What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Erma asks Sylvia earlier today over their ritualistic morning coffee.
“This last chapter, you mean? I only have one thing in mind,” Sylvia asserts.
Erma, knowing full well that her best friend can be introspective and prophetic as well as bold and bawdy on some unexpected occasions, awaits a profound response.
“I’m going to do it all myself for myself, whatever it is,” Sylvia avows.
Wednesday wisdom from the gals: Have fun. Be serious. Make mistakes. Dare. Live with both intention and wild abandon. Do it all for you because in the end you are all you have. You are your best and most important project! ****************** It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project. ~Napoleon Hill
She loved her first coffee uninterrupted; cheese danish or a plain donut if she absolutely had to have something to eat for breakfast; impromptu drives after dinner with Dad down to the beach to sit on the sea wall; anything to do with her ten grandchildren; and feeling needed and purposeful. She was a quiet force to be reckoned with as she grew older and learned that she mattered as much as the next person. In many ways, my mother came to live life more fully and openly as she neared death. Death was a liberation of sorts. The quintessential peacemaker and peacekeeper realized that she could not be the backbone and voice for others, although she would always champion and advocate for children until the end. In between radiation and chemo or doctors’ visits at Stanford, she and I would often walk over to Lucille Packard Children’s cancer center. It was there on those walks especially that she offered up herself and her own mortality if it meant a child would be spared suffering. That was my mother.
Thirteen years it has been, but today I will think of the seventy she had on this earth and the forty-six plus I had with her. We lived a lot of life together; and although I’ll always think it was never enough, there is a bit more space for solace and joy in my heart this year knowing Donna and my father, her forever love Sam, are spending another year together again.
May Day, indeed. Donna Mae, it is no coincidence that you left us on the first day of the month, the first truly beautiful month of the spring season when flowers bloom, skies clear, and everything comes to life. You were and will always be my forever spring. The memories we shared are a constant source of love and strength.
Hope you and Dad are still kicking up your heels and wowing the audience as you take a turn on the dance floor.
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)
Sylvia hangs up the phone; her early morning chat with Erma leaves her motivated but strangely empty. The plan was to get a lot done today, perhaps even to move at lightning speed to complete the remaining items on her to-do holiday list. Plans change, though.
As she gulps the last from her late-morning cup of courage, she takes in her surroundings. The tree in the great room is done. The small tree in the foyer, which she adorns each year with a thoughtfully curated collection of hummingbirds, sits atop a round entryway table. It waits to greet holiday visitors. And as if those decorations were not enough, Sylvia’s collection of Santas – many gifted to her from Erma over the last three decades –carefully situated in open nooks, crannies, and shelves throughout the rooms on the first floor, affords her a feeling of mild accomplishment. So, completely in the moment, Sylvia sits on the ottoman and reflects. She purposely decides to practice the nobler art for the remainder of the day. Self-care entails leaving some things undone.
Some days demand the noble art. Today is one of them.
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”― Lin Yutang
Why does she write in the third person? Who is she?
If you’ve been following my blog here, and if you’ve managed to visit other fora on social media where this whole journey began, you know that I am SHE. You are SHE. All individuals who identify as female (although Sylvia & Erma hesitate to speak for all women) are SHE. Each of us is multi-dimensional. We are made up of those who have blazed trails before us, and we evolve as we set on new paths with those lessons in tow. For better or worse.
I choose third person because there is both a freedom and a security that come from its use. As I regain my footing after years of putting others first — not at their request but rather because it was easier for me to find purpose that way – I find myself to be often unrecognizable; and for the first time in forever, I am excited about becoming. I am full of fear, but I am more fearful of what will happen (to her) if she stays the course and chooses that which she already knows. That which she already knows has extinguished so many of her dreams and dampened the ground for any wild fires. It’s time to find the spark.
Today, as she took the road less travelled, she began to breathe again.
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
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!