Posted by: mulberryshoots | September 11, 2011

“never having to say you’re sorry. . .”

Remember the movie with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, “Love Story,” and the dialogue line that identified it for all time: “love . . .is never having to say you’re sorry.” Yeah, right.

In the post “yes and no” in my sister blog, http://www.mulberryshoots.com, I talk about people who can’t or won’t own up to their actions when by commission, they hurt someone, or by omission, they hurt someone. I was married to someone like that: my first husband, who could never put on the table between us, the thought that anything could possibly be wrong. Or needed to be corrected. Or talked about. And I would think to myself, “if you can’t ever get it on the table, you can’t get it OFF the table.” Or maybe that was too much linear thinking at the time. The majority of the time, he did not talk at all.

In any case, never having to say you’re sorry seems to tag into what I think of as a passive-aggressive syndrome that everything is always fine in la-la land and that bringing up anything that might be uncomfortable is, well, verboten. And I Read More…

Posted by: mulberryshoots | August 15, 2011

the oppression that has no name. . .

Gloria Steinem is making a comeback, it seems. She says until men are enabled not to work full time so that they can take care of the children and split that 50/50 with women, that women will not make more progress. I disagree. And I went to Smith College too. Along with Betty Friedan, don’t forget.

This summer, I have seen again a kind of oppression exerted by a man on a woman which has no name, but is rampant in varying degrees. At least it has appeared in different forms in my own life. And that is, an over-controlling man who has an idea of what’s best for everyone, or at least what he prefers to do. And then makes everyone go along with it with a sense of self justification marked by an unwillingness to listen or to hear any objections to the contrary. In addition, this tight construct is tended sometimes by jealousy or competition with the other. And the whole thing is wrapped in a passive-aggressive attitude that will brook no desire to listen to anyone else’s thoughts or feelings.

Last night while watching a documentary on Beethoven’s life and compositions, there was a cello sonata accompanied by piano. Instantly, I remembered a recital at MIT decades ago when I performed that same piece with my cousin, who played the cello part. We received a rousing ovation, people standing up and clapping for a long time. My husband at the time, refused to let me mingle with the crowd who wanted to see me, and instead scurried me home right afterwards. Was this jealousy on his part not to let me be acknowledged? I was shocked but did not know how to counter it. Later, there were other instances–mostly having to do with my playing the piano. At a party, he jingled coins in his pocket to distract me while I was playing. I stopped, turned around and asked him not to do it. When I returned to playing again, the jingling coins began again. Passive aggressive? Maybe. Later on, he was shocked when I finally left him after twenty-five years of marriage and portrayed himself as the victim to the world, including our kids. They have since forgiven him, and even though he took little interest and provided less financial support to them as young adults, he is still treated well by them. How does he get away with this, I wonder?

If you read the post on “tripping” below, I’ve described how what I wanted to do on trips never mattered and was ignored. In some way, this comes across as a battered wife’s syndrome: when you are systemically and constantly blocked from being yourself. Men become derisive about this while refusing to engage in any discussion in which they are asked to accept responsibility for their own actions. This is a classic kind of deflecting that happens and women are powerless to get through it to reach their partners. Sometimes, the only thing left to do is to leave. To vote with your feet, as they say.

So, Gloria can go ahead and make her comeback now that she is in her seventies. But I feel that there is so much more work to be done to the interior of our lives. To help ourselves to first see what’s going on. And to stop it from recurring even when there’s little we could do about it at the time. This is as rampant a problem of oppression to women as the more political anthems that are raised in the name of feminism. This is an inner revolution that needs to happen. And it’s a lot harder than the ones that are fought outside of ourselves.

Posted by: mulberryshoots | July 28, 2011

tripping. . .

Some of you may know that I’ve been cleaning out things this summer (see my sister blog, “simplifying. . .”). The other day, I decided I wanted to switch two chests around, and in the process, had to empty their contents. Before putting back the box of loose photographs, I went through them all. Yep. I culled out a few sets of trips to Maine and to England that my husband and I had taken together years ago. My feelings as I flipped through the photos taken on one of those cheap portable cameras was one of unease. Although the photos conveyed some notable landmarks: Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, etc. I was struck by the memory of how much I had hated being on those trips at the time. And why?

Because I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do. Just what he wanted to do. He made us late to meet my daughter at Cambridge University because he wanted to linger in a piano tuning shop where he was too miserly to actually buy anything for himself. I was too cowardly, in the beginning of a new relationship, to voice my objections too much. I didn’t speak up, not enough to make a difference.

Those who know me would be surprised at my muteness. Because I’m pretty loud and bossy a lot of the time. Which I am also trying to change. I have been thinking that the reason I am so bossy so much of the time over trivial things, mostly, is that I have felt so powerless so much of my life. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Anyhow, wanting to please again, I had recently suggested taking a driving trip to Maine and Nova Scotia because G. had been looking on-line at photos of the sea and landscape in St. Johns and so forth. That was my deferring, wanting to please no matter what the costs, kind of promotion of a happy married life: do what he wants to do so that you’ll both be happy.

Then, I realized that the last thing that I would want to do is to sit in a car with him carping about my driving, ordering me to change lanes or to slow down or to speed up for hours at a time. Or, to be a passenger and have him not want to stop at any of the antique shops or craft places that I might be interested in. The time we went to Bar Harbor, he only agreed to have a nice meal out if I paid for it. He only wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. That’s the guy that I married. Most of the time, I can work around that at home by avoiding his schedule and trying to carve out my life in the in-between spaces of the day. Sometimes I take driving trips to get away from it all.

So, why do I stay? For one thing, he is the true love of my life, as difficult as he can be at times. We are well suited to each other. He understands me and is infinitely patient with me; more than I am with him. And because some companionship is better than none. Being reduced to a nub on trips is a small price to pay for that. In stewing about the trip to Maine that I told him last night I don’t want to take, I discovered that what I would really like to do is take the day bus to New York City and go antiquing at the flea markets and eat out at interesting restaurants–plus wander around Greenwich Village and Chinatown.

I lived there for five years after college, raising two kids, working two part-time jobs, one of them typing dissertations for graduate students at 50 cents a page and 10 cents a carbon (8 at a time!) That was while my first husband went to law school and graduate school. Trips with him were even more unendurable than those I’ve described above.  He planned all the trips, woke us up early to drive miles a day to see all the sites he had determined ahead of time. Once, one of his trips took us 3000 miles in two weeks, making a grand circle through the national parks and back again. One of the highlights of the trip was when he locked his keys into the trunk of the car while we were having a sandwich lunch out in the boonies somewhere. He had to walk to a gas station in order to get the rental car agent to supply a new key. We sat in the meadow and watched the cows chewing their cud until we were rescued.

So, I think I’ve paid my dues. I can’t blame anyone but myself for giving myself away, especially on trips. But I’m not going to do it anymore, even when I find myself wanting to please others and to plan trips that I have no interest in taking.

I need to take a trip myself. Before it’s too late.

Posted by: mulberryshoots | July 7, 2011

what does she really want? . . .

Have you had a chance to watch Laura Linney’s recent TV series, “The Big C”? It’s not just about cancer and what happens when you get it (which many of us will, my doctor says, philosophically.)

To me, it’s one woman’s list to do and have what is most important to her before she dies. Including not telling her husband or her son for three months, so that she can have the freedom to do whatever she wants to do without having to take care of THEIR feelings and staving off their good intentions to take care of HER once they find out. In the meantime, she does some fairly benign stuff and some pretty awful stuff as an awkward, meandering plot line depicts how she tries to fulfill her deepest desires and memories about herself. Here are some of them:

1. She wants to build a swimming pool in her yard so she can teach her son, Adam, how to do the banana-split dive that she made up herself, growing up.

2. She wants to spend more time with Adam, keeping him home from soccer camp but alienating him so much in the process that he stays in his room, viewing porn on his laptop.

3. She bosses a lot of people around with a very directive manner: her neighbor, Marlene, her homeless brother, Sean, her son, her husband, the poor students in her summer school class, an overweight black girl whom she bribes with money to lose weight ($100 per pound.) She lectures a lot of people and can be a real pain in the neck if you, the viewer, didn’t know that she’s dying of Stage 4 melanoma.

This behavior is what I call “the bitch goddess” (BG) because she is unfulfilled and somewhat bored with her life, taking on a military sargent’s bullying manner to get other people to do whatever she thinks is good for them. Unwitting arrogance disguised as, what–being “motherly”? Could it be that BG behavior is embarrassingly common behavior for many of us who just want things our way and don’t trust others to do things “the right way.” Hey, the character that Tina Fey played to Steve Carell in “Date Night” portrayed the same pattern too. The characters even talked about it in the film! (I’m guilty, so am telling it like it appears to me.)

4. She wants to be sexy and has lots of sex: to her handsome, young doctor who is ten years younger than she is; with a black painter in her high school. She buys a sportscar, emulating the memory of the most popular girl who had one when she was growing up so she can feel as self-confident as Amanda did. What could she be thinking? Now, sexy equals a red sportscar. Is this just that particular episode’s writing blip? Do real women still fantasize about being popular in this way? Maybe so. The writing makes her stupidly unaware that it’s a stick shift which she can’t drive. So she parks it in storage for a future birthday gift for Adam. What a gyp! She can’t even have a sportscar to drive around that she pays for with her 401K and own up to it. Much less enjoy it!

Well, finally, she lets the cat out of the bag. By this time, she has had an affair, her husband has retaliated with his own; and they’re not happy. She then springs the news that she has cancer. Okay. Well guess what? What she has feared the most by telling him happens, right off the bat. He starts telling her what treatments to take. He’s going to “save her.” He wants to shave off his hair because she’s going to lose hers to chemo–which she refuses to take. He starts to do all the housework that she still enjoys doing–and is still capable of doing. HIS feelings and HIS way of wanting to take care of her take over. Not only that, she now has to take care of HIS feelings about HER illness. Bleah. No wonder she didn’t want to tell him!

Man, if this isn’t a microcosm of what happens in real life to us, I don’t know what is. It’s a pity, isn’t it?

Posted by: mulberryshoots | June 23, 2011

inner change. . .

Inner change is the true women’s revolution waiting to happen. I’m afraid it might be a really long wait, however. Maybe it’s already happened and we don’t know how to recognize it in ourselves. That would be a foolish hope.

Looking inward to me is trusting in one’s intuition. To the max. Not second-guessing ourselves on whether it’s what we really think it means. Not pushing it back from our minds so that we don’t have to deal with it. Just listening to it when you know it wants to talk to you. When your inner self is reaching out to you, saying “Please. Please listen to me and not to others.”

Why is it so hard for us to do that? Because we are culturally used to listening to others before we value what we hear from ourselves? Because we want a consensus to rule our lives instead of an individual voice that may stand out from the group? Because we don’t like being a majority of one. Because we are not brave enough? Or just because we don’t have time to think about it with everything else going on? Or it’s just too much bother? Probably some of all of the above.

Why do I care about it so much? Because, to my mind, we as individuals, do not exist in our own right otherwise. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

What do you think?

Posted by: mulberryshoots | June 20, 2011

she’s not happy. . .

Women are having it better and are more unhappy. That’s what an article, “The Paradox of Declining Women’s Happiness”* reports. I’m not surprised nor should anyone else be. I mean, look at us, we’re:

  • working to have a career our parents can be proud of;
  • having families with kids who are good at something
  • in a marriage with a partner who also has a career
  • living in a home that we are paying a mortgage on; a baby sitter or nanny, a dog or two, cats;
  • dressing and looking good, keeping the weight off or constantly trying to lose the extra pounds;  PLUS, we’re
  • cooking dinner with organic vegetables so that our family can be together for a meal when no one is texting or on their cellphones;
  • doing social good in our spare time.

We’re supposed to be HAPPIER? When is there time to be happy?

Give us a break, willya?

The more freedom and opportunity we have, the more there is to do. And we can’t do it all. It’s just TOO MUCH. America is the land of opportunity so how can there be a “too much?” In France, women are still cherished for being female. In the U.S. we’re expected to be female workhorses and yet, nobody complains. After all, we wanted it ALL, right? Right. So, what’s the problem? Read More…

Posted by: mulberryshoots | June 14, 2011

our uncommon hours. . .


[This piece was published on the Smith College Alumnae Association website on June 13, 2011)

Our Uncommon Hours

No matter what your age or situation is, life is long enough for the possibility of transformation and being true to yourself.

When I was a junior at Smith in the early 1960s, we had to attend an assembly every Wednesday morning in John M. Greene. One speaker in particular stands out in my mind. I don’t remember her name, but I remember what she said as though it were yesterday: “Life is long.”

We were used to hearing the opposite: “Life is short.” This phrase came in handy when you told your parents you wanted to go trekking in the Himalayas after graduation instead of looking for a job right away. Or you said, “Life is short,” when you bought an outrageously expensive dress for the prom, even though you’d only wear it once.

The speaker smiled. “I’m talking about life being long, because as women, many of us may be spending most of our lives taking care of others. We may not be able to have it all—at least not all at once.” At the age of twenty, this was the first time that I realized there might be a longer view of life. That everything I wished to happen might not be possible, all at one point in time. I learned later on what she meant.

When I was in my twenties I was raising three daughters under the age of 5. While they were growing up, my role model for how to live an idealized artistic-cum-domestic life was Tasha Tudor, a children’s book illustrator who raised four children by herself in New England. Her lodestar was a quotation by Henry David Thoreau: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

From reading books about her, I studied photographs of a home filled with early New England antiques, magnificent country gardens, handmade everything, while she supported herself by painting watercolors to illustrate children’s books. I emulated her lifestyle by becoming an antiques dealer specializing in 18th-century furniture. My Victorian house was replete with an asparagus bed, old apple trees, a huge raspberry patch, and herbaceous borders with peonies and iris. I taught myself to cook by reading books written by Elizabeth David, M.K.F. Fisher, and Julia Child ’34, sewed the girls’ dresses and knitted their sweaters. There were warm brownies when they came home from school, and homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I played piano and the girls took lessons in violin, cello, and flute.

Then suddenly the balloon burst or the bottom fell out of my life—whatever you want to call it. I found that I needed more for myself in order to feel alive—no matter how “artistic” I tried to make our home. I found a job in biotechnology at a time when its promise was still fresh. My career took off and my marriage did not endure. A friend gave me a copy of the I-Ching, and I learned how to ask questions, writing down what I thought the answers might be. Thus began my true education about myself and the world around me.

As part of this search for meaning, I also read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance.” He wrote, “Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string.” He described the value of keeping what he called “commonplace journals,” scrapbooks of one’s thoughts—what inspired you to create or collect—so that it became a visual compendium of who you were or wanted to become, a way to develop one’s identity rather than following someone else’s idea of what you should be.

Although Thoreau thought about himself and exhorted others to follow their destinies in the nineteenth century, his quote seems to be even more relevant for women today as paraphrased herewith: “If one advances confidently in the direction of (her) dreams, and endeavors to live the life which (she) has imagined, (she) will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

How many baby-boomer women are out there? And how many are looking for more in life but think it’s too late to do anything about it? Many of us look outside ourselves for answers, taking on more activities to fill time, only to end up feeling over-busy, rather than being more fulfilled. When we look inside instead, listening to our intuition can help us access what is uniquely meaningful for us. We are all different. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to our personal conundrums. Each of us can discover our own “uncommon hours,” by listening to our hearts and minds, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for us. Or worse, thinking we are helpless to become more fulfilled.

When we realize that “life is long” and there is still time to discover uncommon hours for ourselves, it may be a relief to know there is still a sense of purpose waiting for us within, even if it’s just singing a song we loved a long time ago, calling a friend we missed and regretted losing touch with, reading a book we always meant to read, or finally attempting Julia Child’s recipe for beef bourguignon. Isn’t it great that life is long?

Posted by: mulberryshoots | May 20, 2011

hello world. . .

Welcome to “Our Uncommon Hours,” a platform for women to share experiences that have made a difference in our lives, taught us to listen to our intuition and relied on ourselves to make the days of our lives more fulfilling.

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