How Do You Get to Know Your Parents?

I’m reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake right now, and it’s affecting me on a very personal level. I know I should wait to find out how this plot gets resolved before I discuss the novel as a whole, but this isn’t a book review. This is more like a dialectical journal, running thoughts I’ve had since little Gogol Ganguli grew up and the point of view stopped being from his parents’ perspective. Here’s how it goes so far:

This nineteen year-old girl in Calcutta marries a fellow Bengali a week or two after their parents introduce them. Her betrothed is studying in the U.S., and so that’s where he takes her after the wedding. The novel begins with this girl, Ashima, trying to make a recipe that reminds her of home using only ingredients that she can scrounge up around their Boston neighborhood in the late ‘60s—I remember Rice Krispies and some other unlikely candidates in the mix. She is disappointed with the flavor. Something is missing. Then her water breaks.

We spend a few intimate chapters inside the relationship of this husband and wife, chronicling the birth of Gogol, their daily lives, their move from an apartment to a house, and the growth of a network of friends, all Bengalis, around the Boston area. Ashima and Ashoke can only afford biannual trips back to India, so occasionally their American lives are interrupted with a tragic phone call—the news of a grandparent’s death, then a parent’s death. The phone becomes symbolic of their alienation.

Then Gogol, their oldest child, grows up. He moves away. He does stuff that college kids do. He finds work, falls in love with girls who aren’t Indian, and he lives an American life. Consequently, he lives two lives, one in which he is Indian, one American. Sometimes, especially around his girlfriends, he’s embarrassed by his parents, ashamed of their beliefs and their habits. Lahiri spends several chapters in Gogol’s head as he compares how his girlfriend’s Manhattan family lives and entertains with how his Boston parents live and entertain. So far, he sides with a lifestyle in complete opposition to the one in which he was raised.

He’s conflicted in a way that I will never be. My parents and I were born in the same area of the U.S. We were brought up with vaguely similar belief systems, food, and cultural norms. But we do have our generational and regional divides—especially now—and they’re big enough for me, big enough that I can relate to Gogol’s (and Ashima’s) conflict. There’s stuff about his parents that he doesn’t understand, and rightly so because they don’t tell him everything. But some things just can’t get told. For instance, there’s no way that Gogol will ever tap into his mother’s emotions on that day in 1968 when she tried to replicate a familiar Indian recipe, the day her water broke. Even if Gogol cared, even if Ashima were capable of verbalizing her feelings on that day, what mother in any culture will share such intimate details with her grown son? In many ways, Gogul will never know Ashima, his mother.

What I’m waiting for as I read this novel is not for Gogol to know his parents but for Gogol to want to know his parents. I think it’s coming. I at least think he’ll want to know his father. But right now, at my stage in the reading, Gogol thinks he already knows them, and there’s the grown child’s biggest mistake.

This recent election and the ideological divides that it revealed between some parents and their children has slowed down one of my most important tasks as a grown woman to date—to find out who my parents are, or at least to find out a few key details about them as people that they wish I knew. Doesn’t have to be everything, just has to be what they want. I don’t want to assume anymore, like Gogol assumes. Assuming we know who our parents are is an arrogant luxury reserved for the arrogant twenty and thirty-somethings.

I am 45, and I want to know my parents, but I don’t know how.   How do I tap into those snapshots of my parents’ early lives—decisions they made that they might have thought at the time were temporary, ideas they had about what marriage should be and what the future looked like and what they expected of their children? I don’t know. I can only guess, and like Gogol, my assumptions are probably wrong.

To Burn Out or to Fade Away–I’ll Take Fade.

For most of my life, I assumed that everyone else in the world considered suicide in varying frequencies or degrees. I didn’t know why professionals made such a big, stinking deal over the mention of it, I just learned very early NOT to mention it around certain people and to outright lie to others: Have I had any thoughts of suicide? Nope. Not a one. What do I look like? A crazy person? A weak person? Meanwhile, I would wake up in the morning wondering what it would feel like to jump off a tall building or put a bullet in my head. Quick and efficient stuff I’d think about. None of this slow bleeding in the bathtub nonsense, hoping someone might run in and save me. I always knew that if I actually did it, I’d do it right. I’d do it to get it done. For most of my life I drifted in and out of these fantasies. I could come up with a hundred reasons to hate myself in the course of a day.

It wasn’t until I met my friend Fluoxetine, at the age of 42, that I learned otherwise. Fluoxetine, and the man who prescribes it to me, taught me all kinds of things about how other people can see the world. For instance, some people NEVER think of suicide. Not just once a day or once a month, but NEVER once. These are probably the people who freak out when they hear you mention suicide as casually as if you’re talking about flossing your teeth. They probably feel sorry for people like me who see no other way to see the world. Hell, I guess I would feel sorry for me, too. But I didn’t know anything different. My doctor said freedom from that world, the only one I’d ever known, would feel like a weight being lifted. When my surroundings became more than a fluctuating shade of drab, I would wonder how I could have lived for so long the way I did.

I was skeptical, of course. I’m always skeptical of the therapy trade. But this dude was more than a therapist; he was a doctor who could make a precise diagnosis. He was a man who didn’t pity me or fear for me or for my condition because he knew it was treatable. No drama. No endless talk therapy.

I was one of the lucky ones who reacted positively to the antidepressant right from the start. I remember so clearly driving to the grocery store, exuberantly singing along to whatever came on the radio, and giggling at nothing. I remember walking through the aisles of the store, trembling a little because I just wanted to FUCKING DANCE! That first day was like a pure coke high without the bleeding nose. My doctor said it shouldn’t have happened so quickly, that my body needed time to adjust to it. But I tell you, it happened. I actually wanted to dance in a public place, and I don’t dance, anywhere. It was a sign.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s this: in all those forty-two years, during those times when bleakness would interrupt my thoughts at random and make the whole world seem absurd, I never did it, never acted on the dark fantasy. I seem to have a strong survival instinct. I found ways to adapt to whatever it was, just like I need to find ways to adapt to whatever this is that’s happening now in the world. I need to adjust my perspective, to compensate, maybe to up my dose. I’m considering going full-throttle into hippiedom and embracing peace, learning how to play the guitar, maybe go vegan, never step on a bug. I’m tired of conflict. I’m so damned good it, so good at starting fires and stoking them, but I always get burned.

The Facebook Dilemma

5df6bdfae83c2009884fea46f785bd4f“…la lala lala lala… Should I stay, or should I go now?   La lala lala lala…

If I go there will be trouble (la lala lala la), and if I stay it will be double. La lala lala lala…”

I’m talking about FACEBOOK, that social media site that’s causing intellectual cancer in the 40-and-over community. “It’s for old people,” say the five children I vacationed with over inauguration weekend. And it’s officially ruined the dignity of us old folks by revealing our thought processes. My dilemma today is figuring out which generation I belong to—do I belong to the really old one who abuses social media or to the moderately old one who wonders if she abuses social media?

I heard a stat recently that 50% of Facebook users get all their news from Facebook. Should I be surprised, shocked that the generation that bemoans online culture is as corrupted as our youth?

Not really, cuz here’s what I’ve learned in recent months about the older generation (including myself)—it’s the same as any other. Each generation is populated with its critical thinkers and its mouth-breathers, its diplomats and its reactionaries, its educated and its uneducated. The old farts who bloviate about the indignities of Madonna and memorize political memes simply fancy themselves to be on a higher level than the kids around them, because they’ve “lived,” because they’ve “seen” things, because they “read.” Well, I’ll tell you what—you can spend six or seven decades alive on this earth without acquiring any new wisdom if that’s how you choose to live it. I’m quite certain that many of my own family members have “lived” in this manner—unyielding, loyal to fossilized ideas and suspicious of the ideas of people standing in front of them. They make fun of me for changing up my viewpoint from time-to-time, see that as a weakness. I haven’t considered my ability to think and change to be a flaw since I first read Emerson:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” 

My father makes the same comments about spending and liberals and welfare that he made in the Reagan days.  My mother refuses to acknowledge new ideas as such, and falls back on simply shutting out thought altogether. And my brother, well, we’ve discussed my brother. They all have their own Facebook communities.  What’s interesting about these three and their Facebook companions is that they claim to be the leading critics of the media that feeds them. My father will only change his mind if the idea is sanctioned by his media source (Fox). The man who lived through the Cold War is now ready to jump into bed with Putin. Maybe my mother learned about Anne Frank in school, but that doesn’t stop her from advocating that we label the Muslims living and working among us. Their media is as poisonous as they claim others to be.

So my thought right now is that I just want to leave one corrupt media source–Facebook–, to avoid the temptation to get my hands dirtier and my dignity crushed. I could leave this weeping, ranting, raging, cyber fray and learn instead to talk to my family. I have never asked the right questions, never asked my mother, for instance, why—before the Republican Party took up the pro-life platform—she once angrily ranted about “those pro-lifers,” but now she has become one. I never asked her what annoyed her then about the movement that doesn’t annoy her now.

I have plenty of friends in my exact age bracket who ignore social media, who are suspicious of it and always will remain so. I respect them. I might not know what they are doing every minute of their days, but before Facebook and MySpace, nobody knew that anyway.

So do I leave it? In doing so, I’ll lose my only contact with people I like, I’ll lose eight years of uploaded photos. I’ll lose those “hey, here’s what you were doing three years ago today” posts. But I might learn how to be a better thinker, better communicator. Should I stay or should I go?

“Will Never Do”s

I didn’t post much in 2016, something I vaguely attributed to being drunk much of the time, but I wasn’t drunk for the entire year. I spent some time early in the year training for the AVON 39, a 39-mile charity walk that—due to poor planning, I believe—turned into a 43-mile walk. It was gratifying, and I’d do the walk again if I didn’t have to raise the $1800 required of me to participate. I’d experienced extreme physical tests in my life, but never that extreme.

By the end of Day 1, after crossing that 26.2 mile mark, which was arguably a 29 or more mile mark, I was too exhausted to eat or shower or even move. I hunkered in my pink tent, waiting for a tentmate that never showed, and considered calling an Uber to take me home. The only thing that stopped me from walking to an Uber was the thought of the pain of walking to the Uber. So I just lay there on my unopened sleeping bag until I felt energetic enough to walk over to the “relaxation” tent with the inflatable couches and the warm lighting. After some hot tea, I could eat. After that, I could sleep. I got up in the rain the next morning, dismantled my tent, threw on a plastic poncho and trudged the last arguably 13, though more like 14 and some change, miles back to home base, and I was done with that milestone.

After walking arguably 43 miles in two days, I briefly considered training for a marathon until my father told me in so many words that I was nuts for considering it. He was tactful by never admitting that age was an obstacle. Like me, he had started distance running in his thirties; but unlike me, he had run the marathon before he developed issues with his knees, something that appears to emerge on both sides of my family.

“You can do it,” he explained, “but it’ll take a permanent toll on your knees, and then what’s the point?”

After the marathon, there would be no point, I suppose. I’d have issues with both knees, and I’d be years closer to replacement surgery than my father had been. No point to do it, I suppose, except that I hate closing doors on possibilities. I’ll never be able to stick a 26.2 sticker on my rear window. Boohm.

You know what else I’ll never be able to do? Lots. Here is the list of as many as I could remember in the thirty-eight seconds I gave myself to remember and write them down (NOT necessarily in chronological order):

  • I’ll never be a foot model.
  • I’ll never be Miss America.
  • I’ll never be the President.
  • I’ll never work in Turkey.
  • I’ll never be a high-class prostitute.
  • I’ll never be a mother.
  • I’ll never be a lawyer.
  • I’ll never run a marathon.

I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember as clearly as my conversation with my father about not running a marathon. There are just times in your life when you admit to yourself that something isn’t going to happen. I assume we all do this, and by “we all” I mean people over forty. For you I can’t explain why I considered that I’d never be a high-class prostitute, but I will put it on the list.

And, you know what? My list of dead possibilities is SHORT! I haven’t been wasting my time entirely here on this earth, and life’s adventure ISN’T over. There are so many possibilities left to us at our age, and we’re in a position to pursue any one of them.  The position isn’t financial or familial, it’s primal—We see the end. We grasp the moment. We shit, or we get off the pot. We live, or we die.

2017, Meh.

2017, Meh.

That about describes it—“meh.” It’s more than just a word. It’s how I felt ringing in a new year that I didn’t look forward to. Everyone around me was saying, “2016 just needs to be over! 2016 sucked!” I don’t feel that way. So yeah, in 2016, the historical pendulum swung into outer space and a contentious president was elected. Sure, in 2016, a few childhood icons died. Regardless, 2016 was my peak. It was one big party that I didn’t document. I welcomed it at the craziest one I ever attended—the party that made my husband and I say to each other in the wee hours of January 1, 2016, “This will be our year.”

So fast forward to now. What did we say to each other this year?

“I am going to control my road rage,” he mumbled in the wee hour of January 1, 2017. He must’ve dug deep into the pits of avoidance to come up with that one. I didn’t even bother: I couldn’t think of anything except all the ones I broke last year. My husband brought up one of our shared resolutions, and then I wondered, “Maybe I have peaked. Maybe this year that I am tossing out right now was my last good year.”

And that was that. Happy New Year! My mother-in-law gave us blue sparkly top hats and noisemakers that I tried to hide from the kids. Shortly after the ball came down (which, incidentally, only about 1/3 of us actually saw—the ball drop has cheapened since Dick Clark), we all went to bed.

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Can’t Say it Doesn’t Matter

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The recent election created some small ripples in my ordinarily placid family dealings. I targeted certain family members, like my mom, and I tried to sway their votes. This caused one of my brothers to threaten to “unfriendly” me (although he never did) and my retired uncle to begin actually using Facebook . My branch of the family tree isn’t much on confrontation (or communication), though we’re pretty good at freezing out.

I have no intention of freezing out any of my family members, even the ones who’ve subjected me to their own cold shoulders over the years, even the ones who never visit (that would be all of them), even the ones who talk shit behind my back, the ones capable of turning on me for little or no reason. Won’t do it. They’re mine. I see little sparks of me in every single one of them.

Perhaps that’s why I spent an hour today trying to decide what to wear to lunch with my brother. I tried on two dresses, two pairs of leggings, three jackets, and four hats.

My brother drives a large white pickup truck with a pair of yellow testicles hanging from the trailer hitch and an airbrushed picture of Mt. Rushmore—behind a Thomas Jefferson quote and the Tea Party’s URL—on the tailgate. He likes to wear extra large cotton shirts because they’re roomy. He embroiders custom slogans on the pockets of tees with an industrial-sized embroidering machine that he gave to his wife as a “gift.” He’s inspired by Fox News.

I will never get into his truck. I question his fashion sense. I listen to NPR, and sometimes I pity my brother’s wife for the weird “gifts” that she’s received from him over the years, like the aforementioned embroidering machine, or the sports car that doesn’t run.

My brother can also build or fix anything. He can build a new computer if he doesn’t like the way his functions. He can drag a dead jalopy out of a junkyard and not only make it run again, but make it run better (which, incidentally, makes me wonder why his wife’s sports car is still in the garage). He can construct his own energy-efficient heating system in his house or fix a jet engine.

I can do none of these things.

I imagine my brother and I appear opposites to anyone who doesn’t know us. My mother thinks we’re too much alike. My emotions concerning him have vacillated from anger to envy to disgust to admiration to a staunch conviction that I will never, ever be like him. I’ve accused him of being smart, stupid, wise, deluded, selfish, selfless, even mildly autistic. Sometimes, when he talks, I feel an overwhelming urge to leave the room.

In true my-brother form, he casually mentioned he’d be in my metro area for a week. It came out when I asked him why he wanted to know about certain bars around there. My brother lives at least nine hours away. He visited me once, for my wedding, in the sixteen years I’ve lived here.   We made plans to do a late lunch.

And so I spent an hour today trying to decide what to wear to lunch with my brother who would undoubtedly show up in a baseball cap and an extra-large Carhartt. I tried on two dresses, two pairs of leggings, three jackets, and four hats. I worried about where to take him, what to show him besides my urban fashion sense. I might detest him sometimes, I might love him sometimes, but I can’t say he doesn’t matter.

I Only Feel Old When I Look in the Mirror

 

My ex-husband recently asked me if I felt old. I had messaged him about how a family member, someone he would only remember as a little child, had just turned 30. He was setting me up, wanting me to tell him, “Yes, I feel soooooo old! You?” To this, he would respond with something crafted and esoteric about his eternal youth, because he likes to one-up anyone who might have something vaguely cliché to say about life. But I didn’t tell him yes or no. Because I really don’t know if I “feel” old. I have a tight ass and the physical stamina of a woman half my age. I don’t “feel” old, I suppose. You know what I do feel? Desperate.

Let me tell you about my impending forty-fifth birthday if you haven’t been there already in your own desperate world:

Forty-five times two makes ninety. How many of us are going to live to see ninety? For practical and also spiritual reasons I have a hunch I’m not. That means that, on my forty-fifth birthday, I will be well past the halfway point in my life. I got fewer than forty-five more years to make my life count, to feel like I shined that flashlight into every corner. Subtract twenty of those forty-some remaining years for failing health and dementia, and you know what? I have twenty-five more years to live. IF I’m lucky.

For anyone who’s lived to see her fortieth birthday, you know that ten years can fly by in an instant. I can’t believe, for instance, that it’s been ten years since I’ve enjoyed the effects of a good cocaine high. Ten years? Yup. And the kids—the kids spring up and grow into little adults in the course of ten years. They turn from gurgling, human larvae into thinking, feeling, creative beings who will remember how crazy you are for the rest of their lives. Ten years, to them, and to those of us in our thirties and our twenties and our teens, is an epic. After forty, ten years is a chapter in a mediocre novel. Do I “feel” old? Nope. Girl, I am fucking old.

And if my argument needs more proof, well, look in the mirror. Time leaves its marks on even the most fastidious and young-feeling graduates of four decades on earth. I can tighten my ass, but I can’t tighten those sags in my neck without surgery. Maybe surgery will enable the forties to be the new thirties. Or maybe the forties are just the forties, like I’ve been sayin’ all along.

 

The Iron String

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

 I’m fasting so that I can take a blood test, so that I can find out if I have liver damage, so that I can take a drug that will make me not want to crave alcohol. If this drug works, I will be both happy and angry. I will be happy because it will have done its job by snuffing out those sparks in my brain that go off like fireworks when I take my first sip of a cold draft beer. I will be angry because the drug will have quickly done a job that twenty-some years of willpower and talk therapy couldn’t do. If this drug could have saved me the time and aggravation that a lifetime of alcohol abuse cost me, then yes, I will be angry.

I found this drug myself with the help of an article in The Atlantic and the Internet (it wasn’t difficult), and proposed it to my wonderful psychiatrist who, though grudgingly, often allows me to explore my own treatments. My wonderful psychiatrist is skeptical of my plan to start taking this drug without some kind of companion therapy, i.e., talk therapy. I sensed from him that he had tuned in to hear a rock-bottom tale from me about why I needed medication to help with this problem, as if I needed to revisit myself at my worst before I could be worthy of treatment. That’s the AA model. He weakly asserted that he never prescribes this drug without some kind of therapy in conjunction, and then he prescribed it. I’m glad he’s a reasonable man.

See, my doctor knows what he’s been trained to do as a professional—tell me to go to “meetings” where I can find a sponsor who will teach me to how to kneel at the altar of sobriety—yet he also knows I’m not going to do that. There exists a secular support group, he suggested, but then he wasn’t sure of its name.   Shouldn’t he know?   Even a practical, seasoned professional like my good doctor believes that, for most, it’s AA or the highway.

Here’s a bit of advice for the forty-something who struggles with alcohol addiction, who’s been subconsciously waiting for her life to fall apart before addressing the problem: don’t wait. You don’t need to wait until you’ve gathered a TV series’ worth of drama in your personal and professional life to reach a level of awareness fit for making changes. The competition among AA members to publicly outdo one another with confessions from the dark side can be a huge turnoff for a more pragmatic and high-functioning drinker. So can the hand-holding, the prayers, and the insistence that this pre-World War II method of treatment is the only true and righteous path. Trust me, the step isn’t so big. Our twelve-step culture, enabled by the medical community, just makes it seem so, and so we begin to doubt our skepticism.

If this drug works, like I said, I’ll be both happy and angry. Our advancements in medicine and technology are supposed to make our lives easier, so if I can painlessly flick that monkey off my back, my life will become easier; but then I will detest the culture of talk treatment even more. If this drug doesn’t work, I’ll just have to take a more difficult path. Either way, I’ll still be happy, because I have the power to choose it.

So if you’re wondering why middle age has not brought you new wisdom. If you are noticing that the alcohol has begun to make most of your decisions for you, and ordinarily cool people telling you that you MUST go to AA meetings, yet you feel very skeptical about that option… be skeptical. By seeking assistance for a predisposition to drink alcohol, you’re not crossing over from the dark side into the light. You’re not seeking absolution for a heinous crime. You’re dealing with a physiological problem. And like many other physiological problems, there is more than one way to approach it. Google them. Seek out multiple opinions. Be proactive. You’re not powerless.

 

 

 

40sarethenew40s’s Most Influential Reads of 2015

These are the books, articles, and essays that made me think. Some of them, like Fuller’s book, I haven’t stopped discussing with the friend who recommended it; some of them I found myself. To make this list, the piece has to have the following effects:

  1. Some image, line, or idea from the text makes a permanent impression on me and influences how I view the world around me.
  2. I then attempt to discuss this image, line, or idea with my husband, i.e., I take it out of the friend zone and into my most intimate life.
  3. I walk around for days, weeks, and months thinking about pieces of the text.

Book (nonfiction): Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller

This book combines several topics that fascinate me: African culture, alcoholism, and the deterioration of marriage. Alexandra Fuller has knocked me out before with her tales of growing up with eccentric parents of colonial ancestry in southern Africa, namely Zimbabwe. This time she’s all grown up, living in Wyoming with an American husband, drinking too much, and suffering from culture shock. A close contender for my nonfiction vote was Wednesday Martin’s Primates of Park Avenue, but the richness and complexity of Fuller’s writing prevailed. Plus, I love an alcoholic protagonist.

Book (anthology):  Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up, edited by Leah Odze Epstein and Caren Osten Gerszberg

I found this little gem myself. Ever since I read Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking, A Love Story, I have craved more tales about drinking by women who drink. This anthology is not an AA weapon, a Go Ask Alice piece of bullshit designed to dissuade even the most rational thinker from ever picking up a drink again. Rather, it’s honest stories by professional writers for whom drinking plays a role in their family, culture, religion, or identity. There are tales of inspiration and moderation in here. In fact, I think they outweigh the horror stories. And that’s what I like the most about this collection: its embrace of multiple perspectives on a topic that is often treated with all-or-nothing reductionism.

 Book (fiction): Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I read this before I discovered it was a movie, thank goodness. My husband only watched the movie and had no idea what was going on. This novel is too complex for film. It’s told from three points of view—the protagonist in the present and past, and her brother and mother in the past. All past events cover a 24-hour period of time that that protagonist is trying to figure out in the present in order to solve a mystery. The protagonist is angry and surly, and there’s no role model character in this novel, rather conflicted people who err. Again, there’s no black and white thinking here—just the way I like it!

 Essay: “Take Me at Face Value,” by Tawni O’Dell

This short essay is a light read. I found it in an anthology called 40 Things to Do When You Turn 40, which I bought and read in the Philadelphia hospital where I tended to my post-op parents in July. O’Dell discusses attending a book club meeting with women in their 20s and 30s, and here she realizes that there are some fundamental differences between her way of thinking as a 40-something and theirs.

 Article: “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Yes, I read stuff that isn’t about either women or alcoholism! Ordinarily, I avoid reading stuff about education because it’s just so fucking depressing, but I had had to read this. This article, in fact, is my 2015 first prizewinner for most influential read. Lukianoff and Haidt have received much criticism from the left for raising this issue—Colleges and universities should be the bastions of free speech and freedom of thought, places where students go to learn how to open their minds and to think critically, to use the Socratic method to discuss sensitive issues, and to emerge from the education as grown-ups. But the opposite is happening in our institutions of higher learning—coddled, closed-minded children are dictating what their professors can and can’t say. Before teaching novels like The Great Gatsby, instructors must begin with caveats, or “trigger warnings,” that the material contains such sensitive material as alcohol abuse or sexual abuse. Any ideas not considered PC enough are ousted. Potentially interesting speakers like Condoleza Rice, Bill Maher, and the Muslim feminist Asra Q. Nomani are “uninvited” in protest of soundbites of their views, “We don’t like you… WAH.” The lunatics are running the asylum.

I’ll end on that note… Happy New Year!

Monogamy, for S.

Monogamy. Yes, what better topic to bring up around the holidays, to ring in the new year? Monogamy.

I seem to know a lot of people in nontraditional relationships. I have friends in open relationships, gay friends, divorced friends, asexual friends, never married friends; friends who chose the kids and not the spouse, the spouse and not the kids, multiple spouses… and these are just the friends. I’m not talking about acquaintances or friends of friends or people I’ve read about or heard on a podcast. Those really run the gamut, from all types of polyamorous couples to swingers to people who just do life differently than your standard nuclear family. Whatever you imagine can be done–believe me–someone’s doing it. I suspect if we’ve made it this far in life then we’ve heard the rumors about this writer’s or that celebrity’s penchant for swing parties or polyamorous marriage, or weirder stuff. Well, it ain’t just celebrities dipping their toes in those weird waters. It’s a threatening world out there in the gray area if you are a black-and-white kind of thinker.

Well, I’m not a black-and-white kind of thinker unless I’m trying to piss someone off. Maybe that’s why I have the friends that I do, and maybe that’s why I have so few friends here in La-La Land. I found most of my friends back in the city, once upon a time before I moved. Cities are adult playgrounds. They’re full of galleries and theaters and ballroom dance clubs and beer-making groups, activities for adults. The suburbs are where we go to leave all that, to forget art or live music in order to take up bee keeping and the community association, to talk about school budgets and to transfer our identities to our children (See, I’m speaking in blacks-and-whites here for you suburban readers. Go on, challenge me!). I miss my city friends. I miss the anything goes kind of attitude that we all had in our thirties. I miss the hunt-and-chase mentality of the dating world. Some people my age tell me this is just a fact of life—that with age comes dullness. Just deal with it. I’m not so sure.

I flirt with other men sometimes. I can’t help it. They’re there. The more different they are from my husband, the more compelling I find them. My husband doesn’t seem to mind, though. He doesn’t know how to flirt, at ALL, or he probably would do it himself. We acknowledged a long time ago that we’re human, that we don’t stop finding the opposite sex attractive just because we’re committed to each other. Of course, we’re each on our second marriage, and second marriages often come with better communication and more realistic expectations. I never lie to my husband about anything significant or relationship-altering (although I have been known to cast a little white lie once in while to boost his ego.). I love him. To me, he’s perfect and worth every minute of the havoc, the financial and emotional distress, and the lost time that divorce and remarriage has cost us.

But even the bright and shiny newness of a second marriage, a better marriage, begins to fade. You reach a stage in your relationship where it’s totally ok to wear the same pair of paint-splattered yoga pants and the holey t-shirt for three days in a row. If you work out of the home or have longer breaks from work like we do, you have to jog your memory sometimes to recall your last shower. And sometimes you realize that you haven’t showered for days, as many days as you’ve been wearing those yoga pants. And you ask yourself, “Would I have done this eight years ago when I met him?” The answer is an absolute “no.” When he and I started dating, I spent a lot of time maintaining: I fixed my hair; I wore makeup, which I’ve rarely worn in my lifetime. I even teetered around in uncomfortable shoes and clothes that fit a little too tightly. And when I began to slip back into the comfortable clothes, the air-dried hair, and the no-makeup routine, I still tried to salvage a little mystery by hiding my feminine products and refusing to allow him near my laundry.

These days I’d be crazy to pass up an opportunity to hand him a basket of my worn undergarments and everything else, for that matter (I mean, hell, if he’s willing to do the laundry…). Now we’ve been married for going on seven years, and sometimes I wear the same yoga pants for three days running—just get out of bed, put them back on, and go make coffee. Isn’t there a myth about a seven-year itch? That time in a marriage when the breadwinners of the fifties and sixties (and seventies… and eighties…) would run off with their secretaries or their fitness instructors or their kids’ teachers? Are we there now, at mid-life crisis time? Second marriage or not, eight years is a long time to have sex with the same person. I get it. It was around the eight-year mark when I left my first husband, for someone else, of course. I’m the dude who ran off with his secretary.

But I have no intentions of running off this time around. I find the concept, in fact, absurd. New sex and the thrill of the chase might be a nice distraction; but it can’t replace a good spouse, a good partnership, and real love. Sex might get routine and boring; but new sex, if it’s forbidden, is only going to wreck the relationship, the one you worked so hard to build, the financial security, the trust, all gone. Who wants that? Who wants that drama?

Maybe these nontraditional people are on to something, especially the ones who swing or keep an extra partner around the house from time-to-time. My nontraditional friends are all confident people, confident in their choices, confident in their relationships. When you are forging your own path and not following one that was made for you, your choices for happiness and personal satisfaction seem unlimited.

So it’s been seven years. Time to evaluate. I’ve started by learning more about makeup and hair and skin products, by working my alcohol-wrecked body back into a size six and living clean and rocking some heels from time-to-time. I’m back where I was eight years ago, but that doesn’t change one key fact—I’m not new sex, and neither is he. Can we live with that? Do we really have a choice?