Category Archives: Womanhood

Those Elusive Life Skills…and My Always Omniscient Mother

A few days before leaving for my recent trip home–this one for the primary purpose of spending time with my father, sister-in-law and niece, at the beach–I talked to my mother on the phone.

I ambled around my dirt-topped backyard as we spent twenty minutes or so catching up, and then told her I needed to go get dinner.

“Okay,” she said. “What time is your flight on Sunday?” And then: “Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!”

I’m certain she could hear the sound of my eyes rolling through the phone.

“What?” I retorted. “Do you really think I’m twelve years old? Jesus, mother. How do you think I survive in the world?”

Let’s just hold onto that question for a moment as I ask you to imagine the way I felt when, sitting at my gate in the Albuquerque Sunport that Sunday morning, I ticked through the contents of my suitcase and realized that I had, indeed, forgotten to pack my swimsuit.

I’d like to think it a testament to the strength of our present relationship that my first thought (after: “Wow. Really???” and “Good lord, Elizabeth, are you fucking kidding me!?”) was to tell my mother: I was eager to share with her the laugh.

(And it is perhaps testament to the frequency of this sort of exchange between us that when I did get ahold of her and asked “Guess what I forgot?!” she laughed and said “It’s okay, we have plenty of cell phone chargers!”)

Why do I tell you this? A few reasons. One, it is my mother’s birthday today and I suspect that she’ll appreciate the nod to her all-knowing-ness–as she usually, quietly, does. Two, it’s mildly amusing, and when things happen to me that are mildly amusing I sometimes (you know, about weekly) like to share them. Three, to ask this question: how in god’s name do I survive in the world?

It’s been ten years, now, since I moved out of my parents house and went to college in a state few people I knew had been to. (Or, could remember: “Where are you again?” they’d ask. “Missouri?”) Since then–save a perfectly lovely three weeks at my parents house between stints in DC and New Mexico when I worked on grad school applications and took off my pajamas, maybe, twice–I’ve been living on my own.

I’ve lived alone. I’ve lived with roommates. I am the primary (though, thankfully, not the sole) caretaker to an energetic pitbull mix. In a year, hopefully, I will have a graduate degree.

But still: I struggle with the basics of life. (Seriously: it’s possible that I haven’t been to the dentist since the Clinton administration.)

Last week in New York I had coffee with a friend and former roommate from college: she recently finished her grad program and has spent a few months unemployed. Those months have been filled with the kind of life stuff–bills, IRS issues, doctors appointments–that are a constant challenge to balance with work.

“I don’t understand how anyone who has a job gets this stuff done!” she sighed to me over iced teas at a Park Slope coffee shop.

It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my brother R.

“What have you been up to?” I asked him.

“You know, the usual, life things,” he replied. There was a pause. “All that stuff that you put off and don’t deal with, that you do everything else but? Like bills and appointments? That’s the stuff I do every day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

Which is all to say that there are people, my brother apparently among them, for whom basic responsibilities are a manageable burden. And then there are people, people like me and A, for whom they are a persistent struggle.

But, baby steps: in NY, I borrowed bathing suits from my best friend and sister-in-law. Yesterday, I made an appointment to have my teeth cleaned in September. The pit mix is sometimes crabby and not the most reliably obedient, but she’s got a pretty good life.

I’m not always sure how I survive in the world, but–with the help of good friends, occasional handy dudes, and an always all-knowing mother–I do. And, I suppose, I will.

Happy birthday Mom.

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On How Women are Like Wine, And My Urgent Greed for Female Wisdom

If, three and a half weeks after getting unexpectedly dumped, you have to go somewhere–let me suggest that a weeklong writers’ conference is not the worst place to wind up.

Not because you will likely feel inspired and write your heart out, though, probably, you will–and that matters.

And not because it will probably take you out of town, to someplace remote and green-ish and, most importantly, out of the element-in-which-your-heart-was-broken–though that, too, matters quite a bit.

More important than all these things is this: that, in all likelihood, you will find yourself surrounded by a large number of middle-aged women.

I’m aware, this demographic is not without its’ accompanying pitfalls.

Probably, you will encounter numerous questions in regard to decaffeinated beverages and the persistently problematic temperature of this or that room. You will hear a lot about lost husbands and multiple cancer struggles and feel as though you have experienced exactly nothing. You will see multiple pairs of unfortunately bejeweled flip-flops.

But you are about to turn twenty-eight: a birthday that feels much more significant (read: traumatic) than the last, and contemplating not whether but when you are supposed to start panicking because you would like to have children not long after thirty and have absolutely no idea where you will be raising them or with whom, to say nothing of what they will be called.

And it is important for you to stop considering panic and to remember that women–all of us–improve with age.

(Note: This may be true of men too, but let’s face it: they’re starting with less.)

On multiple occasions over the past few days, I have turned to the (older) woman next to me and felt the strong urge to ask her to adopt me as her daughter.

This is not at all to suggest any inadequacy on my the part of my mother: whose beauty and brilliance I appreciate now more than ever.

But in those moments when the opening of your hips (yoga) collides with the breaking of your heart (D), making you question the significance of just about everything–including manhood, literature and sex–you need all the wisdom you can get.

I feel greedy in my pursuit of elder female knowledge, like an aggressive shopper at the Union Square DSW during clearance: I want all the product I can cram  in the little time I’ve got. I want it in abundance. I want it immediately. And I want it in bright colors and interesting fabrics. (Just go with it.)

It’s not that the advice they’ve given me has been extraordinarily insightful. It’s that their delivery is so assured. As women get older, we grow into ourselves: we grow more and more comfortable with who we are and how we look, the things we can and cannot do.

And I kept hearing the same version of a story: single for twenty or thirty years. Four marriages. Heartbreak and loss. And then: happiness. It was only when they had truly grown into themselves, achieved their ultimate in confidence and strength, they said, that they were able to find an equal.

And so I stare at these women, awed by their poise and elegance, their agility with liquid eyeliner and strength in downward dog, and I try to tell myself that it wouldn’t be so bad: that if I wound up having to wait until I match their confidence and grace before I find a partner who is truly worthy, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

It’s hard to accept that you might not find the fantasy: that you might not follow the path you (and everyone else) always imagined. But you simply can’t predict how your life will play out.

And, sadly (for me), for all the generous wisdom and insight these older women provide, neither can they.

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On A New Yogic Obsession, and Trying to Accept

Today, for the tenth day in a row, I went to a bikram yoga class: you know, the 90-minute, 26-posture routine that you do in a room heated to 105 degrees. A room that the practice’s founder (Mr. Bikram himself) refers to as his “torture chamber” and that my father refers to as the thing he would rather hang by his toes than enter into voluntarily.

(Me: “I just feel so euphoric afterwards!” My father: “The word, I believe, is delirious.”)

I have hesitated to write about this because, well, normally–stray mention of an O Magazine article I read while pounding on the stairmaster aside–I don’t write about my exercise habits. But also, normally, I hate yoga. And, by extension, the people who preach its’ benefits.

Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are dedicated yogis. But, in my (limited) experience, the practice requires twin virtues that I gravely lack: patience and flexibility. (When I tell you that I was afraid to do a summersault as a child, it is not only neuroses of which I speak.)

And yet here I am, smiling all the way down Central Avenue on my way to yoga morning after grueling morning, wondering: if I can do this for my body, why wouldn’t I?

Well, I can think of a couple of reasons. Namely, time and money and the need to prioritize other things like work, writing, and having a dog. You know, life.

But it’s summer, and I’m therefore giving myself permission to temporarily suspend concern for such petty things while I focus on the supremely significant task of bending my spine more backwards.

(You see? I don’t even try to mock and it happens. Years of cynicism do not so easily diminish.)

Really, though, I have to tell you that I feel amazing. And, if you’ll indulge a small amount of benefit-preaching for a moment, I’ll share (part of) why.

You see, besides the perpetual battle against impatience and hamstrings, another thing that has repelled me from yoga is judgment. I’m sorry, but no matter what those hard-bodied blondes in capri leggings recite about Buddha and breathing, usually, I feel very judged. I stare at my soft, straining body in the mirror, and I see those hard, bending bodies that surround me, and I feel the opposite of relaxed.

In Bikram classes, the temptation exists. After all, clothing is minimal. Those fierce yogi forms are there, and they’re even barer than usual.

But for whatever reason–perhaps because beginners practice alongside instructors, and everyone, everyone sometimes gets dizzy and needs to sit down–that judgment seems to go away.

Also, there’s that elderly man who’s in class every morning at 9 am and who all the instructors know by name and who is just standing there, breathing, and then laying there, breathing. Attempting a posture every now and then when the urge or comfort strikes.  And that helps. I won’t lie: that helps.

Most importantly, doing the practice daily has taught me to accept: to accept how far my back will bend or my balance will hold. To accept that, today my knees won’t let me keep this posture, but yesterday they did and probably tomorrow they will again. To accept that, despite over a week of daily practice, I still fall out in the first set of standing bow and, still, my belly is not as flat as that hot girl’s in the back left corner.

It isn’t easy to extend this acceptance outside the yoga room. But one can’t help but try: to accept that, even though it’s no longer cute or novel that my boyfriend lives sixty-three miles away, he still does. And that’s okay. To accept that I’m not getting as much writing or reading done as I imagined, because I never do. And that’s okay, too. To accept that not everyone will ever respond to my work, and that some of those who don’t might leave exceedingly nasty comments on silly, light-hearted blogs of mine on the Huffington Post. And that, also, will have to be okay.

(For the record, I scanned them–these aforementioned nasty comments–and immediately decided not to read any closer. I may need to accept that these people hate me, but I don’t think I need to pay them much mind.)

Are you feeling nauseous yet? I’m starting to, so let’s stop. But thanks for indulging me. You may, or may not, accept my recommendations.

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On The Mythical Boyfriend, and the “Best Part” of Having One

The other day, I had a long overdue Skype date with my good friend A—the one who I was close with in DC and who, after quitting her job over a year ago, has been hopping all over the US, Southeast Asia, and now Europe.

(Sidenote: I “hear”—both literally and philosophically—those complaints about the “alphabet soup” in my last post. Forgive me for now: the initial system isn’t ideal, but I haven’t got anything better. Open to suggestions!)

A few short emails aside, it’d been a long time since we’d really caught up: I’d missed her call when she’d tried to reach me, about five months ago, before leaving her for her latest jaunt—I was on my first date with D.

“So,” she said. “What’s your favorite part about having a boyfriend?”

This caught me off guard: pretty sure no one, as yet, has asked me this particular question.

But if anyone were to ask it, it would certainly be A. This is how we talk. Like me, she’s spent most of her life without a boyfriend, save one epic live-in relationship whose rise and fall I intimately witnessed.

Several months into the “rise” of that situation, A would frequently turn to me, interrupting herself from work or exercise or unrelated topic of conversation, flare her big green eyes wide and say, voice completely flat, “I cannot believe I have a boyfriend.”

“I know,” I’d say. “It’s amazing!”

“It is amazing,” she’d reply. “It is just so strange to use that word!”

In other words, we use the word “boyfriend” as though referring to some sort of mythic or exotic species– because to us, they have been. Like Gila Monsters or wild parrots: oft talked about, occasionally spotted, rarely materializing for long.

When she asked the question—what my “favorite part” is—I stumbled through a scattered list of seemingly reasonable replies.

“It’s nice to have an intimate confidant,” I said. “And someone to cuddle with. And someone to just chill and watch movies with.” I paused. “And he cooks!”

All of which is true. But in our post-Skype email exchange, A answered the question herself: “You seem so happy and relaxed,” she wrote. “I think boyfriends are amazing for us as women. They calm us down so much!”

How’s that for anti-feminist? But bear with me. And A.

Certainly, relationships bring their share of anxiety and stress. My stubborn sleeping problems haven’t disappeared, for example. And as I’ve written, things, generally, are as they were before.

But it’s true: there is a way in which I am more relaxed then I was when I was single.

When you aren’t with someone and you’d like to be, there’s a sort of weight that bears down on you. A sense of obligation, a pressure, a sense that you always ought to be making an effort to meet someone.

At times, I found online dating a good solution for that: I could tell myself that I was “making an effort” while still staying home with popcorn and Tina Fey most Saturday nights.

But even then, I felt it. And don’t get me wrong, I am a social person. I like being around people, I like to go out—sometimes, not too often, and rarely past midnight (sorry, I’m over twenty-five and an insomniac). But I don’t like to feel like I have to. And when I was single, I often felt like I had to.

I don’t mean to imply this is true for everyone, because I know it’s not. But I always remember the Friday afternoon a few years back when, post-show, I wandered around my workplace surveying colleagues about whether I should bus it from DC to New York for the weekend just to attend a friend’s birthday party.

“Go!” One of them demanded. “You should always go to parties! You might meet your husband!”

(For the record, I did go, and—so far as I know—did not meet my husband. Or anyone else, so far as I can remember, particularly interesting. But at least I won’t have to wonder…or something.)

You see what I mean. There’s a persistent stress: a feeling that you should always be trying, that you should always be looking.

Obviously, being in a relationship doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking forever—D and I are far from that level of certainty or commitment.

But it does mean I’ve stopped looking for now. And that, it turns out, is a very relaxing thing.

 

 

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Getting Over the “Princess Fantasy.” Slowly.

On Thursday D, as he frequently does, made dinner for me and a few of his college friends.

One of them has gone on a few dates with a girl that he likes, and all week had planned to call her the following night–Friday–in order to see her over the weekend.

The rest of us, myself in particular, took umbrage at this strategy.

“So if you want to hang out with someone during the weekend, when would you call them?” I asked the group.

“Thursday” was the immediate, obvious consensus. This suggestion provoked a response so aggravated, so extreme that even the guy in question couldn’t help but be amused–at which point the conversation turned comic.

“I don’t just think you should call her,” one guy chimed in. “I think you should marry the girl. Might as well propose.”

“You’re compatible, you’re physically attracted,” he continued, his wife making salad a few feet away. “That’s all you need. The rest you’ve got to work for anyhow. There’s no such thing as ‘the one.'”

This is a theory with which, in the abstract, I completely agree. There are lots of people one could find happy partnership with. With any of them, there would be persistent challenges. Different ones, perhaps, but challenges all the same. Sharing a life is never easy.

In other words, intellectually I know he’s right: the myth of “the one” is just that–a myth.

Emotionally, though, I’m not sure I do.

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On Me and New York and What’s Meant To Be

Just about the first two questions I received upon arriving in New York City on Friday—where I went this weekend for my brother’s not-really-at-all-impulsive wedding (sorry, J)–were these:

From my best friend R, who I called in the cab from LaGuardia: “Welcome home! Oh sorry—is it strange for me to call New York ‘home’?””

From my mother, who I met near her East 92nd street office for a pre-wedding blowdry as we powered down Lexington during rush hour: “Oh! Are you having culture shock? Do you always have culture shock when you come back here, still?”

I am inclined to say I had no clue how to answer either of these questions—but, in fact, my real-time response to each one was a fairly assured ‘no.’

As in: no, it’s not strange at all to refer to New York as “home.” I was born here, it’s where virtually my entire family still lives and where my parents still occupy the house in which I grew up.

And: no, while I regularly tell of a consistently violent cultural jolt each time I visit the city, even when it was only from DC (Aaaah! Everyone’s more stylish than I am! And skinnier! And walking with even more speed and apparent urgency!), it seems that nine years of fairly regular ins-and-outs has numbed the shock.

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Friends and Family

My group of friends from college all met one another, more or less, within the first week of school our freshman year. Friendships have evolved and shifted over time, of course, but–despite all of us dotting the country like lakes dot Minnesota–we’re still intact. We have a lot of love for each other. And on those precious occasions when we do gather, we love to express it: our reunions are always filled with blissfully excessive quantities of cuddling, hugging and liberal lavishing of the phrase “I love you.”

This weekend we gathered for a wedding: the first among our intimate clan. You won’t be surprised to learn that I really, really did not want to leave. I mean, I seriously contemplated ditching my flight out of Cedar Rapids this morning and catching a ride to Minneapolis with a few folks instead. If not for Bonita, I probably would have done it.

I know as well as anyone that it takes time to find community and get settled in a place–certainly to build the kind of collective love so many of us find during college. I also know that I’ve got a pretty respectable cache of folks here in Albuquerque considering it’s just coming up on one year since I moved. But there’s a difference between friends who are friends and friends who are family.

I’ve spent the past week–first in New York, then Washington, and finally Iowa, for the wedding–surrounded by the latter. And as thankful as I feel to have people in my life who are so so loving, so loyal and so affectionate (not to mention so good with a Sloop John B harmony), I can’t help but be reminded of how exhausting it can feel to spend the bulk of my time without them.

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