Time to think about my name change …

I visited Mexico for the first time in 1989. I went to visit my friend CJ who had moved there a few years before. During my not-nearly-long-enough stay, she arranged for me to spend a day with a colleague of hers. CJ thought we would like each other because she liked us both so well and because we were both creatives and because we were both tall. CJ was right. This incredible woman has become one of my dearest friends, one of my best-beloveds. Because I don’t like using people’s real names here, I’m going to call her Milagros.

Milagros and I liked each other immediately. I can’t speak to what she saw in me, but I will say that anyone meeting Milagros for the first time would be captivated by her. She walks with the sun, is so full of light and energy and curiosity. For me, her magic lies in the fact that she is like my Aunt Mildred, she is a shining example of fully embracing yourself and living as exactly who you are. ( And I am happy knowing that, when my mother and aunt traveled to Mexico years ago, they were able to spend some time with Milagros. If ever two people were meant to meet, it was Mildred and Milagros!)

We hung out for a day, and that day cemented the friendship we’ve shared for the 32 years since.

One of the things we did on that day was visit a museum. I don’t know the name of the museum. I do remember that it felt very much in the middle of nowhere. It was some kind of popular culture museum, and the main exhibit during my visit was chilies. In the more-than-a-block-long main gallery, there were more chilies than I would have imagined existed. At each end of the gallery, there was a beautifully-lettered floor to ceiling scroll with two columns of names of chilies. The lists weren’t copies of one another. They were two completely different lists. Because there are more chilies in Mexico than seems possible.

I just came across this article: What dried chilies do fresh ones become? This is a question it would never have occurred to me to ask because I had no idea chilies change their names when they are dried! The fact of this fascinates and pleases me. I’m going to go ahead and assume that this isn’t news to maybe anyone else, but it was definitely news to me.

And it made me think. Should this be a thing people do, too? As we age, should we change our names? We’re going through some dramatic changes, so why not? The ways we contribute change, just as the way a dried chili is used in a dish differs from the way a fresh chili is used. I mean, I have grown to love my name, but is it time to think about life as Esmeralda, as Zelda, as Persephone?

Another pepper story with Milagros happened on my second or third visit to Mexico. She drove me to a market to try the squash blossom quesadillas sold from a stall there (they were delicious!). As we walked through the market, I saw ahead of me a stall that seemed to sell sausages. It had long ropes of links hanging out to entice shoppers. But the sausages didn’t make sense in my brain, as they were all a bright, brilliant green. I asked Milagros about them, and she nodded and confirmed that yes, they are green because they are made with chilies and tomatillos. And, although there was meat in those casings, I certainly couldn’t tell from looking. I mean, come on. Green chorizo. A whole other, far more vibrant and engaging world is obviously mostly hidden from me.

I have other chili stories, at least one of which is with Milagros. She is also responsible for some excellent and delicious fruit discoveries. And each of those moments is interesting and delightful, but I’m circling back to that museum exhibit of chilies and the enormous scrolls at either end of the gallery. Now that I’ve read this Gourmet de Mexico article, which barely scratches the surface of Chili World, I’m wishing I could magic myself back to that day in 1989. I am wondering if the scroll at one end of the room listed the names of fresh chilies and the scroll at the other listed the names of those chilies when dried. Or maybe one column was for fresh and the other for dried.

It’s no different, of course, than grapes and raisins, plums and prunes. Of course. I guess what I’m discovering is that I am a narrower thinker than I’d have liked to believe. It would never have occurred to me that the raising/grape situation existed with other foods than the ones I already knew about, as if I already knew everything. Sigh.

It’s a good reminder to keep my eyes and mind open. Just as I need to be thinking about my crone name, I need to be thinking about being on the lookout for new things to learn, being on the lookout for newness in familiar things.

A Once-Long Road Is Suddenly Shorter

Every year before my birthday, I take stock. I think about where I am and what I’d like to accomplish in the coming year. I’m surely not the only person who does this. It seems a pretty basic, obvious thing to do before your birthday.

Some years, I draw up long, elaborate lists of what the next year should look like for me. This has mostly been true as I enter new decades, I guess. Sometimes my lists are full of fancy. Somethings they are depressingly earthbound — such as the year when almost the whole list was related to dealing with various aspects of my health. That was a bad list, a sad list, the kind I hope not to need to repeat often or ever. There should really always be some whimsy, some sparkly fun on the list. If not … well, damn.

This year, something strange happened as I thought about making my list. I haven’t been young in a long time, but this year for the first time I really thought about being old, about the fact that I’m closing in on being truly old and I need to imagine what I want my aging to look like.

So I did.

And I realized there are things I want from my old age that I hadn’t realized I wanted, ways I want to be living that don’t follow any kind of path from how I’m living right now. And I’m not entirely sure how to do anything about that, but I am sure that I want to do something about it, that I can’t just keep bumbling along and expect anything to change on it’s own. So I sketched out some ideas, some plans for a course shift.

Not a course correction. I wouldn’t say I’ve been on anything like a wrong path — or, at least not entirely on a wrong path — but I do need to make some changes, and some of them need to be significant.

 

I work with a lot of people who are much younger than I am. A lot of 20- and 30-somethings. Young people who are very clear, very focused on what they want from their careers and where they want to be heading. They fascinate me. Truly. How do they know so much about themselves already? How can they already have a sense of what they want to be doing with their lives long term … to have enough of a sense that they’ve already done so much to move themselves along those paths?

Not that I’ve spent my life flitting around aimlessly, falling from one experience to the next … but I kind of have, too. It’s only by chance that I find myself with a career in education. I just about literally stumbled into my first teaching job and discovered I liked it and was pretty good at it, and so kept doing it. It wasn’t until I’d been teaching for nearly 20 years that it occurred to me that education was my career.

Really the only thing in my life that hasn’t happened by chance is writing. This all needs more thinking through. For now, back to my birthday and planning for Big Life Changes.

 

When I made my list this year, I made a list that looks out to when I’ll turn 60, to where I hope to be at that moment. I have a short-term list, too, but all the things on that list connect to where I want to be winding up when I turn 60. And I think I’ll be projecting out five and ten years from now on. Otherwise, how will I ever have the chance to be the old lady I now realize I want to be?

The sad part of all this is being fully aware that there is nothing new here, fully aware that people the world over plan for their futures every day, and that people have been planning for their futures forever, that the only thing interesting about what’s happened to me is the fact that I’ve lived 55 years without thinking far enough ahead in my life to make a sustainability plan.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do … and a crazy-short runway.


(I’m torn about whether this “counts” as an essay … I’ve fussed with it a lot, and cut out a long not-quite-getting-it section that tried to tease out why I don’t look at my life as a long-term proposition. Maybe that’s a separate essay, maybe it’ll just stay on the cutting room floor. This bit it what’s left, and I’m sticking with it.)


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Yes, we have no ageism today.

I stopped at a bodega on my way home tonight. The man behind the counter asked me some silly question, and my answer let him know that women my age don’t get up to such nonsense. He looked stricken.

“Dear lady,” he said, “don’t say that. You are beautiful. Believe me.”*

???

Because you know, in my book, my being middle-aged does not in any way impact the fact of my beauty. I told him as much, said I was well aware that I’m beautiful, that I had simply been pointing out that I am also old.

Again, he had the stricken face, told me not to speak so harshly about myself.

“No,” I said. “This isn’t harsh. I embrace every minute of my age. I am totally fine with being exactly the age I am.”

He just stared at me. He couldn’t process my comfort with myself, so he gave me three bananas for free. Seriously. He insisted I take them.

This is all ridiculous, of course. Both his part in this conversation and mine. I’m sad for him that he equates age with loss of beauty. But it’s also true that a large part of my comfort with my age is the fact that I know I don’t actually look my age. If I were truly comfortable, I’d say goodbye to my henna and let my silver tresses glisten in the sun. I don’t. (I thought I’d do it when I turned 50. Now I’m telling myself I should wait until I’m 60. Yeah, we’ll see what happens.)

___
* Also, no one can really use that “Believe me” anymore, can they? Now that Trump says it to punctuate every bit of bullshit he spews, it no longer has any meaning. I hear that and the first thing that comes to mind is: “Believe you? Are you kidding?”

(And also, I hope you see what I did there with my title and the free fruit …)


original-slicer-girlgriot

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Backsliding toward Bethlehem

I grew up quiet. I was docile, compliant, held my tongue when I should have spoken. This isn’t a thing to be proud of, and I’m not proud of it. I should have spoken the first time a man flashed me. I was eight. I should have spoken the first time a boy tried to pressure me into letting him touch me. I was nine. But I was a “good girl,” a seen-but-not-heard girl. So I stayed quiet.

Eventually—though not for many too many years—I realized that staying quiet is a form of self harm, that silence can equal death.

Writing ended my silence. When I started blogging ten years ago, I started posting things I didn’t say out loud, started telling stories I hadn’t told: the first time I was called a nigger, the night I was raped, the acceptance of my inability to have children. And when I wrote, people read. And I found I had more things to say. And more people read … and more and more, reading and reading and reading. Silence stopped being my default position. It became, instead, an occasional choice, a choice made to serve my needs, not anyone else’s.

In recent years, I have been anything but silent. My pain and rage have been loud and sustained. The steady drumbeat of devaluation and death that has been the storyline of Black and Brown communities calls up my voice again and again and again, has spilled across pages and pages, come to mic-ed spaces like this one to spill over audiences like you.

***

When I looked up “backslide,” I was surprised to have page after page of religious websites come up in the search results. At first I ignored them because nothing I think about when I think about backsliding has anything to do with religion.

I searched again. I was looking for something that might steer me away from the negative definition of the word that was dominating my writing. All my searches came up religious. Finally, I gave in and clicked the first site, “Ask a Minister” (seriously). And what to my wondering eyes should appear but definitions of backsliding that resonated more powerfully than the standard, “relapsing into bad ways or error.” Ask a Minister gave me:

Revolt
Refuse to harken
Pull away
Rebel

Suddenly backsliding looked like a badge of honor, something to which I could and should aspire. Biblically, of course, it’s all bad—backsliders were folks who “refused to harken” to religious rules, to the word of God. Okay, fine. But is that always necessarily a bad thing? Questioning authority—speaking up instead of keeping silent—can be exactly right, exactly the thing that saves your life.

And there it was—the memory of quiet, go-along-to-get-along me, and the memory of all the ways the stress and damage of my silence manifested in my health, in my bad relationships, in my fear of embracing my anger.

But no more. I have become a proud backslider. I have—to paraphrase my favorite of the “Ask a Minister” bits—refused to harken and turned a backsliding shoulder and made my ears heavy that they should not hear.

One. Hundred. Percent.

***

I was born on a Tuesday, and I used to like thinking about that old poem: Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace …  I liked thinking that I might ever be seen as even the least bit graceful. And somehow my silence was part of that.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she sent me the biblical definition of grace: the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. I do tend to think of myself as the recipient of the free (and generally unmerited) favor of God, so perhaps I’ve achieved gracefulness after all. This graceful backsliding is such a relief. Freedom, finally, to just be my own authentic, un-quiet, angry, rebellious, refusing-to-harken self.



This piece was written for the July 24th Big Words, Etc. reading, the theme for which was “Backslide.”

The plan for 2017 was to be on my #GriotGrind, to write an essay a week … except I’m MONTHS behind! I’m determined to, somehow, catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.

A Woman of a Certain Age

As I was getting ready to head into Manhattan tonight, I overheard two folks talking outside my window. They’d run into each other and were catching up, a young-ish man and an older woman. They had a lot of crazy things to say and gossip to pass back and forth. They said their goodbyes and then there was silence as they walked away … then the guy shouts: “I just gotta say, you’re one of those people whose black don’t crack!  They both burst out laughing, and I almost did, too.

Today is my birthday.  Funny how fast these come around!  It’s my birthday, and I’m quite solidly middle aged now.  But I’m also one of those “uncracked” people that guy was shouting about outside my window.  Sometimes I feel every nanosecond of each one of my 52 years, but mostly not so much, mostly I’m well aware of how much I don’t look whatever people think my age should look like. I stressed out about my age a lot more when I was in my 40s. (Might have had something to do with all those younger men I dated … ahem.)  Now, I’m rude enough to tell people my age for no reason other than to make them tell me how not my age I look.  My vanity has done no mellowing over time!

Earlier this week, one of my neighbors asked me why she never sees me pregnant or with a baby (really, my neighbors will sometimes just say every damn thing!). I told her that time was past for me, and she said not yet, that I could probably have kids “up till you’re 40 or so.” Um, yeah. That time is p.a.s.t.

So that time is past, but now there’s time for about a bazillion other things.  This second half of my life is already shaping up to be very interesting — one knee surgery down, one to go, got fired for the first time in my life and have spent the last three months unemployed for the first time in my adult life, I’ve learned to spin, I’ve discovered a new writing genre to explore, I’ve reconnected with some old friends and started cultivating a gorgeous garden a new friends …

I’ve got work to do.  I’m only 52, but I’m already 52.  All kinds of clocks are ticking.  Think of how many crafts there are still for me to learn.  And how long is it going to take me to get over myself and stop hiding my grey hair with henna?

Time to prepare for embracing myself as the Crone, the wise, free, powerful me.  This non-working summer has given me a delicious taste of what the “free” can feel like — I have very much enjoyed my long days of reading, writing, strolling, thinking, seeing just how much I enjoy my own company — but I have a ways to go before I can pretend to wisdom or power.

I’ve got work to do.


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Hello to everyone who began following the blog after reading my last post.  I appreciate the follows and the comments.  You intimidated me just a little, I won’t lie.  I’ve started and dashed half a dozen posts since that one.  I worried about what kind of writing you’d expect each time you saw my blog in your inbox.  Well, the fact is, you’re here.  Stick around and you’ll see how non-linear and nonsensical I can be one minute, how focused and fierce I can be the next.  This is a theme-less space that is often left to grow over with weeds.  I’m only today remembering that I should have started a 30 stories in 30 days challenge on the first.  Maybe I’ll jump in with that tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I hope you’ll keep reading.  It won’t be praise- or comment-worthy every time, but I’d love to have you jump in and start conversation when you’re moved to do so.  Welcome to my tiny little corner of the internet!