WRITING SHORT: 19/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Now that our traveling days seem over, summer months mean nothing is planned. They also mean visits at short notice from family who live elsewhere. The cars line up tightly behind each other on our side of the double driveway we share with next-door neighbors. The sounds of laughing children echo loudly in our two-story family room where the adults sit. (The children are running up the stairs to pet our two frightened pussycats, who flee to hide under the bed.) We visit hot playgrounds and parks with the guests, set out impromptu meals on paper plates for as many as can squeeze round our smallish table. There’s much talk coming from all directions, hard for aging ears to follow. And then, all the cleaning up afterwards. Whew! At last we can rest!

Who said? Two sinks are clogged and the plumber is coming. The cats’ nails are too long and the youth we pay to catch and clip them is coming. Honda has sent me a recall notice to replace a defective passenger-side airbag. (Only now, after eleven years?) Bill’s having a root canal, a procedure so dreaded he needs a tranquilizer first, which means I have to drive him there and back (before the new airbag arrives for installation).

Why is it always something? What ever happened to “nothing is planned?”

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WRITING SHORT: 10/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The small deck behind our sliding glass kitchen doors is one story up from the downward sloping ground beneath it. When you stand on the deck you are therefore in the air, looking out in spring and summer at green tree foliage. There our two housecats safely try snaring the small birds and squirrels frequenting the twin feeders hanging off the top rail. (They have better luck with the occasional crawling insect.) Every year we also put out a few pots of colorful flowers that can withstand hot morning sun with daily watering. An occasional bird dips its beak in the saucers of run-off water.

This year, a helpful garden center saleswoman recommended a few other flowering plants undeterred by blistering mornings. In addition to our usual orange impatiens, we therefore also came home with reddish million bells, orange and yellow zinnias, and — to hang off the railing between the feeders – a large yellow lantana.

Soon two gorgeous new visitors arrived (plus several bumblebees). As one who lived almost all her long life in concrete cities, I had never seen a live butterfly up close. But there it was one morning, fluttering around the lantana for almost twenty minutes, black of wing with white and yellow markings, much larger than I would have imagined and not afraid of me when I came close. News of the lantana must have spread: the next day a second brilliantly yellow and black butterfly joined the first, sipping nectar from its multiplicity of yellow flowers.

Now when I hold the watering can over the lantana each morning, it’s for the two butterflies too. My butterflies. I’m so proud!

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WRITING SHORT: 7/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Sasha our cat has been spending the latter part of these summer nights curled up on the desk chair in my office, nose tucked between her paws. The chair has a cool mesh seat and likely smells of me. Between eight and nine in the morning she then comes down the hall to our bedroom, whether or not we’re still sleeping, for a belly rub.

But since I began these daily shorts, I’ve been waking earlier than usual to draft a new one while the house is quiet and my mind still in touch with whatever is inside it. When I came to my desk this morning, the chair was therefore occupied. Rather than dislodge a sleeping cat, I gently rolled chair and cat away from the desk and sat myself in front of the computer on a backless, not comfortable, ergonomic “thing” usually pushed aside into a corner of the room.

Crazy cat lady? Perhaps. Except Sasha was not insensible to my largesse. As I began to type, I heard low contented purring behind me. The perfect soundtrack for blogging.

WRITING SHORT: 1/50

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Come summer heat, much of my momentum melts away. I thought of re-blogging till Labor Day. However, that’s too lazy for my punitive superego. Therefore the next fifty days will be an experiment: minimalist posts about whatever. This is the first one.

Brevity is hard for me. Short often takes longer than long. So perhaps I won’t be easing up all that much. Especially as I had thought I might use some of the extra summer time to work on a longish story now languishing unfinished on my desktop while I blog. A paradox: write less to spend more time writing.

Promising ideas like this one can also boomerang. But I won’t know until I try.

ARE YOU EVER TOO OLD TO BE VAIN?

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Southampton, New York: August 2013

Illustrative photo: Southampton, New York, August 2013.

(Now that it’s time in the Northern Hemisphere to pack away the woolens that not only keep us warm in winter but also cover us up, those of us who gave away our bikinis many decades ago must once again confront the pesky question that keeps coming up every year like a perennial:  How much of ourselves should we show?

Since I considered this question last spring in this very blog and have nothing new to add, why try to re-invent the wheel? Those of you who were reading TGOB that long ago may find what follows familiar, although I’ve edited it a bit;  the original version appeared here on April 20, 2014 (minus illustrative photo) under the title “Vanity and the Older Woman.”  Anyone still young and firm of flesh can skip it without great loss.  Go out and frolic in your skimpy next-to-nothings while you can.)

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VANITY AND THE OLDER WOMAN

A year ago last November I had a phone call from an acquaintance who’s ten younger than I am. Which means she was about seventy-one when she called. It was a peculiar conversation. You may not even believe two mature, extremely well educated women would actually be discussing what we discussed. But it’s true: Charming, intelligent older ladies can be reading War and Peace one minute — as a matter of fact, this acquaintance and I met in a James Joyce class — and still have a seemingly nonsensical exchange the next.

The purpose of her call was ostensibly to “touch base,” since it had been a while since we’d met or talked. However, it soon appeared there was something more on her mind. Although we were then heading into winter, she and her husband were going to Florida for three or four weeks while he recovered from surgery. Florida in winter may offer cool evenings, but the days are usually not bundle-up weather. (Unless you spend your time in overly air-conditioned restaurants.) “May I ask you a personal question?” she suddenly blurted out, a propos of nothing at all.

Well, sure.

She seemed almost embarrassed. “It’s, um, about your arms,” she said. “Mine aren’t looking so good any more. The upper part. How do you deal with that?”

Actually, I was surprised she hadn’t brought this up before. Although she was a fiend for exercise — the gym at least four times a week, a personal trainer once a week, bike-riding along the Jersey shore every weekend when weather permitted, golf all summer long — she was short and not thin. And the last time I had seen her softening upper arms sleeveless, I had privately thought that perhaps there was rather too much of them to be shown so openly to all the world.

Wow! Didn’t think I could be so judgmental? You sure thought wrong. I make judgments all the time (including about myself). However, I mostly keep mum about them. As I had with respect to the acquaintance’s upper arms. Didn’t even mention it to Bill. Of course, I had also privately admired her for displaying an age-related cosmetic flaw without a trace of self-consciousness. Especially as she’s still a pretty woman who could usually pass for sixty, and therefore might be expected to be vain about presenting herself in the best light possible.

But now, apparently, she was concerned. So what was it, if not merely over-dimpled buttery flesh? Awnings of loose skin beginning to hang below when the arms are raised? A wrinkling surface? “What do you do?” she repeated.

Well, that was an easy question. ” I cover them up,” I said.

“Really? Even in summer?”

“Have you ever seen my upper arms?” I asked.

“Come to think of it, no,” she replied.

“There you go. You have no idea what they look like.”

“That’s true,” she observed, thoughtfully. “So what do you wear?”

“Three-quarter or long-sleeved tee shirts with the sleeves pushed up. Or else linen or cotton shirts with the sleeves slightly rolled up. Or if it’s a sleeveless dress — and it’s hard to find great summer dresses that aren’t, although there are some — always a light jacket or shirt-jacket over it.”

“Oh,” she said.

“You’d have figured it out for yourself,” I said, encouragingly. “You just have to start thinking a little differently than you used to. You can still look good. A different sort of good. And you’ll have so much fun stocking up on new summer tops!”

She didn’t exactly say, “Gee, thanks.” But I did feel I had been as helpful as I could. I don’t know what her other older friends told her, if she asked them, but I don’t know what they look like, either. And it was my sense she called me first. So that tells you something, doesn’t it?

We did not discuss beachwear in this particular conversation because she didn’t bring it up. That’s just as well; what to wear at the beach is a difficult topic at any age unless you look like Barbie. Obviously you have to swim sleevelessly. My rule would be to get in fast if you’re getting on in years, do what you have to do, get out, and cover up. Old skin shouldn’t have too much sun, anyway. I personally never really liked big salty waves, and stopped liking generous displays of self on sand and shore somewhere around forty — after the second baby. But then I never did my post-partum exercises. Others may have a somewhat longer beach shelf life. However, there comes a time for all of us ladies — and gentlemen, too, but that’s an entirely different subject — to bow to the inevitable.

There’s an ethical component to how you comport yourself when that time comes. You can spare other people too intimate a look at the inroads time is making on your body, or proudly let it all hang out. I suppose the second path is the one that leads to righteousness. Indeed, there are quite a few older-woman blogs which declaim that we should be proud of our wrinkles, our receding hairlines (if that’s how age afflicts us), and all the other visual signs that our bodies are slowly shutting down and giving up, now that we’ve done our reproducing and finished raising our young. Even Diane Keeton, who at 68 still looks great, came out with a new book last year that declares the beauty of the wisdom that shines from the aging face. (Although, come to think of it, I haven’t seen her prancing around sleevelessly in movies for quite some time.)

The thing is, though, most other, younger, people don’t have eyes for that kind of “beauty.” Although the very very young make no judgments about what they see, people who are no longer children but are still quite far from getting “old” themselves, do make judgments. If you look too much older than they are, they may disregard and/or discount what you say, and be impatient for you to finish. You may be invisible on crowded streets; people — busy men, especially — may walk right into you. You begin to feel no longer entirely a full-fledged member of the human race.

So you can take the high ground, let what happens just happen, go on dressing the way you always dressed, doing your hair and face the way you always did, and spend the years and energy you have left trying to change group-think about what “getting old” means — hoping someone will listen to you as you look older, and older and older.

Or you can forget about trying to change how the world thinks about “old” (especially if you were somewhat impatient with “old” people yourself in days gone by) and instead try to look as attractive as your years permit. Which, by the way, does not mean face lifts. They fool nobody, and also expose your aging body to the real risk of general anesthesia for four hours or so, for entirely elective and frivolous reasons. It does mean considering how to adapt to what you now have to work with in order to present a pleasantly acceptable self to the world.

Which is why I still go to the best hairdresser I can afford, for a good haircut and color for my hair. It’s why I watch my weight, and wear some makeup, and throw away clothing that shouts “I am twenty years out of date and nobody wears pants like this anymore.” It’s why when I’m not in jeans or black yoga pants, I wear very classic well-cut pieces that fit perfectly (even if they need tailoring to get there), in black and grey and brown and white and ivory, with a few punches of red (or sometimes pink or violet), and once in a while something with edge, but not too much. All of this costs, which means I buy less and wear it more often — and that’s good, too.

Call me superficial or vain if you like. I don’t expect anyone to fall to his knees anymore, clasp my ankles and beg me to be his. But I also don’t expect to be walked into on the street when I go to New York, and nobody does. I do expect that when I smile at strangers, they will smile back, and most of them do. I expect to feel like a somewhat older, but not too-old, member of the human race until I have to pack it in — and I will do whatever I can do to ensure that that happens.

Anyone inclined to argue that this is the wrong approach for a woman with both feet in her eighties, go right ahead. If you want any cred, though, you’d better have really flabby upper arms!

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