THE WARRIOR

I began my writing career as a reader. I had no intentions of ever becoming an author; if you had asked me at age 50 who I was, I would have said, “I am a teacher, a parent, and a reluctant housewife.” I have never kept journals, jotted down story ideas, or dreamed of spinning tales that would be read by thousands.

Nope. But what I did do was read. As a child, I would become so immersed in my books that my mother would have to touch me to get my attention, because calling my name was futile.

I identified completely with the heroines of the books that I read, especially those precocious girls who had deep souls, the need to be heard, and the courage to step up to the adults around them and demand attention. Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) and I were “kindred spirits.” She was just like me: an adult being, one who saw and felt with tremendous maturity-but who was “trapped,” albeit temporarily, in a child’s body.

Nancy Drew. Jo March. Eloise. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. These were courageous girls. They stood up to adults, and they never gave up being themselves-no adult could keep them down! These girls became a part of me, and as I grew (late in life!) into a writer of fiction, I knew that the idea of the girl warrior would play a big part in the stories I wrote.

In Keep the Ends Loose, my first novel, Mandy Heath, a 15 year old, is drawn into a family drama of epic proportions when her mother decides to track down a long-lost relative. When things get dicey, it isn’t the adults who hold things together, it is quirky Mandy and her “sophisticated” best friend Barley who brave the storm and ultimately save the day. Mandy discovers that the adults in her world are no less wobbly on their feet than she feels at 15. What a discovery-we are all feeling our way through the world, no matter how “mature” we may be!

My second novel, Crossing the Street, has as its protagonist a very valiant 7 year old, Bob (Roberta) Bowers. Bob at her tender age has already gone through the sorts of traumatic events that many of us in adulthood have not experienced: a drug-addicted mother, a father serving in the Middle East, an ailing grandmother whom she fears might die, and the insecurity of being shunted from home to home. Yet, she never wavers in her enthusiasm for life. Bob is a little warrior, and she marches into the lives of all she meets and makes things better.

As a baby boomer, I grew up and experienced first-hand the ground swell of feminism, the burgeoning anti-Vietnam War protest movement, the racial unrest of the 60’s, and I clung to my childhood heroines’ steadfast optimism and courage. I tried to look at the world through the lens of these girls who never let “stuff” destroy them. It didn’t always work, but the warrior girls never let me down completely. I could always conjure up Jo March’s idealism or Eloise’s refusal to be bossed around. And of course, when the time came for me to have a daughter, I named her Anne.

The warrior. She will never let you forget just how important you are-at age 6 or 60. She is always marching out in front. She is in every one of us.

 

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THE ANCHOR

There are current events. There is aging. The slow disintegration of things like my joints, the thinning of my skin, and the knowledge that my life is no longer an unfolding adventure stretching out in front of me, but instead is a diminishing little mound of sand in an hourglass.

I think about what is behind me, and then the ever smaller measure of what is in front of me, and what do I do? I walk around my house and look at everything. The house is a museum-a repository of all the things that I have lovingly saved during my life. Photos of my kids, doing kid-like things, looking enthusiastic and tiny. Now they are facing their own middle age. I have cleared the fridge of their artwork, but now there is a picture my grandson drew. The “circle of life.” It’s comforting.

I love it in here. It is my retreat, my safe place. It anchors everything that I do. I write here. Read here. Nothing is more wonderful that going to bed early with my husband and lying under the ceiling fan,  enjoying the orange walls and the huge windows–listening to podcasts. I hear dogs barking outside, cars swishing by, cicadas thrumming, and I feel secure in here. Untouchable.

We spend our whole lives collecting tokens to remember places, events, and people. Then we curate them in our homes, placing them in pleasing arrangements. We look at them as we pass, perhaps smiling with a private memory. Or we bless them as we dust.

By the time we are past retirement, no longer hurrying out of the house to spend hours in offices, studios, or cubbyholes, we stay home. We do our “work” in the kitchen, chopping and dicing.  We turn spare bedrooms into “home offices,” where we Google things. We vacuum more frequently, and we don’t mind  folding laundry in the basement. Beds are changed more often. Windowsills are places for resting our hands as we gaze out at the lawn.

This building isn’t just my home any more. It has taken on a significance that I can’t clearly explain. This is a monument to the life I have lived. It is my own personal museum.

There is peace inside these walls.

 

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WHAT’S NEW?

In our callow youth, whenever we overheard “old people” conversing, we thought it was so telling: old folks seemed to have nothing worth discussing but for the current condition of their body parts. Arthritis, hammertoes, hernias, who is the best chiropodist in town, bowels, etc.

We had no idea that if you have been friends with the same group of people for more than forty years, all the other topics of conversation have been long exhausted. There are no new jokes. Gossip about divorces and affairs is not possible, because the affairs have all been consummated and the divorces litigated. There is the news, but good grief, these days the news is so fraught we are afraid if we discuss it, someone will have a heart attack.

So it’s back to the state of our skeletal systems, our digestive missteps, the results of various medical tests, and who has the biggest bunions. It is a topic we can all relate to–sort of like in the old days, when we could discuss our tennis scores or how many sit ups we did in the mornings.

My knee hurts. It seems to rebel especially when I go downstairs. “That’s nothing!” A friend replies. “I think I have Lyme Disease. All my joints ache.”

“But I may have a tear in my meniscus,” I reply. (I think this is great, because it sounds like the kind of injury an athlete might have). Another friend chimes in with “My chiropractor says that he has never seen such a twisted spine.” I have no riposte for that.

“I am going to try hot yoga,” says another friend, who hasn’t yet qualified for medicare. “I think all that heat will be great for my sciatica, and it opens the pores.” Before I can figure out how pores and sciatica might be related, she adds, “My acupuncturist highly recommends it.” Again, perhaps I have not recognized the health significance of opened pores.

When you pass a certain age, your list of experts changes. In my thirties, I had

  • A shrink
  • A nanny
  • An aerobics instructor
  • A Weight Watchers group leader
  • Elmo and Big Bird
  • Dr. Spock
  • Chef Boyardee
  • Martha Stewart

Now that I am facing my own mortality and considering getting a recliner, I have

  • Dr. Oz
  • A chiropractor and massseuse on speed dial
  • Ina Garten
  • AARP
  • WebMD
  • A colorist (only my hairdresser knows for sure)
  • Anderson Cooper

I no longer scoff at people in restaurants chatting about open heart surgery, Preparation H, what’s new in heating pads, or those beds that go up and down. I love hearing about the latest pill for insomnia. Our friends get pretty hyped up when it comes to discussions of which foods lower blood pressure (watermelon, praise God, is on the list), because we are all here, we are all disintegrating, but we are fighting the good fight.

And honest to God, there DOES come an age when absolutely nobody goes on diets any more.

 

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PEACE

I am unable to write anything worth reading.

Peace to Charlottesville and to the United States.

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DIVESTING

IMAGINE A PHOTO HERE OF A CUPBOARD THAT IS SO CLEAN AND MINIMAL THAT THERE ARE ONLY FOUR TUPPERWARE CONTAINERS ON ONE SHELF,  AND THE OTHER THREE SHELVES ARE TIDY, ORGANIZED, AND CLUTTER FREE.  This is because my image “adder” button on my blog dashboard seems not to be working. 

We had a massive purge recently. It was pouring outside, and we were casting around for something to do. So I suggested we go through the cupboards. Whew.

Here is the thing: when you live in a house with tons of storage for thirty years, all those shelves, attic rooms, basement expanses, and charming “cubbyholes” fill up. The path of least resistance: why think about whether or not you might need something in the future if you can just shove it on a shelf somewhere and forget about it? No need to agonize about those three pewter napkin rings and where the fourth one disappeared to, right? It’s possible that we might have a single dinner guest sometime. Speaking of dinner, doesn’t everybody have seven sets of placemats? And a series of Christmas mugs with holly sprigs on them that you have never really liked, but heck, there is room on the shelf for them?

So we started going through everything. Right pantry cupboard, top shelf. One time I had a brunch. It was outside in the Spring. I must have thought all the guests were klutzy, because I felt it necessary to purchase twenty four white plastic mugs for the coffee, along with the same number of matching “luncheon” sized plates. I have no memories whatsoever of the party. Furthermore, I have not used either mugs or plates ever again, and yet there they have been, waiting, ever since. To Goodwill.

Doesn’t everybody have four egg coddlers?

How about Aspirin with an expiration date of April, 2005? Five sleeves of cotton pads? A giant pack of travel size Metamucil (what vacation was that)?

We also came across an entire drawer of those booklets you get when you buy a new appliance. You know, the ones that tell you about the warranty, how to troubleshoot, and who to call when something goes wrong before the warranty expires? We found the one from the washing machine we bought in 1972. The warranty has expired. 

Plastic containers, my Lord. There were millions of them. We got it down to four. For a person that hasn’t been to the gym in seven years, I had ten water bottles. We haven’t had a cookout in at least a decade, so we determined that we no longer need two dozen of those basket things  to put under cheap, flimsy paper plates. 

It was a long afternoon. We felt triumphant afterwards, and we both took naps.

But in the back of my mind, there is a little, worried voice:

“What if you decide to have a brunch?”

 

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