“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] ~Nora Ephron ****************
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.
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.” ~Roma Teame **************** #midlifeblogger #womenwriters #livewithintention #coloryourworld #blueskythinker
“Hitting Black Friday sales today, Sylvia?” Erma asks her friend, even though she already knows that the two of them made a pact long ago to swear off malls, grocery stores, and shopping of any kind the day after Thanksgiving.
Sylvia, almost choking on her coffee as she entertains the gruesome thought and visualizes the throngs of overzealous consumers, replies, “I stand by the agreement we made long ago, Erma. No shopping on this day. Not even online. I’m offline and out-of-network. Simply being is more than enough today.”
“Just wondering if you needed me to remind you that it will all be there tomorrow. I’ll save you a place in line then if you wish,” Erma assures her.
“Don’t bother. Not this year. Hopefully, you’ll never have to wait and hold my place for me again. I’ll always accompany you, walk alongside you, and then commiserate with you ad nauseum about how stupid we are leaving holiday shopping until December, but you’ll not need to hold a place for me. I’m claiming my own space. Wherever I go, Whatever I do, and whenever I need to remind myself of where and to whom I belong — I’m on my way home and making my own space for anything and everything along the way.”
Erma, beaming at Sylvia’s words of confidence and tone of determination, declares in an equally committed voice, “No sales ever. You own your space, and you paid full-price. So worth it, Syl. So worth it.”
**************** The world belongs to you as much as it does to anyone else. Claim your space.
Erma reads it, looks at the video clip, and laughs. “I’m fairly certain Emily was talking about how poetry set her free.”
Sylvia, at first nodding in placid agreement, then quips, “Well, you got the gist, Erma. Others might, too, if they read and don’t just look at the pictures.”
Ever the realist, Erma tells Sylvia that she might be hoping for too much. “People want quick, easy, not too much thinking.”
“I know, Syl, but just for today – this last Monday in June – I’m putting aside my cynicism and counting on all of the women who are ready to set aside convention and set themselves free.”
Erma, once again tickled by Sylvia’s newfound optimism, has one final thought to leave with her friend before she heads back home. “From dirty to flirty, lickety-split? I guess that’s not too prosaic, although I’d hardly call it poetic.” 🐦🦚💐🐦🦚💐🐦🦚 They shut me up in Prose –
Sylvia woke this morning to a teeming rain with little hope of seeing the sun today; and for a while, she couldn’t get the “Annie” tune out of her head. She hummed silently and repeatedly, “The sun will come out tomorrow…”
She busied herself. Saturday morning chores ))nally raised her head from her routine a few hours later and realized that Annie was no longer belting out “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow,” she noticed the sun accepting the open door the clouds had left ajar. “No need to ever wait for tomorrow,” she thought. “There is joy right here in this second. I better blow it a kiss while I can,” she told herself.
And as the sun grew stronger and its beams broke through the dark sky closing the door on the clouds behind it, she knew that the sun never really leaves us. Joy, even fleeting moments – especially fleeting moments – are right here and there waiting to be kissed. ******************
It’s strangely refreshing that life is cyclical — the seasons, some moments, and indeed so many raw emotions often repeat. Sylvia hit play today, and what was in the machine could have taken her breath away, but instead it revived her and gave her the buoy she needed to stay afloat long enough to catch her breath and keep going.
The universe is at work; and curiously when an old friend calls unexpectedly or Sylvia comes across a photograph of herself smiling and thriving, she reminds herself that she has successfully weathered a storm or two. She may not have a lifeline immediately at hand all of the time, but thankfully she is learning to save herself most days. And when Sylvia is at a loss or not quite sure which line to grab, she has learned that it is perfectly acceptable to float a bit. Oh, and worst case scenario which is far from frightening and is always reassuring is knowing that Erma and others in her “tribe” will throw a line should she need one.
I don’t know what time she was born. I guess I could dig out her birth certificate and find out easily enough. To me, my mother was born the day I came into the world. Obviously, she had a life “B.K.”(before K.Morgan), but I didn’t know her then. All I know of that woman who became my mother, both the little girl who wore braids and gingham and the young, blond-haired teen who played the drums before it was cool for a girl to play a full kit, has been conveyed to me through others’ recollections; her own accounts as she would share an anecdote from her past with the slightly or even poorly veiled purpose of teaching a lesson (Mom was not subtle in getting her points across especially as she neared death); and the photos that I have and covet, still kept in the rubbermaid container that she bequeathed to me before her passing and after my childhood home was cleaned out and sold more than a decade ago. And what connects all of the snapshots, real and those that I have taken in my mind’s eye which remain guarded like priceless treasure, are her eyes. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul; thus, it follows and must be that my mother, B.K. and always, was and remains one of the most beautiful, trusting, and trusted souls God could have offered this world.
Most of us, not all – and I say that without one iota of judgment – love our mothers and have been loved by our mothers. I have been accused of worshipping mine. In fact, my mother often reminded me, especially as she closed in on fate, that she was indeed human, flawed like the rest of us, so she too should be allowed to make mistakes. She would often say that the one bad rap that mothers had to endure was that they were held to a higher standard than everyone else on the planet! Now that I’m a mother, I admittedly understand this so much better. I digress though.
I did worship my mother, something she never demanded or expected, but it happened nonetheless. How did it happen? Ah, that’s the question. The trusting and trusted eyes! My mother had xray vision, vision that led her to know exactly what another human needed. To many and certainly to her family, this special sense (some call it a sixth sense while others deem it intuition) was who she was and how she lived her life at the very core. And while she may have regretted not doing all of the things she had hoped to do before she died, I do believe she lived a purposeful life and her legacy is an honorable one. Her legacy? Her gift? She left it to everyone who had the honor and pleasure of looking into her eyes. My mother made those who crossed her path feel important, no matter their lot in life. She gave others hope. She found and saw something redeeming in everyone. She wasn’t oblivious to the harshness or evils of the world. She was far from naïve. She was perhaps not even optimistic. Mom was hopeful though; and I do believe there is a big difference between optimism and hope. I think, actually I know, that her trusting and trusted eyes became reflective of that difference.
I’m babbling a bit because as we all know the totality of a life cannot be put adequately into words. Indeed, my mother’s life cannot. Her legacy can though. Hope. She believed in me. She believed in my son, the only grandchild she actually witnessed enter the world. (That connection proved stronger for them than I could have every imagined.) And if you had the good fortune of meeting her, befriending her, working for or with her, she believed in you. That belief, the depth of it in those trusting and trusted eyes, keeps me hopeful to this day and through each day. I don’t believe that life is perfect and I’m far from thinking everything will turn out well in the end. However, I am hopeful.
On her birthday, I am going to trust her and her legacy. I’ll celebrate her life buying her favorite purple blooms, reminiscing about how she and my father captivated wedding crowds with their dance moves, and thinking of my son’s smile, the one he wears when he recounts either a memory he made with his champion, Nana. Her legacy of love and hope endures.
Thanks, Mom. And finally you will be happy to hear that I’ve come to realize that you never wanted to be worshipped; you wanted to be loved. You were. You are. You always will be.
Hey, you! Yes, you! Call your mother today. And when and if you have the chance to see her in person, squeeze her tightly—from me and my mom with love.
2021. All rights reserved. “The Adventures of Sylvia and Erma” overfiftyandfine.com