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
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!
Sylvia is feeling vulnerable, emotional, and overwhelmed this weekend as she considers all that has to be accomplished before Christmas and the new year, much of which has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays. Erma, in her infinite wisdom after years of agonizing to produce the perfect celebration and realizing there is no such thing, shares a newly acquired tidbit that leaves Sylvia feeling more empowered, not like with the force or toughness of a superwoman or wonder woman but perhaps with the mightiness of one of Santa’s reindeer.
Did you know that male reindeer lose their antlers after the fall mating season? Female reindeer keep theirs.
“All of those guiding the sleigh, Syl? A group of badass women with a sense of purpose and direction!”
Sylvia, amused and enchanted, thanks her friend and knows now that “she’s got this” whatever this may be.
Male reindeer lose their antlers in winter and females don’t. Therefore Santa’s sleigh is actually pulled by a team of strong, powerful, underrated women!!!!! YOU GO, GIRLS!! I SEE YOU!!! (@catreynoldsnyc)
“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.
#midlifeblogger #womenwriters #livewithintention #unapologeticallyme #fullprice #bornworthy