Sunday, January 24, 2010

Invisible Me

I am invisible.  I am not seen when I walk down the street, not seen in the back of an elevator, not seen in a crowd. 

I remember very distinctly the moment that my invisibility became clear to me.  It was my 42nd birthday and I was in Las Vegas with a group of friends.  We were camped in a cabana on the grown up side of the massive pool area (the other side was dominated by families frolicking in the wave machine and kicking up sand on the fake beach).  We ventured out for a dip, protected from the blazing sun with big floppy hats, and made our way gingerly toward a pool crowded with string bikinis and the hard, tanned bodies of the under 30 set.  There we stood, five of us, mostly in our forties and of varying shapes and sizes and realized how terribly self-conscious we were surrounded by hot-bodied vixens with perky boobs.  We marveled at this one’s tattoo and that one’s perfect ass and lost ourselves in self-critical nonsense until suddenly I realized the thing that has become the most liberating and also most crippling fact of my forties.  No one was making fun of our wrinkly faces or wobbly knees or soft bellies.  No one noticed our saggy boobs or cottage cheesy thighs or imperfect shapes.  No one noticed our imperfect shapes because no one was looking at us.  We were invisible.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a group of very attractive women, all in pretty good shape and mostly looking younger than our 40-something years.  But it seems that in general, being a middle-aged woman means being invisible.  I can't remember the last time I heard a whistle aimed in my direction or had a man flirt with me.  In part, my invisibility is self-perpetuated. I am married, and madly in love with my very handsome husband.  So I certainly don’t create opportunities for flirtation.  At work, I am aware of maintaining a professional air at all times.  And professional air flowing around a 43-year-old woman is not sexy.  In fact, I guess it’s so unsexy as to become a cloak of invisibility (and not in a cool superhero kind of way). 

But it isn’t just that I’m married and trying to maintain a professional fa├žade.  In large part, it really is just my age.  I was at dinner the other night with three male colleagues and realized it was incredibly comfortable and easy and fun and in part that ease is due to my being a woman of a certain age.  I am not a girl to flirt with.  I am not some broad to get drunk and hit on.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not one of the boys.  I’m treated differently – my sex is acknowledged.  But I’m a dame – a woman of a certain age who commands a degree of respect.  And very often, I enjoy being a dame.  But truly deep down and dead honest, I miss being seen.   

Some people feel invisible as children.  Some when they are teenagers and some their whole lives.  I never really knew what it meant to feel that way until very recently.  To be clear, I don’t feel invisible at home.  Sig Other sees me as a woman, as a partner and as a sexual object.  And that should be all that matters.  But it isn’t.  There is still a part of me that wants to be visible not just to my husband. There is still a noisy, turbulent part of me that wants to turn heads, inspire a whistle, make a man smile.  The challenge of my 43rd year is to find a way to quiet that part of me, to feel relevant, to feel visible, to still be a dame but also to be seen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Come Fly With Me!

Years ago, I kept a journal specifically meant to document my cross-country travels.  I flew a lot in those days, bi-weekly trips between LA and New York.  I was Executive Platinum – on my way to becoming a million mile member.  And I loved it.  This was pre-9/11 and back then you could carry anything on (once I even bought an extra seat for my Golden Retriever and walked her right onto the plane).  American Airlines still served caviar on a tray with a fancy glass filled with dry ice.  And flying was a luxury, not a hassle.   

One of the reasons I kept my journal was not so much to document the actual flight time as to document the famous people on board.  It wasn’t an autograph book or notes for a memoir.  It was security blanket.  I had a theory.  And my theory was this: if you fly on a commercial airline with a truly famous person, you are likely to arrive safely at your destination.  Think about it.  How many commercial airliners crash with movie stars, politicians or rock stars on board?  NONE!  Those people, those truly fancy famous people only die on private aircraft!  So if there was a famous person on board, I felt safe.  And in those days, there was ALWAYS a famous person on board.   

There was, of course, the secondary game I played in my head when documenting my travels with the rich and famous: the Headline Game.  It’s the one where you write the mock article following the crash: “American Airlines Flight X goes down over Kansas: Famous Actor and some other folks including mid-level movie executive perish. “  If more than one celebrity was on board, the game became about top billing.  Goldie Hawn or Bryant Gumbel?  Gwyneth Paltrow or Johnny Cochran?  Jean Paul Gaultier or Cyndie Lauper?  I flew with rock stars and politicians and newscasters, famous athletes and fancy directors, and of course movie stars both famous and infamous.  And we never went down.   

So it was pure instinct that led me to rubberneck this evening as my plane took a dive shortly after takeoff.  The aircraft shuddered briefly and dropped nose down and before it had even a moment to level out, I shot forward and turned around in my seat to see who was in my cabin.  Nary a famous face in sight.  Damn!  After we leveled off, I took a second look, just to be sure.  In front of me (yes, I got up and walked through once the seat belt sign was off) was a nebbishy looking business man who’d already fallen asleep into his newspaper.  And behind me were a family of four – mum, dad and two darling little girls in matching pjs with princess crowns on their heads and dolls in their laps.  Just before takeoff I’d heard the steward talking to the littlest one who was wearing her headset and trying to turn her screen on.  He explained that tv couldn’t be watched until after takeoff and she replied, “But I always watch tv when we fly on our own plane.”  From that moment, I decided not to worry about how much those parents spent to buy their two tiny girls seats in first class on British Airways.   I also decided that those people must be rich enough that they were headline-worthy.  And I felt safe.

So now we’re en route– bouncing around due to the crazy turbulence of winter weather.  And soon you’ll be reading this post as testament to a safe arrival.  But I miss those days of pre-9/11 travel when pulling up to the terminal meant freedom and adventure and not hassle and a pat down.  I miss the days when everyone flew commercial and we spent our time spotting celebrities and not racial profiling.  I miss the days when I didn’t have to pretend the people behind me are famous just to feel safe.  

Friday, January 15, 2010

Oh God!

This month’s Vanity Fair features a bare-chested Tiger Woods, an article about the new Wall Street movie, and a profile on the history of Saturday Night Fever.   It also features an enormous amount of God content.  It isn’t an issue on religion, per se, though there is an article about the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  But that’s not really the thing that makes it God-laden .  I suppose I could make the argument that the shock of the Tiger Woods scandal is deeply routed in Judeo-Christian ethics and morals (thus tinging the article with an undercurrent of religiosity).  But really, it’s a different article that struck me as fraught with faith-based peril.  

Flip through the pages and you get to a picture of a man with a buzz cut and his face in his hands.  Accompanying that picture in an article concluding with a quote that is both thoroughly entertaining and utterly bone chilling.  It’s in the article on “Russ Crane” – a Special Forces sniper who did several tours of duty in the Middle East.  Crane talks about having God on his side.  He sites an instance in which he was ambushed on a road and he talks about seeing a shepherd on the horizon wearing a robe.  His arms were outstretched as if to call his flock to him.  It is a deeply biblical image. Crane believes this shepherd was sent by God to protect him in a battle in which he killed an unknown number of men presumed to be Taliban.  It is in this article that “Crane” is quoted as saying that when he gets to heaven to meet the Lord, he will have to ask: “Dude, you created all these beautiful places.  Wyoming, Montana, even Switzerland.  Dude, look around!  So tell me, why did you center the bible on the Middle East?”

The quote is entertaining in a way because it presumes that God is both autobiographer and author of a fiction that could just have easily been set on this continent as that one – it inherently posits that the Temple Mount could be in Los Angeles rather than Jerusalem.  It discounts the logic of the old Testament and the history of the new, though it is uttered by a man with deep fundamentalist faith.  And the quote is terrifying.  Because in the same article – in the same interview – Russ Crane also talks about killing people for a living. 

Russ says he believes that most people are good but that there are bad people and that God put people on earth to shoot those bad people.  There is no way for a thinking person to read this and not go back and read it again a few times.  Because inevitably, the logic of the statement would lead you to this: if it is the case that God puts good people on earth to get rid of the bad people, where did those bad people come from?  Did something or someone other than God put them here?  Did God only populate the earth with God-fearing “good” people?  And does that mean that bad people (or maybe Muslims or people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord Our Saviour) come from somewhere or someone else?  Are they (or really “we” I suppose) the handiwork of the devil?  Or are we aliens, sent from another planet – the planet of bad non-believers?  Its an interesting dilemma really – the notion that God put people on earth to shoot bad people – the notion that we can use God to justify our actions rather than question a God who would put bad people on earth to BE shot in the first place.  But mostly it’s a reminder that interpretations of God can be used as justification for any behavior and may be more dangerous than the gun in Russ Crane’s hand.
Ready, aim, fire!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The List of Things We Care About.

One of the things I find most liberating about life after 40 is that the list of things I truly care about has gotten significantly shorter.   I care about my family.  I care about my closest friends.  And I care about living an ethical life.  But the rest of the stuff – that stuff I cared about in my 20s and 30s – that stuff just isn’t as important to me anymore.  Like the latest handbag from Gucci or Fendi or Lanvin or Prada, or whether to wear skinny or flared this season.  I don’t have the latest and greatest in fashion anymore.  My taste has changed.  But more important, my priorities have changed.  I have kids now.  And a husband and dogs.  The days of spending my weekends shopping and getting treatments are gone.  Those were the days of “me”.  And now I have a future.  And a “we”.  And it isn’t just that I’m being “good” or cautious.  It is that I truly care less about these things. 

So here we are at the start of a new year.  I’m in a far away city in a fluffy bed with too many pillows and no husband and so my sleep is limited and my mind drifts to things far too sentimental.  In acknowledgment of those things, here is my list of the shit that matters:
It    * It matters most to me that I’m a good wife.
             *   It matters deeply that I’m a good step – that I take the time to figure out who those little aliens           living in my house are and that I help them through life to the best of my ability.
·           * It matters that I’m a good friend.
·           * It matters that I’m good at my job and that, in a ruthless business, I do my job in as ethical and kind a manner as possible. 
·          *  It matters that I live an honest life.
·           * It matters that I create a world in which those I love are surrounded by interesting conversation and good food. 
·          * It matters that my dogs are well- loved and that the vermin in the canyon stay outside. 
·          * It matters that I never lose sight of the value of an excellent piece of chocolate. 

When I really think about it – when I have a quiet moment and can calm the spinny voices that scream and shout for attention and acknowledgement and new shoes and a better handbag and more power and fancier invites  - when I step back and acknowledge that those voices are not really what matters – not really what brings me happiness – when I really think about it, the short short list of my 40s is manageable and easily accomplished and sometimes just boils down to the right piece of cake for dessert.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oh Facebook, Oh Facebook, Wherefore art thou, Facebook?

I have been betrayed by Facebook.  I am a lover scorned.  A woman left at the alter.  A tragic figure of romance unfulfilled.  Facebook has rejected me.  Time and time again over the past few days I log on and log on again, only to be unrecognized - bumped off the system as though the past few years of our relationship never existed at all.  My page is still there.  I can put in my email and password and get the tease of a moment of access.  And then the second I try to comment or reply or move on to the next page, I am told to "log on" and asked, once again, for my credentials, as though I'd ever input them in the first place.  This kind of abject rejection is the cruelest kind of all.  It isn't as though I simply cannot log in.  It isn't as though the system fails to recognize me as ever having been a member.  My page is still there.  My friends are still there.  All traces of my past ardent and very Facebook-friendly activity still remain.  And yet I am bounced out of the inner circle like a girl passed around and then rejected by the members of the varsity football team.  Its like making it to the door of the hippest nightclub in town and never making it past the bouncer.  Or ordering a meal at a restaurant and then dying of starvation for the food that never comes.  Its sad.  Its humiliating.  But mostly its pathetic.  I had no idea how dependent I had become on the network known as "social" - on the book known as "face".  I am a parody of middle age - a woman forced by circumstance to derive great pleasure from her internet relations and access to bits of information that fill in the blanks of an actual social life.

And now, unless I take drastic measures (or figure out what drastic measures to take), I face life without Facebook.  Of course I will try to rectify the situation or hope that it is temporary - a mere blip in the e-universe and not a reflection on me personally.  But, meanwhile, perhaps I'll reach out to those I usually only connect with via internet.  Meanwhile, perhaps I'll read a book or write more posts or contemplate my navel to good effect.  Meanwhile, I will try to remember life before Facebook...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The View From This Side of the Pool

When I was Child Two’s age I had already lived in three different cities and gone to three different elementary schools.  The cities were similar to one another in many ways: each was suburban, each was middle class and each was politically conservative.  And in each, we were anomalous: we were Jews, we were liberal, and we were the only of either for miles around.  The only thing my family had in common with our neighbors was the color of our skin, though I’m sure to the neighbors we were as exotic as anything they’d ever been exposed to.  I grew up with a lot of, “You don’t look Jewish” and “Jews believe in Jesus Christ, right?”

This is what I was pondering as I sat poolside with Child Two over the holiday weekend.  We were in Palm Springs, bouncing between our uber-chic resort and the wildly groovy-cool place our friends checked into.  It struck me, as I sat gazing over the shimmering water of the perfectly heated pool in the middle of the well-groomed property, how different the influences shaping the worldview of Child Two are from those that shaped my own.  I know that sounds obvious and sort of silly – but the profound depth of the difference is worth noting. 

For instance, if you were born in Bakersfield (yes, that is the place of my birth), spent a few years in Edmond, Oklahoma and the rest of your youth in the suburban East Bay, you would probably think that America is comprised mostly of white born-again Christians and well-educated Catholic Asians.  You might think the majority of Americans are Republican and that most pay too much attention to their liquor cabinets and not enough to the whereabouts of their teenagers.  You wouldn’t know much about private school (save the parochial options) and you wouldn't meet anyone who went to an Ivy League school until you were in your twenties.

If, however, you spent your formative years in the world of Child Two, you might have a slightly different worldview.  You might think, for instance, that the world is mostly fashionable, mostly well-to-do, mostly Jewish and mostly gay.  You might not think that you live in a country where 12% of the population is black and 15% Hispanic.  You would not know that you live in a country where one in every eight people rely on food stamps or where almost half the public school population will not graduate from high school.  Nor would you think that Jews actually comprise a relatively small portion of the population.  Instead, you would probably think that most people are well educated, well dressed and inclined to engage in spirited discourse over long meals of plentiful food and wine and that sometimes those meals took place on Shabbat.  It isn’t that Child Two and his peers are unaware of homelessness or bigotry or mediocrity or suffering.  It’s just that they don’t SEE any of those things terribly often.  What they see is a world full of well-dressed women and fabulous men toting little dogs with sweaters. 

So I was thinking about these differences and wondering how they ultimately influence who we are in the world.  Does the world look the same, sound the same, taste the same to each of us and how much of the difference is defined by the sights and smells and sounds of our youth?  And how, in a world of privilege and exclusivity, do we make our children aware of life outside the bubble?  How do we imbue them with a sense of responsibility to engage in the world, to step outside of their box? 

There is no question that my own childhood was a fancy bubble all its own – we wanted for nothing and my parents went to great lengths to make sure that we kids were unaware of whatever struggles they endured to give us a good life.  Culturally, we may have been outsiders in an average world – a living example of statistics at work.  But even in our outsiderness, we were pretty normal – we went to public schools and traveled economy class and had a distinct awareness of wastefulness and saving and that even with all of those things we were so much more fortunate than so many people.

I worry now that as much as Sig Other and I talk to the children about the real world and as much as we try to show the real world, the fact that we don’t actually LIVE in the real world has more influence on their formation than anything else.   Maybe that’s ok.  Maybe a fancy bubble is okay if we’re forming sensitive, caring souls who will someday walk out of the bubble with a sense of responsibility and vision.  I don’t know.  All I know is that today my gratitude is tinged with guilt and the hope that I’m making enough holes in the bubble for Child Two to look through and see the other side with empathy and compassion and a sense of purpose. 

Quotes of 2010

Catching up at work means falling behind in posts but it is at least worth noting that as I sit trying to write about my fancy Palm Springs weekend replete with fabulous gays and their fashionable dogs, my own dear Alpha Dog is engaged in that rather disgusting thing female dogs do when they bury their faces in their own ladyparts and do a bit of cleaning.  She is not wearing a fancy sweater nor is she in a Louis Vuitton carrier but she did get a bit startled when Sig Other looked across the room and shouted, “hey, hey, stop that – how would you like it if I just took out my cock and started masturbating in front of you?” 

And so begins the year with quotable quotes from my colorful beloved and swirly thoughts in my head…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Sig Other!!!

Day Two of the New Year and my beloved’s birthday!  His dream of riding a century today dashed by a headcold, Sig Other is snuggled in bed with kindle and stack of tissues nearby as we share a quiet moment before the children rise to smother him with birthday hugs and kisses.  In spite of congestion and disappointment, S.O. is charming and adorable as he models his new Hermes birthday hat and poses for a picture with it jauntily atop his smooth crown. 

Day One of the New Year began with the news that Miss Whistle lost her father in law.  We consoled her beloved Minks who sat sobbing poolside with lemonade, a deck of cards and painted fingers – a perfect picture postcard of the moment between girlhood and what lies beyond.  She wondered aloud what one is supposed to do.  There is no handbook for the bereaved.  We talked through the many ways to look at the passing of those we love from both spiritual and scientific points of view.  I’ve no idea if that talk was helpful.  I sense that Child One does not know what to say or do for her friend to ease her pain.  And I realize that in spite of my words and hugs, neither do I.  43 years can grant the wisdom of experience but not necessarily the magic of healing. 

And so we are two days into the new year and already we’ve had grief as well as joy.  In a few more days Child One and Child Two will return to school, I will go back to my office, Sig Other to his and all the while the earth continues to spin.  2010 begins. Some people will die, some will grow older with grace, some less so, our children will continue to grow and amaze us, our lives will continue to challenge and overwhelm us.  And through it all, I will be ever grateful for another year with S.O.

So Happy Birthday, beloved Sig Other, my wonderful husband who gives me the strength and perspective to go through life with a full heart and a modicum of grace.