She felt as if she had been disappearing, and the worst part of it all was that she knew better. She could write. She could direct. She had allowed those who were supposed to care for her the most erase parts of her. No more. While there were parts she would never see again, she knew that her story – the one that she had been living and that still had chapters left to be written – lived deep inside of her. She would hold the pen this time. No chance of being erased. Indelible. That is her victory no matter what else lies ahead.
Sylvia and Erma invite you to introduce yourselves and tell your stories! The revolution is the best part of the evolution! *************** “Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” —Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me #writingcommunity #womenover50 #womenwritersofinstagram #tuesdaytip #midlifewomen
Fresh from a walk on the beach with her canine companions, Sylvia rushes to get toher 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.
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. ~Sheila Kohler, The Perfect Place **************** #midlifeblogger #womenwriters #weekendwisdom #feedyoursoul #selfcare #livewithintention
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!
Some days, most if truth be told and we are truly committed to appreciating and living in the present, we should only pay attention to what is right in front of us. It is what can bring us the most peace and comfort. It is okay to put on blinders once in a while; they allow us to keep our eyes open and focused on what is important. And more often than not, we discover, Sylvia & Erma discover, the what is a who. Who is most important in your life? You.
A bit worn this midweek but in the best way – from multiple days of self-care, a change of scenery, and a bounty of unconditional love – the “blinders” are helping. Twenty-four hours of worrying, lamenting, and second-guessing herself gets wearisome each day, so Sylvia opts for the here and now. The blinders can be eye-opening and restorative. ****************
Some days, 24 hours is too much to stay put in, so I take the day hour by hour, moment by moment. I break the task, the challenge, the fear into small, bite-size pieces. I can handle a piece of fear, depression, anger, pain, sadness, loneliness, illness. I actually put my hands up to my face, one next to each eye, like blinders on a horse. ~Regina Brett
Thursday thought: If someone else draws it well, writes it better, or captures the essence of what you are striving to explain, let that person help you lift your voice. And then, give her or him a nod, credit because it is due, and a big thank-you.
Today, Sylvia and Erma found the precise words. Thank you, Ms. Angelou.
**************** I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you. When a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach. ~Maya Angelou
“You were away for quite awhile, Syl. Are you well-rested?”
“Not at all. I’m exhausted. Two weeks of caregiving and then some self-care of the best kind.”
“I’m happy that you recognize the need to care for yourself. However, wherever, whenever, and with whom you choose to refuel are secondary to the need. Good for you.”
Sylvia took care of an aging family friend and realized the fragility of life. She learned that tough love is still love.
She decompressed on the beach, walked the shore, bid farewell to the days as she watched the sunsets, and slept soundly. She even managed a delicious dream or two.
Meeting with both old and new friends who shared their stories, she became acutely aware of her insecurity but also extremely cognizant of that which set her apart from others. Early morning walks and play with canine companions, adventurous rides on a jet ski enjoying the vastness of Lake Michigan, and sipping wine and swapping stories, Sylvia then shared with Erma the greatest lesson of all – the epiphany she had amidst the sunflowers. “I am deeply rooted in vulnerabilities – we all are – and in them, I’ve found my gifts. I’ll let you decide for yourself what they are, Erma. I know what’s inside.” ****************
There’s something in this world that makes you happy– find it; do it; breathe it in; let it wash over you; simply hold it; stare at it; bask in it; enjoy it; keep it to yourself. Or, share it. It’s the beginning ofsomething – at least another glorious summer’s day. I’m starting to recognize my happy, and I wish the same for you.
The last two decades, Sylvia has risen each day knowing there is work to do – in life, for others, and for and on herself. Lots of work! On extraordinarily tough days, Erma commends her. “See, you didn’t give up. You put one foot in front of the other, and you made it through.”
“Did I really though?” Sylvia wonders. “Am I optimistic about the future? Do I remain hopeful? Am I keeping that hope ‘perched in the soul’ as Emily contends?”
“Optimism and hope are different, my friend. Each day they look different because no two days are ever the same,” Erma tells her matter-of-factly.
And after another swallow of the coffee that has been growing cold in front of her, Sylvia considers her trusted confidante’s statement. “Yes, I do believe you are right, Erma. I guess what really keeps me going is faith; that’s the difference,” Sylvia determines.
Erma, feeling proud once again that she has successfully imparted some of her hard-earned wisdom, sums it all up as she finishes her last cup of morning brew. “Yes, indeed, Syl. Faith makes all the difference. Faith in yourself, faith in the world – you need that in order to feel either optimistic or hopeful. You need faith, in fact, to feel both.”
The start to summer has Sylvia and Erma discussing the joys and ravages of basking in the sun, literally and figuratively.
Sylvia: Sun on my face. Sand between my toes. Fresh ocean air.
Erma: Sweat dripping from my brow. Sand in my car. The lingering taste of salt in my mouth.
Sylvia: Long walks enjoying plush, verdant paths. Sun-kissed cheeks. Evening cocktails on the patio.
Erma: Bees and bug bites. Crow’s feet and weathered skin. Sugary spills and the ensuing march of ants.
“Well, aren’t you the definition of a curmudgeon? A true crank,” remarks Sylvia.
Erma, tongue-in-cheek and with her signature sarcastic tone, lobs back, “Yep, that’s me. Ageless and timeless, my dear.”
“What? Ageless? Timeless? Those choice words are used to describe a woman’s looks,” Sylvia counters.
Erma, ever the teacher and always poised to debunk her younger friend’s perceptions, staves off any further commentary in one thought-provoking and accurate analysis. “Who says that ageless and timeless have anything to do with looks? Both are so much more!”
“She tells her story in her face. When her life comes to an end, she can only hope that others see what she aspired to – a life well-lived and well-loved with some very juicy parts that kept her going.” ~ K. Morgan