“We are survivors, of each other. We have been shark to one another, but also lifeboat. That counts for something.” Margaret Atwood Cat’s Eye
Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye Through a Foucauldian Optic: The Question of Power. This is the title of my graduate thesis. I have been working on re-writing it recently, and of course reliving the time in which I wrote it. While Handmaid’s Tale is getting a lot of publicity right now, because of the movie made from the book, to me Atwood’s book Cat’s Eye is one of her best books. It is about the friendships among 4 preteen girls. As only Atwood can do, she pulls back the curtain and exposes friendship for what it sometimes can be, messy, horrible, and devastating.
I have also been thinking a lot about what it means to be a friend to someone, and the hard work of letting go of friends who no longer fit into my life.
In my adult life, I have had to let go of a few friends, for a variety of reasons. One thing I’ve learned: I expect a lot out of my friends. One of the big things I expect is that they respect me as I respect them. I have a real problem with someone who wants to be my friend, but finds it difficult to respect my space, my time, or even boundaries that I may have set.
But I am getting much better at being honest about friends who show themselves to be rude, thoughtless, or disrespectful because I believe, that once a person shows you that ugly side of themselves, that they may have kept hidden for awhile – they mean it.
I don’t like people who pretend to be my friend, but don’t care if they humiliate me in public. I don’t like people who pretend to be my friend, but then disrespect me by saying and doing things they know bother me. I don’t like people who pretend to be my friend, but have no qualms about making me uncomfortable in any way, as long as it puffs them up.
It’s difficult to let go of a friendship that isn’t working, but trust me sometimes it is necessary. It is sad, that’s the truth, but necessary nonetheless.
I am so grateful for all the good friends I do have. I don’t let one bad experience (or two) ruin having friends for me. I have had some friendships for 20 years. These friends are true and wonderful. I am grateful beyond words for those true and good friends.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman
I have been working most of my adult life. We were pioneers, going out into the workforce, not because there were no men here to do the work, think WWII, but because we felt like we had something to offer. We also had dreams of having careers. We wanted to be attorneys and professors and engineers and teachers and doctors and scientists and painters and weavers and sculptors .We were a generation of women who wanted to find our work – whatever that was.
My first job was at a drug store, in 1971, I was 16 and worked as a cashier. My working career has spanned four decades and included work as a Fiscal Director, Teacher, Development Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, and Assistant to a VP. I’ve sold Tupperware and Avon and run my own transcription company too, and all of these things don’t even include my volunteer work. Yes, I’ve had a lot of jobs, but I have been working for 4 decades! I have done a lot of things, as the poet says: “I contain multitudes.”
When I contemplate what I want to do for the next ten, maybe even fifteen years, I know that I want freedom. I know that I want to make a difference. I know that I want to be creative. So I plan for my sea change – the one that will take me beyond the 9-5 and into something that will sustain me, when going out in a snow storm is something I’d rather not do. I search for something that will give me creative energy.
We live in a time of opportunity. There are so many ways to be fulfilled in our 60s and 70s and maybe even beyond that if we are willing to put in the work and search for the right thing. My inspiration is my great aunt who dressed antique dolls to help supplement her income. She lived in a lovely little house, full of dolls houses and dolls, and fabric and buttons. She knew people from all over the country, because she was one of the best doll dressers around. They sent her their precious dolls from childhood, or ones they had collected and she dressed them, put new wigs on them and made them look like new. The work kept her vibrant and engaged well into her late 80s. When she passed away, there were still dolls waiting to be dressed. It was work that she could always do – even though she was plagued by an inner ear problem that gave her terrific vertigo. This is what I want for myself – fulfilling work till the end of my life, not vertigo.
I am currently working full-time in an office, but I dream of writing, working on my little plot of land, growing and selling herbs and flowers and vegetables, creating fiber art projects, and living a more free creative life. Remember, Martin Luther King had a dream, not a plan. Dream big dreams.
When I was divorced, for a second time, in my late 40s I actually thought that I might meet someone new, and I tried. Oh I tried. There were parties thrown by other single friends. There were dinners out at restaurants where older singles frequented. There were even some short day trips that promised a mingling of older adults. I spent almost 10 years striving for what most women think is the best thing that can happen to her – finding a man to validate her with his love.
Here is what I discovered. After being married my entire life, I wasn’t interested. I could be and have become, my own validation. I love myself enough. I am successful. I have survived. I can be whole on my own. I can let go of the fear that because I’m not married I am somehow less. I am perfect just the way I am. Unmarried. I like to check the box on forms that says “single” not “divorced” – my own little bit of silent protest for a system that demand I should have to choose a box for an event that happened almost 15 years ago now to identify myself. I am not what happened more than 15 years ago. I am a single, 60+ woman, living on her own. I went back to my maiden name, but I also took my mother’s maiden name when I did, because she is as much a part of me being here as my dad.
I was first married when I was 20 and that marriage lasted 18 years. I married again, way too soon after my first marriage to a man younger than me, who I thought held the promise of a kind, loving, artistic, and interesting soulmate. But he was not. That marriage ended after 12 years, and probably shouldn’t have happened at all. I was 48 when my second marriage ended. When friends were bragging about having been married for 25 years, I’d say: “I was married for almost 30 years – Just not to the same man.” I’m happy for people who have been able to make their relationships last for a lifetime, truth be told I’m a little jealous.
In those early years after my second divorce, when I was thinking that I needed to find another relationship, another man to make me an “honest woman” a “socialized woman” a “partner woman”, I realized pretty early on that it wouldn’t happen. So perhaps that’s why it didn’t. The one thing that always seemed to me to be just below the surface of any new relationship was the implication that if I wanted to be with this person or that person I’d have to do a lot of changing, or sacrificing, or adjusting of my daily routine that I had fallen into. I realized early on I didn’t want to do any of those things. I liked the life that I had built for myself.
When my first husband and I split, the heartache did not seem so bad. After all, I had three sons, two of whom were teenagers at the time. The boys were my heartache shield. I was busy with them; too busy to think very much about myself. But when my second husband left while I was in graduate school, to have an affair with a student, I was devastated. Two of my boys were grown and married, and my youngest son was away at college. My boys were no longer the heartache shield they had been before. They had their own grown up lives.
I took to my bed and slept for probably a week. I realized that the constant drama my second husband put me through had not allowed me to really sleep in a long time. When I look back at pictures of myself from that time, I’m taken by how sick I look. I was sick. Sick from not living my true life. When I finally came out of my initial stupor, I felt more relaxed and free than I had felt in my entire adult life. I did things that I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. I slept in till noon – more than once. I stayed in my pajamas all day. I did things that I didn’t feel free to do when I was married: I grew my hair long. I cut my hair short. I let my hair go grey. I colored my hair. I changed jobs. Stayed up till dawn drinking and talking with friends. I did whatever I wanted. Whatever. I. Wanted. It was amazing.
This was a freedom that I had never really experienced as an adult. I had met my first husband when I was 19, and we were married by the time I was 20, our first son was born when I was barely 21 years old. I had never lived on my own. Never. I went from being a child in my parents’ home, being told when to come in at night and how much money I could have, and mostly being sheltered from the world, to being married. No college to help me develop into an adult. Just bam! Married. My first husband worked and I stayed home for many years with my kids. I accepted the fact that my movements and plans I could make were limited by kids’ schedules and my husband’s schedule. I was always last. Always. I didn’t feel bad about being last. After all, I was the mom and the wife. I had responsibilities. Right?
As my second marriage ended, I realized that, even though I was lonely, and there seemed to be a big hole in my life, there was something positive about it all. I could now do whatever I wanted. There was no one to answer to. Now I was first.
I didn’t know how to react to this new way of life. I felt a little unmoored. But so free at the same time. It was a dichotomy that took some getting used to.
I remember the first grocery store trip after my second divorce. I wandered aimlessly around the grocery store wondering just what I liked to eat. My food purchases had always been geared towards what my husbands preferred to eat, or kids’ lunches and what they would eat for dinner. I drank the beer and wine my husbands preferred. I ate the meals I knew they would eat. But what did I like? That first trip ended in the purchase of a nice bottle of Chardonnay, some lettuce and a chicken breast. I have never enjoyed a meal so much. I ate it on my front porch – a lovely big old porch that I had outfitted with some wicker chairs and a glass table that my mother had given to me. I lit candles and sat there the whole night, enjoying my wine and watching the traffic. I remember that night so vividly, like a person remembers any significant event in their lives. I was free. That was my freedom meal.
Now that I’ve just turned 61, not only have I given up looking for someone to share my time with, I no longer need this activity. Not one little bit. I have too many things I want to accomplish, and I don’t want to share any of my time answering someone else’s demands. This giving up of men feels like my third divorce. I’ve divorced myself from the need for another body in the house. I’ve divorced myself from the need of another person to shop with, or go out to eat with, or to sleep with. I feel absolutely liberated. It is a feeling of absolute happiness that I find a little hard to explain.
I have friends. I’m not saying that I’ve become a hermit, but I am more comfortable with being myself, in my own life, than I have ever been. I feel like a weight of enormous magnitude has been lifted from me. The weight of longing for another person to complete my life. It is so wonderful.
I am so blessed to have three grown children who are married and five lovely, smart, witty grandchildren. They visit. I visit. We talk on the phone. They have their own lives though, and I have mine. I know this time in my life is for me. Having time for me is what I have always wanted, and now it’s here, and I don’t intend to waste one minute of it.
February is my birth month. It is also the month in which my Dad left this plane of existence. It is the month that my youngest granddaughter arrived – a month early – tiny and fighting like a little prizefighter. She just turned 8. February is a month of colds and flu and wishing for spring. Everyone I run in to seems to be wishing for warmer weather, and their gardens, and their front porch or yard. And everyone seems to be fighting some sort of sickness. And we all complain about how grey it is.
I have started to make a tea to keep myself well. Three weeks ago, I came home from work sick, feverish, and achey. I thought for sure I was going down with something. Then I read about using fresh ginger, lemon, and honey to make a tea (more of a tonic for the winter blahs). I dragged myself to my local grocery store, bought some fresh ginger, a bag of lemons and some local honey. I went home and made tea, sat on the couch with my faithful feline companion, and remarkably got better – in less than 48 hours.
I tell everyone I meet about this tea. Some take my advice, others prefer to fill their systems with cold medicine from the pharmacy counter. But I have stayed well in the face of a lot of sickness among friends, family, and co-workers, and I’ve done it without any medicine. There is not too much better than nature.
Speaking of that – believe it or not, it will soon be warm enough to garden again. In early January we still had not really had very much cold weather and I was able to pick some hardy herbs (rosemary and thyme) from my herb garden. They have flavored several batches of roasted vegetables and a soup or two. It was such a treat to have their fresh taste in the winter. I have wanted to build a cold frame for my herbs for a while now, so I can have them all year long. This is the year for that. Stay tuned.
I’m building three more raised bed gardens this year, two for flowers and one for vegetables. I’m increasing the size of my herb garden too. I’ll post pictures when I have them ready. I know it seems early to start thinking about all of that, but blame the 65+ degree weather we had this weekend. I know it’s not good that it’s this warm in February, but it was lovely to see the sun and run around in only a sweater and scarf all weekend.
I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep darlings, till the summer comes again”. Lewis Carroll
Snow blanketed my little corner of Ohio this past week. It was so pretty. My wicker chair next to my herb garden filled up quickly with snow. I sent the picture to my youngest son who lives in California, where the temperatures were in the 60s. He said “I miss weather.” It always makes me smile to hear him say that. When he visited Ohio the first time last year with his new girlfriend, they were both excited when a thunderstorm rolled through our area one night. She grew up in California, so my son’s stories of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and blizzards that close schools for a week are fun for her.
I like weather. Most of the time. What I like the most about winter are warm blankets, movies on the couch with my cat, and watching the snow fall from my big living room window, and an occasional hike in a snowy wood. And candles that smell like cider or evergreen.
What I like the least is getting out at 7 a.m. to drive to work.
The seasons in Ohio provide those of us who live here some nice variety, that’s for sure. We can garden and hike and bike and boat in the spring and summer and really into the fall, and then we can hibernate or ski or sled or go for nippy hikes in a snow covered wood for a few months while the snow flies. And who doesn’t like a white Christmas?
Once the holiday season is over though, I’m ready for spring. I like to plan my garden all winter long while I wait for warmer weather, which is what I’ll be doing in a couple of weeks, right after the holidays. Stay tuned.
“Democracy can’t succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
This is my mom and dad on their wedding day 27 December 1952. My mom took a bus from Bucyrus Ohio to Deridder Louisiana to marry dad. He was stationed there in the Army. When the bus was south of the Mason-Dixon Line, as my mom told the story – every black person on the bus had to move to the back of the bus. When they stopped for a rest, there were separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for the “colored” people. 😦 My mom always said this made her feel so sad). Just three years later in 1955 Rosa Parks after a long day at work would refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, and was arrested for her audacity.
My mom was the most enlightened woman of her age that I have ever known. She was a Democrat and pro-choice. She was a Catholic and loved God with all her heart, and my dad, even with his faults. She was a teacher. My dad was brave guy. Totally. He fought in WWII (his unit was stationed on Luzon) and he also served during Korea. And then he fought for himself as he entered middle age and gave up smoking and drinking.
They loved all their grandchildren, and I know they would love the little ones that are their great grandchildren. I also know in my heart that the hate and terrible actions by some people that are being carried out in the name of democracy would horrify both of them. My father would be horrified because he fought for an America where everyone (EVERYONE) could be free to pursue all the rights and liberties that the Constitution of the United States guarantees. My mother because she was a kind, loving person, who believed in being a strong woman and standing up for what is right always, would be equally horrified. If you really want to call yourself an American, then make sure you know what that means. It does not mean hating everyone who is not white or “like you”.
I am committed to making sure this country is a safe country for everyone – especially for my own grandchildren who will inherit this mess.
Thank you for reading. This has been a rough week for many of us, and predictions for a rough four years has not assuaged any of my fears. But I know that fear is just a symptom of needing to do the right thing.
The fog comes/on little cat feet/It sits looking/over harbor and city/on silent haunches/and then moves on. Carl Sandberg Fog 1916
I love this image that Sandberg creates of fog coming on “little cat feet”. Fog blanketed parts of our area this morning, creating an ethereal ride to work. It may sound strange – but I love a foggy morning. Everything is softened by the haze of the fog and somehow even the ordinary places I pass every morning are made extraordinary by the mist.
The beans are turning brown and the farmers are starting to harvest; fall is in the air. This is my favorite time of year. The colors of the leaves, the change to cooler air, and of course the fog all somehow feel envigorating.