I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: October, 2013

At Least My Feet Don’t Stink Anymore

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The Changes

The humidity left the air this week.  It’s gone, for the next five months, leaving my skin thin and papery, so dry it hurts.  I hate the tedium of slathering myself with lotion.  I don’t do it.  Mainly because I haven’t found a lotion that doesn’t smell and doesn’t leave my skin feeling sticky or slimy.  (Approaching acceptable is Vanicream.)  I need to find something that I like, because every Winter is worse.  I used to scorn OLD people for fleeing New York for Florida and complaining about the cold and their knees.  I can’t believe I’m one of those people now.  I hate the cold, find the concept of leaving New York approaching acceptable, and my knees just don’t bend comfortably anymore, except when in the meditative flow of a yoga class.

I had my annual gynecological appointment recently, with a new doctor because my old one didn’t take my new insurance.  Besides, after my old ob/gyn teased me for being his only patient who used a diaphragm (because I didn’t like the way I felt on the pill), I decided it was time to find a more holistic woman gynecologist.  Even after two children and 30+ years of pelvic exams, I tend to approach the stirrups with an attitude of let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.  Instead of taking the opportunity to ask questions and get what I need, I just wanted to get through the appointment.  This new doctor is a 50-something woman who is business-like but compassionate.  She took one look at me, down there, and said “Aren’t you uncomfortable?”  Ummm, not that I’m aware of.  Should I be?  “Try Replens.  Or Neem Oil.”  Ummm, okay.  I’m not sure what that is but isn’t it for old ladies?  Oh, right, I had my last period a year and a half ago.  I am officially post-menopausal.  Old.  Or at least dry.

Then came the kicker.  “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve survived menopause with just therapy and yoga?”  Ummm, yep, that’s it.  Therapy and yoga.  Oh and don’t forget my austere approach to food that has kept my weight down.  (A lot vegetables and whole grains, very little meat, sugar, fat, alcohol.)  Easy!

Not.

I spent the several years of perimenopause depressed, anxious, sleepless and sad.   Weeping in Savasana.  Breathing and chanting at 3 am (the chanting was silent in my mind because I am not that kooky but someday I hope to be) because I had woken, in a sweat, to go to the bathroom, again, and couldn’t fall back asleep.  I spent about a year taking Benadryl every night because I was so frightened of the prospect of a sleepless night.  Worrying about my job, my kids, my husband, my aging parents, my marriage, myself, my future, my kids’ future.  Even worry about the future of our planet would grab hold of me at 3 am and not let go.  Was I going to be unhappy all my life?  And angry?  Had I worked this hard just to be a disposable upper-mid-level marketing executive, unsure I even cared about what I was marketing?  Was I going to become addicted to sleep medication?  What was the meaning of life anyway?  You suffer, get old and die.

I threw off the Benadryl and threw myself into yoga and therapy, trying to confront my demons.  It has not been easy.  Now that I am on the other side of menopause, I sleep better and am no longer depressed or overly anxious.  The demons are still there, and a few of them remain unconfronted, but my attitude towards them has changed.  Now I am free to enjoy the relief of no more periods.  No more worrying about getting pregnant.  The hot flashes seem to be diminished.  (By the way, I know what causes hot flashes for me – a seriously anxious thought.  The anxiety must trigger a spike in hormones which then causes the flash.  Yoga breathing helps.)  And my feet don’t stink any more.  (One summer I took a ballet intensive and my teacher would follow me around with a towel wiping the floor because my feet sweat so much.)  I no longer have to shave my legs or under my arms.  But I do miss my beautiful full eyebrows from when I was younger and am sorry I over-plucked them when I was 16.  I threaten my daughter with the prospect of too thin eyebrows for the rest of her life if she dares to touch her beautiful full eyebrows.  And, of course, I miss my juicy plump youthful skin.

I found myself in the drugstore wandering down the “Feminine” aisle.  A hint of embarrassment came over me, a hold-over from when I was 13 and mortified that people would find out that I had my period.  Now what?  I’m mortified people will find out I don’t have my period?  Sure enough, there was half a shelf devoted to “Menopause.”  Only half a shelf?  There are at least two aisles devoted to nailcare.  Don’t we women of a certain age deserve more than half a shelf?  I was intrigued by the product that promised to cool you down during hot flashes.  It looked like a mini portable fan.  Can you imagine?  Excuse me while I blow this fan on myself.  I spy the Replens and tuck it into my basket.  Normally, I would read the label, compare the products, consider my options.  But I was in the embarrassing FEMALE aisle.  Grab and go.  I’ll study it at home.  There was another older woman in the aisle.  Was I intruding on her self-conscious embarrassment or am I the only one?

Why so much embarrassment?  No one really talks about menopause.  I have friends who still refer to it as “the changes.”  Every other television commercial is for Cialis or Viagra.  Replens should demand equal air time.  Of course there is the stereotype in popular media of the kooky older woman having hot flashes or worse, the hysterical, moody, impulsive angry woman.  But you don’t see much about ordinary powerful and beautiful older women launching their children into adulthood, reframing their marriage to be about the marriage and not the kids, and building soul-satisfying encore careers.  Now that’s what menopause is about!  Grappling with and making peace with the demons from the past while making purposeful and conscious decisions about how to handle the present and move forward into the future.  Our 40-something celebrity women (Sandra Bullock?  Michelle Obama?) could do a real service by going through “their changes” in a public, honest and growthful way.

My periods tapered just as my daughter started hers.  This seemed profoundly poetic and symbolic to me.  The adolescent passage from girlhood to young womanhood is one bookend connected with the midlife passage from fertility to post-fertility.  Both phases of life are extraordinarily challenging.  If one can navigate to the next phase with confidence, inner peace, and compassion for self and others, imagine what a creative and interesting time of life it can be!

Photo Credit:  Insomniaplex, by Roz Chast – published in The New Yorker, July 9, 2001.

I Didn’t Love It

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The Glass Menagerie

Dare I tell you, Dear Reader, that I did not love Cherry Jones’ performance as Amanda Wingfield in Tennesse Williams’ The Glass Menagerie on Broadway Saturday night?

I am not a Williams aficionado and if I ever read or saw Glass Menagerie, I only have a vague notion of it.  But Ben Brantley’s review of the production during its initial run in Cambridge caught my eye.  He used words like “magnificent,” “benchmark performance,” and “momentous.”  I had to see it.  After all, I was an English major and I fancy myself a sophisticated theater-goer.  In my post-midlife enlightenment, so much now seems resonant with meaning that I didn’t appreciate when I was younger or don’t even remember.  Maybe it was time to discover Tennessee Williams.

I became mildly obsessed with seeing this production.  First, I flirted with trying to see it in Boston.  We were visiting schools – could I squeeze it in?  I didn’t make it a priority.  It didn’t happen.  Then I heard it was coming to Broadway, with opening night on my birthday.  I fantasized about going on opening night.  I didn’t make it a priority.  It didn’t happen.

When my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him:  “I want to go see Glass Menagerie with you.”  It is rare that I am so specific with my requests.  I took this as a positive sign of my increasing comfort with my knowledge of who I am and what I want.  This led to an on-going discussion between us about gift-giving.  He wanted to give me something more permanent, like jewelry, to mark the occasion.  I was happy with a memorable, if ephemeral, experience.  Plus, what I really wanted was  recognition of my theater self and participation from him in my world of passions.  I have joined him in his world of passions.  Now I wanted him to join me.  I almost didn’t make it a priority.  It almost didn’t happen.  Opening night came and Ben Brantley gave it another stunning review, warning us “to be prepared to have the breath knocked out of you.”  It was going to be a sell-out.  I made it a priority.  We got one of the last few remaining tickets.

Good and compulsive English Major that I am, I decided I better read the play before seeing it so I would fully appreciate the production and the language.  I didn’t love it.  It was dated.  It was depressing.  (This from the woman who practically thrives on depressing and tragic.)  No matter, I reassured myself!  The production is magnificent and momentous with benchmark performances!  I even got a second opinion from Hilton Als in The New Yorker who praised the production.  I was finally going to see one of the greatest stage actresses of our time perform one of the greatest of roles.  Truth be told, I really wanted to see the handsome Zachary Quinto.  My husband was not psyched about seeing a depressing tragedy but he was psyched about seeing Spock.  Denying a hint of misgiving, off we went.

“Are you excited?”  He asked, eager for me to enjoy my ephemeral birthday outing.

“I am!”  I reassured him.  I was truly excited for a date in the city to dinner and the theater with my husband.

We had a not-great dinner at what was usually a reliable pre-theater restaurant.  Pre-theater is so taxing on restaurants.  It’s like a factory.  Get them in, feed them fast, get them out on time.  Oh well.  I mentally crossed that restaurant off my list.  Never again.  Too bad.  It had been a favorite of mine years ago.

We walked over to the theater, amazed at the Times Square crowds.  I am there every day, but Saturday night is a different experience entirely.  Filled with tourists being snookered by costumed mascots and street performers, we looked askance at each other.  “I guess the economy is improving,” my husband declared.

We got to the theater and took our seats.  Remember, they were some of the last seats available.  Still, when Quinto gives his opening monologue, we are seated so far to the right that we can’t even see him.  It takes a bit to acclimate to his southern accent, but no matter!  The words are poetry.  The set is spare, the lighting is beautiful.  When Cherry Jones enters, the audience applauds.  A diva has arrived.  I am anticipating the pleasure of experiencing a master of her craft at work.  Indeed, she is a master of her craft and that is the main thing I was aware of the whole evening.  Her presence was so enormous, her accent so thick, her tone so loud.  “Look at me act!”  was my general impression of her.  The reviewers credited her with interpreting Amanda Wingfield with more balance and nuance.  Really?  Balance and nuance?  It was not in abundance Saturday night.  Amanda is a narcissist who has monstrously damaged to her children.  Amanda is terrified of being old and poor.  Amanda is a struggling single mother who wants a better life for her children and is frustrated by their lack of a future that she deems worthy.  I would have liked to have seen some quieter moments where she turns her volume down and you see some love and some wisdom.  I found it in the play.  But it didn’t come across in her performance.  The main emotion from her was self-absorbed denial of reality.  Fortunately, Quinto was excellent, even though I didn’t like his southern accent.  For me, the stand-out performance of the night was given by Brian J. Smith as The Gentleman Caller.  The scene between him and Laura is one of the most touching almost-love scenes ever.

It was disconcerting to walk out of the theater and acknowledge:  I did not love it.  I wanted to love it.  I had primed myself to love it.  But I did not love the show.  I did not love the play.  I did not love the performances.  I was not beyond tears as Ben Brantley was.  What was the matter with me?  I am so eager to identify myself as esoteric, to revere the classics and to trust the critics (they are experts after all).  But I don’t really love the classics.  Tedious and boring.  Written by men mostly.  I prefer contemporary works, by women.  I recognize the characters and can identify with their situations.  I don’t have to work to remember.  It sinks more naturally into my psyche.

Maybe Ben Brantley performed Tom when he was in high school.  Maybe he has a nostalgic soft spot for the play.  Maybe he has seen it so many times that the anticipation of the poetry and the emotion moves him to tears.  Not me.  At least not Saturday.

Nothing is the matter with me. Cherry Jones gave an overwrought performance and the play is dated.  Moving, but dated.  Time to move on and acknowledge that I don’t really love the classics.  What I do love is that I am excited about this growing confidence building in my gut.

I did not love the dinner nor the show, but I did love the evening, a memorable and not-so-ephemeral birthday gift.

Photo Credit:  Michael J. Lutch

51

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Abiding Between Youth and Old Age

I am feeling all of my 51 years, no longer young but not yet old.  There is still so much I want to do.  To say.  To be.

I thought I would be GREAT by now.  Free of all my neuroses and at the height of a successful career.  I was never sure what that career was going to be, but I was going to be At The Top.  Brilliant writer.  Transcendent dancer.  Insightful teacher.  Inspiring leader.

It took my 40’s and several years of mid-life reflection to get to 50.  I find that each decade ends in the next one.  And now, at 51, I am fully ensconced in this one.  51 is simply 51.

51 is not the new 31.  I am angry at the marketers who insist we look and behave younger than we are.  I don’t want to be 31.  It was a good year, don’t get me wrong, filled with all the joyful beginnings of a new decade, with a new marriage and a new home and the promise of new life.  But at 51, I have gone through so much more living.  I’ve loved.  I’ve lost people I love.  I’ve had children (one of the experiences worthy of the word “awesome” in my mind).  I’ve lost a few jobs.  And survived.  And learned a lot about myself and other people along the way.

Why dismiss that experience?  Why do we elevate the giddy impulsiveness and anxiety of youth in favor of the patience and intelligence that comes with living life?

I still nervously pick my cuticles, compulsively measure my food, and procrastinate by getting lost in anxious thoughts.  But it is lessening.  I am aware that my tendency toward a sense of depression is a go-to habit – a vestigial way to elicit attention and make an excuse for my perceived failure to be great.  When I notice my tendency to complain, to feel sad or unworthy, or not ready, I now try to do or say something different, something honest.  It allows me to approach my day and the people in it with a more positive and open energy.  Call it happy?  Could it be?

Cyndi Lee discusses the concept of abiding in her book May I Be Happy.  Abiding is the stage between Arising and Dissolving.  Between Inhaling and Exhaling.  Between Birth and Death.  Between Youth and Age.  We work so hard at living.  What will I be when I grow up?  Who will I be with?  Who will my children be?  What will I achieve?  What will be my legacy?  Suddenly you realize that you are grown up and you are what you are.  Maybe it’s time to pause at the transition and just be.  Let go of the grasping ambition, the punishing hard work.  And just be.  Me.  Abiding.

For me, one of the pleasures of being 51 is enjoying pop culture (well, some of it) with my children and remembering parallel experiences from when I was the same age.  My daughter loves Taylor Swift.  I have happily chaperoned a few concerts and admire Swift’s song-writing talent and ability to capture the essence of her age.  Instead of writing an essay on mid-life filled with regret and dissatisfaction, I decided to turn Swift’s tribute to 22 into an anthem for 51.  I figure it will take me a year to perfect the lyrics and record it for YouTube.  At that point, I can call it 52, which rhymes much better with Ooh-Ooh.

51  (Sung – affectionately and enthusiastically – to the tune of 22, by Taylor Swift)

It feels like a perfect night to dress up like yogis

And stay home with the family, uh uh, uh uh.

It feels like a perfect night for reading The New Yorker

And wait up for my daughter, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It seems like one of those days

Noticed jowls in the mirror

Can’t wear high heels, uh uh, uh uh.

It seems like one of those days

Woke up at 4 in the morning

To do list is growing, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It feels like one of those years

Still living for each paycheck

Thought I’d be rich, uh uh, uh uh

It feels like one of those years

Still seeking the perfect life

Thought I’d be there, uh uh, uh uh

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

As for birthday celebrations, I whole-heartedly believe in them, for me and for you.  This is your day.  Like your name, it is uniquely all about you.  Celebrate you and share in the celebration with your friends and family.  Ask for what you want.  Be sure to have a cake with candles and a wish.  I am not a fan of cake.  And virtually refuse to eat it.  It is dry and tasteless and not worth the calories.  Unless, of course, it is my birthday and the cake is chocolate – dense and moist – and ideally homemade.  With icing smeared off from the plate.  And then I allow myself a sliver and I savor every bite.

Glazed Chocolate Cake with Sprinkles (from Gourmet)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • Sprinkles!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter bottom and side of 9×2 inch round pan, then line bottom with parchment.

Sift together dry ingredients.  Beat together butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to medium-low and add dry ingredients, alternating with milk.

Transfer batter to cake pan.  Bake until cake begins to pull away from side of pan and a wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Invert onto a rack and cool completely, 1 hour.

For glaze, bring cream to a simmer in small heavy saucepan over medium heat, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 1 minutes.  Gently whisk until smooth, then stir in corn syrup.  Coll completely, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.  It will thicken.

Peel off parchment from cake.  Pour glaze onto center of cake and spread to edges with a spatula.  Decorate with sprinkles!

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