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Posts from November 2009

What I Learned this Thanksgiving

This year, as in the past four years, I went to New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with my brother and his wife’s family. It has become a wonderful opportunity for me to become a part of her family and for her family to become my family, as well as to meet up with my New York friends.

In past years the sympathy factor has been in my direction because I was still in the throes of the bitterness of my life/divorce. But now I have been in my own lovely apartment for six months, and the most visible remnant of the bitter divorce is the court case that's coming up in a week and a half (I haven’t given up on getting from him the $14,000 he owes me), all of which means that I am basically on par with everyone else in the “dealing with life” aspect of things. Which brings me to what I have uncovered or acknowledged: that we are all simply dealing with life. It doesn’t seem that we are enjoying it, rather we are simply handling the things that keep coming at us and we just keep going at it. I wonder, then, if we need to adjust our expectations so that the “dealing with” becomes less of an intrusion into what should be our unending happiness and instead we should understand that life as it’s lived is not just an intrusion but life itself. Would we feel better about our lives and ourselves if we expected the complications and not the beaches?

Most of those gathered round the table are in our forties and fifties, and we are all in the midst of lives that we have found to be ours—none of us can claim that this is the life he or she expected when we were the ages that our mostly teenage children are now. None of us was complaining in the “woe is me” way of the world, but we are all dissatisfied or still hoping for better times ahead or at least times that aren’t so full of pains, and exhaustion, and concerns.

Happiness. What is it? Is it sitting around a table passing plates and platters or is it being untouched on a pedestal? Is it sharing words spoken and heard, or unending attention? Is it sharing stories of aches or being free from compassion? I wonder.

I wonder if now that my house is as in order as it’s ever going to be the time has come to reassess what being thankful means.

Thankful. Full of thanks.

Thanksgiving. Giving thanks.

Thanks, not for what could have been or should have been, but for what is. Is that a new, working definition of happiness?

Generation Some-Random-Letter

The other day I came to the very disheartening realization that the end of endless wars or the end of periodic wars does not seem to be in the future for this “great” nation. That is if I can take what I see of my students and use them as a tiny sample of this generation and extrapolate into a giant generalization. Two anecdotes are, to me, very telling.

In the school’s career center the other day, my ninth graders were asked if they know what they want to do or be. Only a handful raised their hands. Army. Air Force. Marines. Lawyer. Doctor. Army. Dentist. Pediatrician. Notwithstanding the fact that only one girl (pediatrician) raised her hand, I was horrified that so many of the boys see the military as a career. Granted, in this area in northern Virginia there are a lot of military bases and the Pentagon and enough Department of’s for just about every retired military person to get a chance to retire from another government job, and I grew up in New York City where only those kids who were heading down the wrong path went into the military, I was horrified. As I said to a friend later, “the military-industrial complex has won.” I’m not completely naïve, I lived in Israel for a long time, I recognize the need—unfortunately—for a strong military. But the military being a career choice just strikes me as sad for them and sad for us as a nation.

So many times you hear people say that someone was lost until s/he went into the military which straightened her/him out. Such a sorry sentence for our country, for ourselves. Shouldn’t there be another avenue for the kids who don’t have a direction and are seemingly lost by the need to decide at 18 what they want to do with their lives—both if that kid can afford college and not? Why don’t we have service to country that doesn’t involve learning how to shoot a rifle and “defend” our way of life in far-flung deserts and shores? I know there has been talk of a national service, but there isn’t one. Even in Israel, many of the kids who don’t want to go into the infantry can teach or do social work, or some other service to the society. Why are those who in another time would have just followed in the family business or livelihood not aware that there are other “safe” careers other than supporting the never-ending wars? What came first, the never-ending wars or the need to have a large military that must be kept busy?

And then there are two of my students, who are seniors, who just got engaged to each other. He will continue the family job of going into the military and she will continue the family job of supporting her man in the military. But their getting engaged at 18 is not what stands out so much to me, rather it is her engagement ring. She wears distinctive clothes and jewelry often adorned with skeletons and skulls as well as her ubiquitous spiky collar around her neck. He has counter-culture messages on his tee-shirts and sweatshirts. And her engagement ring. Well, it has tiny diamonds. Why can’t the rebels really keep it up? Why are they relenting, why are they abandoning the rebellion to go with the flow? Why have they succumbed so quickly? Is that it? Up to 18 to rebel, and then get in line: join the military, get married, be a continuer and not a questioner.

It made me sad seeing the 9th graders’ responses and the engagement ring on the same day. Maybe I should be happy that they know what they want instead of bemoaning their cattleness, but I am not. I want “question authority,” and I don’t want it to be just us midlife women chanting to ourselves about feminism and against war. Obviously, we have failed. We have our lovely choir, but where is the audience?

I wanted to yell out—THINK, think for yourselves! Yes, you’re confused and you don’t know what you are good at and you want someone else to decide everything for you because it’s so much easier than being confused, but TRY to THINK for YOURSELF—you can do it! Don’t think that might is right! Don’t you read the papers—don’t you know that we are belligerent? That a soldier is a warrior before he is a peacemaker! Believe in yourself. But I didn’t. I sat there thinking of the members of the military who have been injured or killed, or will be. And I thought about those who send them into battle, whether they dither over it or take longer to decide what kind of cigar to chomp on than when to send troops into battle.

I thought life was about valuing life—each other’s—and not just the life of the nation. But perhaps this is what we deserve, after all we live in a country where a company has personhood and is, apparently, more important than an individual’s life. 

But at least I know there is a choir out there. Those of us in the choir must continue to raise our voices, otherwise we will be shufflers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to bring my shoes in to get fixed, the heels are beginning to show slight signs of wear.

Feminism, Still Alive and Pertinent to Me. WooHoo!

I think I will be perceived as just another bitter woman, but so be it. If I can’t change perceptions, I might as well go with them.

  • I’m sick of the male/female ratio of songs played on the radio with so many more boys than girls you would think that men are the vast majority of the population.

  • I’m sick of the male/female ratio of DJs on the radio. Except for a couple of afternoon shows and the ubiquitous side-kick, it’s rare to hear a woman’s voice. 

  • I’m sick of the male/female ratio on the news. Is that why I have stopped watching the news? Or is it the news itself? Or is there some connection between the two?

  • I’m sick of the male/female ratio in government. I know, I know, nothing new about old white guys, but for goodness’ sakes, can’t they just stop thinking that they should decide everything for the rest of us and people agreeing by voting for them.

  • I’m tired of everyone I know having a “big boss” who is a man.

I know none of this is groundbreaking or insightful, but so be it. Sometimes the tried and true just really can get you down.

  • And I’m tired that people think it’s tiring that this needs to be continually revisited.

  • And, as noted at She Writes about Publishers Weekly’s compendium of the ten best books of 2009: I'm tired that so often those who are acknowledged in certain fields, writing, are men. All of the top ten books are by men talking about sort-of men-things. Really? No women wrote great books in 2009? Oops. Maybe they wrote them but didn’t get them published?  Just another bitter thought with no basis in any research—just life.

  • And I’m annoyed that my younger daughter thinks I’m a crazy woman for thinking these things. Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t be annoyed at that. Perhaps it’s a sign that the next generation has truly changed and things will change. Or. Or that generation just doesn’t care and will take society as it is.

  • And I’m pissed that the healthcare bill lets men continue to receive Viagra so they can control themselves, but us women are being denied the same thing—to have control over our own bodies.

 I guess the time for being tired, annoyed and pissed is far from being over, unfortunately.

I Have Nothing to Wear: Rethinking the Thong

For some reason the conversation of ten women and one man (what part of Girls Night Out did that achingly close, not yet married couple not get?) in a bar turned to undergarments. One Scandinavian woman is dissatisfied with the width of the thongs that are available in this godforsaken country; but it turns out that she is really longing for g-strings (which, to those of you who don’t know the difference—as I didn’t, is the string up you-know-what as opposed to an inch-wide swath of fabric up that same place). When I told the Scandinavian woman next to me that I don’t wear thongs or g-strings, but I cover it all up, she shook her head and said, “No, you must embrace your curves. Try it, you will feel marvelous.” She then said something about men who will love to see me jiggle. I’m not sure, but I thought the undergarments were for me and my hygiene. But no, she was quite sure that a g-string or a thong was all that I needed to get my love life out of the thought department. And with that a six-foot tall, blond, blue-eyed, slender Danish woman managed to invade the cotton comfort of my life.

But it wasn’t just about thongs. No, her statement “embrace your curves” sounded so much better than my mental disparagement of “you need to lose weight” or “look how fat your face is.” Embrace my curves. She said it in a much nicer and more respectable way than the man who never made it past a phone call because he said he liked my curves and then seemed to be disappointed that I didn’t carry the conversation into dirty-talking territory. I told her that I know I should accept who I am, for goodness sakes I’ve been down this thought-vein for years and it hasn’t brought me any happiness or dietary success. She smiled at me and said something about her not having any curves, which I ignored.

Today I was thinking about symbolism and carried the curves thought to my hair, which is as full of ringlets as Shirley Temple’s ever was. Those surely are curves that I am proud of, after all, I never flatten them with an iron or blow them away with a hair blower. No, I proudly toss my curliques from side to side. Maybe I am meant to be curvy, all over. It’s not that I am a glutton, but my body has found its place. It is not where I would like it to be. I do not have most of my friends’ bodies. But I guess they don’t have mine either.

I’m not sure if I’ll follow through on the thong/g-string connection to feeling good about myself, but I think I finally heard what I needed to hear, or else I was finally ready to just let down my guard of pretending that someday I could be someone else and accept myself—curves and all. I must admit, I’m getting awfully tired of being disappointed in myself. It’s hard to always be critical and always finding fault. I am who I am.

In Hebrew, the word hineni means I am here. Maybe I need to just start saying that to myself: hineni. I am here. This is me, curves and curliques and all.

How many days does it take to prepare for Christmas?

My younger daughter would say, “Mom, get over it,” but how do you get over going into the supermarket on November 6th only to be greeted by Christmas trees, red and green decorations, and holiday goodies in fancy boxes? I may be misconstruing something, but I thought that Christmas was a celebration of Jesus and his life. Do I have this wrong? Do the retailers really think that a strong Christmas season will save them when, in fact, the very commercialization of Christmas may be one of the reasons for the economic crisis we are facing. I thought that we were finally being forced to realize that there is more to life than our purchasing power. This is ludicrous—it’s only November 6th. And no, it’s not just a jealous Jew speaking, it’s a person who cannot comprehend how things—the getting and giving of them—can be the only way we have at our disposal to show love.

In 1985 it took me three months to plan a wedding, get a dress, buy an apartment and buy a car. It’s not that complicated. Why does it take almost as long to buy gifts? And why should people still feel pressured to buy so much for so many? Your kids will love you even if you don’t buy them the latest; after all, my daughters still love me and they never once got a play station or more American Girls dolls than can fit on a comforter. And what’s with the exchange of gift cards? Why don’t you say you did and don’t. Wouldn’t that be easier for everyone?

We got rid of the president who thought that buying was the way, now, well, I’m not really sure but I think at some point this president said something about investing in a healthier world, one, I’m assuming, where we take care of ourselves and each other in real ways and not through stuff.

Yes, I am the curmudgeon at work who did not sign up to help sponsor a family’s Christmas gifts. Could it be that on this I agree with conservatives with their mantra to: Take back Christmas? Take it back to the churches and the gatherings that combine solemnity and celebration. We have got to have a reason for our society and our existence that is other than to buy things and to say how great we are. How great are we, really? Does this say anything good about us? Is it really about giving or is it about pressure? Is it about caring for each other or compartmentalizing our care so that it fits into a well-wrapped gift?  

And someone, please take the Egg Nog back from the milk section. Surely it’s too early for that.