Grumpy Old Friends

 

Two Senior Women Relaxing at the Outdoor Table
Photo by Bela Hoche

God, I’m tired. I woke up in a pissy mood. I got dressed up today because I had a meeting at school, I’m getting my hair cut, and I hate looking at myself all drab in the mirror at the salon.

 

I’m getting older. My body is changing. My face is a little droopy. I have a belly where I never had one before. My boobs are a cup size bigger than they were three years ago. Most of the time, I’m okay with it. Today, though, I just feel shitty — unattractive and lumpy. It’s partly society’s expectation we all stay young and beautiful. We lie about our ages and spend endless amounts of money on botox and tummy tucks. We’ll try the latest fast, the latest supplement, the latest whatever in an impossible quest to stop time.

Not that I’d go back to my 20’s. I am much wiser than I used to be. I am a better, more giving person. I wouldn’t trade all I’ve learned over the past two decades for anything, but it’s still hard to watch my body change. Change is inevitable; it’s a normal part of this world, and it is always happening. On a good day, this makes me smile and I can embrace it. On a bad day, it pisses me off. It’s like puberty only more depressing. It irritates me that I can’t operate on six hours of sleep the way I used to. It vexes me I don’t have the energy to accomplish what I once did. It makes me feel insecure that my memory isn’t quite as good as it once was. 

I’ve tried a lot of things to “optimize my life,” to fight these subtle yet distressing signs of aging.  I’ve changed my diet, I’ve fasted, I’ve cut carbs, taken supplements, engaged in high-intensity exercise to the point of folly and sampled enumerable therapies. There are a lot of them these days — cryotherapy, halotherapy, alphabiotics, chiropractic adjustment, essential oils, massage therapy…It is a long, long list.

I know people who have been helped by alternative therapies; I’m just not one of them. I mean sure, I come out of the halotherapy room feeling relaxed, I leave cryotherapy feeling invigorated, and every time I get a massage I think Why don’t I do this more often? It’s just at some point, it becomes one more thing I have to do, one more thing I have to pay for, regardless of how much I love the people there.

Here’s my theory: Any therapy might be a godsend for a particular individual, especially if they have an acute or significant chronic problem. If you’re a high-performance athlete, you might really need some of these to help you recover. If you’re injured, you can take advantage of them to get back to one hundred percent. If you are affected by something like arthritis or osteopenia, you might benefit from some of the new discoveries in therapy.

But what if you’re me? I don’t want to win marathons. I don’t have any physical injuries or significant pain. I am not afflicted by any degenerative or chronic illness (yet). Is it really worth my time and money to avail myself of the dizzying array of therapies now available? Because whatever their benefits, no therapy is going to stop me from getting older.

What I mostly love about therapy is the people. The proprietors, the ones I’ve visited anyway, truly want to help you. They are friendly, engaging and honest. They are not hardcore salespeople; they want to help you feel better. What I need is friends therapy — something I can get for free and something I would have the time and energy to cultivate if I weren’t so busy investigating new therapies and playing Wordscapes.

I’m not telling you not to try stuff. If you have significant ongoing pain, looking into alternative ways to treat it is a good idea. But if you don’t, or if you’ve tried and the therapy itself didn’t make a significant difference, let it go. Consider that maybe what you need instead of ice or heat or salt or your chakras aligned is better social interactions — real friends with whom you can relax and be your true self.

I have a friend who lives in a retirement community nearby. She’s ninety years old and recently told me of a 97-year-old man who began taking her art class. He was depressed, having lost his wife recently. Slowly he realized, at 97, he likes to paint. Now he sits in the common room, painting, while others around him read or play games. They comment on his work, and sometimes he asks for opinions. Sure the painting itself is probably therapy, but would he have found it if he hadn’t lived in a tight-knit community that makes it easy to be social and seek out new hobbies?

That community has social gatherings all the time, and if you attend one, you’ll find the residents drinking a few glasses of wine and good-naturedly harassing each other — being weird, grumpy, silly, friendly. Being themselves. Yes, they are old; there is no denying it. The inevitable march of time is apparent in the herd of walkers parked outside the door of every event. But they have easy access to an important thing: quality social interaction — not just superficial gatherings of bodies but real, comfortable relationships in which they can relax. The shared component of most therapy is relaxation and a little bit of quality social interaction. What if that’s all we need? 

Welcome to My Brain

fullsizeoutput_4440Sometimes I have the urge to write but not about any particular topic. It’s like when I was little and would say to my mom, “Let’s talk about.” She’d ask, “Talk about what?” Me: “Things!” I was in the mood for conversation about nothing specific.

Here I sit, typing away, stream-of-consciousness style. When I do this, sometimes something brilliant comes out. Sometimes it’s rambly drivel. Most often, though, it’s one or the other, I’m just not sure which.

Sometimes when I’m editing my own writing, I read it for so long, I lose sight of what is great and what is crap. I cease to be able to tell the difference. It makes sense, really, since it’s all subjective, and my moods can at times be less like a rollercoaster and more like the heart monitor line for a particularly erratic patient.

It’s cold outside right now. It’s early November in Austin, and it is like 30 degrees — highly unusual. Of course, Texas weather by nature is unpredictable, just like my moods or that suffering heart patient, so really “highly unusual” isn’t highly unusual at all. In two days, it could be 85 degrees, and we’d all be like, “yeah, pretty much.”

Our heat isn’t on yet, partially because of the aforementioned possibility of imminent summer weather and partly because when we turn it on for the first time each season, it smells musty, dries the air and clogs all of our sinuses. So I’m sitting here, cross-legged in my office chair, bundled in my robe and a scarf, drinking ginger tea mostly for the warmth of it.

I can see a gerbera daisy blooming outside my window. That’s how ridiculous the weather here is. A few days ago, it was warm enough for flowers to poke their heads up and bask in the sun. Now it’s cold enough to kill them.

There’s a squirrel sitting up in the tree over the shivering red daisy. It’s very still (for a squirrel), huddled for warmth, maybe munching one of the millions of acorns that cover our yard and driveway and force me to wear shoes so I don’t impale my feet.

So this is why I bother to free-write like this. I’ve just realized the metaphor between my ephemeral mood swings and the Texas weather — can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

I recently applied to a program that helps authors write, publish and promote their books. Some of the questions on the application asked what my motivation was for wanting to publish a book. The application was completed and submitted over a week ago, but it’s caused me to ponder the intricacies of my relationship with writing.

One of my favorite things is when someone tells me they read a post of mine and they connected with it. They thank me for writing it because it cheered them knowing other people have the same struggles as they do. Or just knowing that other people struggle at all. With social media, sometimes you feel like you’re the only one not going on fabulous vacations and getting your shit together.

That’s what I want. I want to connect people. I want people to realize they don’t have to play perfect; we can like and respect each other, warts and all. No matter our backgrounds or how different we may seem at a distance, up close we all have fears, weaknesses, confusion. And that’s not a negative thing; it’s part of life. What makes life good is that we can share our problems with others and find support and sympathy instead of judgment. That interconnectedness is what bolsters us to pick ourselves up and move forward after a fall.

No one is an island…or rather, no one thrives as an island. It’s not about our ability to make a lot of friends. Whether you have one close friend or twenty, it’s more about our ability to view other people as nuanced humans instead of one-dimensional labels. Woman, Liberal, Republican, Gay, Catholic, Transgendered. Those are infinitesimal pieces of an identity.

We are all humans who laugh and cry and worry and meander through daily existence no matter where we live. When we can see that human-ness in the forefront, before we see the labels, we can truly work together towards common goals that will make this world better for all of us. See, I told you this stream-of-consciousness thing turns out well sometimes.

I considered editing out all of the free-associative stuff at the beginning of this post, since the meat of it doesn’t start till halfway down the page, but I decided I kind of like it. It reminds me of writing a letter to a friend, where you touch on topics from the mundane to the mystical. I’m all about being real and real isn’t always a neat little post with nice transitions and perfectly-related sentences. My real brain is much messier than most of my writing. Don’t worry, though. I won’t let it go to my head.

 

“Men and Women Can’t Be Friends”

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This morning a wonderful thing happened. It was a small thing.

The kids had the day off school, so I dragged them to my 8:30am Camp Gladiator workout in the park down the road. They didn’t want to go, but it was a beautiful day, and they could play soccer or run around the playground adjacent to the basketball court, where we were exercising.

I like Camp Gladiator (CG, to those in the know) mostly because of the nonjudgmental, fun atmosphere. There is no talk of “bikini bodies” or “go hard or go home.” Everyone’s there because it keeps them active, both physically and socially. It’s like P.E. for adults; The burpees or deadlifts or whatever usually come in the form of light-hearted games.

This morning, at the end of class, this guy, whom I know reasonably well since we both attend CG regularly, offered to show me a stretch for my perpetually tight back. I was definitely interested, but he hesitated for a moment, then said, “I’m going to touch you now if that’s okay.” Then, (and this is key) he waited for my response. It was totally okay if he touched me to show me the stretch, but I really appreciated being asked.

To understand the personal significance of this, I have to take you back to my college days. I have always liked men, not just to sleep with, but as friends too. I enjoy the different perspectives they tend to offer from my women friends. But in my early 20’s I discovered something best illustrated with a scene from When Harry Met Sally:

Harry: No man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally: So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail them too.

Sally: What if they don’t want to have sex with you?

Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

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Men and women can’t be friends.

Sadly, I found this to be true. It seemed that guys thought my simply making eye contact with them was an open invitation for copulation. They sometimes got angry when I engaged in polite conversation and then rebuffed their attempts to stick their tongues down my throat. How dare I be such a tease.

So I eventually stopped being nice to male people. I wore Doc Martens, big baggy t-shirts, baseball caps and an “I will end you if you talk to me” look on my face, fondly referred to in certain circles as the “kill your mother” look. If Meghan Trainor had been around back then, “My name is ‘No,'” would’ve been my theme song.

I was resentful and angry. One boy, Mike, befriended me my freshman year in college. I was clear with him from the beginning that I wasn’t interested in anything beyond the platonic, but I guess he thought if he hung around long enough I’d cave. He eventually quit talking to me altogether — as in wouldn’t acknowledge my existence if we were in the same room.

Another, Andrew, lived on the same floor of Jester Dormitory (that infamous living space designed by a prison architect) as I did. Again, I was clear from the beginning about my expectations. Again, when he discovered I was for real about not having a romantic relationship with him, he got mad and stopped talking to me.

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Don’t let the pretty sunlight fool you. Jester looked and smelled like a prison.

I’m not saying I didn’t want to get touchy-feely sometimes. I had my share of spontaneous makeout sessions back then — some drunken, some sober — and I enjoyed them. I just didn’t appreciate that so many guys thought they were entitled to my body. I did encounter a handful of outliers. James and I were friends. He wanted it to be more than that, but he respected my boundaries and hung out with me anyway. He was the exception that proved the rule.

The good thing about being in my 40’s is, now I can be friends with men without the assumption it’s leading somewhere. It also helps that we live in a neighborhood of mostly married people with families; most of us are off the market and have kids that make us too tired to have affairs.

Because of my history, which I suspect is a shared experience for a lot of women,  I appreciated this small act of respect — asking if it was okay to touch me. And I was glad it happened in front of my oldest son, glad he saw what respecting another person’s physical boundaries looks like and glad he could see that men and women can have platonic friendly relationships.

I hope that the next generation, my kids and their peers, will grow up in a world where this kind of thing is the norm — where they won’t feel compelled to write about it because it’s not noteworthy. But for now, I just want to say, “thanks” to Nick who laced his arms through mine and lifted me off the ground this morning to show me how to take better care of my back… but asked first.

Broken – A Love Note

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When I saw Jason, I was broken.

You couldn’t tell.

I was married.

I got up and went to work every day, I went out with friends on the weekends. And sometimes, when I was driving home by myself after work, I would get a sensation — something’s missing. I hadn’t a clue what it was, so I stayed busy and ignored it.

I had friends but not really. Javier’s friends had become mine by default, and I neglected to keep up with my real ones. Javier did all the social planning, and I went along. Or not, if I was too tired and needed alone time. He never understood when I didn’t want to go out  — the plight of the extrovert and the introvert.

When I met Jason,

I had selfish thoughts.

I had dated a lot of people. I was always trying to fix them — make them happier, shore up their self esteem, give them the gift of me. In Jason, I didn’t see a person I could fix; I saw someone I admired,

a person who could help fix me.

He GOT me. And when he didn’t get me, he worked to understand. I’ve seen people look at me in confusion, anger, exasperation and complete bafflement when I cried for no apparent reason, but Jason was the first person to knit his brow as I tried, in my bungling way, to explain myself. I’ll never forget the first time I saw that look on his face, and I realized he wasn’t trying to win the argument, he was trying to understand my perspective.

At the time I left Javier for Jason, everyone in my life was shocked and confused. And now I finally have the words to explain it.

I saw a chance to reclaim myself.

Jason is always his true self, unapologetically; I wanted that. I needed space to explore who I am, and I knew he could help me with it. I could say Jason helps  me be the best version of myself, but more accurately, he helps me be the TRUE version of myself. I can own it all: I am a brilliant writer. I am a shitty driver. I love gardening, and I hate doing taxes. I am a feminist, and I don’t want to be a lawyer or an engineer. I am an artist who does art for the process of it. I am irritable when people interrupt my thinking.

I cry sometimes because the world is so confusing and beautiful.

Jason accepts it all without judgment. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t sometimes get annoyed with me, but I can feel that he doesn’t wish to change my true nature, whatever that is in the moment.

Someone told me once, to solve a problem, you must deconstruct it, step back, then reconstruct it. This is what I did with my life when I was thirty. I had flash of clarity while standing in the shower, shortly after my birthday. It said, in a convicted whisper…

 You don’t need these people. 

So, I stepped out of the life I had built, and the house came crashing down behind me. I left Javier, left our friends, and a short while later, left my job. I was in no doubt that it was the right thing, but to say it was hard is laughable.

It was excruciating

like child birth, coming and going in waves for years. When the pain would subside momentarily, I always knew it would come back. I was giving rebirth to myself — the person I am at my core, the person I was as a child, before I shielded myself from the harshness the world can be.

I am empathic; I feel things deeply and sometimes even mistake others’ emotions for my own. When you are that way, being in the world can be painful, so I built a shell to protect me and wore it for so long, I forgot it wasn’t really me.

In my reconstruction, I continue to discover more of myself every day. I have reconnected in true, deep ways with my family and friends. I’ve made new friends — ones I chose not by circumstance, but because I saw a kindred spirit in them.

Javier and I had tried to have children, but I miscarried no less than four times. Talk about painful. But I didn’t know…

how could I give birth to anything new, when I had yet to find myself? 

Now, I have two children. They are pieces of me and pieces of Jason, and they are their own selves, unique from anyone else in all the world. Maybe they will grow up knowing that, unapologetically, and not have to re-find themselves.

I am not filled with regret — not for blowing up our lives twelve years ago. I recently read some things Javier wrote, and it struck me that he and I have evolved into similar life philosophies. We couldn’t have gotten there together, though. We held each other back.

Javier was my friend before we were lovers, and my only regret is the loss of that friendship. When we first started dating, we were concerned about ruining what we already had, and in the detritus of our divorce, I used to joke through my tears that we DID ruin our friendship; it just took a lot longer than anyone thought.

I am writing this because I finally get it.

When I left Javier, everyone in my life was shocked, because I hadn’t shared my struggles with them — struggles I hadn’t even admitted to myself. When I left, it was my first intuitive act in many years, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t explain it to anyone at the time.

I left because, even though I looked happy, even though I told myself I was happy,

I was suffocating.

I was finally running out of air under that shell I thought was me. Jason peeked under the shell, offered me his hand and made me feel safe enough to come out.

What I always felt the worst about was blind-siding Javier — ripping the pretty bandage of our marriage off so abruptly and leaving him raw and reeling. He was better off without me, but the end doesn’t justify the means.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to grow up, to start my life, get married, have children. I was running on logic and hormones and had

forgotten I even had a thing called intuition.

My regret is that I didn’t know myself very well, that I didn’t make better decisions in the beginning. My regret is staying under that shell until I was gasping for breath so desperately, I couldn’t do anything but throw it off and run for the hills, regardless of whom I took out in the process. That was always my nature, though — to sit there and take it, to stay in the relationship until it sucked all the life out of me, and then abruptly leave, the need to get out privately overwhelming me. They were always left standing there in the aftermath, wondering what the hell just happened.

I am reclaiming my true self. I am being that person unapologetically, and it’s a good thing, not just for my own happiness but for everyone around me, who will no longer be totally baffled by my seemingly random actions — those bursts of self that only came out when I could no longer hold it in. Now I am all “burst.” And I am not a writer, a mother, an ex-wife, a spouse, an introvert, an organizer. I am me. I am April. I am a little weird, and you don’t have to like it. I’m okay with that.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_freedommaster’>freedommaster / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

New Year, Same Great You

New Year, Same Great You

I’m going to talk about New Year’s resolutions. I know…yawn. There are probably thousands of articles bopping around the internet right now on the topic. But, I feel the need to express my alternative view of goal-making. This is not about “new year, new you,” which is a terribly overused title. What’s wrong with the old you? “New you” implies that the old you isn’t worth keeping around.

Sure, there may be some things you’d like to focus on, and January 1 is as good a time as any to take stock and plan ahead. I shied away from resolutions for…well, my whole life, because it all seemed like too much pressure. But last year, I realized there were some aspects of life I wanted to focus on: simplicity and listening to my intuition.

Taking stock now, I see that I accomplished the goal of focusing on those things. My life is simpler; I keep it in mind when accepting/declining new responsibilities, but I haven’t totally got a handle on it (I may never). That’s okay; the point is to be mindful about it.

This year, my focus is nurturing my relationships with my family — making time for Jason and me to connect, play with the kids, hang out with my parents and sister. I don’t have a set number of hours, but I know if I keep it at the top of my mind by writing about it, meditating on it, at the end of the year, I’ll feel good about it. I don’t want to make some brand new, unreal version of myself; I want make my life more satisfying and enrich the lives of the people around me.

If you want to make your focus being more active or eating more intuitively (one of my last year’s goals) go ahead. It’s all about mindset. You have to ask yourself, “Am I doing this because it’s what I’m ‘supposed’ to do or because it’ll improve my quality of life in a way that I want.

That last bit, “in a way that I want,” is important. You are under no obligation to make the choices society say are healthy. You want to eat cake and donuts for breakfast? Good for you. You want to smoke, spend a bunch of money or drink a whole bottle of wine? Fine. The point is to not kid yourself; don’t spend your energy rationalizing your behavior. Just decide to do them or not do them.  We all know what the possible consequences of these behaviors are, and sometimes we choose to do them anyway. That doesn’t make us bad people; it makes us humans who like to enjoy life.

I am not talking about addiction here, which generally tends to make people miserable; I’m talking about the choice to binge on cookies on a Friday night or spend 11 hours watching Star Wars movies. It may your stomach feel terrible and give you a tendency to reverse your sentences like Yoda the day after, but maybe it’s worth it to you every now and then. Or maybe it’s not. Either way is okay.

So when you make your resolutions or goals or whatever you like to call them, don’t make them for other people and don’t be too rigid about them. Think about what would truly make you feel more satisfied with your life — just one or two things, not a whole list of 10 — and focus on that. Or don’t make any resolutions. Maybe you’re fine with everything how it is in the moment. If so, cheers to you.

Who’s Your Squad?

Your “squad,” according to Jason, is any person or thing with which you feel a particular kinship. You can always count on your squad to comfort and put a smile on your face. Jason refers to his favorite chair as “my squad,” but he also addresses me as such: “April, you’re my squad.”

When I was in high school, I had a squad — a close-knit set of friends we not-so-creatively referred to as “The Group.” We walked into each other’s houses without knocking. We hung out every day and called each other up to ask, not, “Do you want to do something?” but “What are we doing today?” Theirs were the phone numbers I had memorized, back when that was necessary. I once spent three days straight with one of my squad. Kelly and I went back and forth spending the nights at each others’ houses, and during the day, we mostly drove around. Because with your squad, you don’t have to be doing anything special to be having a blast.

Your squad is always there when you need them. When one of our squad broke up with another of our squad, Kelly and I felt badly for the breakup-ee. So, without a second thought, we whipped up a batch of Rice Krispy treats, and drove over to comfort him. We ate half of them on the way over in the car and were not at all abashed to admit it when we got there. It didn’t occur to him to be offended, and he was grateful for the company and sympathy. THAT is the level of comfort you have with your squad.

In college, I had another encounter with squad-dom. That’s when Trey, Javier and I hung out. All we needed was a handle of cheap whiskey and balcony on which to smoke, talk and argue about politics, philosophy and modern social constructs. The next morning, I’d roll off Trey’s couch, smelling of the patchouli incense he liked to burn, and stumble my way to class.

The three of us spent formative time together, back in our 20’s, when life was one, big drunken (let’s drive to Mardi Gras at 2am) adventure. There is a particular incident in Boquillas, Mexico, just across the border from Big Bend – the kind of situation that only occurs with a squad like Trey and Javier. I’ll spare you the whole story, but here are a few highlights: moonshine sotol, falling into a cactus, stealing a boat to get back across the border and cutting some mules loose. No, that’s not a euphemism; one of us actually cut ropes tethering mules to a post.

Last night, I binge watched old episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I’m also fond of watching Friends reruns and, late at night after a few glasses of wine, I’m apt to pull up Stand By Me. These are all shows about squads – young people that have the kinds of relationships in which they skip the small talk. That’s why they’re my go-to shows when I feel a little down or nostalgic; they conjure a little of that warm, relaxed feeling of having a cohesive group of close friends.

As I reminisced over my coffee in the wee, dark hours this morning, I missed having a squad. I feel comfortable around many of my individual friends, but there’s something about a group dynamic – ease on a slightly larger scale – that is unique. I was wondering if it’s even possible to have a squad when we’re in our 40’s, with family and career taking up most of our lives. Then, 9-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Gage wandered down the stairs, sleep still in their eyes, messy rat’s nest of hair on the backs of their heads. Without a word, they joined me on the couch and snuggled in. I may get annoyed with my kiddos sometimes, but, being completely honest, I got exasperated with my squad people of old, as well. That’s part of the comfort level — the freedom to be irritated and express it, knowing the squad will still be there for you. I smiled and thought to myself, “Stupid woman. THIS is your squad, right here in your lap.” That’s the other thing about a squad; they fit with you so well, sometimes you forget they’re there.