I’m facing down an unwelcome assortment of fives and zeroes at the moment. This season marks my fifth year of being un-married, and I will turn 50 in the fall. So 05 and 50—neat, huh? Why do numbers that end in fives and zeroes always force one to take stock? (I just noticed that stock is a five-letter word with an 0 in the middle!) I hate to buy into the whole midlife-crisis hype, but I can’t stop thinking about where I am vs. where I was, where I want to be, should be, could be or might possibly be one day.
I recently tossed my collection of surviving-divorce books and have discovered that there is no manual for how to get through the phase I’m in now. The self-help books give you 3-5 years, max, to get it together and then you’re on your own. And most of the divorce memoirs follow a predictable script: distraught woman loses it completely, then rebuilds her life bit by bit. By the last chapter, she has found a richly rewarding new life and a new mate with whom she shares a deeper, more extraordinary love than she could ever have imagined possible (a midlife fairy tale—The Sleeping Divorcee!) She has also managed to publish a memoir, for f*ck’s sake.
In the divorce olympics, I am clearly not getting the gold. I’m a competitive person (did you know I won my 5th and 6th grade spelling bees?) so this does not sit well with me, especially as the forties are shoving me out the door. Fifty is actually not the new 37 or 43— just ask those decades.
And, lest I seem too Eeyore-ish, I do know that I have many, many things to be grateful for–amazing daughters, fabulous friends, Fresh Direct, a job with benefits (which entails editing publications that cover the numerous ghastly health problems that assault you upon turning 50. Just saying). Plus, it turns out I am kind of a little plucky. I’ve lived in a falling-apart house without completely falling apart. I’ve disposed of more than 30 dead mice and one dead car, dealt with two sewer-line back-ups without crying, and one burst pipe in my linen closet (with the kind of crying that scared my kids). I’ve done the dating thing, which is not for sissies. I’ve gone on approximately 16 first dates (god, no, have I really?), five of which resulted in second dates; two of those turned into brief relationships. (I’m currently less than optimistic on that front and pretty certain that my next great task is to make peace with being single for the rest of my remaining years. Fortunately, Netflix is really stepping up to the plate. And there’s always bridge.)
Not much more to say right now. I just felt like sending this little blog postcard while I stand here, slightly dazed, at the intersection of Half Century and New Decade.
Wow, I guess last summer is over, huh? Oops. I really did intend to resume my blog in the fall, but I guess that season slipped away from me too. Yikes. And winter has apparently been cancelled here in the Northeast this year, so now it’s been officially three seasons since I blogged.
Frankly (get it?), I’m touched that a few of you have been on me about it. I am flattered that some of you have missed my musings. I miss them too, but I’ve been stuck. Allow me to be my neurotic, honest self and I’ll tell you a bit about my stuckness. I’m going to use the “deceptively simple bullet format” extolled by one of my most beloved pals/readers to explain my lengthy blog hiatus:
So that’s where things are at. If you were one of my loyal fans, thank you for urging me to resume blogging. And, um, not that I’m trying to get the milk for free, but if I were to start a new, post-Splitsville blog, what would the focus be and what would it be called?
(Oh, also, I am supposed to give credit for the image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1152)
This morning I was lying in bed, listening to NPR. It was early–around 8 am. (I got up so I could get to Target before anyone else, because I have crowded-Target phobia.)
Anyway, a guy was being interviewed about “mindfulness” (sorry, but that’s one of those jargon-y words I have to put in quotes, though it resonates with me more than the others) and meditation. He read this poem aloud and it spoke to me in a big way, so I want to share it. It’s the takeaway message for me and I think for anyone who ends up single again after a long relationship. You were on one planet, half of a whole, and now you’re on a different one–one that only vaguely resembles the planet you were on as a single person before marriage. Even if you end up in a new post-marital relationship, it’s so different from that first defining one, formed when you were young and naive and forever-oriented. You’re forced to realize that it’s you who must be your greatest source of strength, you who is both halves of the whole; anyone else is pretty much gravy.
I’ll shut up now and turn the spotlight on the beautiful, true words of my guest poster, Derek Walcott:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Several of you have complained that I haven’t blogged in a while and you’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry! (How’s this for a lame excuse: I’ve been busy.) But I’m thrilled that any of you actually notice and care. That is hugely gratifying and encouraging, so don’t go anywhere. I actually have a lot of post ideas brewing and very soon I expect to unleash a torrent of fascinating, fully-formed posts.
In the meantime, how about helping me get my writerly juices flowing? Ask me something Living in Splitsville-related and I’ll put together a fun little blogger/reader Q&A.
Go ahead, ask!
Oh, and here’s a cartoon from this week’s New Yorker that seems appropriate. Enjoy.
… a thousand words or so. God bless America, no?
Last week, I bought myself an iPod Nano. It’s fifth generation and it’s fuschia and it makes me feel kind of hip, pitiful as that is. I guess it’s my equivalent of the red sportscar.
I realize I’m way late to the whole digitized music thing. A few years ago, my daughters gave me a Shuffle for Christmas, mostly because they wanted one. It’s very cute—too cute, really, to be practical, but I hardly ever used it, because while I liked music and felt I could distinguish good from bad, I was never into music the way some people are. I was into books.
So it’s particularly significant that I took it upon myself to upgrade to a model that can support my growing iTunes library.
During my marriage, R was the music lover, the one who thought to put on a CD when it wouldn’t have occurred to me. He was mostly into classical and opera (I know: opera buff and good taste in jewelry. Many have wondered, believe me.) When he left, he took 90 percent of our CDs, leaving me four dusty shelves strewn with a motley assortment that included works by Billy Joel, AC/DC, and Raffi.
It was the new periods of alone time that initially led me to rediscover the comfort and joy of song. My sparse collection, along with a handful of mix CDs made by a friend, provided a surprisingly sympathetic soundtrack for my wallowing, my fury, and my new enjoyment of dancing around the living room.
And then I met S, who turned out to be Savant-like about every kind of music imaginable, with tastes that ranged from Dvorak to Zappa. (The fact that my sorry CD shelves were not a dealbreaker, in fact, is testament to his fine character.) He wooed me with songs sent via email, and each one miraculously found its way into my iTunes library, which, until then, only contained a few downloaded episodes of Mad Men. S’s appreciation for great lyrics allowed me to overlook his rather limited experience with great literature. (Try to resist a guy who sends you Greg Brown’s sexy song Milk of the Moon. ) Soon, my iTunes cup ranneth over with all kinds of interesting music and artists I’d never heard of (Jess Klein, Rachael Yamagata, Oliver Mtukudzi).
And that’s when I decided I needed a Nano–which has opened up a whole other wonderful sonic world to me: Podcasts! Don’t even get me started on how much I love podcasts.
It’s been almost exactly two years since R moved out. I honestly can’t believe it has been that long–even though we middle-aged folks are constantly bemoaning the brisk passage of time. My goodness, wasn’t I just writing the post about surviving the first year? Where has the time gone?
Many of the (many) books I’ve turned to for guidance during this difficult period mention the two-year mark as a milestone. Apparently, if you’re the me in the scenario, by then you are officially back on your feet, successfully re-routed toward your glorious post-divorce future. I remember reading about it while still in my raw, skinless state and thinking I could not possibly survive two whole years. I hoped someone would hit the fast-forward button so I didn’t have to be awake for the duration. Or hit me with a bus.
And now suddenly I’m here, 24 months later. I am, in fact, re-routed and less raw, just like the books promised. Yet, oddly enough, I’m also feeling a little sentimental about that hellish phase, if only because it gave me an automatic excuse for being unable to cope with anything. Just like when you have a baby and chalk up the extra weight, the slovenly attire, the exhaustion, to the fact that, well, you just had a baby–until one day you wake up and notice that your kids are in elementary school and you can’t fall back on that anymore.
When I couldn’t handle certain household tasks (and I couldn’t), I forgave myself because, after all, I was a recently-separated, marginally-employed, suddenly-single mom. If my temper was too short with the girls (and it was) or I cried in the bathroom (and I did), well, wasn’t I off the hook, given that I was going through an awfully hard time? If I needed a reason to turn a man down for a second date (which I did), I played the confused newbie: “I’m sorry. I’m so new at this. I’m not ready. I think I started dating too soon. Maybe in a few months…”
Abigail Trafford aptly describes those years as Crazy Time in her book by the same name: “It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You can’t believe…how terrible you feel, how overwhelming daily tasks become, how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity.”
Now I’m so jaded that when I read other women’s divorce sagas, I think, “Oh, boo hoo, honey. Pick yourself up off the floor and get on with it. Pump the gas, kill the mice, fix the toilet, change the occasional light bulb, join the dating site. Because–guess what–you have no choice.”
But, as crappy as I felt during that stage, it also came with the thrill of the new and unknown. I had my work cut out for me, a fierce sense of purpose. Every day felt like a challenge, an occasion that required rising to, an endless loop of first-days-of-the-rest-of-my-life. It was often agonizing and exhausting, but there was so much intensity and drama, so much adrenalin. It was an adventure.
And now things have leveled off. I have a job; a guy. Much still remains unknown, unhealed and unclear–but Crazy Time has officially ended. It’s not exactly a let-down, it’s just so weirdly calm and orderly all of a sudden that I’m a little disoriented. I wonder what will be the source of my next adventure and what will provide meaning. Or maybe I should just embrace the stillness for a while.
(Note to the universe: I said adventure, not heartache. Meaning, not misery. Got that?)
Lately, I’ve become increasingly aware that I am not young anymore. It’s not just the obvious, cliche stuff like the chronic back pain, the chronic need for reading glasses, the chronic need for the word chronic, and the conviction that plastic surgery isn’t all that crazy. It’s other, subtler things that catch me off guard and force me to acknowledge my advancing age.
I now shop at Lord & Taylor. For years, I’ve teased my mother, who has been loyal to L&T since the days of well-made pencil skirts and Kelly Girls. Now I happen to work a few blocks away from the grand old department store. After a frustrating experience on Zappos.com last week, I decided to take a twirl through L&T’s shoe department. Well, no sooner did I enter the second floor “shoe salon” when a pleasant young woman asked me if she could help me. And then, by god, she helped me! She was totally there for me, graciously bringing every shoe I asked for in two sizes, just in case the shoe in question ran small or large. I just can’t get over it. I ended up buying a pair of flats and a pair of sparkly sandals. Soon I plan to return to the store for foundation garments.
Sometimes I stare at my cell phone in pure wonderment—at how tiny it is–so small and shiny and lozenge-like that I could swallow it without much effort. Why, when I was a child, you had to hold a clunky barbell of a receiver in order to chat on the phone. And it was attached by a curly cord to an even clunkier base unit (did that have a name?) You couldn’t even leave the room, let alone wander into a cafe and obliviously order a tall Sumatran blend while blabbing. In those days, too, the phones rang–with a real, mechanical ring, not one of 500 freaking ADD-inducing ringtones. In fact, there was no such thing as a ringtone. Don’t even get me started on my iPod Shuffle; When I was a girl, the Sony Walkman was beyond cool and sleek.
I’m attracted to men in their 50s. When R and I first separated, a friend of mine tried to sell me on her belief that 51-year-old men were the sexiest of all. I tried to be polite about it, but I was secretly thinking Ew. Gross. Can you say “grandpa?” But I have totally come around on that one. Among the men who manage to emerge from their 40s without having gone to seed, there are quite a few who are–to use a juvenile term–hot. (George Clooney, anyone? Ed Harris? Liam Neeson? Jeff Bridges, despite the beard?) Men in their 20s, 30s and even early 40s look weird, babyish and unformed to me now. What’s with the unlined faces, the lack of gray hair and all that? I obviously have no future as a cougar. I like my men slightly craggy and weathered.
I’ve said the following to my kids: “Can you see in that light?” “You’re not leaving the house wearing that.” and “One day you’ll appreciate me.”
When the Land’s End swim suit catalogue arrives, I keep it, rather than chuck it immediately into recycling. What’s worse, I flip right to the bathing suits with skirts. This year, I’m hoping to find one with OLD LADY printed across the butt.
On Saturday night, I went to a Valentine’s day dance at my 3rd grader’s school. It was 1980′s-themed, so I spent the afternoon helping my girls outfit themselves in leggings and big shirts with belts.
The school was brilliant enough to provide a little pub in an adjoining room, so that the parents could buy cheap wine and beer in support of the PTA. Every now and then, we wandered into the gym to watch our kids dancing under ghastly flourescent lights to songs by such 80′s phenoms as The Violent Femmes, Billy Idol and Blondie. Our songs.
The combo 80’s/Valentine’s day theme had me waxing nostalgic in a big way. That was the decade when I first experienced the joys and miseries of romantic love, real and imagined. (For a while, I was sure I would DIE if Matt Dillon did not step out of the movie Little Darlings and instantly become my boyfriend.)
I also wrote a lot of bad, angst-ridden poetry during that decade, as I recently discovered while sorting through boxes of stuff. Allow me to share some excerpts (and please try to cut me some slack. I have never shown anyone these fine works, not even those for whom they were written):
* * *
Our love is like a dried-out Flair pen
No longer works, it tries.
It dies. It tries.
My optimism brews beneath a haze of lies.
* * *
This is not the first time.
This is nothing but self-slaughter. This is nothing but used crime.
Latent vacancies destroy the pillow
So blatant is the urgency
* * *
Beneath the crisp white smile of your work shirts
It’s your heart I want to taste
Even if it’s just one big bruise
Or beating red and salty
Like a healthy animal
* * * *
I happen to think the last one has some merit, but, um, a dried-out Flair pen? I can LOL at that now–but back then, it was not a laughing matter.
The 80′s ended with me meeting R, who caused me no angst whatsoever until well into the millennium. By the time I felt angsty about him, I had two kids and zero inclination to write poetry (though I did hit send on a few emails from hell itself).
Now, at the beginning of the 2010′s, I’m feeling too old for angSt. Or maybe just too wise to worry about Flair pens, dried-out or otherwise. Or maybe I’m kidding myself.
Hey, whatever happened to Matt Dillon, anyway?
Right after we separated, people were all over me with optimism and advice. This was an opportunity! A chance to turn misfortune into something positive! A new lease on life! A gift! R himself assured me that I was going to thrive once he left.
I can’t tell you how many times people suggested that I take a class, get re-acquainted with a long-forgotten hobby, find a new hobby, learn a language, or do volunteer work with people who were really suffering so as to get perspective (actually, that one was my idea). What I can tell you is how many copies of The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, were handed to me in those first few months: Three.
I have not yet read the book (and I doubt I will ever read all three copies, since I assume they say pretty much the same thing) nor have I taken a class or found a hobby or done volunteer work or even started composting. I’m not proud of my inertia in these areas. Instead of becoming all life-transforming and hobby-oriented, I was in a daze there for a while, focusing on little achievements like trying to cry every other day instead of every single day. And there were several hobbies I had to take up against my will, like mouse-icide, coping with my car’s mental illness, and online dating.
Then, a few months ago, my friend across the street tried to sell me on Bikram yoga–the one where you spend 90 minutes locked in a 105-degree room. She insisted that it would change my life, which got me vaguely interested. When she promised it would change my body too, turning me into a toned, lithe, uber-babe, I got onboard.
The first class was hell, mostly because I was terrified. People warned me that I would feel nauseous, dizzy and faint, but that it was worth it. So, even though I am not prone to any of those things, I spent the entire class fearing I was going to experience some kind of catastrophic physical event.
In fact, the only dramatic thing that happened was that I saw my shins sweat for the first time ever; it was miserably hot and humid in that room (think about it–have you ever seen your shins sweat?) Oh, and when I got home, I fell asleep for two hours.
Two days ago, I took my fourth class and I can see how it might become addictive. I’m not sure that Bikram will change my life, but I’ve started to groove on seeing those toxins spilling from my shins.