Women

First Loss as Hospice Volunteer

Peonies

M, my first hospice patient, who I started visiting in June 2018, passed away in October. Expected, but still difficult. I was grateful to have been a part of her life and the lives of those who loved her and cared for her, so I have not wavered in my commitment to continue as a hospice volunteer.

She had prepared me to see her death as the natural progression of her life through her gradual decline to the point where death was, clearly, the next step. Still, to lose someone, even someone I just met knowing that death is the expectation, strains the heart.

When I first visited M, she sat in her wheel chair and I sat on an armchair next to her. I read to her. No, I tried to read to her. I was so pleased at the idea of going beyond the Memory Bag, which I got at hospice volunteer training, thinking that this could be my way to connect with her. Clearly, I was anxious about how my visit would go. I came with a feeling of expectant satisfaction to sit there and share with her a book that my daughter gave to me. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that she wasn’t interested in hearing the story, in sitting passively, in trying to listen to my voice speaking words, phrases, sentences, that, I would quickly learn, had lost their value to her. She wanted to hold the book, to look at the pages, the words, the images. She read aloud a few words, then looked at the small drawings, pointing to them, trying to say something about them. My response was to name things. Starfish. Dolphin. Seashell. It’s a book, so I thought words were the keys. But she had Alzheimer’s, so I couldn’t know what she was connecting to, trying to share with me. I did sense that nodding and agreeing with what I thought she was saying wasn’t a bad way to go.  

At that moment I realized that I was not there to do something or provide something, I was there to be: to be with her, as she needed me to be, as I tried to intuit. This insight helped me, and I hope her and future people I visit, understand that at our core we are people connecting to each other through our hearts. This was a relationship where there were no parameters to meet, it was simply two people sitting side by side.

It was for me to follow her lead. To me the book had contained a story to tell, while to her it was, honestly, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, it was something that I could share with her and that’s the idea, isn’t it? She was going to experience it her way, not the way I had intended, but my giving up control to her was key, both to appreciate her and to appreciate my role. Her determination, something I would learn more about at her memorial service, was obvious from that first visit. A personality, as changed as it may be from dementia, still contains the essence of that person.

The last time I visited her she slept in her bed the hour-and-a-half of my visit. I sat on a chair next to her and read the last two chapters of the book I brought on my first visit: Grayson, the story of a woman who helps a baby whale and his mother reunite in the waters off Seal Beach, California. This time, reading it soothed me and kept me from focusing on how she had changed. She had gotten so thin, just a skeleton. She didn’t look at me with her charming smile that was as much eyes as mouth; she lay there, mouth open, unmoving, I even checked a few times to see that her blanket rose and fell. I kept focused on the words and the story, because they soothed me and I hoped they did her, somewhere in her sleep.

The reading was a joyful recollection of being witness to the effervescence of dolphins swimming and playing together, and then experiencing the moving reunion of a mother whale and her child. It was stunningly beautiful in its simplicity, in its appreciation and celebration of life. While I wasn’t able to engage M at this moment, I was able to present myself to her, one last time, with words and a tone that, I hope, reflected the love that she had shared with the people in her life—and got back from them—us.


Friday Night Dinners

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Friday night dinners used to represent home and family time. Of course, that was when I had to share one bathroom; now, I have two to myself. Growing up in Queens, on Fridays the table would generally be set for a holiday (which works since Shabbat is the most important holiday) and we would light the candles, say the blessings on the wine and challah, then enjoy a meal with courses. Once a month we would go to synagogue where chubby me always looked forward to the oneg, the tea, coffee, and cookies (Italian sandwich!), after services rather than the sermon by the droning old-school rabbi. Priorities were clear!

In Israel, my father-in-law would recite the blessings at break-neck pace so that they sounded like one multi-hyphenated word, and then onto those celebratory courses again. The highlight was always my mother-in-law’s cooking; who knew that gefilte fish could be made fresh and tasty from a carp that had previously been swimming in a tank at the supermarket, and not just to emerge lifeless and tasteless from a jar? Afterwards, we would meet friends or walk on the promenade along the Mediterranean enjoying the end of a semi-relaxing day of getting all shopping and organizing done since most things are closed on Saturday. (In Israel, the weekend is Friday and Saturday.)

Now, post-family at home, it’s either frozen pizza and TV or out with friends. Both have their benefits. Not that I don’t profoundly miss those dinners of yore, but I have come to accept the evolution of Shabbat dinner. What is essential is that it is still a sanctuary created in the space between the pressures of work and the preoccupation with getting things done on the weekend. I might not observe Shabbat from sundown Friday to stars out on Saturday eve by eschewing technology, but I do appreciate the necessity of a break from the day-to-day active and re-active, to the reflective.

Last Friday I had dinner at a local restaurant with a group of friends that I met through volunteering with a political organization. This week a friend and I went to services, which included an interfaith community choir and then dinner where we spoke with some members of the choir. Next week I will have dinner and then go to the opera with my mother and younger daughter in Florida. Quite the range of ways to honor and respect the Shabbat and myself. Thinking about these Friday night dinners makes me realize that community is family. This open policy feels liberating since it acknowledges that adherence to labels limits one’s interactions. It’s the weekly version of Friendsgiving.

As a social introvert, this weekly engagement satisfies both my need to interact with grown-ups and my need to not overdo the whole being with people thing that can be so draining. Once in a while or once a week, a celebratory evening, a break-feast, and then home alone. It might not be sacred, but it feels sanctified. Setting aside time to acknowledge the present, the passage of time, the separation of the working self from the self’s self, might not follow any dictates, but it certainly does adhere to the underlining meaning and importance.

 


From Eating Out to Taking Out

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Rocktree

The progression from needing to be around other people at mealtimes to accepting being alone represents an arc to wellness that incorporates, dare I say it, happiness. Suddenly I realize that the need to sit in a booth consuming fries and diet Coke while staring at a book has become a remembrance, no longer a salvation.

In the five years it took from separating, to divorcing, to selling the marital home, to moving on my own with shared custody of younger daughter while older daughter escaped to college, I would weekly escape to a favorite diner for a Sunday meal. It was an escape valve from the hothouse atmosphere at home. Those moments of disconnection and quiet amid the sounds of other people’s mundane conversations were as sweet as the smells of syrup and bacon. It’s funny the things that save a person. It is a balance of things, though, for how can I separate the range of interactions to an essential one; it is a distillation of experience that is now my past.

Now, more than nine years after moving on my own and discovering that, indeed, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but only because there were mini-lights along the way, I think about how I rarely eat out alone. When I do, it’s usually for the eating, not the necessity of escape, of company, of saving self.

When I am with friends at restaurants it is as interaction, not as preservation. We look back, we look forward, we are not mired in present. We mull the present, but it does not weigh us down. Is it acceptance? One friend just turned fifty, another sixty. Are our lives less dramatic or are we realists with more time behind than ahead, aware of less time to squander, consolidated better into self? Have we accepted the positions we have reached, the families we have or have not created, the men we do or do not love, the people we have become?

Now, I do not need to escape the silence that I come home to since it is not the alternative to something else, it is what I have created, what I need, who I am.


Women Will Not Be Shushed

Oct 2018 Chincoteague

 A weekend on an island,

Respite from the

Malevolence of

Sexism, of

Women’s lives

Discounted, ignored, contested, belittled—raped.

 

But still,

Feasting on oysters,

Watching ponies by the sea,

Riding bikes to the beach,

Climbing up the lighthouse,

Were not enough to

Contain disgust and anger, nor to

Suppress the

Drive to push back for change—for

Justice for All—

For every single woman who has been harmed

Because she is a

Woman.

 


Summer Vacation: Together and Alone

Bike Ride in Northern Vermont 2018
Cycling in Northern Vermont

 

My Quebec vacation was each person encountered, activity endured, meal enjoyed, accent savored, view valued, knowledge gained (then lost), and solitary pauses, as well as the totality of the week, which together fill a space of recollection in my mind’s kaleidoscope. It was, in detail and in sum, a resolute realization of self.

Some have their bucket lists, but since I don’t like that type of conceptualizing that minimizes and objectifies, I simply have daydreamy repetitive thoughts about possible experiences I’d like to live. Since I know that so many of those ideas will remain lovely wisps of thoughts, it was even more rewarding to accomplish so much in that one week.

First, the very fact that I went on that vacation itself was an accomplishment. The vacation entailed a Roads Scholar trip that was filled with physical activities, then two days by myself in Quebec City. I didn’t visit a relative. I didn’t go with a friend or relative. I didn’t take a class. I simply went on vacation by myself. Being alone is not new since I’m an empty, empty, empty nester (no children at home, no husband, no pet), but at home there are always things to do and work to think about, so this week someplace new, doing new things with new people, was pure detachment and discovery. Vacation.

For years I’ve been envious looking at images of kayakers solemnly convening with the still blueness of nature; and bikers, in their sleek gear, beckoned seductively, but those thoughts just kept stewing until I decided that the time had finally come to act on those desires. Maybe I feel more secure financially. Maybe I realized that I should stop imagining that a relationship will appear and I need to keep my schedule open for a couple’s trip. Maybe I sensed that if I don’t do it now, I might never do it. Younger daughter saying that I was not an adventurous person and that my one adventurous act (moving to Israel at 22) was a long time ago, stopped me in my self-image, and made me realize that she was right. The settling in had happened (thankfully): I had been teaching at the same school for more than a decade, teaching the same classes, and had turned my apartment into a home. Yes, time for some adventure.

As I looked around for trips, I found this Road Scholar trip at a drivable distance that included biking, kayaking, and nature walking. I figured that this was the ideal way to get the guidance I needed, and since there were a few sports, I didn’t need to commit to a week in a kayak’s cockpit before knowing if I even liked it. While it turned out that I was the novice bike rider and kayaker in the group, I was the only one making myself anxious about it since everyone was supportive of me and the challenges that I had placed before myself.

My fear of speed (even in the car my daughters hate my love of the brakes), made me hold off on going down the first hill in very hilly northern Vermont. So, I was driven down the hill to a relatively level spot to start my first bike ride in more than 40 years. The level spot soon got to a very long uphill battle that I lost. In the end, I walked my bike almost as much as I rode it. I walked uphill and downhill, and biked a bit in-between. My anxiety about losing control when the speed was too fast, my lack of bike leg muscles, and my aversion to even trying to figure out the gears, were things I could deal with. They were not things to feel bad about. Nothing to be told I needed to overcome or figure out or push through. I did what felt right for me. There was nothing to prove: it was me trying something, being right about why I had been anxious about it, then figuring out how to do it with minimal discomfort. After lunch when I was asked if I want to ride the van back to the inn rather than confronting another series of hills, I had no qualms in opting for the van ride.

The next day, thankfully, the bike trail included some spectacular hills (one woman estimated that she sailed down at 40 mph) as well as an 11-mile section of Rails-to-Trails riding that was essentially flat as it meandered along a river. I did this part of the ride which enabled me to enjoy the scenery, the faster-than-walking pace, the quiet of riding through corn fields, the smell of the cows creating dairy products, and the butterflies coasting in the stillness of a hot summer day. I got bike riding, at a leisurely pace.

Kayaking day made me grateful for summer camp and canoeing lessons, even though I still remember the thrill the counselors got scaring us by saying that we had to navigate through a chute by the side of a waterfall at the last bend, when, in fact, we simply ended the ride by coasting into our camp’s placid dock on a lake in Great Barrington. In spite of the spite, I knew a bit about paddles and directing things so I wasn’t completely terrified when I, as one with my kayak, splashed into the water. Of course, by the time I got in and started figuring out the two-sided paddle and how uncomfortable a kayak is, everyone else was ready to go—right into the ¼ mile stretch through the choppy water of Lac Broome to the calm, winding marsh.  

Again, it was me, along with the mostly retired people who all seemed to be life-long athletes, on the water. One of our guides, noticing my slightly raised and agitated voice, adjusted something in the back so that I wasn’t going left no matter how I paddled. After that, I calmed down enough to appreciate the fact that I was still on the water (rather than in the water), my arms weren’t noodles in the first five minutes of paddling, and—look ducks!

My roommate for the week, an avid kayaker (and biker), pulled her kayak alongside mine to give suggestions and encouragement. Later, when I told her that neither of the guides stayed at the end of the group with me, she commented that it was because they had confidence in me and that I was doing fine. New friends sometimes know the right things to say.

But this part of the trip wasn’t just about deciding that I hadn’t discovered two new favorite sports, it was about being with people who I didn’t know and becoming friends with many of the 19 people (5 men and 14 women) on the trip, as well as the 8 people who fed and led us. It was me deciding to change the table (there were two large tables) and seat at which I sat for each meal and trying to talk to everyone. It was me listening and trying not to focus on telling my own stories. It was about not judging or making assumptions about people. (It also helped that on the first night five of us vociferously proclaimed our disgust for t- and the administration.)  

St Lawrence River and Quebec City
Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River

 

The next part of the trip was on my own: two days wandering around Quebec City. I continued to stretch my leg muscles walking up and down hills for an all-time record of 9 miles and 70 flights of stairs on my final day. Knowing that I was heading into a long day of driving the next day, I kept pushing myself.

Those two days spent in this beautiful Europeanesque city made me realize that I don’t want to take a long trip by myself since there is too much silence and talking in my head. Taking pictures is not a substitute for conversation, nor is the occasional text to my daughters. On the three tours that I took, I was the one asking questions. It was to learn, but it was also to engage in conversation—to be seen and noted. I now know that being alone at home is fine, is sought after, but solo travel for a person who isn’t going to strike up conversations with strangers at the next table, is isolating. After spending five days with strangers-to-friends on the first part of the trip, I was in my friendliest mode, but even so, I nod here, a suggestion there, a discussion about paint colors, doesn’t change the fact that sharing experiences can enhance them.

Granted, I’m immensely glad that I went on this trip, both parts of it, because now I am aware of the balance that I need between group travel and solo travel. Previously, I had thought that I would like the solo adventure more, but now I can envision myself excited about the opportunity to meet new people, as well as to rethink how I perceive and present myself.

 

 

First Nations Sculpture at Governor General's Home
First Nation sculpture in the Governor General's home.

 


All the Middle-Aged Single Ladies

 

Flat tire
Flat tire on the Meadowbrook Parkway; I managed to call for a tow truck.

 

Just about every conversation I have with my middle-aged single lady friends will, at some point, touch on the subject of dating. That part of the conversation generally comes after the updates on children (even if only applicable to me) and work (always applicable and often accompanied by sarcastic comments); angry, frustrated, bleak statements about the latest outrage by the little men and women (ugh—Yeah Feminism!) in charge; then, in a little white flag of hope will be vague thoughts about retirement; and, finally, updates on whether or not we are on the manhunt or not, and how it’s going or why we’re not participating.

We do not bemoan the lack of good men (we’re still hopeful that they exist out there behind a swipe in an as yet undiscovered app or even in line for coffee). It’s more that we wonder if we want to be in a relationship. What’s in it for us? A male friend wondered how I and another friend could still be single since we are both great cooks and have nice homes. If this is the stereotype that we’re fighting against then hope is lost since I have no intention of offering a tasty sanctuary to anyone (except my daughters).

We wonder about the value of a relationship not just because of past agonies, but because of current comfort. None of us wants to lose all that we have gained since the defining breakup. We don’t want to lose the lifestyles we created to conform to someone else’s desires. It took so long to stop doing things for someone else that any compromise could feel like a defeat. And since it took even longer to figure out what we need to make us happy, the thought of losing any progress for a few man-woman interactions is shrug-worthy. Why bother still needs to be adequately answered.

It’s not just that we are post-divorce, it’s also that we’re post-children-at-home. Once you’ve stopped supplying services to your loved ones, it’s hard to go back. Sometimes it feels to me as if the years when I was a full-time mother never happened. It’s a black hole that absorbed my time and memory. Surely no man will need that involvement (and if he does, he should stay away from me and my friends), but once you only need to worry about yourself, it’s hard to go back, even to a part-time position.

Also, once you have dealt with the breakup of a marriage, you lose the illusion that satisfaction can be found in having someone to lean on. It’s not bitterness that speaks, but the reality that dependence, or the expectations that dependence breeds, simply cannot be trusted. Even if you were to be in a relationship now, it would never be as two into one, but always as two individuals, side-by-side. And if that’s the case, why do I need to be with the same person all the time as opposed to doing different things with different people? And why, dear God, do I need to have breakfast with anyone? Can’t a woman enjoy her first cup of coffee in peace without having to worry about looks, conversation, or how someone else wants his eggs?

It seems, doesn’t it, that what we single middle-aged women have attained is wisdom. Or learning how to live as realistic cynics, which, honestly, is probably the safest way to live. Could it be that since we no longer look for someone else to make decisions for us we have shed useless softness, and since we are flexible in the moment neither are we too tough to deal with. No consultations are required before making decisions since we are not hedged in by someone else’s desires or moods or schedules. I would say that we are ideal companions.

The problem, I guess, is that we don’t want to change this lovely status quo for someone who can’t make up his mind without consulting us first.


Of Envelopes and Mirrors

Horizontal tree

Listen

To the women in your life.

Our voices are not sealed in a safe,

Or buried under a tree,

We are the envelope

Unsealed by the steam of empathy.

 

Once open, listen.

How does a child imagine evil

If it has not happened to her?

Creativity is, sadly/happily,

Oft based on reality.

 

Do not placate us,

For that suffocates.

Do not put us on a pedestal,

For that petrifies.

 

Why are there still millennia of assumptions to strike?

Why do men continue to hold and control

When women have been the

Foundation upon which their façade stands.

 

Our selves

Our clothing

Our sexuality

Our careers

Our wages

Our visions

Tired of fighting merely

To be seen, heard, heeded.

 

Why do they insist on an unrelenting superiority?

Equality, I assume (who knows), cannot hurt.

Why weigh threats against tears,

Arrogance against heartache?

 

We are not the unknown,

We are their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters, cousins, nieces.

Why do they feign confusion that we deserve/demand

R E S P E C T.

Haven’t we been singing about it for a while.Hello, hello can you hear me?

 

Have we coddled and comforted too much:

Transferring her ego to support his.

Destruction by love.

 

Surely it is easier to climb by helping

Not shoving,

Easier to thrive by sharing

Not taking,

Wiser together

Not crushing.

 

Do not kiss my forehead,

Sidestepping my content for

Faux comfort.

Embrace

The fullness of my body.

 

Stand before a woman,

Imagine you are her mirror image,

What do you reflect back, what do you ignore?

Is it a suggestion or the details of a person. 

 


On Rain, Pebbles, and Sighs

 

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I am a basket filled with severed headlines whose savage stories seep into the sweet staleness of daily life with visions of the horrors of hate.

What is there to hate in a world of autumn golds, a glowing moon, the shy happiness of a child growing into confidence, the anticipated joys of future gatherings, connections, friendships?

Why must the haters project their shriveled sense of self onto us, we who don’t demand the scepter, but simply want to share?

Perhaps I am wrong and it is not heated hate that drives them, but simply the dust of disregard. The burden of being unable to care about anyone but those within the first degree of separation.

Surely it is time for interconnectedness to battle those who thrive on division, those who stand on their own paltry hills versus those of us who have a conscience, a purpose, a path that is not single-file even when alone.

It is true, isn’t it, that nothing can be personal when there is so much sanctioned pain, when the evil of egos controls.

Emotions that raise the bile within my throat form, but I don’t want to share that emotion; thrust from me the fire pit that burns with my own form of hatred and amplify instead the voice that cries with the urgency of the invisible turned visible.

No longer will we be the onion of the metaphor, needing to be peeled to be revealed, so hidden were our voices our pains our perceptions. No longer. No.  

We stand howling the rawness of truth—of so much pain handled on our own, in our minds and bedrooms; of dealing with the drip and deluge of indignities individually; of trying for strength amidst the crushing insinuation of smiles;

We must acknowledge that my interior, is yours ours, and now we must reach out alone together, a chorus to hear heed.

We will not be shunted stifled.

It has become too much, too blunt, too vast, this desire of the traitorous rulers to encage our minds our souls our selves, we will not retreat succumb enable.

Enough.

Look at me and see me. I am not a reflection of your world and your desires.

Somehow (unimaginable inner strength / the basic drive to live free) we—women and men too—have survived and our rise will not be thwarted by their animosity.

During my divorce I discovered that as my mind stopped being a dungeon full of his words and images of me, I lightened and lifted into a self that is proud of being, dreaming, sharing. Once shed of his demands for who and what I should be, I was able to be—and to know that being is admirable.

No longer controlled by a man—or fighting his attempt at control, I learned that this life is not a game to be won, of winners and losers, rather it is

A cohort creating, expressing, nurturing, with the intellect to speak down the generations so that the vilenesses will always be seen for what they are. We have raised our young to recognize that we will always fight. We have always stood against the waves of tyrants; it is here, in the steel within.

Now we are a herd, women demanding to be heard beyond the tables around which we intrinsically congregate.

Succor, it is not a bad word. It contrasts with the pain too many men drag down to us.

They have called us strident, nasty bitches to demean us, but I see it as a badge of honor.

Perhaps there won’t be a reckoning and karma won’t play havoc upon their minds and lives, nevertheless we drive on, urged by millennia of women and men ravaged because they held no earthly riches. There may be religions about honoring the least of us, but that doesn’t mean actions speak louder than words.

It is on me to know that my core—both inside and out, for that is how we must be—will not be debased by the criminals who conquer even after being vanquished, generation after generation. What has changed is not the cycle of good and evil, but our recognition that rain wears away, pebbles divert, sighs howl—and that each of us is part of that process.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? 

If I am not for others, what am I? 

And if not now, when?” 

-- Rabbi Hillel


My Eclipse Experience

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Totality: the sun is hiding behind the moon and clouds.

 

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Totality: I think the white dot is Jupiter.

 

My eclipse trip to South Carolina with a good friend turned out to be what we had hoped for (except for the cloud cover at totality): an adventure. The adventure ended up spending the day at Green Pond Landing staring at the sky with a charming English gentleman we met at a coffee shop in nearby Anderson, SC.

Both of us are single women who don’t spend much time trying to change our social status, since we’re both living the lives we have and with enough experience with disappointing dates to know not to have realistic expectations for change. Nonetheless, having the attention of a handsome, thoughtful gentleman with an accent for the day made a small opening into my comfy closed mindset.

First off, let me state that there was no flirting. We were three people who flowed with the day: each adding to the collective experience. A platonic threesome. Neither my friend nor I subverted our intention of having a lovely eclipse experience together in order to gain the attentions of a man. No one was elbowed to the side, the conversation was not hogged, and there were no coy hair tossings and eyelash batting. We are mature women who value our friendship over any dalliance.

But we were attended to, and it was refreshing. Yes, of course we could carry the blankets and the cooler (how else did they get into the car), but wasn’t it nice that he offered to take them from the car to where we decided would be the ideal spot to experience the eclipse. We shared our sandwiches and snacks with him (he was completely unprepared—he didn’t even have eclipse glasses until we gave him our spare pair), and he took us out to dinner. The day-long conversation was a hopscotch game between bits of personal history, the eclipse experience itself (yes, you can have a somewhat thoughtful conversation wearing eclipse glasses), and, of course, the fall of the American Empire with t- at the helm.

The details of the day, though perfect for conjuring in my mind’s eye when lying in bed before sleep, have more heft when I think about how the experience made me feel as a woman. There was the smooth, relaxed interaction of a confident woman who did not undermine her personality in the presence of an unattached man in an attempt to attract said man. I was not running down Possibility Lane, and still, yes, he seemed to be attracted to me. (We did exchange numbers at the end of the day; alas, he never contacted me even after I contacted him after a couple of days—but still, the exchange at his request.) Nor was I waylaid by my shadow self who always comes to life in a date situation, wondering if I would want to touch this man, if I would want to spend any more time talking to him, and even (in the best of times) if I could imagine being naked with him. Nope. I was focused on the moment. And him, he did what many men I meet seem incapable of doing: he listened, he asked questions, he seemed to care about my comfort, and he did not mansplain. None of us were eclipse experts—and he did not take it upon himself to pretend that he was one just because he’s a man. We Googled any eclipse questions we had. We three lived the day thriving on the exchange of tidbit stories, and the casual and open way that one story leads to another when you’re not censoring your every comment.

While younger daughter joked knowingly that he wasn’t found on OKCupid, and even I joked about how it just might be true about meeting someone when you’re not trying or expecting to, there was more to the day than this specific interaction. It offered a hint at what might be possible: that my future might not only hold re-creations of past relationships in which I was Hercules to their Princesses. I had decided that a balanced and supportive relationship was an impossible achievement, so why even bother attempting to meet anyone. But now, I see that I was wrong. Yup, Eclipse Man made his appearance to illuminate the point that I need not always assume the worse. It also made me realize that, while not courting courting, you never know what can happen.

But, simply, this experience reinforced my understanding that friendships are the core relationships in my life (after my daughters and my mother, of course). Not only would I not have traveled to see the eclipse, but I would not have been in the upbeat “let’s see what happens” frame of mind if I were not with my friend. I also might not have let down my guard, at least not enough to have had a daylong conversation that gives me hope that I will meet my match.

All in all, an excellent trip. (Of course, I didn’t do the driving; the traffic was horrible in both directions.)

I’m definitely planning on a 2024 eclipse adventure!

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Green Pond Landing, SC: A little while before the eclipse

Broth and Bouillon

Huntley Meadows Blooming

 

A friend called me last Friday night to go out dancing with her and a group of people from a Meet-Up. With no time to think about why I shouldn’t go, feeling weighted down by a long day of unenthusiastic summer teaching, a too long conference call, and a look at my low-count Fitbit, I decided to go. It helped that the restaurant was four minutes from my house and there wasn’t enough time to stress about what to wear.

As soon as I arrived, I started dancing. When the band took a break between sets, my friend asked me what plans I had for the weekend. I said that my one plan for a walk and lunch on Saturday had been cancelled, and that I was plan-free to be home writing and reading. “You like that,” she commented. Yes, I do!

I enjoy these free weekends more now that there are weekends when I do get together with friends. When it was an unending stream of plan-less Saturdays and Sundays (even if I stayed home to grade papers), the perils of solitary boredom would bear down on me. It’s hard to have confidence in your ability to think and write when you can barely stand to hear your thoughts another moment.

Is this a good idea for an essay? Does anyone care what I have to say? Should I take a break now or should I continue to stare at the computer screen? Should I read a book to learn something or read one to relax? Should I eat now or wait until later? Should I eat a salad or just say the heck with it and have ice cream? Should I watch another episode of this show or finally open the mail? Should I go for a walk someplace close by or waste time and drive somewhere that has a view? Should I sit in a coffee shop tomorrow morning or stay home so I won’t feel bad that I’m alone? -- You know, the pervasive thoughts that eddy around endlessly.

Too much of a good thing (the very empty nest) has made me value these breaks from myself to be a part of other people’s lives in the day-to-day interweaving of our stories. Through my friends I participate and release the control stick. They provide an out from constantly judging and assessing myself and others (a big drawback to being a teacher). Life not in the abstract. As a bee, needing both the hive and the individual buds.

I can finally relate to extroverts who thrive on interactions, and not just the introvert’s need for solitude. I must have intrinsically perceived this dichotomy for how else could I have taught, and enjoy teaching, for so many years?

But this movement out is not just about understanding different aspects of myself, it’s also about having enough of the right people in my life to enable me to come to this revised reality. Both the friend with whom I went dancing and the friend who cancelled our plans are self-proclaimed introverts. Although they, too, have come to straddle the social and the solitary, pushing out so as not to feel confined. Perhaps this is a stage that (single) (middle-aged) women inevitably reach so that our lives will expand, rather than condense and contract. Broth and bouillon.

I wonder, though, if I have been mistakenly looking at myself through the irrelevant lens of personality label. As we get older, we come to realize, don’t we, that we are shaped more by our experiences than our character traits. (And often those experiences occur in spite of our self-defined traits.) While they surely feed into each other, it begins to feel that those labels need to be dropped. They no longer explain or excuse who we have become; moreover, they limit our ability to fully thrive in the present. I must be open to who I am in a way that is undefined, unconfined, in flux.

Maybe I'll go dancing tonight.


Morning Waves of Envy

June 2017 Bronx Botanical Garden
Rose Garden, Bronx Botanical Gardens

 

I’m trying to figure out if I’m envious of my colleagues and friends who have recently entered into serious relationships, or if I’m just a good friend who’s happy for their happiness. The of-the-moment me, before my me-me-me thoughts intrude, jumps up and down for joy, echoing their abandon and confidence. Who could deny the sensuous pull of new love?

The cynical part of me, though, feels as would a woman in a long-term relationship (I had been in one of those; 21-years) who looks on with a haughty, bemused expression, thinking back to her own romantic beginnings and where they had led her. Wondering, as the weight of her accumulated grievances bring her down, how could anyone be so naïve.

But the part of me that’s a tad uneasy about being alone in the somewhat-distant future, when I start to fall apart inside and out, wishes that envy were at my core, driving me to actively seek out someone whom I could love for making me feel protected and adored. A stroke to the ego and a helping hand can’t be the worst things in the world, especially when I can imagine regret tearing at the edges of my days and a wobble as I steady myself for standing.

My bitter divorce (10 years next month!—unbelievable how time zooms), my brief manipulative relationships, and various bland dates should have cleared me from harboring envious thoughts, but, I realize sadly, they have not. I really do wish my thoughts were untainted, but, unfortunately, they aren’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to act on them, though, because my envy-penetrating walls still offer more comfort than unease.

As I see picture after picture of couples enjoying summer baseball games at stadiums around the country, I wonder, as I sit at my dining/writing table, about missing the opportunities that paired life seamlessly present. Again, envy prickles, because isn’t that, still, what I’m supposed to want. It’s hard to look past the social norm that summer vacation is to accumulate shared experiences, especially with a partner.

For a while now my purpose has been unmoored from that base, though still tenuously tethered to that ill-fitting norm, hence the creep of envy. But what if my purpose has morphed to ensure that I always have solitary breathing time and space from which the thoughts that nourish me propagate, and not for the activities and chatter. Perhaps the envy surfaces to force me to continually re-assess my stability and happiness. Perhaps it is not to unnerve me and push me toward abandoning my path, but rather to check in, to see if this is still right for me.

Looking at those paired smiles I need to invite the envy, not fear it, for I want my life to remain vibrantly my own. I need to anticipate that my perceptions may change and not shut them out, beyond my walls. For now, envy quickly fades back to sympathy, signaling that, for now, I am right where I need to be.

 


Balancing Act

Morning on Naples Beach  July 2017

 

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and it’s been a longer while since I’ve written anything other than from a solid core of disgust, anger, and disappointment. I’ve been trying to figure out how to function in this early-stage dystopian world that is pulling us down, but I haven’t succeeded—perhaps because I refuse to concede that this is our future. Still, it’s impossible to look away (even for two days at the beach in Naples, Florida), to pause in the cycle of read, react, watch, rant. But I’m finally getting to the point when I must let other thoughts and ideas develop and be sustained. It is not an abdication of my duty as a citizen. Rather, it will enable me to continue the drumbeat of resistance without being drawn into the silence of despair and inertia.

I’m doing my part, getting involved as much as I can within the limitations of my personality. I tried stretching myself, but there’s just so much elasticity in desire. Still, I am trying to rise to the horrible occasion of so much self-serving dishonesty and greed, and a monochromatic palette of hatreds. I know I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, but I feel I must, especially since my writing mind generally veers into the personal, the contemplation of my life to understand myself and my world, and to, hopefully, help others along their contemplative paths. Since my guiding understanding has always been that if something interests me, concerns me, fascinates me, other people have those same curiosities; therefore, I feel I must state that just because my writing is not an endless howl at the pile-on of treacheries, that is not to say that I have acquiesced to acceptance. I am becoming the actions and voices that will enable me to resist and persist.

Alligator at rest


Dress Like a Woman

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 Dress like a woman. The head reels from the insults of the little man in the White House. It should be hard to believe that a man still feels he can tell women to wear skirts and dresses, but we’re talking about a man who’s friends with guys who want to forcefully put an ultrasound wand up our formerly private parts and he wants to go there without a wand—and he’s buds with guys who think a rapist has more rights than the woman he raped. We’re talking about a man and his guys who know better than us weak women what to wear and what to do with our own bodies. What’s with the insatiable need to control people? Can they all be so very insecure and consumed with their own importance that they can’t give a woman a smidgen of respect?

UGH.

This rant is on a loop.

Dress like a woman. The images in Twitter of female scientists, astronauts, doctors, soldiers, Supreme Court justices, and simply women walking are inspiring. Ah, the biting humor. Reminds me of the Women’s March on Washington two weeks ago, and those signs, which, clearly, didn’t have an impact on the small-handed/minded man. Or maybe it did. Maybe he needs to lash out to make sure that at least he can control the women in his little sphere, because outside of the White House (which, by the way, is ours) none of us is putting on panty hose or spanx for him. (Maybe he wants to wear them himself?)

Dress like a woman. Growing up I had to wear dresses all the time. Dressing like a girl back in the 60s and 70s. How I hated tights and the suffocating feeling of my body being encased in plastic. Dresses just made me uncomfortable; I’m naturally of the Pantsuit Nation. Is it that a woman appears to be submissive when she wears a dress? Or is it that she’s conforming to a norm? Enough already. Its 2017. Conformity has taken a hit.

Dress like a man. What’s with mean man telling the men who work for him that they need to wear a uniform: solid color suits and ties, and (this must be a rule too) white shirts. (Are brown shirts next?) Is no one allowed to be an individual around him? Does he need to subvert all sense of self to himself?

Dress like a woman. Which is doublespeak (finally America has an official second language) for act like a woman. Why? What’s in it for me? I was married to a man who knew he was smarter than me and was always trying to tell me what to do. (I thought we had discussions; I was delusional.) When I couldn’t take it anymore and finally said NO, he was stunned. But the mutual shock of that moment flipped the order of things. I was in control (okay, I won’t exaggerate four years of agony after that moment), but it stopped the fall of my self-esteem. This is our NO moment. We have taken it for far too long to back down now. There is no place to go back to. It’s not safe there because it led us to here. Only ahead, into the future we create may we each find what we need. We tried to play the game, we played nice, too nice, but we have been stymied at every turn—and that last glass ceiling that’s been cracked and artificially held in place, that’s temporary.

Dress like a woman. I have a friend who wears the tiniest of thongs. I’m partial to cotton briefs. Is she more of a woman than me?

Dress like a woman. When you figure out that women are individuals intent on being their own selves and not a prop for your ego, you can find me in my hot pink sweats.

I know there are other offenses that have been tweeted, spoken, and signed this past week, but this insult to women is such a button to me. The verbal appeasement of Vlad and the throwing under the bus of every American who has tried to protect this country is so astonishing that it’s hard to figure out what to grasp onto other than: this man is his ego, and that’s not a solid thing. For all his bluster, we must be relentless—until he begs us to take him to the place where they have a nice pair of solid-color fuzzy pajamas with very long sleeves waiting for him.

 


I Marched for Women in DC

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"Hello 1955? Please hold for the Republicans." 

What a day of celebrating women, especially our feistiness! You’ve got to love the creators of the clever signs and hot pink pussy hats that turned the streets of DC Amazonian. Ladylike subtly had no place on those streets that reverberated with pent up frustrations of women of all ages, and the men who respect us. We might have burst out in smiles and humor and camaraderie against the sexists we’re fed up, but underlying it all was the giving and taking of support and understanding for what we have put up with to reach this point. We are fed up and fired up! Our votes weren’t enough, so now it will be our actions, starting today, as so many of the speakers stressed.

At 8:00 Saturday morning when a good friend and I met up with a woman I worked with this summer to register voters in Northern Virginia and a close friend of hers, we were two pairs of friends. Six hours later, when we hugged goodbye at the same Metro station where our day had begun, we were March Friends who stuck together through the chill, the confusion, the crowds, and the certainty that this was an historic moment we were proud to be part of.

At various times through the day, one of us was cold and needed to sit, tired of standing in one spot and needed to walk, wanted to get closer to the speakers to hear clearly, and just wanted to go home. We were a team that took care of each other, balancing our needs so that we each had the march we needed. It wasn’t just being nice, it was true womanly solidarity, and it came from how we helped each other, and how everyone around us supported each other too. There were hands to help us climb over barricades when we couldn’t enter into the mass of people in Independence Avenue and there were shared cheers that helped momentarily expel the gnawing shame and pain of the new president. Those cheers! Apparently, I have quite the voice to be heard, as my newest friend in the group noted during one early rising wave of cheers that rolled down the avenue. I heard no beginning and no end. It kept rolling.

When it was time to go home, we walked quite a bit (making it another part of the march) to find an open Metro station. But just as we were about to go down the stilled escalator, a Metro rep said that the station had just been closed. A woman called out to ask him what was happening and when would it open again. No response. He was mute, taping away on his phone. Then, when a man called out and asked the same question, there was a response. It could have been the timing, and it could also have been the fact that the officer's ears were attuned to hearing a man’s voice and answering it. The woman who had asked, all of us women, was having none of his dismissiveness—not on our day! Feet away from a march for women and the same ole was happening. We know why we march!

It’s funny in a sad, way-of-the-world sigh that as I sit here thinking about the day, I realize that there wasn’t a moment when I felt unsafe walking around the march area or when I felt that I couldn’t look directly into a person’s eyes without being assessed, ranked, rated, catalogued. My goodness, it was ennobling not to have to look down or away after meeting someone’s eyes. We could meet and be met heart-to-heart.

My first realization of this insight came when we stood jammed on the street waiting to go down to the Metro. I said aloud, to understanding nods, that I didn’t have to worry (about being groped or pushed against—we all knew what I was talking about) with so many women crowded together as I would have been if there were more men around. So that’s what men must feel every single day: unintimidated and unsexualized. A feeling that all women deserve to experience every single day. A powerful reason to march and keep on marching!

The march certainly was in stark contrast to what we’re fighting against, which was pretty darn clear in the signs: a misogynist, p*ssy grabber who would have us go back to the 1950s when white men ruled the roost, from home to House. But we are not going back there! Didn’t you see us march around the world in protest to that!

We March Friends, the four of us and beyond, will not be divided from our mission. Our hopes for our first woman president were stolen from us. We see that we have each other to depend on—and we need to act on that, and reach out to the women who could not envision what a positive thing a sea of pink could be. And you know what they say about women: their place is in the House and Senate, and White House too!

Onward, marching to action.


Women's March on Washington

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I'm going to the Women's March on Washington on January 21, the day after the inauguration, to proclaim that I will not stand idly by as my rights, and the rights of other women and men, no matter who they are, are imperiled by this administration. 

For more information on the march go the Women's March page, and for information on marches across the country and world go to the sister marches page


Done with Make-up

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About a month ago, I stopped wearing make-up. It wasn’t as if I threw away an array of bottles and tubes, and then rethought my look and retooled my morning routine. Nope, I threw out one tube of mascara, one blush compact, one eye shadow compact with eight shades of brown and beige, and one green eye shadow compact. It wasn’t even done as a protest against make-up (kind of obvious with the number of items I had; anyway, I had already made that protest in my teens) and how we women are made to think that we cannot be without adjustments and alterations. My act was to prevent even more chemicals seeping into my body. In the month since that act, I have become surprisingly relaxed and comfortable about my appearance—and this from a woman who had already been pretty relaxed. (What a joy to be middle-aged!)

I’ve stopped leaning into the mirror to critique myself. I’m not looking to find what needs to be hidden (except the “occasional” chin hair to be plucked), even with my minimal tools, or to declare the dullness of my looks, casting a pall upon my mood even before my day has started. Nope. I’m not looking for—and, of course, finding—signs of age, stress, lackluster features, a general discontent reflected back at me. Getting rid of make-up has helped me to stop worrying about interpreting my visual self and then to, seamlessly, infuriatingly, depressingly, impute that upon my internal, unseen self. And, if I’m not worrying about how I look, then I’m not worrying about what other people think about how I look, and so I can simply prepare myself for my day.

That ease has transferred to my clothing. As my make-up was utilitarian, so too are the clothes in my closet. Thinking back on this past month, I find that I have focused more on how I want to feel, and, logically, the weather, rather than on how I want to present myself. I’ve cut myself loose from external guidelines and expectations, and it’s been darn good. It’s as if I’m living my internal life externally.

Perhaps this has been my reaction to the election: my discomfort with the world and this pervasive sense of doom and uncertainty have led me to strip away the non-essentials. Perhaps a world that seems focused on the external, the barely thought, the quick assessment and denigration of others, is one in which I can protest simply by centering within and honoring myself, and use that as a deep base from which to face those perceptions. Perhaps this is a way to not allow the ugliness in; to protect myself from words and demeanors that degrade. Perhaps this non-compliance with a norm is a step in undermining its weight—I will not allow external entities to evaluate me.

This is the way forward.

This protective action that, for me, seems to be a proclamation against the misogynists and people who “simply” think men are more/better than women. I continue to stand against their misguided interpretation of strength, independence, interdependence, and what it means to be beautiful.

And I call out to women and men to join me. Each woman should take a step in/out that affirms that she will not be defined or sidelined. And each man should look in/out for echoes of thoughts and actions that belie a paternalistic interpretation.

It’s absurd that we’re still at a point where pernicious, belittling attitudes toward women hold sway. It’s absurd that men still let themselves be bridled by a confidence that is not theirs, but on which they ride.

It’s time to cast aside prohibitive stereotypes and embrace feminism, for it seems that our well-being and that of our world depends on it.

Yes, all that from not wearing make-up. 


Hanukkah, or Defying a Government that Oppresses You

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Potato latkes and jelly donuts might be the oil-soaked foods of Hanukkah celebrations with a hefty side of chicken soup and brisket, and dreidel may be the game of choice (who doesn’t want to win chocolate gelt), but in essence this festival of lights (WOOHOO!, the oil lasted eight days instead of one which enabled the temple desecrated by the Romans to be rededicated nice and pure again) is another Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews surviving an attempt to suppress us and our religion, and if that didn’t work, well, then, let’s try to kill all the Jews. It’s a We Survived holiday!

At around 168 BCE, the Jews survived this onslaught brought about by the Syrian-Greeks and their Roman overlords.

And then there’s Purim, when we survived the ancient Persians. Let’s send gifts of food, eat hat- or ear-shaped cookies to celebrate the defeat of a very bad bad-guy, Haman (noisemaker noises here), and drink too much in celebration of surviving!

And there’s Passover, when we survived the ancient Egyptians. Let’s recount the miraculous slavery-to-freedom story and then eat plain matzah, matzah balls, and fried matzah for eight days in celebration of getting out!

Then there are the non-celebrated cycles of expulsions and pogroms from here, there, and everywhere. Existence itself is the bittersweet celebration. Thank goodness for heavy post-survival recipes from pre-assault days to dull the memories!

We live. We suffer. We pray. We rebel, we refuse, we relocate. We survive. We thank God. We eat.

It’s a horrible cycle that had seemed as if it was coming to an end. It seemed that, somehow, people had risen above the visceral hatreds—after the ultimate display of hatred—that stoke the dank recesses of the soul. Yeah, no.

But I’m not thinking only about antisemitism now, now in this time of rising anger against any “other” (including, of course, why not, the Jews) but rather of the stokers who live to incite and reap (what? what do they reap?). I’m thinking of how we can heed history as it has been forced upon Jews and how we can help understand how not to be crushed by history.

Emperor. King. Pharaoh. President. Sovereign. Tsar.

They have all taken power from us, the hands that feed them. We, the human trampoline, from which they yield so much fun fun fun in the guise of power and property.

Can we Jews be a lesson to the world about the everlasting survival from—and, unfortunately, of—Fear and Hate in their tightly wound package that explodes to suppress all resistance to the complacent uniformity it demands so as to filter out and renounce respect and compassion—and with it the hope for something more than timorous survival. Because that’s what I see here: the rise to power of those who serve no one but the self, as opposed to those who find power within the communion of people for the good of all. This Them versus Us is the rise of I KNOWers versus We THINKers.

Why can’t the lesson from the cycle be to try to prevent the pain of survival? Why not try with all our concerted efforts to prevent the destruction from which, we pray, survive?

I refuse to cede mind or future to people whose passion is acquisition of control and usurpation of rights. This is not tikkun olam, improving/repairing the world, this is destroying the world—what entity could sanction or reward that? They want to take away education, healthcare, financial security, clean air and water, freedom of speech and religion, a woman’s sovereignty over her body. This is not disagreement, this is attempting to supplant my right to live—to breathe freely (physically and psychically). We must try to prevent the need to rise up from the ashes; we need to thrust against plans and ideas that mangle bodies and souls. We must be the true majority: the People who believe in and live with compassion. We need to call on and out all supposed leaders, demanding that they refuse to compromise or placate or play the politics game on our backs. This is not wait and see, this is learning from history that rulers do not share unless forced to.

I don’t want a special treat (I envision, though, a long-cooking stew with a dollop of bitter cream and a garnish of crumbled Bugles) and game (find the hidden treasure, only to find it composed of things the other players took from you and each other during previous rounds) to celebrate survival. No, I want our voices rising and our votes cast from now until this travesty has been declared an impotent failure and a sign of all that is wrong, and then to keep calling out until we are the government that is of, for, and by we, the people whose concerns are for each of us and not the feigned righteousness of a few.

The Woman’s March on Washington on January 21 is a start. I’m going and will be helping out. I hope to see you there: Women's March on Washington. And if you can’t make it to DC, think about joining a local march. Voices rising!


Let Shrillness Ring

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This is for my student who wrote “rape won”;

for my daughter who thought sexism was dead;

for the girls who deal with boys being boys;

for the sluts we are for having a woman’s body.

 

Let our shrill voices rise and spread until they are heeded directives.

Let our bitchiness thrive until it is the norm that is no longer placated and silenced.

 

Don’t try to soothe us: we are beyond appeasement.

We don’t want your condescending advice dictated in superior tones.

We are not the vessels of your perverted visions;

We are

Not of you

We are of ourselves and the people who respect

Our bodies

Our minds

Our moods

swinging

Our stubbornness.

 

We are the pinpricks of conscience you feel, but don’t acknowledge.

You don’t know this, but

we mock you and your need to control and limit—

for we rise and thrive past your oppression,

but you, you are tied to it—constricted by the emptiness of your own binds.

 

Each of us is

a fountain that cannot be contained;

a decision that banishes naysayers;

an emotion that unites;

propelling us forward—past the misogynists

and into the respectful reality we envision for ourselves

and each other.

 

Ours is a vision that cannot be crushed:

united together

woman women.  

 


Sharers and Shearers

Animas River

I have no plan; it seems, though, that this is the time to join with others who are planning to resist and resist and resist. I will sign petitions and send emails. I will gather to stand for our rights not to be trampled under the feet of the arrogant. I will be part of wells of justice that counter walls of hatred. I will not be undermined by wallets stacked with bills of perversion. I will share what comes from my place of strength. These are my intentions.

In the middle of the night I awaken with my jaws clenched. I am trying to understand, but I ache and cry tears of fear and disgust.

These are my pronouncements.

I am proud to be a woman who cares about other women and their ability to support themselves, and take care of themselves and their children.

I am proud to be Jewish, raised on a foundation of working to make the world better and safer for Jews and all oppressed people.

I am proud to have come from New York City, where we respect each other and understand that we have bonds that join us and create interdependence even if they are forged in the steamy subways of summer.

I am proud to be part of the tide that has turned Northern Virginia from red to blue—still—and where the immigrant population has made this a restaurant haven where we appreciate new flavors and ways of interpreting the world.

I am proud to teach in a school were students generally see differences, not as dividing lines between people but as something to respect and be curious about.

Call me a bleeding-heart liberal. Call me an out-of-touch coaster.

SO

I feel for people with no plans or prospects.

I feel for people who want the past to be the present.

I feel for people who agonize over the choices women make for their bodies.

I feel for people who are discomforted by same-sex love and gender fluidity.

I feel for people who rage over their lost foothold on the societal totem pole.

SO

It’s hard to care when in return your ideals get trammeled.

BUT

Right now I have no desire to understand or excuse people who live lives distorted by anger, shame, demands, or bitterness and won’t accept another person’s reality. It should not be you or me, there should be an overlapping space of compassion where support is understood to be better than destruction.

Perhaps I cannot accept a worldview in which people are only concerned about themselves.

I don’t want to comfort myself by saying this seems to be a battle in the eternal war between the sharers and the shearers (together with those who serve the shearers even when they themselves are being sheared).

This is my call and cry to myself, to those who sing in my choir, and to those who have not heeded our songs.

No to hindering and bullying. No to oppression and suppression.

This is my constructive call to action to honor each person’s desire for fulfillment and purpose. This is my plan.