Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘aging’ Category

Playing in the Valley of the Green Giants

blog76pexels (1)I was in the car, pondering my life and I thought, ‘It’s Labor Day weekend, the end of summer.’ A little sprinkle of joy made me wiggle my feet. The summer had been exhausting and painful and humbling. Far from joyful. I am waiting for Autumn, my favorite time of year – I love the colors and quieting into myself that happens in conjunction with the leaves deepening into the wild shades of yellow and red before letting go in their dance to the earth.

While it’s not Fall yet, those months are near; Labor Day signals that nuanced shift in my body – energy rises, appetite awakens, and I feel young again. Like a child. Like the child who came to the US for the second time at age 11, old enough to have savor being wild and free (unlike the first time I came to the US at seven when all I remember is the terror of ‘weird talking’ Southerners).

This time, I gaped at the enormous spiders sitting in webs strung between the sky-piercing pine trees, the many-footed crawling roly-polys, and monster-sized cats running through our yard.

On this trip, we didn’t come by ship – we flew. I don’t remember any terror except for getting lost in La Guardia. We stayed for more than a year. That summer was idyllic – memories of the smell of grass, the hush before afternoon thunderstorms, the silky delight of Dr. Bubbles in a tub, and the freedom of days where parents were at work and our housekeeper watched soap operas, leaving us kids free to explore this bizarre, unfamiliar place called Alabama.

I would grab my sister’s hand, push my brother down and tell him not to follow us – he was too little. Of course, on his toddler’s legs, he ran after us, and when he fell, either my sister or I would run back, plop him upon his plump legs, scold him to stop crying, run on, then run back to grab his hand. We were our own world, and our world was full of pirates and fairies, snakes and creepy crawlies.

We would tell my brother, “Don’t tell but we’re going through the Snake Kingdom to the Valley of the Jolly Green Giants.” (I liked the commercial.) Actually, we were cutting through a large patch of Kudzu, trying to touch as little of our foot to the ground as possible to avoid the probable snakes. “Ho Ho Ho,” I called. My sister answered, “Green Giants.”

Next, we walked a tightrope to prove our courage to the Giants; in reality, it was a six-inch-wide-ish sewage pipe over a creek of water moccasins. I’d scream at my sister, and she’d yell back at me. “Don’t fall in. The snakes will eat you.” My brother was full out crying by now, but he hugged the pipe and scuttled across on his belly. “Ho Ho Ho,” we yelled at him.

Past the pipe, we broke through a line of tall pines, showering ourselves with pollen, and emerged onto this broad area of green lawn, which I pretended was the Pentland Hills of my homeland. All shades of green, tickling our feet and rolling at a slight tilt away from the enormous faraway house, made up this strange thing called grass. I am sure we had grass in Scotland, I remember being terrified of it and screaming bloody murder when made to stand on it. My sister had the same reaction to sand. My brother has that response to me as an adult, probably leftover trauma from that summer.

Lolling on the grass, oblivious to anyone that could be sitting on their balcony and watching the hooligans from the other side of the trees, we would lay flat and look up at the sky. It was so hot, even sweltering but kids have different thermostats than adults. The clouds were white bunnies hopping across a blue field. So, we took off our clothes and swung upside from the trees, which I now realize were beautifully manicured. One of us would begin, “In the valley of the … “ and the other two chimed in, “Jolly green giant.”

We’d do this until we got hungry, gathered up the scattered clothes, ran naked along the pipe, through the kudzu with the snakes, put on our clothes, and promised to do horrible things to my brother if he told on us. Then trooped up the back steps, through the kitchen to stand before Christine and say as one, “I’m hungry.” She would get up slowly, shake out her skirt, and make us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which we hated, or heat up a can of Campbell’s soup, which we loved.

 

It was a grand summer. No one ever told my parents about these adventures. My childhood sweetness, I love these memories and tell them to whoever will listen. Maybe I’m not quite ready to give up summer.

This Labor Day, I wish you a few minutes reliving the grand memories of your childhood. I would love to hear them. Ho Ho Ho, Green Giant!

Jamming My World

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My forty-year-old Swingline stapler is jammed. I’ve stabbed myself in the thumb with a pair of tweezers, a pen, and now a knife trying to get it working again. I understand the urgency of my righting the stapler has more to do with the state of the world and my fear for the global future than the need to attach pieces of paper. But the world is an ugly place right now. Right now, it is really ugly.

I’ve tried to keep out of social media for the last two months. That world is another chaotic and mean venue. Real mean. One word and everyone descends to feed on your bones. Kind of appropriate for last week’s Halloween but I don’t want any part of it.

I’m not chicken shit, but life is tough, and I feel myself pulling away in response. As I get older, I wanted to get a little sweeter, a little nicer (that might be a stretch), and a little more thoughtful about where I put my fiery energy, but I’m not becoming any of those things.

In massage school and then again in yoga teacher training, come to think of it, even in graduate school, I have always been the fireball. The one who is not afraid to say what I’m thinking and usually a few others too, the one who will stand against what is wrong. This stance is necessary and right (and self-righteous).

I am pitta; I am Aries, I am the consequence of a history of inflicted wrongs, one who wants justice. I pick up my sword to fight but in the darkest hour of the night, when I am honest with myself, the question – do I like the Adrenalin high – pings around inside my head. What if I am addicted to fighting for the sake of fighting, basically self-mutilating to get that feeling of being on the side of justice?

And it is getting in my way of allocating my energy in useful ways – ways that are beneficial to myself and humankind?

My graduate school advisor, the thoughtful and wonderful Dr. Norm Thies-Sprinthall, told me to “Pick my battles.” My therapist, a kindly soul, told me to “Be careful with your judgmental stance.” My friends tell me to “Use your power for good not evil.”

So, I’m trying to use their words as my mantra and good grief, it’s hard work. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot look away. I could not live with myself if I negated the millions of lives demolished then, now, and into the future. I don’t want to dwell, hyperfocus, obsess because PTSD is an ugly and incapacitating result.

I need to find balance. I’m working on it. Paying attention to the world but placing parameters about the amount of time I watch TV or listen to NPR, spending more time with friends not talking or picking apart the latest terror, and guarding my sleep. Those 3 am panic attacks suck. I am so over them.

In the meantime, I am asking you to pick up the sword, pay attention to the world, while I get my own house in order. My father’s death and the repercussions hit hard. The move to Texas continues to be tiring. Coming back to jobs where I have been replaced while looking after my father and family was hurtful.

I stare at the stapler. Work dammit.

(My image – you can use it.)

Ungraceful, Loud, and Grateful

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Right now is a weird time for me. I’m in a new location, Texas with the cows, really huge horned cows, without access to friends in town, trying, really trying to make some friends here but my people are harder to find now I’m older, and my father died. After two weeks in ICU, we decided to let him go. His death was easy. A whisper of breath, a silence of the machines, the falling into himself that was disastrously elusive in his life. I was grateful for the mercy.

Coming home has been not so graceful, not so grateful, to end up – not so quiet – as I hoped.

I have been loud. Effectively loud. BECAUSE. The doctor, hospital, and funeral home could not coordinate the death certificate. 

“Yes, he died,” I told everyone. 

“I was there when the machines stopped. A doctor stopped by and declared him dead. What, you can’t find the doctor? Did he die too?”

“What do you mean – it’s been two weeks. Dad’s dead. Where’s his body? Where’s the paperwork?” 

Yep. I started out professionally cool, then curt, throwing around some of my degrees and threatening with the barrister cousin, days later I became loud, yelling under my breath and finally, into the phone. By some mysterious power, and no one will tell me what kind of power, my father’s body made its way to the crematorium. I need to see my hairdresser for the extra grey hairs.

The yelling continued; upon my return to North, North Dallas, I found out that my classes had been canceled or I had been replaced. Yes, that lovely national organization, espousing religious values, gave my class, the one I trained for over two months without pay, to another teacher while I was away tending to my family. They didn’t tell me. I had to write an email and wait for their response. A pox on them. I mean frogs, boils, and locusts on their facility.

(Truthfully, I expected to stumble with the class initially; I had been upfront with my supervisor telling her of my inexperience but a willingness to train. Still, a pox on them.)

With all this distress, I have restarted watching horror movies. Finished with the big shark extravaganza, I watch vampire movies in the afternoons. I don’t know why it helps, but it does. Perhaps bloodsuckers, like the sharks, have some profound, blocked message about grief or suggest a clue about my internal state. I don’t know yet – stay tuned.

The panic attacks at night come and go. Nightmares, full of people I love attacked by a faceless murderer, rouse me out of sleep multiple times a night. This rite of passage, being without parents in a chaotic and alienating time, emphasizes how alone I am in this world and the importance of connections. Some days, I enjoy the revolting troll stalking me on Facebook and my blog. Easy enough to block her and report her to the authorities. Should I send her a thank you note for the opportunity to feel powerful? A pox on her, wait, someone already poxed her!

So, let’s all get connected. Maybe not gracefully or quietly but gratefully. Sending lots of love to my friends and supporters. Say hi below! And send job leads …

(Image courtesy of morguefile.com. Thank you.)

Teething: Fractured Grief

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I restarted grinding my teeth at night. Like I did after Rod died. For years until my dentist started talking to me about a bite guard. A bite guard! I had visions of pimples and acne cream and headgear out of an 80s John Hughes movie.

But it wasn’t until years later that I took the dentist’s advice seriously and hustled down to the neighborhood CVS for a two-pack of bite guards figuring I would ‘boil and bite’ myself into a decent fit by the second try. The cat used the mangled first attempt as a toy, tossing it into the air and catching it in her mouth. I was impressed. Some serious chompers on that kitty – hers are in better shape than mine.

Eventually, maybe ten years after my husband’s death, I stopped wearing the bite guard, probably in the search for a decent night’s sleep. My teeth had stopped grinding by that point; my heartache had lessened.

So, now I’m thinking- will I need another twofer as I grieve Dad’s death? Should I hedge my bets and use my 30% off coupon or wait? Wait like we did sitting two weeks in ICU tearing out our hearts. We sat, siblings, wife, and friends, listening to the constant noise of the unit whittle away more and more of my father.

That unit was never quiet. I don’t begrudge the nurses their laughs or gossip. It’s the mechanical noises that got to us. The continual and rhythmic whines and whirl loved ones learn to block out, but the unexpected beep sends our hearts racing with adrenaline and sets my teeth to grinding. The nursing unit jumps into action and visitors shuffle to the walls plastering their ashen bodies against the hospital green paint.

Every night during that two weeks, I changed out of my clothes as fast as I could. Who expects to spend two weeks in a hospital chair with the frigid air circulating the stench of decomposing bodies? We began to look like the sheets, wrinkled and threadbare with use. After eating a nutritious dinner – we were keeping up our strength – we would retire to our corners of the house.

I sat by the computer watching Netflix movies, any movie with a killer shark. You don’t get many killer sharks in ICU, so I thought they would be safe to watch. I was aware of teetering on the edge, dancing between the extremes of closing everything up so tightly that it would take an act of God to open me up again and on the other end, the great beast of grief breathing down my neck, teeth ready to drag me under. Maybe Jaws wasn’t such a great idea. If I tiptoed up to the abyss, I saw a long drop down into sadness and pain as deep as the pain I had known before – an abyss where the tiniest act of kindness would send me into a despair for days, knock me down and leave me winded to the point that I wondered if I wanted to go on living, waking every morning with my jaws aching and the taste of old teacups in my mouth. Maybe the shark movies were a brilliant leap of my subconscious.

I searched my Netflix queue; I watched six shark movies and even got my sister hooked on them when she joined us in our vigil. The night before she left, we gave it a rest and watched a comedy, but only after watching an hour of The Omen, a 70s movie, predicting the end of days. Maybe My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was not the most tactful of choices, but I figured we needed something not too taxing. We laughed. I thought my stepbrother might fall out of his seat at one point. Even so, my teeth ached the next morning.

Back home, trying to establish a world without my Dad, I still feel the need to watch my “big bug” movies. I know Andrew wonders what the fuck I’m doing, but I don’t want reality right now. I want fantasy where my father wakes up demanding decent coffee with whipping cream and brown sugar, Lichen tries to serve us tripe, and I don’t stick a clear chunk of plastic in my mouth every night to avoid fracturing my teeth.

(I drew the shark. Don’t copy without asking me.)

 

Words for Int’l Women’s Day

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I didn’t know what the term meant – I don’t say things like that.

As most of my friends and colleagues and a few attorneys know, I have been stalked, my car and home vandalized, and my professional reputation threatened for a year by a mentally unhinged person. During that time, I walked a tightrope between creating more distress for the person’s family on one side and ignoring my safety on the other side. With this current act of name-calling, I am done being quiet.

There is something horrific about a woman commenting on another woman’s appearance in a way to shame her or cause her pain.

I’ll be sixty in a couple of years and with it has come some hard knocks leading to episodic wisdom.

I’ve lived through ballet auditions where I didn’t make it through the first rounds because they were ‘looking for a particular body type.’ Balanchine wanted his dancers to be ‘like racehorses, rail thin, beautiful, and not bright.’ No one cared how I danced.

Nevertheless, I modeled my way through college being a consistent size 8. Patterns were cut to this size in the 70s and 80s. I can’t take kudos for the size 8 body; it’s the family bone structure and genetics.

My first husband made comments about my looks, my weight, and my height. You can’t change some of these characteristics. They are genetic, predetermined, or out of your control. I will never forget the day I said to that husband, “I’m a size 8. Get over it. Not a size 4. Not going to happen.” And I returned to my graduate school studies. He remarried and described his wife as “young, beautiful, and stylish.” Good grief. She can’t stay that way forever. He can’t either.

I’ve had dates where I knew the men were not into my appearance. “But that body,” they would say. Yeah, I’m a little more than that. We are entitled to preferences but beyond 30, people, this life, my body comes with an expiration date. Go away and grow up.

I’ve lost jobs or not received a second interview because I look too old – employers can’t ask your age, but they figure it out. Ageism. Or maybe I did not fulfill their appearance requirement. Still illegal and still hard to prove but you know it when you are on the receiving end.

My wrinkles and the knowledge in my eyes are hard won – living, loving, making mistakes, grieving, being a friend – it is all there on my face and body. I don’t look, act, sound, think, or believe in the same ways of earlier decades. To do so would be a nullification of who I am, my genetics, my values, and every experience that I have lived through. I will not do that to myself. Or to another female. Or male.

So, to the woman who calls me BUTTERFACE, I am sorry for the time, and it will happen, when someone makes a derogatory remark about your appearance. By then, I hope you will have learned the self-acceptance to shrug it off.

Weird Times

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I’m at this really weird time in my life – mid 50s where I am working as hard as possible but seeing opportunities land elsewhere. In younger people’s laps.

My friends are talking about retiring, counting down the days, and planning their last great adventure. About five years ago, I realized I would be working until I died. Through a couple of lousy turns of the luck and some bad planning on my part, I will never be able to retire. Not ever.

Being unable to see a retirement in my future has impacted most areas of my life freaking me out. How did this happen? How did I not notice? Maybe it is a combination of my friends being 5 to 10 years older and in the last of the pensioned jobs. Maybe it has to do with being single or the two major downturns, more like plummets, of the stock market. Maybe it is a realization of the probability of being single when I die. Most likely the realization became embedded with fright after last year’s string of surgeries.

My friends are settling into their last homes and having what they consider safe adventures – cruises. Paying deposits for communities that allow you to move through ever increasing levels of care. I look at my townhouse and wonder how I will get up those steps in 15 years when my knees and hips give out. But who will give a mortgage to some one nearing retirement … So I have been told to plan for my infirmity. Like a good old codger, I have. Replacing the HVAC system. Replumbing. Changing out appliances. Getting stuff out of the attic and into easily accessible storage. Definitely must upgrade my refrigerator.

My 30-year yoga practice has changed. I said good-bye to the Level 2/3 classes, taking and teaching them. In class, it seems quite pig-headed to keep attempting something apt to hurt myself to appease my ego. But on interviews for yoga teaching jobs, employers do one of two things. They assume I want the gentle and restorative classes or I get pressured into those jobs.

I’m having to hunt down new doctors – my current doctors are retiring. I understand that my new doctors will be younger than me with little empathy for aging’s undeniable march. For example, my forty-year old orthopedist said, “You will never dance again.” I will dance tango again, even Lindy. Just watch me. “Wear sneakers 24/7.” Not bloody likely. I may lower my shoes’ heels from a 4” to 3” height but I will wear the handmade leather shoes from Italy with a tight skirt and fishnets.

I am the patient doctors keep badgering to schedule a colonoscopy, a skin cancer exam, but no one asks me about birth control or safe sex anymore. Maybe they think I’m too old to still be having sex.

Then there’s the men and dating.

No, I don’t want to go antiquing – never liked it so why should I like it now?

Yes, I do want to go for a hike at a decent pace.

No, I don’t want to have dinner at 5pm and go to sleep at 8pm.

Yes, I like to nap but I have liked to nap since I was 4.

No, I don’t want a sexless relationship. Sometimes it feels as if I have aged out of the sexually active category. I could stand naked by a motel with a sign reading, “The room is already paid for” and no one would take me up on the proposition.

Then there are the well-meaning people sending me articles to settle, for a man, any man who is breathing. No thank you. I deserve love as much as someone in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

I am under pressure to go on that last great vacation. One doctor told me to do everything on my bucket list before 50 because after that I would need really, really good trip insurance. “All kinds of medical things happen.” Wow, groovy, I still plan to go to Argentina.

Maybe, quite possibly, I should replace the word ‘weird’ with ‘irritable.’ I am at this really irritable time in my life.

NSFW: Middle-Age Surrealism

steps26   Post-surgeries life has been painful, funny, crazy, and just plain odd. I am not sure whether or not to look at it too closely.

Last week, I was sitting with a friend at dinner. As usual, my right foot, post four or five surgeries, was propped on a stool. My skirt was hiked to waist level. In an attempt at modesty definitely not fashion I have taken to wearing leggings under my skirts.

“Fuck,” I said.

“Fuck what?” said my dinner companion.

“Life is just plain weird.”

“Well yes,” he said. “Did you expect it to be any different?”

That’s a good point. Definitely I did not expect it to be like this. Really not expecting anything like this. I started to cry then hiccupped into a laugh and decided to finish my meal.

The night got weirder.

After the meal, I limped upstairs to get something. Can’t remember what – the pain medications short circuit memory. CRS syndrome.

Standing at the top of the stairs, holding the who-knows-what, I realized that I couldn’t make it down.

“Hey, I need some help up here,” I said loudly, really almost yelling. My friend’s a tad deaf in one ear.

He made it up the stairs. Slowly.

“Why are you creeping?” I asked.

“Bad knee,” he said.

“If you have a bad knee and I have a bad foot, how do we get down?”

We looked down the stairs; many rungs slamming into a wall then a sharp turn to the left. Yep, we did not think this through …

“Kind of glad I had them put the best grade padding under the carpet,” I said.

We giggled. I climbed on his back. We made it three rungs before he made a loud OOF and I struggled off as his knee buckled.

“Okay then. Plan B,” I said.

“Plan B?” he asked. “You got a Plan B?”

“Can you drag me by the feet, my good foot, if I lay on the stairs?”

“I could try. Let me rest my knee,” he said.

We sat, talked before he hobbled down three steps (now he was midway), grabbed the ankle of my left (good, non-surgery impaired) foot, and pulled me down two rungs. My head bounced off each step, eyes rolling back in my head.

“Stop,” I yelled, my eyes trying to focus. Stars circled my head just like in the cartoons.

“Huh?” he said braced against a wall but still holding my ankle.

“I have a concussion or at least a headache,” I said in a small voice.

“Sorry,” said my friend, dropping my ankle (which bounced) to hold his knee with one hand and the wall with the other hand. He lowered himself next to me. Bad knee out straight.

This was a conundrum. Neither of us could get down the steps. A goodly number of steps to go. Unexpectedly we were looking at Plan C.

“You do have a Plan C?” he asked.

“What exactly would be a Plan C?”

We sat on the stair pondering a Plan C, gathering our strength, and letting the pains ease. It got dark. Like nighttime dark. Still not ready. When the cat passed us on the stairs, we knew it was time to act.

“No one told me middle-age would be like this,” I said.

My friend nodded. His face solemn but twitching with a smile. So one at a time, we slid down the stairs on our butts.

“I need wine,” I said.

“Bourbon,” he said. With the help of furniture, a few rest breaks, and the goal of body-numbing alcohols, we made it through the living room to the refreshments.

“That was definitely freakish,” I said feeling the egg growing on the back of my head.

“And bizarre,” he said rubbing his rapidly swelling knee.

“Funny in a surreal way,” I said pulling bits of carpet out of my leggings and wondering where the who-knows-what was. The cat meowed her agreement.

“Bloody hell, where’s the toilet paper?”

Both of us turned to look at the stairwell.

Truthfully, on bad days, I wish my foot surgeon many – at least four – intrusive surgeries by new interns, in a teaching hospital, so he can learn empathy. On good days, I am reminded not to take simple things like going up and down steps for granted. To throw out the expectations so I can enjoy life’s surrealism.

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