Saturday, October 25, 2008

Real Age nazis

With an inkling that I should not go there, I just took the "Real Age" test created by Dr. Oz. Woah, was my ego severely deflated...I started with my calendar age--"33.3"--and found that my "real" age is "38.5." I'd better tell my boyfriend he's now dating a woman 10.2 years older than him. I'd better get a life insurance policy. I'd better floss more and find out my blah blah cholesterol levels, oh and probably not be so divorced (since it creates too much stress), according to advice given with the results.

Let me admit, I believed that this was one contest--the age contest--I could compete in (unlike most other ones). People constantly tell me I look young (maybe they're all lying, even the apparently shocked woman at the liquor store counter, and the cute 40-year-old who told me just the other day I could pass for 17 and that the lines on my face could only be seen "with a microscope"!!...I think she was flirting). I haven't eaten red meat, ANY, in 10 years. I eat veggies practically every day, sometimes in large amounts. I eat whole grains and fiber. My BMI is not in any danger zone...I'm sitting here in pre-pregnancy skinny pants as we speak. True, my loose, deflated post-baby belly is burping out over the waistband, but what can you do? (Situps?) I make an excruciating effort to eat desserts very rarely. I never have anything but skim milk. Etc. OK, I really belly-flop in the exercise department, but it will be a few years before this is obvious to everyone else and I have to run on a treadmill like a frantic gerbil just to keep looking the way I look now.

If you think about it, it is brilliant that our culture has done it again--come up with yet another way to make women feel ugly, inadequate, and unknowledgeable. Dr. Oz stresses that beauty is on the inside. So now I don't only have to worry about not looking like a slob on the OUTSIDE, I have to be gently reminded that I'm an ugly old hag on the INSIDE. And it's not bad enough that I'm actually 33.3 years old; I have to worry about how my body is invisibly collapsing in on itself, even all this time that I have stayed away from bad bad red meat, so that I will probably be 70 by the time I'm 40.

Of course, Dr. Oz makes valid points. Doing cardio is probably never a bad thing. Eating fruit is not the worst thing you could do, and flossing so that the dental hygienist doesn't have to spend an hour excavating down to where your sad rotting teeth actually are. I probably shouldn't drink the amount of wine I do every night (which I didn't even admit to on the test...and I was still scolded, in the results, for not practicing "moderation" in drinking). But I resent the idea that someone else out there knows exactly what I should be doing with my time and life (with all the flossing, fresh fruits, exercises of different types, etc., wouldn't that pretty much fill up your schedule?) and if I don't do it that way, I am made to feel like a bad and ignorant, not to mention ugly and old, person. I think this is a new strain of Puritanism. I think it is all harsh fluorescent lighting and a naked weigh-in in front of your classmates, with no nuance, depth, or sense of humor. So fine, I will begin my year of being 38.5, woefully ignorant about my pulse rate and cholesterol levels, neglectful of any kind of regular workout, and NOT (hell no) practicing moderation in drinking.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Living forward

I am thinking, on this 35th wedding anniversary of my parents (who divorced 28 years ago...), and 3-year anniversary of when Jon and I first met, about living in the present--whatever that means.

In my recent past (which I now need to let go of...), I chose a man to marry, a beautiful person who was nice to me, and then spent our whole marriage still in love with a person from my past, or just with my past as a single tortured early-20's fuck-up in coffee shops and book stores, making $5 an hour, being scolded for not bringing the soup up from the walk-in cooler or for slumping on a stool daydreaming. What was so great about that? What was I really wishing for everytime I didn't (and don't) want to be "here"? I think rapture--like when you are dancing and have had a few drinks and forget your life and kind of rebel against your current life in that moment. I am good at rebelling against my current life. If degrees were awarded in this subject, I would have a 7-figure job in the field right now.

This weekend a tiny door opened for me in the feeling of "what I have now is good." Sara and I were at DeWitt Park, a beautiful park in the section of Ithaca with the oldest buildings, and she was shimmying all over the grass on her knees. I was sitting on one of her soft pink blankets watching her and feeling the good warmth of the sun and seeing the delicate spire of a church and the two maroon, shiny fallen leaves my daughter held in each hand ecstatically as she hobbled forward on her muddy knees. I saw the slender, mini gold leaves that had fallen all over like snow and I held them over her head and let them flutter down, which amused her to no end. I watched how happy she was just holding leaves and being in the sunshine, dirt, and grass. And I felt, maybe my life is OK and is where it's supposed to be. But it wasn't so much a thrilling revelation as just a small, fragile feeling that just started to kind of poke at me, like hey--pay attention to this--one day you will live here in this feeling, it will be your address.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I am thinking about kinds of speech, and what they mean. I spend my days writing polite strategic emails and acceptance and rejection letters to people I will never see in person. This has not come easy to me, and after years of doing it, I still agonize over each communication. It is an interesting form because you have to completely disguise yourself. You learn to use words like "warmly" (actually, I am not usually daring enough to use that one) and sentences like "please let me know if I may be of further help" (which, after a few years, has now become the more brazenly casual "please let me know if you need anything else"). I wish all those people whose manuscripts I have had to reject as managing editor of a sociology journal knew how often I have been rejected in the poetry world, and with the same stingingly distant language--"I am writing regretfully to let you know that the judges for the ____ Prize have not selected you as the winner," "This does not meet our needs at this time." I wonder how I have ended up here in careful/discreet language land, spending my days on a computer. Why didn't I become a stripper or something more visceral?

Which brings me to my next dilemma: when people ask "how are you doing," I always feel like I say too much. I know I should just say "fine" and leave it at that, or think of some cute surface answer (a Tibetan coworker always quips, "I'm still alive")...but as much as I try to do that, something bursts out of me and then, depending on my audience, there is either a glossy, brittle silence until a more humorous topic is introduced (this happened today); or there is a genuine response that still may feel uncomfortable to me, like the person either feels sorry for me or is wishing I'd said something else. I feel like I am a stripper, verbally and I have had this problem all my life...starting at age 5 when I imparted sex-ed knowledge to everyone in kindergarten, everyone at swim lessons, etc. and told my grandparents that my mom was knocked up. At this point I feel like I may be defiling my private life by saying too much, or too many contradictory things, about it. I want language to be an agent of truth. I want people to tell me how the hell they are really doing (though not go on at length about goiters or nasal discharge or something, sure, no one wants to hear that for too long) and I want genuine connections to happen, but I feel like everything is such a social game. I keep deciding I should go on a kind of word-diet where I only say "safe" things that I will not later regret revealing or feel weird about, but much like real diets, they never work. Is something wrong with me, or is it the whole setup? Is there a culture I would be more at home in? Maybe my fellow Italians, when in Italy or certain neighborhoods in Jersey, are all inappropriately, wildly expressive to their coworkers too. Maybe there are places in Alaska where no one speaks for months (if so, I wish Sarah Palin would go there, NOW). None of this is helped by my head being full of snot right now (but I won't go on and describe it at length), so it is hard to think at all, let alone to monitor anything. Maybe one day we will all have self-censorship machines that will help us to always get the job and sex we are verbally angling for...

I don't necessarily think the problem is me (always), exactly, though I probably need to guard and respect myself more, in many ways, in this life where things can be misinterpreted. I also suspect many people hide what is really going on with them, and how they feel, until one day their life changes or breaks apart in a way that is unavoidably visible...and maybe these people think my life is fucked up because I talk honestly and confusedly about it, when really, it is quite normal.