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Didn't We Almost Have It All

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She turned up dead on my Facebook feed Saturday night, and I can’t say I was surprised or even sad in a nostalgic kind of way. In one of those prescient ways that irony sometimes presents to us, I had just been thinking about her earlier in the day.

XM Radio is hosting another of its freebie weeks in hopes of luring back costumers who feel them once they realize how limited their playlists are, and as I was taking Dee and her little friend to soccer practice, one of Houston’s earlier hits warbled at me. It was a song I was fond of back in its day but it has aged poorly. The lyrics were thin to begin with and I always felt that the song ended a bit off-balance in poetic terms. It occurred to me – again –  that despite her obvious talent, Houston had no ear for lyrics – what made them memorable and enduring. In fact, aside from her cover of the Dolly Parton tune, I Will Always Love You, which she performed for the film, The BodyGuard, I’d be hard put to name any song of hers that really doesn’t date itself.

Most of her hits came in the 80’s, a piss poor decade for music overall. Stack up enduring melodies from that decade against any of the others, and I’d bet the list is short by comparison. It launched, after all, the “me” generation and the consuming something-for-nothing, life’s-a -party attitudes that have landed us where we are now really.

Not that Houston is to blame for any of that. She was as much a victim of coming of age in the early 80’s as any of the rest of us. The pastels, Reganomics, Gordon Gekko, MTV superficiality tainted us all to one degree or another. Her shallow contributions doesn’t damn her anymore than it does the rest of us.

If anything about her death has touched me at all, it is the fact that we are the same age, born in the same year. Forty-eight is awfully young to drop dead though by all accounts she drowned in her tub after falling asleep. Xanax, liquor and a nice hot tub are probably not the best  combination. That she takes Xanax at all makes her one of my peers. You can’t swing a cat without hitting the Xanax dependent among women in the United States anymore. It’s more of a go-to than anti-depressants it seems. That it’s an oversold, horribly addictive drug goes without saying. Most of the mood altering concoctions peddled by the family physcians in the States are dispensed without proper physcological assessments but that’s the way Big Pharma likes it.

Big Pharma, another thing the 80’s gave us that it wisely doesn’t brag about.

A Facebook writer friend noted on her status update that she’d spent the evening listening to Houston’s songs and crying and didn’t know why. She wasn’t that big of a fan. But I pointed out that Houston is a cultural marker. Her music, more than she herself, is part of the soundtrack of a time when many of us were growing up or trying to pretend that now we were grown up. Her death is a stark reminder that those days are long gone and though we fool ourselves most of the time into believing that we are not older but better, the truth is that we are truly grown and more than a bit adult now. Not in danger of somewhat carelessly drowning ourselves in our tubs, but certainly not impervious to time.

Time ravaged Whitney. Mostly with her assistance. But time is no friend to women in America. Look no farther than poor and to be pitied Demi Moore, who recently checked her anorexic, drug addled (wanna bet she’s got a bit of a Xanax problem herself?) self into rehab after she recently collapsed from being overly artifically stimulated. Or Heather Locklear? Remember her from Dynasty or her short skirt/long jacket days on Melrose Place? She tired to commit suidcide not long ago.

What do these women have in common? Growing old while female in the United States, a country that doesn’t like women much anyway and certainly has no use for those pretty ones who can’t retain some of their youth.

Look at Madonna. She’s 54. Can you imagine the pressure? Only if you are a women. Fifty-four and having to be twenty-five forever. If I didn’t know she was a devout yogi, I’d suspect Xanax use here too.

It’s hard to be surprised about Whitney Houston, however. A cocaine addict turned prescription drug abusing alcoholic isn’t the American dream but it’s probably not far off a lot of people of a certain age’s truths anymore. And that’s sad.


Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 190...

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I never really left school. I went from university to teaching, so the calendar year never altered for me. August kicks off the new year in a way that January just never did.

It’s funny really that the year officially rolls over in January yet many people mark the passage of time with the school calendar or the fiscal year, which is July or October usually, depending on your occupation. January 1st is just Christmas’s less interesting sibling.

Back in the day, I would have already been in my classroom and probably completely ready to go by now. I made it a habit to crack the seal on my “office” door the first week of August. I’d spend the mornings cleaning, organizing, decorating and finally planning. I typically outlined the entire year before breaking it down by semester and then grading periods and finally daily lesson plans. I rocked really.

August, therefore, feels like the time to plan. With Dee heading back to school, I have free hours during the day that need direction.

Direction that isn’t laundry or baking or cleaning.

Briefly I toyed with applying for a job at the museum in town. They are looking for a program assistant. It’ teacher work. Organizing and brainstorming. I would totally be in my element. Curriculum. History. Teaching. Some of my favorite things in life. The work is even part-time and mostly flexible, but the bulk is Tuesday and Thursday, and I am already committed to teaching yoga at the community hall in the evenings. The potential for the whole thing to turn into long days in the hellmouth is fair to good.

I’m gearing up to have myself added to the city’s yoga teacher sub list, and I’m going to take a couple of classes to get ready to e-publish a few short works that are a bit too niche for the bigger markets. That’s enough on top of home and family though I struggle still with the stay at home thing. Four years out of the workforce is a freakish feeling for someone who spent nearly 30 years of her life working. And with the economy in free-fall again, I get itchy.

But we don’t need me working part-time for peanuts, which screws us at tax time, and me going back to teaching adds unnecessary stress to our daily lives because the juggling of household chores and kid is no small thing. The pressure to work outside the home rears up though. Not as often as in the first years and usually driven by  something coming up that my working wouldn’t fix anyway.

It’s better that I stick to my original plan, which could pan out more profitably in the longer term with a bit of luck and nose to the keyboard.

Need to put my father’s daughter to bed once and for all and concentrate on the ball in play.


goddess.

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Some women in relationships with widowers feel that the late wife could only be more perfect if she were perched atop a Gothic cathedral surrounded by a soft ethereal glow, skin glistening as the light catches the tiny sparkling points of light on her iridescent skin while cooling light breezes tousle her hair on its most perfect day.

It’s probably fair to say that the percentage of women on the planet who haven’t felt threatened or marginalized by their partner’s last wife is fairly small. Comparing ourselves – usually unfavorably – is what the female species does and does well, and we are encouraged in this by magazines, movies, television and the self-proclaimed relationship experts. The wife or girlfriend of a widower, however, can feel that a late wife is a rival of unassailable proportions because she is often only portrayed in her Sunday best. Death improves us all, or so it seems.

As I have stated in the past, I would have known that Rob’s late wife, Shelley, was a wonderful person even if I’d never heard a single story about her from him, the older girls, extended family or friends. And it was intimidating for a while. How do you follow wonderful? But, from the beginning, I endeavoured only to be me and not focus on the differences between us that sometimes made me feel like the ugly step-sister. She was her. I am me. For reasons known only to Rob, we both suited him just fine. And that’s where it begins and ends – or should – in any relationship. Worrying about how you do or don’t “stack up” leads to insecurity, anxiety, and misplaced jealousy.

Perhaps the problem is the idea that a man (or woman) can move on but still love a deceased spouse. I’ve heard some poor to bad analogies as to how this can be. There’s the 3 hearts. You. Your spouse. His Late Wife. My issue with this is that hinges on the fact that in our case, it would be four hearts and if three can be a crowd, four is bad porn. There are no extra hearts. There are memories, and everyone has memories of previous love, but the key word is “previous”. You take what you have learned and apply it now and archive the rest and if a person doesn’t or can’t – they aren’t really prime dating real estate.

In talking to Rob, I clarified again for myself a few things about men and how they think. They don’t really care about the guy who came before them. He had his opportunity, and now it’s their turn. They are really not prone to comparing because they feel that if you are with them now, then now is what counts most – which is why it is the rare man who will listen to stories about this or that past relationship without getting annoyed.

And that latter thing is important to note – annoyance – because women are schooled in listening and empathizing. We will listen to a guy go on and on about the woman who came before us because we think that raises us in our man’s estimation of our worth. We are so nice. So understanding. We don’t get annoyed – unless it’s to spout off to girlfriends and rain disdain down on the late wife instead of just telling our men “enough already” – and so a man might get the idea that talking out his last relationship while he is in one with us is perfectly okay.

Grief is different though.

No. Okay, maybe a little. But if your cage is being rattled to the point where insecurity and jealousy are becoming close intimate companions, then does it really matter?

Rob talks about Shelley. She is his reference point in the past. When he uses the term “we” and it’s not he and I, I know it’s Shelley. And so what? She was there. Rob spent all of his adult life before me with her. It’s not an “I” thing for him. And it’s not a big deal. She isn’t part of his past as a personal insult to me or as an obstacle in my relationship with Rob.

Here’s the thing. When you marry a man who’s widowed, you are accepting the fact that you didn’t come first. Yours is not the first proposal, wedding, child. You’re walking on ground that’s been traveled and possibly sleeping in a bed that’s been occupied before you. Deal with it. Because it’s reality and it’s your issue. You can let it eat you, or you can put it in perspective and work on building the life you want.

But there are shrines! Yearly memorial tributes! In-laws who constantly compare me to her! And he does nothing about it!

It’s still your issue. You still have to decide whether or not these things are going to control you or diminish you or even if you can live with them in spite of your Widower’s “awesome potential to some distant day being Mr. Everything”. It’s still your life, and people need your permission to make you feel less than entitled to it.

Which brings me to this point – your sparkly sister-wife isn’t the problem.  She’s not really there. Other people might be using her for purposes of their own and in doing so they make themselves problems, which you can choose to take on or not. And you use her to when you compare yourself, act on jealous impulses or whine like a high school girl because the fairy tale isn’t as Disney as society told you it should be. There’s always a root for an issue to be sure, but she’s dead, so she can’t be it.

If it’s your Widower, you speak up, initiate a conversation and come to an understanding. And just a fyi, doing whatever he wants because he’s played the grief card or you are worried about appearing “strident” or “shrewish” or “bitchy” or whatever other pejorative our culture has for women who won’t stuff their needs and shut up and take it – is not an understanding. Understanding is mutual.

If it’s family. And if you can’t talk to them – he has to.

It’s friends. Same deal.

But it’s not her and she isn’t ever going to be gone. If you are waiting for that day, you’re going to wait forever.

I like Shelley. I am in awe of the fact that her sparkliness lingers on.  She helped Rob raise two of the most fantastic young women I’ve ever known, who I love and for whom want nothing but sunshiny fields with filled unicorns.  Her influence is some of what makes Rob the amazing guy I love and who loves me. Who am I to begrudge her the place that she earned before I got here, and why would I do that unless I wasn’t sure of my own place?

Are you sure of your place? Do you know who you are? Do you know what you want, and do you ask for and expect to get it? You have control over precisely you. You can’t coax, empathize, sympathize, enable or nice girl anyone into being the kind of partner you expect for yourself. And it’s not your job to fix things for him but it is his job to be a 50/50 partner.

Oh, and you don’t get 100% from 50+50+50. Just saying.

Title courtesy of Norah


Hot Tub Time Machine

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Of course, I wouldn’t have a hot tub because they are unsanitary skin flake stews marinating in secreted bodily residue, and traveling through time shouldn’t be done when damp or barely dressed because that is asking for a more awkward than necessarily fish out of your own time zone experience than landing somewhere in your own past would be otherwise,

I’ve been pondering 1986 on and off since Rob and I snuggled in to watch John Cusack‘s Hot Tub Time Machine. Destined to be another non-classic in his mid-life crisis collection along with the equally phoned in 2012, it begs two questions. What would you do if you had a pivotal weekend in your life to live over and what kind of mid-life hell is Cusack going through to have not only starred in but produced such a puerile piece of a complete time suck like this?

The first question occupies me more than the second though it is hard to watch yet another movie in Cusack’s slow fall from watchable to just another movie star cashing a paycheck. The movie for all its seriously lowbrow reach focuses on the question of going back in time to “right yourself”. The main characters are Al Bundy off-track and stuck so firmly in the weeds they’ve wandered into courtesy of poor life choices and the plain old drift that most of us allow to direct our course. You know what I mean. We paddle furiously until we find that sweet spot in the river and then allow the undertow to do the rest. We figure that the channels we’ve chosen should simply flow along, carrying us to where we want to end up, but the reality is that this only happens for those yellow plastic ducks in wading pools at carnivals. The kind that bob in an endless loop, waiting to be plucked for possible fabulous prizes.

I find that back to the past stories fall into two categories. There is Ray Bradbury‘s “butterfly effect” where any deviation from the original past, no matter how slight, spells doom for the future. Or there is the big fix that puts everyone into a utopia ala the McFly family‘s hunky dory happy ending in the first Back to the Future. The possibility that the past can’t be altered because it’s fixed (as some scientists theorize) is never entertained. It’s never like Emily Webb trying to relive her 12th birthday, stuck in a play where ad-libbing isn’t allowed.

“Where were you in January of 1986?” I asked Rob after the movie was over.

“Mick had just turned one, and I was in my first year of university,” He said.

Rob was already righting his path. An old married man of 24 going back to school to secure that better life.

In January of 1986 I was living in an apartment near the TKE house in Iowa City. Challenger was a couple of months away from blowing up. I was finishing up course work to get ready for my student teaching in the coming fall. It was a crappy winter. I was feeling sorry for myself because everyone had a boyfriend but me. Not having a boyfriend was a huge drama-rama thing for me though the reality – that I never bothered to really acknowledge – was that I did next to nothing to actually remedy the problem. Prospects abounded and one that I was even interested in a more serious way (that being relative to who I was at the time), I let slip because the truth (not something I was big on admitting) was that I didn’t want a boyfriend. My ambivalence couldn’t have been higher or more plain but nothing is as blind as 22.

But if going back to 1986 were an option, what makes us think that the outcome will be horror movie or happily ever materialism after? It’s like people who believe they’ve lived before are only ever victims of great historical tragedy or famous people. There is no ordinary. No average option.

Time travel theory – the serious shit – postulates that traveling backward is the only option. The future doesn’t exist and you can’t travel to somewhere that isn’t yet. Back is done. It’s like photos in an album or stepping into a home movie and wandering about like visitors to a re-enactment of a historical event. The outcome has already been decided. Nothing left to see there but the details that you’ve forgotten or altered as you’ve aged and waxed nostalgic.

My 22-year-old self would be too annoying and it would drive me crazy to be stuck inside her limited worldview.

Cusack and company naturally improved their futures in the superficial sense. They had money, goods and the women of their dreams. Presumably better attitudes and a little gratitude came along with the upgrade but the film doesn’t go there really.

I’ve gone over the side of the wading pool a few times in my life. Saw opportunity or took a chance. The only way to effect change is by going forward. The past has been and done.


The exterior of a typical SuperTarget in Salt ...

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You remember the guy. He ran hot and hell freezing over cold. Called you in the middle of the night, wanting to stop by after a night out at the titty bars with his equally douchey buddies. Hinted around that his commitment “issues” were the result of emotional abuse at the hands of a heartless hag, who couldn’t hold a candle to you because “if I could be with anyone seriously, Baby, it would be you.”

He was cute in the way of the decade. Hair and dress just so. Gainfully employed with prospects. Everyone but your best friend liked him.

Yeah, I dated that guy. On and more off for about four years. Wasted time I can never get back as hindsight helpfully reminds me from my vantage point in advancing middle age. I thought that if I just loved him enough, he would change. And by “change”, I mean stop treating me like rest stop between his relationships with women he treated better (I am assuming here) than he did me.

I won’t bore you with the sad details, but the “relationship” ended when the clue bolt struck me one evening – hours after he had promised to show up for a date. I called him and let him have it. The conversation ended with him asking if we could be friends.

“We were never friends, ” I told him. And interestingly, that out of the blue self-revelation had never occurred to me before that moment.

He was never my friend. He was dull to the point where I had to spoon feed conversation topics to him. He didn’t read. He didn’t write. He didn’t think.

“I never want to hear from you again.”

And that was the end.

Well, not quite. I moved to another apartment in the same building shortly after and one evening, I heard him stumbling about in the hallway, looking for me. It was summer and the windows were open, so I clearly overheard the conversation he had with whatever friend he’d dragged along with him.

“She’s not here, man,” the friend said.

“She was just here a couple of months ago,” he replied.

“Her car’s not here even,” was the reply (I’d traded it in for a Chevy not long before). “Face it. She’s moved.”

Car doors slammed and I could hear them drive away. I never saw him again though I wondered from time to time what became of him.

Fast forward past a marriage, baby and another marriage and I find myself shopping at the SuperTarget near the neighborhood where Dee and I lived in West Des Moines. We were on our way from the KOA in Adel, where we’d camped the night before with BFF and her family, to Sis’s farm just past the east side of Des Moines. Rob originally planned no shopping time into the Des Moines leg of our recent holiday down south, but he knows how much I love Target and we were finding things to be so stunningly cheap in the States that even he couldn’t resist a quick pit-stop.

Douche was a teacher when I knew him. He lost his job for reasons I can only speculate about but which I think were mostly related to the fact that he really couldn’t read or write well because he was severely dsylexic.* You just can’t be dumber than the kids you are teaching even if they are special ed.

He went on to hold numerous jobs and the last I heard, he was in sales.

At one point during the SuperTarget experience, I went to check out with Dee and Rob wandered off, telling us he would catch up. She and I waited by the check out lanes. And waited. And finally I spotted him a long way across the store in electronics.

“Go see what is keeping your Dad,” I told Dee and she ran off to query him … didn’t return either as they had both been sucked into the dvd vortex.

Boredom eventually sent me in pursuit and as I approached the dvd aisles, I spotted a kid in a red Target shirt and a much older security guard in animated conversation. The kid was barely out of his teens and the guard sported one of those obvious dye jobs which painfully accented the monkish bald spot and contrasted sharply with the wrinkled jowls. I mentally noted that retail security and service work seemed to be the new future for the too young to retire but too old to be working entry-level jobs set in America, when it struck me that I knew this guy.

A discreet double-take confirmed my suspicion and I conducted a quick memory scan to determine where he fit in my past.

Of course, it was Douche.

You always think about it, right? Running into the biggest asshole you ever dated and being more awesome than he could possibly have imagined you could ever be and then rubbing his nose in it like a puppy who’s diddled on the living room carpet. But I just smiled and continued to look for Rob.

Douche is a security guard at Target. He’s in his early fifties with a tummy that folds over his belt and wobbles when he walks. Later, I spied him gathering shopping carts in the parking lot, wearing one of those flourescent vests to keep the customers from running him over because who pays attention to the guy who gathers up the carts?

Sure, it would have been poetically just to catch his attention and have that awkward for him conversation while Rob and Dee looked on. I didn’t bother to check his ring finger, but something tells me that it was as naked as his current reality is obvious.

But what would have been the point? I knew everything I needed to know about him 28 years ago when I realized that we weren’t even friends. I could have easily predicted this outcome for both of us had I been just a bit more self-aware and honest with myself.

Women, more than men, incline themselves toward excusing the obvious. We buy into ridiculous Cosmo notions that our behavior is what drives relationships. That we can fix people by being more perfect and accommodating when the reality is that people who treat us badly should be kicked to the curb in favor of those who can recognize our value without our “help”.

Still, I would be less than honest if I said that a part of me wasn’t pleased to see he’d found his level and that sometimes karma is more instant than oatmeal.

 

*There were some conduct issues to. Off the job. But stuff that can get you terminated in a hurry. I didn’t know about them until long after I knew him. Had I known. He would have never been on my radar.


The public radio, Studio 360, gave a recent audience one of those fill in the blank cards asking them what they thought they might be in their next life.

Katherine’s answer isn’t lofty or ambitious. In fact some might say she lacks vision or is afraid to reach for her potential, but I thought it was very yoga and almost enlightened . After all, how many of us are aware enough of our true selves to know when we might have already “arrived”?

Rob and I were watching another episode of the unlamented mid-90’s Marines in space fare, Space: Above and Beyond.

“It’s not as even as borderline watchable as I remember it,” he remarked back when we were barely two episodes in. But with just a half-dozen or so painfully acted installments to go, we are committed.  Or should be.

The recent ones have been character development with each of the show’s primaries taking a turn. Last night’s belonged to McQueen, an artificially gestated human who is the commanding officer to a group of Marine pilots/expendable ground grunts. His dilemma? “Who am I?”

He had determined that he existed for a reason and if he paid attention that reason would reveal itself and he could – in essence – fulfill his destiny.

As it turned out, his existence was narrowly focused but very important to the survival of Earth. And really not all that important for me to go into because the bottom line is that McQueen knew who he was in this life. The one he was living. He was not waiting for a do-over. He didn’t believe in that in any case.

Katherine, the English teacher, knows who she is present and future and I am betting past as well.

In my next life, I hope I will just “be”. The “doing” is immaterial. But I am not certain I am that enlightened yet.


Modified version of Image:Arnold Schwarznegger...

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Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver , the former Mr. and Mrs State of California, announced their separation the other day. News of the split splashed the web with typical “omg! how can a famous couple walk away from a marriage that doesn’t have to be measured in dog years to be an impressive run?”

They have a point. 25 years of marriage and 34 total (they dated 11 years* prior) is considered laudable anymore because in a society where most never make it to the altar at all, it bestows an air of powerful voodoo relationship magic on them that seems to elude the majority.

Maria has a YouTube stream – she was a reporter once and is a writer so its existence can be attributed to more than the usual narcissism that drives people to babble on personal YT channels. A recent entry asks her viewers to share how they deal with transitions. What spurred them? How did you cope? What do you wish you’d known going in? All the angsty good stuff.

Apparently what bothers her most is the end of busyness in her life. She isn’t a reporter anymore. Her kids are grown or nearly so and presumably able to function without her hovering over them. Her husband has left office, which effectively puts her out of a job too. And though he has projects in the offing, she does not.

Some of the news reports speculated that she is resentful. After all, she didn’t want Arnold to run for governor and it derailed her professional and personally when he did. She threw herself into her role of First Lady of Cali but that’s over now too.

Like her marriage.

I’ve been thinking about transitions. Why not? It feels sometimes like I have been swirling down river, bounced through the rapids or languidly floating for a good eight or nine years now. Never really getting to close to the banks and pushing off again when I do.

My personal life has come together in a way I couldn’t have imagined and it pleases me to no end, but that “career” thing I am supposed to want desperately and apparently need in order to be personally fulfilled – according to my feminist sisters – dangles above me like the apples over Tantalus. Unlike him, I don’t reach up. I just lie on the tire tube and marvel at the shadows they cast.

One of the last comments on Maria’s stream reminded her that it’s perfectly okay to just “be”. A yogi, I suspect. Because it is okay to “be”. Be content. Be still. Be aware. Be grateful. Be with yourself. Be with those who matter most.

I wonder if it’s possible for some to just be happy with life as it is? Are we so programmed to search and conquer and begin the process again that we can’t dwell in the space we call “transition” without feeling guilty about it?

Taking a break from Care2 has reminded me that there are other options – neglected ones and those just occurring to me – to explore. Transition at its core is really about exploration. I don’t mind that. Research and planning have always been my strengths. Execution maybe not so much but when it counts, I stack up with the best.

My advice? Be. And be mindful. Don’t worry so much. Take it easy on yourself. Forget about perfection. Don’t fret if you fall short or the goal line shifts from time to time. They say that life is a race, but it isn’t. They say that what we do defines us, but it doesn’t. They say to follow your bliss and you will be successful, but that’s not true if your definition of success is grounded in the material or rooted in competition and comparison.

If you are lucky enough to even be able to ask yourself how to transition, you are in a far better place than 98% of the others on the planet.

* I am highly suspicious of marriage length daters. It speaks to issues and ambiguity.