Countdown to 5-0

the author at four months, and her mom

My friend Josh, whom I've known for an it-seems-like-impossible 29 years, has pointed out that I perhaps speak overmuch of my age.

And he may be right. While I'm all about leading with the truth for the best of reasons, in this case, keeping the twin evils of ageism and misogyny front and center, I'm sure that all kinds of other not-so-best reasons are scrambled in there. Vanity, for instance, and a whole lot of nothin'-left-to-lose. Will I be as eager to trumpet my age when people stop telling me I don't look it, I wonder? Or if it somehow became in my best financial interest to hide it?

Well. No matter. For now, I'm a vainglorious, preening diva chock full of nothing-to-lose. Also, it's my birthday, and everyone gets a freebie or two on her birthday.

Also-also, it's a big one: as of today, I have just 12 months before I am a half-century old. And baby, that there is some serious gravitas and shit. Even if you don't give a hoot about age, if it really is just a number, if you truly believe you're only as old as you feel, 50 is kinda old. (Sorry, Joshie, I know it's not old-old, but it is significant!) I'm almost halfway to 100 (I hope) and, as of today, nine years from the age my mom was when she died.

It's that last bit, and the bit about having buried both of my parents too young, and of various other reminders over the past decade that this stay is not an indefinite one, that really got my attention. Not to make it all about me, but Mom died in September of 1994, right around my 33rd birthday. It's what kicked my decision to pursue art into high gear, just as Dad's death, in early October of 2003, finally got me thinking seriously about the kind of art I wanted to leave as a legacy.

the author in the fall of 2010

So, yeah. I've got a few big-ass plans in store for this coming 12 months, which I'll be sharing as the year unfolds. Most of them have less to do with going places than letting go of (even) more of the stuff I don't need anymore, both literally and metaphorically speaking. I'm excited and not a little terrified. But hey, what's life without a few thrills and spills, right?

Kickoff starts tomorrow. For now, by all means, say "happy birthday" here, if you haven't already on Facebook or email or whatever. I may not be into presents anymore, but I say you're never too old to have people make a bit of a fuss about you on your happy, happy birthday.


P.S. If you REALLY want to show your appreciation, go ahead and buy yourself that thing you've had on your Amazon Wishlist since forever through my shill link. Or sign up for Groupon, they have good stuff, cheap! Or go read about Smile Train and give them something, money, time, attention, whatever. But really, happy thoughts and wishes are just as welcome. Throw a few your own way, too!

Poetry Thursday: Ode to a disappearing period

nixie tubes displaying the number 1.94

When I think
of how I cursed
my Curse
all of those times
over all of those years
when it showed up
or overstayed what relieved welcome
I managed to muster
or made its presence
a little too known
in the lower-back department,
I shake my head
at my youthful not-knowing.

The expense!
The hassle!
The blooming red shame
in light-colored shorts
thanks to ill-fitting underpants
or on someone else's mattress
in the morning
after an evening
or tick-tick-tocking
as it wicked across the inner seam
of my jeans
as I raced it home

as my visitor's visits
become infrequent,
and the pain of waiting
stretches out for-ev-er
in between,

pre-menstrual more
than it seems I was ever menstrual,
my breasts swollen,
my lower back pounding,
my waist disappearing
faster than fried chicken
at a Fourth of July picnic,
the top button of
my fat jeans straining
to rein in my matron's gut
which itself,
I could swear,
is silently crying, "Elastic...elastic...",

as I count down the back nine, 
hearing the laughs
of those just teeing off
in the distance
and the curses
of those
carving up divots
a few holes behind me,
it is all I can do
to not cluck
and shake my head
at the unknowing foolishness
that floats on the breezes
around me.

Just as well,
I think in my more lucid moments,
when one of these last few periods
finally starts
and the crying and rage
out of nowhere
subside for a bit.
Just as well,
I think, noticing the sun
starting to slip the tiniest bit lower in the sky.

Just a swell
Just as swell
Just as well...


Quiet, please


One of the chief changes between Colleen of the Past and Colleen of the Present is a dramatic reduction in the Noise Tolerance Threshold.*

I'm not sure what this is about, exactly. The younger me spent copious amounts of alone time, but definitely liked commotion: city noise, constant soundtrack of AM commercial pop radio, thrum created by hordes of people, anywhere. I grappled with loneliness far more back then, so maybe the hubbub helped with that. Most definitely, it did: when I'm feeling blue, I still find myself slipping an old movie into the SuperDrive to keep me company on the few lonely nights I have.

If I had children, I'd definitely understand where the need for quiet comes from. The little bit of time I spend around other people's kids I generally find enjoyable, provided the kids aren't intolerable rat bastards, but I'm always, always depleted afterward, craving the quiet of total lockdown. (God help the parents of extroverts who are themselves introverts: that's a pretty fair example of hell, I imagine.) But I have no kids around me 24/7, nor, now that I'm spending more time at My Country House than the Fabulous Divorcée Pad, do I have the kinds of ambient noise issues I had living in an area of dramatically increased population density (which is one of the biggest, as-yet-unnamed psyche killers this recession has brought about, I'm convinced. We went from a relative paradise of mainly solo-apartment dwellers to a post-collegiate-in-NYC-levels of bodies per unit. And from the sound of things, the same bidness is going on to the north and south of us, as well.)

It may be the sharp uptick in reading and writing that's happened over the past six months. When my life was more of a balance between my writing life and my dwindling designer life, there was room for all kinds of sound. I worked better and more efficiently at sketching and composing visually with music, albeit mostly from my "lyric-free" playlists, music without words, or at the very least, without words in my native tongue. The right kind of sound engaged just enough of my monkey brain so that I could be non-self-critical (or less so) during the conception phase; it also did something kind of magical in the composition and execution phases, but that was more like throwing on some great tunes to pump you up when you're running or cleaning house. That kind of sound, I get.

What I've tiptoed around without examining too closely is the possibility that as my brain ages, it needs more space to focus. I'm already noticing the disk spinning longer when I try to access certain data like names, although to be fair, that was never something I was especially good at, and I suspect that this skill in all of us has been somewhat diminished by our increasing reliance on the Great External Brain, a.k.a. the Internet. (If you have hard data on causality, lay it on me; I'm sure it'll be temporarily depressing, but in the long run, I'd rather know my brain can get back in shape at the gym than that I have 5 years to squeeze out what's left of it before I resign myself to a life of gardening and airport novels.)

Finally, there is the hope that this is temporary, some kind of phase. In the throes of a Crohn's flare, when all available resources are being directed toward a damaged organ, there's not a lot of spare blood available for brain bathing. You get fuzzy; you get sleepy. It becomes hard to focus for long periods of time, and your thoughts aren't as sharp as they are when your gut is in the pink. I may yet cave, but I'm doing my best to pull out of this flare without meds, and that means getting down with the short windows and mad prioritizing and quirky conditions, lots of sleep, lots of rest, lots of quiet, my body is demanding. I'm not complaining (much), both because there's little point (no higher court to take this one to) and because I'm hanging on to the hope that as my body bounces back, my brainpower will, too.

That's a slender thread of hope at 48, but it's my thread, and I'm clinging to it...


*Except where watching Hulu-is-my-TVâ„¢ is concerned, anyway; there, the sound is creeping up to the ear-splitting levels I remember at my grandparents', in their declining years with their declining ears.

Image by ★ SUPA SUSHY © ★ via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Wherein our heroine learns to avoid the damned street entirely

Leaf with holes My friend, Mary Ellen, and I go way back to my advertising days; she was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Chicago from New York, and I still make fun of how relentlessly and Midwesternly cheerful she was when she poked her head into my office for the first time to invite me to lunch.

She is still way too nice to remind me of what a dark and twisted troll I was, but 20 or so years later, she's simmered down, I've cheered up and we've met in a new middle ground. Our semi-/annual conversations have become important to both of us because we serve as touchstones for one another, showing how we've changed and where we might still need to. And, since Mary Ellen forsook advertising for psychotherapy instead of something idiotic like acting, it's basically like I get a 90-minute session free, or for the price of a phone call, which, since I switched to Vonage, is almost free. Ha, ha, Mary Ellen, I win!

Anyway, after the brief-but-requisite foray into the piteous state of national affairs, we launched into the more important topic of boys boys boys. Specifically, what we were doing with ours and how it all was going. (Mary Ellen and her husband have been together 15* years, during which timeI've divorced one guy and slagged around with a bunch of others, so there's always lots of touchstoning action there.)

I'm happy to report that things are tip-top back in Illinois; I'm guessing that by the way I natter on like a schoolgirl about The BF, everyone reading this knows things are hunky-dory here in sunny California. But it was not ever thus. Which got us to talking about two things: whether mileage logged**, solo or in tandem, is responsible for things going more smoothly or whether there really is a more-right-for-you type than those hilariously inappropriate jackasses you couldn't get enough of as a girl of 30 winters.

Here we sharply diverged, with Mary Ellen taking the highly uncharacteristic "life is short, life is shit/soon it will be over" viewpoint (i.e., there is no one type of person more right for us and relationships are, at their best, "a crucible, or cauldron, depending on the day" for personal development) and me staking out the cute boy – debilitating mental illness = reasonable shot at happiness position.

However, we both agreed on one thing: time do make the difference, both in knowing what is and is not tenable and speeding up the loosening of one's monkey-like grip on the latter. This is why I'm happy to be a craggy old crone of 44 rather than the juicy scoop of 20-something I once was. Also, I have excellent genes.

Mary Ellen even supplied the poem of the day: a lovely offering by one Portia Nelson, whom you may know better as Sister Berthe in the film version of The Sound of Music (or, for you 70's hipsters, the Law Office Receptionist in the only version Can't Stop the Music). I'm being glib, but I'm actually rather moved by Portia's story, having read up on her via her lovingly crafted website and read her poem, "Autobiography in Five (Short) Chapters" on the INS (yes, the INS) website. I guess self-actualization is a hot topic of discussion among potential immigrants to the U.S.

The poem is contained in There's A Hole In My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery, and is, apparently, quite as famous as any Von Trapp in its own right. The book (and contents) are copyrighted, so I can't but excerpt a bit here, but it resonated deeply with me, and I must needs share a stanza here, the one I got stuck in for a good 15 years:

2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place.

But it isn't my fault.

Yeah, right.

On the one hand, where else could you be from ages 18 - 40?

On the other hand, let's hear it for 44.

xxx c

*Mary Ellen says it's actually closer to 11, but my position is if you make it past 10 years together in this farkakte world, you might as well call it 20.

**Intelligent, aware and awake mileage, that is. Just making it to age 170 is no guarantee that you will be any smarter than the average 12-year-old, and probably less smart if that 12-year-old has learned things like "don't stick your hand in there unless you're sure that thing is unplugged".

Photo by novon, used under a Creative Commons License