Friday, November 24, 2017

How to Live (and Wear) a Feme Sole Thanksgiving

Now that our grandparents and mother are dead, Thanksgiving is a lot different. A lot quieter, and so, a little weirder. For literally decades, we would gather at my grandparents' overheated, tiny house, which was filled to bursting with family, partners, friends, and orphans. Our increasingly deaf grandparents would blare Judge Judy and sportsball and the Macy's Day Parade; my grandmother and mother would holler at Eldest to add more broth to the stuffing, soupiness be damned. But as the years marched on, and people divorced and moved away and died, our numbers dwindled. And now, for the first time in 31 years, we aren't having dinner at the grandparents' house. That house stands silent and mostly empty and thoroughly abandoned, patiently waiting for a realtor to march people through and choose to buy it so they can have their own decades of family dinners there. And those few who remain--my sisters and partners, all childless, and myself--now gather in my sister's kitchen to break bread, give thanks, and all the rest.

This is also my first Thanksgiving as an officially divorced woman--a feme sole. This is what my beloved Oxford English Dictionary has to say about this:

feme sole, n.
Origin: A borrowing from French. Etymon: French feme sole. Law French feme sole, femme sole unmarried woman (1302 or earlier in Anglo-Norman) < feme , femme feme n. + sole soleadj. Compare post-classical Latin femina sola (1396 in a British source, in legal context). 
An unmarried woman; (sometimes) spec. one who is divorced or widowed. Also in the English and other common law legal systems: a married woman whose legal status, esp. with regard to her right to own property or to carry on a business, is that of an unmarried woman.

In other words? Fuck yes. It's funny, I was so uncomfortable in my 20s about being single, unpartnered, unclaimed, yet I had to become all those things to become comfortable with not being those things. And so now I wear this title with pride and joy and relief; it was a hell of a long road to get here, both legally and emotionally, and now that I am here, I am pretty ready to dig in, put down roots, and look down at all you other chumps with some smugness. Just kidding. Kind of.

I'm having a damned good Thanksgiving, despite the lack of family, and because of my feme sole state. Here's how I do it:

I decide I'm going to look good--look damned good. Wash my hair dammit, and choose an outfit that gets me a lot of compliments even if I think secretly it makes me look pregnant. (I'm not, and thankfully never will be.) I wear it with my best smile.

 Tunic from Rue 21; leggings from Meijer's because omg I wear leggings now!

I put on as much makeup as I want. Here's my view on makeup--it conceals what doesn't need to be seen and enhances what should be seen. It helps make me be the most radiant me that I want to be.

Couples at family holiday dinners are happily inevitable. When I was younger and the single odd duck, I felt self-conscious, unpaired, unloved. I'm older now, and now it doesn't bother me one jot, and if you're single, I hope it won't bother you either. The (let's hope) happiness of the couples at family gatherings are not a reflection on us single folk; not an indication of some sort of fatal flaw, and we can make our own happiness and freedom without a partner by our sides. And as I learned through my own bitter experiences, having a partner at your side at a family dinner is no indication of a satisfied, secure existence. I smile and laugh and talk and joke with the couples, admire the camaraderie that they share, and then I carry on being me.

I adhere to family traditions. With my people, this consists of
Eldest Sister slaves away in the kitchen, as she has done since Time Immemorial (she is now both the Matriarch and the Martyr of the Family) 
Middle Sister sits on the couch and peruses the Black Friday ads (although we aren't dummies, we don't go out into that brouhaha) 
The Little Odd Duck stays as much out of the way as possible and watches X-Files. This is a tradition that stems back to my teens, when I worked at a toy store and had to be to work at 3 AM the day after Thanksgiving, literally ducking toys flying overhead, so during Turkey Day I would hunker down, rest up, eat food, and drool over Scully. 
 Me, Pre-Drool
Occasionally I holler at Eldest Sister to add more broth to the stuffing. I don't care about stuffing, but it's what our mom and grandmother did. And what was good enough for them is good enough for us, dammit. 

So there we go--how I lived my  2017 Thanksgiving. It was chill but not chilly, lovely and cozy and filled with laughter and memories of people and days gone by. I lived it genuinely, as I have tried to do every day since taking the leap into Life After Marriage--as a sister, a friend, the Indy Grrl, the Odd Duck, Crazy Aunt Mel, and feme sole. It's a good life, and it's one I am grateful I had the courage to grab on to.

Monday, November 6, 2017

You Say Self-Care, I Say Survival

Since The Great Shitshow of 2016, there's been a lot of talk in the world about self-care. This concept differs wildly from person to person--for some folks, it's taking a day to apply a $75 squid jizz mask, eat a vegan concoction of rhubarb and kale and chickpea innards, and meditate for three hours. For other folks, it's getting a mani-pedi, shopping at Kate Spade and Kendra Scott and Sephora, and then eating a leisurely lobster dinner. And then there are some folks that just take that time to do basic "I should do this every day but don't because I suck at adulting" shit. With poptarts. And wine.

Guess which category The Indy Grrl falls in?

Towards the end of my workweek last week,  I realized that I had an opportunity to clear my schedule and hunker down for the weekend. (My brilliant Eldest Sister calls this a Fuck Off World! Weekend, which I think is the most accurate, if not kindest, description.) And it was perfect timing--we were supposed to get rain all weekend. So that's what I did--promised myself 36 hours of "self care" and went so far as to commit to it on my planner, stocked up with some food essentials, and disappeared from the world.

Here's what these adventures in self-care looked like:

Gently Moving, Saturday Afternoon:
Usually I feel like I am constantly going-going-going, with half of my mind on the task at hand and half my mind scanning the horizon for the next thing to get done. Mindfulness, schmindfulness. But as I am coming home from the grocery store on Saturday afternoon, the brilliant scarlets and orange leaves against the stormy sky outside my apartment building catch my eye. With nowhere that I HAVE to be now, it seems like a perfect time to take an amble. 

Sleeping In and Having a Lazy Morning
The women in my family have several endearing talents; chief amongst them is our ability to sleep and sleep and sleep. And then sleep some more. As you can imagine, having to adhere to a schedule of...well, waking up at designated times really puts a cramp in our style. So any chance we have to not bow down and submit to the cruel mistress of our cell phone alarms, you can be damned sure we are grabbing it. So I've done just that, letting my body wake up on its own, natural-like. Amazingly, I manage to wake up at 9, but any smugness I feel is quickly banished when I realize that I'd forgotten that daylight savings time had ended, we had "fallen back" during the night, and my body feels like it's 10 a.m. No matter. I shrug it off, fix some coffee, light a candle, and creep back into bed for a couple of hours of YouTube and Interneting. 

A Little Bit of Productivity
My Eldest Sister believes that the ideal weekend includes a lot of puttering, in which nothing really gets accomplished, so she would be appalled at my approach. But I've got my own roll--my idea of a pampering weekend is one in which a LOT of stuff is accomplished, but none of it feels like work. Nothing too strenuous, but part of self-care is doing something to feel like your home is a haven and not a shithole. And so I clean for a bit, fold some laundry, do some dishes, change the sheets...with the help of my furry feline fuckers. 

Some Entertainment
So books! Much words! 

Pampering/Treat Yo'Self
I don't have a lot of fancy facial stuff on hand (alas--no squid jizz!) but there is some e.l.f. stuff I've been wanting to try, so today I took the plunge and used them. I wouldn't say my face felt transformed, but it did feel nice. 

Another treat--Brie, and some out-of-season-yet-still delicious berries. 

Not Dying
It's November here in the Heartland, and it's second storm season. Halfway through my Self-Care Day, the sky darkens, the atmosphere grows still, my phone buzzes with an emergency alert from the county, and the "torny warnies" start warbling their weird, wild wails. My housemate and I round up the disgruntled feline fuckers, as well as some wine and other boozy companions, and hunker down into the tiny little half-bath. 

Four hours later, second verse, same as the first. 

Fortunately, any tornadic activity went to the place known as Not Here. Nonetheless--at one point, I grouse to the Housemate, "This is NOT how I wanted this Self-Care Day to go!"
To which she responds, not inaccurately, "Survival is self-care."

You say self-care, I say survival. 

It's too bad that we have to take time to set aside, specially, for self-care. In a perfect world, it's part of our daily routine. In a perfect world, we don't have to clear our schedule for a day of it. In a perfect not the world we live in. The world I live in is chaotic and busy and I am a flawed inhabitant of this world, but I survive it as best I can. I could do better, I could do worse. But I have to move through this world believing that I deserve to treat myself to some kindness, to some survival, to some quality of life. I invite you to do the same. To take care of others, we gots to take care of ourselves first. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Chasing my Happy: The Winter Weirdness Edition

My happy isn't your happy, and that's okay. There's enough to go around.

In the early morning hours, I reluctantly slipped out from underneath my covers--disturbing the furry feline fuckers in the process--and padded over to my window. Was I seeing snow? It was hard to say for certain; darkness still enveloped everything, and my bleary eyes weren't aided by glasses. And really, what did it matter? If it was, in fact, snowing, well, chances were I'd have plenty more opportunities to see it. So I padded back to my toasty bed and burrowed back underneath the covers, and the furry feline fuckers quickly forgave me.

When I woke up for good, a couple of hours later, I quickly realized something pretty darned cool (heh, literally):

It's November 1, and here in the hoosiery hills of Southern Indiana, we've had our first snowfall of the season.

It didn't last, of course. But what did last was the wet, gloomy, cold weather that brought us the snow to begin with. All day, the temperature has hovered in the low forties, and there's been absolutely no sun. If I'm being honest, I'll admit that I've been vaguely cold, all day. And it doesn't bug me, not in the slightest. In fact, I am relishing that warm feeling that I'll finally chase down to earth later this evening, when I am in bed once again, and the furry feline fuckers are trying to get as close to me as possible. I've learned that when you achieve a penetrating warmth after a prolonged chill, it's a beautiful, almost sensual thing, an incredible feeling.

I might not always feel like this. Maybe some day, I will resent this place and dread the winters as I once resented California and dreaded...well, all the seasons. But right now, I am just happy to be happy with these cold, grey mornings and evenings, these bare trees, these empty, hollow nights. Even looking up at the picture above, at that grey sky over the rooftops, makes me happy. And not in a "gloom and death and badness and everyone is miserable!" sort of way, but in a "I love the sight of that grey sky and all the cozy homes and people tucked safe away" sort of way. 

Not any one thing is going to make everyone happy. And my way of happiness seems to be distinctly different from most other folks. Folks don't need to get why this cold, empty, gloomy weather makes me happy (which is good, since I don't get why, myself); it's enough that I knew enough to chase that happiness, and that it brought me here. And that I didn't get any frostbite in the process.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

...Ready for it

Today, I've been a bit confused.

The calendar says it's Halloween. So too do the dishes of candy and chocolates, scattered about work, and all of the wee buggers, trotting about in their various costumes. But when I step outside, what I think is, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

As much as I love this place, I can't deny the fact that most of my life has been spent in warm climates. 19 years in Florida, most Halloweens being gross and humid. 9 years in California, most Halloweens being toasty and "oh it's a dry heat" and still feeling like hell. So when I step outside on Halloween morn, and see that my windshield is coated in a layer of ice, and realize that my long wool coat might not be enough to withstand the morning's chill...I'm a little con-fuddled. My body, my personal history, they tell me it's Christmas, even though my life now tells me, "Happy Halloweenie!"

(It's also worth mentioning that we are forecasted to get a wintry mix of precipitation late tonight. YAAAAAAAAAS.)

What I've noticed is that October tends to be a pretty busy time for me--even without the job and two side-hustles I've got going on right now. I'd love to say that I read a dozen books and cooked some amazing meals and crafted some lovely creations and so on, but that's just not the case. I do my work--buying media (we are at the end of the spending cycle), teaching my class, doing a bit of caregiving for my former boss. I socialize with my aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Indiana and their son, and a few other friends. I pursue some fall adventures, like watching scary movies and frolicking in a picked-over orchard. I scold the cats and watch "The West Wing" and think about simpler presidencies, and I try to enjoy the fall as it creeps in.

I attend an utterly magical play with my D'uncle, and remember the line, "It's supposed to hurt...that's how you know it meant something."

I laugh with my friends, and try to focus on the day at hand, and not look back too much on past Octobers, or worry too much about Octobers ahead. I love the thought of homes, cozy and welcoming in the darkening nights; I turn my collar up and face the cold. Some folks believe that Halloween is the witch's New Year, and while I haven't been witchy-poo enough in a long time to adhere to that, a very big part of me hopes that this Halloween is a new year, and that the various shit--physical sickness, political insanity, personal betrayals and disappointments--that have sprung up since last October are now drawing to their close. We will see.

But I gotta admit...I'm ready for it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

On Being Alive

This might be my favorite time of the year,  these early days of autumn. The mornings and evenings are cool--a couple of times, now, they've even been chilly--but days are still warm. And yet...the late afternoon sunlight is a particularly brilliant yet gentle golden, as though it's apologizing for the harsh summer months and trying to encourage us to soak up what little warmth remains before winter sets in. The crickets still chirp at night; not the loud clamor of high summer, and rather fewer of them, but they are still their, making their noises quietly and persistently as though saying, "We will continue our song until the bitter end."

It's a beautiful early fall evening right now, and I am reminded of a fall evening from my very early years. It must be one of my very first memories--I was three, or perhaps four. We were still living in Ohio. My mom was getting me ready for bed, and insisting I wear an undershirt under my nightgown because the nights were getting cooler. I remember looking over her shoulder at the open window in my bedroom, seeing the dark night beyond my cozy little world, feeling the chill night air, knowing she was right.

It's a beautiful fall evening right now, and for me at least, it is a beautiful day to be alive. And oh, how rotten I feel, thinking that. At least 59 people are no longer here to enjoy life on this peaceful evening. Their lives ended yesterday, their peace shattered. I wish that I could believe that they have never-ending peace, now, but I don't have any certainty of that. I know that we who are left have even less peace and security than we had before (and really, those were and are only illusions), and I know that many of us sit in our homes, and look out our open windows into the chilly autumn evening, and know that it's a dark night that lies beyond our cozy little world. And not all of us have the privilege of a cozy little world.

I'm sad, I'm distressed, I'm exhausted. I imagine most of us are--and probably for a lot longer than just the last 24 hours. I don't know what to do; I only know that I can close my eyes against this gentle autumn night and wake tomorrow and rise and meet the day with a desire to act with courage and a strong moral compass and compassion. Maybe that's all I can do. Maybe that's all any of us can do. Or maybe that that is the bare frickin minimum.

May we all retire to our beds tonight, safe and loved. May we all wake tomorrow to wrest whatever beauty we can from this chaotic world. May we all survive to see another beautiful autumn evening tomorrow. And may we rest our heads tomorrow night knowing we did all we personally could to set this world to rights.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Another Homecoming

Well and so! Another August--my second one back here in Bloomington--draws to a close. Other than a few brutally hot days, it's been unusually mild and dry, and while I'm no expert when it comes to leaf science (is that a thing?), I wonder if this weather has anything to do with the red and orange pops of color that are already here in the trees.

With the end of August comes the inevitable return of the students. And here is a rather unexpected development--the students are not the only ones returning to Indiana University. I am, too.

Two weeks ago, I stood before a class of library science students. Eleven and twelve and thirteen years ago, I had been one of those students, sitting in that same classroom, prepared to absorb the information my instructors were about to impart. Now, I am one of those instructors, teaching Collection Development. Strange to think that I'm now a little bit of an expert, at least in terms of having over a decade of professional, practical public library experience, which is apparently a marketable commodity.

So. It seems I've come home, in every sense of the word.

The basement halls and lockers around which  I and my friends and fellow students hung around now echo--other students cluster around them, of course, but all of my people--even the most of the professors I knew--have shuffled on to other things--other jobs, retirement, even death. Now, down these halls I walk, an almost middle-aged woman, missing those who populated my youth.  I try to hold myself rather accountable--"I'm not chasing some lost youth or fanciful second chance, am I?"  But still, I'm simply grateful to be here once more. It's another way to be useful and occupied and to try and lead a life of significance, if not success.

And I now have a solid reason to spend time on this beautiful campus, observing the lively, hopeful students, being challenged intellectually and professionally, roaming the stacks of the Wells Library.

Here, at least, things have not changed. These books, also my friends, have not left. They greet me, as they greet all, with a studied, passive indifference, but they accept me. They are steady, and change only as much as the people who read them (or revise them) change and project their own thoughts and interpretations onto the texts.

Most comforting of all: the campus, while now boasting of old buildings with sometimes-new names, and a few new buildings and cosmetic features, hasn't changed much either. It's still lush and green and a little bit abandoned in high summer, a little bit burnt-brown and a lot crowded in the late summer, but the land endures. The thoughts and personalities and hopes and sadnesses and worries and insouciant joys of thousands of students seep their way into the trees, the paths, the soil, becoming part of the story of our university, becoming the stories that nobody hears, but that endure nonetheless. A dozen years ago, I was one of those students, and my story became part of the university. Now I'm back to write another chapter.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Here it is, in early August. 2017 marches onward, slowly and reluctantly relinquishing its grasp. It's been rather obnoxiously hot outside, but that's the nature of summer, and now, during my second summer Back Home, I still don't feel depressed and angry and frustrated the way I did in the deserts. Here, summer is a thing that happens to us, that blesses us for our endurance of the winter, that stays for the proper amount of time and then cedes its position of authority to Fleeting Fall. It's all very right and proper feeling.

The fireflies seem to have faded away (possibly?) but the crickets and the cicadas and the frogs are racheting up their song, and it's impossible to feel lonely in the night, as I sit out on the balcony and listen to their chorus. The wildflowers (or are they weeds?) are blossoming in every bit of uncultivated land, and although I can only identify one, Queen Anne's Lace, I still admire the yellows, oranges, purples, and whites of the other anonymous flora. One of these days, I'll acquire a book on Indiana wildflowers and learn a thing or two about a thing or two, but for now, I am content to simply enjoy the fact that I live in a place where flowers bloom without the intervention of man.

July was a good month. I was quite prepared to love it because I viewed it as something of a "new year"...or new "half year", really. And July, despite being as hot as balls, obliged, and I managed to get through the month more or less unscathed.

Possibly because I spent a good part of the month holed up in my bedroom, reading. Back in June, I re-discovered a historical fiction series that I rather love, and because I work at an incredibly awesome library that carries all approximately 245,631 books in the series, I hunkered down in my bed, drew the blinds, and spent many an evening ignoring any adult obligations in pursuit of the oblivion that comes when reading engrossing, highly-detailed novels set in 1400s-1900s England, in which the compelling characters indulge in mercifully little bodice ripping.

Because bodice-ripping? At this point in my life?

Other than reading, and working, and hiding out from the sunlight, I did manage to get out a little bit. Middle Sister and her husband drove out to see me (this is now the ninth time I've seen them in the 16 months since I've been home!) and we took a lovely jaunt over to Cincinnati. It's rather absurd to me that I was born there, and yet I hardly ever manage to get over there. It was only in 2015--30 years after I had left--that I managed to make make my way back. Fortunately, Middle Sister loves it there, and it's becoming something of a tradition for us to make a pilgrimage there--to eat Cincinnati Skyline Chili Cheese Coneys...
(and fortunately not suffer from cheese-coney-induced death)

To visit our childhood homes...

(One of which now appears to be the site of a fairy garden on meth) 

To eat more food that is slightly more classy than Cheese Coneys...

And to just enjoy this remarkable, beautiful city which feels so strange to us, and yet, if our lives had gone somewhat differently, which could have still been home. Would have never felt alien, would never have looked foreign, because it would have been familiar. Instead, it's a foreign-feeling place (although I think that has to do at least somewhat with the many German and Irish influences in the architecture and food) that bewitches and intrigues us, perhaps mostly for roads not taken. 

It's odd to think of this city being our birthplace. It's odd to think that our family spent a significant period of time here, and yet their mark--if ever there was one--has been erased. The voices of the people who raised us, who saw and knew us at our most young and vulnerable, have been silenced by time and and rejection and death brought on by hard living or just living too damned long.  The only thing that remains are echoes of memories that are fuzzy even to my sisters and myself. The restaurants and stores we remember shuttered their doors years ago. The hospital where I was born closed, even. The elementary school that my sisters attended has changed names, and judging by the exterior, it might not even be the same damned structure. The houses we grew up in have been gutted at best and turned into a fairy-garden meth-lab, at worst. 

Ah well. The past is a foreign country...they speak a different language there, etc. etc. Although, some nights, I feel like the present is a foreign country to me, too, and that I am speaking a language that, hell, is based on an entirely unknown alphabet that only I know. But that's a different thing to ponder, on a different night. 

Thank you, July, for not kicking my ass. Thank you for the good books and the good family and the good food and the warm nights and the days that, while hot, were still not something that would kill me. Thank you, July, for being a quietly, peacefully solid start to the second half of this year, which so fat is going far better than the first half.