Look Both Ways

As I stepped down off the curb to cross the parking lot to return to my car, carrying a bag of bananas, I found myself laughing to myself. While the bananas are important to the story, I’ll explain later. Having paused to look both ways, not that there was any traffic at 7:30 in the morning at Publix on a Wednesday morning, I continued across. What I found amusing was that the mandates placed in my head by my parents some sixty years ago were still strong and in place. I learned, when I was small, to look both ways before crossing the street.

I learned ideas and concepts by my parents that I have carried with me throughout my life which have served me well through the sixty-one years I’ve been alive. Don’t talk to strangers. Respect your elders. Be honest—Let your conscience be your guide. Be kind to everyone. Don’t eat yellow snow. Wear lipstick.

Nobody told me that my father’s voice would stay in my head for twenty years after he passed away, reminding me to give myself positive affirmations. I had no idea I was going to remember some wonderful lessons, about the harshness of life and the beauty of same, would revisit me at the most unlikely times, as well as when I needed to hear them most.

When I was young, he told me not to be impulsive, to think before I speak or act. I can’t say I’ve always heeded that advice, and true to his word, it has always gotten me in trouble when I have acted on impulse. That didn’t mean I should abandon spontaneity. Words matter, nuance has value.

During those formative years, our parents instill morals and values in us while we don’t even know they are doing it. They also shape our personalities and how we see ourselves. I believe our senses of self-worth and self-value are structured then as well.

The good news is that when our kids leave for college or go off on their own, somehow, we stay with them, even if we stay behind and suffer from empty nest syndrome. We may miss them, but somehow, we know they will be okay. We were.

And about the bananas? I smile inside because the reason I stopped at Publix to buy bananas is because my 88-year-old mother was at home waiting to have her breakfast of Rice Krispies and banana. You see, I am blessed, at 61, to still have my mother putting those mandates in my head, even today. (Although I didn’t wear lipstick to Publix!)

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Marriage is Not a Joke, But…

Since time began, or for as long as I can remember, comedians have been making careers out of joking about marriage, about husbands and wives, (more often about wives) and about their challenges. As far back as comedian Henny Youngman, who said, “Take my wife… please,” the bride has been the butt of a lot of jokes.

Now, my husband will tell you that men are personified as dolts in television sitcoms and commercials, giving women the upper hand. But I have, in no uncertain terms, set him straight.

It has been a long time since we;ve seen a husband and wife comedy team, too. There was George Burns and Gracie Allen in the 30s and 40s, and we had Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara as recent as the 80s and 90s. Some may add Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to the list in the 50s and 60s, although I don’t know if they ever performed stand-up.

I will tell you that my husband and I have been married for almost thirty-seven years. We have faced myriad challenges to our marriage, including financial issues, health problems, and other typical problems couples may face over the years. Through it all, we have determined that a strong emotion keeps us together— spite. While another comedian said this first, we stayed together for the kids. Neither one of us wanted them.

Now the nest is empty, We had spent twenty years focused on raising the kids that we didn’t notice each other, and we didn’t know each other. We’ve noticed that we belong to two different political parties, went to two rival universities, and like totally different types of entertainment. He likes his meat well done, I like mine rare. He sleeps on his stomach, i on my back. Oh wait, that might work.

As we continued to find our differences, we began to fight. Even the dog wouldn’t stay in the same room. We decided to seek professional help and went to a marriage counselor. At first, the sessions were painful and serious, but when we discovered the one thing that we had in common other than the kids, we decided to work on the marriage rather than walk away.

What we found was that we both love to laugh. We both love a good joke. We have set out on a new adventure and are working on our first stand up routine, one in which I can sit down. I am in my sixties, after all.

Life is short, but work to make your marriage last. Remember why you got married in the first place, and remember to laugh.

Don’t Sit On It

We live in stressful times, but sorry, Fonz… the advice wasn’t good in the 50’s, nor was it good in the 70’s when Happy Days was first aired on television.  And it sure isn’t good now. The saying that a burden shared is halved has more value in today’s world than it ever did.

Big girls don’t cry.

Never let them see you sweat.

Suck it up…

Men were never allowed to show emotion, as it was a sign of weakness. Women were told to be subservient in order to “get” a man, as if they needed their protection. The antiquated mores are so ingrained in our psyche, that to resist them is contraindicated by our own culture.  Anthropologists would tell you that it is part of our DNA to behave this way.

It does not necessarily have to be. Exactly when are we, as human beings, permitted to experience the human condition authentically? (I mean, without repercussion?)  We’ve seen the beginnings of it in the past two or three years with the #MeToo movement, with backlash for bad behavior, with a crusade on behalf of our better angels.

But what happens if you’re pockets aren’t lined with gold? What happens if you’re not a Gold Medalist in Olympic Gymnastics? What happens if the person who tried to rape you wasn’t a Supreme Court Nominee? What happens if you haven’t won an Oscar for a movie you made?

Then you are more like me and most women, who have had life happen to them but who have had neither the big stage nor the big name to fight your battles with or for you.  And like me, many women have snuffed out memories of some of these horrendous experiences and tried to live normal lives without making any waves.

Guess what? Big girls do cry. They sweat, too.  And after a while, they can’t suck it up nor hold it in any longer.  If you’ve ever held a spring down long enough, eventually it has to bounce back.  The energy amassed from holding down can be explosive.  Some of us handle it well, some don’t.

I didn’t.  Somebody had to tell me that a burden shared was halved.  Somebody had to stop me from blaming myself and being angry with myself and being unkind to myself.  You know, when you bang your head against the wall long enough, it feels good when you stop.

I stopped. I stopped, and then I started writing about it.  To date, I’ve written three fictional novels about some of the demons women deal with in life. “A Life, Well… Lived!”, “Okay, So I Lied!”, and “Voices from the Ledge” all deal with topics that women find it hard to talk about. (Sexual abuse/assault, sexual identity issues, addiction/alcoholism, suicidal ideation, etc.). All have been written in light fiction, approachable fashion so readers can identify with the heroines.

In essence, I’ve shared my burdens through fictional characters, in hopes that women like me will find solace in the fact that they are not alone. There is always hope.  So PLEASE, don’t sit on it…

On Motivation

Writer’s block, I’ve come to discover, is all a state of mind. I can write whenever I sit down to write. It may be the most mundane thing, like a grocery list, but I can write. Whether I can write the most profound thoughts in a journal or the most sensational ending to a phenomenal novel depends strictly on my state of mind.

My latest inspiration has been, unfortunately for me, a deep sadness. A sadness for something lost. Out of the sadness came one of my most creative motivations during which I was able to complete work on the manuscript of my third novel.  I have so much confidence in this work that I have submitted it to an agent to shop it around to publishers rather than self-publishing. An epiphany for me, as I discovered through this process that I should see myself the way others see me, not the way I look at myself, which for most of my life has been less than.

The other recent motivation came from a dear friend who I will refer to as ‘the letter’, who had the patience to kick me in the rear hard enough to get me off my f-l-a (that’s a local term for fat lazy ass).  ‘The letter’ gave me great advice, tough love and tender compassion.

The end of the story is… look for “Voices from the Ledge” soon. Because I didn’t jump.

Change Only Hurts If You Resist It

A few years ago, I saw a terrific show called, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which, if I recall correctly, traced relationships between a man and woman from dating, through marriage, through child-rearing into and through old age. It was cute. It was funny. It was us. And it was, once again, disparaging the role of women in a man’s life.

We are not all sculptors who feel we were handed a blob of hairy modelling clay that just happens to be full of testosterone. I actually loved my husband just the way he was…. Sort of.
I gave up trying to change anything about him within a year of our marriage. As we prepare to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’ve learned that I had wasted a lot of time and energy, attempting to make him into something he’s not. Even if it did mean that giving up trying to get him to remember to put down the toilet seat would later result in many instances of me falling in; Even if it did result in a multitude of rush clean-up sessions (errant shoes, phantom socks, empty envelopes from the opened mail and whatever else got left right where he finished with it), because of an impromptu visitor.
I have taught him a few things along the way. (And he, me). For instance, I taught him not to end a sentence or a question with a preposition, especially professionally. It always sounded extremely unpolished to me when he would ask a potential client, “Where do you work at?” I also have broadened his gastronomic horizons. He no longer puts ketchup on everything. I think that’s where I have drawn the line.
What I refuse to give up on, however, is trying to get him to change himself… to be adventurous, open-minded and willing to try new things. The time in our lives when we had to be serious, responsible and passive, so that we could see to the needs of our children and our parents is over. We are still young enough to take a shot at something new and different, but that would mean making a change.
My husband is a very bright guy. After all, how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

 

 

My Empty Nest…

(a rewrite of One Door Closes…)

The bedroom doors on the south side of the house used to be open.  All the time. That’s the only way I could hear if they were crying, or awake and playing.  When they were in grade school, I could jump on their beds to wake them up, or plop on the floor to help with a project.

When they hit their teens, the doors closed. They wanted privacy. They didn’t want me or their Dad to interrupt them with their friends. They wanted to blast their music without being asked to turn it down. They were probably doing other things that I didn’t want to know about.

The doors remain closed now, except on the rare occasion when the dog pushes them open to find a comfortable, quiet place to sleep. And it’s quiet. There is no longer any music blasting. The sound of teenaged girls giggling is gone. The thumping and thudding of an occasional wrestling or weightlifting episode has died down.  The silence is clamorous.

When they first left, I kept the doors open. Often, I would walk in and inhale deeply, trying desperately to get a sense of their presence in a lingering aftershave or scented candle. I would walk by my son’s room almost expecting to see him sitting at the computer with his guitar on his lap, laboring over tabs for the latest song he was learning. But he wasn’t there.

Two steps further and I would be in front of my daughter’s bedroom door, forever adorned with pictures, quotes and flowers. That door now reminds me of just one more household project that my new best friend, my husband, and I can complete together. We have to remove the old, sticky tape, sand and paint it.  It’s barren.

Keeping the doors closed now is my way of separating myself from that chapter in my life when the machinery of parenting required so many more adjustments and tune-ups. Today, a little oil on the hinges and they swing open and closed for a quick visit, once in a while, and I go back to opening new doors on the north side of the house.

A Fond Farewell

I’m not very good with death.  In fact, I’m not good at all with it.  I can’t cope with the thought of my own mortality, and therefore am extremely tuned in to every little change in my body.  Some people call that hypochondria.  Others call it neurosis.  A friend of mine recently referred to it as Judyism… not to be confused with the religion, although I am Jewish.

I received the news this morning that a very dear friend of mine, and of my mother’s passed away.  Howie was 87, and some would say he lived a long and fruitful life.  So what?  It still hurts those whom he left behind.  I’m still devastated by the loss of a man who came to be thought of as my second father.  (By not only me, but by Howie himself, and by his daughter, who refers to me as her sister from another mister).

So, I hurt.  I grieve.  And that’s okay.  That’s how I feel, and I always tell people that feelings are the one thing that are entirely your own, and nobody has the right to tell you how to feel.

A long time ago, I came across the poem below on a greeting card, although I cannot recall the author, or even if there was one to whom it was attributed.  I share it often; not only when people have lost a friend through death, but when they are hurting because they have been wronged by someone who they thought was their friend.

Ships that Pass in the Night

There are those who pass like ships in the night,
Who meet for a moment, then sail out of sight.
With never a backwards glance of regret;
Folks we know briefly then quickly forget.

Then there are those friends who sail together,
Through quiet waters and stormy weather.
Helping each other through joy and through strife;
And they are the kind that give meaning to life.

Howie came into my life at an extremely critical time, and therefore, gave that “real meaning” to my life, of which the poem speaks.  It was shortly after my own father passed, I had only been working at a nursing home for a little over a year, and I was struggling with a very personal issue.  When he came to volunteer there, he pretty much fixed EVERYTHING, simply by being my friend.  I was lost, and he found me.

His compassion, his sense of humor and his lust for life somehow overshadowed it all.  His overwhelming and undying support of my endeavors, both personal and professional, helped me unfold into the person I was supposed to be.  He made me laugh when I needed to, and he listened, sometimes for hours, when I needed an ear.

He was, in essence, filling the role my father had played, without even knowing it. When I was little, my father would hold me up with me sitting on his shoulders at a parade, so I could see. Into my late fifties, it was Howie who held me up so I could see.

So today, I bid you a fond farewell, Howie.  May you bring to heaven as much joy as you created here on earth.  Rest in Peace.