Thursday, January 23, 2020

Party-Style Twists


Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists even, but I wore them anyway. When I was a kid we called this "party style." I rarely wear my hair down. It makes me feel young, somehow not myself. That night I chose this style to disguise my incoming gray hair. Maybe it was a subconscious move to try to create youth in the midst of inevitable aging.

Since wearing my hair in twists that night I've had a series of random memories from when I was a girl. I remember in fourth grade, Ms. Funk's class at William H. Ray Elementary in Chicago. It was picture day and I'd decided on my burgundy v-neck velour shirt with juliet sleeves. It was one of my nicest shirts and I had begged my mother to buy it for me at the tiny Breslauer's Department Store on 53rd Street.  I was obsessed with my hair that morning, desperate to get my two twists to match. I wanted my long brown hair to cascade down from the perfectly matched twists that crowned my head like a princess. But I didn't have the right supplies. I needed bobby pins and all I had were mismatched barrettes and rubber bands.

That same obsession for the perfect twists has recently replayed itself in my memory. I don't know if it was the same year, but in my mind's eye, I am about the same age. It was my grandfather's birthday party and we were all to get dressed up. I had a red and white seersucker blouse and skirt that my grandmother had splurged on at Saks Fifth Avenue downtown. It was perfect. But my hair! I remember standing in front of the living room mirror with my sisters and cousins, five girls all primping, and I could not get the twists to work. "I need bobby pins!," I howled to no one in particular, and before I knew it my dad was out the door to the Wilco to get a package big enough for five heads of hair.

I don't know why certain memories stick in our minds and I don't know why they revisit us at certain times in life, but the prominence of these two hair-twist memories feels like something worth attending to. One of the things that happens in middle age, in part because of hormones, and in part because of earned wisdom from life experience, is that we come back to our true nature, that essence of self that can become buried during the twenties and thirties when other big life events take center stage.

I'm grateful for the clarity and potency of these memories. In middle-age there is a quieting, a slowing down that makes room for that essential nature to resurface, like coming out of the rubble after an earthquake, there is a peacefulness, a stillness. Maybe these memories are a sign to me, a message from fourth-grade Laura, that this is time to come back and revisit that energy from my younger self. Or maybe these hair-twist memories are here now to show me how much I've learned, how far I've come from that place where a botched hair style was a national disaster. Now I know it's just a pesky cowlick.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Interiority


I remember when I transferred from Chicago Public Schools to a private prep school in seventh grade. My parents, at their wits end from the constant striking of Chicago Public Schools in the late 1970s, finally abandoned ship. At my new school, during Language Arts one afternoon, the teacher, a stark, tight-mouthed woman with a faux British accent, asked us to write down one word that we didn't know from the book we were reading (I think it was Catcher in the Rye.) The word I chose was "wholly." After class the teacher, having never spent time with kids who'd been educated in a shitty school, pulled me aside and asked, "Laura, do you really not know what 'wholly' means?" She then explained that it was the adverb form of whole. I got it. It made sense. I'd simply never heard that word before.

Right now I'm in the middle of an amazing book, The Yellow House, by Sarah Broom. It's a memoir of Broom's life growing up in New Orleans East in a family of eleven siblings. New Orleans East is a sorely neglected part of New Orleans that has been under-attended or ignored since the 1970s. I have been to New Orleans at least ten times and I only recently heard about New Orleans East from a Lyft driver the last time I was there. I bought Broom's book for my partner Nancy who was born and raised in New Orleans but spent little time in New Orleans East which is, in fact the largest section of the City of New Orleans.

At one point during the book, Broom compares being in her chaotic school in New Orleans East to "an unpredictable, malfunctioning parts factory. You can never tell when a piece will fly off, hitting you in the face, blinding you for life." Shortly after, Broom transfers to a private school outside of her neighborhood where she is, in many ways an outsider, but also connects with a teacher who inspires and nurtures Broom's own love of words. Broom writes, "Writing, I found, was my interiority, and so was God." Later in the chapter Broom describes how speaking in tongues is interiority writ large, "You had to do it without shame, with no self-consciousness whatsoever. The only control was in letting go."

 'Interiority' is a word that I've never heard spoken or seen written, but it was a word I immediately connected with. 'Interiority,' I thought, as I read it in the context of Broom's writing, must be a magical place, a deeply personal and important retreat, a place where one can be wholly oneself. So I looked it up. Interiority: interior life or character; inner life or substance; psychological existence. 

Sometimes there is a point to my blog, and other times I'm just meandering. Today I am inspired by Sarah Broom, by her writing, and by the joy of learning a new word, a wonderful word at the ripe old age of fifty-one. The very concept of interiority gives me so much to think about-- what is my own interiority? What was it when I was a child? How do I help my own daughter find her's? Sarah Broom-- your book is feeding my soul right now and I am very grateful that you've shared your beautiful story.


Friday, December 20, 2019

Periodopausal


When my daughter got her period a few years ago she introduced me to an app called Clue. It tracks your period. You input your symptoms (happy, headache, ovulation, tender breasts), your mood (happy, sensitive, sad, PMS) and your flow (light, medium, heavy, spotting). The majority of my friends report by the hundreds of days when their last period was. The word on the street is that, once you don't get your period for a full year you are officially in menopause.

I still get my period every month but I've noticed my period has changed drastically in the last several months and so I've reengaged with my Clue App to see if I can get a handle on what's coming. This past month my period lasted for thirteen days. I only had one or two heavy days and the rest were just spotting. Annoying and unpredictable spotting. So I'm not in menopause yet, but I am definitely perimenopausal or periodopausal as I have started to think about it.

I get irritated with the constant drip system that has become my body. I hear myself complaining to my family, "Oh my GOOOD. I still have my period!" It must get old, hearing crazy Laura go on again about how many days it's been. I'm know I'm not unique or special. I am totally aware of the fact that, at age 51, I am in good company with lots of other women who experience a similar period surprise party every month, never knowing exactly what to expect.

There is a part of me that feels grateful to still get my period. I get to share the period supply closet with my daughter and it makes me feel like I'm still kind of young. My period is familiar. I've been experiencing it every month for over thirty-five years. The other day at dinner my daughter, complaining of her own period woes said, "Mom, if I live to age 95 like GeeGee, if you calculate all the days of my periods, it comes to twelve years. I will have bled for twelve whole years of my life." That's a lot of bleeding.

My period has not always been thirteen days. I have a feeling that it will slowly start to creep back down until it disappears entirely. So what's all this complaining about? What's the lesson? I'm  attached to my period. I am holding on tight to this natural process that I've experienced for the majority of my life.  While it comes out as a complaint, when I look back and think about it, I can detect excitement and satisfaction, "I still HAVE it!" vs "I still have it!"

When my daughter got her period I wrote her a letter. I bought her eight different boxes of pads and panty liners. I bought her special padded period panties and I cried as I told her how much I loved her and always would. Getting the period is a big deal. And not getting it is a big deal too.

There should be a ritual for this moment. I wonder what it should be. It should be a ritual moment acknowledging this twelve years of periods in our lives. I don't know what it is yet, but I know it should be special, it should be something that feels like saying hello and goodbye at the same time. And, if you want to know what the ritual is, you can always come to one of our Put Some Claws in Your Pause retreats. 


Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Little Help from my Friends

A few blocks from my house, there is an abandoned boat in Lake Washington. It has been there for several weeks. I can see the boat from where I am sitting now, leaning slightly more towards shore than it was yesterday. It's raining, but not enough to raise the level of the lake and maybe help that poor boat off of the land where it ran aground.

Everyday I walk my dog to that boat to look at its status. There were several days when the boat first ran aground the the owner made attempts to move the boat. One day, very early in the morning, the man who I'm assuming was the captain of the little ship, put on a wet suit and waded out to the boat. I watched him climb aboard to do some kind of boat related fixing. Another day I saw a little raft and some big white barrels, but no man. Some days I'd see him sitting in his purple car in the parking lot, motor running, watching the boat. For a time there was a generator and I could see water being pumped out of the hull.

My family teases me about my obsession with this boat. My daughter Lucia rolls her eyes as she tells my partner Nancy, "I heard about the boat again on the way home from shopping." I am obsessed. I think about that boat everyday. But why? Last week I did a writing exercise designed to tap into our subconscious thoughts to try to explore my overwhelming interest in the boat and I uncovered a few things.

I'm worried. I'm so worried about that man who is sitting on the sidelines just watching as his boat tilts a little more everyday. There is a big pile of debris on the shore--tools, a  bike, a blue tarp, random pieces of wood, different lengths of rope---abandoned from the attempts to right the boat in the water. Has the man moved away and left all that stuff along with his boat or will he be back when he has another idea? I worry about the geese and the coots and the cormorants, and the turtles and otters who hang out there. Is this trash slowly infiltrating their habitat?

If this man has abandoned hope, why? I think it's because he needs help. He made a mistake. He took his boat into waters that were too shallow and he got stuck and now the man needs help. When I am down by the boat, watching it, waiting for something to happen-- the man to reappear, the coast guard to come help, a miracle of heavy, heavy rain---I hear people walking by and commenting: "This is a disaster." "If we were in North Seattle, this boat would be gone by now." I cannot believe how irresponsible this boat owner is." But even when the man was there, working on saving his boat for many days in a row, he was alone. None of the passersby, including me, reached out to the man and asked, "How can I help?" I feel bad for not offering help, even just checking in with the man. I saw him as a problem, unrelated to me and I watched like a voyeur, waiting for someone else to be the one to help, waiting for him to figure it out. This is not what I want for my community or my planet. It's so sad to think about this little microcosm of our world-- his boat, not my problem.

I understand now that sadness is where the root of my obsession lies. I am heartbroken at the aloneness of this man and his boat. I cannot believe that, in this community of boat owners and people who live along the lake (including me!), there has not been a groundswell of energy and support, a little group of boat movers, like the Amish barn raisers, who gather together to give a big literal or figurative community push to save the little boat.

It's pouring now and I wonder if the rain will help the man and his boat. I haven't seen him in several days. There have been lots of comments on our neighborhood blog about what to do about the damn boat. Call the police, some people say. Call the mayor.  I finally piped in yesterday adding that I think the man needs help. I hope the man reappears to save his boat one last time. If he does, I will ask him if he needs help.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Mahjong


Since I started educating myself about menopause and trying to spread some positivity about this next chapter, I've been gifted with countless links from friends and family relating to menopause: the latest medical research, tropical retreats and programs for women in their fifties, ways to replenish estrogen, and humorous anecdotes about hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

One of the things I've learned is that it is important to establish practices in our forties and fifties that will minimize the cognitive decline that comes in our sixties and seventies. There is a recent correlation between Alzheimers and the decrease in estrogen so obviously women my age are concerned! What can we do to stay sharp and maintain our current mental, physical and emotional health?

We know that intellectual stimulation and human interaction are two important factors in staving off cognitive decline. If we start now, in our forties and fifties, the practices will be set and we won't have to start from scratch when we are sixty or seventy. If we wait, it's harder to introduce the brain to new habits. Once the decline starts, it's very difficult to introduce these preventive practices.

I'm in a rare and very fortunate position in my life right now. Having just sold my business, I have time to follow different curiosities and learn new things. I've had time to read and contemplate some of this menopause research more thoroughly. And, unlike before when I read something and tabled it until I had more time, now, like a mouse following cheese, I have time to follow one thought to another. I have time to create some practices that will help me as I get older.

One of my friends in New Orleans recently told me that her seventy-eight-year-old mother plays Mahjong three times a week and is fit as a fiddle mentally. My daughter Lucia is reading the Joy Luck Club and told me that Mahjong is a big part of the story, and so, as I tend to do, I took these two Mahjong references as a sign that learning Mahjong was an important part of my path.

I searched online and found that they teach both Chinese and American (also referred to as Jewish) Mahjong at the senior center near my house. I called and found out that even though I'm only fifty-one, I would be welcome there. I imagined a big room with multiple tables, like a poker salon, but when I got there it was just me and two other women, not even enough to make a full table of four. Suzanna and Louise gave me an extensive private lesson including the Chinese words for all the suits and numbers. Eventually a few more women joined in so we had a rotating table of four with the experienced players helping the newcomers.

Mahjong was hard. Learning the different parts--- The Winds, Dragons, and other symbols as well as learning the Chinese characters and sounds felt a little like taking piano at age forty-five-- like I was trying to dig new neural pathways with a shovel, but what I really needed was a back hoe.

I had moments of self-consciousness for myself as I sat with these five senior citizens. Was it weird that I was going to the senior center way before I was a senior? At one point all of the women were talking about how to use their Medicare benefits to pay for Silver Sneakers and I felt like a total imposter. I was the youngest by twenty-years in our little party of six. And I was the dumbest. All of the seventy-somethings used Chinese for the numbers and suits while I stuck to awkward English descriptions for each tile.

The feeling I had during my two hours of Mahjong with these lovely elders was one of presence and ease. These women modeled for me the true sense of just being. I (even though I don't actually have a job to go to!) am still heavily burdened by the idea that I am supposed to be doing something important, that I am supposed to be working towards becoming something. But what? I'm sure all of the women around the table have duties and responsibilities-- family, homes, maybe even jobs.

I had to wonder, was it the twenty years of life these women had on me? Had they experienced life -- kids growing up and moving away, deaths, illnesses and other experiences of grief, loss and aging-- that, in some amazing way, opened up a clear path to their pure expression of  joy and presence?

I don't know. I'm still learning about menopause and aging. New research is always happening and the jury is out as to whether injecting estrogen directly into the brain is going to be the cure for cognitive decline for us women. I'm thankful for that little two-hour window of Mahjong where I got to learn a new game that might curb my own loss of mental acuity, but more importantly, I'm grateful for the chance to witness the bigger picture-- the potential for joy and presence in the years to come.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Little Otters in the Lake


This morning when the whole house was fast asleep and there was just enough light to feel like it was actually morning, I dragged Freckles out of his soft, warm dog bed into the drizzle and walked down to the lake. When I got to the boat launch at the end of our street there was one car parking and a young woman got out to walk down to the shore. I noticed her because there were no other cars or people. I wondered if she'd had a long, hard night, if she was sad because someone had died, if she had a big decision to make and needed to look at the clarity of the lake to find some answers.

I let Freckles off his leash so he could wander and, just as I did, I noticed a huge splash in the lake. I looked towards the young woman to see if she'd noticed but she was in her own world, quietly staring towards the boats in the marina. I started my walk south and soon saw a pair of otters. I've been seeing a lot of otters these days and I wondered if maybe that splash had been an otter or two splashing their tails at the same time.

As I walked, I saw no fewer than nine otters, a record for me. "This is a sign," I thought to myself, and I made a mental note to look up the symbolism of river otters. Further down the path I ran into my neighbor and his standard poodle. I mentioned how many otters I'd seen that morning and he said, "Did you see the beaver?" He told me that the beavers had a dam over in Seward Park and often swam north around this time in the morning. That explained the splash. Beavers are much bigger than otters. I was so excited to learn about this presence in my favorite lake. I'd have something new to watch for on my morning walks.

When I got home from my walk I dried Freckles' paws and immediately went to research otters. Otters represents the inner child, celebrating joy in the simple things, the freedom to do what our instincts tell us to do. I love the concept of spirit animals, or totems, because they help explain the magic of the universe. Why I'd been drawn to go out into the dark, drizzly morning today made sense. It was to see all those amazing otters and the lone splashing beaver. And seeing all the otters today made me contemplate "why now?" when normally I catch a glimpse of one or two once every fourth or fifth walk.

Since selling my business, I have been trying to live in the land of simply "being." I've tried to listen to my heart's desire. When I read about otters representing the inner child, I reviewed where I've been and what I've done with my time in the last month. I've painted pictures, sewn a Christmas stocking for my dog, made a pine cone wreath, baked multiple loaves of bread and several cakes, repotted plants, and done my writing practice almost every day. I have been listening to my instincts, doing things that bring me joy. Seeing the otters this morning affirmed this path I am on and gave me a great sense of connection to the wonders of the universe.

I couldn't help but look up the symbolism for the beaver. The beaver totem represents persistence in work, an invitation to vigilantly work on a task or project until it is done. This makes sense, that I only saw the "tail end" of the beaver; only glimpsed the aftermath of it's big tail splashing. I'm not in the productivity mode to get things done and make things happen. Right now, I'm in otter-mode, connecting with my inner child and finding joy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

What am I worth?


For the first time in my adult life I am in the position of not having a "real job." I am on a chosen hiatus from being fully defined by my job. I am incredibly lucky. I have savings and an infinitely supportive partner who will help financially shepherd me through this time of not generating much income.

What I find though, is that instead of luxuriating in this newfound spare time, I am, at times, filled with a sense of unworthiness. I was raised to believe that my value came from working hard, and a lot. In my family making a lot of money was never the big thing, but being busy, having something to do, gave us value and stature. Growing up in the United States I've learned that having money gives me power, authority and respect. So here I am with lots of free time and no cash flow. My default, patterned brain goes to the idea that I am a loser, but the part of my brain that I've been working over the last decade to strengthen, the here and now brain, says that feeling unworthy is a just a construct.

This feeling has inspired me to explore what worth means to me. I've read about it, written about it, meditated on it. What does worth mean to me? It means having a sense of place and purpose in the world. Does it relate to busy-ness? Not really. I'm beginning to understand that, for me, it relates more to a sense of connection with people and the universe around me. Does it relate to income? A little. I want to be able to carry my weight in my household. But more than income, it relates to a different kind of fullness- a fullness in my heart and mind. Are the things I do everyday bringing me joy? Are they bringing me, and maybe others, closer to a feeling of connection with the universe?

I don't have the answers to these questions. These unknowns are where my curiosity lies right now. I'm going to keep exploring and imagining. I do know that being in this place of "perceived emptiness" (e.g. no job) is hard. I am swimming upstream against a flood of beliefs that are deeply grooved into our society and my brain. Everyday is a new challenge and another step towards understanding what brings me joy, heals my heart, and deepens my sense of connection to the world around me.

Party-Style Twists

Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists e...