Category: Life

Jeremy Finds His Sparkly

I’m sitting on my couch waiting for a rat to die. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? And it is, tho not in the way most would imagine.

Jeremy McRatRat is a good little ratty. We knew he wouldn’t live forever, even with a nice, warm home and a healthy diet. When i went into the weedlings’ bedroom this morning, i knew it wasn’t good. The food i left him the night before was still in his bowl. He didn’t hop up when he saw me. And when i reached into pick him up, he whimpered. I think i probably whimpered too.

So i cuddled him up and took him downstairs. I swaddled him in an old, soft blankie. I fed him water off my fingertips when he wouldn’t take any from the bowl. When he wouldn’t eat a treat, i put some pancake syrup on my finger for him to lick off. A few hours later, he is still hanging in there. He is barely moving. Too weak to stand up fully, he scoots himself on occasion to get more comfortable or change position. I wish i could make him feel better, at least for this final part of his journey. It might not have started pretty, but Jeremy eventually had himself a good life.

One of my daughter’s favorite books growing up was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. From the first time i read it to her, she said she would someday have a rat of her own. Fast forward to a dozen years later. My daughter is working on weekends and during the summers now and has a little money of her own. She does her research and picks out a good cage – One with plenty of space. She picks out bedding and researches diet. Then we go to the pet store. There were 2 cages of “fancy” rats, the cute and fluffy ones destined to be pets. On a separate stand were the “feeder” rats, the boring looking ones that were destined to become Nagina’s weekly meal. As my daughter cooed over the fancy rats, her eye kept being drawn to the other cage where a plain heather-brown rat was up on his hind legs staring at her. When she inquired and found that the only difference between the cages was a cuteness factor, she picked him. She also picked a pretty rat who looked more like a pet.

They came home with us in their sturdy cardboard carriers. I don’t think my daughter left her room for 2 days – she sat on her floor and played with them, fed them, gave them treats, until they got used to her. She decided to use names from her favorite story. The pretty rat got named Brisby (Frisby was changed to Brisby in the movie version of the story). She wanted another name from NIMH  for the the plain one, but none seemed to fit. Because he was darker, she went with Jeremy, actually the name of a lovable crow in the book. The two pets had enviable little ratty lives. Food that my daughter custom blended, plenty of time outside the cage to play with her, or just cuddle with her while she was studying. Few rats have it better.

When i decided to sell my house the following fall, the ratties came with us to the apartment. Brisby didn’t take the change too well, and passed on shortly after. I buried him under my chocolate-mint in the garden.

Because we were told rats didn’t do well alone, my daughter didn’t waste any time getting Jeremy a new partner. Ramsay was a sweet little thing, but he didn’t take the change from shop to apartment well at all and died in a few days. He now resides under my hosta.

The next partner was Remi. Remi was an asshole. He was the most handsome of all, but he was grouchy. When i saw one day that he had bitten my daughter bad enough to draw blood, he got released into the woods.

All thru this, Jeremy remained his sweet cuddly self. Rather than attempt another partner right away when we released Remi, we decided to let him be king for a while. Surprisingly, he took to it very well. He liked getting all the attention. And he made a playmate in our chi-mix dog. When he got his out-of-cage time, he and Siri-dog would play for ages like best buddies. It was heartwarming to watch the dog, bred to be a ratter, and her bestie, a common rat, play like kids.

When my daughter went off to college, Jeremy remained in his usual spot. My son likes him and did a good job of keeping him fed and watered. I, however, took on the duty of loving. I picked him up and gave him scritchens every day. At least once a week, i let him out to play with Siri for a few hours. When i could, i’d let him cuddle with me while i read or wrote. I’d long since gotten over the creepiness of holding a rat, but the smell still makes me wrinkle my nose. In spite of that, i made sure he felt the love and security of being a “pet”. Rat or not, he is a member of the family and is treated as such.

He is an interesting bloke, this rat. I’m certain he has a bit of Brit in him because if i leave my tea anywhere low while he is out, i catch him dipping his snout into it and taking a good, long pull. He also has a sweet tooth (Just like his momma, my daughter) and will try to do tricks for a piece of frosted breakfast cereal. He will actually smile for a piece of banana. And a cookie? You can get him to dance a rapture for that!  He definitely knows what’s good in life.

He is also ridiculously smart for a rat with no education. When i let him loose, and it’s time to go back to the cage, all i have to do is call his name, and he appears and sits on my foot. He outsmarts the dog at every turn. He is unfailingly charming, popping up on hind legs for any visitor to his corner. And if you cuddle him close, he will lick you in appreciation. Just a lovable little pet. I hate that he is leaving us. He has shown us so much love and taught us so much.

He taught us that you don’t have to be beautiful or fancy to be lovable. That it’s up to each of us to make playmates of our enemies. That it’s ok to eat your favorite stuff first, as long as you also eat the healthy stuff, too. And he taught us that not all rats are vermin, even if they come from the feeder cage. All of this is true for rats, and true for humans, as well.

I will remember these lessons. I hope you will, too. And when we share these lessons with our grand-weedlings and they ask us how we know these things, we can say in total honesty, “A rat told me so.”

 

“These marks were made by a 1966 Pontiac Tempest”

I can’t believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving. This year has flown by. It’s been a year of learning for me. Of adjusting. Big, honking life lessons, and smaller just-as-important ones. This is some of what I have discovered:

Your weedlings will never cease to amaze you. When my middle child left to start at West Point, I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage without her. She was a teenager and certainly had her share of fun, but she also helped me around the house, played chauffeur for her brother, cheered me up when I was down, encouraged me when I was exhausted, got me moving when I was depressed, and could cook up a mean meal when it was her turn. Losing her from the household was hard, even outside of the emotional upheaval that comes when one of your brood leaves the nest. Even as I was full of pride for her accomplishments, I was worried about managing. I knew my oldest, who has always had more than a bit of caretaker in her, would be there to help me if need be. And she hasn’t let me down. What surprised me was the fact that my barely-teenage son has also stepped up. Getting his chores done without much complaining, sometimes even without asking. Doing for himself and taking meal duty if I am working late. Being as empathetic as a 13 year old boy can. Yes, he still leaves his smelly socks under the coffee table sometimes. But I have been pleasantly surprised at what he has taken on to help without cajoling from me.

You can enjoy things you never thought you could. This is a recent discovery. Coworkers asked me to join them at a haunted house. I can say honestly that I’d have rather rubbed a cheese grater on my face than pay good money to have rubber masked clowns jump out and grab me, but they were so excited, and I didn’t wish to be a party pooper, so I went. And it was fun. Yes, I screamed myself to near-laryngitis. Yes, my jaw is still feeling the sting from being clenched so forcefully. Yes, I’m sure I horrified some people with my repertoire of vulgarities and curse words. Yes, my abs (or what passes for them) are still sore a day and a half later. Yes, I wet my pants. More than once. Stupid animatronic dinosaurs. And no, I doubt I will go again. But I’m glad I went. If for no other reason than to prove to myself I could.

Punting is a viable option. I’ve been in this apartment a year now. In all that time, in spite of dozens of tricks and tries, I haven’t been able to keep my dog from peeing on the landing. Anger, frustration, disgust… These things are not good for one’s blood pressure and peace of mind. Finally, last week, I decided to stop running plays. I punted. Scrubbed the carpet for all of its worth and laid down plastic carpet protector. The first few days, she wouldn’t step on it – she jumped over it to the first stair. Then she tried peeing on it. Apparently that was unsatisfying because now, a week later, she is sticking to her weewee pads like a good little doggie. I’m not a big fan of plastic on the floor, but at least my budget for rug shampoo can be cut.

Letting go of worries gets easier as you go along. This time last year, there were people and things I allowed to consume my thoughts. Finances, exes (OK, really just one of the exes), the pets, the weedlings, the job, aging, change and OH-MY-GOD-THE-FUTURE… My blood pressure escalated, my depression worsened, and I alternated between sticking my head in the sand and letting my head explode like a dead possum in the sun (Yes, that visceral image in your head is exactly what it felt like). I’m not sure what happened. My emotional IQ reached its peak. My therapist started hypnotizing me during sessions. Bath and Bodyworks started replacing my wallflower scents with perfumed Haldol. God/Goddess/Universe intervened. Something. But one day, not too long ago over a cup of afternoon tea, I realized I wasn’t nearly as worried. All the things that normally kept me as tense as a cat hanging from the curtains were starting to lessen. Things slowly but surely were starting to even out. Not that I don’t still get concerned over my bank account or the future of my weedlings, etc., but somehow, in my heart and gut, I know it is going to work out. I know it is getting better, or at least coming to an end. My blood pressure is on the wane. And I feel hopeful. Really hopeful. What a gift!

Don’t get out of the habit of reading and writing. I already knew to keep up my good habits of eating well and exercising. But I had forgotten to keep up the habit of reading. Books provide escape, intellectual stimulation, focus, and a break from technology (At least for me, as I prefer paper books). I may never learn to effectively meditate, but I will always be able to bury myself in a book and turn off the outside world. It really does help. And I often learn something in the process. Not a bad result for a habit that shouldn’t be hard to cultivate. As for the writing, that is a little harder habit to maintain. It requires both intellect and imagination, and stress has a tendency to turn off both in me. But doing it is like leaking a pressure valve. Tension and thoughts that have built up exit my fingers and end up here. Far more effective and beneficial than them staying retained in my jaw. And, hey, someone might get a laugh out of it.

I can’t stomach commercial meat in my house. It’s been coming on for a while, but I have finally gotten to the point where I can’t stomach the thought of something that lives its entire life in terrible conditions and then gets killed for my benefit. I have taken to buying free range eggs, local and/or free range meat, and far less of both than I have before (Which is somewhat a function of economics). I suppose there will come a time when I can’t even stomach that and will give up meat entirely. But for now, I still crave it sometimes. I just eat less of it. Maybe it’s a justification on my part to say that the lamb had a happy life romping around the pasture before slaughter. Maybe it isn’t true that the local farmer doesn’t slam his pigs to death like the videos I have seen posted about large scale farm corporations. If so, don’t tell me. I will work my way there. At least I am making progress in my attempts to be less of a selfish human. I don’t have to be a super human.

Tho not there yet, I am getting closer to being comfortable with my appearance. A little while back, I took an offer for a free consultation with a plastic surgeon here in town. My sagging face really bothers me, and I was curious what it would take to fix it. Apparently the answer to that question is $18,000. Either I am far worse off than I thought, or I am unreasonable in wanting to have my jowls cut off. I mean, I know I am looking my age, and I know my age is getting older. But $18,000 older? That’s at least 3 kick-ass vacations (more, if I go alone) – and I’m thinking the vacations might make me just as happy. Really, it’s all a moot point since I don’t have $18,000 lying around anyway. But still. Time to make peace with my face. I am 49 years old. Obviously, so is my face. New England winters, southern summers, beaches, coffee, a short smoking career, various other ingested chemicals, kids, hormones, a life as fully lived as I could tolerate… These things have left their mark. And tho I spackle and Bond-O and paint and detail every day, it’s still a Tempest and not a Mustang. And that’s ok. No one will be clamoring to restore me to my former glory, but at least I’m forever memorialized by Marissa Tomei.

There is no reason to be afraid. I may not have Underdog, but I still won’t fear. With all I have done, even in cases where my actions and hopes didn’t pan out, I survived. Even if it left me a step or two behind, I was still upright and walking. GGU has blessed me with resilience and resourcefulness. And I am grateful. So why have I kept worrying about the future? Changes in family, in physicality, in work, in life…. BRING IT ON! I may not win the game, but I’ll keep playing til the end. And if it becomes evident that even my best skills aren’t going to win this quarter, well then, I’ll channel the Harlem Globetrotters and play for style and fun. But I will play. I will keep playing. No more bench time for me, and no more forfeited games. I’ll be the most tenacious team in the league, even if I don’t make the playoffs. So bring it, world! BRING IT!

And on that happy note, I wish you all a wonderful day, and I encourage you to look back and see what you’ve learned this year. You just might surprise yourself.

Stream of Consciousness

My therapist has taken to guiding me thru meditation. Because, you know, it’s too frigging difficult for me to figure out. Breathe in… Breathe out. Yah. WAY too difficult. Two flipping steps. Two flipping steps that I can’t manage to master.

I love simplicity. Food, art, architecture, fashion: I love when they are seamless and with clean lines. I am, however, incapable of producing such things. I can’t just fry an egg. I have to glaze the pan with bacon grease first, dose it with smoked sea salt and freshly torn herbs from the garden, lay it on a plate with toast and frou-frou jam and perfectly cooked bacon. Even if you told me you only wanted an egg. I can’t help myself.

I tend to complicate things. As my son pointed out to me earlier in the week, I can’t even just say, “I’m sorry.” I have to apologize profusely and explain the screwed up reasoning that devoured my head and made me think that tossing the condiments in the jumble bin in your car console was a good idea. Even tho you don’t give a shit and have already moved on. I should have moved on with you.

I’m supposed to quiet my mind for 15 minutes a day. This is supposed to bring me one step closer to serenity. I need some serenity. Like, I REALLY need it. I’m wired and frazzled and buzzing with short circuits. Serenity seems about as likely for me as waking up next to Liam Neeson. But I know if I can manage to get some, things will get better. SO WHY THE HELL CAN’T I DO IT?????

I am a smart woman. A resourceful woman. Other than pie crust, I’ve been able to manage everything I’ve set my mind to, sooner or later. I can do and do and do and do. The only thing I can’t do is not do. Apparently, God/Goddess/Universe forgot to give me an “Off” button.

For a lot of my life, it hasn’t been much of a problem. I can multi-task like a champ. I am good with creating things on the fly. I awaken with all the ideas that rushed thru my head during sleep. It has served me well, for the most part. It’s only when I need to reboot that I realize I’m incapable of shutting down.

You know when you go to turn off your computer and it gives you that belligerent pop-up saying “Your Thesaurus program is still running and preventing you from shutting down…” ? Welcome to my head. Words, numbers, lyrics, jingles, memes, every mistake I’ve made that day, did I remember to lock the front door, the possibility that a spider will crawl in my window, into my ear, and lay a new colony, and the realization that there has never been a Weird Al tribute album…. All these things still cycling thru my mind. And the bitch is sitting there in her oversized easy chair telling me to “Breathe in…”

I apologize. She isn’t a bitch. She’s actually one of the better things in my life. She lets me vent and helps me distinguish between things I need to fix and things I need to suck up and walk over. She’s been with me a long time now and she’s kept me out of the bin for all this time. No small feat, I’m sure. So now all she has to do is help me find my power button so I can turn myself off.

“Feel your scalp relaxing… Your face… your neck…” I’m trying to do what she says, but instead I’m becoming acutely aware that NONE of these things is relaxed at all. It’s like straightening your leg when you’ve been sitting on it for an hour. Existential ponytail headache. She has already moved on to my shoulders, arms and fingers, and I’m still focused on the stiffness of my ears.

This isn’t working. I’m never going to be able to do this. I must be an idiot. All I have to do is breathe. WHY CAN’T I DO THIS??? Listen to her voice. Just her voice. Concentrate on that. ‘Breathe in… Breathe out…’ I wonder if this is the voice she uses with her daughter when she is upset? Does she use this voice with her husband? Oh, ick! Get that thought out of your head. Not supposed to be thinking about stuff like that. Supposed to be concentrating on breathing. My right nostril is a little stuffy. Must be the leaf mold. All that rain over the last few weeks. I wonder if it’s going to be a rainy fall. Maybe it will be a snowy winter. Remember that winter a few years back when we actually had snow on Christmas? That was really cool. ‘Feel your toes relaxing…’ Toes? What happened to hips and knees? Have I been talking to myself this whole time? God, I suck at this. “

Maybe I should just give up and accept the fact that my hard drive does NOT turn off. That the lags will get more and more and eventually I will crash. Wait. Bad analogy. Computers that have crashed get replaced. I’m not ready to be replaced. (How awesome it is to finally have reached the point where I don’t want to be replaced!) There must be a way. An emergency switch or something. Maybe she can hypnotize me and give me some magic word or something that will turn me off and reboot me. That might work. Because right now, she’s going “Breathe in…” and I’m thinking that I need to pick up mustard at the grocery.

Got any Grey Poupon?

Ok, session is up. I’ve failed again. Still no off button. Still no reboot. BUT I WANT SERENITY!!!!!!! Sigh. I’m going to make myself a cup of tea. That at least slows me down. It’s possible I am getting better at this meditation thing and just don’t realize it. Maybe I am actually calmer than I was. Maybe the planets will align, i’ll wake up with Liam Neeson, and he’ll hit me with some Valium. Maybe he’ll hit me with a hammer. It’s Hammer Time. Hit me with your best shot… Fire away…

Breathe in…. Breathe out.

Forget it. Where’s my tea?

Forever Searching For The Queen. 

Have you ever glanced in the mirror and wondered who the person in the reflection was? And how the hell did they get in your mirror?
Every woman has her imaginary persona. Wonder Woman, Gangster Moll, Angie Dickenson. In my fantasy eye, i fancy myself walking the line between elfish sprite and wise crone. I am a woman of mystery, indeterminate age, aura of magic. Sparkle in my eye, scent of allure, element of mischief. Queen Mab. The subject of epic poems and masterful legend. When i close my eyes and drift to sleep, this is who i become.
In the morning, when i awake, some of the act lingers. (Maybe this is why i love mornings so much?) I am confident. I am taller, prettier, stronger. I am masterful.
And then i glance in the mirror.
The best of mornings, i can see some of the Queen behind the facade of reality. I can see that spark. That fairy. The worst of mornings, only the crone stares back at me. And her wisdom is lacking. I look and her and ask, “Where is Queen Mab?” And she responds, “Hell if i know, ” as if the question is both unreasonable and daft. Those mornings plague me. But most mornings, it is a barely fruitful search for the faintest sign of the Queen.
Behind the waning skin that is starting to fold, sometimes Mab, or at least Puck, shines thru. The eyes, tho squinting and soft, still remain clear like a pond in early morning. The smile, tho lined and pale, is still full and warm. The hair… Well, that’s just an exercise in frustration on any day, so lets just ignore the hair. The point is that most mornings, i can at least pick out a peek of the Queen in the way one finds their child in a group graduation picture. “There she is! See that bit of red hair? And the corner of the eye glasses? That’s my daughter! I can tell!”
That is all it takes. Just that little glimpse, and i feel better. Like i haven’t lost it. I haven’t lost that fire. That spark. That Queen. She still resides in me, buried underneath this foreign body that is like an undesirable Halloween costume with a broken zipper. The mask, stuck on my face. Jim Carey, where are you? Take it off! Somebody take it off!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be 20 again. I was stupid then. Clueless about life and love and everything important. No amount of beauty is worth that kind of impairment. But i would take 40. When the lines were still fine and the sags could be disguised with a tilt of the head. I had some wisdom then, so life was far less frustrating. That would be nice. (Never in my youth did i ever imagine that i’d be wishing to be 40. Never.) But short of a Tardis or Bill and Ted’s phone booth, i don’t think it’s possible.
Yes, i can get a facelift. The doctors can nip and tuck and give me the outward appearance of a woman 10 years younger. They can stretch and staple my appearance to the past. But will it bring back the Queen? Or will it be just another mask? Will i be staring at another group picture, unable to find who i’m looking for because she doesn’t look like i expect? Will the new appearance be more of a real me? Can i fake the Queen like a spray-on tan? Does a picture of a fire still make one feel warm?
Who knows? Like everyone else in this chaotic world, i have more questions than answers. Thank God for the Maya Angelous, Eleanor Roosevelts, and Emmersons of the world or i’d have no wisdom to steal and impart to others. There isn’t much that i can honestly say i’ve figured out on my own. Those insights are about as rare as a “good face day” before the spackle and Bond-O application at my dressing table. But that, THAT, is the mask that i REALLY need. The one of me on my best day. Where do i buy THAT mask? If i could keep that mask in a jar on my dressing table, that would be just perfect. Then, on the days when i can’t find the Queen, i could slap it on and pretend. I’d spend my day on life’s stage playing the part i was born to play. No surgery. No recovery. No costume.  Just me at my best, stolen from another time.
Yah, it’s still fakery. But i’m stealing from myself, and i’m ok with that.
Looking at my reflection right now, i can see the Queen. I usually can when i’m writing. She is the keeper of that part of me and comes with the flow of words. Her wisdom shines thru my crystal eyes, and her lines are both artisticly painted and beautiful. Her fire shows thru my cheeks, and my freckles are making happy constellations. I like it. I hope she stays a while.
I don’t know if there really is a fountain of youth. Neither literal nor figurative. But i suspect that if there is one, it hides somewhere along the river of happiness. Do what we love with ones that we love, the river starts to flow, and the fountain sprays forth. Good breeds more good. Beauty begets beauty. That’s what i think, anyway. All i know for sure is that Mother Nature makes nothing simple, and Father Time is kind of a jerk.

It’s All In Your Very Real Head

So many times we say it. Even more often, we think it. But like the old adage, “Just because i’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me, ” just because something is all in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

When we say, “It’s all in your head, ” what we really mean is that is where the problem begins. Medicine has proven that brain disorders can cause true health problems. Frustration can cause ulcers. Anger can cause strokes. Fear and anxiety can cause tachycardia. Depression can cause insomnia and anorexia. And pretty much everything can cause digestive problems. And the reverse is true as well. Vitamin D deficiency and lack of exercise can cause depression. Insomnia can cause memory loss. Hypoglycemia can cause attention deficit. Hormonal imbalance can cause psychosis. Body and brain are inexorably linked. So why do we consider brain causes to be inferior to body causes? If your heart races from fear instead of an intrinsic dysrhythmia, is it any less of a problem? After all, 180 beats per minute is 180 beats per minute. If you have irritable bowel from anxiety instead of irritable bowel from low serum ferritin, is your poo any less stinky? After all, shit is still shit.

The only real issue i see is in the treatment. If your high blood pressure is caused by genetics, and we treat it with anti-hypertensives, then you stand a chance of getting a good result. You can’t change your DNA (at least not yet), so you change the conditions it operates under: Specifically, you change the chemical cascade. But if your hypertension is due to the fact that you are forced to live in the basement of your chain-smoking, verbally abusive, peri-menopausal great aunt… Well, then, Metoprolol is really only masking the problem, now isn’t it? Even tho your blood pressure problems are caused from your stress and not your parentage, it can give you a heart attack or stroke just the same, so you have to deal with it. But the mechanism that causes the mercury to rise, when the mercury is taken away, is sure to find another outlet. In other words, if all you do is fix your blood pressure, the Aunt Gladys still remains, and who knows what that stress will cause next? You have to move out of the basement to really solve the problem.

Yet, we would never accept our physician telling us that the answer to our health issue is to move out of the basement. We want a prescription. A treatment. Something simple and easy, like twice daily shots in the bum with a magic serum. Somehow that seems better and more important than doing something about our sanity. A medicine chest full of pills is far more glamorous than taking charge of our lives. A prescription is far more socially acceptable than a Tai Chi class and an appointment with a therapist. An outpatient hospital procedure is far less problematic than standing up to Gladys. Give us the easy route, doc. We have enough complications in our lives already.

That is not to say that pharmaceutical mediation isn’t necessary for emotional conditions. Nothing mental is cured overnight. Gotta keep the stroke at bay while we learn to deal with the basement thing. The best long-term solution is to attack it from both sides: the mental and the physical. Take your Nexium AND your meditation. Take your Prozac AND get sunlight and exercise. Take your Beta Blocker AND move out of the basement. And don’t feel squirrelly about doing the “non-medical” things. I promise, using thunderstorm sounds to help you with your insomnia won’t cause you to wear bellbottoms and patchouli. Talking things out with a therapist or minister won’t make you social outcast, and it will probably lessen your need for the antacids. But remember, just like no magic pill cures depression, no magic herbal tea cures heart disease either. Both fronts, physical and mental, must be fought to win the battle.

I have made no secret of the fact that i hate society’s expectations and subjugation of the human brain. We concentrate so much on other parts of the body and their overall health, and yet neglect the most important organ of all, the one that makes us human. The issues in our heads that cause our bodies to be “off”, and the issues in our bodies that cause our minds to be “off” – these things should be one and the same. Part and parcel of this discipline we call medicine. Rather than a hierarchy of treatments, there should be an evolving cloud of health: Take your medicine, get your testing, sleep, eat, exercise, play, read, talk, think, laugh… All these things contributing equally to the overall well-being of the patient. Whether the problem starts or finishes in your head, the head requires treatment. For some, that treatment requires medication. For others, it requires peace.

I look forward to the day when a doctor can look at his patient and say without reserve, “Take your pill, get some exercise, and do a little fishing, ” and have each part of that statement be equally important. Indeed, it is already true, but we are just afraid to admit it.

Judgement Day

I have been described as “non-judgemental” by people who know me. I have always strived to be that way, never wanting to make another feel bad for their preferences or choices or for who they are. I know what it’s like to be under such scrutiny and i would never choose to do it to another. That being said, i found myself horrified last night. Waiting at a stop light, i watched a woman come out of a local burger joint. Close to me in age with the build of a typical southern Little League mom. She had on twill shorts and a Tshirt… Nothing to attract attention. And she was obviously out with her husband and weedlings for a fun Friday evening. But what thoughts ran through my head as i took that quick glance?

I wondered if she knew her rolls and muffin-top were accentuated by that tight Tshirt. I visualized handing her a hair brush. I said a hopeful prayer that someone would send her for a proper bra fitting.

And why? She didn’t appear miserable. In the half-second that i saw her, she appeared to be having a good evening. Her husband and boys didn’t seem to take any notice of those things. So who the hell am i to pass judgement? When it hit me that i was criticizing a woman i don’t know for not meeting some arbitrary standard of mine, as i said, i was horrified. I had become the judgemental person i reprimand.

Thinking over it later, i realized that i do it more often than i would have thought. The rotund girl in the daisy dukes. The insanely busty woman who goes braless. The gal in the Sponge Bob pajama pants at the grocery store. The one who wears the fluorescent orange eye shadow. The sandal-clad broad with hobbit feet. The stranger at the beach who appears to be smuggling a rabbi in her swimsuit. I have shaken my head at every single one of them. How dare i.

It’s not like i haven’t gone out in public, seen pictures later, and wished i could take it back. I have. And there have been times when i didn’t care. I didn’t feel well. I was in a hurry. Or i was in such a good mood that i didn’t notice. I wonder how many people shook their heads at me at those times? I have pictures of me in cutoffs where i think i look happy and beautiful, and pictures of me in elaborate gowns where i look defeated and dumpy. So who is to say which outfit was the better choice?

We say that we should be allowed to dress up or not according to our own taste and comfort. That clothes do not make the woman. That our style should be a reflection of who we are, not what others expect us to be. That we should dress to make ourselves feel good. But we also say that we women should take pride in ourselves. That we should make the most of what we have. That we should dress to impress and to project our best selves. To do all of those things seems like an inherently impossible task. Some of those things are mutually exclusive for most of us. And most of us don’t have just one “self” to project.

There are two women whose style and carriage i admire, but whose approach to appearance is diametrically opposed to each other. One is a very regal black woman. She favors flowing skirts, long jackets, precise makeup, and heels. Her fingers and ears twinkle with baubles and gems. When she enters a room it is impossible not to notice her confidence. She is kind and gracious and all those things that a lady is supposed to be, and you can tell it from the way she clothes herself. I’m not sure i’d recognize her in pajama pants.

The other woman is equally arresting, but for a totally different reason. Generally found in jeans and a casual Tshirt or flannel, devoid of makeup, straight hair sparkling clean but free of adornment. Her only jewelry, the wedding band to her beautiful wife. Her wardrobe is distinct in its non-descriptness. When you meet her, you are struck by her confidence, her comfort in her own skin, and the blue of her eyes that rings clear like the perfect spring sky. If i saw her in a classic shift, i think it would stop my function cold.

Is the former too involved in her appearance? Does she deserve to be criticized for refusing to answer the door without lipstick? Does the latter deserve any disdain for preferring a well-tailored suit and brogues to a chiffon sundress and sling-backs? Of course not. They are both stunningly beautiful, and their choices are perfect reflections of who they are. So why is it when i see a woman with children in hand and a smile on her face, i can’t think the same of her attire? If i took longer than a second to look at her, really LOOK at her, would i accept her choices more readily? Am i criticizing her, in effect, because i don’t know her? Because i can’t justify her choice based on my knowledge of her? How condescending of me.

I may never get to the point where i can accept leggings and a sports bra as clothing for anyone who isn’t immediately pre- or post- run. I may never be able to overlook ripped and filthy clothing on anyone who isn’t involved in laborious work. I think those things are too entwined in my beliefs on self-worth. But i can most certainly train myself not to dog another woman for committing some fake crime of fashion. I can teach myself not to assume that, just because i am not aware of them, there aren’t reasons for her choices. And i can learn to accept the fact that i have no right to pick-apart a woman’s wardrobe like some over-zealous editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Not only can i, but i must. As hard as it is to kill an old habit, it is even harder still to allow myself to be something i revile.

Never Pretty. Always Beautiful

I am not a pretty woman. From what we see and hear in our world, beauty is about a flawless, symmetrical face with a tiny waist, rock-hard bum, perky breasts, long, flowing locks and an age that is never more than 28. I have lines and crags and freckles and scars and dry skin and smooshy parts and a barely-there bum and I have never found a way to defeat gravity. But as depressing as that is, I take comfort in the fact that most women are like me.

Tho we women flog ourselves daily for not being pretty, no one else seems to care. We scrub and scrape and color and cut and spackle and Bond-O and nip and tuck. We squeeze ourselves into shoes that will eventually deform our feet. We inject ourselves with plastics and poisons. We paint ourselves with chemicals known to cause cancer. We pay good money for just the right amount of radiation burn.  We strap ourselves in and suck ourselves up and point ourselves out just right. Every day. All in hopes that someone will notice and think we are pretty. And yet, I’ve never heard a man say that any of these things impresses him enough to call it love.

And really, isn’t that what we are all wanting? The need to feel pretty isn’t about knowing that we are Vogue-worthy, it’s about getting the attention of a love interest. One who is smart and handsome and well-off and well-appointed and romantic and rugged (No small amount of pressure for our menfolk there). But those men aren’t after the young and palpably sexy blonde, so why do we strive to be like her? I don’t deny those women are pleasing to look at. And I don’t deny that I, given the opportunity, wouldn’t want to take one home myself. But is that walking list of beauty editor favorites any more likely to find love than we are?

I have known a few truly pretty people. Men and women both. And none of them is any more successful at love than the rest of us schmoes.  I think, and as I get older, I am really starting to believe that what attracts love is beauty. And, honey, beauty sometimes ain’t pretty.

The ones I know who appear to truly have found the sort of love we all seek won’t be on the cover of Vanity Fair. They have wrinkles and sags and mommy-tummies. They aren’t always decked out in their finest. They burp and sweat and have strange laughs and morning breath and sometimes forget to shave. They dig in the garden, nurse their children, clean the bathroom, scoop the innards out of the turkey. In other words, they are schmoes just like us. But if you look closely, you will see something else. And if for some reason you can’t see it, you can tell that their spouse does.

Ask the spouse and they’ll tell you. It’s in the way she laughs like Cliff Claven on Cheers. It’s the way she yells at the TV when her team makes a great play. It’s the fact that she can fix both the ceiling fan and a standing rib roast. It’s the way she closes her eyes when she eats something decadent. It’s in her intellect, her humor, her goofiness, her character. But, mostly, it’s in her eyes.

As much as the eyes are the window to the soul, they are also the window to love. And tho it would seem logical to compare it to a magnet or a tractor beam, it is really more like the sun. When she glances over at him, sweaty and stinky and covered in grass after playing with the kids on the front lawn, her eyes appear like a sunrise. A glowing beam of warmth and respect and genuine affection. When she glances at him, his evening drink in hand, legs kicked out on the back porch while listening to cicadas and tree frogs, her eyes become like a sunset. Deep and rich and dark with the promise of stars soon

And, oh, she can bring him stars. The more-than-ample bum becomes exactly what he likes, regardless of the fact that she often wishes it were smaller. It is what he wants because he has seen the sunrise and the sunset and the lovely afternoon in between. Because, though he, too, wishes he were taller and thinner and somehow better, in the end, all he wants is to see that look in her eye.

Following my logic so far, to be beautiful, we have to find love. And to find love, we have to be beautiful.

Hey, I never said my theories made sense.

But if I had to come up with a way to make it make sense, perhaps the love we need to be beautiful isn’t the love for another, but a love for ourselves and for life. A love that allows us to take joy in a fragrant blossom, a delicious flan, a sweet kitten… A magnificent thunderstorm, a kick-ass guitar lick, an unlikely touchdown. Maybe that’s the kind of love that brings it back to us.

And if that’s the case, then we all have a chance. Even those of us with rolls and gas and hairy toes. Even those of us with chapped lips and unibrows and back fat. Even those of us who are old or chubby or plain. Even those of us who aren’t pretty.

Thank God

Herbert Was Wrong

They tell me it’s because i’m getting older. All these things that keep popping up. Getting lost. Falling off. I just keep thinking to myself, “That can’t be right. I’m not old.” As an American woman, i’m supposed to be in my prime. OK, maybe the saying is about sexual prime, but it stands to reason that you wouldn’t hit your sexual prime only to have your body and brain fail for no good reason. I hope God isn’t that kind of Sadist.

I am reasonably fit. I eat healthy most of the time. My weight is spot on the recommendations. I sleep a full night. I take medicines as directed. I don’t overindulge in alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I try to meditate. I try not to break the law. I wear my seatbelt. And i don’t wear white pants after Labor Day. Yet i am plagued. Cholesterol. Shingles. Menopause (OK, maybe that isn’t a bad thing after all), bifocals, bunions, hypertension that causes other complications, osteoporosis, wrinkles, sags, bags… And now i’m losing my mind.

My similarly middle-age friends tell jokes about going into a room and forgetting why they’re there. They lose their keys. They can’t recall phone numbers. They draw a blank on the name of their partners’ favorite beer. They miss important dates. They forget to thaw the chops for dinner. Me? I accidentally call my daughters by each others’ names. I have accidentally called my son my dog’s name. I have stared at the dog and for the life of me can’t remember the word for that species of animal. And when i get angry or excited or giddy? The words in my head come out in the wrong order. And not like Yoda, either. Like a verbal Yahtzee toss. It’s frustrating as hell. To be there, mouth open, word at the back of my mouth and i can’t bring it forth. And it gets scary when i hear a thought come out of my mouth and it makes no sense.

As a writer, words are important to me. I will delete whole paragraphs from a piece of work if i can’t find the perfect word for a single thought. I love my Thesaurus. And much like Charlotte from her web, i will yell from my laptop to my weedlings to request ideas for a word that means suchandsuch. I try to say and write exactly what i mean. To be unable to pull those words out of my brain is like craving Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday. Vexatious. To hear gibberish come out of my mouth is more like hearing Elmo swear. Sacrilege.

Now, i realize that it seems far worse to me than to those around me. I am able, sometimes, to recognize that my mouth is awry and manage to shut it before spouting off like a word puzzle from the Sunday paper. And perhaps my panic magnifies the issue in my personal reality. Perhaps i don’t deal well with stress, and it short-circuits my brain when i can’t maintain calm. Perhaps all people my age say “cat” when they mean “coffee” on occasion. Perhaps all our brains are so full, at this age, that the files get jumbled. Perhaps the cumulative effects of weed and Bovine Growth Hormones and red dye #5 are catching up with my generation and having a bad impact. Perhaps we all are losing our memory bit by bit. Perhaps. But, damnit, I DON’T LIKE IT! I DON’T WANT IT! AND I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT I AM NO LONGER YOUNG!

Ma was just a couple of years older than i am now when she died. This makes it difficult to assess how i compare in the familial trend, though i remember my grandmothers from both sides being sharp and acute til the very end, and they were much longer lived. I hesitate to compare my brain to the men before me because, well, let’s face it… Male brains are a different animal entirely. Both my body doc and my head doc tell me that this is all normal, and that if i could learn to control my stress better, my brain will respond (As will the blood pressure, the shingles, the tmj… Pretty much everything but the bunions.) But i regularly attempt meditation, and i always fall asleep. I tried yoga, but the sweaty mats made me schieve. I considered running, but my boobs begged to differ. Tai Chi moves too slow. BioFeedback isn’t covered by my insurance. I’m too poor for regular massages.  And weed is illegal. So what is left? I write. I walk. And i bitch to my girlfriends. I may still be stressed out, but i’d hate to see what i’d be like without those things. I’d probably explode like in that old movie Scanners. And that would give my children nightmares, so that option is out.

In my all-time favorite book, Flowers For Algernon, i still cry every time i get to the part where Charlie starts to lose his edge. The pain of him knowing what is seeping away is so profound that it stabs me right through the pages. And i worry it will happen to me. Even knowing in my head that i am no worse off than anyone else my age, my soul still panics at the thought of losing my intellect. I have no doubt that my healers are correct and that obtaining some zen, some way, some how, will improve my health and clarity. Tho i may still misplace my dog, i will at least be able to remember her species. It’s an improvement anyway.

In Dune, when Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit, he recites a mantra to remind him that fear is the mind killer. I disagree. It isn’t fear. The real mind killer is stress.

Musings on Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014 at 9:39am

Ok. I’m not a traditional Christian. Perhaps i have no right to expound on the meaning of the holiday. Perhaps my ideas are off base and totally wrong. Perhaps no one gives a flip. But i’m going to write it anyway because in the wake of the violence and chaos of the year, i need to put out some good stuff to the cosmos.

So here’s a holiday with two large scale traditions. One religious, one secular. The birth of a man that started a whole new faith of peace and love. The dedication of a man who wanted happiness for all good children. Both present concepts that make us better people.

First Jesus. Whether or not you believe he was the Messiah, consider this. The history / tradition / faith of this man was about the one simple thing that makes us human. I don’t know that there is an adequate word for it. The Buddhists call it “Lovingkindness”. Be good to each other. Take care of each other. Stand up for each other. Respect each other. Protect each other. And above all, Love each other. And on Christmas, we mark the birth of the man who reminded the world that these things are our purpose. Not as Christians, but as people. Not to simplify it too much, but i believe that the goal is to treat people like our dogs treat us… With unswerving love and forgiveness and gratitude. And each year at this time, we all take that message closer to heart and try to live it. (Unless we’re looking for a parking spot at the mall… Then all bets are off). And this spirit is infectious. Each bit of warmth we share, it has the potential to go viral like the latest Miley video, but with less tacky and more love. Especially in this era of war and heartache and division, we need more love. As much as we can stand. And Christmas helps to inspire that. This year, i hope to keep this message in my heart and my actions for as much of the year as i can manage. After all, as a Theist, i can celebrate the concept of Christmas whenever i want 😉

As for Santa – Well, in some ways, he’s a secular example of the same tradition, isn’t he? Reminding people to be good to each other, reminding children to be respectful and do what they should. Would that he’d remind adults to do the same. (Can we say “Politicians”?) Tho granted, especially by the time we’re adults, we shouldn’t need the promise of presents to walk our talk. We should do it to preserve our humanity. But we don’t. Or at least I don’t. Not as often as i should, anyway. I see so many selfless acts in my day to day life and know for certain that i could – and will – do better. And to note – Since there is no such thing as a perfect human, take solace in this, one of my favorite holiday books… How Murray Saved Christmas ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdC6cxUeQZo Not the best reading of the book, you really need to buy it and read it for yourself 🙂 )

All in all, what i get from Christmas is a renewed sense of purpose. Of charity. of Humanity. Sort of like a spiritual New Year. And all of my shortcomings from last year… Well, i get a chance to do better. A renewed vow to myself and my God. A karma do-over. Break out my existential chisel and sandpaper and gorilla glue and do some improvements on my heart and soul. And just as importantly, allow others to do the same. The birth of a baby and the charity of an old man are the benchmarks for the best of Humanity. The spirit of Christmas brings the hope that we all can meet those benchmarks. All humanity has a chance to clean their soul windows and let their love shine. Lets see how long we can make it last this year.

Love, Light and Laughter, my friends. For this Christmas and for Always.