Happy Mother’s Day from Sylvia & Erma!
“Are you looking for trouble, Sylvia?” Erma, hoping for a juicy reply, asks her friend.
“No, I don’t think so. Well, perhaps – maybe a little,” Sylvia admits.
“Good, get out there, and do it for the team!” Erma adamantly encourages.
Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.
[Commencement Address, Wellesley College, 1996]
Fresh from a walk on the beach with her canine companions, Sylvia rushes to get to her cellphone which she had purposely left on the counter before scurrying out of the house. Now tangled in both the arm of her down parka and the infinity scarf around her neck, she realizes that the phone in her pocket might have been a wiser idea. As she attempts to remove the final layer of winter garb she wore to insulate herself from the frigid temps on the lake, she manages to pick up the call before the fifth ring.
“Hello, hello, I’m here. Hang on and let the message play,” she advises. “Erma, I know it’s you, so give me a second.” Sylvia tucks the scarf into the arm of the coat and then hangs it on the rack in the entry. “Okay, I’m back. I can put the kettle on while we chat.”
“The kettle? Tea, Sylvia? What’s happened to you? I don’t think I’d recognize you were it not for the lighthearted energy I hear in your voice. It reminds me of the Sylvia I would laugh with at the cottage on the Cape decades ago,” Erma reminisces. “Wherever you are at this very moment certainly agrees with you. Maybe you should think about extending your stay – perhaps even a move there,” Erma jokes half-heartedly as she worries what Sylvia’s response might be. It is not that she doesn’t want her friend to be happy because she prays for Sylvia’s happiness more than her own these days, but she knows that this location, while just what she needs now, is not the answer for the long-term.
Sylvia, able to discern Erma’s suggestions as mere jest, plays along for the moment. She grabs what has become her favorite mug at the lake house, drops in a licorice spice sachet of tea, and pours the boiling water. And as if on auto-pilot, the two friends get caught up on life in the time it takes for Sylvia’s new favorite beverage to steep.
“So, as you now know, nothing new on my end. Same old stuff. I refuse to complain though, Syl, because it gets me nowhere and just brings me down. And even though we both enjoy a good bitching session every once in a while, after all we have indeed bonded over common annoyances and and mutual pet peeves, I recognize that the current state of affairs, personally and globally, requires a great deal more than whining. Don’t you agree?”
Sylvia, trying to digest Erma’s remarks and cultivate a witty reply, sighs. She knows that Erma is right. Complaining is not the answer. “Complaining is noise. It really is just a whole lot of barking without any bite,” Sylvia grumbles.
After a pleasantly uneventful call with her friend whom she has come to rely on for making every non-event memorable in its own way, Sylvia contemplates the “noise” in her life at the moment. She smiles, amused by the irony of her earlier comment to Erma, as she listens to two of the three dogs in her charge. The youngest and the oldest, both males and large breeds, bark and growl playfully as they romp in the great room. The middle child – and anyone familiar with the personality of hounds knows that they are as close to humans as dogs can come – is female; and stereotypes notwithstanding, she demonstrates many of the traits of a middle-aged woman. Sylvia watches as the seven-year-old basset who is eerily close to being her canine counterpart ricochets between muttering to herself (as she feigns disregard for those in her line of sight) and issuing a loud, wide-toothed warning which includes a little chomp should the Landseer puppy infringe on her personal space, i.e. any of the private parts beneath her tail. The noise in Sylvia’s life, literally and figuratively the barking and whining; and the unveiled distaste and intolerance for the barking, well, that might just be the absolute root of a midlife woman’s bite, Sylvia’s especially.
Midlife women, according to Erma, have earned the right to bite. All women – hell, all people on occasion – deserve to let their distastes and dissatisfaction surface and be known. And loudly at that! Erma, always the one to break down what seems complex and unnecessarily troubling to Sylvia, points out to her friend, “People are basically dogs; dogs are just more honest about their feelings. I’ll leave you today with this: If humans barked and bit as decidedly as canines, we would have fewer mixed messages.”
As she hangs up the phone and steeps another bag of comfort and determination, fittingly she has chosen Lady Earl Grey, Sylvia considers Erma’s remarks. “People are basically dogs.” “Maybe dogs are more like people,” thinks Sylvia. Before she allows herself to become mired down in a “compare and contrast” internal diatribe, Sylvia observes the three fur children in her company. The two males wh poo are now comfortably in their beds after a short-lived yet energetic dose of raucousness remind her of…well, men. The younger one, the largest and youngest of the three, Eustis has just celebrated his first birthday; in human years, he’s the equivalent of a sixteen-year-old boy. He’s playful at inappropriate times, demanding at inconvenient times, and endearing as only a good-looking teenage boy can be at any given time that he wants something. He does not seek to make trouble, but he risks it all in good fun, primarily because his hormones are raging. Everything he does he does with the underlying motivation of being fulfilled. The other male, less spry and more refined (despite the gobs of drool gifted to him by virtue of his breed) is older, the eldest of this mismatched albeit devoted pack of siblings. Kramer, long and lanky, conducts himself with both contradictory grace and inelegance, much like a man on the cusp of retirement. He has learned to put up with barking and biting. He knows when to engage and when to head for the hills, in other words his favorite tufted bed in the corner of the kitchen. There he retreats when he has had enough. He has appeased the baby of the bunch with some minor play, just enough to warrant another rest. Kramer wants nothing more than to maintain his seniority; he has earned it. And if on occasion he gets the opportunity to rest his head in the lap of a woman, then he considers himself a lucky guy. He is sixty-six, and he accepts his plight, knows his worth, and knows that life amounts to barking, biting, and his willingness to accept both because at the end, there will be a treat in it for him – either a nap in a sunbeam, a walk on the beach, or a warm cuddle as he leans on his favorite human. (Sylvia stops for a moment. A tear has fallen. She can think of no one more like her dad than Kramer.) So, yes, in a nutshell, men provide much of the barking. According to both Erma and Sylvia, barking is complaining; and while most men do not think that they whine, the midlife woman knows differently. Enter the basset.
The bite. The almost eight-year-old hound has had her fill. She is a woman, fifty-six years in the making, who knows when to bark and when to bite. She has finally learned that the barking – the incessant complaining and whining from herself as well as others – is exhausting. The only sure thing to alleviate her angst and assuage her feelings of worthlessness is a good bite. Reese, the butterscotch-hued friend at Sylvia’s feet most days, parallels Sylvia’s life. When she is bored or tired, she retreats and curls up – alone. She does not need anyone to relax her. When she is hungry, she eats. Sometimes it must be early, and other times she’ll sleep in and awaken slowly. She decides. Her clock, her rules. And then there is the issue of desire. Reese does not want to be groped or prodded by either a horny, young man looking to get his rocks off or an older man seeking to claim her as his prize, his bitch. No, Reese will have none of that. She is done with all of that. The barking has taken its toll. As Sylvia listens to Reese snore in deep sleep, she wonders what makes up the basset’s dreams. A good bone like a nice wine or bourbon. A walk on the beach solo with no one giving her direction asking her either to lead or follow. Does Reese dream of companionship? Perhaps, after all she is a pack dog; she loves company. Sylvia, like Reese or vice versa, does not require full-time engagement though. She has been there, done that, and she is not going to make herself smaller to stop the barking from others. She will just drown it out. And the worst that will happen might just be the best thing ever. She’ll bite and move on.
Let the barking cease. Take a bite. Grab a bite. Bite me. The bite of a midlife woman conquers all.
“Erma, I’m always so damn emotional,” Sylvia concedes derisively.
“You are emotional because you feel deeply. All strong women do!” contends Erma.
“A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow as abundantly as her laughter…”
(Native American saying)
Reflection for this first week of spring ~
Many of Sylvia’s friends are visual artists — painters, sculptors, designers, and photographers. They consistently and intuitively (it seems) see life in color. They contemplate shading, lighting, and subtle nuances of color.
As Sylvia and Erma discuss the spring temperatures and what is already in bloom or beginning to blossom around them, Sylvia’s mind wanders, her thoughts imbued with color as she looks out on the bay where powder blue sky meets steel blue water. She realizes that her favorite color is…believe it or not, grey. Why grey and why this epiphany of sorts at this moment? Not aware that she has been sharing her thoughts out loud, she continues, “I’ve had a very colorful winter all things considered. ‘New’ old friends. Hellos and goodbyes. New aches and some nagging old pains. Everything seems tempered. Just when I feel conflicted, there is a bit of clarity. Conversely, as I feel a wave of peace, I’m moved 180° by a bout of turbulence. So, I count on gray. I count on change of all types, especially changes I feel as I interact with different characters, including you, Erma.”
Erma, puzzled by her friend’s comments, asks, “How do I make you appreciate grey, Syl?”
“Well, you wear black, red, yellow, green, pink, purple, and blue; you wear them separately or in combination. I, on the other hand, often choose grey because I don’t want to compete with you or anyone else. At the core, I want to live a peaceful life where I’m ready for anything and anyone! Yep, grey is my color!”
“Oh, Sylvia, thanks for making the world around you more beautiful, and it is not just because you wear grey.”
Sylvia and Erma hope that whatever color you choose, it brings you peace and creates beauty in your world.
“Grey has no agenda…Grey has the ability, that no other color has, to make the invisible visible.”
#midlifeblogger #womenwriters #livewithintention #coloryourworld #blueskythinker
A frigid Saturday in February provides the perfect opportunity for self-care, both indoors and outdoors.
“So, did you decide on a trip to the spa or a good book and a cup of tea by the fire today?” Erma inquires.
Sylvia, already peaceful and content from a day of walks on the snow-covered beach followed by a hot toddy and a nap, has a delicious thought as she prepares her reply.
“No spa today, Erma. No fire either. However, the day isn’t over, and I hear a long, hot bath calling my name,” Sylvia announces gleefully.
Weekend Wisdom from the gals: Self-care may not be planned or scheduled but that doesn’t mean it is accidental. Seize a moment, an hour, or a day to give yourself the attention you need and deserve. Be deliberately indulgent and guilt-free.
The bath is one of the places I prefer, certainly not a place I leave readily, a place where one can close the door and remove oneself, put oneself in parentheses, as it were, from the rest of humanity. It is a place for reading and thinking, where one’s mind wanders easily, where time seems temporarily suspended.
The Perfect Place
#midlifeblogger #womenwriters #weekendwisdom #feedyoursoul #selfcare #livewithintention
“I see you. I know you are here,” Erma assures Sylvia.
“I appreciate that, Erma, but you cannot make me see my own reflection. Only I can do that. And I’m beginning to look for myself which I realize is more important than being seen by anyone else.”
When you finally become visible to your own eye, you will not allow yourself to be made to feel invisible by anyone else.
“She stared at her reflection in the glossed shop windows as if to make sure, moment by moment, that she continued to exist.”
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sylvia spent most of the day purging. Dresser drawers of mismatched socks and threadbare pjs. Closets of dresses and outfits that no longer aligned with her body or attitude or both. And shoes. Ah, yes, more than a dozen pairs of shoes that were gently worn, overworked, or had never made it onto her feet. She made room in her physical space; and at the end of the day, she felt her mind might actually have some room for fresh thoughts and ideas, too.
Erma rejoiced at the news and praised her friend for finally shedding some weight. “Now that you’ve scaled back on things, scale back and free yourself from people. Reduce your tribe to those who feed your soul, those who accept you without condition, and those who don’t run from your tears and sorrow. You need to be more discerning when it comes to who knows your secrets,” Erma cautions.
Sylvia, priding herself on the headway she made today, sighs. She knows that Erma is right. She has allowed those with no true interest in who she is becoming to stay and weigh in. “Tomorrow. It begins tomorrow. A smaller inner circle and more attention to the person who deserves my attention the most. Me!”
Solitude and loneliness are not related. The former celebrates the peace and contentment she gains from her own company. The latter reaps strength and rears its ugly head when she makes herself smaller for others.
“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people—it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” ~ Parker Palmer
Although the house is still in darkness and the coffee has yet to brew, Sylvia, unable to tolerate her restlessness a moment longer, rises well before the sun. The early hour necessitates illumination of the Christmas tree much to Sylvia’s delight. Coffee by the tree in total silence amidst the twinkling lights sounds like a perfect way to start the first week of the year. And yes, the tree is still up (until the sixth at least) as was her mother’s custom. The only thing lacking this morning is a generously powdered, raspberry-jelly-filled donut.
Sylvia, bypassing the automatic setting on the coffeemaker, awaits her daily tonic with a favorite mug at the ready. Unlike most mornings when she rushes to consume that first cup to jumpstart her, today she purposely and patiently delays because she wants this feeling that is washing over her to linger as long as possible.
Hearing the three beeps signifying the end of brewing, Sylvia picks up her pace. After pouring that first cup, she shuffles from the kitchen across the dark hickory floor to claim her presence and this day by the tree. Being careful not to spill a drop, Sylvia facing the tree slowly squats, smiles satisfyingly, and raises her mug. “Cheers to the ultimate purveyors of jelly donut love! How lucky I have been to live this life as your daughter!
Today would have been their sixty-third, and I’ll repeat that which I have posted in recent years and have felt every year since my mother’s physical absence here in the world because it still and always rings true. (I’ve edited a bit now that Dad has passed and has been reunited with the love of his life.)
I feel my mother’s presence more than ever. She continues to give me strength. He continues to teach me even in his absence that all that matters is right now and what is in your heart. Their example – their devotion to each other, to me and their other children, to their grandchildren, and to extended family, friends, and community– allows me to get through each day and find something to smile about in the face of all of life’s chaos. I’ll celebrate them today in their way, going about the business of life.
While she taught me to keep going no matter what, he showed me in the end the importance of resting quietly in the moment. Like hummingbirds, she soared and flitted, and he perched and rested. One was left behind to face the world alone without the other, but the bond between them was never broken. It grew. It provided strength to the other. Her soulful and spiritual energy fueled him. The love, the friendship, and the mutual respect endured. I saw that each time in his eyes when I mentioned her name and in those moments when he thought I was his wife. Now, he has her back in his arms again. I believe that because I will forever subscribe to the power of jelly donut love.
Happy anniversary to the two people who modeled what true love, partnership, friendship and respect are. I’ve been pulled and pelted and torn, and it is only because of your love for me and the love you showed each other that I remain hopeful and able to get up again. Thank you for teaching me how to love, how to parent, and how to live.
Sylvia, entranced by the dancing flickers and soothed by the warm morning elixir, has not even noticed that the day has dawned. Almost jolted, she finally hears the neighborhood coming to life; everyone readies for this new day as if it is any ordinary day. How lovely it is for Sylvia to carry deep within her the knowledge of how special this day truly is.
Indeed, there is solace knowing that the best days can be lived forever in the feelings that such memories have embedded on the soul. Happy heavenly anniversary, Mom and Dad. You always celebrated on this date, and no matter what else comes to pass on the tenth day of Christmas, I’ll smile and dream that those ten lords-a-leaping were hopping and dancing about reveling in the obvious joy you shared and showed the world.
Just a friendly urging that in the process of going about your life, you hang on to who matters most and make sure you leave nothing left unsaid.
“Love knows no reason, no boundaries, no distance. It has a sole intention of bringing people together to a time called forever.”
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Is it though? I don’t know about you, but every single Christmas, though blanketed in tradition, has been markedly different. Not better or worse, but different.
I have done as much shopping and preparing as I am going to do this year. A lot less than last year, so Christmas is definitely looking different. I am not apologizing this year for feeling less than joyous; that’s a big change. I’m not taking blame for raining on anyone’s parade either. That’s a biggie, too. So, is it really looking like Christmas? Yep, I think it is. It finally is.
My gifts this year to you, to those whom I love and show up for each day, and to myself (for whom I’m only beginning to show up) are grace and forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand. I’m learning. Grace isn’t about being gracious or delicate. Grace is bold and tough as nails. In fact, this year, I’ve learned that grace often cloaks itself in armor – not an armor that protects me from others, but an armor that protects me from myself. Grace allows me to rise. Grace permits me the space I need mentally and physically to breathe and make it through the day. Grace empowers me. It restores my faith in a humanity that often seems to be disappearing before my very eyes. That’s a new look for Christmas, wouldn’t you say? Attempting to reconcile living in a world where our lens has become focused on self-interest and disrespect rather than tolerance, acceptance, and pursuit of the greater good? Now, that requires grace and invites forgiveness, wouldn’t you say?
The look of Christmas? Learning to forgive is a big part of it. Forgiveness changes the landscape. Forgiveness for me this year means letting go. It is not for me to judge and absolve anyone else of egregious sins or hurtful behaviors. I’ve committed plenty of both, I’m sure. I’m human after all. What Christmas looks like in terms of forgiveness for me this year is completely different than it was last year, the year before, or even ten or fifty years ago. As we lose those who shaped us and gain others who help us find new ground, forgiveness changes. It moves from perfunctory to profound, in hindsight, of course.
At ten, I feared lumps of coal because of spats with my siblings or falling short in school or fleeting bad feelings about my parents. In my twenties, requests for forgiveness involved momentary lapses in judgment related to indiscretions, promiscuity, and discovery as well as not measuring up to the community in which I was educated. Thirties? I didn’t forgive myself…ever. I never asked for absolution, cleansing, or forgiveness because I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t think I did anyway. I had a child and a husband and a home. Forgiveness was a luxury. I got exactly what I deserved, good or bad. Forties? Forgivable forties? Fuck that. I was too busy. I didn’t think about grace or forgiveness. Life in auto-pilot when your spouse decides his pursuits are more meaningful and you’ve a child to launch and parents to honor. My 40s gave me nothing and everything. They taught me the most, punished me the most, and rewarded me the most. Irony, indeed.
And here I am, on the cusp of my 58th Christmas (actually 59th) “celebrating” the look of Christmas and I’m talking about and reconciling everything, particularly grace and forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand, I think. This year they do anyway. Next year, who knows?
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Christmas is the life we celebrate on one day and should fete all year long!