World's Oldest Mommy Blogger

Ms. E called around 12:45 this morning, excited about some new online learning programs she's involved in--languages and wine tasting. She took six years of French in school, but lost a lot, and wants to regain it, is a self-avowed Francophile. When she got a peek at Italian, she latched onto it as well, so looks like Italy may be our next port 'o call for a birthday destination. One of my oldest, dearest friends is a wine expert, and introduced her to a vintage from the year she was born--a Northern California Cab from 1976, utter ambrosia. She also introduced the idea that a good wine is the one that tastes best to you--my friend is ultra knowledgeable, celebrates birthdays with the oldest of the established wine families both in the US and abroad, but is down to earth and not snobbish in the least. Her gift is a richly developed memory for taste. Her tongue remembers what the grapes were like on a certain hillside in a certain year in any part of the world.

But that's not what I was going to write about. The phone call was also about a special on Billie Jean King we both saw, but more than that, about the feminist movement, and the implications of our generations vis a vis that movement. She was being born right about the time BJ was fighting for not just equal pay for women in tennis, but any pay at all for any woman in any professional sport. Just 15 short years later, when this photo was taken in 1990 in Princeton, NJ, girls thought nothing of having the opportunity to suit up and play such sports as lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, team rowing on Lake Carnegie, and to be able to compete on a mostly level playing field with their male classmates. It never occurred to them that their mothers might not have had those same opportunities.

Ms. E, however, cut her teeth on Ms. magazine, feminist theory, and heard both her mom and grandmother carry on daily about male/female parity, or the lack thereof, and learned from an early age to spot the inequalities that still seem to linger. She had the sense, even in the predominantly male field of scientific research, to not succumb to the tendency to play by the rules of the patriarchy, but to find her own path and remain true to her own authentic self. It has paid off for her, in terms of promotions and salary increases, plus keeping her stress level down in the otherwise highly competitive world of scientific research, and I'm proud and relieved that she figured all this out before it could crush her, as we've often seen happen to women in her field. She enjoys her work, sets her own goals, and is happy to reach them without having to step on someone else to get there.

This is a new turn on the evolutionary wheel of feminism. I was speaking with a work associate this afternoon about the early days of feminism, when "competition" meant having to play harder and faster, but still using men's rules. I noted that back then, women didn't really have a clear idea where they were going--there were few role models, few constructs to show us how it was done. We were so used to there being only one set of rules, we didn't know we could make up new ones. I think that was why there was a time when women were so fiercely competitive with each other--they hadn't yet figured out that we could get it done better when we cooperated--there was a residual fear, or tentativeness that wouldn't allow us to totally let go of the monolithic status quo and be OK with experimentation. Too much hung in the balance. We had to be perfect. We had to be RIGHT. We had to WIN, or else we were failures.

Now we know that this kind of thinking was just the birthing pains, the cracking of the shell, wriggling around in our new skin til it felt right, til we learned that failure was not the end, not death at all, but the first step toward finding what might work, what would eventually work, and work better. Perhaps it was the beginning of forgiveness, as well. For me, forgiving myself from feeling the pull of the masculine authority, the fear that I was nothing if I didn't please the man, whoever he might be. Forgiving other women for thinking that they had to be cut-throat to win, no matter the killer cost to themselves and everyone around them, for not seeing that there was a better way.

If I were to name my role models now, they would be my sheroes, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, many others of those strong women who are good and true to themselves and say what they think and are solid in saying so, and the younger generations who have grown up in an atmosphere of confidence and equality, with no leftover baggage from the chauvinistic, mysogynistic patriarchy that damped down so many great minds of my age, the young women of today like my daughter, whose minds are free of those shackles and whose visions of the future are clear enough to ensure a healthy equality for us all.


A very merry unbirthday, or half birthday to me!

Today is my half birthday! When I was growing up, our family lived all over the country, and would take a couple of weeks each summer to return to Texas to visit the grandparents, paternal set in Elgin, and the maternal set in Greenville. Greenville at that time had a creamery called the Sabine River Valley Ice Cream Company. They had special flavors in the summer, including honeydew melon, which was my favorite. So on July 18, my half birthday, he would take me and my sisters to get ice cream cones. Later, I named my favorite Aussie in honor of the creamery, the day, and my Papaw. We called her Sabine, or E would call her "Bean" for short.

Spent another wonderful weekend seeing friends I hadn't in over 30 years, one I've been in contact with since I moved back to Austin, and met several new friends.
Some of the women were old high school mates of the younger sister of a long time dear friend of mine. Got that? One of those two degrees stories. One of the women invited my friend and I to stay with her when we take our New Mexico journey this September. We already have invites to two homesteads, both are solar-powered and off the grid, and the house (or collection of stations) we visited this weekend was also run by the sun and off the grid.

For my half birthday present to myself I finally got serious about unjamming my scanner, and was successful! YAY! I've been scanning some photos that I know I don't have the negative for, except I'm noticing some strange discolorations which I think are from the scanner glass plate. So not totally successful, but enough to get moving again, which feels good after so long. All those watery striations on the photo above are not actually on the photo itself. The upper left photo taken on Velasco St. in Dallas, TX in probably July of 1968. Right photo is of Kathy, Loralyn, and me at the L.A. airport in 1970. Or at Love Field in Dallas...dang, can't remember whether I was coming or going! I'll be scanning lots of those pics that I can't find negatives for.


Fear and two degrees of separation

Google can be a most wondrous tool. In the past year, I've been googled by several people I lost touch with over 35 years ago. This can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing. In these cases, it was a good thing. Google is perhaps the greatest tool to support my theory that there are no longer six degrees of separation, there are only two, and soon, I predict just one degree of separation between any of us on this earth. We know someone who knows someone who knows us. The wheel turns, and brings old friends, loved ones, and even estranged family back together again. These photos were sent to me by a friend who has retired and is living in Costa Rica, and I am very glad we are back in touch.

The photos touched me in a way that I've never experienced before. Sure, I have photos of me at that age sitting around the house, I know what I looked like, but rarely have I seen photos that were so completely candid, so much so that I don't remember them being taken. It is as if they are of a stranger. They give me a much more objective glimpse of myself than when I'm staring into my own eyes my own self. That's more direct, I'm mirroring myself, I'm aware of myself. These photos are OF me through someone else's eyes, taken unawares.

At first, I didn't even recognize them. Then I nearly burst into tears. I felt a kind of sadness I'd never felt before. Not a sadness for lost youth, but a feeling of compassion, a feeling of wanting to protect such an innocent, vulnerable looking young girl, a panicky fearfulness, of wanting to run to her, to warn her, to protect and shelter her from what I know will become her fate. More the pain of lost innocence, a maternal feeling of helplessness in the face of the inevitable. Even more so than with my own child, my own daughter.

Actually, this is good. This makes me think that I have done a better job as a mother than I did as a young woman trying to make her way in a pre-feminist world, in a decidedly more chauvinistic world, when not only were men less capable and aware of treating women as equals, but women were more accustomed to being treated as less than equal, and had no better options, or did not recognize them if they appeared. I like to think that I helped prepare my daughter for life better than I was prepared.

Which brings me around to fear. I received an e-mail from a friend whose birthday party I attended last weekend. There were 3 of us older women at the party, all divorced, and we'd had a discussion about fear keeping us from being who we truly are, that it dictates how we sometimes tend to think we have to try to please and take care of everyone except ourselves, and how damaging that can be to ourselves and those around us. My friend told me that she had taken that discussion to heart, and that she was feeling less afraid about making her own needs known, and that she was feeling stronger, more centered, and more balanced.

I would love to walk up to that wild child, that wisp of a girl in these photos, and say, "Do not be afraid. There are some who would knock you down, tell you lies about yourself, tell you that you are less than if you don't put them first and subjugate your own self to please them. I tell you that you must always seek your own truth. Seek your center and your own balance. Keep yourself healthy so that you can help others to be healthy. Do not let anyone take your own truth from you, for if you do, you will be giving away your very soul. If you are true to yourself, you need never be afraid, for you are of value. You are." Since I can't go back 37 years, then I will just have to say that to every woman I meet, regardless of her age, including myself, every chance I get.

Wild Child, Decker Canyon, 1969

Who is this wild child, this wisp of a girl? Why is she here, in this canyon far from family, far from her beginnings? Where is she going? What star calls her, and what name does it call her by? Who does she think she is?

How can she believe the world will ever listen to her, that it is bound to recognize her intelligence, her constancy, her compassion, her integrity, her gifts?

How can she withstand the cruelly casual betrayals, the grinding devaluation of all that she is, the demeaning of her self, without losing all that is good within her, without succumbing to the instinct to strike back, or to go to ground, numb with despair, righteous anger turned to depression?

How can she slip the bonds, become herself, triumph over indignities and callous abuses?

Will she survive? Can she thrive? Did she?

Did I?

Decker Canyon, Topanga Canyon, Woodland Hills, Southern California, circa 1969.


Thanks, Judythe

In two earlier posts I mention the loss of my friend and supervisor, Judythe Wilbur. It has taken some time to grind through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief to arrive at a place that I feel I can articulate more than the requisite memorial piece to describe a woman whose thinking was so like mine it scares me. Her loving obituary, crafted by literary-wise friends with the help of her husband, describes her to the maximum that could possibly be fit into such a proscribed format. The space she left was so much larger, so of the world, I'm compelled to build a word-shrine, as it were, since that was how we met and how we related--through words and writing.

I sat by Judythe for 18 months, crafting articles, descriptions, press releases, reports, many of the communications for our group under her watchful eye. She was always supportive, especially of my personal writing, which I would share with her outside of work. We e-mailed about politics constantly, as news events broke, and I was excited about turning her on to indie on-line news sources. We also shared a love of literature, and I turned her on to my fave Australian writers, which I specialized in during the two years I lived there.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2005, our bond became even stronger. I lost my best friend, three grandparents, and countless other close friends to cancer, and I was neither put off nor afraid of going through it with her. We e-mailed each other right to the end, when she was no longer able to do so. She loved her work, and I felt that by staying in touch with her I was not only remaining her friend, I was able to link her with what was going on in our team and keep her updated with how we were doing, even though I always assured her that we missed her and wanted her back with us.

As it became apparent that she would not return to the office, I found myself approaching my work thinking "WWJD--What Would Judythe Do?" knowing that her good teaching and style would forever inform my work, and that if I listened, she would be there, telling me to chop those prepositional phrases, cut to the bone, and write for clarity.

Judythe passed away the first week of May, and her passing was the first of an astonishing number of passings in just two months, of parents and relatives and friends in my immediate group. Dazed, I kept thinking, "why so many, why so quickly?" My daughter's boyfriend's father was diagnosed in March, passed away in May--that quickly. The stories kept coming in.

Over the July 4 holiday, I browsed through some feminist blogs, dipping here and there into threads that caught my attention, and found myself grabbed by the throat by an Austin woman who in I Blame the Patriarchy is blogging about, among other things, her experience with the BrCA2 cancer gene and her research and findings. She references Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written an in-depth and also throat-grabbing essay on cancer and cancer treatment in America today entitled Welcome to Cancerland that is a must-read for everyone--male and female. They both speak of what I and many others have suspected since the 70's, that there is a direct correlation between pollution and many forms of cancer--whether there is specific research to back this up or not pales in the face of anecdotal but very real experience.

Living in Australia for two years acquainted me with what UV radiation zapping through "holes" in the ozone layer can do to that miracle organ, the human skin. The incidence of melanoma is one in three in Australia and New Zealand. I was deeply shocked the first time I pulled off my t-shirt to find that I'd gotten a sunburn THROUGH MY CLOTHES. It was a common sight to see people walking around with bits of their face missing, or wearing veils to cover up larger voids. Parents were required to dress their children in neck to elbow to knee bathing costumes made of SPF 60+ fabric topped off with desert rat caps on the beach, or expect the legal consequences of child abuse. School children were not allowed outside for recess without a hat and slathering of sunscreen, and industrial-sized dispensers were de rigeur at exit doors in schools and on construction sites.

I also have a lot to say stemming from what I learned about the realities of breast cancer through working for UT's Breast Cancer Research Project for two years, before it expanded into the Women's Wellness Center, under the direction of Dr. Mary Lou Adams. The horror stories from the patriarchy-dominated thrall over women's bodies and health still make me wake some nights gasping for breath. Thank goodness Dr. Adams and her staff were able to get much needed services to women in Travis County whose circumstances vis a vis their husbands' control over their bodies were more dire than most of us could ever imagine in our wildest dreams.

I recalled Judythe, who respected the anonymity of her two women's bookclubs above all else, musing about how the various chemotherapy protocols for certain cancers were affecting members of her groups. Some had few ill side-effects, while others were devastated. This was when I made my offer to shave my head in solidarity--the offer still goes to you, Molly--I'm only breaking anonymity because you are such a public figure and have already gone public with your experiences as a cancer survivor--I read your article and think everyone should read that as well. It's truly a tiny thing in the face of what these, and all women who undergo treatment, endure. At the Celebration of Judythe's Life, I wanted to go around the room and hug every woman whose hair was in the obvious and various stages of growing out from chemo. Had we not been there for the purpose of honoring Judythe and visiting with her husband, son, and sisters, and that they might possibly have not welcomed such an advance from a total stranger, I would have.

So this word-shrine will be made up of lots of things. Shiny, pretty objects, photos, essays, links, musings, research, diatribes, the political/social/environmental dialectical re: cancer, references, maybe some of her fave tunes, resources, silliness, perhaps comments or stories from anyone who has anything to add about Judythe or any of these subjects--an ongoing, living tribute to Judythe and a constant font of gratitude for the positive effect she had on me personally and everyone she touched.

Boomer Chick: Musings of an Over the Hill Chick

Boomer Chick: Musings of an Over the Hill Chick is a complete hoot. This is a person I'd love to meet and swap stories with.


Victory over Vampirism!

For the last three weeks I've been skulking behind houses and buildings, timing my exits from caverns, Oblivion gates, and other esoteric haunts to coincide with night-time hours, because I got myself infected with hemophilia porphyria, or vampirism. Bloody inconvenient, so to speak. Not to mention nauseatingly gross to watch yourself suck blood from homeless people, with one of your hands on their waist, one on the lousy pallet near their head, to calm them should they begin to wake while you're feeding...

One simply cannot lead an ordinary life as an adventurer/wizard and get on with your business while avoiding the sun, hunting down arcane ingredients for the cure, putting up with snide remarks such as "ewwww, get away from me, you're not getting MY blood," and the like. I kept going through this fruitless cycle of chasing down an Argonian, which are difficult to find, stabbing him, getting thrown into jail, timing the fast travel so I could get to the witch who lived in the most awkward corner of the woods before I shriveled to a piece of burned-up leather, only to find that the line that would alert her that I'd done the deed just WOULD NOT highlight. Gigged the poor Argonian three times before I realized I was using the Wrong Enchanted Dagger!

Victory over Vampirism has come to be the perfect metaphor for colossal avoidance. Where are those canny comments on those profound blogs I planned to send? Sitting in my drafts box. Where are those 15 minute times "exorcises" that will jump-start my newest round of memoirs? Sitting in my notebook, waiting for the start whistle. Where are the fabuloso fotos from yesteryear? Waiting for the paper jam to be unstuck. Where are the clean sheets that will transform my bed into a yoga platform? Sitting folded, in the living room, fer crissakes.

I love playing RPGs. I rarely watch TV anymore. But the result is the same--time that could have been better spent otherwise. I'm still on University dial-up, which means that the built-in firewalls won't even let the huge MPOGs through. Did that stop me from buying TWO of them and spending months trying to get around those firewalls? Guess.

Anyone wanna buy a never used copy of EverQuest Platinum? Please?