Archive for the 'Adventures at midlife' Category

New site alert:

May 12, 2009

Salon Slate, one of my long-time favorite Web conglomerates, is beta-testing a new site,, for us double exes. (No, not dress size. Us women. Any url with a capital X in it is probably a porn site, eh?) It has a rather thought-provoking, not entirely positive essay on Elizabeth Edwards’ public humiliation and her reaction to it, as well as another essay on why the snarky is bad for women. Worth looking at.

Thanks for the correction, Jane. I can’t keep up with myself sometimes.


Real fashion. Real people. Real lives.

January 28, 2009

Lately, at a certain point in the afternoon, when I’ve got the pigs slopped, the hay baled, the chickens plucked and the chores done, I take a few minutes and review the latest postings to wardrobe remix, a little Flickr site that I stumbled upon a few months ago.

WR is dedicated to all those of us who daily crawl out of bed, limp to our mirrors and scratch our heads in frustration. It is how real women of all ages and sizes use whatever is in their closets, cupboards and drawers to express themselves. (I think it was Isaac Mizrahi who said that fashion is, after all, a form of entertainment.) It has few rules — age 16+, total body shots, including shoes, the poster needs to say where the individual pieces come from, no collages or multiple shots — so the fashion combinations are at times crazy bizarre unique. And yet I’ve found this site to be more interesting and inspiring than any fashion magazine I’ve ever read.

It’s real people wearing real clothes, and many of their favorites are from thrift stores, discount outlets and relatives’ closets. Asian girls revel in their odd (to me, anyway) combinations of prints, Australian women incur deep seasonal jealousy by wearing sundresses and flip flops, European women demonstrate the best in Euro-style, collegiate fashionistas contort themselves in fashion-model stances — and they are surrounded by punk rockers, hippie chicks, thrift-store junkies and middle-aged fashion veterans.

There’s a teacher in Australia whose students must surely wait by the door everyday to see what wild and wonderful combination of colors, prints and jewelry she’ll be sporting. A punk chick seems to change her Day-Glo hair color weekly, with aplomb. A farm wife in Iowa wears thrift-store treasures that make her life look anything but ordinary. A woman in the Midwest with a terrific knack for layering has a link to her blog, where she meditates on fashion and its place in history, psychology and popular culture.

These are just women living their lives. Most are pretty, but not model-beautiful, and their wardrobes wouldn’t make it on the pages of InStyle or Vogue. Yet to me they are so compelling, so REAL.

Along with the fashion parade is a glimpse into the homes of these clothes horses. Hopefully I’m not being too voyeuristic, but I’m actually somehow comforted by the normalcy of most of their living arrangements, with their couches, floor coverings, knick-knacks, spouses/housemates and pets. The living quarters seen in the margins of their photos are sometimes cluttered with evidence of their lives, REAL lives. Their spaces don’t look like TV or magazine sets, but are areas where real people live real, interesting and sometimes messy existences.

Sometimes for the college-age women, it’s a single room or even a communal bathroom that forms the background, while other models stand on wooden floors in front of doors, interesting art or overflowing bookcases. (I’d love to be able to read some of the titles.) Some of them even have messy, overgrown yards — I can relate! One of my favorite backdrops belongs to an chick who poses in front of her flat, standing on a doormat that reads “Next Time Bring a Warrant.” (Needless to say, her sense of style has ATTITUDE.)

If you look at the site, you might initially think I’m nuts. (“She actually went out of the house looking like THAT?”) But scroll through a few photos and you’ll likely find someone whose personal flair and style sense make her look like someone you’d like to know. (“Her” is probably incorrect, as there are a few brave males who post as well.)

Maybe I watch too much TV and read too many magazines. Perhaps I’ve overdosed on air-brushed perfection. Apparently I have finally realized that, for example, Oprah’s guests (and the Queen of TV herself) have been primped and corseted and fussed over within an inch of their very lives before they set foot on her set, and that they bear little resemblance to whatever it is that crawls out of their individual beds in the morning. Whatever the cause, I find that I have a deep unrelenting hunger for whatever is really REAL, and wardrobe remix seems to help satisfy some of that craving.

Boomer is NOT a four-letter word

January 26, 2009

imagesAccording to Michael Winerip in the NYTimes, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 should be walking around with paper bags over our heads. I mean, I can hardly bring myself to use the “B” word, because, according to the Times,  “the term has become synonymous with greedy, spoiled, divorced, remarried mega-shopper.”

Since the 1960s, when many of us were teenagers, Madison Avenue along with the news media have been polling, interviewing, analyzing, poking and sniffing us, and that continues to this moment, even as nearly 10,000 boomers turn 60 every day…

And why should it not be so, since we’re such a bulge in the American demographical python? What could be more American that catering to the largest segment of the population? Entire industries and personal fortunes have been made by accurately predicting what I and my cohorts would do next. And now that those industries are shrinking and those personal portfolios are disappearing, it’s OUR fault?

“Boomer” has gotten such a bum rap that even our new president, who is a clear-cut boomer demographically (the boom years ran through 1964), has sought to link himself to a younger generation with a postboomer mentality, one that types with its thumbs to communicate and is not tainted by the cultural wars of the 1960s.

I had an uncomfortable sense during the campaign that, although I can thumb text pretty well and have an arsenal of technogadgets, I really wasn’t who BHO was wooing. Now I know. Winerip points out that, while “his biggest boost from the youngest voters — 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported Mr. Obama, according to national exit polls —… when it came time for him to pick a Cabinet, 10 of his 14 designees so far have been boomers and three are older.” HA! (At least we’re good for something…)

I might have taken all this fingerpointing seriously ten years ago, when I was more of a sponge for all the blame in the world, but no more, so BACK OFF. I have behaved responsibly. I pay taxes. I contribute to my local community. I vote. My sons are educated, contributing members of society. (“Congratulations,” I told each of them when they turned 18. “You can now be tried as an adult, and I am not responsible for your debts. Don’t forget it.”)

We live in a house that is appropriate to our income, and we pay our mortgage and our other bills on time. We keep our yard cleaned up. We recycle. We donate to the Salvation Army, the United Way, our church, the local food bank and our area thrift stores. I tell my neighbors if their kids are misbehaving, and expected them to do the same. We help(ed) take care of our aging parents. I have never knowingly cheated someone to make a buck. The dog got his shots, and he and his poop stayed in our yard. We have an offsetting thermostat in the hourse. We live in a state that enforces vehicle emissions standards, and our cars pass. No animals — or humans — were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

Instead of crying and wringing our liver-spotted, veiny, arthritic hands over our vanishing retirement portfolios, The Spouse and I are going on and glad to be going to work. We’ll figure it out, and we aren’t expecting anyone to come in and rescue us with any sort of bailout that will be have to be paid by a generation yet unborn.

I could go on, but I won’t. And I also won’t take the blame for our current woes. As Winerip points out, we are certainly not more or less selfish than other generations — how can we be “helicopter parents” and “the sandwich generation,” trying to meet the needs of both our offspring and our progenitors, and still be labeled self-absorbed? Do we need to be reminded how narcissistic Generation X and Y can be, thanks to all our well-meaning parental ministrations? We tried to empower them, and yet many of them became entitled. And now they’re leading the way in pointing the finger (read that any way you like) at us. We can’t win for losing, as my father used to say.

While I will do what I need to do and should do to help set things right, don’t for a minute think you can lay the blame at my feet and smugly walk away. After all, as Winerip points out, Bernie Madoff, who was born in 1938, is not our fault.

Stalking: Are you/have you?

January 13, 2009

images-11The Associated Press is reporting today that some 3.4 million Americans identified themselves as victims of stalking last year:

About half of the victims experienced at least one unwanted contact per week from a stalker, and 11 percent had been stalked for five or more years, according to the report by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics… The most commonly reported types of stalking were unwanted phone calls (66 percent), unsolicited letters or e-mail (31 percent), or having rumors spread about the victim (36 percent).

The article also details the cost of stalking, from lost time at work (to hide out or submit restraining orders), lost jobs, fear, relocation and a host of other problems.

I’ve had only a few minor brushes with this scary phenomenon, which has gotten a lot of press in recent years. There was a guy in one of my college classes who reacted surprisingly aggressively when I wouldn’t go out with him, calling me to talk about his sexual relationships with other women (rather graphicly, but I was too inexperienced and polite to know to hang up on the creep) and following me around for a few days until he dropped the class and disappeared, much to my relief. That FELT like stalking.

But someone, for the past year or so, has been leaving little innocuous holiday gifts on my doorstep, with a note that says “Love, Joy.” I have wracked my brain and I can’t come up with who it might be. The gifts are small and harmless, and I haven’t paid much attention to them or worried when they showed up. But the giver is clearly unwilling to identify him/herself. Is that stalking? Do fear and intimidation have to be involved?

According to the researchers in the AP story, stalking is “a course of conduct, directed at a specific person on at least two separate occasions, that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” But a recently single midlife friend of mine has, since her divorce, attracted several sad-sack, underachieving older men who call her regularly but for whom she has expressed no interest. She calls them, in a kindly way, her “stalkers.” She doesn’t fear them, although she admits that they can get annoying. (No surprise, her underachieving ex-husband also calls her regularly to lament his life, so maybe she needs to set up some firmer boundaries…)

The crime channels are full of programs about women who were terrified and in many cases killed by men who were stalking them, and law enforcement appeared in many cases ham-strung by weak or non-existent laws against that kind of threatening behavior. But does unwanted attention have to be that extreme or go that far to be considered stalking?

The article also made me wonder if I’ve been guilty of stalking as well. I clearly remember, also back in college, when the-only-boyfriend-I-was-EVER-going-have-in-my-entire-life broke up with me. I admittedly went a little mad, daily driving by his apartment, hiding outside his classes to see him when he came in and out, pestering mutual friends about what he was doing and who he was seeing. I never did the call-and-hang-up thing, praise Allah, but I remember being pretty obsessed over him for several months until the passion burned out and I got my pride back. (What was I thinking? He was a DOPE.) Was I on some level a stalker?

One lesson I’ve learned over my 50+ years is that we humanoids, male or female, are intensely social and emotional creatures, a fact which often leads to some pretty irrational behavior. (That image of my college-age self, waiting in my unheated car in freezing rain outside Former Boyfriend’s apartment, still makes me CRINGE.) Add those too-human traits to a mind that is already unhinged in some way, and you have a disaster ready to happen.

Does this all stir any memories? Is stalking part of the human experience, some sort of Darwinian throwback? Can we not help ourselves?

About Blogging: Is anybody listening? Does it matter?

January 8, 2009

Merlot Mom, a fine site I have followed since I started hanging out here, is back after a noticeable hiatus, and admits that she wasn’t just too busy to blog:

…I also left to pull myself out of the debilitating internal competition I was having with Sitemeter, Feedburner and Statcounter, not to mention you other bloggers out there (you know who you are) who get dozens or hundreds of comments for every post no matter how large or how small). To be honest, that is just hard to take.

Indeed, it is, girl. Once I was introduced to stats checkers (thanks to some of YOU), I found myself blogging more and enjoying it less, and actually came to the point where I was more concerned with my stats that with what I was blogging about. And, if that’s what becomes important to you, it’s discouraging.

As I said to ByJane in an earlier conversation, it sometimes seems like the only way to get a following out here is to engage in a lot of breast-baring exhibitionism, sprinkled liberally with snarky comments and a dollop of dirty-laundry airing. I hate to disappoint anyone, but my life isn’t that dramatic and I HATE SNARK. (Which, of course, means I have no future in cable news.)

But then, the better angels of my nature crawl back onto my shoulder (I keep knocking them off) and gently remind me that I didn’t really embark on all of this a year ago to be read. I started this to become part of an interesting, compelling and dynamic phenomenon, and to try to find out exactly what I thought about it. And I don’t need Sitemeter to tell me that, on those points, I’ve succeeded. The big bonus has been meeting so many interesting and articulate bloggers, some of whom have kindly stopped by long enough to comment and encourage me. Thanks.

So I guess I’ll keep nattering away. For now. You too, Merlot Mom.

msmeta’s metaphysical hangover

January 5, 2009

women101207_468x4591Thanks to Paper Cuts at the NYTimes, I now have a name for my post-holiday angst, what Kingsley Amis called a “metaphysical hangover”:

…that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future [says Amis]… You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a skunk you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.

That “fear for the future” has been compounded in recent weeks for all of us, and after the frivolity of the past two weeks (I admit to five parties in one six-day stretch around New Year’s Day), it is time for that confounded piper to be paid.

So the Christmas lights are all down and packed away, the cupboard has been cleared of all Christmas goodies and the pantry stocked with NutriSystem and SlimFast, the poinsettias have withered away — and I am back at my desk, glad to have a job, but wishing that the paper narcissus bulbs would bloom already and give me a little burst of spring.

Cheerier posts will resume shortly. Promise.

Lauren Hutton

October 23, 2008

This is my current source of inspiration, shamelessly stolen from The Sartorialist, a wonderful street fashion site:

Isn’t she fabulous? Completely unretouched, just as God — and a full life — made her. That I should age so honestly and so well.

Boomer suicides

October 23, 2008

There’s a startling and rather depressing discussion going on at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast over the American Journal of Preventative Medicine’s newly released study on baby boomers and suicide:

[B]etween 1999 and 2005, the suicide rate lept by 3.9 percent among white women aged 40 to 64, and by 2.7 percent among white men in the same age group—increases of 35 and 33 percent, respectively. Suicide in other groups decreased or remained steady, prompting one of the study’s co-authors to label middle-aged whites “a new high-risk group.”

Why are Boomers taking their lives? The news reports cite several possibilities: deteriorating access to mental health care, higher rates of prescription drug use, and more reluctance among women to undergo hormone replacement therapy during menopause. But online, in feedback sections and message boards, many Boomers have their own theories: outsourced jobs, too much atheism, piling debt, and being forced to care for their elderly parents.

This information has been reported on several other news outlets I’ve run into, but The Daily Beast opened its site for discussion, and some of the reports were hard to read, like this one by Marcygirl:

Even though I worked since I was 14, it wasn’t at the same job and have no retirement, so I was forced to realize that I’d probably have to work until I die. And that was doable until I got caught in the economic crash and not only lost my home, but my job was in real estate and I lost my job. Then I hit a brick wall with medical issues and, now, at 58 years old I’m 3 weeks away from being evicted from my rental, with no place to go, a state, county, and federal system that has no suggestions for people like me and the only answers I receive are “I don’t know, we have senior housing, but there’s a 2 year waiting list”. I am now becoming one of the invisible people and know that 3 weeks from now I have to walk out this front door and just keep on walking.

And the comments to these stories! Yikes!

Seriously, you poor, sad baby boomers make me sick [wrote Aaronthethird]. You all feel like life is unfair and too hard and poor baby doesn’t have life handed to them on a golden platter. Its your pathetic selfishness that has lead this country down the path to ruin that it has found itself at the end of now. Seriously, shut up.

Do we deserve this kind of vitriol? Indeed, did we deserve to have our mortgages and retirement and savings eaten up by an economic downturn fueled by vanity and greed? Please. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Sure, I know people who have been consumed by conspicuous consumption. When my well-heeled brother divorced a few years ago, there were no assets to divide. None. He and his now ex-wife had spent everything he had ever made on their upscale life. (And was she pissed!)

But most of my friends and family have had more modest aims: a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood where they could kick back, raise their kids and pursue their lives. All of my friends and family have contributed to the comfort of elderly parents, and none of them plans to live with their kids. And most of them, men and women, have had two jobs at one time.

We aren’t lazy. We aren’t entitled. We planned for the future. The future just collapsed on us. I really believe most of us will dig ourselves out of the rubble, dust ourselves off and go on. But some of us — represented by those sad voices in The Daily Beast — are ill-equipped to move ahead.

If I do nothing else, I know I’m going to scan the horizon and look for those in my little patch of ground who might need some help and encouragement. But I fear they may be hard to recognize. Said one Daily Beast respondent, after cataloguing the debris of her life, “If I do commit suicide, it will be a great surprise to many, because I look pretty normal.”

Welcome to the new normal.

Project Goodwill: Thrifting hits Washington runways

September 22, 2008

It just had to happen: As Congress and the White House grapple with solutions to the biggest financial meltdown since 1929, big-spending Washingtonians have discovered what we common folk in the hinterlands have known for years: There are bargains to be had at your nearby Goodwill. The Washington Post’s report — complete with a photo gallery — on a runway show at the French Embassy describes an event-for-our-times that, while it didn’t have Heidi Klum, was turning heads — and changing minds:

[W]ell-heeled Washingtonians were discovering that it’s still possible to look fabulous without a Wall Street severance package, a realization that’s sinking in across the country.

Goodwill has seen a 6 percent jump in sales nationwide as the economy has worsened in the past year. A recent survey of about 200 thrift stores found that more than half enjoyed sales jumps averaging 30 percent…

About 70 outfits, pulled from local Goodwill stores by Alexandria designer Tu-Anh Nguyen, were shown on the runway. Then they were returned to racks and wheeled out of the dressing rooms.

The tony crowd then descended on the racks in a scene that almost resembled bridal-gown markdown day at Filene’s Basement. Hey, ladies, settle down! There’s plenty of good stuff out there, as I have observed previously. It just requires patience and a discriminating eye.

And for some, maybe swallowing some pride. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of that in the coming days.

Third World infertility: Helplessly horrified

September 16, 2008

Motherhood may be mostly behind me now, but the subject still has the power at times to make me want to weep. Newsweek has a story about the effects of childlessness on women in other countries, particularly the Third World:

“It is very, very difficult for people in the United States to deal with [infertility], and yet, when you go to other cultures, it’s even more devastating to people,” says Dr. David Adamson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and a board member of the International Federation of Fertility Societies. Worldwide, the World Health Organization says about one in 10 couples experiences difficulty conceiving a child at some point in their lives.

In some developing countries, the consequences of infertility—which can include ostracism, physical abuse and even suicide—are heartbreaking. “If you are infertile in some cultures, you are less than a dog,” says Willem Ombelet of the Genk Institute for Fertility Technology in Belgium. Women are often uneducated, so their only identity comes from being moms. “It [infertility] is an issue of profound human suffering, particularly for women,” says Marcia Inhorn, professor of anthropology and international affairs at Yale University. “It’s a human-rights issue.”

The article reports that many infertile women in poor nations are shunned and banned from gatherings where they might “spread” their “affliction,” and even if the husband is the one who is infertile, the woman usually accepts the blame — and the ostracism. And, of course, Third World women have few recourses in treating infertility, which often has life-long consequences, since elderly childless women have no one to care for them and few other resources. Says Newsweek:

In the Hindu religion, a woman without a child, particularly a son, can’t go to heaven. Sons perform death rituals. Infertile couples worry that without a child, who will mourn for them and bury them? In China and Vietnam, the traditional belief is that the souls of childless people can’t easily rest. In India, the eldest son traditionally lights the funeral pyre. In Muslim cultures, the stigma follows childless women even after death: women without children aren’t always allowed to be buried in graveyards or sacred grounds

This article reminded me of the moment years ago when I stumbled across a little story in Time Magazine that reported on the estimated tens — and maybe hundreds — of millions of “missing” women in Middle and Far East populations due to abortion, infanticide and “honor” killings. I read and reread the article to make sure I wasn’t mistaking it. It was jaw-dropping.

What does one DO with information like that? I’m tired of being helplessly horrified by what I can’t fix or help. I’ve tried to teach my sons to respect and value women. I go out of my way to empower my female friends. I speak up for myself in the face of sexism and, when I can, for women who can’t. But, in the face of such monstrous discrimination and hatred, it seems so little.

That American culture could create a climate where Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin can be taken seriously should be seen as a victory, I suppose. But maybe the status quo is still just messin’ with us.