Sylvia, somewhat preoccupied by deadlines and preparations for the upcoming week, asks, “Two weeks? Til what?”
“Christmas! Honestly, where are you these days? You’ve got me a little worried.”
Sylvia, with pen and another to-do list in hand, chuckles at the thought of Santa, Christmas, elves, and all the rest that overwhelms the actual spirit of the holiday. She knows all too well that it was her mother (and other women in her life) who made the magic. She decides to make one list to get her through the next fourteen days: Naughty & Nice. Don’t make her choose, Santa. She knows exactly what she deserves!
Her life is not yours to judge. Only Mrs. Claus knows what every woman faces and overcomes during this most joyous season, and sadly, it’s not all joy!
“Still in many 21st century homes, there is ‘the taken-for-granted notion that a mother is in charge of the tracking and the knowing and the thinking and the planning and the feeding and the caring and the checking and the doing unless she has worked to make other arrangements (which then entail more knowing and more thinking and more tracking and more doing),’ Darcy Lockman writes in “All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership.” (https://www.cnn.com/2022/12/06/opinions/holiday-labor-toll-on-women-alaimo/index.html)
Erma, with hope in her voice (almost always tempered with at least a modicum of worry for her friend), asks Sylvia, “Did you hit the ground running today?”
“Running? No. When my feet hit the floor this morning though, I didn’t stumble. I sat on the edge of the bed and stared, not at my feet but at the floor beneath them. It occurred to me that I could fall no farther.”
Upright and moving, she found comfort in the incidental reminders surrounding her that allowed her to forge ahead.
“Ooh-la-la-la-la. What a soothing feeling to carry with her today!”
“The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther. (Sylvia Plath)
Sylvia: Erma, how have you survived that mother of all relationships? You know. Marriage?
Erma: Oh Sylvia, that’s a biggie. The question of all questions. Too early for wine or an old-fashioned, so put a fresh pot on.
As the cooler temperatures set in and the daylight hours grow shorter, Sylvia contemplates all the ways to bring possibilites for happiness to life. It seems a bit inconsistent though since autumn for many carries darker thoughts. Death and dormancy even for some. However, Sylvia, ever hopeful given the company she keeps and her best friend’s soothsaying abilities (Erma predicts that everything works out as it should in the end), is thinking about what makes people tick this time of year, especially other women who appear wildly happy with themselves and almost annoyingly contented in their marriages. And for the purpose of this conversation, marriage according to Sylvia means a long-standing commitment between two grown people who have vowed to be true to one another in good times and bad, yada-yada-yada, and who lack the possibility of easy escape or abandonment. How does one survive, thrive, grow, bloom, and blossom – keep the soil tilled so to speak, during and even after years of marriage?
Of course, as Sylvia has learned at Erma’s urging, a steaming cup of coffee and a daydream often help nourish the spirit and soothe the soul. On occasion, both even assistin maintaining a woman’s self-esteem and satisfying her amply. Undoubtedly, the recollection of Sylvia’s best cup of coffee which led to the conjuring of Cam’s bulging biceps and hypnotic hazel eyes often serves Sylvia well. And as Erma has told Sylvia time and again, it’s okay to wind your own clock to keep it ticking on and in your own time. Sylvia and most women, married and unmarried, need to know that lovers, partners, and spouses cannot keep time sufficiently for them if they haven’t spent the time on themselves uncovering, discovering, and exploring that which makes their their toes curl and their skin glisten.
Erma (looking for a little nosh to accompany the freshly brewed dark roast): Sylvia, I have a really simple recipe that only took me more than forty years years of marriage and togetherness to create and follow. On the surface, it’s pretty easy – to me anyway. You know, Sylvia, how you made me think about “to B or not to B” a while back? Well, I have my own alphabetical application that I use to keep the marriage and relationship ground alive. “I” before “U” always!
Sylvia (mug in hand as she hurries towards the carafe for a quick refill): Hold that thought, Erma. Something tells me I need to be sitting for this next piece of info. I’ve got a feeling I should even be taking notes.
Erma and Sylvia spend the next several hours discussing, sharing, and lamenting the lack of true and unbridled fulfilment in many relationships, but namely marriage. While Sylvia interjects her own tales of woe due to feeling less or smaller in her relationship, Erma repeats what she knows to be true after oh-so-many years of being committed to one person.
“Sylvia, there are only two ways to be fulfilled in this life. First, ask for what you want. Be clear. Crystal. Don’t leave your happiness and satisfaction to chance, hoping that your friend, lover, spouse, or partner will pick up on your cues and read your mind. Be specific. Be direct. You want eggs for breakfast and you know that only eggs will satisfy you completely, then why are you settling for oatmeal? Don’t be afraid to ask for eggs – and any way you want them! This leads to the second way to fulfilment, by the way, and I don’t think it’s coincidental. If you can’t get your eggs over-easy just the way you like them, want them, and need them, make them yourself. Often the only way to get something or to accomplish what you want and desire is to do it yourself. Anything and everything. This doesn’t mean you don’t want the person to share the meal, but it means that you know how to shop for, prepare, and feed yourself if they are unwilling, incapable, or unavailable. So, Sylvia, to recap: Ask for what you want. And if you don’t get what you want or don’t feel like asking, do NOT settle.
Erma collects her mug, places it gingerly in the kitchen sink, and turns to her friend with one final utterance before heading out. “To recap, Syl, remember that ‘I’ always precedes ‘u’ in every way imaginable.”
“Always putting others first creates deep resentment, destroys your happiness, and is unsustainable. Putting yourself first allows you to meet your needs in the most skillful way. This, in turn, increases your happiness, joy, and capacity to love, so you can give freely and create healthy relationships.”– (Aziz Gazipura)
Once she realized that she had the monster within her, the monster she had allowed to decimate her self-esteem and destroy her self-worth, she began to rise. There were so many times when the monster would return – plague her with doubt, pummel her emotionally and spiritually to the point of exhaustion, nearly convince her that the only way forward was to succumb to its power and settle for joylessness – she knew she wanted more and she knew she was more. How though? How would she rise from the ashes?
She would set herself free with her words. It didn’t matter if no one else would read them or understand them. The mere act of putting pen to paper, recognizing that she was the one who muddied the waters and sullied her own spirit by allowing others’ judgments and opinions to define her, her pen became her sword. She began to slay the monster.
Wednesday Wisdom: Face your demons. Decide to beat the shit out of them. And if you need help, ask. There is a tribe out there that has your back! You are something!! YOU ARE. ******************************** I have this demon who wants me to run away screaming if I am going to be flawed, fallible. It wants me to think I’m so good I must be perfect. Or nothing. I am, on the contrary, something: a being who gets tired, has shyness to fight, has more trouble than most facing people easily. If I get through this year, kicking my demon down when it comes up, I’ll be able, piece by piece, to face the field of life, instead of running from it the minute it hurts. ~Sylvia Plath
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
“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 ****************
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
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
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
Hazelnut eyes. Cherry lips. Milky complexion. A bit of a muffin top. A few spoonfuls of cottage cheese (in places that only she can see). Our body parts and appearance are often compared to food, from all types of the required food groups to even some of the more forbidden and indulgent. We move through life allowing ourselves to be both pictures of a veritable feast for the eyes and a shameful smorgasbord of gluttony and a lack of self- control.
Today, after Sylvia and Erma exchange pointed comments about their own diets, they force each other to see the beauty and wonder of their midlife bodies.
Yep, a feast. A smorgasbord. Delicacies and deliciousness resulting from lives well-lived and survived. Joys celebrated with cakes and muffins; disappointments swallowed with milkshakes or wine; dilemmas pondered and cracked like nuts.
A well-balanced diet looks different on each of us, so feed your soul – mind, body, and spirit – in your own way.
“All of you shows and is multiplied in everything you do, so know yourself and take care of yourself first, so you can live on purpose and contribute from a place of abundance and overflow.” ~Anton Uhl, FEEDING BODY, MIND AND SOUL: How What Goes In Changes Everything