Sylvia Sums Up Life in a Word…or Two

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Sylvia: There’s nothing that a good fuck can’t cure. Seriously. It’s one of the most honest, if not the most liberating, pathways to freedom.  

Erma: Well, I’ll take your word for it, Sylvia.  I might be a bit too old to go that route.  

Sylvia: Well, first of all, you’re never too old! But for God’s sake, Erma, I’m not talking about the act, although admittedly that can be therapeutic and invigorating, not to mention fun. I’m talking about the word. F-U-C-K. Yep, fuck. Best word ever.  

Well, well, well. There’s food for thought most certainly.  All of her life Erma has searched for the right word.  A word that is so empowering that it possesses the unparalleled ability to convey deep dark angst, utter disgust, and unbridled joy and passion, not concurrently mind you, but at just the right times when all other vocabulary escapes you.  And in one fell swoop and three old-fashioneds later, Sylvia, more frequently the student, becomes the teacher and Erma’s purveyor of the nuances and more deeply seated meanings of what Erma and her generation used to call the golden word. FUCK. Gilded by virtue of its forbidden nature– something you can do or think but never say.

Taking long, generous sips of their afternoon cocktails, Erma and Sylvia engage in what might just be the most meaningful, candid, and unexpectedly humorous conversation of their friendship.

“Here’s the thing, Erma. Fuck holds so much power because it’s multi-purpose. It’s universal. Fuck fits everywhere. In every exchange fathomable between two people, you can imagine, feel, and use fuck. It’s a noun, a verb, an adjective. It’s a word, an action, and an emotion.”  

“It’s also quite funny, Sylvia. I have to admit that just hearing you say the word over and over is titillating.  It makes me feel like a school girl. Almost a bit giddy and undoubtedly a bit naughty. Tell me more, my friend.  I have a feeling that I’m in for a real life lesson– one that may be immediately applied.”  

“Erma, all I can share with you is what I know first hand.  I never heard my mother utter the word. Goddammit. Son-of-a-bitch. Shit. Jesus Christ. Yes, all of those would come burgeoning out at full force, especially when she was agitated duly or unduly by one of her children, her husband, work, or the dog. It wasn’t until Mom’s early 50s that fuck came into play, that it became a part of her lexicon. I remember it vividly. She was making the bed, of course in a bit of a rush as she always was in her valiant and ritualistic attempts to get organized and out the door before 7am.  As clear as Sunday church bells in a small hamlet, I heard it. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck’r. Fucking fuck. Fuck. Little mother fucker.” And there it was in all its glory. Unbridled. Free-flowing. She had stubbed her toe- the bad one, the big one with the corn and the ingrown toenail- on the over-sized, maple-footed ball of the bed. And needless to say, it hurt so much that FUCK was the only word, the sole expletive that fit.  At that moment though, as Mom grabbed her toe with tears in her eyes groaning out fuck after fuck, I had an epiphany. My mother was human. Fuck rendered her mortal. The power of fuck had been unleashed.”

“Well Sylvia, that was nothing more than a gut reaction, don’t you think?” Erma suggested, almost apologizing for Mom’s foul language. “A spontaneous response to an annoyingly unfortunate event,” she added.  

“Perhaps,  Erma, but I think it revealed so much more.  I think it was a release for her. No other word in the world could have expressed her anger while providing her with such liberation and cleansing. With each fuck, each hard and exasperated fuck, came freedom.  And in all its power and glory, fuck gained instant standing and acceptance in my book because Mom had used it fiercely, passionately, and unapologetically.”

“I get it, Sylvia, but tell me, you can’t actually believe that one single word accommodates other life situations as well?  How can one word be so multi-faceted?  Give me examples–minus the obvious, of course. 

“Fuck in a nutshell is what you are looking for, Erma.  Here goes.  Disgust: When your significant other feigns concern about your well-being and then proceeds to ask if his whites are done and what’s for dinner. Are you fucking kidding me? Joy: When your grown kid texts you before his bedtime (not yours) to share a pic of his favorite diva whom he happened to sight on his way to the subway. That’s fucking awesome! Incredulity: When the person next to you on the plane puts a used tissue in the seat-back pocket. What the fuck? Anger: When you finally find the perfect parking spot at the mall, have your blinker on to properly claim it, and then an oncoming car goes around several waiting vehicles to steal the spot. Fuck you. (That one must be accompanied with a look of disdain and the appropriately inappropriate finger.) Fatigue: You come home very late, depleted of every ounce of physical and mental energy after an excruciating day, only to find that a raccoon has rummaged through your garbage barrel leaving trash everywhere including your neighbor’s driveway. I don’t have one more fuck to give today. Indifference: When there’s just no pleasing anyone. I don’t give a fuck. Fuck it! And even though you don’t want to hear about the obvious, Erma, it really has to be said. Consider it a reminder to all women that you only get what you ask for. Desire: When you are with your lover and he’s willing to do anything to see you fulfilled time and again. Fuck me. Please. So, see Erma, the word is pure gold.  It can be melted down and morphed into so many emotions.  But of all the feelings, thoughts, and deeds that it encompasses, none is greater than the other “f” word that all fucks lead to–the mother of all “f” words–freedom. Don’t you agree, Erma?”

As Erma sat swirling the remaining ice cube in her tumbler, she thought to herself, “Fuck?  Fuck, yes. Absolutely, Sylvia, freedom indeed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 



  

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No Substitutions

Sylvia: Erma, it’s been awhile.  Come on over. I’m in the mood to whip something up in the kitchen and could use some company. 

Erma: Do you need me to pick up any ingredients on my way over? Cake mix? Slice’n Bake cookie dough? Take-Out?  

Sylvia:  Oh no, none of that, Erma.  It’s all about starting from scratch this time…and no substitutions.

Erma: Good girl, now you’re catching on.

Sylvia hung up the phone and hurriedly moved across the kitchen to get the coffee going. After all, that was the beverage of choice for these two ladies when they were about to engage in deep conversation to offset otherwise mundane midday activities.  As Sylvia reached into the cupboard to grab the canister of French roast, she hesitated. Without over thinking, she closed the cupboard door and instead picked up her pace ever so slightly as she ventured to the wine rack in the corner of the dining room and selected a red blend, one befitting their friendship, their past conversations, and the time of day: Dreaming Tree Crush. Yes, by all means, yes.  This is exactly what Sylvia and Erma would need to analyze life’s recent events and to contemplate the future with just the right amount of wisdom and whimsy.  They could only benefit by a a bit of the grape to get them through the cooking portion of the afternoon, lest they forget the actual motivation for their impromptu get-together.

Sylvia, bottle and corkscrew in hand, returned to the kitchen to retrieve the stemless wine glasses she had yet to use, and this occasion seemed more than perfect for them if she and Erma were going to be multi-tasking.  Rustling around counter-tops covered with everything from flour to eggs to spices, and an opened bottle of red of course, called for stemless, much like coffee with her friend necessitated the over-sized, earthenware mugs. Clad in her black yoga pants and a vintage college sweatshirt, Sylvia threw on an apron and used the wine key to uncork the bottle and pour herself a couple of sips (a taste-test, let’s say).  At the very instant the crimson potion touched her lips, Sylvia realized something that for some reason had never occurred to her until that moment- when you want something, you want it. And no matter what anyone tells you, including all of the well-intentioned admonitions you are offered, there is never an adequate substitute for something your palate wants, your stomach craves, or your heart desires. No substitutions. Your decisions, big and small, much like a choice between coffee and wine, are made either painstakingly or swiftly, for better or worse.  In either case, once a commitment has been made, anything and everything else just won’t do. It’s not simply coffee or wine, ice cream or chocolate.  It’s more, much more.   It’s the difference between surviving and living. It’s the difference between living life and loving the life you live.

Sylvia poured herself a few more swallows (yes, sticking with the red) and sat down with the recipe box her mother had passed down to her.  Yep. Going to definitely make something from scratch. “I’ve got all of the ingredients right here in front of me.”

As Sylvia waited for Erma and thumbed through recipes, she kept revisiting the revelation that those first tastes of Dreaming Tree brought to light.  She herself had long been trying to satisfy her cravings with everything except that which appealed to her most. And the exchanges were indeed ridiculous!  In fact, in retrospect, the substitutions she had made to appease herself were neither sufficient nor satisfying in the least. For a few minutes, she thought about what she had done especially in recent months and even about life choices she had made as recently as yesterday.  Sylvia, taking another sip and this time letting it rest on her tongue, came to an unsettling realization: the things, the experiences, and the people that she sought to replace, whether for a brief moment in time or for the rest of eternity, could not be switched out. And as many times as she had tried to rebuild herself, strengthen her resolve to live a happier life, and to allow herself to love, she concluded that somehow her dreams had been crushed.  Her hopes and desires weren’t extinguished by anything or anyone; they hadn’t even become a blend of her wants and the desires and needs of the important others who comprised her tribe. Looking into the bottom of the stemless wine tumbler, she finally comprehended the main source of her discontent. She had settled. She was still settling. Sylvia’s dreams, hopes, desires, cravings, and wants had always been substituted for something other than that which she truly yearned for. She never wanted to be the peacemaker. She never wanted to be the people-pleaser.  She never wanted to be an angst-ridden fifty-something who looked lovely on the outside but who was dying on the inside.  Sylvia realized that she had replaced all that she wanted with everything to make those around her like her, admire her, love her, and respect her.  And while her soul was being whittled away each time she conceded or retreated, she met disappointment head-on because there was no replacement for what she wanted. Sylvia. Sylvia wanted to love and be loved on her terms.  So, while her tribe had been content with her fulfilling their needs and helping them realize their dreams, she had failed to demand or ask of them the one thing that she had wanted from them. She yearned for them to know her and treat her with the respect that she had shown them. She had accepted less, much less. But no more. No substitutions.

The door bell rang, and as she opened the door widely to welcome her trusted friend and confidante, Sylvia smiled and declared, “I’m ready to start from scratch.  Come on in.”

From Sylvia & Erma on Mother’s Day

This mid-May, Mother’s Day nor’easter on the Cape awakened me on multiple levels today (and too frequently last night if truth be told). However, in Sylvia-and-Erma fashion, I’ve tried to make sense of the morning chaos that Mother Nature has seen fit to bestow upon us, although admittedly my success may be lacking.

I’ve often felt that on days like today the gods are weeping- well, more like sobbing it appears as I look out my bedroom slider on the cove.  Yep, definitely sobbing.  Bawling, in fact.  You see, at the risk of sounding soft, gooey, and maybe even a wee bit emotional, my take on today is that the heavens have opened, and mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters, and all the little girls who were never given the chance to become any, all, or none of the aforementioned, are worried to the point of tears-for those of us who are here and remembering them oh-so-fondly at this moment and every single day we must live without them.  What are their worries you ask?  After all, how lovely it must be to have eternal peace! No homework to do for the little girl? No fear of not being invited by the cool girls to the slumber party?  No worries there.  For the nieces and aunts, no fear of the secrets they shared and kept just among  themselves – without fear of ever being revealed to their sisters or their mothers. For the sisters, no worries about who is the oldest, middle, or youngest; who will take over the position of matriarch in the family when Mom and Grandma have passed; who will be the glue? All of those worries, their worries, have hopefully been replaced by infinite bliss and the newly generated wisdom of what they have discovered as the meaning of life: live each day as if it is your last. Love passionately- whether it be for another person, humankind, or a slice of this earth. Care deeply. Laugh hard. Practice self-care. Dream of who you may become. Leave behind the parts of you that are draining. Love yourself as you are at this moment. Their worry, the worry of those women and girls, young and old, who weep for us this Mother’s Day is that we fail to appreciate the present.   

They weep because they know that missing them does not change the outcome. They shed tears for us with the hope that we learn from their successes, their failures, the dreams that either reached fruition or never came to be. But above all, their tears fall upon us to wake us up to the fact that we have what they don’t: life. Live it with purpose. With wild abandon. With determination. With fear. Yes, with a bit of fear.  Be afraid that if tomorrow never comes, you won’t have experienced the one thing that only you can possess. Love of self.

Mom, don’t cry.  I’m learning.  

“All that I am, I owe to my mother.”

Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth

I don’t believe in heaven. Not as a destination anyway. Well, let me further amend that to say that I don’t believe that “good” people -those who lived life both honestly and vulnerably, with purpose and love in their hearts for themselves and the world around them, those who atoned for their “sins” (you know, those so-called egregious lapses in judgment for which we seek forgiveness and absolution throughout life, not hurriedly as we stand at death’s door)- I don’t believe that they simply, miraculously, and invisibly rise to the sky, “up to heaven” upon death, and gain actual wings. I’m not deluded or crazy after all, though I’m certain there are many who would say differently.

When I look to the sky, whether it is just to the level of the horizon as I watch the fiery orange sun come up to touch the still-sleepy blue sky or straight up into the depths of the black night canvas that on some nights appears riddled with stardust and on others is so dark and vacant that no strangers have even dared to stop at the countless, lightless inns above, I picture heaven. It’s not a place at all. It’s a feeling. For me.  It’s the promise, the hope,  and the possibility that a new day brings. It’s the unconditional love between a mother and a child, between a daughter and a father. The seamless and steadfast love between friends who are also soulmates.

I’ll find heaven today. It’ll be in my child’s laugh whether I hear it over the phone or recall its hearty playfulness when I read a text from him. And most assuredly, I’ll see heaven in my father’s smiling eyes today. I’ll find her right here in all that I do today and in everything and in everyone who loved her and who loves and supports me. Seven years without her – some might say “hell on earth” and oh, I’ve said that quite often!   Today, I’m going to tell myself that I’ve been blessed to know, feel, and experience heaven on earth.  I had a mother who shared and who continues to share life’s bounty and beauty with me. Now and evermore. 

“A mother’s love is a slice of heaven.” (~k. morgan)

(Photo credit: Florence McGinn)

Would Sylvia & Erma Have Met On Facebook?

Surely they would have. When they would have met and under what circumstances are the two bigger questions and maybe even more intriguing speculations. There is honestly no better, easier, or more comfortable environment on social media for women – in my opinion- than Facebook. 

Don’t get me wrong. You have to get past all of the bullshit that people throw out there. We are all capable of slinging it every now and again, but there’s a vast difference between allowing yourself to wade incessantly in others’ crap and occasionally throwing a little handful of it yourself –or merely stepping in it and getting it on the bottom of your shoe. The latter two are rid of easily and can be overlooked, even forgiven in the worst cases. The former,well, it can be so cumbersome that it’ll weigh you down.  It depends on how thick your skin is, how insecure you are, and if you’ve mastered the expression, “Are you fucking kidding me?” 

Here’s the difference for women though, I think, as it relates to the FB dynamic. Again, just a few random thoughts, so please hear me out. Women put themselves on Facebook for myriad reasons.  Women in their teens and twenties usually do it to self-promote and even garner attention about their looks, their loves, their lives, good or bad. Many of them “collect” friends. I’ve actually seen some with over a thousand in their collections. Really. Seriously? Come on, really?  So, that’s FB on Starbucks and with a membership at 24-hour Fitness. In other words, FB on steroids.

Women in their thirties and forties, however, seem to use it more for personal shared experiences and professional purposes. Their posts are evenly distributed between the two for the most part. Perhaps they are not the LinkedIn types.  Maybe they just want to take a few minutes in their day to escape- to connect with old high school friends or college friends with whom they’ve yet to lose touch fully (they are hanging on). Maybe they are even hoping that they’ll prove to everyone that life is great when we form those even deeper and more public connections with the friends and family they saw over the weekend or even last night. They may employ FB as a calendar of sorts for journaling or scheduling purposes; collaboration on childrearing, weight loss and body image issues as a result of childbearing and childrearing; marriage, work, and social engagements (namely vacations, date nights, PTA meetings, etc.); showing one another that they too can have it all and do so without giving a fuck. Here’s the thing though. They do give a fuck.  After all, they are on FB. That’s Facebook on Ritalin.

Women in their fifties- actually from probably late 40s on- utilize FB differently. I’m convinced it depends on where they/we are emotionally and physically. If they still have children at home or who are nearly ready to go off to college (or embark on their first adult living adventure), FB is a great tool to share helpful hints and soul-sustaining suggestions. What you’ll often hear from this generation of women is how quickly those years with their children have passed. Women begin to get more sentimental but also a bit more matter-of-fact. You’ll see either a lot more about their partners/ spouses/ SOs – or a whole lot less. (Admittedly, that’s where I fall to the extent that people wonder if I’m actually married. My husband isn’t on FB, and I’m glad. I like that it’s my realm in our marriage.)  Nothing against you guys, but as many of my FB friends well know, women in this age group don’t need to make everything about men or partners.  Actually, we may use FB as an escape. You can read into that or not because frankly this age group is beginning to master the art of not giving a shit. These women haven’t fine tuned it yet, but they are on their way. With the help of their FB friends, luncheons, dinners, movie nights, and girls’getaways; and coffee, wine, and/or chocolate, these women are becoming comfortable in their own skin.  It’s funny how that happens just as the skin is losing elasticity and lacks collagen from the hormonal imbalances inflicted by the onset and throes of menopause. One of life’s ironies, for sure. We share tips on healthy, easily prepared meals.  We commiserate and eventually find communal comic relief in topics like hot flashes, insomnia, and abnormal hair growth. We are trying to become a bit more egocentric without apology.  FB on hormone replacement for some. FB on anti-depressants for others.

Now, I’ve yet to reach my sixties, but I can pretty well say that women on FB at this age are beginning to achieve a balance. Most seem to have accepted their lots in life. These women post heavily about grandchildren and health issues, but they also demonstrate a certain level of acceptance in terms of self-image. They don’t seem to outwardly obsess about their looks or the physical appearance of others. In fact, they are beginning to see only the good. “I have really unsightly spider veins, FB friends.” Comments on such an admission will range anywhere from “Dot, at least you are still walking on your own steam” to “Be thankful they are only spider veins and not varicose veins making green-blue tributaries on your legs like mine.” They always see a bright side. Perhaps it’s because they also believe in the power of the FB share.  They tend to be more superstitious and will almost always share the posts and prayers that strongly urge “copy and paste” or else the wrath of Zeus will be thrust upon them and their loved ones. These are the women we can count on to save our collective soul. FB on 1,000 units of Vitamin D, increased calcium, and perhaps a glass or two of newly discovered Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Merlot. (Malbecs are too exotic; champagne is only for special occasions.)

Women in their 70s,80s, and 90s?  Not much to complain about. They are the role models for the rest of us. They are who they are, and they are just extremely happy to be alive.  They post prayers. They share funny animal and baby videos. They don’t complain. They are looking back at the rest of us and saying, “Are you fucking kidding us, girls? Life is short and getting shorter. Get over whatever or whoever is eating away at you and move on. Eat the cake. Drink the wine. Spoil the children. Buy the shoes. Take the trip.” FB on pure oxygen.

I won’t begin to fathom when Sylvia and Erma would have met on FB, but this I know. They found each other. They read each other’s posts. They laughed and cried. They discovered that they were not going through anything alone.

Facebook. Solidarity for sisters of all ages.  Hit the like button. Get through life with a thumbs-up.

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​The Best Cup of Coffee Sylvia Ever Had

When I’m at my wit’s end, there are several things that I do to relieve stress, to create a little distraction, and to stop obsessing about the harsh realities that life seems to be dealing me.  So, of course, this got me to thinking about Sylvia and Erma and how each of them might have escaped the trials, troubles, and tedium that accompany women’s daily routines. Neither one of these women was boring, mind you (and I’d like to think I’m fairly interesting and maybe even a fine mélange of fun and unpredictability), but there are always hours throughout the week when every woman- if she’s honest- is bored.  Not in a “bored silly” kind of way because that would be manageable.  Rather in an “oh my God, if I have to do or say that one more time, I won’t even want to be around myself” kind of way.  It’s that kind of irksome monotony that can drive a woman crazy, and I do believe it is a feeling akin mostly to women because we happen to be blessed -or cursed, depending on how irked we are at any particular moment in time-with the maternal, nurturing, less self-absorbed nature. (And before you guys who read this start to vilify me and think that I’m maligning you for being egocentric, I’m not. Egocentrics we can deal with; narcissists, however, are not welcomed.)  

Although Sylvia was in her early 30s when she felt that she had no other option than to give in to her torment, I am once again thinking that Erma might have been able to help her. That’s the Pollyanna in me.  That’s the nurturer, the caregiver, the unrelenting problem solver.  I still can’t bear to imagine the pain Sylvia was in. And for that reason perhaps, and because in my mind, Erma has helped me and so many other wives, mothers, and women-of-a-certain-age, I believe that Erma would have given Sylvia this incredibly wonderful piece of advice: “Sylvia, dear friend, make yourself a very strong, piping hot cup of coffee. Don’t use a flimsy, petite, porcelain cup. Grab a mug, one made of stoneware that actually holds more than a cup and a half and that will keep in the heat. Now, take your coffee, sit at the head of the table, and look into that steaming hot vessel of dark, aromatic liquid. Inhale and be sure to close your eyes. Sylvia, allow yourself a daydream of the best kind.”

What’s the best kind?  Hmm. (Wink, wink.) 

Sylvia did just as Erma suggested, and lo and behold, that loathsome, annoying feeling of malaise dissipated with each waft of freshly brewed java.  The steam wasn’t coming from the coffee any longer. The steam that began to envelop Sylvia was in fact coming from within.

What caught her eye wasn’t his body, though his physique alone would have explained the vapors that even the most refined of women would have felt. He was muscular and sturdy and oozed desire. His biceps were bulging and tattooed tastefully.  He looked like the stereotypical bad boy. He was everything that she was not supposed to want. Sylvia, sitting with her eyes shut gently over the hot coffee that was now leaving her skin dewy in an unsettling yet not uncomfortable way, continued to examine him. The body was indeed attractive and rugged, toned and meaty in all the right places. But that wasn’t it. Sylvia could feel herself smiling, her cheeks blushed and glistening likely more from her thoughts than from the beverage in front of her. Her eyes, though still lightly shut, were oddly staring into his. There, before her, was what she had been missing. She saw in those smiling, hazel eyes that which she hadn’t even known she was looking for. She saw strength and kindness. In those piercing, soulful, walnut-colored eyes, she discovered herself. Her fragility. Her weakness. Her femininity.  

Sylvia-a-a.  Sylvia-a-a.  Open your eyes.  Snap out of it. The coffee’s gone cold, but don’t worry, you can make a fresh pot any time you like. 

For all the Sylvias drowning out there in tragic tedium or simply drifting in monotony, and in honor of all the Ermas who remind us to take time for ourselves, remember that there is no harm in indulging in a bold, strong, steamy cup of coffee now and again.  

Cheers. 

The Moment Sylvia Learned Her Best Friend was dying

An excerpt:

“You know, right? You know she has a mass, right?”

Of course, I know. How could I not know?  After all, she is my mother. My first friend. My best friend. My confidante. My spring board. My cheerleader. My moral compass.

But I didn’t know. I mean deep down I knew that she would one day succumb in some way, shape, or form to her addiction, her vice, that which she so often claimed was her saving grace, her anti-depressant, her stability. I don’t know what or whom I hated more at that instant. The cigarettes. The doctor. God. Or my mother. Even myself. Yes, me.  How could I not see the ravages that her body and spirit had been enduring all of my life? And why, oh why, had none of us helped her, comforted her, been important enough to her to save her from herself?

And then, there facing her in the ER, she looked at me lovingly with her beautiful, soulful, caring, blue eyes, and I could see.  She was not my anything. She belonged all this time to herself. For the first time in forever, I realized that this was about her- her alone-and she was saying, “This is my life on my terms.”

Terry Sohl