Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Have a Good Time

Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life's a mess
But I'm having a good time
                                                                                            --Paul Simon, Have a Good Time

As nearly as I can tell, Paul Simon speaks for pretty much everyone I know.

There was a part of me…ok, pretty much all of me…growing up that really thought that by the time I got to my 40s and 50s, life would feel way more in control than it did when I was younger and really felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants all the time.  You know; theoretically I’m supposed to have my shit together and have coping skills and disposable income by this point, right?

Well, here I am newly-minted at the age of 50-something and I have all that stuff.  I have a great job and a good house and I can balance my checkbook (with a pen and everything when necessary), replace the tail lights in my car, prepare a nutritious meal in 30 minutes or less with whatever crap I can find in the pantry, hem my own pants, soothe a crying baby, negotiate a contract, and re-light the pilot light on the hot water tank without assistance.  I have mad skillz, yo.

What they DON’T tell you in your 20s and 30s is that there is an order of magnitude difference in the complexity of the problems you face in your 40s and 50s versus those you face as a younger adult.  I mean, this is like graduate school.  You know, when you’re an undergrad and they give you a problem to solve, there’s actually a SOLUTION to the problem, and your job is to find it.  Grad school is different.  You get to grad school and you encounter a problem and you think you have the solution and you ask your professor if it’s right and he’s all like, “How the fuck should I know? Your job now is just to justify why you came to the conclusion you did and ensure you actually accounted for all the variables. The rest is uncharted territory, Buttercup.”

Wow.  Thanks.

And really, that’s sort of what you deal with once you hit middle age and beyond.  It’s no longer just can you show up for work every day, keep your toddler from falling off the earth, manage to make your paycheck last as long as the month, fix the leak in the kitchen drain, help patch together your friend with the drinking problem and get in for a pap smear once a year.  Now, we have sick and dying parents, estate management, patching together the adult children of the alcoholic friends and relatives we had in our 20s, retirement planning, trying to launch our own adult kids who really think they really have all the flipping answers already (Mom, seriously; thanks for not killing me when I was 22), keeping other people’s toddlers from falling off the earth, middle age depression, managing metabolic syndrome, and how the hell did we accumulate all that crap in the garage???

I really never understood why the members of my parent's generation always looked so serious and stressed out. For heaven's sake, who knew they were spending a decade and a half in their thesis year??? Mom...Mom?  You there?  I get it.  Sorry. 

And it’s not just me – all my friends are singing this song.

For my birthday yesterday, I received the following things:

  •       A children’s book from 1965
  •       A rock, painted to look like an owl
  •       A few decent bottles of red wine
  •       Purple garden tools
  •       A kitschy solar light for my garden
  •       A jingly belly dancing skirt
  •       A new bra (ok, I bought that for myself) 
  •       A decent meal with good friends

When I was younger, I wondered why old people were so delighted with the simplest little presents. I thought they were just trying to be cute and agreeable. Now I know why. Because they are simple, when so little else is.

For my birthday this year, I asked only that my friends go for a walk with me at my favorite park and that my husband make conch fritters in the kitchen and we hang out and have a drink and a laugh together.  The weather was glorious and my friends were caring and the food was delicious and I was grateful beyond words for the joy and simplicity of those acts and that day.

So from now on, if you’re over 45, I’m probably going to start wishing you the joy of an uncomplicated year to come.  Because heaven knows I could use one; you probably could too.

Have a good time.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Chapter 11: In Which We Lighten the F**k Up


So I am not always a high-handed semi-know-it-all, trying to pass off my opinion of the world as some version of wisdom.  I have, in the past, not been shy about tackling subjects such as semi-public nudity, hair removal, sexuality, social taboos, hang-ups or telling embarrassing stories about myself in the interest of a solid belly laugh.

If you’ve ever enjoyed any of these, dear reader, today is your lucky day…because today?  Today, we’re going to incorporate all of that into a single post.

Today, we are going to delve into the not-so-gentle subject of the Brazilian Wax.

First, a bit of background: or, “How I ended up sitting in this ridiculous position with a complete stranger’s face just inches from my hoo-ha”

My husband likes to grow a beard in the winter time; he really hates to shave pretty much under any circumstance, and he uses Mo-vember as a convenient excuse to begin an annual four- or five-month shaving hiatus.  He takes pride in achieving a truly outrageous growth of facial hair, both in terms of its length and sheer, Hemmingway-esque volume.  To wit: a few weeks ago, he was wearing a red ski jacket and was seriously mistaken for Santa by a dear friend’s grandson.

I have made no secret of my lack of affection for the beard.  Sometimes to the point of borderline shrewishness. (I know that this may come as a surprise to some of you; what with me being of such a meek, gentle, and biddable nature in nearly every other instance.)  A couple weeks ago, in the midst of one of my anti-beard tirades, my husband threw down the gauntlet: “I’ll shave the beard off if you get a Brazilian wax.” He smiled triumphantly.

“Done”, came my equally triumphant answer.

In the intervening couple of weeks my work schedule got pretty nutso and then we were called out of town to take my MIL to Florida.  And then, on Easter Sunday, my husband emerged from the bathroom, minus the beard. I was thrilled; he looked so handsome and clean! And I knew it was my turn. 

Tuesday night, I casually tossed out to him, “I made an appointment for Friday with the waxing place.” 

He stopped and looked at me. “You know you don’t have to do this.”

“Wha-? Dude, a deal is a deal. Let it never be said that I reneg on an agreement.”  I could swear out of the corner of my eye I saw him make a little fist pump and whisper “yyyyessss!’ under his breath, but he soon straightened his face and said, “Well, it’s your choice.”

I've never been shy about trimming and shaving, but waxing is a new thing for me. I’ll say up-front that deciding where to have this sort of service done is not a trivial matter. It’s not exactly the type of thing you can just casually bring up among the ladies at work, or even among your close friends for that matter. “Really, these little pepperoni bites are delicious; can you give me the recipe?  Also, can you recommend a good place to get a Brazilian? No; the wax, not the cabana boy. Asking for a friend.”

I turned to Yelp.  Choosing the top-rated place on the list, I clicked through to the web site. “We make sure your Betty is always ready, including crystals and fun colors for your hair down there!” I blinked. Twice.

Then I clicked through to appointments.  I mean, seriously. How do you NOT at least check that out?

I used to keep a list of “Stuff I never expected to Google”.   This list contains items such as “Do parrots masturbate?” (they do) and “Did I just eat a poisonous mushroom?” (I hadn’t); I found myself adding “What is the etiquette for Brazilian waxing?” to the list.  Yes; there are pages that cover this.  The rules can be summed up as follows:

1)  Yes; you must take off your panties for this.
2)  Yes; you should shower beforehand
3)  You might want to avoid anything hard to digest the night before.

One might expect the first two at least to be self-evident.  I was puzzled about the third one, however.

They also say that the process does have some pain involved.  I’ve had my brows and underarms waxed before, so I was under no illusion about this.  But I’m tough, I thought.  I can handle it.

The proprietress of this establishment was a 30-something brunette named Nicole, who was friendly and efficient.  This is her business and she takes it seriously.  She greeted me with a brisk handshake.  "Hey, I got your note. Don't worry about being a newbie; I'll talk you through it.  We're not going to just dip you in wax and pull your hair out."  I told her I was grateful for that.

She led me to a room that contained what looked like a fainting couch, which should have been my first clue.  She came in and grabbed the pot of hot wax and her stack of fabric strips.  "Just relax; so what do you do...?"

I settled into a good-natured banter around politics as she started applying warm wax and fabric strips to my bits down below and I was feeling more or less about as comfortable as a visit to the gynecologist.  Which is to say, not exactly relaxed but not terrible.  I don’t have a lot of privacy hang-ups. 

“So, apparently there has been a Twitter hashtag called #TheThing that refers to Cruz’s extramarital affairs that, like, everybody has known about for weeks but nobody talked about until Trump’s camp rel-"


I studied embryology in college, and it’s well-documented that as we develop in the womb, we actually grow and then resorb a lot of features that are part of the anatomy of our evolutionary predecessors.  It would appear that at one point, we have retractable claws that we inherited from a feline ancestor somewhere along the way.  I know this, because as she tore off the first fabric strip, I devolved, shot off the chair six feet straight up, and embedded my now-extended claws into the ceiling panels, where I dangled uncertainly for a full 45 seconds.  I also spontaneously sprouted a tail, with the fur standing straight up on end. 

I was suddenly grateful to have heeded rule #3 above.  Good call.

“I warned you”, she said. “Just so you know, tail waxing is going to cost extra.”

Claws successfully retracted, I plopped unceremoniously back into the chair.
We repeated this process, sans dangling from the ceiling, perhaps eight more times. By the end, I had invented six previously-unheard curses in three languages, but managed eventually to resorb the tail.  I was just thinking “Wow; I’m glad we’re done” when I came to the realization we weren’t done. 

If you have ever had your eyebrows waxed, you know that the wax tear-off gets *almost* all the unwanted hair off.  However, there are always a couple of ‘strays’ that need tweezed out at the end.

I have to say that I hadn’t thought this part through.

So there was Nicole, tweezers poised, bent over her work.  I elected at this point to pass the time by singing Brunhilde’s Immolation Aria from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.

There are women who repeat this process every 6 weeks or so.  

I'm kinda glad it's seven months to Mo-vember...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Twice this week, I watched people I care about struggle as they changed location or environment in hopes of “feeling better” only to find themselves feeling pretty much exactly the same in the new location as the old one.  Which is to say, not very good.

My father-in-law passed away about two months ago after a long illness, and my mother-in-law has struggled as one might expect of anyone who was married for more than 50 years, was his primary caregiver for nearly four years and suddenly finds herself without her partner and full-time job.  My husband and I took her down to Florida to stay with my brother-in-law; I think she felt perhaps the change of scenery would be helpful.  Yet, over lunch the other day, she confessed to me, “I feel just as out of place here as back home. I just thought it would feel different here.”

Similarly, my daughter Daisy Mae, who has struggled with an eating disorder, related addictions, and frighteningly unresolved anger issues from her early childhood, has changed her living arrangement four times over the last year – most recently a week ago. Some of these relocations were voluntary; others were at the request/insistence of others.  And the refrain at each and every change has been the same, “I’m so frustrated with all this bullshit.”  She simply doesn’t see the one constant in all this.

Sometimes, it’s human nature to believe that our circumstance or feelings are dictated largely by forces outside ourselves.  “This place…these people…this job…the way you hog the bathroom…I can’t handle it.  That’s why I’m sad/angry/failing/drinking/getting fired.  I just need to change it/you/them and then it’ll be okay.”

But here’s the thing: when your discomfort and your sadness and your loneliness and your anger are inside you, it doesn’t matter where you are or who is around you, because it all goes with you.  They’re always present. Same thing with depression:  if you’re depressed at home or at the library or at work, and you go to the beach, guess what goes with you?

One of my favorite short films is called “Demons on the Boat”.  You can see it here.  It’s about Radical Acceptance and Commitment and it’s a corollary to a piece I wrote right after Kiersten died called “Leaning into the Pain”.  It’s worth watching.  (The one immediately after, called "Passengers on the Bus" is also pretty awesome.)

Most people don’t realize…until they’ve had the “I’m still struggling” conversation more than once…or a dozen times for some people…that feeling better and finding happiness needs to start from the inside.  That takes a lot of work, and usually a lot of pain. Because sometimes the things that make us struggle inside are pretty damned overwhelming and sometimes they can feel tremendously unfair and we’d really rather pretend they’re not there. And often, getting through all that junk means finding a therapist and oh it's such a pain in the ass to break in a new therapist and tell that story AGAIN, and...I get it.  Believe me. Even if it doesn't take a lot of therapy (like when a loved one dies) it just takes a really long time. And sometimes, even with all the work and all the pain, the discomfort and sadness and loneliness and self-loathing don’t completely go away.  So it can feel pretty daunting. Changing the external can feel easier.  It rarely helps, though… at least not for very long.

It’s not that you can’t help to improve your situation through a change in environment or company, especially if you are making those changes in a planful way with an understanding of what and who you are seeking. The old proverb “lie down with dogs; get up with fleas” is a truth, to be certain, and choosing to surround yourself with healthy people if you are fighting addiction is always better than to keep re-infesting yourself by hanging around with a bunch of drunks and addicts.  But that external change only helps if you are ready/willing/able to work on the inside stuff.

And the payoff is enormous. Because if you can find peace inside, it doesn’t matter WHAT is going on outside, it’s not going to damage your success or happiness. (This is within reason, of course – if you’re being abused, all bets are off).  If you can teach yourself to accept the Demons on your own boat, give them a place to hang out and see with clarity the options and future that lay before you, you can make those mindful, planful decisions about where you want to be and who you want to be with.

In time...who knows? "Right here, with myself" might even look like a good option.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Three Yards of Fabric

This post is about body dysmorphia.  If you don’t know what that is, you will in a couple of paragraphs.  

One of the joys of being an adult woman over 35 is shopping in your own closet.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been more than one size as an adult.  For my own part, I’ve been as much as 20 pounds lighter than this and as much as about 45 pounds heavier. So I have about six different sizes of clothes in my closet.

Something to know about me: While I have *never* been skinny, I’m genetically blessed, sort of.  My mother came from a long line of wasp-waisted women, and my father’s family all are what I would describe as “generous” in the bust and hips.  I sort of got the more extreme from both sides. The result is that I’m ridiculously curvy. Like, Sofia Vergara curvy… in fact, if I took off the last stubborn 20 pounds, she and I would seriously have about the same measurements (minus my bits of everlasting post-baby tummy flubber). I work very hard to maintain my figure at a healthy weight and to be honest, I’m a little bit proud of the way I look, even if it’s mostly the result of genetic luck. Gah!  This sounds like bragging – that's not it.. I’m saying this to demonstrate a point.  You’ll see in a minute. 

Ok, so back to closet shopping…I have some travel coming up to warmer climes and was looking for things to take with me.  I lost the aforementioned 45 pounds pretty recently and so I have a whole section of the closet available to me that I haven’t worn in about 20 years.  I took out a couple dresses that I remember buying back in the 90’s and tried them on…and verily swam in them. There must be three yards of fabric in each of them. They were easily a full size too big, and ballooned to my ankles. I remember thinking they were really nice at the time.  Now they are so big as to be unwearable.

Now here’s the thing.  I remember buying these dresses. I bought them back in my pre-baby days when I was easily 15 pounds lighter than I am now. 

Read back up two paragraphs. Now do that math.

I asked my husband, “Was this dress this big on me when I bought it?”
He looked at me appraisingly.  “You were…shall we say…very busy hiding your body back then.  I call it the Frump Ages. You’re not considering putting that thing back in circulation, are you?”

I remember now that at the time I thought I was fat. I remember looking at my “embarrassing” breasts and “huge” ass and being ashamed by my curves. I remember thinking that I really, seriously needed to lose at least another 20 pounds if I was ever going to look attractive. I really did do everything I could to hide my body at the time it was at its full bloom.  

And I think now, “What. The. Actual. Fuck??” What was I so ashamed of?

What, indeed? Body Dysmorphic Disorder is the preoccupation with flaws in our body that results in a constant, unfavorable comparison of that flaw/those flaws with others and with our perception of ourselves.  About 2.5% of the population is afflicted with body dysmorphia, which makes it in the top three mental illnesses in the nation. It affects men and women equally, with most men thinking they are too skinny and scrawny and most women thinking they are fat. It is categorized as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, rather than an eating disorder like anorexia.  You very likely know someone who suffers from body dysmorphia; most people who suffer from it are self-aware enough that they don’t want to appear self-absorbed, so they hide their obsession well. 

While that 2.5% of the population suffers from body dismorphic disorder at a level that rates a DSM-V sort of diagnosis, there are a LOT MORE of us who suffer from varying degrees of body shame and unrealistic views about our bodies. We as a society can become so hung up on our skinny legs, or flabby arms, or funny butt, or acne scars or tummy flubber that it takes away from our joy, our inherent sexiness as humans or our ability to truly relax and enjoy ourselves.  And that's really a tragic thing.  Ladies, how many times have you heard a man say, "OMG, will you women please stop starving yourselves and let us see all those beautiful, squeezable curves you're supposed to have?"  Guys; heads up: We love you exactly the way you are. We really wouldn't know what to do with Joe Manganiello if you handed him to us.

I’ve been through a lot of therapy in the last six years.  Some of it has been focused on teaching me to love my body for the way it feels, rather than the way it looks, and eating and exercising based on how I feel. And now, I feel good. Better than good, in fact. I’m not playing college volleyball or anything, but I can hike 15 miles in a day and I can do 25 push-ups at a crack and I can climb 6 flights of stairs without supplemental oxygen and I can belly dance (ok, I look like a wounded wildebeest doing it, but I still have fun). And I’m not afraid to dress in things that cling just a little and I don’t hide those curves anymore.  

Ladies, gentlemen, if you are reading this, I have a message for you. You. Are. Beautiful. I mean it. If you want to lose weight or gain weight or work out more, do it because it makes your body strong and healthy and able to carry you to all the places you want to go, not because you don't feel good about how you look. And if you really don’t feel good about how you look, go talk to someone about it. You can learn to look past your flaws and see all the wonderfulness that is you.  If you learn to love your body, guaranteed you’re going to look more attractive to the rest of the world, too.

Life is short. Love every inch of yourself.

For more information about Body Dysmorphic Disorder, look here.