Reflections on finding peace and magic in the middle of…


Culture: Books, Movies, and Music for the 40-Something

The Magic of Menopause

Image result for Oil of Olay I don't intend to grow old

When I was about twelve I saw an Oil Of Olay commercial in which a devastatingly beautiful woman, probably in her thirties said,” I don’t intend to grow old gracefully, I intend to fight it every step of the way.” That, my friends, is my mantra. My mother in law has been trying to tell me I am getting older and need to accept my adult limitations since I became a mother in my twenties. I used to say phooey to that, though it’s gotten harder since I hit my fiftieth birthday.

I wore a two piece swimsuit into my forties (not a string bikini, I was never that much of an exhibitionist, even at sixteen), I love rock music and I love the sun. There lies the rub. I love to bake. I love to swim, bike, and float. I love to read outside. My forehead looks like some crazy speckled brown chicken egg with creases across it. That’s why I wear bangs. Sometimes I consider growing out my bangs, then I pull my hair back and take a good look at what the sun has done to my forehead and I know I am doomed to banged hairstyles until I just do not care anymore.

Last fall I had my hair braided at the renaissance festival. The large frizzy haired earth mother asked me if I wanted my bangs braided in or left down. “Down,” I tell her,” I am not ready to show the world my awful speckled wrinkled forehead!” She laughed and told me I would eventually get over it and not care.

I am pretty sure she is wrong.

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I have been blessed with a nearly wrinkle free face. I turned fifty last year, and I still have no crow’s feet except when I smile, no lines around my mouth. Just the strategically hidden forehead. When I meet new people and they learn my age, they are usually surprised. I have very few gray hairs, they didn’t start showing up until I was forty eight.

I think it’s partly because I drink water and don’t smoke. But also because of Clarins and that very Oil of Olay that I saw advertised as a kid. When I was in my late twenties and between teaching jobs, I worked for the cosmetic company Clarins, and spent a week in training. Oh, I was excited! I had a red Clarins coat with brass buttons and slept in a hotel in Tulsa at the company’s expense, and I spent the days in classes learning all about skin care ingredients and regimens and self tanner. While I worked for the company I had access to all the products, and I got hooked on skin treatment twice a day: serums and multi-regenerante creams and even a bust lifting gel- all mine to use. I skipped the self tanner because I loved to lay out, and as my old youth minister said, I could get a tan just standing in the shower. When I went back to teaching and had to reduce spending, I switched to Oil of Olay. I remembered that commercial from the 1970s, and my Grandma June had used it, that seemed like a good recommendation to me; and I have applied it faithfully ever since, though I did move from the regular stuff to the anti-aging stuff ten years ago. Fortieth birthdays require such moves.

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My face and hair haven’t caught up yet. But my knees and back have. Oh, yes. I may look younger, but with four ruptured discs and two grinding knees, I walk like a 98 year old granny if I sit in one position for too long. Two nights ago I almost fell out of bed because I couldn’t make my joints bend fast enough to catch me when I stood up to go to the bathroom for what seemed like the fifty second time overnight. My hands hurt if I try to sew, my eyes require reading glasses, and to my horror I have started snoring if I try to sleep on my back. God, that is humiliating.

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But the worst is coming. It’s happening right now. The Change. That mythical transition from Mother to Crone. That evolution from fertile to dried up husk. That proverbial factory shut down. If mothering is magic, what is it when you lose the ability to become a mother? Is it still magic? I don’t really know just yet.

I don’t have hot flashes. Thank all the goddesses that ever lived in moons or trees or clouds or water. No hot flashes.

For me, it’s been about anxiety and insomnia. Oh, and gushing. And clotting. And cramping. And headaches. And desert dryness. And pudge.

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Right now, it feels like really dark magic. It feels like pain and loss. Do I want to have any more kids? No, not even a little bit. I am not even very excited about the prospect of being a grandparent. I am not that cliche’ mom asking my kids when they are going to make me a grandma. I will love on the babies of extended family or former students. That’s enough for me.

I am embarrassed that it’s even happening. But it’s nice that I don’t have to shave my legs as much. Though if there is even a musical about it playing in Las Vegas, aptly named “Menopause the Musical,” I guess I shouldn’t feel so lonely about it. Maybe it’s something to laugh about?

Here’s the thing: with age, you’re supposed to get wiser, right? More at peace. Calmer. Sophistication personified. I feel like a drooling monkey, squishy in all the wrong places, troubled by memory loss and inflexible joints (seriously, who thought PiYo would be a less stressful workout?)

I know that true beauty comes from the spirit within, and that “pretty is as pretty does.” I try really hard to be kind and positive (really, I cannot imagine any more damaging ager that negativity, except cigarettes. Those are brutal). However, I also think I would like to be one of those ladies who can rock heels and an age appropriate pencil skirt, whose skin is smooth and moisturized, and whose aura oozes confidence and magnetism.

Getting older sucks. Seriously. But…

Two of my favorite people in my entire life were my grandmothers. And they got older. They did. And I adored them anyway. And so did their husbands. And their children. And their grandchildren.

My grandmothers were awesome. Both were elegant and loving, and gifted in their own ways.

Maybe you have seen “The Age of Adeline,” a film in which the main character, Adeline, experiences a scientific miracle that halts her aging. She is forced to watch her own daughter age into an old woman, she can’t spend a life being married, she protects herself from all long term commitments and ties, lest someone discover her secret. Played by the stunningly beautiful Blake Lively, she looks perfect in every era of fashion, from 1920’s flapper to 1960’s hippy to today’s beaded column evening gown. You think you would make a pact with the devil to have that time, and that figure, for all time to come! But at the end (spoiler alert!) she does begin aging again, and that first grey hair, after 80 years of being ageless, is a miracle to her.

Aging is, unbelievably, a gift.

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So, here’s what’s coming, though not gift wrapped with a pretty satin bow: a wattle neck (dear jesus, I will need strength and humor to get over that), floppy arms, long boobies, and spotted hands. A cool gray pixie, a la Judi Dench. Continued efforts to stay fit, like the 85 year old lady in China who works out 90 minutes a day at home. Sewing for my eventual grandbabies (they are inevitable and I know I will love them when it happens). Gardening and developing a green thumb for my fairy garden. Time on my patio watching birds. And hopefully, with concerted effort, the grace of my grandmothers.

A Little Bit Racist? Maybe…


I both laugh and cringe at the delightful song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the brilliant Broadway musical Avenue Q, in which Sesame Street-style puppets sing about making rent, having adult relations, and surviving existential angst in riotous, bawdy joy:

“Everyone’s a little bit racist
Doesn’t mean we go
Around committing hate crimes.
Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.
Now not big judgments, like who to hire
or who to buy a newspaper from –
Kate Monster:
No, just little judgments like thinking that Mexican
busboys should learn to speak g****n English!”
I really love those puppets. They’re calling it like it is: we humans are a little distrustful of folks who look and live differently from ourselves. Different customs, clothing, and speech (everyone’s a rittle bit lacist!) plague us all, if we’re honest.

But over on a different end of the racial conversation spectrum, I just finished a powerful book, Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. I really like Picoult’s narrative style- it’s simple, clean, and full of rich metaphor. Her characters struggle with things that all of us encounter in the span of living a normal life: loss, faith, suicide, dreams. Those you encounter in her books are complex, full of contradiction and beauty.


Her books always affect me. This one almost physically hurt.

It’s about race. Right here, right now, in these United States.

There is no way to live in our contemporary society and be oblivious to racial tension. Every week it seems there is another shooting or violent attack. And most of us white people don’t want to be racist- we’re horrified by the very idea! But maybe…just maybe, this book posits…we are.

Small Great Things puts us into the lives and thoughts of a Black nurse (the capital B is Picoult’s device), a white supremacist, and a white Liberal lawyer. A baby dies, a law suit is filed. And everything that each of these three people thinks they know about how the races relate to each other is challenged.

The character I most identified with, not surprisingly, is the white Liberal lawyer, Kennedy: she’s toiling away in the Public Defender’s office, spending her days working so that all defendants have a shot at justice. She knows about the inequity of sentencing for Blacks, it’s part of why she became a Public Defender- she is on a mission to balance the scales. Her desire comes from what seems like a good and noble place: an acknowledgement that the system is flawed and her position is privileged. And yet…she takes her privilege for granted. She is made to realize that she sees Ruth, and other Blacks, as victims. And that makes them Other. Less than. In need of rescue rather than true equity. Kennedy reminds me of what it was to teach in a  public school in Texas, where so many different ethnicities pile into buses, cafeterias, and classrooms with no choice but to figure it out.

I really struggled to read the sections from the White Supremacist’s point of view. These pages were so filled with anger and vitriol, described in language that I could barely stomach, that I told my husband I didn’t know if I could stay with the book, even though I have such admiration for the author. But I read reviews that indicated that others had struggled with this character and his world view, but that the journey was worth it. And it was.

I remember one time, back in my mid twenties, living in Abilene, Texas, and telling my husband that “I never held a slave. And none of the Blacks living now ever were slaves. So why are they still angry? Why can’t they just move on?” I cringe now that I was ever so callous. I have learned about systemic and historical oppression, and what it does to a people.

The book’s main protagonist, Ruth, is a Yale educated labor and delivery nurse who is raising her son alone- not because she was an always single mother, but because her husband, a soldier, died in Afghanistan. Her experiences on a day of shopping, being tailed by TJ Maxx sales clerks, being the only customer required to show ID at the cash register, then standing at the exit while security checks her receipt against the contents of her shopping bag while the white shoppers all exit unimpeded, rang true to me. Not because I have experienced those indignities, but because when I was working retail as a high school and college student, that was exactly what we were told to do. The shoplifting training videos all featured Blacks as the perps. When African Americans wandered into the men’s clothing store where I worked, my manager would send me over with instructions to follow them.

How many times might I have said “Ya know, if those Black people would just lay down and be still, the cops wouldn’t have to shoot them?” before I understood that might not be so simple? That when your people used to wear chains and be sold, that subservience can be a tough pill to swallow? And that sometimes, you can say “Sir” and still be shot.

How many times have I, without realizing it, clutched my purse a little tighter when a Black man passed me on the street?

Growing up, my mom taught me that I shouldn’t associate with people of other ethnicities- it was okay to be polite to them at school, but that was it. When I made a new friend when we moved to a neighborhood in a Dallas suburb, she was worried that they were Italian (their last name was Peters for heaven’s sake) and Catholic. I had to plead with her that religious topics never came up, and that when I worked up my courage to ask what the family’s religion was, discovered they were Baptist, which was okay. When my neighbor, Mrs. Hogeda, invited me in one day and showed me how she was making flour tortillas, I had to lie to my mom about where I had been because her disdain for Mexican Americans was so strong. When I developed a crush on one, I thought the roof would collapse on the house because of her fury. Shopping at the five and dime among Spanish speakers was an opportunity for her to mutter about people needing to go back where they belonged.

I have even heard a family member recently use the word “wetback.”

And a completely different family member, whose rep I want to protect, shared the wisdom that the Blacks are happier if they stay in their own neighborhoods, schools, and churches. That particular conversation occurred when I was a young college woman endeavoring to figure out how race fit into my world view. And though I voiced respectful opposition to the idea that benevolent segregation was American or godly or right, I still found myself, for all practical purposes, living in an all white world.

Once, as a younger adult, I asked myself the question: Would I want to be black? And the answer was, without hesitation, no. Not because I believed Black people are inferior, but because I knew that to be white in America was, and continues to be, a position of privilege. I have never been tailed in a retail store. I have never been denied service in a business establishment.  I have never had to worry, when pulled over for a traffic stop, that I would be shot or arrested if I wasn’t appropriately deferential.

This week, a jury handed down an innocent verdict in the Philando Castile shooting. It’s one of way too many killings of Blacks by panicked police. The phrase my daughter pulled out of Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show commentary was, “Clearly, black people never forget their training.” The training that, for all intents and purposes, keeps the “Massah” relationship alive and well in the United States:


We tell ourselves that the race issue is complicated. But is it? Is it really? Or have we made it so because we are afraid to truly own what is happening in our country?

In the Oprah Magazine’s May issue, Oprah and her staff confronted the issue of race in America. With photographs meant to compel thought, such as white women giving Asian women pedicures or a Black child looking at a shelf of white dolls at a toy store, the magazine challenged us to think about the subtle daily discrimination that we take for granted. Topics like Southern shame (I’m guilty), refugees, and ethnic traditions are laid bare. In one of the articles, entitled “A Force For Good” by criminologist David Kennedy, the author quotes the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Terrence Cunningham, who said that “police had often been ‘the face of oppression,’ and needed to ‘acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.'”

Look, I am not targeting the police in this blog post. I get that they are under pressure and work in difficult situations. But Philando Castile should not have been shot. That jury reached the wrong verdict. Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland should be alive. And we white Americans have got to start being honest: we clutch our bags tighter, we sometimes cross to the other side of the street or make jokes or judgements. We do. And yes, I know it goes both ways. But whites have power in this country, by virtue of being white. And we need to admit it. I need to admit it. Picoult says, in her afterword, “Most of us think the word racism is synonymous with the word prejudice. But racism is more than just discrimination based on skin color. It’s also about who has institutional power. Just as racism creates disadvantages for people of color that make success harder to achieve, it also gives advantages to white people that make success easier to achieve. It’s hard to see those advantages, much less own up to them.”

Back to Small Great Things: I loved the book. The storytelling was taut, the points of view were thoroughly researched and rang true and clear. The characters were raw and vulnerable, and nearly all learned and grew from the journey. My heart was fully invested as I read, breathless as the trial drew to a close. The stakes were huge in this book: career, college, reputation. The stakes in our real life America are even greater: Peace and Life itself. I hope we all can embrace change and growth. I am ready to embrace the philosophy preached by martin Luther King, Jr: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” May my small life affect change. Hallelujah and amen.





Sing Out, Louise?

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A few weeks ago, I went to a Bette Midler concert. It was everything I hoped it would be. The Divine Miss M is still in full voice, wears fabulous costumes, tells filthy jokes, and even appears as Winifred! Nearly at the end of the concert comes the big one, the one I have been waiting for all night. She warns everyone not to sing along because there is room for only one diva in the arena (though we got to sing along at the chorus). She starts singing, “Some say love…it is a flower…” and I am transported. But in the rapture is an equal measure of grief. Gut wrenching, heart swelling, breath halting grief.


When I was in the eighth grade, I sang my very first solo in front of an audience: “The Rose.” It was for my school’s talent show. I remember I was terrified: my parents and grandparents were there, the cafetorium lights were dark, the spotlight was blinding, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. Then I heard the piano intro (you all know it, too: da-da-da-duh, da-da-da-duh) and I opened my mouth and sang. It was magical (well, for me, anyway).

I was in a new school and I was pretty shy, so I hadn’t made a whole lot of friends. But after this, suddenly people wanted to sit by me on the bus, and they would ask me to sing us home. Singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” as we rounded corners dropping off crazy middle school students, I began to understand who I was meant to be: the singer.

I sang all through high school, competing for slots in choirs, musicals, and talent shows. I had a really beautiful voice, a clear Julie Andrews-styled soprano with a soaring range. I dreamt of being the next Barbra Streisand, or maybe a singer in New York. In college, I started as a voice major. I soon discovered that I was not meant to be a classical music major- I needed to sing show tunes and jazz standards. Musical theatre was really where I belonged.

But then I fell in love and got married, started a family, and kept singing when I could, mostly in community theatre shows, sometimes in churches, occasionally in choirs. I sang in lots of weddings. I sang “The Rose” for my grandfather’s wedding, then again at his funeral.

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I had a repertoire I sang to my kids when I put them to bed: “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “I Love you, fill-in-the-blank” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie, “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Goodnight, My Someone.” I think they liked it.

I don’t really sing much anymore. Though it is mostly healed now, I lost my voice for over a year, due to spinal surgery that paralyzed one of my vocal cords. Now I have a prosthetic one, so I can sing. But still, I don’t. Earlier this week, I wanted to change my profile picture on Facebook to a photo of me singing. I wanted to have a constant reminder to myself and others that that is who I am. I couldn’t find a picture of myself singing. Because I just don’t anymore.

I used to be asked to do singing gigs, but that has not happened in a long time. I don’t have little ones to sing to sleep. I don’t even sing in the car, because I am never alone in the car anymore!

What do you do when you find yourself mid-journey and a little lost? When you either need to go back and rediscover who you are or forge a new identity?

Women and football.


Last week I had two very different football revelations. The first was on the way home in the car when I heard a news story on NPR (which seems to be the only intelligent news source on the radio) about the first female ref in the NFL. I think this is remarkable. Shannon Eastin, who wanted to play football as a child but was forbidden by her mother, is the first female to officiate an NFL game. She has earned this distinction over the more likely candidate, Sarah Thomas, whose pending candidacy as a referee was forfeited in the referees’ strike. I read some articles, and Eastin sounds like a no-nonsense lady with a backbone of steel, the courage to place herself smack in the middle of a men’s world, and the ability to know to whom to listen and whom to ignore.

I felt inspired.

Then later in the week, Friday arrived. Varsity game day. Football players strutted around the campus carrying buckets of candy, baked goods, Powerades, and other treats meant to bolster their spirit for the game. One of my female students, a drill team member, realized she had forgotten her football buddy’s basket and scrambled around begging for change and a hall pass so she could go buy two Powerades and present them, along with  treats begged from other boys, to her guy. As I wrote her hall pass, I asked her
what nice thing the football team would be doing for the young ladies of the drill team, cheer squad, and female athletics who had filled their tummies and pumped up their egos all season. She stared blankly then finally responded, “Uh, nothing.”

I felt demeaned.

Not me personally, but on behalf of the young teenage women who are being sent the message that their role in American society is still to smile prettily and feed the boys, never mind that they too put in countless hours on the courts, tracks, and studios.

I know, I know. At least American women aren’t forced to wear burkas and we can vote. Surely we can aim higher: We can demand equal pay for equal work, we can keep male strangers out of our reproductive health choices, we can ask the football players to man up and treat us like the intelligent women we are.

What it seems to come down to is that we are a culture of hero worship- the biggest brute gets to drag the scantily clad cheerleader off the field so that she can fix his dinner, while the all-female team of football trainers slog around water buckets and wash the uniforms (I saw these girls come back up from practice yesterday while I was working out at the track. They work really hard).

I read recently that 40% of the audience for pro football is women. Why? How can a woman endorse that kind of culture (google the words sexy+football. I dare you). Don’t misunderstand me here, I appreciate sports. Excellent athleticism takes discipline and sacrifice, much like excellent art. Swimmers, volleyball, tennis, and baseball players, and yes, even football players, endure pain, weather, injury, and exhaustion to get good at what they do. There is a thrill that comes with a game well played. I recognize that- it’s the same thrill that comes when an actor takes her place for the curtain call.

But may I make a radical suggestion that will move us from the 1950’s to the 21st century?

Let’s leave the brownies and candy at home. Let’s all agree to support all our teams, both male and female, hugely popular (football) and obscure (lacrosse). Let’s put some clothes on the pro cheerleaders and teach them some moves that don’t look like they were pulled from the local men’s cabaret. Let’s put female officials in the games.

Let’s teach our young women that the best way to be a friend to a young man is to share ideas equally, not to play at being dumb, and to carry one’s self with feminine poise. Every day I see girls who either fear to take a risk in front of the boys because they don’t want to look dumb, or they clam up because they don’t want to look too smart. They compromise their bodies and base choices both significant and negligible on the whims of the young men they hope to impress. This road can go both ways, I realize that, but the pervasive message is still there: boys dominate.

“Are YOU ready for some football?” Me, not so much. I AM ready for some progress.

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