Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Derrière Sagging? Watch the Olympics

Just look at those Olympic contenders! As if anyone could turn away. We marvel at their skills. Also at the courage and grit written on their faces. And their bodies look like what they are--athletic and vigorous. Compare them with what passes for beauty in the media these days: thinness to the point of anorexia, figures sculpted by cosmetic surgeons going for the ideal of fashion magazines. These same magazines that, not long ago, touted the "heroin addict look"-- vacant, kohl-rimmed eyes, disheveled hair, spindly bodies with ribs that could be played like a xylophone.

In a culture that worships appearance, Olympic beauty is the kind we ought to be glorifying: healthy, strong, whatever the body type. And those types come in incredible variety, from the sleek but sturdy compactness of the gymnastics teams to Missy Franklin, the amazing 6 foot 1 inch Gold Medal swimmer. Though there are optimal (note that word--not "ideal") body types for particular sports, even within a sport they vary. Consider women's weightlifting champs China's Wang Mingjuan, a contender at 105 pounds, and Cheryl Haworth, a bronze medalist in 2000 at nearly 300 pounds. Such variety presents a clear message: in the Olympics, bodies are respected more for function--and how beautifully they execute their moves--than for intrinsic form.

Which is a notion we midlifers should celebrate. Of course we're looking a lot different today than we did at twenty-five. As I say in one of my poems, "Gravity wins, hands down--also boobs down." So our boobs may not be perky, but if our mammograms are clear, let's count our blessings. Our waists may be thickening, but we can still bend and snatch a six- month-old from her crib. Our thighs are webbed with spider veins, the flaps under our upper arms could lift us in a high wind, but our legs still get us through a bracing walk and those arms through a set of tennis. That's gold medal quality performance on my scorecard.

My daughter at 8 with Aunt Ruth at 88
At eighty, my great-aunt had a chinning bar installed in the bathroom of her miniscule New York apartment. Aunt Ruth exercised--pull-ups on that bar and sit-ups on a mat near her bed-- every morning, and walked brisk miles through Manhattan streets well into her nineties. She was determined to stay as fit as she could as long as she could. Now that's a winner. 
Almost every competitor at the Games is young. The most senior this year is a seventy-one-year-old equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu. Dana Torres, the swimmer who almost made it to London, was considered way past her prime at forty-five. Of course youth reigns at the Olympics. But those kids are positive examples for our kids and grandkids... and for us. They're living illustrations of a maxim that applies to bodies of all ages: function over form. Keep that in mind, keep that in muscle memory, midlifers! 
Why do so many of us have body image issues? Beyond using the Olympics as a teachable moment, what can we do to reinforce positive body image in the girls and young women in our lives? And what about us...is it ever too late to appreciate our bodies for the work they do instead of focusing on the flaws we see? Let's hear from you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Regrets...I've Had a Few

My parents' 40th anniversary
Recently, I attended a thirtieth anniversary party for close friends. After the cake and champagne, we watched a DVD chronicling the couple's marriage and the family it produced. The wedding, grinning kids, vacations, celebrations, photos of a blissful union on its way to forever.

I sat in the darkened living room surprised by a twinge of emotion rare for me: envy. I've never been much for envy. I mean, what's the point? But watching that montage of unrelentingly happy occasions, I realized that young widowhood and, later, divorce robbed me of a long and photogenic marital history. And as the schmaltzy background music--my favorite "The Way We Were"-- faded, I couldn't help thinking: IF ONLY. If only I'd made other, different choices early on, maybe it would have been me up there on the screen holding hands with a generic blue-eyed, dark-haired husband of thirty years, having that perfect life.
Then the lights came on, really, because the wife, a woman who never failed to speak her mind, stood smiling wryly to announce, "And that, my friends, is the edited version."
The edited version. Of course. What we see from the outside is life Photoshopped to erase flaws, nicks and scars. The inside truth is that no one escapes pain and sadness; or as my mother used to cheerily remind me as she combed tangles from my hair, none of us gets out of this world without suffering.
It occurred to me then, as it does to so many of us at our age, that decisions made when we're young spin off life-changing repercussions. The engagement to the med school suma cum laude that I broke because he wanted to settle down and I wanted to live it up...bad move? He's probably a top surgeon today and still a sweetie. Could be, though, he's running a meth lab up in the mountains. The three-book poetry contract offered by a major publisher after my first collection got a thumbs-up in People? The contract I turned down because...God knows why? Stu-pid decision. But maybe I wouldn't have gotten to write novels, which I'm sure is my true calling.
 Say I were offered the chance to rewind my life and I took the road not taken--then what? Then I'd have "different" at the very least. Not my family which is incomparable. Not my friends, ditto. Maybe I wouldn't have experienced the stuff that turned into stories filled with laughter and spirit, or the heartbreak that left me softer, the losses that left me stronger. The thing is, I'm much of who I am because of the choices--good, bad and you've-got-to-be kidding-- I made long ago. My life and I are far from perfect. Yet I wouldn't trade us for anything or anyone else. So, regrets--I've had a few, but then again--as the song goes-- too few to mention.
How about you? Did your life turn out the way you dreamed or planned it? If you had it to live over, would you do it differently?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On the Road Again? My Highway Driving Phobia

What did I know about driving? I grew up in New York City, which arguably has the best public transportation in the country. The subway rumbled beneath our living room window. A bus belched fumes at the end of our block. NY schools didn't even bother to offer driver's ed. Then, in my twenties, my husband and I relocated to the Baltimore suburbs where they served bread and butter in Chinese restaurants. I thought I'd moved to hell. No subways or buses. I learned to drive.

From the beginning, at the beginning I loved it--the freedom, the exhilaration of highway driving. In my thirties, I negotiated the hairpin turns around California's Big Sur in battering rain, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in blizzards. No problem.

Problem. One afternoon approaching an exit on the Baltimore Beltway, my life crashed around me. I was a passenger, my seatbelt was buckled, it wasn't my friend's fault; his car was slammed from behind by an 18-wheeler--nearly totaled. I was sirened off to the hospital, head sandbagged. The docs thought I may have broken my neck. Turned out I was fine.
Well, not quite. A few weeks later, breezing along a different expressway, I got rocked by an unfamiliar jolt in my solar plexus, a cold stab of fear that sent my foot hovering above the brake. I gritted my teeth through the racing heartbeat, the dry mouth, the waves of nausea and dizziness, and managed to stagger my car onto an exit. Some never-to-be repeated quirk of nerves, I told myself. I tried again. And again. But the highway driving panic grew worse. Within months I was reduced to taking back roads and two-laners.

And that's the way it's been for more than two decades. As my world continued to shrink, I increasingly relied upon the kindness of family and friends and a network of detours. And though we highway phobics are a secret sisterhood, I began hearing about and from many other women--most at midlife--whose hyper-creative subconscious imagined the horrifying worst. These bright, otherwise capable women were ashamed of what they thought was their weakness. Me too. And yes, men can be highway phobic. But far fewer than women.
For a quarter century I've lived hobbled like a bird with clipped wings. Then a few months ago, something inside me rebelled and I declared " Enough! " Which is where my story really begins.

It will continue in future posts. If you're living with, have conquered a highway phobia, or just want to discuss your own particular fear, I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Our Time, Our Place

Who knew when I wrote my novel, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), that the book would touch the hearts and engage the minds of so many women? They identified with Dr. Gwyneth Berke, a gynecologist divorced under (hilariously) awful circumstances after a long marriage. They empathized with recently widowed Kat Greenfield in her battle with serious health problems. They cheered on quick-witted businesswoman Fleur Talbot--never married but rarin' to go. And they laughed and cried along with these characters through their struggles and triumphs.

The response to My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet) was incredibly rewarding. "Thanks for showcasing women at midlife" was a major theme. "Why are we invisible? Why are we being ignored?" Also: "Wait until you hear my story." And they shared. Oh, did they share! Though my website www.tobydevens.com, at my book signings, on radio tours, in the Q and A's after speaking engagements, bright, energetic women like you shared their joys and heartaches. They also voiced their questions and complaints. And I had the privilege of talking with them and listening to them for which I will be forever grateful.

A consequence of those conversations has been my writing more stories about women in midlife. This blog is another. Welcome to Midlife Passions where we'll talk about topics we're passionate about--subjects that deal with our time and our place in a changing world. It's going to be interactive experience for all of us. So read on and write in. And let's have some fun.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Curly Hair: Fight On..or Surrender

I was a bald egghead of a baby, so bereft of hair that my mother sewed a bow into the wisp I'd acquired by my first birthday. Sounds dangerous to me, but they didn't have car seats back then either. At four, I had a mass of silken strawberry-blond curls. But around seven, those glossy ringlets were replaced by strange-unwelcome-interloper hair: thick, wiry, auburn and unruly.

By adolescence, pony tails offered the promise of salvation. My best friend had a sleek blonde and barretted version. Sadly, they made no barrettes big and strong enough to contain my wild mane; I used industrial strength rubber bands. And I wore bangs, a crimped fringe to which my mother applied Jo-Cur styling lotion, a concoction with the consistency of snot, then bound them under a smooth faille band. Eventually they dried and emerged a sheet of shiny perfection. Which, of course crinkled as soon as I frowned or a speck of humidity made contact. That's when I started having my hair straightened at a salon called Ollie's where they used a thick cream that singed your scalp a bit, but sent you on your way sleek and sassy with confidence. You could walk through a thunderstorm and your hair stayed straight until the tiny nasty wavelets grew back.

In college, the requisite stick straight hair took more discipline than even Ollie's could apply. My roommate ironed it smooth or I set it with cans that once held frozen orange juice. Miserable, I considered switching my major to theatre where they worshipped Bernadette Peters. Then to the rescue, hot rollers and eventually the curling iron and straightening rod. But most important, at a low point in my life, fabulous Hasan entered. My hairdresser is Turkish with arms of steel and a will of iron He wields his dryer, a portable inferno, like a weapon as he pulls and tugs the enemy into submission. And now, midlife, I love my hair! (At east until the next home shampoo.) Nightly, I pray Hasan will outlive me.

A friend with similar hair has let it go wild, back to its primitive roots. Her attitude,"I've finally surrendered to my hair," is very serene, very noble. Well, good for her. But I'm not throwing in the towel yet. For me this is a fight to the death. And if there's something to be said for death , it's that if I check out with smooth, straight hair, I know it will hold forever.

A character in one of my books--recently written-- is half Asian/half-Caucasian, I gave her super shiny straight dark hair, a cinch to manage. They say writers should draw from their own experiences, but I wanted to vicariously enjoy an experience I never had.

I've heard so many women say, "If my hair looks good, I look good." Are you satisfied/frustrated with your hair? Do tell. Let's let our hair down!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nora Ephron~One of the Gals

It's been more than a week since Nora Ephron's death and it seems life can't let go of her. Interviews with friends, notable quotes, Facebook tributes are still popping up on the Net. Maybe life holds onto her was because she was so full of life--not an idealized version, the real thing. And in these days of plastic politicians and Botoxed Hollywood stars, when we spot the genuine article, we cherish it, we want to hold onto it.

 At lunch recently with some women friends, the conversation turned to Nora and our grief at her passing. She was the sister we never had or a wittier, less self-absorbed incarnation of the ones we did. Our kind of gal, and the funny thing was, we were all kinds of gals. Whatever our backgrounds, we identified with this sophisticated lady who listed as one of her greatest pleasures driving over the bridge into Manhattan.

As we nibbled we talked about the nature of Nora's appeal. And BTW, we called her by her first name. Obviously , she hadn't known she was part of our circle, though from the intimate tone of her writing, I imagine she appreciated that what she said and wrote resonated at the deepest level with women . She touched the damaged chord in all of us. You think your neck is crepey? Mine looks like a turkey wattle. Your husband/boyfriend cheated on you? I'll give you Carl Bernstein who flagrantly screwed around on me. And I'll raise you: I was pregnant with our second child at the time. She was the mistress of one-downsmanship. And that made you feel less isolated, odd, singled out for lousy luck.

 Also, she unveiled secrets we thought were shamefully ours alone. like occasionally faking orgasms. That "I'll have what she's having," scene isn't just funny, it's connecting. As Meg Ryan brilliantly simulated the Big O , women mentally nodded as they howled in knowing delight; men laughed but from a distance. Yeah, sure, but not in my bed.

Nora seemed to unveil most of her own insecurities, her humiliating experiences--and they jibed with our own. Everything was grist for "copy" as her mother, the screenwriter Phoebe Ephron had advised Yet, at the end she maintained a dignified privacy, sharing her terminal illness with very few.

"Seventy-one. So young ," my sixty-eight year old friend murmured buttering her third piece of bread. "She lived an incredible life," my thirty-seven year old friend said before deciding to order the brownie sundae. On a radio interview replayed shortly after her death, Nora declared she'd eat whatever she craved, calories, carbs be damned, because she never wanted to regret an unordered dessert. Of course, we're grieving her.  And it's going to take time. How can we let go of that?

Nora would have loved Nancy Baggett's Very Berry-Fruit Streusel Cobbler http://www.kitchenlane.com/2012/06/very-berry-fruit-streusel-cobbler-and.html