When I was in the mountains last week for my birthday, I spent a lot of time thinking about the direction I want to set off in during the coming year. I don’t want to do 70 on cruise control, but there’s no map to use for this part of my life so there’s a danger of just rolling through the days ahead in an interstate stupor. Going in circles, doubling back, never getting off the main roads. I don’t feel 70, but it’s an intense psychological milestone nonetheless. I hate to think of aging as a process of reluctantly letting go of things, of mourning things I can no longer do, of clinging to a past version of me. That just seems to lead to limiting risk, playing it safe. “Wear sensible shoes! Hold onto the railing! Don’t forget your fiber supplement!’ Unfortunately that’s usually the only story told about this time of life — one of becoming increasingly irrelevant and invisible and in constant danger of chronic constipation. One day you’re hot stuff in cowboy boots, the next you’re a crone with bunions. It’s such a pervasive theme that I start to believe it myself. I forget that I started a whole new life at 50, that this year I had a sexy little fling with a man who’s 10 years younger than I am, that I still have a restless spirit that needs some speed and an open road. All my life, though, I’ve had goals to reach for — a college degree, a good job, a bigger job, a business to build — and now I don’t have anything specific to replace them. Although I love writing for Skirt!, it’s no longer the only measure of my success or the source of my identity. I don’t regret a marriage that was 10 years of bad roads or the struggle to raise a family alone or scrabbling to earn a living, or even chasing men I shouldn’t have caught. I certainly don’t regret creating a magazine that became my alter ego. But while I was driving myself to get “ahead”, I didn’t have time to pull off at a rest stop to ask myself if there was another path I might explore; I was too busy holding my life in the road. Recently, though, that 17-year-old Kentucky girl who was along for the ride, the one who was too often a passenger in her own life has been causing some turmoil. She’s demanding a second chance to do something new and wild and wholly unrelated to my old shoulds or oughts. I’m not sure how I’m going to do 70, but I wish it could be a dizzy zip-line of a ride full of unexpected epiphanies in the oddest places, serendipitous meetings with oracles and shamans, special guest appearances, and surprise packages filled with fortune cookies and clues to the meaning of life. Buckle up, I’m on my way — doing 70 and watching for roadside attractions, secret passages and damn good diners to report back on to those of you who haven’t started this journey yet.
Archive for ‘Truth Serum’
Because I’ve come to know so many people through starting Skirt! magazine in the same small Southern city I’ve lived in since 1985, I often find myself pulling my punches when it comes to writing. I know it’s cowardly, but I’m reluctant to mention in an article that my secret dream is to write erotica anonymously when I know that every time I walk into Whole Foods and see someone I know, which is every time, they might be wondering or judging. I’m incredibly grateful to have an audience for my work, but I worry that censoring myself has become second nature no matter what I write. I have an unpublished essay about my mother that I’ve never tried to submit anywhere because it’s so painful and reflects badly on both of us. So even though I wrote it and it’s true, I can’t bring myself to put it out for public consumption. I don’t even always tell the whole truth in my journals because I’m worried that in case I die unexpectedly, my friend Nancy won’t make it to the house in time to get rid of them (along with the vibrator) before my kids start to pack everything up for Goodwill. I don’t know if it’s possible to have that kind of double life creatively and maintain an authentic voice in anything you write, no matter what the content or venue. Except maybe in a blog, because although it’s an illusion, I feel anonymous here. I’m not sure what the answer is — to try and write something totally honest that only my eyes will see? Somehow that’s not enough, and yet, I’m not sure why it isn’t. I only know there’s a voice in me that hasn’t been heard yet. Any thoughts on this from other writers and readers out there?
I went to the beach to watch the sunset with friends a few days ago, and we agreed this sign should be handed out in the form of an instruction sheet as we leave childhood. There are no lifeguards on duty 24/7, and even if there were, many of us would probably ignore them and head straight for the areas of life most likely to contain drop-offs, deep holes and strong currents. It’s not that we have death wishes, but the danger zones are also where we find the most intensity, the most risk, the biggest surge of adrenaline. We just can’t help being drawn to them. And who’s to say we won’t survive a rip tide that carries us off course or a whirlpool that keeps us going in circles instead of finding a way forward out of predicaments or relationships that threaten to pull us under? We’re all swimming at our own risk from the time we exit the womb to the day we return to the Great Mother, and no matter how religiously we put our faith in seatbelts, bike helmets, fluoride toothpaste, college degrees and antioxidants, safety has never been part of our birthright.
When I’m trying to lose weight, giving up sweets is never a problem. I could have a chocolate bar in the house for two weeks and not finish it, but I love salt. The savor of it, the piquancy, the way it brings out other tastes in food. I love the smell of the salt marsh and big flakes of sea salt and bowls of salty chips. But lately tears have been the seasoning in my dish of sorrow, an ocean of tears, enough to sweep me away like Alice in Wonderland. And while they bring momentary relief, they also come at inappropriate moments, seemingly for no reason at all, sometimes with no warning. I’ll be in the check-out line at the supermarket and suddenly I’m overcome. Or sitting at the computer in my office, I’ll begin weeping. Or I wake up crying in the morning with no memory of a bad dream, just the hard landing from blessed unconciousness onto the unyielding tarmac of daylight and reality. I know there’s an ebb and flow to grief, and I’m trying to trust that this salty sea of tears will recede and I’ll develop a taste for sweetness in my life again, or at last.
Looking back, there are so many things I could regret:
* Starbucks Pumpkin Loaf (7 Weight Watcher points!)
* All the shoes whose price would have made a nice contribution to my 401K.
* Losing sleep over hate mail from readers of our magazine who feel free to spew in email but would never say such nasty things to my face.
* Not going to Austin City Music Festival the year I had tickets.
* buying the expensive blue sequined tank top that made me look like I was wearing a postmenopausal Kevlar vest.
* buying the expensive black suit that made me look like a nun working with juvenile delinquents.
But those are so minor–if I have one big regret, it’s not daring enough, not trying enough, not risking enough. Especially after my kids were on their own. It’s so easy to let inertia settle you into a way of life. So easy to think you have enough time time to try XYZ next year. So easy to justify not doing something. I’m a true introvert, and living in my head is really satisfying for me. I love to read and dream and imagine, all from the safety of my home. But I also see how much I’ve missed out on by not forcing myself out into the world more. Introverts tend to get drained by social interactions, but we need it nevertheless. It’s like bringing a kill back to the cave — we have to have things to gnaw on or our brains get starved. And every time I’ve gone against my grain, I’ve been better off for it. Eventually. It’s just hell while it’s happening! Travel? Oh my god, so terrifying and shattering. But also enlivening, enriching, indispensable to my self-confidence. In hindsight, I wish I’d terrified myself so much more.
Are you thrilled that we’re at Friday? Not only Friday but a 3-day weekend? I’m sure that if I were on a perpetual 3-day weekend I would get bored (really?) and have to come up with a project to break the lovely leisure, but right now I am so excited to have a stack of books, a Tempurpedic mattress and plenty of Prosecco. I will take a walk on the beach and love every sandy moment. I’ll give my hair a deep moisturizing treatment and shave my legs. Ideally, there would be a thunderstorm, but if we don’t get one, I’ll turn on the White Noise app on my iPhone and pretend it’s raining outside while I’m reading inside. I’ll make up another bag of clothes I don’t wear but am saving for when I’m a bag lady during the 2nd Great Depression and give them away. Goodbye, cheesy black lace Libertine skirt I bought at Target! What was I thinking? Next weekend I’m traveling to take this workshop and will need to pack my extrovert side, so this weekend is all for being a happy hermit. After years of wishing I could be more like my high-alert friends, I’ve finally learned that I need to balance being around people and trying new experiences with periods of being quiet and alone and recharging what has been depleted.
I don’t know if this message was a response to a boarded up store in the neighborhood where I work or just a cry from the heart. If the latter, I get it. There are so many things I’d like to undo:
I wish I’d been a better daughter.
I shouldn’t have thrown that Irish coffee at an old boyfriend in the middle of the street one night.
Being self-conscious instead of self-confident.
Saying yes when my brain shouted no — only about a million times.
What’s his name — wow, undo it.
Sitting on my bum so many years instead of exercising.
Withholding love, trust, a simple hug in order to maintain a resentment or a wall.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have to fall down and get dirty and get up and do something different they’d want to undo later. Over and over. And when you start undoing, where does it end? So many good things connected to so many regrettable things — if you start to unravel one, the others come loose, too. So no undoing, but maybe just understanding.
I had drinks with my Tuesday friend (on Thursday) and learned that a mutual acquaintance whose talent and phenomenal success I’ve always envied has moved out of town. When you’ve spent a lot of subliminal creative energy being jealous of someone, it leaves a void when you don’t have that straw (wo)man to fight. I had to ask myself what she had represented in my life that was so thorny. Some career trajectory I’d missed, some talent I lacked, some spiritual certainty I’d never have? Envy is embarrassing because it makes you so small, even if no one but you knows about it. Of course I can use this as an opportunity to do soul searching or at least to face what I’ve felt and name it–but oh how mortifying, how human!
* Sometimes I don’t brush my teeth before bed, but I feel so guilty I get up in the middle of the night and do it.
* My recent bedtime reading has been books about death on K2, the second highest mountain in the Himalayas. Problem is that I’m so freaked out, I can’t get to sleep.
* I have to have white noise to drown out my overbusy brain at night. Still I often wake up and write a note to myself in the middle of the night which I can’t decipher in the morning. Still wondering what “buspry” means.
* I have a great fear of a giant Palmetto bug crawling on me in the night. I’ve lived in SC since 1985 and I’m still terrified of these Jurassic Park insects.
* I’m not a morning person, but I have a job that starts at 9am. Brutal, inhuman, demoralizing!
* When I took Ambien, I would get up and eat in the night, apparently still asleep. When I woke up one morning sprawled out in a pile of cracker crumbs and walnuts like the last one to leave a Roman orgy I knew I had to give it up.
* Now that I have a foundation under my Temperapedic mattress, I need a ladder to climb into bed. I feel like the girl in The Princess and The Pea, my second favorite fairy tale. My favorite is the gruesome and Grimm little tale of Little Red Riding Hood. No wonder, then, that I love grisly murder mysteries and true-life tragedies as bedtime stories.
* I’m not a cuddler and I feel bad about it. Coming home to my own bed and bedroom is always like a big sigh of luxury mixed with a little loneliness. I’d like to be a hugger, and I wish it came naturally to me to call someone “hon” or “babe,” but it just doesn’t. I guess I need to meet either an equally repressed man or one who is naturally demonstrative. But still, I really don’t want to call anyone “hon”.
* I spent five or so years living with the wrong lamp. I loved my handcarved hula girl but she was just so tall that I had to sit up out of the edge of sleep in order to turn the damn thing off and then I’d be wide awake again. I just gave her away and I miss her eccentricity.
A friend of my daughter’s called it The Fear when she was in high school even though she couldn’t really explain it. I call it The Dreads. I think Churchill called it The Black Dog. Moods that stalk you, inducing either general universal anxiety (what if the oil spill creates a dead ocean?) that has no answer or a personal sadness that you just can’t shake. I’ve had it lately, despite the latest/greatest antidepressant my doctor can find and a life that is just so incredibly lucky. We give it these names in order to distance ourselves from it or cut it down to size, but I think it’s the knowledge of our own mortality and the questioning and questing that goes along with it that dogs us. That dark shadow is anathema to us, because we are busy being the best we can be, getting empowered, waiting for the Universe to grant our dearest wish, buying stuff to fill up the empty rooms of our soul house. It’s such a tightrope we walk — to love the light with all our might and at the same time, acknowledge the dark that waits for us at the end. And I probably cudgel my brain about it way too much–that’s why I love Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Recipe for Happiness Khaborovsk or Anyplace.”
One grand boulevard with trees
With one grand cafe in sun
With strong black coffee in very small cups.
One not necessarily very beautiful
Man or woman who loves you.
One fine day.