came out.

I got up and closed the door, and locked it. I am just not in the mood for this. He cannot make me play.

He did spend the next hour talking my older daughter into needing to take an SAT-prep class, which she does not need. And I heard him yell a few times that I refuse to pay for it.

When I went to say good night to her, she asked me to pay for the SAT-prep class, that she needs it. I just could not listen to her spew out his words. I said I need to go to sleep. And went into my little room, and closed the door.

My other daughter then came in to thank me for stitching up Charles, her Build-a-Bear bear that she and a friend had operated on. She even commented on what a good job I had done. So there was something positive to my day. I can heal a wounded bear; now that is something.

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Mad, Mad Monday

I am a raging woman today. I cannot believe that I made it home safely from work. I cannot believe that the people in my path made it home safely from work. I cannot believe that I did not scream at my daughters about anything the second I walked in the door, or even later. I cannot believe that from the outside, people would think that I'm a normal person.

The only ones who have met my mad, mad mood today have been my mother on the telephone and a friend in an email. My mother had to get off the phone when I was venting because her leg was hurting her. (Yes, I know that I need not to vent so much to my mother because I don't think that it's good for her health. Apparently the leg spasms, or whatever they are, are from stress. What a shock that she had one as I raged today.) And my friend was confronted with an emotional email that did not have even the slightest hint of humor--it was pure hurt and anger.

The day started when I woke up freezing at 4:45 because the air conditioner was on 64. Autumn has begun in northern Virginia; but it is still colder in here than out there. Then, at 5:20 AM (I get up at 5) slime came out of his room and started calling me names and talking into his little tape recorder friend about calling the police. Apparently my closet door slipped and banged the wall and made noise that disturbed his sleep. I don't know about you, but I don't like being called a scumbag ever, but it is especially trying before day break. He thrust his little tape machine friend at me: yes, I said, I told you to shut up, what is wrong with that you psycho.

I know, I know, I need to leave. Which leads me to vent number 2.

I emailed my lawyer the second I got into work that we need to talk, that I need to get out of here, and by the way, please send to me the letter you sent to slime last week. I have told this man repeatedly not to send anything without letting me see it first. But he keeps thinking that just because he has a degree from an Ivy League college and a law degree and has been practicing family law for years he is smarter than me. Maybe he is, but not regarding my case. He sent a letter that totally misrepresented the fact that slime cancelled our meeting a week and a half ago and made it sound that I don’t want to meet because I wouldn’t pay my lawyer’s travel expenses. AHHHHH! And he has not gotten back to me yet, and he always gets back to me quickly.

Positive thoughts, positive thoughts.

Oh, and coffee date man, who I opened up to and told about my blog—which is very important to me—said that he’ll get to it when he has some quiet time later in the week. Thanks.

Breathe breathe breathe breathe. Close your eyes. Listen to Marc Cohn sing, “True Companion.”

Sign up to campaign to register voters so this nightmare scenario of mccain and palin won’t come true.

Breathe breathe breathe. Keep listening. Look at Poops, take a hint from Poops the maltese. Relax.

Get the lawyer to be a bastard or get a bastard lawyer. 

Listen to song again. And again and again until I am back. But do I want to be back? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s the kind of positive thinking I need.

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The Symbolism of Floral Print Skirts

I was in Office Depot the other day with my younger daughter buying school supplies. Since I was responsible for staying by the cart—and not moving it—while she carried her list and a pen around with her and shopped for color-coordinated binders, pocket folders, notebooks, dividers and pens, I had the time to watch mothers (is it alright to say mothers and not parents since I did not see any men around?) and children as they hustled about in various stages of panic and frustration. And as I watched from my perch by the binders, I saw a midlife woman wearing a knee-length floral print skirt in blue, green and white with wide pleats. It was quite bright. It was like a garden around her. And, I must admit, I watcher her as she walked around in the vicinity of my shopping cart and me. Her tee shirt was a bright turquoise and she was very tan; she stood out, in a good way, as opposed to the woman in her black and red biker (as in bicycle) outfit.

As usual with my mind, I was off to contemplation-land, wondering “Why do so many women wear floral print skirts?” An obvious answer is that they look nice on us and they are a wonderful pattern that does not emphasize the flaws as would a horizontally stripped skirt. But there must be more to it than that. Mustn’t there be a connection to the natural world that we invite into our lives in the very fabric of our skirts? And mustn’t there be a reason why we want our thoughts to be drawn to flowers and gardens and fields of wildflowers and lands where hibiscus blooms? Do we ache, in the midst of our lives with their constant movement, to be in a still place, a place that is beautiful and summons up feelings of contentment and repose?

When we were on vacation in Hawaii a few years (and a divorce) ago, I bought a knee-length skirt with blue and green flowers on a white background. I don’t wear it out any more, but I love that skirt. I love how it made me feel sexy in the way we felt when we were teenagers at the beach before we realized what sexy really means, and before those boys walked over to our beach towel and not that we just giggled about the possibility with our girlfriends.

I don’t think another type of pattern would be able to convey that joy to me. Polka dots? No sex appeal there. Chunks of colors, nah. Swirls, maybe swirls; but they seem to evoke the sky which evokes mystery, and not the mystery of sex, or the mystery that is inherent in life. Do not get me even thinking about skirts with little sailboats or bugs or martini glasses on them because I can’t even use the word “convey” with them, I can only say that they are skirts that mock, mock the sensibilities of the women who bought them. Who the heck wants to sashay down the street decked out in little cars? So we’re back to flowers. Blossoms. Blooms. Petals.

Perhaps they are a modern fertility garment. Not fertile in the sense that wearing them helps you get pregnant (wouldn’t that be a great idea), but fertile in the sense that our minds open up—as if on vacation—when you wear them. Maybe, too, we are channeling the flowers that inspired the pattern; we are the very muse of the pattern maker. Do flowers wrapped around our waist and hips and thighs give us the illusion that we are as natural and effortless in our beauty (whatever your definition of beauty) as the buds on our cloth?

In my most slender summer, I bought a pair of tight jeans that had flowers painted on them. (Yes, yes, I mean 1986). My latest foray into floral-patterned clothing is a flowing skirt that is brown with blue flowers on it that I bought a few years ago. When I picture them both, as well as my Hawaiian skirt, in my mind’s eye, I smile. I smile because those flowers make me feel good—made me feel good in a way solids never did. Maybe this is how we practice positive thinking: we enwrap ourselves in fields of flowers. Whether they are paired with ballet flats or stilettos, there is something so pure and innocent about a flower that there can be no mistaking the essence that is at our core: that to be a woman is to be an element of nature, an element that sustains, an element that engenders fields of flowers where she walks.

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