“What the hell is THAT?”

smartphone-1987212_1920Ah, those famous words that greet the first sight of gray hair, facial lines (doesn’t that sound evah-so much nicer than wrinkles?), butt or boob drop, a thickening waist … oh, heck, add to the list on your own. We all have our demons. (That goes for you men as well; I’m not just talking about women here, although that’s what I’ll focus on since I am one…or was the last time I checked.)

Can’t  say I’m bothered by graying hair, although the first truly black strand that came out during a shower made me do a double-take. I’ve been blonde of one shade or another all my life. (I say it that way not because I’ve dyed my hair–I haven’t–but because I was born a tow-head, but my hair has decidedly darkened over time. Funny old world. When I was a kid, I badly wanted to be brunette like my mother and sisters–I thought it would be a way to fit in.)

See? Big difference.

Baby Writer              Graduation 1975            IMG_5663

Maybe I’m not bothered by the gray because there’s not that much of it (or so says the woman that cuts my hair). At this point, I’ve no intention of coloring it, and I rather hope that I’ll wind up with a great mane of silver or white hair. Guess we’ll see.

As for wrinkles (oops! ‘scuse me, facial lines) I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have them. Sure, I likely didn’t as a child, but by my teenage years (and all  that angst) I certainly did. Mom was forever telling me to stop frowning. “I’m not,” I’d say. “I’m concentrating.” It was all the same to her. But, yeah, it left me with two permanent upright marks between my eyebrows that she constantly tried to smooth out with the ball of her thumb. (Really, Ma?) Rough times of one sort and another bestowed the horizontal lines across my forehead that ain’t nevah gonna go ‘way now, sugah. Whatever. I’ve spent nearly 63 years living in my face. It’s bound to show it. And, anyway, I rather like the look of a lived-in face, mine as well as other people’s. There are stories in those lines, and stories are what make people interesting.

(Case in point: Take my former Coast Guard cadets–adoptees all into our household–now grown and experienced officers. Seasoned. Aged. They’re no longer the fresh-faced eighteen-year-olds we first met, scared and uncertain by the road they’d chosen to pursue. Now they’re approaching middle-age. They’ve braved bad seas, drug busts, and those much scarier rites of passage called matrimony, divorce, and parenthood. I loved their young adult faces, but the ones they carry now–ah! Those speak of Life, and I mean it with a capital “L” and emphasis.)

Butt and boob drop? Well, I’ve never had much in the way of breasts. (Boob is such a stupid word; I bet some man coined it first.) Always been small, something I regretted before I wised up and stopped buying into the societal party line. (A friend’s boyfriend once derided me for being “concave.” I’ve also received such endearments as “You’d have a perfect shape if only your breasts were bigger” (that one from my mother, if you can believe it) and “You’d be so much more attractive if only your breasts were bigger.”) News flash, folks–my breasts aren’t anyone’s frigging business.

As for the butt, well, suffice to say that I caught a sideways view of myself in the bathroom mirror after a shower and only one thought that arrowed through my brain:  “Oh, my God, I have Mom’s ass.”

Again, whatever. You get the gist.

Here’s the thing. see. I grew up knowing I wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t even pretty. It was said to me often enough, pointed out by family, that even if I hadn’t believed it at first, I certainly came to. (A guy I spent way too much time with years ago told me, “You’re not the best looking girl in the world, but you have a good heart.” Another–who’d actually expressed a desire to date me, said, “There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be fixed with braces and contact lenses.” Gee. Thanks. I am overwhelmed.)

I wasn’t taught to think well of myself, and so I didn’t. And I was mistrustful of the rare individual who suggested I might, actually, not be all that hideous. What was wrong with them that they couldn’t see it? What did they really want from me?

I remember the day I decided I actually sort of like my face, that it’s not a bad old fizzog. Talk about a cocktail of epiphany and relief. Because if you can find peace in your own skin, what the rest of the world thinks and says in its arrogance and thoughtless stupidity (or rancor and general meanness), doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. Don’t let it matter.

The Art of Appreciation

img_0567(Caveat: A different version of this essay appeared elsewhere, long ago and far away.)

It’s almost impossible for me to pass up an interesting consignment store, second-hand shop, or flea market. I love trolling for treasure because I never know what I’ll find. Sometimes nothing, it’s true, but more often than not I’ve walked away with something I truly cherish. Nothing expensive, mind you; that’s not what I’m looking for. My eyes are set on those things that speak to my heart.

Bit ago, I was puttering through an area Goodwill when I came across a CD of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. I bought it on a whim, mostly because of Bernstein’s name. (An aside here. When I was living in NYC many decades ago, the woman I shared an apartment with was given tickets to the NY Philharmonic by her boss. Not having a ready date, she invited me to go along. We dressed in our finest–not all that fine on our budget–and went, not knowing what we might hear or who would be conducting. And Lo, out walked Leonard Bernstein, five-thousand pounds of TNT in a 5’5″ frame. Watching him stride onto that stage was like watching the arrival of God, and I’ve never recovered.)

Anyway, I put the CD into the car play as I drove home.  My God.

All this time later, I still can’t listen to it without spouting tears, never mind finding sufficient words to describe the beauty of this recording. When my husband first heard it, he remarked that it was impossible for him to not think of Hugo Weaving in the movie “V for Vendetta,” and the image of the Old Bailey exploding. (Similarly, those born during a certain time period can’t hear the William Tell Overture without wanting to yell “Hi-Yo, Silver, away!”)

It’s not such a bad thing to connect a piece of classical music to a cinematic image. Oh, there’re those who’d say it is; those who feel that the purity of classical music should be experienced without the crass trappings of Hollywood. For some, though, a movie soundtrack may be their first experience of classical music, and where’s the harm in that?

Case in point: my love of classical music stems not from my mother’s ballet music phonograph records (yes, children, music was pressed into vinyl discs once upon a time), but from Saturday morning Warner Bros. cartoons. Bugs Bunny taught me to appreciate Rossini (“Rabbit of Seville”), Strauss and Tchaikovsky (“A Corny Concerto”), and Wagner (“Long-Haired Hare” and “What’s Opera, Doc?”).  Thanks to Bugs, Elmer, and the rest, I learned about passion and humor, turmoil and hilarity. I suspect watching those cartoons every Saturday also fed into my love of words and desire to write. Thanks, guys! (And if you’ve never seen them, run to YouTube and search them out. You won’t be sorry.)

Back in 2007, violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito in a cold Washington D.C. Metro Station and played six Bach pieces, some of the most intricate music ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. The performance lasted approximately 45 minutes. Something approaching 2,000 people went through the station in that time. After three minutes, a man stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on. Four minutes later, a woman threw a dollar into Bell’s hat and kept walking. Six minutes later, a young man stopped briefly to listen before moving away. Ten minutes later, a three-year-old stopped to listen, but his mother pushed him along. This identical action was repeated by several other children, although every adult, without exception, forced them to move on quickly. In total, six people stopped to listen for a short while, and 20 gave money as they passed. Bell collected a total of $32. When he finished, silence took over. No one noticed when he left. No one applauded his performance.

This wasn’t a silly whim on Bell’s part, but a sociology experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities . The questions being raised were these: Do we perceive beauty when it’s presented to us in a common place environment, at an inappropriate hour? Do we recognize talent when it appears in an unexpected context?

If not, how much of the  world are we missing?

Whether it’s music or poetry, the ocean or stars, a baby’s cry or the last breath of a loved one, when the opportunity comes your way to share in the mystery, the beauty, hang the clock. Feed your soul.

 

 

I Quit Facebook

ivan-lojko-53308-unsplash

Photo by Ivan Lojko

So, yeah, that. It may not seem radical to most of you, but it was a big decision for me.

I came to Facebook late compared to most of my friends. I just wasn’t certain I wanted to spend time with it. At first, I didn’t. I’d check in once a day, smile at a few posts, maybe laugh, screw up on how I was working with it because I was flying by those proverbial pant-seats, and then sign off and get on with my day.

But then, oh, then.

My time on FB increased. I enjoyed being able to connect with so many friends in such an easy way. Writing can be a lonely business, and we writers sometimes don’t have a wide social circle, so this interaction I was experiencing filled a gap in my life, so to speak. Not that it did; not really. Emails and texts and written words on a screen are all well and good, but they’re no substitute for actual face-to-face time, hearing a person’s words, seeing their facial expressions.

Over time, a funny thing happened. I began to derive less and less pleasure from my time on FB. I grew frustrated because their algorithms wouldn’t let me automatically see posts from certain friends that they decided in their Ultimate Wisdom weren’t worth my time. I hated the political rants (particularly after this last election), the hatred, the finger-pointing, and I was astonished by some of the poison being spewed by people I thought I knew. I also hated being forced to look at pictures I’d never have sought out in a million years merely because they came up on my feed and I couldn’t avoid them. (Sure, keep me from seeing posts from an old, dear friend, but go ahead and show me images of abused children and animals. Yeah, I love that.)

I’d get off FB feeling worse than when I got on. I felt depressed. I liked myself less. And I finally decided, ENOUGH.

So this past weekend, I went through my friends list and contacted many of them (those I know personally or hear from regularly) and told them I was leaving. I provided my email address and let them know that I hoped they would stay in touch, accepting that it’s now out of my hands. can do my part to keep our relationship alive, but if there’s no response then there’s no response, and I’m surprisingly okay with that. You can’t make someone hang with you. (Or can you? Hmmm….isn’t that what FB and its ilk are all about?)

Yesterday I wrote a short farewell post and I pulled the plug. And felt such relief and release. No pressure. No compulsion. I feel lighter, happier, and more energetic. I should have done this years ago.

I’m not saying everyone should leave FB. That’s between you and you. All I recount here is my own experience. But I feel that I’ve taken back a portion of my life, minutes (hours) stolen by aimless drifting. I’ll write more, read more, talk more with those I love, walk the dog more.

It’s like that scene at the end of the movie “Chocolat” where Anouk talks about her imaginary kangaroo friend Pontoufle, how his bad leg miraculously healed and he hopped off in search of new adventures. “I didn’t miss him.”