Halloween is almost upon us and I swear I’ve been haunted by articles about how ghastly midlife is for GenX women. I’ve been shown or accidentally run into three such missives lately that claim that it’s worse for them than it has ever been for anyone else.
Where have those writers been for forty years? Apparently not paying attention to history, or talking to their elders, or doing enough homework to know that for eons women have been complaining about midlife, a time of life when things go awry on the bad hand and new awakenings occur on the good hand.
Realizing you’ve hit the halfway point of your life can indeed be daunting. But it’s nothing new. Especially for a woman who’s been busy juggling work, a home, and a family. No age group has the corner of the angst that can cause for some people. Scales of “happiness” were quoted, with women supposedly being more unhappy now than ever before. Oh please! The only difference is that today social media advertises a person’s unhappiness. We used to be expected to just keep it bottled up.
One article noted the incidence of divorce being higher than for generations past. Of course it is. Women now have the social, religious, legal, and economic means for getting divorced. They didn’t have that in the past. More divorce isn’t a measure of more unhappiness, it’s a measure of more freedom to get divorced when you’re unhappy.
In the 1980’s I did seminars for women about life’s transitions. I wrote a book called Surviving the Superwoman Syndrome. Then I wrote Action Plans: A Women’s Survival Guide. In the early 2000’s I did my Doctoral dissertation on self-development for midlife women and published LifeMaps for Midlife Women. I certainly wasn’t the first to address this issue. In my time there have been Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, and so many others. I’m wondering if those writers have even heard of them.
Do I think that all GenX midlife women think they have it worse than anyone else? Of course not. My hope is that they’ll start writing and share their important stories, too. We’re all in this together and need to help each other out.
Instead of haunting each other this Halloween, let’s celebrate our commonalities. And, most of all, let’s dance around the fire and have a good time.
I have a handful of best friends. How about you? I think most of us feel close to a few people, not hoards.
Today I want to talk about two of my sister-friends, Myra and Marka. We call ourselves the Three Amigos. We’ve known each other for thirty years and joke that we have to stay friends because we know too much. We don’t want anyone telling our deepest, darkest secrets.
When I first met Myra, we went to lunch one day at a Mexican restaurant. A roach crawled up the wall beside us in the middle of her telling a story. Without breaking stride, she took off her shoe, killed the pest, and went on with her story. I knew she was my kind of woman.
Myra introduced me to Marka, who is ten years younger than the other two of us. Beautiful, stylish, Southern as all get-out, and smart as a whip, I fell in love with her, too, as soon as I met her.
We’re all married, so the husband stories have abounded, as you can well imagine. We love our families but treasure our time together. We meet informally for lunch throughout the year, but it’s tradition to meet before Christmas for a long lunch to exchange small gifts, and then wander through an antique store or two.
It’s this friendship I used as a model for my latest novel, Secrets of the Island. A romantic suspense story, the “Three Musketeers” band together to solve a family mystery. When they solve one, another crops up, so they keep going. It takes place during World War II, so wartime issues intertwine with their lives.
As I wrote, I would think of Myra’s effervescent take on life and Marka’s way of turning a phrase. My characters took on their personalities, with someone a lot like me in the middle orchestrating the solving of the mystery.
I think this is what we as writers do. We don’t disclose our friends’ secrets, but we automatically use who and what we know to write. As I wrote about the Three Musketeers, I fell in love with those characters. Do you as a writer fall in love with some of your characters? I hope so. That’s what will make your readers fall in love with them, too.
This writing also made me fall in love with the Three Amigos all over again. Here’s to sister-friends everywhere. May you stay friends forever, holding those secret stories locked away in your heart.
I almost didn’t go. After all, until her death twelve years ago, my mom kept me up on all the hometown gossip about people I knew (and didn’t know). West Branch, Michigan, has about 2,000 people and my class at West Branch High School graduated 105 kids in 1966. I figured I’d kept in touch with a few of my closest friends, so what would be the point of traveling a thousand miles from my home in Braselton, Georgia, to see a bunch of old folks I hardly remember?
But after perusing classmates’ Facebook pages with fun old photos, I decided what the hell I’d go.
I had a blast, which brings me to my list of 5 reasons you, too, should attend your 50th – or 40th or 60th or whatever – high school reunion.
- There is a sense of community amongst classmates. I suppose most classes feel that way, but I was gobsmacked with the sense of camaraderie amongst my classmates. Once I got past the changed faces and physiques, and started remembering people by their voices, I felt like we’d never missed a beat. A number of them and I went from kindergarten to graduation together. There is even one man who was born the same day as me in our hometown hospital and we’ve always known that the nurses switched us, giving each of us to the wrong mother for our first breastfeeding. So he and I have been connected since day one of our lives.
Later on as I reflected upon this feeling of community, I realized that now that many of our parents have passed on, we have no one to share memories of our youth with other than each other. No one else on earth shares our schoolhouse experiences. We can recall the lavender scent of our kindergarten teacher, the jiggle of our third grade teacher’s fat arms, and the joy of shooting off our first rocket in eighth grade. Art class, dance day, playground, cursive, health and safety… Somehow as little kids we navigated the nuances of pending adulthood and survived together.
And when we were young we could never have anticipated the war to come in a land we had yet to ever hear of: Vietnam. Soon after graduation many boys were drafted and went to war. We reminisced about those who never returned. That kind of communal grief would be hard for anyone else to comprehend.
- People get better as they age. If you’d asked my 17-year-old self which of my male classmates would become handsome men, I would have been woefully wrong. What a delightful surprise.
And I thought all of the women were beautiful. Maybe it was just a matter of getting rid of our ‘60s hard hat hairdos, but they were stunning. Fun clothes. Glorious white hair. Pretty skin. Plump, slim, and in-between, they all looked great.
I anticipated as much when we were seniors. I gave the Baccalaureate dinner speech. I have no recollection as to why on earth I was chosen to give that speech – it certainly wasn’t because of good grades – but I do remember being reprimanded afterward. I had said that someday we would come back to our class reunion, curious to see if Rudy still had that wink and Jezebel still had that wiggle. Some of the grown-ups failed to see the humor in that. But I now know I was right. And I still think it’s funny.
- Old wounds really do heal. There was, of course, a lot of typical teenaged angst back in the day. But we couldn’t remember exactly what it was all about. There were jealousies over boyfriends and girlfriends, to be sure, and competitive rivalries over grades and sports, but all of that old animosity has fallen by the wayside in the throes of real life.
Even my neighborhood bully told me she now knows it was wrong of her to blackmail us other kids into paying her to stay out of our yards. Nice admission, although I noticed that she didn’t apologize. I got a kick out of the irony of that.
- Compassion dwells in the hearts of childhood friends. A couple of my classmates have obvious health problems. Rather than pity, however, I saw compassion from others. There was no “poor you,” just concern and caring.
There was also empathy for those who have lost loved ones, especially a child. As one man put it, many of us share the bond of having experienced “the worst day of our lives.”
I suspect by now we’ve all been through so many heartbreaks and disappointments that nothing surprises us. Rather than waste time feeling sorry for anyone else or for ourselves, we get down to the business of taking care of whatever befalls our friends, with as much love and compassion as possible.
- That graduation speech was right. I don’t actually remember the speaker or anything he said, seeing that I was pissed off during the whole ceremony. Because I’d been skipping school a lot anyway, I’d decided to skip graduation, too. But my mom grabbed me by the arm and made me go. Anyway, I’m sure that like most graduation speeches ours was about forging our way into the future with guts and glory. Well, wouldn’t you know, it does take a lot of guts and glory to be an adult. We rose above the milieu of life, matured for the most part, and muddled our way through.
I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone waxes fantastic about our graduating class. But still, we’re a group who is – for better and for worse – forever bonded together. If nothing else, that reunion was a good time with old friends, fun music, tasty food, and delightful beverages. Go to your reunion and let me know what it’s like for you. I’m curious to see if you enjoy it as much as I did. www.lindahughes.com
With the two new biographies just out about Rosemary Kennedy, I decided it’s time to share a story about my experience working for her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Yes, they were sisters in the Kennedy family, thus sisters to JFK, Robert, and Ted. It was 1974 when I volunteered to work at the Special Olympics, which was a new organization with a big event being held on my college campus, Central Michigan University.
Mrs. Shriver (I never dared call her Eunice) had founded the Special Olympics out of love for her sister Rosemary. As those of us who worked the three-day event on the track field all knew, Rosemary was what was then called retarded, today called mentally impaired. What we didn’t know at that time and what I learned in subsequent years was that Rosemary’s disability was due to her father having had her lobotomized. It’s a brutal tale for which you’ll have to read the biographies to get details.
But working with Mrs. Shriver was something else. I was a small-town girl in a small-town college with a small-time job. The first time I laid eyes on Mrs. Shriver it was obvious that the silk dress and pearls she wore were more valuable than everything I owned on earth all put together, including my junker of $75 Volkswagen Beetle car. I thought her regal, beautiful, aristocratic… a combination I’d seldom witnessed in my little world. But one thing was clear: her love of the children who were participating in the games. I barely deigned approach her, but the athletes could go to her dirty and sweaty, and hug the heck out of that silk dress and Mrs. Shriver never flinched. They all received her affection.
I fell in love with her. I thought her the most marvelous woman I’d ever met. Today I see her as one of the most influential and important women of the twentieth century for bringing mental impairment out of the closet – literally in too many cases – and bringing human beings with all types of abilities together in a spirit of hope and fun and love.
As luck would have it, my job was to meet celebrities as they arrived and escort them to Mrs. Shriver. It was such fun meeting people I’d seen in the news, including TV and movie stars, athletes, and even Miss America. Out of everyone I met, however, two stood out for their interactions with the kids. Sally Struthers, who was a huge star due to the hit TV show All in the Family, showed up each morning before the kids came. She was there when they arrived and stayed until she’d given every last one of them a hug in the evening. Then she’d go out dancing ’til the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t even begin to keep up with her. She was great. And singer Mac Davis sat under a tree all day long and taught the kids how to play music with spoons. They loved that. I think we stole every spoon out of the cafeteria in order to handle all the kids who wanted to play. They would go run their meet, then scurry right back to Mac to play more spoons.
There were some celebrities who came just for the photo ops. Once that camera flash popped they were gone.
On the second day Mrs. Shriver’s two children arrived in a limousine. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a limo before that event, so the thought of riding in such a big car was totally foreign to me. When I suggested to Mrs. Shriver’s personal assistant that her children needed some outdoor clothes instead of the proper prep school things they were wearing, he seemed shocked, then considered it. He went to his boss and she looked my way suspiciously. But her assistant eventually came to me with $200 cash and told me to go buy them something more appropriate. I’ll never forget the feel of that cash in my hand. At that time in my life, that was like giving me $2000 in pure gold.
Of course, I didn’t occur to me that they didn’t expect me to take the kids. After all, I’d spent years babysitting others’ children and taking care of my younger siblings, so I was used to being responsible for little ones. And I needed them to try on the clothes. I grabbed Maria, who was about twelve, and her younger brother, who was maybe eight, and we hopped into my $75 Beetle convertible with the broken top and bright plastic flower stickers covering the rips in the seats, and off we went to K-Mart. They loved my car! They’d never seen anything like it. It was the same with K-Mart. They ran up and down the aisles in wonder. It only took a few minutes to get shorts, tee-shirts, and tennis shoes, which they wore with glee. We were back at the track within twenty minutes. When I handed Mrs. Shriver $175 in change she was shocked. She said she hadn’t seen the limo leave and it was then that it became clear to me I didn’t know how things were done in the upper crust.
More and more over the years I’ve come to appreciate how she bravely spoke out about a topic many were embarrassed to acknowledge – the need for services for people with disabilities. I’ve come to understand that she did it out of love for her sister who, according to the recent biographies, she did not know the whereabouts of for many years. When she learned about Rosemary’s fate and that she was sequestered in an institution for the disabled, she visited her beloved sister on a regular basis. It was then that she put her family’s money, privilege, and power to good use to help others with disabilities.
As I said, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was one of the greatest women of the 20th century. We can only hope to have more like her in the 21st.
Here’s the beginning of the article:
When I was in my twenties in the 1970s, I signed up to take belly dancing classes, as was the craze in those days. Recently married and perpetually optimistic, I wanted to stay in shape when I got pregnant. I also knew it would be fun, especially with my friends in the class, too.
Little did I know that such an innocent decision would dramatically impact my life.
Here I am, forty years later, still reflecting upon the gifts of that experience, especially the spiritual connections that blossomed. The joi de vivre of the dance not only allowed my body freedom of movement, it opened my heart and soul, as well, allowing a rekindling of spiritual ties. It provided me with a sense of spectacularly ethereal belonging to this world and beyond, with loving ties to those who have walked – and danced – on this earth before me.
So why did I ever let it go? Why did I let something I grew to love float away on the tips of my belidi veil? Why did I let those spiritual connections, the closeness of those beyond, slip away? Likewise, have you ever felt an other-worldly bond; a tie to guardian spirits, angels, ancestors, or however you think of “them;” and do you still feel it? Or has it evaporated in the over-scheduled chaos of today’s typical daily life, like it did for me?
When my life coach Jan Rose Distel asked me to list ten ways in which I’m quirky, my first thought was, “Who, me? I’m as normal as boring dry toast.” But after a few moments of reflection, I realized that I could rattle off a list as quickly as I could twirl my pinky finger ring for good luck.
What about you? Are you quirky, too? Think about that as you read my list.
1. I talk to dead people. All the time. I’ve always felt, rather than seen, that they are around me. I have no problem with that. So far, they’ve been friendly. When I was a child I had a friend named Karene. My mom called her my imaginary friend but I knew that was ridiculous. Karene was right there. When my little sister was born and mom named her Karene, I liked that little baby okay but I knew she wasn’t really Karene.
2. I channel stories from dead spirits. I know, so far this all sounds weird. When my psychic friend wanted to hypnotize me to do a past life regression, I thought that was weird and that it would never work with me. I told her I’m too strong a personality to be hypnotized. Never mind, a few minutes later I was out and telling amazing stories from dead women. The psychic thinks those were my past lives; I think other women, maybe my ancestors, were sharing their stories with me. Those stories are the crux of my ancestry quest novel Becoming Jessie Belle.
3. I do indeed twirl my pinky finger ring for good luck. I’m very superstitious about this. If I were to leave the house and forget the ring, I’d be afraid of having a bad day. I’d even go back for it; it’s that important to me.
4. I’m a Coca-Cola addict. I mean, like a drug addict on crack. I used to have a favorite saying when things went haywire: “I just need a Coke!” A nice, cold, glass bottle – not can or plastic as I was a purist connoisseur – always did the trick and made me feel better no matter what. A year and a half ago I gave it up cold turkey because soda really isn’t good for us. Do I miss it? You bet. When I see a Coke ad or see someone drinking one, my mouth salivates for the taste. I consider it one of my biggest accomplishments to have given it up.
5. I get style advise from my dog. I let my Sheltie LuLu help me pick out what to wear. When I can’t decide what to wear, I hold out two choices. Whichever one my dog noses first gets worn. So far, no one has ever appeared to be appalled at my appearance. And LuLu seems pleased with her choices.
6. I’m claustrophobic. I don’t do enclosed small spaces like elevators, MRIs, or small planes. But remote old cemeteries in the dark of night don’t bother me at all. Go figure.
7. I’m a rabid Zorro fan. Old, modern, film, television, book, or comic book – it doesn’t matter. I have a Zorro collection, including my own movie replica sword. I fell in love with the “Fox” when I was a child and thought I’d grow up to be Lolita Quintero. (The dark-eyed, dark-haired, beautiful heroine.) I wore a Spanish comb with an old curtain on my head for a mantilla veil. I didn’t exactly grow up to look like Lolita – not even close – but the story’s message about striving for social justice stuck and will be with me always.
8. I’m a Gemini with a genuine dual personality. I want to be everywhere all the time but don’t want to leave home. Let me explain: Wanderlust hit early and led me to a career where I traveled the world. I felt like a child of the universe, feeling comfortable just about anywhere, and loved my homes away from home. There is definitely a gypsy in my soul. But at the same time I love nesting, and want to be in my cozy house with my husband and pets. I want it all.
9. I have a favorite shirt. It’s so old the fabric is about to disintegrate. But I can’t give it up. It’s my shirt. It’s a blue New Orleans House of Blues twill that was given to me by a bartender at church one Sunday in 1996. I’m not kidding! The House of Blues rented a church in downtown Atlanta during the Olympics. A typical bar with live music at night, it held a gospel brunch church service on Sunday morning. The bar was open. When I commented to the bartender on her cool shirt, she took it off and handed it to me. Literally, the shirt off her back. I’ve treasured it ever since.
10. I’m phobic about germs. Usually. I use hand sanitizer like water. I wipe down my computer, phone, and iPad with antibacterial wipes. I do the same with the kitchen counters, then wash them with soap and water to get rid of chemicals. I use my own pen when signing a credit card receipt. I use toilet paper to cover the handle when I flush the toilet in a public place. In a hotel I use my wipes everywhere and barely touch the comforter as I pull it off the bed so other people’s germs don’t get on me. But when I’m working out at my health club I can tolerate any amount of sweat, dirt, and even rap music. Totally unlike me. Must be my Gemini personality at work again.
Okay, fess up. How are you quirky? Anything like this, or do you have weirdness all your own? Think you’re not quirky? Think again.
Comments are welcome.