THE PAST

I will always remember the 1960’s-a heady time for freedom, intellectual dialogue at college, the Vietnam war, marriage, and the birth of my child.

Recently, I saw the movie “The Post,” and felt transported back to that decade.  Of course, tragedy also punctuated those years.  My first semester at college, President Kennedy was assassinated, and later Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Marine Luther King, Jr.  Turbulent times marked those years.

Going to college in New York City was thrilling for me.  Leaving the comfortable confines of my tightly knit neighborhood, I set off for the Big Apple and the adventures which I hoped would await me.  I was not disappointed.

Before Columbia University admitted women, I attended the sister college of Barnard, and graduated with a Columbia diploma.  For the first year, I was kind of hippie-wearing all black every day(long before the “me too” movement).  I also haunted the stores in Greenwich Village looking for earrings that looked pierced as my mother had forbidden me to actually get my ears pierced.

I was not a great student, but impressed by the brains of my faculty teachers.  Before teaching assistants, real professors taught our classes, and they were distinguished writers, former Cabinet members, and others with immense knowledge to share.

I also traveled to Penn and Princeton for dates with Ivy Leaguers.  Life was good, and responsibilities few.  In the spring of 11964, I even viewed the beatles, not in concert, but arriving at their hotel.  To add to the fun, the drinking age was eighteen.

My roommate was on scholarship and a great friend.  I almost derailed her money award by having her join me in anything but studying.  But I was also lonely.

Having attended the same school for nursery through twelfth grade, I never had to make a new friend.  In college this deficit magnified and as my fiftieth reunion approaches, I remember few faces.

“The Post” captured the adrenaline rush of those years, and brought back memories of troubled, but somewhat simpler times.  I am glad I was young during the ‘sixties.  I married after my sophomore year and started to live a different life.

The Vietnam War loomed large and the draft was fully functioning.  To spare my husband the prospect of serving overseas, we married in a secret ceremony to beat a deadline imposed by Lyndon Johnson for men who had finished graduate school.

Two years passed and riots were common at universities around the country.  We were no exception and classes ceased for my last semester.  I had to pass through picket lines to take comprehensive exams which were a prerequisite(in lieu of a thesis,) for graduation.  I still have photos of graduation day when we were surrounded by armed guards.

Looking back at that decade became very real after seeing “The Post,” and I am grateful for the memories.

Advertisements

SELF-IMPROVEMENT?

Today, I was sitting at a small table at the cafe at Barnes and Noble, which is fortunately close to where I live.  Eating a humongous chocolate-chip cookie(which was a bad idea since I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and will be weighed) and hopefully, it will snow and I can cancel.

Anyway, while gorging on the sweets, I was reading an article in The New Yorker reviewing and commenting on books about improving ourselves and our lives.  The author(whose name I can’t remember,) mocked these tomes on achieving perfection and the resulting unhappiness when we fall short-which is always.  We won’t feel any better about ourselves when we are thinner, more successful, have more friends and romance, she concludes.

Is acceptance of our current status the answer to the question of finding life fulfilling?  Well, not so fast, she admonishes.  She also mentions a new genre of reading material which is of the f(expletive deleted) the world, I will  do what I want variety.  Who needs more friends, a partner, excess money and job advancement, this latter group of books asks?  That attitude doesn’t seem to result in happiness either.

Maybe, the article in the magazine is most honest when it talks about not seeing ourselves as flawed, or in need of correction or improvement.  Yet, not being so arrogant that we don’t care about other people.   And maybe there is no one answer to the ultimate question of  where to find happiness, and perhaps we should stop looking  and start living.

 

WHAT A WOMAN WANTS

Back to the saga of my somewhat limited dating experiences.  Maybe, the problem is mine, but right now meeting for a meal with an online contact feels like a lot of work.

I don’t think it is too much to expect a man to tell me I look nice, since I spend a fair amount of time preparing sartorially for the date.  I don’t assume they are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment just by proffering a compliment.  I feel let down, and maybe like I look funny when no kind comments come my way.

OK, I can try to move beyond the need to be reassured about my leggings and sweater, but I am stuck on another issue.  The men I have met spend the whole of our time together talking about themselves-non-stop.  I exert too much effort listening and trying to follow their words.

Not once has a date asked me a query about myself, my life and work or my family.  Yet, they prattle on continuously regarding their lives, their opinions and whatever else they might be thinking.

I might as well be a cardboard cutout for all that I am invited to contribute to the conversation.  On one occasion, I interrupted a flow of self-centered words from my date to even ask if I could speak.  That is ridiculous, and I wonder why the men are either not interested in me(a distinct possibility,) or just consumed with self-interest and the absence of vulnerability by showing interest.

Sometimes, I would welcome a sort of “me-too” moment as physical affection is nonexistent.  I am not asking to be raped, but a sweet kiss or holding my hand would be welcome gestures.

Perhaps I have been on the sidelines for too long, or both of us have too much history to be really present on the date.  One thing I know for sure is that I feel worse about myself after these encounters, than I did when totally alone.

SCARED

Yesterday, I had the flu-fever, aches, chills and feeling miserable.  Fortunately, today, I feel a little better.  But being sick and alone frightened me and increased my awareness of vulnerability.

I am seventy-two years old, my fiftieth college reunion is scheduled for this spring and I am alone.  Relatives live in another state and I have few friends here.

I was soaking in a hot-water filled tub when I realized that I could fall asleep, drown and nobody would help or find me for days.  I may be overly dramatic in this scenario, but the truth is that I have no safety net.

Choosing to live this way, I moved into an over-55 condo ten years ago.  I am surrounded by neighbors in my building, but nobody visits or knows where or how I am.  This is my fault.  Maintaining close relationships  has always been hard for me.  Why do I still view connections as intrusions?  I never call people just to say, “hello,” and in return I receive few phone calls except from the Giant to say a prescription is ready.

Now that winter has set in, I am experiencing isolation like never before.  How will I face the future?  Do I need to live in a facility with more care available?  The prospect makes me want to scream-“not yet!”  I am healthy, and can maintain myself with little effort.  But nobody is here to help me.

Usually, when I think about getting older and what the future holds, I can be relatively optimistic and cheerful, yet realistic about what lies ahead.  But being sick scared me terribly, and now I wonder about all my tomorrows.

CHOICES

Every day we decide whether to get up or stay in bed, hit the gym or eat a muffin, return a call or just do whatever we feel like.  I wish I had never seen the movie, “Sophie’s Choice,” because selecting one child over another under horrific circumstances stays with me still.

Susan Jeffers (now deceased,) penned a wonderful book called “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway.”  She writes about our difficulty in making decisions for fear of making the wrong one.  But rarely is the choice so clear between right and wrong.  Usually, our choices are not life altering.  She postulates that whatever road we chose to take, we will learn something, and that different paths are just that-different, not right or wrong.

In writing this blog, I face the question of how much to include about personal issues and people I know.  I need to tell the truth, but hesitate to risk offending anyone.  Just today, I saw a man whom I assumed I had wronged and he was as friendly as ever.  Maybe I am heaping too much importance on what I say, and overestimating the impact of my words.

Now that women are breaking their silences over abuse and shouting their stories, I want to join in.  But, I live in the real world and must consider the implications of what I say.

Dare I talk publicly about my abuse from an older relative(no longer alive,) or keep the details private?  Do I mention observations about the men I meet or leave them out of my story?  I still don’t know.

What I have learned is that the question itself is as important to ponder as is the answer I choose.  I think of myself as a serious writer and want to be seen that way.  But at the expense of my relationships and my privacy?  Time will tell.

TALK SHOW

Every Monday morning, I attend a discussion group held at the Bain Center.  This place has become like a second home to me, and offers classes and workshops on a variety of topics.  I also take a balance class and yoga.  But Mondays are for talking.

Assembled in a large room at the Center, up to about sixty-five people of my generation gather to exchange ideas and opinions.  The banter, while usually lively, is not always congenial.  We are an amalgam of folks from differing backgrounds who trade  thoughts and ideas.

Initially, I experienced discomfort when a participant expressed a point of view with which I did not agree.  I had lived my life avoiding or criticizing people who disagreed with me.  I used to assume I was always right.  But being in the group has changed my reaction to unwelcome opinions.

I have learned(finally,) that my viewpoint is just that-mine- and not necessarily right.  I can now tolerate opposing opinions with less rancor, and a little bit more openness.  This new perspective does not happen easily.

When I first heard a woman criticize Israel, I became angry and frightened.  I was raised post World War II, with a “who will hide me” mentality?  And I was rejected from Northwestern University in 1963 with an explanation that they didn’t want any more Northeast Jews.

So, I became sensitive to anyone who questioned Israel’s right to exist or their policies regarding the Palestinians.  Was anti-Zionism anti-Semitism?  I am still not so sure.  But I have learned to listen and not rage against uncomfortable positions.  I still wince inside, but no longer attack the messenger.

The leader of the group, a former distinguished writer for the Baltimore Sun guides the diversity of opinions in a gentle, yet authoritative way.  I look forward to seeing him each week.

Also, I happily anticipate talking with other group members before the official discussion begins.  I am not the smartest person in the room, but feel free to express my thoughts, even if others may disagree.

So, the discussion group has been a positive learning experience-about the world, other people and myself.  I am happy that I will be heading that way in a few hours.

THE GREATEST

A frigid Friday with little to do, so I decided to go to an early movie.  When I lived in New York and was in school while my husband worked, I used to attend movies alone and loved being transported to other places and new perspectives.

So, today, I went to the 10:30 AM showing of thee The Greatest Showman about PT Barnum.  What a treat to see a movie made by the folks who brought us La La Land-one of my favorite flicks.

The theater was almost empty, I was alone, but far from unhappy.  The seats became recliners, and I settled into  E1(you have to select your seats when you pay.)  Then the fun began.

A musical with a message, this movie was a visual and auditory delight with spectacular scenes and haunting music.  The message was profound, and packaged in beautiful wrapping.

The story of a poor man with a dream morphed into a circus of delights-complete with live animals and all the trimmings.  I was a little girl again, in awe of what I was watching.

The love stories which were woven into the picture were heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Love did prevail.

Perhaps the most profound point-of-view was that the “freaks” who showed their deformities and oddities to the crowd were real people-just like the audience which gaped at them.  Don’t we all have features and peculiarities which may not be visible, but are part of who we are?  And who among us has not felt like an outsider too often?

I am not a movie critic(or in this case enthusiast,) but I know that those two hours in the dark changed me.