Is it Confidence?

Carroll’s “Alice Nelson”

I return to my dog-eared copy of Louis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” time and time again. To ground myself in a reality that has little to do with the real Mad Hatters out there. And because, in my opinion, the main character Alice Nelson gives constant inspiration. Take, for example, Alice’s views about birthdays. Convention, she says, tells us that we get just one day a year to celebrate; but what about the “364 Unbirthdays”? Without a cynical bone in her body, Alice urges us to consider each day a gift ready to be opened. The entire tale (and that of “Through the Looking Glass”, for that matter) is – among other things – about Life: unpredictability, precariousness, and sometimes crushing loneliness and heartache. But it’s also about daring and adventure. Living bravely. Seeking ‘experience’.

Where I live in California, people have begun dragging out the lights and decorations for fall and winter holidays. (Some of my neighbors, I notice, have given up on Nuisance and leave these ornaments in place all year. I’ve decided that I like seeing reindeer striking a pose on hot summer days.) I don’t “do” holiday decorations, but I love to use small lights, paper lanterns, whirlygigs, and banners that I enjoy making myself (some are Japanese print-fabrics, others look Balinese) in my yard.

My Confident Banners

I was recently switching-out my Summer, for my Fall banners (a brown-gold batik pattern) late in the afternoon, when a friend and neighbor walking by stopped to say Hello. She complimented me on the “fall” fabric I’d chosen, then began describing how much my mini lights and banners and whirlygigs meant to her. (Huh?) My neighbor saw “artistry, creativity, boldness, and confidence.” Confidence? Yes, she said. I demurred. It’s just a kind of self-expression, I said. Really: the banners are just something that I like to see swaying in the breeze. Movement. But my friend said, “Oh, I’d never feel confident enough to display anything I made in our yard.” Ok. I wanted to be encouraging, but her confession seemed so…Sad. Longing to create, but not feeling your creations were beautiful enough for your own eyes and enjoyment, in your own yard. Who squashed your dreams, and how long ago?

clareslittletots.co.uk

Life’s moments can be very synchronistic; the Universe playful, and even a bit inclined to give a Smackdown to Smugness. Several days later (post- banner chat with my neighbor), I was in a group-dynamics class, doing a kind of ice-breaker activity. I found myself with a large sheet of brown paper and a stack of rainbow colored markers. I was creating a face (already criticizing it as child-like and pretty ‘lame’). At the end of our session, the leader of the class – also well known mixed-media painter in my community — said, “So, you’re an artist as well as a writer?” She pointed down to my psychadelic caricature of a woman’s face, all blues, pinks and greens. “I’d love to see some of your other work.” (Wait – is she messing with me?) She seemed sincere…

Picasso, tate.org.uk

And suddently it hit me. I looked back down at the face I’d created and thought, Yes, indeed: it’s a bit of ‘Picasso’ right there. Confidence. One person, willing to share what they see, what they feel in seeing what you’ve created. Confidence to explore; to have an adventure; to take a risk. How wonderful to feel it from both sides: giving, and receiving. How humbling to know that I need it, just as much as you do.

Dreaming of Love

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More than a few people who study the subconscious mind have concluded that our dreams represent either fears or desires. Lately, my own dreams have felt like the massive, corner-to-corner ‘housecleaning’ I always say I’m going to do twice a year. My subconscious has returned to The Past. Specifically, how I used to feel, think and act ‘in love’, before I actually knew who I was. Why am I now dreaming about how I used to behave in relationship? I suppose, as I think about adventures that lie ahead of me, I fear  that I’ll forget crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years, and am therefore doomed to make the same mistakes.

gettyimages.co.uk

How hard is it – when we want and need Love in our lives – when we’d so much rather be part of a couple than alone – to not “settle” for less than we deserve? We hear and read that word (settle) a lot; we know what it means. It’s never a good ‘look’, from others’ perspectives. When it comes to romance and Love, we’d rather gossip (I’ve seen and heard this, even at weddings) about the person who’s “definitely settling!” than think we could ever ‘betray’ our own hearts.

What does “settling” mean? Not too long ago a friend told me he was getting (re) married. I surprised myself, still optimistic and romantic, after all these years: “You’re in love – how wonderful!” Not, as it turns out. He was feeling his age, tired of living alone, wanting a companion in his big house, and – of course – hoping for “regular sex”. As it turned out, his fiancé was in the same ‘boat’. So they married. And are already struggling to adapt to one another’s personalities.

I totally understand why people enter into and stay in relationships (even complicating things further, with marriage). Whether it’s romantic love, erotic love, platonic love, companion love, or any other variation of Love. I don’t judge them. But the dream I had last night (yes, back to the whole point of this Post) showed me that my own heart demands something more. In the dream (totally reflecting real life, some years back), I was in a Love Relationship; sort of a long-distance thing. We’d been together for some five years and I was wearing a beautiful diamond engagement ring, but in my heart I knew that I would never marry this man.

In last night’s dream, we stood holding each other in a loving embrace. He was whispering sweet words and talking about the future. I was ‘in my head’, not feeling it at all. (There had been, over the trips and visits to one another’s cities, strong indications of his substance abuse and mental health issues, and many deep dive conversations.) His words were all about our ‘road ahead’. I kept quiet, a total coward, not wanting to leave his arms just yet.

The thing about dreams:  I always seem to wake up from this ‘movie’ in my head when it’s either just getting really good, or, when my heart tells my subconscious, “That’s enough of that!” Last night I woke up before I had to say anything negative to my lover. The dream was a total flashback, a psychic “do-over” scenario with a question waiting at the end for me, when I woke up:  “Here’s this guy, so perfect for you in so many ways; except for the substance abuse and really concerning mental health issues. Are you going to “settle” when your heart is screaming ‘Run for the door!?’ ”

In Love, how do we know, for certain and for sure, what our non-negotiables and deal-breakers are? How can we be sure that we know, understand and accept what we’re ‘in for’ in a committed relationship, and not feel like we’re making excuses for not receiving what we really want and need? Rhetorical question, right? Because we  know that each one of us asking these questions has to look deeply into our own hearts, eyes wide open, stripping away any romantic fantasy or feelings of desperation before the decision’s made. Real Happiness and joyfulness  is always a better option than bargaining-away our deepest needs and even values. Whatever that ‘Happiness’ means…it’s worth holding on to, waking or dreaming.

Barn-Sour

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One of my aunts passed away recently at age 89. Up until her last week of life, Aunt Helen somehow found the energy to saddle-up one of her nine horses and ride her acreage. Her horse-related injuries included several broken bones and a few concussions over the years. According to family lore, this was because Helen wasn’t fussy about breed, conformation or habits:  mostly she just came across a horse that needed rescuing and adopted it. She had some beautiful animals. Some, as I learned, with seriously bad habits.

I only saw my Aunt Helen once a year as a child, when we made the drive across the U.S. from the west to the east. Whether or not I asked for it, “going riding” was always a ‘thing’. I dreaded it. My first experience was with a horse she called “Dancer” (apt, considering what this animal did when you tried to board him). After Dancer, I always tried to eyeball and ask for a slow, heavy mare for my mount.  But Helen chose according to which horse “needed” riding; a bit of a ‘giveaway’ about what was to come. So it was that I learned about, and had the full-on experience of, a Barn-Sour horse.

returntofreedome.org

“Barn Sour” has since become part of my personal lexicon. I may not use it in polite conversation, but I’m definitely thinking about its meaning in certain situations with friends and family, when I listen to them talk about their attitudes and experiences related to growing older.

So this particular day on Helen’s farm  (I must’ve been about 9 or 10), a beautiful, crisp autumn in late November, my aunt had saddled up a new horse she’d just gotten:  for free, I’m guessing. Not fully understanding horses, my experience with them being pretty limited, I was still able to sense the horse’s hesitation as I climbed into the saddle. He was a jet black gelding whose eyes told me “I’m so not into this.” Nevertheless, I and two other riders (more cousins) started out down the country road bordering Helen’s property. We’d ridden for maybe 30 minutes when suddenly my horse stopped so abruptly that I was pitched forward in the saddle. Satisfied that I was almost unseated, the horse then spun on his back legs (visualize a quarter horse’s lightning-quick moves when the rider’s roping a steer), a complete 180 degrees, and shot forward ( away from the other horses) at a full gallop. Totally stunned, I’d dropped the reins and instinctively grabbed the pommel of the saddle.

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The horse ran like its tail was on fire. Ripping high speed through the forest (the shortest route it had calculated, in its deranged mind), we seemed to reach the barn where its stall was in a matter of seconds. As soon as the horse was in eyesight of the barn, he came to a dead-stop. I leaped out of the saddle and looked at him. You know what I was thinking, even as a kid. But his eyes were calm; he wasn’t even breathing hard.

My Aunt Helen came out of her house when she saw me and the horse. I had twigs in my hair and scratches on my face, but she had a good, long laugh. “Barn Sour”:  A horse, for whatever his or her reasons, panics when it gets too far from the space that represents comfort, familiarity, food and safety. If given the smallest chance, it’ll bee-line it back to where it really wants to be.

Sometimes people can become Barn Sour as they get older. Travel may sound like a good idea. Plans are made, tickets are purchased, then excuses are made for why they “can’t really leave” after all. Those reasons might be legit:  an elderly parent suddenly needs care. But many people become so emotionally tied to personal ‘spaces’ and routines that it becomes impossible for them to venture beyond the orbit of familiarity.

wisegeek

I catch myself, now and then, thinking about the Risk involved with any new situation or adventure. I’m aware that, as time passes, the World itself presents more Risk. And as I think about all of the places I could go, and the things I could try, I admit to myself that I’m absolutely vulnerable to becoming Barn Sour:  there are just too many enticing comforts, and diversions right here, in my comfy little space. And so many very accomodating industries want to keep me feeling that way:  unlimited streaming of anything, food delivered to my door; even Peloton Digital agrees I should stay home. But will I?

Ride at Your Own Risk

I gave up experimenting with Dating Sites a really long time ago. As in years ago. Turns out, the Interweb isn’t quite done with me in that regard. I used to take it somewhat seriously, scrolling through pages of pictures and profiles – especially after hearing about Real Life Success Stories within my own circle of single, divorced or widowed female friends.

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But my own experience brought me  a lot of really lonely, sad men (as in clinically depressed); really angry men; really young men who had clear mommy issues; and men who seemed to be shopping for a woman exactly like they would a piece of furniture. None of this truly important stuff gets revealed in a person’s Profile – intentionally. I get it. But, seriously? The Truth is going to come out during the first meeting, so…why go through coffee, or drinks and dinner and strained conversation that has to end with an awkward handshake? No thank you.

Even though I’m no longer on any of these sites, the Internet Jackals have found, and have been circling me, regardless. I’m thinking that there must be an algorithm for my gender and age, education and marital status, so that what little is actually there in cyberspace flags me as “prey”. If the men now reaching out to me (via Twitter, lately) weren’t so immediately obvious in their gushing compliments in limited English (I’m referring to two apparently Eastern European “Engineers”, living and working on “oil rigs out in the Baltic” that latched on to me about two weeks apart), I might be more amused, than irritated.  

thetimes.co.uk

But the typical inference that I must be vulnerable to, and desperate for over-the-top seduction ( really bad poetry, in some cases) makes me want to respond back with expletives. I want to take some kind of action to defend and protect myself from these Internet Lotharios (bottom line, wanting cash, I’m sure). Whatever that might be. I’m still spit-balling ideas at the moment, since I’m expanding (not shrinking) my Interweb Presence.

One of the last “social-networking” sites I visited really had me feeling hopeful. Its purpose was to connect people actively engaged in what used to be called New Age pursuits:  what we might refer to today as Conscious , or Mindful Living.  Unfortunately, this was and still is one of those sites – Readers might know of others – that, even though you delete your account, actually keeps your information in a vault somewhere in cyberspace. Every now and then unsuspecting former members might receive the message:  “Hello! Look Who Likes You!”

OG Romantic Icon, Olivier as Heathcliff

And so it was, (yesterday) that a completely fabricated ‘person’ was delivered to my Inbox. This time, the “Engineer” (how is this career a ‘thing’ now??) lived less than 20 miles from me (supposedly), instead of on a rig in the Baltic. I decided to read his ‘message’…which was an Ode to my picture (still visible, apparently) and profile (how the hell was he still seeing something I’d deleted ?). He ended his Ode by asking me to text him (a New York number, 2,500 miles away from where I live) so that we’d have a “private and intimate way of getting to know each other”.  Of course:  ‘private’ and ‘intimate’ – the stuff of romance novels.

Curiosity got the better of me. I’ll admit:   I wanted to know if this guy was a “Dimitri’ or an ‘Alek’, so I asked him to share his real name. As though my question had cast a magic spell, complete with fairy dust, the man, the profile, and the internet presence was gone in mere seconds. Feeling satisfied that I’d outed yet another scam, I decided that “Ma” (a pretty bizarre nickname, right?) was actually an AI bot. His photo was too ‘Perfect Man’:  like the enemy-android (in his chiseled-face human form) from the Terminator I film.

metro.co.uk

The point of all of this thinking about fake Internet Lotharios and their motives is not to alarm myself or any Reader. It’s just a reminder of how complex the Interweb experience can be. Some people enjoy a good game of ‘cat and mouse’:  they expect such weirdness and deception  and resolve to have fun with it.(I’m thinking about all of the people on YouTube who’ve taken the time to record and then call back ‘fake’ debt-collectors in the hope of ‘besting’ them.) It’s one thing when you go seeking It – whatever that edgy Cyber Thrill is. But it’s another feeling entirely when It comes prowling for you, disguised as a human being.

Time for me to Level Up, once again:  revisit my Privacy settings and bolster my sense of humor. Aside from all of the really good things it can be, cyberspace is also an amusement park “ride” that’s not for the faint at heart. As the signs always say, Ride at Your Own Risk.

The Invisible Woman

As I pass the standard “mid-life” markers, I find myself laughing more often, more ironically, and with more gusto. Laughing at myself, mostly. No, I don’t think it’s generic old-age loonies; instead I think it’s an accumulation of wisdom overheard in my younger days finally getting through to me. There’s a group of women that visit me, as memories, from time to time. I can still see their faces and hear their conversations on topics that were totally disconnected from my reality at the time. Not anymore. I’m remembering, and I’m listening more closely than ever.

While in college in my early twenties, I taught an aerobics class on weekends at a gym exclusively for women. The proprietress (“Ginny”) was a statuesque former beauty (you could still see it in her bones) somewhere in her seventies. She walked like a model, wore a silver bouffant wig, tons of bangles on her wrists, and kept a bottle of vodka in her personal locker. I liked her, a lot. Most of Ginny’s clients were well past middle age. Some of them were in their eighties. They were a different breed of gym-rat back in the day: always dressed in fashionable gym-wear and always in full makeup, perfumed and wearing jewelry. Perspiration was to be avoided.

These ladies eased-into their “workouts” by having coffee with Ginny when the gym opened, around 7 a.m. on Saturday. When I got there a little before 10, ready to teach my class, Ginny was in high spirits (Coffee Lace, as they say in the south, I always thought.) and usually welcomed me with a bangle-jangling hug and cloud of fragrance. During stretches, the women continued to talk amongst themselves non-stop. After about 20 minutes of low-impact Step, I’d guide them through a mild bit of circuit training. Through which they all talked. I don’t think anyone there (besides myself) ever broke a sweat. That wasn’t what this gym was about.

Menopause. Cheating husbands. Feeling ‘invisible’. Slowing metabolism and weight gain. Sagging body parts and wrinkled skin. It was pretty much the same loop every weekend, and fairly easy for me to tune-out. Not only did I tune them out, but I actually thought “What bizarre conversations they have, and what boring lives these women lead.” I had the total impertinence and smugness to think that their concerns could never in a million years be my own one day.

Turns out, as I laugh at myself these days, I do so in the company of these women — now long-gone, most of them. I remember the 85 year old who always washed her face in ice water and never used any other moisturizer than Crisco (I kid you not). Nowadays, almond, olive, apricot and other oils are “de-rigueur” for skin. Then there was the woman who told me that my metabolism would some day slow to a sluggish crawl; that I wouldn’t be able to snack on nachos at midnight without packing on the pounds. My, my — do tell. Finally, there was the woman who complained that becoming Invisible was the worst part of aging for any woman (she eventually became one of the Red Hat Ladies, which I didn’t “get” at the time, but now I do.)

No question that in Western culture we value youth above all things (next to celebrity and celebrity-athletes). But there’s a time period of ‘limbo’ for women — before our kids start joking about pushing us out in a canoe or leaving us on an ice floe — in which Invisibility is a definite problem. Doctors try to convince us that 20 pounds is ‘normal’ weight gain, post-menopause. The fashion industry follows suit by creating Mom Jeans with Tummy Panels to console us. Eye doctors tell us, “Get ready for cataracts — they’re inevitable!” With the aging process, apparently, comes a whole complement of things we’re to assume we must accept. To my thinking, this is the very definition of the Invisibility that my gym-lady was describing so long ago. “You’re a woman, you’re growing older, your body is going to hell but it’s really ok because no one cares, unless you can compete, which you obviously can’t.” Reinforcing this invisibility is the husband who trades his wife in for a model “with fewer miles on it”. Not just a cliché, but a common reality.

What’s a woman to do, when facing Invisibility? Start wearing a red hat, a crimson lip and leopard stilettos? Commit to a strict Paleo and prep for a 10k? Give up cocktails and chocolate? Resolve to find summer and winter-weights of sweatpants? All women will face versions of these questions, and more, as they age. Speaking as one well-into this phase, I can offer two pieces of advice: the first is that Invisibility has distinct advantages, and becoming older brings a certain wisdom and cunning that comes in really handy, when used correctly.

My second piece of advice is to know — or learn — what feels right to you (body weight, fitness level, diet, makeup — clothing- accessories) and jump on that, with all you’ve got. Challenge doctors, dentists, stylists, nutrition and fitness “experts” if or when their suggestions clash with your own inner knowing. Learn to flow with aging according to your own rhythm and sense of well-being. I don’t have a red hat, but I do have a very dramatic, femme fatale black cloche with an iridescent peacock feather perched jauntily on one side. I don’t wear it that often because, when I do, the ‘drama’ of the hat attracts a lot of attention and questions about where I bought it. Sometimes I enjoy that, but sometimes I enjoy being invisible.

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