Musings and Mirth

About Me

I spend way too much thinking about me. This is the blank space where that paragraph should be.

Women We Love – Gloria Steinem

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I really hate Esquire’s Women we Love feature. I also hate their Sexiest Woman Alive feature. Yes it’s probably true that they (them) speak for the larger swath of male human but it’s just so … small. But okay fine. Indeed, from my perspective one of the greatest women ever has to be Gloria Steinem, not just for who she was but for who she IS and what she’ll leave behind. Sure, it seems like a no-brainer that a feminist would choose a feminist to admire – okay, one of THE feminists — but to call Steinem merely a feminist is to miss so much about her.

Recently she turned 80. She had a few ruminations worth noting on her 80th year and one was that she felt finally free of the libido. Because of that she was able to really get some things done. Who can’t relate to that? The desperate reach is so annoying, isn’t it? Love and lust, those two awful things. What else could take their place? Imagine it. This, of course, probably only applies to women like Steinem (and me) who are unsettled in the matters of the heart and body. It feels like a quest of sorts. What is the end goal to that? Both of us, and many like us, prefer our freedom over all other things. I know I need a lot of time alone to just think about things. As I almost turn 50 I know this about myself. That makes me mostly unsocial a lot of the time. On the other hand, we need other people or we’ll go insane. I mean, even more than usual.

Steinem has given so much back to the world. She has taken very little. That is, to me, the ideal life.

Here are my top ten most admired – you have to imagine it in 12 year-old girl scrawl, optimistically written in my journal at one point. It never was. I never did. I was too busy admiring Olivia Newton John back then to notice.

Jane Goodall
Gloria Steinem
Oprah Winfrey
Susan Sarandon
Diane Keaton
Maya Angelou
Emily Dickinson
Georgia O’Keefe
Hillary Clinton
Jane Campion

That many of these women are tortured in love makes me feel a little better about the sorry state of events in my personal life. There are probably many more women to admire who ARE in stable marriages. They didn’t immediately leap to mind but I’m sure they’re there.

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I was Slut Shamed at 49

For my 49th birthday I thought it would be fun to post a sexy photo of myself to remind anyone who might care, including myself, that I was still a sexy, vital woman who has left behind the 20s, the 30s and the 40s. Somehow you grow up thinking that these aren’t so precious — they they’ll always be in front of you, not permanently behind you. Women particularly begin to disappear the older they get. Why – because they are no longer fresh meat. It’s understandable from an evolutionary standpoint – young women, young ovaries, young eggs, better the chance for abundant offspring. There isn’t anything I don’t get about that. But try living in a narcissistic culture that demands we are “all here for a reason” and that we all get a fair share of attention, that we matter, etc. Or as Rust Cohle would say “I I I I I…” I personally don’t believe that “I” matters much. If you can’t fix things, make the world a better place, contribute greatly to the betterment of mankind there isn’t much point to you being here. You exist the same as every other living thing on this gorgeous rolling planet of ours.

But back to the slut-shaming. So I posted a photo that I thought was pretty. Yes, it’s in the style of the pin-up, which happens to be a favorite indulgence of mine. I have a pin-up type body so why not indulge in those fashions? I’ve taken many pictures and by those standards, the one I posted on Facebook was nowhere near as provocative. Once posted, many people “liked” it, many did not. A few men wrote me privately, thinking I was looking for sex. That’s to be expected. If I didn’t want them to think that I would not have posted the photo – meaning, I would never be insulted if any did think that. Their biology is working, that’s all that says.

My mother, on the other hand, had a fit. She called all of my siblings in a panic that I’d done something off the charts crazy – that I was about to ruin my image completely – that people would think me, a 49 year-old, a slut. REALLY?

She emailed me and offered to take photos of me that I could use instead. She said that this was way over the line and that I should be embarrassed of the photo. Well, okay fine. But embarrassed why exactly? Big breasts? Low cut dress? Flirty pose? Sexy look? It seems to me that a woman, ANY WOMAN, has a right to express herself sexually. Men have a right to respond to that sexuality, too, of course. It seems silly that women would think they could turn that light on and not expect people to look and notice. Our culture is especially keyed into this idea of the sexualized female. Our puritanism has heightened our response to sexual imagery probably more than in other comparable countries – but I have no way of knowing this.

I did end up feeling bad enough to take the picture down and suddenly I understood what “slut shaming” was all about. I posted the picture of my own free will. I didn’t mind men making comments (although I did remove one I thought was particularly vulgar) and I was prepared to own what kind of image it was. But I wasn’t prepared to have a war with my own mother over it. It wasn’t worth keeping the photo up to have that kind of icky feeling lingering. So I deleted it. But I’m posting it here on account of my rebellious/exhibitionist streak.

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What I’ve Learned in my 49th Year

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I have spent too much of my time online. There was a time when I wanted to be nowhere else. The comfort of being able to control what people see was just too alluring.  I was able to protect myself from pain to a certain degree but you know, it can’t really protect you from the big things – love, rejection, heartbreak, rage, humiliation, In some ways, those things beam around as alive as ever, heightening our sensory intake, worsening the pain.  Now, we are all so close together, even if we can sometimes create barriers that prevent us from others – unfriending on Facebook, blocking, ignoring, not looking. But if you want to look you can find. So no one ever really goes away. Even when they die, their footprints remain, caught in amber on the day their lives ended, still attached to places they left comments, their purchase history, their friends and “friends”. I know that I am leaving a permanent record every day I’m online. I’m doing it for my daughter, and perhaps to live forever by leaving something of me behind. This blog. My Facebook. My Flickr. These are living records of my life up to now.

I learn new things still, though one can get caught in an endless loop if you expect that learning to lead you somewhere. We are all still here waiting to die. We have time and that’s all we have. We can waste it or use it, that’s our choice. I know now that very few things REALLY matter to your own life, but much matters to the lives of others. Your life, this centered happiness we’re all supposed to attain, has to be secondary because trust me, it has nowhere to go. You can suck in life, you can seek pleasure, you can reach for the intensity of sexual gratification, or the bliss of falling in love, or the contentment of parenthood, the relief of great wealth – but none of that will bring you closer to any kind of achieved happiness.

I know that as I get older I drink in the pleasures of the flesh.  Sunshine is a mood lifter. The brain is still the most underrated organ (contrary to what Woody Allen thinks).  There is nothing more pleasurable than being wrapped up in your lovers arms and feeling their sleeping breath in and out on the back of your neck.  Why are relationships hard? I don’t know the answer to that one. Perhaps we aren’t really built to be in them, not anymore.  To want someone else means they have to want you back and if they don’t want you back you are destined to suffer.  Life is suffering anyway, say the Buddhists, so there is no point in avoiding love, in avoiding giving yourself over to it, just to avoid suffering.  Simply find a way to redirect the pain when/if you lose it.  This seems to be my own fate, 50% of the time. But I’m learning how to feel it, and how to stop fearing it. Otherwise you can’t get to the good stuff.

I have learned that success is about hard work.  It, too, is about taking risks. You have to dive into failure in all aspects of life but especially in business/work. You have to be willing to be humiliated  — just like being rejected by love. You’re humiliated for a while because you failed. It hurts for a while. But it goes away – and you start over.  You have to put in the work. Always. Pick something you love to do because otherwise the last thing you’re going to want to do is work.  We all need it to survive but also, the work we do is shaping the world for better or worse in one direction or another.  We’re really just here to have babies, take care of each other and ourselves.  It’s as simple as all that, really.  The work you do should, in some ways, take care of  others. Remember what you’re putting out there. If your daily life includes being a troll?  You are a waste of good oxygen and resources. Don’t be a waste of good oxygen resources.

Finally, my life changed when I became a mommy. It felt pointless before that, now it has meaning. That isn’t a reason anyone should have a kid. But for me, it really was. Part of that was redefining my own past, my own childhood. The healing in that colored the joy in motherhood.  But I also am so proud of the daughter I’ve raised. She is such a good person, so fun to be around, so insightful, sensitive and intelligent – I have done the world good by bringing her into it. I invested a lot of time being there for her because it really did mean everything to me. That is something, THE THING, I’m most proud of. Nothing will ever top it.

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My daughter, becoming a mother, taught me how to love. Now I love passionately, deeply – and though it’s hard to find a place for all of that love now, there is nothing better a human being can do. This is what mammals do: we love. We are born to love. Love should not mean you own another person – it should be freely given and welcomed with open arms.

To that end, get out and love. It will crush you. It will make you hate humanity sometimes. It will make you cry more than you’d like to. But it’s the blooming of the human heart, never to be dismissed or squandered. As I enter the age of 50 I am hoping to do more of it. That, and make something of my life to leave behind.  

My life in PJ Harvey songs:

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