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Women Tell the World
What we talk about when you don't know what we're talking about.
At precisely six p.m., I waltzed into Al-Posto Italian restaurant. Two of my girlfriends sat at a table near the bar. The buzzy vibe, and white and gray interior, struck me as friendly, open, inviting. After a round of hugs, I pulled out my chair and plopped down. The server asked for my drink order, and I quickly volunteered up a mocktail. K’s and C’s ears perked up. “Better for my sleep, long day tomorrow.” Heads nodded. “However,” I began, as the young, female wait staff, and her female trainee, came back to pour waters in the middle of my next statement, “I am on hormone replacement pills.”
The young women giggled uncomfortably. C. noted this is what it’s like to get old. I added, “Girls, be thankful you hear us talking about this now.” We’d never had the benefit of such luxury.
The next morning, the scene repeated itself.
I sat on the blue queen’s throne chair in the quiet space of Roebling Books. Several customers milled about near the non-fiction bookcases. My two writing companions faced me, as we checked in on our each other’s work. When the proverbial stone was passed to me, I announced, “I’m on hormone replacement therapy.” A male customer, who had most likely just pulled The Sleeper Agent by Ann Hagedorn, or the likes, off the shelf, snickered beneath the lid of his baseball cap and behind the covers of the book.
I’m telling the world.
Not necessarily about HRT. That’s one’s own choice. To be honest, I’ve not been on the pills long enough to promote its efficacy, though plenty of friends in my life attest to its wonders, including my gynecologist.
And I’m not necessarily telling the whole world. Young women. Men in bookstores. Young men in coffeeshops. Older women. Mostly each other.
If the universe didn’t offer women enough types of Viagra-like pills (when there’s 78 types of similar options for men and maybe two for women), or a machine that didn’t absolutely crush the breasts and our souls, or mammogram results that stated more than the fact there were no “architectural distortions” and I absolutely knew there had been due to the passage of time, I was taking matters into my own hands.
On my friend tour as of late, those subjects occupied most of our chats. We talked of marriages fumbling, stumbling, trying to find our way through summer, through nights our, couples therapy, in conversation about previous sex lives impacting current ones, patterns. It was always the patterns. Virginia Woolf wrote that we have “shock” moments in our lives, and the rest of our time made of “cotton wool.” In that cotton wool are the patterns. In our conversations, the patterns of our lives emerge to be woven together.
What have I found in my cotton wool, and where? In my beginnings always. What of my father’s attributes did I possess, the good and bad? Quick to anger, gardening, replenishing the soul with quiet vocations. What of my mother’s? Her need to be social, her love for food. And if I believed I had written my life review in however many memoirs or forms, there would always be more to unearth. Because—patterns.
Julia Louis Dreyfus hosts a podcast called Wiser than Me. I started to delve into her series. She interviewed Jane Fonda and asked, “What kind of workout do you do nowadays?” Jane answered, “Slow.”
Slowly women enter this phase in our lives. A phase some tout as a third act. I liked to think we have FOUR. The first phase encompasses childhood and young adulthood, the second our working years along with marriage and childrearing, the third are the exploration years, post-career and onto something new, possibly grandchildren, and fourth, our wise years, and probably the achiest ones too. There only used to be halves, until we suddenly woke up and said, “How did we get here?” In our marriages, our relationships with adult children, with friends, with work, with a world that is spinning faster Megan Rapinoe could spin herself and ball into the goal. By splitting our lives into further divisions, like the generational definitions of Gen X, millennial and Gen Z, we further hone our needs and desires for that space and time, and give them serious consideration.
Slowly, we’ll pass through this phase too. Our exercising is no less diminished, but we’re more intentional. I slowed my writing down. While hard to describe, my practice originated from what my mother said a long time ago, “You go too fast,” whenever I tripped up the steps. However, I don’t blame my mother. I am only seeking patterns. And here is the wisdom. In not longer blaming, but understanding the patterns—the entire universe is one big, beautiful pattern—we don’t need to seek someone to blame. Patterns can be made, and unmade too. This act of patience is a kindness to myself. I’m slowing my emotions down too, not get too far ahead. My training in the logistics of computer programming taught me, if-then, if-then, if-then, and I am moving the construct to if-then-so-what? And who-cares?
Younger generations take their cues from influencers. We take ours from each other, from friendships cultivated over the years. We are each other’s mirror. Whatever is happening in one life impact us all. Not because we are one big circle of friends. Instead, my friends are contained in multitudes of overlapping Venn diagrams. It’s like the old Faberge Organics commercial, they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends.
Recently, my college bestie, Jill, drove from northern Ohio to hang at our lakehouse. One morning, when presented with the opportunity to water ski, I wavered. I wanted to make breakfast; I really did. I loved cooking breakfast for our collection of guests. Water ski, kitchen? Water ski, cook? Could I really let that go? I glanced at Jill. We both laughed in the moment. I saw the glimmer in her eyes, from the one who knew me as well as myself. I said, yes. And gave up control. My friends and I don’t want to be invisible in our marriages, our careers, our lives. Giving up control in, or simply letting go, of one aspect to give over to the other is possible. We can’t do it without each other. Someone to tell us the otherwise. Someone to tell us about HRT, about couples therapy, about financial planning, someone to give us permission in the way our mothers never did. In minutes, Jill and I walked out to the boat, dancing to “Good Day to Have a Good Day.” I wasn’t invisible that day on skis. At least, I didn’t feel it.
The world right now seems stacked against women, especially if you’re living in states like Ohio, where having the right to make our own reproductive choices is rooted in some Little House on the Prairie fantasy of a group of select males, and a few females who are stuck on the prairie too without realizing some gains they made happened because of choices they had. They’d like to limit those for the rest of us, keep us all down on the prairie. (The prairie metaphor is originating from a reading of Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake, which mimics a similar tone).
To use another analogy, we need all the tools in our Barbie house to fight not against aging, but against those who wish to deny the rights to our body and minds, against the desire to pit ourselves against one another, (In Barbie, Gloria's (America Ferrera) moving monologue is one of the film's most powerful quotes about this, but really the entire movie is a quote box), and against our desire to see ourselves as less than.
We don’t have to be angry old crones (I know others adopted this word to turn it on its edge), or the evil stepmother stereotype, as my friends who can boast of that title, can attest. But so what if we are? Are we really angry, or telling the truth? For a while, I theorized whatever emotions my mother swallowed to keep herself happy in her times came back in dementia in some form of anger, or sadness. Sarah Vixen, in To Name the Bigger Lie, writes, “Who suffers when one segment of the population decides their utopia trumps everything else?” We don’t have to digest everything the world tells us. We can eat from the Garden of Eden right now. And we can spit it back out.
If you hadn’t guessed by now, I’ve been reading:
Tom Lake by Anne Patchett
To Name the Bigger Lie by Sarah Vixen, a stunning and philosophical look at one teacher’s influence over a group of high school students. How do we decide who can think for themselves, and who will be influenced beyond repair?
And the lovely A Good House for Children by Kate Collins. Because sometimes, you need a little Shirley Jackson in your life.
On Tuesday, I’ll be re-reading The Poisonwood Bible by one of my favorites, Barbara Kingsolver. This podcast with Barbara and Ezra Klein stood out for me. The famed writer and author of Demon Copperhead, proclaimed that self-sustaining communities (she spoke about Appalachia) have always been a target for persecution by those who rely on those communities to buy into their ways of living. This is true for Appalachia, for Asian communities, Black communities, Italian American ones, women too. Every marginalized community should see themselves as self-sustaining instead. We are.
Why Tuesday, you ask about my reading? I’ll have the book with me at the election table. In Ohio, our secretary of state will have put what is normally an average of $20 million dollars to use on an August election—for one issue— something the TRUMP/GOP party of Ohio said they would never do, to facilitate greater difficulty when abortion is put on the ballot in November, which it will be there. I’ll be at that table too.
If you’re in Ohio, vote “No” on Issue One. We were taught a democracy is a simple majority, 50% plus 1. Not 60%. If you vote “Yes,” it would be somewhat akin to thinking the Bengals didn’t win a game because the score was 60-31, it had to be 60-36.
Finally, go see Barbie. I watched it twice, once with Mark. When you return home, do a little research on the clever references, the little easter eggs, the text and the subtext. I had always eschewed pink, because my older sister wore pink, my brother wore blue. Since I was next in line, my mother dressed me in yellow (hence the propensity to pick out yellow paint colors in my home, again patterns). I’m okay with pink now, and wore pink to the movie. Barbie has given us the chance to play again. It wasn’t that we wanted to live in a world without Ken dolls, but we certainly weren’t going to define ourselves by them. As noted in the Jerusalem Post, Greta Gerwig is “winning acclaim for transforming Barbie from a stagnant symbol of capitalism and women’s oppression into a canvas for exploring self-discovery.”
Speaking of Barbie, I texted two of my sisters, three and four years younger than me respectively, to ask if they had a Barbie dream house. Yes, they had one. The younger ones always got more stuff. One day, parsing through pictures for inclusion in the food memoir, I peeked closer at old Christmas photos. Never mind the fact this was my favorite jumper and boots. I had a Barbie camper. A Camper. Me, the outdoorsy kid. Patterns.
Post movie, Mark and I had an engaging chat about the idea of feminism. The topic went much deeper than I could go into here. At the surface, a question hung over our heads: Did feminism work? I had to concede that maybe we gave up too much to pattern ourselves after men, when our true power was always to be so unlike them.
Tell the world.
Here’s the remainder of where you’ll find me. More coming up soon!
If you’re looking for the best Italian festival in Ohio, look no further than the Feast of the Assumption Festival in Cleveland’s Little Italy. I’ll be there eating cavatelli and cannoli. And looking for more bocce tips. More info.
During the week of October 16th, I’ll be presenting I’ll Have Some of Yours (the long-delayed book tour has begun) at various Promedica/Arden Courts locations around Cleveland. Visit my website for specific locations.
REGISTER NOW. Limited seating. Speaking of…The Italian American Museum in Little Italy, Cleveland, will host Waking the Ancestors (through story), a two-hour writing workshop to explore our Italian American ancestry that has informed and inspired who we are.
Pauletta Hansel and I again are offering our quarterly FREE, virtual caregiver writing experiences, through Giving Voice Foundation. Next up, Nov 8 from 10-12 p.m. Learn more or register here.
Buona fine dell’estate! Happy end of summer!