Friday, September 28, 2007

The Woman I Want To Be

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
- Albert Einstein

The holiday season is months away and yet today I purchased the first of the many gifts I will give this year.

It has finally happened. I have started my shopping early.

This is one item on a long list of things The Woman I Want To Be would do. I think we all have this list. Even if it isn't conscious. Now I am NOT talking about The Woman We Think We Are Supposed To Want To Be. She of the 18" waist, fast-track career, sweater sets that match her expensive Italian leather loafers and well behaved 2.5 children. I don't want to be HER. Magazines tell us that we should strive for those qualities and most women go through years of learning to walk away from that bizarre cookie cutter ideal our culture is so sold on.

The Woman I Want To Be is a completely different matter. She is me, only more so. She remembers the things I forget. She has all my values, but manages to live up to them far better than I. She does the things I dream about doing. I aspire to be her... hopefully by the time I am 50 or 60 I will have become a reasonable facsimile. It's like an internal system of goals, both practical and ephemeral. I think a lot of women struggle with these things (the big things and the little ones) ...and assume our peers have them under control. Someone told me once that I am "so together" and "have things figured out." I laughed when it occurred to me that if I SEEM that way to someone - while I am trying to BE that way - then many of the other women who I think have it all under control are probably just as nutty and imperfect as I am.

That realization is oddly reassuring.

The Woman I Want To Be will:

Be patient.

Travel often.

Get her Christmas shopping done early.

Send birthday, holiday and thank you cards.

Be more fit than I am now, but not obsessive.

Pay all her bills on time.

Have read everything.

Always look put together.

Bake often.

And give baked goods away.

And not just on holidays.

Know where the heck the tweezers and nail clippers are.

Have adventurous hair.

Be friendly to strangers (strangers freak me out).

Build a family.
Who like each other.

Finish the projects she starts.

Be self-employed or at the very least set her own hours.

Be completely at home in her own skin.

Write on a regular basis.

Have a stronger grasp on Geography.

Know how to drive stick.

Maintain a manicure.

Learn not to buy cheap shoes.

Keep abreast of current events.

Learn not to overextend herself.

Take the extra 20 minutes in the morning to slow down, make a cup of coffee, apply lipstick and fix her hair.
(almost have this one down)

Maintain clean but comfortable home.
(...One with extra bedrooms ready for out-of-town guests, an attic for children to explore and a large warm kitchen overlooking a vegetable garden.)

Not give a rat's behind what anyone else thinks.

Make perfect Tiramisu.

I'm trying to be realistic and not put too much pressure on myself, though. It's good to start with simple, practical goals. So, does anyone have a great recipe for Tiramisu? Falling short of that, does anyone know where I put the tweezers?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, photographed in 1935 by Man Ray
So timeless as to make her seem prescient.

“How many cares one loses
when one decides not to be
something but to be someone.”
- Coco Chanel

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Little Man

My life has been changing a lot lately. Many of the changes have been precipitated by a man. Or, rather, a boy.

I’m not being facetious or insulting when I use the word “boy.” He’s 7 years old.

You see, there are TWO new men in my life. The Guy and the Little Man, his 7 year old son.

For the vast majority of my youth, I did not plan to have children. I didn't really see the logic of choosing to bring someone into your world who, for at least 15 years and possibly for the rest of your life, was consistently going to NEED things from you. I figured that life is hard enough as it is, sans child.

In just the last few years, I started to see that there is, perhaps, value in the experience beyond predictable human narcissism (the "I want to see what a LITTLE ME would be like." routine.) All the same, I did not see my chances of finding someone I wanted to raise a child with as being so great. I also have a fear of experiencing pregnancy (not childbirth - which bazillions of women have suceeded at before me so I must be capable of it as well - specifically an issue with pregnancy. I guess I watched Alien too many times). I was very settled into my single-gal routine. When I met The Guy, I did not anticipate it becoming serious. I was not looking for that. When he told me he had a son (one of the first things he told me about himself - he and his ex wife have friendly joint custody of Little Man), I thought it was a plus primarily because I figured it would keep us from spending too much time together or getting too involved. Life so rarely gives us what we expect.

My world is changing. And, in subtle ways, the Little Man is changing me.

He’s the type of child that makes you think, “Oh, SURE. If they were all like this, we’d ALL want to have four or five.” Not long ago we were traveling and our flight was delayed. We had to spend an extra 4 hours waiting around in the airport. At night. It was FAR past his bedtime when we finally boarded the plane. And... He was fine. Patient. Well behaved. Understanding, even. Strangers remarked on it. It was nothing at all like the behavior I had been led to expect from a 7 year old boy. Maybe I've been tragically misinformed. Either that or he's freakishly agreeable.

So I've been taking steps to find room for a child in my life. I went out and bought a set of small glasses. Because it seems silly to serve milk to a 7 year old in a 32 oz. tumbler originally purchased for it's ability to hold large quanities of alcohol. Then I took the floral granny quilt off my extra bed because the Little Man likes red and Ikea had a sale on bedding. I usually get praise for my cream sauces and quiches, but now I'm brainstorming ways to improve my Sloppy Joe's (Although I have been tickled to find that he likes my Pastichio and he actually asks for vegetable soup - See? Weird kid). I experienced this surreal sense of accomplishment the first time I woke up in the morning and packed a brown bag lunch and drove him to camp. I actually passed up an afternoon of margaritas and gossip with friends because that day I preferred to go to the library with my guys. Little Man has started to automatically reach for my hand when we are out in a public place or in a crowd.. and when he does my heart leaps. It's BIZARRE.

I also finally I have someone in my life who values my ability at playing Tak and The Power of Juju.

Last Saturday, The Guy and Little Man spent the night at my house and they brought Little Man's Best Bud (who is also a very nifty kid). I scurried around my house looking for ANYTHING that might appeal to 7 year old boys. BIG SHOCKER - I, as a thirty year old and up-until-recently single woman, had VERY little in the way of stuff that they would think was cool. I had devised a pretty good dinner and picked up fixins for a great breakfast in the morning but as far as activities went I had not planned ahead. I went through my comic collection and managed to pull a short stack of comics that I felt were child appropriate (it's not that I own really obscene comics, but I'm a big prude about exposing children to violence). I found a few sheets of super huge paper that they could draw on and decided to sacrifice my high quality colored pencils to the cause. Basically, I had nothing.

I finished my flight of the bumblebee as they arrived. Little Man proudly led Best Bud to "his" room and pointed out the "cool new red sheets" that had not elicited much comment weeks before when they were presented to him. I showed them the comics, we took Best Bud to meet my pet bunnies, we discussed what we were having for dinner and I showed the boys the HUGE SHELLS of pasta I was about to boil (for stuffed shells).

I stood there, worrying about how insufficient my offerings were and nervously watching the boys peek at the pasta shells and chatter about the bunnies.

Then Best Bud turned and looked up at me, his face lit up with
excitement as he enthusiastically proclaimed,

"This is going to be SO FUN."

Now I KNOW I am a changed woman...
because that is officially a Great Moment In My Life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

When I Am An Old Woman

I imagine you know the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph. When it comes to mind, I tend to think of it as trite because it has been printed on greeting cards and has generally been overused. But then I read it and remember that I like it. I like it for it's honesty and attention to mundane details. It's overexposure should not detract from the fact that Jenny Joseph had something to say. Something worth hearing.

That poem came to mind yesterday afternoon when I was listening to NPR and a piece came on about depression in the elderly. It's a difficult issue, treating depression that is, essentially, understandable. Depression in someone who has reached an age where their friends are dying. Depression in someone who may have lost a spouse or siblings to old age. Their bodies don't work as well and for many people old age brings with it debilitating illness. Elderly people who are unable to care for themselves any longer find the transition to assisted living disheartening at best. It can be a very difficult time in life, particularly in a culture that values youth and disdains age, and the treatment of this type of depression is a complex issue.

I listened to the radio, thinking about what I expect from my own old age and what has made this time in life more difficult for older people I have known. I suppose that brought the poem to mind.

Hopefully I will have children and grandchildren. While I hope they will visit, I also hope my life is sufficiently full that I don't mind their absence when they do not. I am putting money away for retirement, so theoretically will be able to stop working and still support myself at a reasonable age. I will have a lot more time to paint. If my hands hold out and I don't develop arthritis, I will probably crochet a lot. Not because old ladies are supposed to crochet but because I enjoy it. I will have time to make more elaborate quilts and include hand stitched details that don't fit into my busy life right now. I will drink a lot of tea and make a huge production out of it. I will bake things I wouldn't allow myself to eat in my youth. I will audition for quirky old lady parts in local theater productions. I will make huge pots of homemade soup and putter around the kitchen all day. I'll wear my hair in a short white Louise Brooks bob but forget to put on makeup unless I'm going out. I'll go on long walks because I don't have to be anywhere. I'll spend too much money on fancy chocolates and wear brightly colored scarves.

I hope I am satisfied with my choices and the life I have lived when I reach my "golden years." And, as the poem subtly cautions, I hope I don't feel as if I have waited until too late in life to take the time to do the things I want to do. I try to make as much time for them now as I can, but I think having more time for my myriad hobbies will be comforting in my old age.

A friend of mine is planning her grandmother's 80th birthday celebration. Her family has this tradition, they throw a sort of "this is your life" celebration for the women of the family when they turn 80. My friend refers to it as being similar to "a funeral while you're still alive," which actually makes a lot of sense. As Jeff Goldblum's character said of funerals in The Big Chill, "They throw a great party for you on the one day they KNOW you can't come." What a wonderful idea to throw such a party when the person CAN be there to enjoy it, a party to tell them how important they are and celebrate their life while they are still with you.

I wonder if the women in my family would like such a party thrown for them? Some of them aren't very fond of being reminded of birthdays and might not think it was so great... If I am alive when I am 80, I think I will throw myself a funeral. Give away things that would have gone in a will. Have a big hoo-ha and play music that I want played at my actual funeral. Tell everyone what I really think. And then live another 20 years just for spite.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

It's funny to think that, while Jenny Joseph is now over 70 years old, she was not yet 30 when she wrote this tremendously popular meditation on the freedoms of old age and not wasting too much of our youth on excessive sobriety.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Indira Gandhi

I found this post on This and That about Indira Gandhi to be interesting reading and wanted to share it with you.