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Category Archives: Feelings

Why Do We Die?

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tantrumWhy must we die?!? Okay, I get it that living forever isn’t such a fabulous idea— but why such pitifully short lives? I mean, I’m just getting going! This morning I heard a radio program on “smart urbanization” that I found totally stimulating; I’d love to look into this and be part of creating future living situations that work. I have lots of ideas that mesh with the experts’, at least from what I heard. This happens a lot: I hear something new and interesting and feel a strong urge to get involved. But do I have time to develop a career in smart urbanization or any other field? Doubtful. Even if I live another 20 years (also doubtful, especially if I keep puffing on toxic tobacco sticks), I’d have to give up or at least cut back on writing, not to mention doing all my favorite essentials like puttering around the house, doing crossword puzzles, and watching rented movies.

Even if I didn’t want to try out some new kind of work or even play, dammit! I’m just beginning to learn how to do the one thing on which I’ve maintained a steady focus. I’m only just learning how to write halfway decent fiction, to create characters who sound and act believable, and to invent situations for them that might interest readers. My non-fiction too keeps improving, but I didn’t have quite as far to go in that department. I had, still have, an enormous amount to learn in the genre I prize above all others, i.e., novel writing, but it is happening, and at a quicker pace than when I was young and distracted. What they say about improving with age is absolutely true—but we benefit from our growing wisdom for such a brief period, I question its value. Besides which, nobody wants you when you’re old and gray, as the song goes, even in the field of literature, where the powers-that-be want youngsters they can trot out in front of the cameras. And don’t get me started on the new forms of publication and how I can promote my ebooks by branding myself. That shit makes me want to throw up.

I did not intend to go off on a personal rave about my own career or lack of same, but all roads seem to lead to regret. My intention was to rant in general against this stupid idiotic pathetic system called Life. Who created or  invented it? You people who believe in a Creator, don’t you think he or she is pathetically incompetent? Talk about lousy planning! Nothing about our brief lives makes sense. We’re born, we get a few carefree years to play and learn one or two things—that is if we’re lucky enough to have a decent set of parents who don’t beat or otherwise abuse us, and we’re not born with some illness or disability, nor into abject poverty or war; then we struggle through whatever educational system is available, again if we’re lucky; and meanwhile we’re utterly confused, trying to figure out how to navigate such minefields as romantic love, sex, friendship, and something meaningful to do with our time; we work like dogs trying to go forward but too frequently we’re like Alice and the Queen, running as fast as we can just to stay in place–and this is, again, the best case scenario. Then we start to lose things like beauty and hearing and friends, and soon we go feeble and sick—even if we’re lucky enough to have only minor ailments, they’re a pain in the ass; and then poof, it’s all over.  A real idiot, that Creator. Or evolution. Or whatever or whoever.  I gave up trying to figure that part out a long time ago. Now I just want to know: WHY? WHY DIE? AND WHY SO SOON?

 

career-path

 

Preventative Mastectomy

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Angelina Jolie wallpaper

Angelina Jolie wallpaper

So what do we think of Angelina Jolie’s preventive mastectomy, and of the procedure in general? Right from the get-go I want to say that I honestly do not  judge Jolie or any other woman who decides on this course of action, nor do any of us have the right to do so. It’s entirely up to each woman to do what she thinks best for herself–which doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. Or maybe it’s not actually an opinion, it’s more about what I might do in the same situation.

When I first heard about preventive mastectomy a few years ago I was horrified–especially since some women were having it who didn’t know what their chances of getting breast cancer were. Maybe their mother had it, or even an aunt or female ancestor further back. That seemed to me the height of paranoia, even female self-hatred. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer in 2007, however, so Angelina got herself  tested. She has an 87% chance of getting breast cancer. Eighty-Seven Fucking Percent. PLUS, a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Lousy odds.

From what I’ve read in comments and op-eds, women are doing most of the talking, and the majority are cheering Angelina on, congratulating her courage and noting the depth of her demonstrated motherly devotion. She deserves the cheering, and the public kudos for undergoing such a radical procedure that’s left her without breasts for the next half of her life. Jolie’s fairly young–37–which is a huge factor when making this kind of decision, but it can probably work in either direction, I would think. At my age, for instance–67–I wouldn’t do it. What for? We’re all gonna die of something. Were I 37, though, I don’t know if I would have made the decision to live without my breasts. Then again, 87%…Still…

Whoa, it’s so fucking hard!

I’m wondering how this is going to affect Angelina’s life. Will she lose out on any acting roles because of it?

English: Gwyneth Paltrow at Sensuous launching...

Gwyneth Paltrow 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

People magazine recently featured Gwyneth Paltrow on their cover, captioned as The Most Beautiful Woman In the World. I did a double-take, on line at the supermarket, and then I laughed out loud. Gwyneth Paltrow? My sister once described her as “bland,” comparing her to Marilyn Monroe. I think Paltrow is kinda cute…but The Most Beautiful? Shit, I remember when Liz Taylor held that distinction–but she deserved it. If you ask me–and nobody has–Angelina Jolie deserves the moniker today. Maybe Michelle Pfeiffer, but I suppose she’s too old (and come to think of it, Liz was considered beautiful in her 60s). Gwyneth Paltrow? The Most?

 

I’ve gotten off track here, but I do have a point. If the Hollywood power mongers think GP is more gorgeous than AJ, what will they think of a breastless AJ? Does that sound awful? Am I a bad person for thinking and/or saying that? I can’t be the only one to whom these thoughts occur. I honestly do think Angelina is just as gorgeous post-op–after all, I was never privy to her breasts! But knowing the ways of the world and the people in it, I strongly suspect these issues are, at the very least, on people’s minds.

I knew a woman who had breast cancer that wasn’t diagnosed until it had reached Stage 4. Everyone expected her to die soon. Ultimately she had a bone marrow transplant of her own bone marrow–and she lived another ten years, so she was around until her kids grew up, more or less. It makes me wonder: Couldn’t someone with a strong chance of getting breast cancer get checked every six months or more and have the mastectomies if and when those fucker cells do invade her body? Just askin’.

Anything you don't need, Lenny?

Anything you don’t need, Lenny?

I keep remembering a scene in Law & Order where Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson) patiently explains to Lenny (Jerry Orbach) that the articles he skips “on your way to the sports section” are kept in her night table drawer. He and partner Ray (Benjamin Bratt) scoff at the idea of a woman hesitating about surgery when it can save their life. She aims a deadly glare at Lenny and asks, ” Oh yeah? Can you think of a part of your body you might wanna keep?”

I can. Angelina, you are in my heart and mind a lot these days. With all the people thinking about you, feeling for you, talking about you, your vibe on Planet Earth must be so powerful, this might be a good time to do something daring, something risky…oh, yeah…you already did. Good luck baby girl. In my book YOU  are The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, bar none.

Susan Miller RIP

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Susan in a Wacky Wig

Susan in a Wacky Wig

Susan (“Shoshana”) Miller
b. January 1941 — d. Jan. 19, 2013

“Susan evolves and helps other people evolve.”

Someone once asked me what my friend Susan “did” in the world. I thought a moment and then told him that she evolved and helped others do the same. It’s true, that’s what Susan did. She evolved.

The first time I met Susan we bonded over the songs of Bob Dylan. She was thrilled to meet a feminist who, like her, did not condemn his “sexist” lyrics the way many of our sisters did. She was even more thrilled that I knew most of his lyrics. Together we launched into a joyful songfest that lasted almost 40 years.

Susan was always excited about one thing or another. She’d share her cultural discoveries, saying with great fervor, “There’s a lot to check out!

I met her in 1975, while she was in New York waiting for a space to open up in a Colorado asthma clinic. Her friend Stephanie, who she’d known since childhood, introduced us. I was in a theater group with Stephanie, and was also madly in love with her. So was Susan, but having been at it longer, she played the role of mentor to my first and only serious lesbian relationship. Being bisexual in the lesbian-feminist community was another place where she and I bonded.

Our most significant bond, though, came from the kind of people we were by virtue of our experiences with disability. Susan was one of perhaps three people who understood from the inside out my life as the mother of a person born with a chronic medical condition. Having been born with asthma and eczema, as a child she was tied to the bed to keep her from scratching herself. Painful “medicine” was applied to her inflamed arms and legs—like so many treatments of that era, it was pure torture. That Susan became such an enthusiastic, fun-seeking lover of life is testament to the human spirit.

Some 15 years after our New York meeting I moved to San Francisco. Susan was living here, and we reunited at a Mother Tongue theatrical event. She was still singing Dylan, still bisexual, still checking things out. She became my cheerleader, faithfully reading almost everything I wrote, leaving a trail of comments sprinkled across my blog. I’m glad I have those comments–I’ll always be able to open one and feel her enthusiasm leaping off the screen.

She was a wonderful woman and a great friend. RIP Shoshana. I’m certain you’re still evolving.

Journal Entry: Memories of Laughter

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I’m remembering laughing with my mother. We laughed so much, she and I; also with my sister Linda, and / or all 3 of us together. Sometimes with my brother Charles too. I haven’t laughed like that in ten or more years I’m certain.

The peak experience of our laughing relationship occurred during one of my visits to my parents’ apartment on W. 70th Street, when I was living in Woodstock. It was a Saturday, and I’d come without the kids, who were probably at their father’s for the weekend. I’d just arrived, and we were going out for lunch, so Mom and I were still catching up as we walked to the restaurant. My father led the way, my mother and I trailing behind, talking nonstop. I have no idea what we were talking about, but we were in hysterics. I remember leaning into her, holding onto her sleeve trying to steady myself, laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks; she too was laughing, probably generating the hilarity with some incredibly witty words. Crossing West End Avenue, a Black Woman in a Hat—my catchphrase for the strong powerful African-American women who should, and I suspect will, run the world someday—walked past us, crossing the street from the opposite side. She broke into a broad grin and said something like “That’s right ladies, have a good time,” though by now I’ve forgotten her exact words. Doesn’t matter. My memory is of her enjoying our love and laughter almost as much as we were.

It was a glorious day in New York City, with the sun glinting off the windowpanes of the tall buildings in that special way it does in NY. It was the kind of day I’ll never see again, and one I’ll never forget.

Homely

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When I was seven or eight years old, I used to visit my Aunt Dottie, who lived next door to us, nearly every day. She was a soft, freckled, good-natured woman who fed me home-baked cookies and adored me madly. One day she had me on her lap, smothering me with wet sloppy kisses and painfully tight hugs, when she grabbed my cheek between two fingers, pinched it, hard, and in a voice brimming with love gurgled, “Kinehora, you’re so homely!”

I had no idea what either kinehora or homely meant. I cared more about the latter, since she’d used it to describe me, so when I got home I asked my mother what homely meant. “Oh, it means plain, you know, not pretty,” she casually answered, her mind on other things.

Devastated, I went straight to my closet, where I frequently held self-pity parties, laid down on the big soft blanket  and pillow I kept for just this purpose, and cried my eyes out. So, I wasn’t pretty…I’d suspected as much.

I carried that word homely around with me long after my baby fat was gone and my face matured. I carried a sense of myself as “plain, you know, not pretty” until I was in my thirties, and learned that the Yiddish word kinehora is a superstitious guard against bad fortune, particularly when it comes to kids. Having suffered so much throughout history, Jews are terrified of naming anything as good, or to expect a positive outcome to any event. Some alter cockers fervently whisper kinehora whenever they do say something positive (extremely rare), lest they invoke the anger of the gods. Aunt Dottie, it turns out, was handing  me a double blessing, not only with her kinehora but also by not naming what she really thought: that I was  – gasp! — pretty!

Having discovered the truth, I told my mother, who had of course forgotten, the whole sordid story. She felt terrible. “Why didn’t you tell me then what it was all about?” she asked. To this I had no answer: I was just being a kid; that’s what kids do, they ask about a word; they never give parents the whole story. Besides, I’d been so humiliated by her response that I had to get away from her and into my pity closet right away.

I no longer think of myself as homely, but I’m past the age when it matters, to me or anyone else. Aunt Dottie’s lesson, however, wasn’t entirely lost on me: As my daughter was growing up I repeatedly told her, without ever saying kinehora, that she was beautiful. She is. I hope she knows it. I’m pretty sure she does.

Poem For A Reader

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For My Ex-Lover’s Lover

I see what she sees in you:

the curve of your cheek

is almost more than I can bear.

Sometimes when we talk

you touch my shoulder gently

and I feel it in the places

where she hungers.

I know her weaknesses

and the way she likes to hold you

how her face looks to you

from below.

I see your limbs entangled loosely

and the movements that arouse her,

feel her hot and pulsing in your hand

as if I lie between you

instead of by myself

remembering the curve

of your cheek.

Sometimes I wonder
on whose account I’m jealous.

This Aging Thing, Again

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My 85-year-old aunt told me the other day that before 80 she barely thought about or noticed getting older. I pretended to believe her, though I knew she was lying – or, more likely, her memory is highly selective. I vividly recall sitting around her Florida condo with my uncle and my mother, the three of them carping about the terrible process of aging. My mother, who thought herself a brilliant wit, gave me some advice. “Don’t get old,” she said with a deep sigh.

They were around my age at the time – I’m now 64 – and, then in my 40’s, I told them I was beginning to understand what they were talking about. They scoffed at me. “You’re too young!” they protested. To hear them, you’d think that in their 40’s they’d been living it up, going out dancing and carousing. Those years, they said, had been the best of their lives.

But I remembered them at that age too, in suburbia, nearly beaten down by their jobs, the bills, the trials of raising children. Had they forgotten I’d been around during those years? Did they not know I’d been watching them, that studying the grownups was a survival skill of childhood? What I remember feeling about them in those earlier years is pity: my life was full of promise and excitement, while theirs was a dead end – typical adolescent arrogance. On the other hand, they were so settled; it certainly looked like their lives weren’t going anywhere. (Once we kids got out of the way, their lives changed dramatically.)

Though my aunt still doesn’t believe me, I understand her: I understand the mechanism that lets her believe she gave not a thought to age until very recently. I understand it because, like my relatives, I now look back on my 40s as the prime of my life. I perceive my 42-year-old self as energetic, wild, and adventurous. Unlike my aunt and mother, I was out dancing – in fact, I’d just begun life anew by moving cross-country. My rejuvenation, however, lasted but a few short years; by the end of the decade I was beginning to collapse again.

I’m not supposed to say things like that, to use words like “collapse.” My boomer peers are creating an ethos of aging that runs counter to our parents’ so-called negativity. They say we’re living longer, stronger, and healthier; everything’s better for us than for previous generations. As always, I am out of sync.

Here’s the thing: Because my aunt is unable to be completely honest, she cannot tell me how she’s evolved in her feelings about aging. Because my peers refuse to address the subject with complete honesty, they will not tell me what they’re feeling about this aging thing, nor will they listen to my story so we can compare and contrast. The upshot is, I’m going through this alone. It seems I can learn nothing from anyone else about a subject that’s become of vital import to me. Worse yet, I can learn nothing about where this process is ultimately headed, except by reading religious texts. Yes, I’m referring to the Grim Reaper. I suppose the Boomers will turn him into the Happy Guide or some equally moronic euphemism.

This is beginning to remind me of the terrible frustration I felt during my years raising children when I couldn’t talk honestly about my life as Mommy.  Friends with whom I’d shared my deepest secrets before we had kids were strangely horrified if I expressed the least bit of negativity. My older female relatives had shared nothing with me about child-rearing, and my peers refused to talk about it, even after feminism opened us up to truth-telling. It wasn’t until I was well past the active phase of motherhood that the next generation, bless them, blew the lid off the secrets of maternal darkness. I’m grateful it’s finally safe for me to tell my stories, and even more grateful that they listen to me. I’m also grateful that I still care enough and find the subject fascinating – a lot of mothers, understandably, just want to forget those years once they’re over.

In terms of this particular topic, though, I can’t wait for the next crop of elders to get the ball rolling! By the time some future generation starts blowing open the dark secrets of aging and death, I’ll be an inert pile of ashes upon someone’s shelf. Maybe this time I just won’t wait for someone else. Maybe this time I’ll just say to hell with their ridicule and judgment, fuck their looks of pity and attitudes of superiority. I’ll just start talking. Hell,  I got nothing more to live up to (Dylan). Maybe I never did.

Note: For more of my posts on aging, click here. And here. And here.

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