The Long Transition from a Gypsy to a Rose

Roses Turn (the re-invention anthem, out of order on purpose):

 Mama’s talkin’ loud.
 Mama’s doin’ fine.
 Mama’s gettin’ hot. 
Mama’s goin’ stong.
 Mama’s movin’ on.
 Mama’s all alone.
 Mama doesn’t care.
 Mama’s lettin’ loose.
Mama’s got the stuff.
 Mama’s lettin’ go.
 Mama?
 Mama’s got the stuff.
 Mama’s gotta move.
 Mama’s gotta go.
 Mama? Mama?
 Mama’s gotta let go.

 Why did I do it?
What did it get me?
 Scrapbooks full of me in the background.
 Give ’em love and what does it get ya?
 What does it get ya?
 One quick look as each of ’em leaves you.
 All your life and what does it get ya?
 Thanks a lot and out with the garbage,
 they take bows and you’re battin’ zero.


Ya either got it, or ya ain’t.
 And, boys, I got it!
 Ya like it?
 Well, I got it!

 Some people got it and make it pay.
 Some people can’t even give it away.
 This people’s got it
 and this people’s spreadin’ it around!
 You either have it
 or you’ve had it!

Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn? 
Don’t I get a dream for myself?
 Starting now it’s gonna be my turn. 
Gangway, world, get off of my runway!
 Starting now I bat a thousand!
 This time, boys, I’m taking the bows and

everything’s coming up Rose!
 Everything’s coming up Roses! 
Everything’s coming up Roses
 this time for me!
 For me! For me! For me! For me! For me! 
For me! Yeah!

 The general patriarchic summary of the stage play “Gypsy” often describes the mother, Rose, as a self centered harpy- but as I watched once again with an older, and more nuanced eye I saw the subtlety and wit that would make Nora Ephron (RIP) proud.  There is a reason the character of Rose can be on stage for almost the entire show and still be engaging.  If she truly were a one-note character largely made up of a self-centered harpy the show would not work.  The greater themes about parenting, aging, and the necessity of adapting are what keep us engaged as they play out in a larger than life woman and her relationships with those she loves.  That Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurent got it right is really impressive (and that some of their other work is such schlock makes me think they both might just BE versions of the Rose character).  Clive Barnes understood the psychological and entertainment brilliance of Rose when he said she was one of the few truly complex characters in the American Musical (Thank you Wikipedia for reminding me of this review: Barnes, Clive. ” ‘Gypsy’ Bounces Back With Zest and Lilt”. The New York Times. September 24, 1974).

While Rose is deeply and uniquely gendered, I think the character and the struggles she experiences (warts and all) as well as the impulse for reinvention goes beyond gender and is a truly humanist construction.  For decades swaths of people in LBGT communities have been drawn to the story of theater, parental conflict and the character of Rose.  So much so, fandom of Rose has become a sort of “hair pin”, and I would like to think I can make a claim to affinity for Rose without the hair pin, and reappropriate her for middle aged women.

I am struck by how well the tension between Gypsy and Rose captures the continuum all women face.  We start out as young women, exploring our lives as sexual beings, “pretty girls” (if you recall the mirror scene), resisting the objectification that comes with that time of life, and fashioning our presence as our own.  Slowly, over time, we grow and change and there is an epiphany many, many of us go through when we sing the “Rose’s Turn” song in our own way as we become a Rose, and leave Gypsy behind.  Oh, and all that “Mama’s getting’ hot”?  Layered meanings, folks- and the multiyear wind up to menopause is in it.

The necessity in middle age of taking stock and reinventing ourselves is not special to women, but can play out in very different and gendered ways that “Roses Turn” deftly captures.  What superficially may seem grasping, even delusional, is not.  The song is fully self-aware and instead of devolving into self-pity, asserts the character as adaptive and open to a new time in life with fierceness, intelligence, charm, and gusto (but does not avoid the attendant sadness and regret either).  We should all be so lucky to have the bravado of Rose!

I am still on the continuum, shifting.  I think of all the Red Hat ladies who designated women my age as “Pink Ladies”, not yet old enough, not yet ready to wear the brash, assertive red.  Aging and parenting can have dark, cruel, cruel sides for women.  Marketers count on that.  But it is the infinitely creative, funny, and strong presence of all the Roses I have known that provide my texts as I advance, and a bulwark against the all too common reductive, diminishing, and dismissive forces of culture towards middle aged women (in arenas of employment, entertainment, health care, and journalism especially).

I took great pleasure in watching Rosalind Russell belt out “Roses Turn” today.  Pleasure of a complexity I never had before.  I can’t help but think so many of the women who stump and squawk about issues that force women into untenable corners (healthcare and abortion rights as one example) and are on the side of regressive, suppressive policies might gain something from watching Rose, and start to recognize the Rose’s in their lives, and in themselves.

There have been many extremely stressful, unasked for corners in the past few years and I am deeply grateful for the love and support of my husband, friends, and family.  Huge holes in this blog are one example of the collateral effects.  But today, this morning, if just for a little while, I am humming and singing to myself,  Mama’s talkin’ loud.
Mama’s doin’ fine.
Mama’s gettin’ hot.
Mama’s goin’ stong.
Mama’s movin’ on. . .

Thank you Rose. 

All you Roses, thank you.

To my peers, lets start to shimmy a little and get loud. . . 

Curse you tooth fairy!

I knew Primo would need braces at some point.  His teeth were coming in at such strange angles, behind other teeth; it seemed like the tooth fairy had visited him drunk every time.  But really- top level of severity on three dimensions?  Three?  Bottom jaw juts out in an under bite like a bulldog, side to side is way off, and the top and bottom are tilted off one another in some strange axis.  Oy.   Our kind, gentle dentist told us as sweetly as possible Primo needed a consult with an orthodontist soon, that at this age they can plan and begin a process to help him.  She handed me the referral, saying at some point they may even need to pull some teeth if his jaw does not grow significantly in the next several years.  But, she added, on the bright side, Segundo just has a slight under bite, and they both seem to have strong, healthy teeth and gums!  Thanks Doc.

Growing up, braces were like saying you wanted a pony; so far outside the margin of possibility that they were not even worth thinking about.  They were simply too expensive.   While prices have come down and the technology involved has become more sophisticated, it is still a sting to the pocket when considering the years and degree of difficulty involved with Primo.  But I have seen the problems Husband has had with chewing, sleeping, all sorts of functions I take for granted and if we can alleviate those issues for our kids, then I would like to try.

I wonder at the genetics involved.  How did both my kids get my Husbands mouth?  Did they get his whole head?  Did they get his propensity (and his mother, and his grandfather) for a bad back?  Segundo certainly got his hair.  We joke that if he had been a girl she would have been a hair model, it is so thick and straight and beautiful.  Segundo hates for us to wash his hair though, it is so thick it makes it difficult to get to the scalp- yet he will not get a buzz cut again, he says it makes him look dumb.  Primo cares little about his hair and clothes most of the time, and is the easier going of the two.  He seems to have hair more like Husband, but not the carbon copy straight shot Segundo got. 

Did they get anything from me?  I worry that they may have only gotten deficits; did they get any of the scary cancer genes we suspect run in my mother’s family?  Or did they get the extreme longevity of my father’s side?  They have eyes similar to mine in color, but it is also the color of my mother-in-laws eyes.  Both boys got the wonky toenails of their father (who has had to have nail surgery for extreme in-grown nails- are they related to the teeth problem somehow?).  I hope they got his nose, not mine.  I hope they got his even-keel personality, his wit, and his creativity (whether by genes, modeling, or a combination of both).  We both have big squishy hearts, which is evident in the boys.  Whatever neuroscience and genetics has said lately about attributes of altruism, empathy and the like I would like to read.  The boys have these qualities in spades and would probably make good research participants.

I know kids grow and change.  I know Primo’s jawbones and head (which already takes an adult size M-L hat!) will grow more in the coming years.  I know they will expand their already barrel chests, wide shoulders, and long legs and the proportions will shift and exaggerate like a fun house mirror over the years.  But it would be good to see them at some point and know visibly they have something of me in those cells, something written in the DNA that is not a deficit.  Time will tell.  In the mean time I have to put a slit in an empty coffee can lid and start saving money for braces and what ever else the dental magicians have come up with for Primos mouth.  I trust the words, songs, jokes, and ideas that come of it- now I need to learn about and trust the hands and appliances that will go in.

It’s NOT simple

 

Worst offense against human consciousness: bad oversimplification. Great art simplifies small and/or large ideas elegantly; crystallizes with beauty of form and content. Communication in all forms can strive for elegance, and often-necessary simplification. Otherwise anyone- even experts in any field- are just babbling schizophrenics to those who attempt to listen. It leaves the listeners only the construction of their own minds (with respect to post-structuralists, communication does/can happen), and encourages ignorance.

Advertising has elevated the business of lying to sell a product or service to an egregious degree, such that we watch ads now during events such as the super bowl for the ads themselves, not to find out about a product.  High entertainment indeed.   It is communication without content, only form.  Marketers do not want people to know content such as what is in a product, or the hidden costs of a service, because that might dissuade a potential sucker- er, customer.  Obfuscation, the intentional bad oversimplification, the appearance of truth within a lie- is what is expected now days to sell anything.  It is the opposite of enlightenment, of learning, of being informed.

This reality of accepting, even expecting bad oversimplification has transmogrified with the cult of celebrity, of instant tech celebrity, and of superficial, fleeting appearances over any other form of being.  While what I am considering is not new, the critiques began long ago I admit- it is the lack of outrage and even boredom with cynicism that does seem to be new.  Some have said they observe a sticking the head in the sand, hands over ears and eyes approach to the overwhelming presence of what I am calling the wash of bad oversimplification (bad in moral, as well as aesthetic meanings), but I find it much more a perverse boredom that does not want to be aware, and while some may ignore the cracks in the veneers of culture, allowing oneself- yes, choosing- to chase the next over stimulating lie in order to feel engaged, it is a drug of such power few ever dreamed of.  Many of those peddling bad oversimplification in all arenas of human activity tend to ignore it.  Mediocrity?  No real communication or exchange?  Grades as a reflection of how well one can cheat, and jobs having no meritocracy but for your age, looks and temporary utility?  The very idea of elegant simplification- of terse, beautiful and informative communication seems not only an unfair expectation, but something for which we have fewer and fewer models and hence any cultural memory for it is evaporating. 

Art that sells because it is obtuse, and the maker has disappeared up his or her own arse hole usually with a mind numbing string of unrelated words or written inanity (substituting verbosity for content) compounds a general expectation that the experts know more than anyone else ever will, and what is not understandable is therefore good and important.  Or as the evangelical christians have marketed so well: in the face of feeling overwhelmed accept your own stupidity and the authority of others- you’ll just never know, and to inquire is blasphemous.  Oh, and you must enjoy the bad oversimplifications given to you.  Ironically, this message can be masked in the sale of simplicity!  Think of the yoga-vegan stereotype of goodness and simplicity, that encourages a degree of happiness and tranquility by ignoring as much as one can, and simply purchasing the right product, eating a particular food, and “not over thinking”.  Bad oversimplifications all.  

It may seem paradoxical yet consistent that only after considering the complexity of an idea, act, or object one might arrive at good simplicity and elegant understanding.  I can’t recall the exact quote, but Twain is noted for saying when asked to give a speech, that it took him about an hour to write a three page speech, half a day for a two page, a day for a page, and a week for a paragraph.  Good simplicity is an art to be appreciated in all forms; a scientific abstract, a research design, an essay, a novel, a film, architecture, design, a policy, a curriculum, an assessment or evaluation design, and any other activity one can imagine, especially speeches.  Or as Bob Stake has put it: simplicity is often a marker of quality (certainly of clarity); and even on the best day, quality is damned difficult to define.

 

Note: Tackling this concept requires a display of my own bumbling over-simplification, I admit- I never said I was efficient at simplifying, just frustrated at being able to identify the problem.  And yes yes- “bad over simplification” is redundant in a sense- but there can be oversimplification that is simply a structural mistake, and does not fall into the moral and aesthetic category of “bad”.  Not  therefore good, but benign perhaps.

As a friend recently said, watching Fight Club is a good way into thinking about the problem, and with humor.


Clean

Clean is an idea, a concept.  In practice though, what is clean?  To be more specific, how can two small people make such huge messes?  I have given up on my husband.  He cleans when he gets irritated, and usually goes a little bananas on the laundry and his studio.  But in daily life, I have given up hoping the ten feet from the table to the kitchen sink would ever become a worn path from people-especially husband- getting dishes to the sink.

It’s the necessity every day, often more than once, of having to sweep under and around the table that amazes me.  There is a direct correlation between how messy the floor around the table is and how messy the top of the table appears.  Two people shorter than I am, who weigh at least half as much, but the messes they can create in very short spans of time are shocking.  Can they use utensils?  Yes they can.  Can they use napkins?  Yes, yes they can.  Then why is it after a simple cereal breakfast it looks like Tony the Tiger got in a cage match with the Natures Organics lady while trying to sell product?

After seven years of male kids, I have acclimated to the Legos- I don’t like it, I still complain, even rage when I get one into the arch of my foot.  But acceptance is the first step, right?  The Legos will never fully be cleaned up.  Ever.  Nor will they stay cleaned up, once a pick-up blitz has occurred.  Legos will always litter my house.  As long as they do not get into the sink or toilet drains, as long as they do not get lodged in a child’s throat, as long as the insinkerator does not chop them up, the dishwasher melt them, or the lawn mower make them into shrapnel, I am good.  Time teaches us things you see.

I have accepted after six years of DIY home renovation that it will not ever be completely finished.  I accept my responsibility in this- is the wallpaper fully removed from the stairwell?  No it is not.  Are the corners under each step swept?  No.  Are there continual piles of papers (and I know what is in each one of them so no one dares move them) on the piano, and on the guest bed (which is ostensibly in my “office” work space?)?  Are there piles of fabric for long ago conceived projects pushing the closet doors open in my office, calling to me?  Yes.

But then, will the last of the floor trim ever be fixed and put back in place?   Will the ceiling ever be complete?  Oh the drama.  Peyton Place never had such questions!  Because in TV Land, everything is clean.

I had a friend once tell me (also a mom) that there is a distinct difference between clean and unhygienic that people do not truly understand until they have children.  I was mortified when Husband recently pointed out the old crusty vomit flecks at the base of the pantry door (which is usually hidden by the bedroom door that opens in front of it), I would have cleaned it with all the rest of the incident months ago had I seen the splatter (Tiny people also have a way of producing copious projectile vomit that can not be believed until you have kids).  THAT was unhygienic, and I cleaned it after he told me.  Sweatshirts of all sizes littering the floor?  Just messy.  Par for the course.  Toys everywhere?  Standard daily life.  The compost bowl buzzing with fruit flies?  Unhygienic- why? The child responsible for the daily task slacking off, and the Husband who borrowed my stainless steel compost pot (an ingenious reworking of a salvaged food service piece and an old Pyrex lid that fit it perfectly) not returning it. 

But I have to ask, why does the first floor bathroom ALWAYS have to smell like the monkey house at the zoo?  I grew up believing that being male was such a urinary advantage- the whole standing up, no need to fully undress one’s lower half thing especially.  But as a parent, I wonder why they can’t aim properly.  And yes, the mess annoys me on many levels, especially hygiene related.

Clothes will be wrinkled; and as my children are still under 12, I will put clothes away.  But can’t they get the ones off their bodies down the steps at least NEAR the laundry room?  Smelling worn clothes thrown together with clean- that is always a risky prospect, as any parent will tell you.  Clothes left in summer camp bags, under beds, or in gym bags- that is down right haz mat territory.

So when a dear friend (who has been single all his life, and who not only has impeccable taste but feels he requires a cleaning lady at least once a week- and what for still stymies me) comes to visit and is more than a little unnerved by all the mess; he judiciously wonders about the definition of clean as it applies to us.  He admits his comfort level is somewhere, oh light years away from ours.  He also has never been married, or had children.  ‘Nuff said.

Do I get nervous when we have people over?  A little.  We laugh with self-deprecation and try to make explicit our embarrassment at the unfinished construction and daily mess.  Most people with children nod and laugh too, some share anecdotes about the height of the dirty laundry piles hidden in the basement, or the unidentified crud on a spoon from a dishwasher going on the fritz.  Most shake their heads over toys, and admit to just “closing the door” on their children’s rooms.  We all know we have battles to pick; we have check mark boards, we have reward tiles, we have poker chips as cash.  We have designated family cleaning time every week (our is Saturday AM until the boys get into weekend sports), and know what can be accomplished and what cannot in that span of time.

Are we clean?  Sometimes.  Are we dirty?  I would not say so, but that is a whole other rant I think.  Is there a continuum of clean that we have to manage and know intimately in order to function?  Yes.  Survive, even, I will say- your blood pressure and sanity depends upon it.  In sum dear reader, nothing is simple- not even the definition of clean.   Life has taught me that, and life will go on even if robot origami, a handful of Legos, spilled salt, and returned homework are still on the table tomorrow morning.  Yes, life will go on.

Taboo

Those lacy panties look great- displayed on the dresser that is.  The matching bra in the lace that does not scratch looks good too but it makes strange patterns under teeshirts. So the set gets stowed away for a special occasion.

The go-to underwear is the cotton with a little spandex in it.  It fits through multiple washings, and leaves little VPL due to the way they can finish the edges now.  Women harass men about their underwear- yes; it is part of a bigger taboo subject.  Most married women even BUY their husbands underwear, noticing when it looks worn and getting the new stuff for them.  Men usually don’t notice- as long as it fits, and looks like the old underwear they really don’t care.  It’s a purely functional thing.

The secret is that women are very much the same way. I didn’t give a lot of thought to my underwear until a good friend in college pointed out that I had alternatives to what I wore.  Still, over the years function trumped appearance but for the few sets of “special” underwear that only came out on limited occasions.  As I thumb through my current drawer, I wonder about when I make the choice to pitch a handful of raggedy, worn, stained (yes, you know what I mean), and out of shape underwear and replace them.  They don’t really cost that much, so waiting until the drawer throws itself open in protest seems extreme.  They come in packages or if you want to go upscale, on little hangers in department stores.  Or, as I found out recently, in bins when department stores ship them off to second tier resellers.  I picked through for my size and bought several pairs (why do they call them pairs anyway?  You don’t buy matching sets of panties.  They are underpants.  Again with the plural- pants.  They should be called underpant).  Costing under a buck a pair for some nicely made cotton/spandex, I was pleased (while they are all new and never tried on, going through a bin still feels a little ghetto).

It occurs to me this experience has changed how I feel about throwing any out now.  The tangibility of buying single pairs for under a buck apiece makes me realize there is no reason to hang on to the crummy old ones.  All these years and I waited to buy a new package, because- what?  I didn’t think I needed six new pairs at once?  I don’t know.  Because I was waiting for a sale?

This momentary revelation about a product we usually do not discuss, not really, seems a bit odd.  The Vicky’s Secret thing is for college girls and spank bank material for college boys.  The rest of us of either gender just get some at the local Wal-Tar-K and wear them with little thought (but avert our eyes if someone else is replenishing their stock at the same time).  The historical evolution of the habit is an interesting topic, but likely to garner red faces at a dinner party.  Going without them has consequences, no matter how much “going commando” sounds like a brave thing to do.  And honestly, in spite of the viral distribution of the Brit-Linds-Poptart-of-the-moment photos getting out of limos and flashing their naughty bits, who really goes without?

Write an ode to the ignored virtues of the cotton panty?  Perhaps.  Or maybe I’ll just replace them more often, and enjoy the fit and feel of a new pair.  Advertisers would do well to have a commercial that just encourages us to do this, without all the dancing around the topic or trying to make it sexy.   Bras have complexity, the fit is difficult to describe.  Panties?  When did Oprah ever have entire episodes about them with fitters to show us how they ought to cling?  I won’t go into the male jockey-brief-boxer scene.  While also taboo and often ignored, these essential items inspire humor more than anything else.

So thank you to whom ever got with the program and designed my current crop.  I can’t go a day without them and hopefully won’t be met with embarrassed scorn if husband happens to see mine in the wash.  I see London, I see France, but who cares if you see my underpants!  Panties!  Tighty whities!  Unmentionables!  Lingerie!  Jock strap!  G string!  Bloomers!  Boxers!  (I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t, and I really, really don’t want to see yours either).   Comfort to the way of the wearer, my friend.  Comfort and privacy to you.

I am invisible

We are a collection of wonderful paradoxes, Walt Whitman might say.  I am both a very shy person, and yet can be charismatic and outgoing.  Choosing to be invisible is easy.  Worn teeshirt, jeans, frumpy hair, no makeup, what I think of as my Coco Chanel glasses (large, plastic frames and glass bi-focal lenses), small silver earrings.  Keen sandals.  Wedding band.  All this and I disappear.  Literally.  Counter clerks have to look twice, as if I appeared out of thin air from the first time they glanced.  When I am done with my business and walk away, I doubt they could recall anything about me at all.  Crossing the street, cars forget to stop. 

When I make myself “presentable”, people seem shocked.  The mothers of the children at the preschool my son attends recently had lunch together.  Many are academics, most over the age of 30.  When I walked in, the organizer of the event looked stunned.  She commented on how I appeared, positively.  So did others.  When I picked up my son from school his teacher could not stop asking about the large funky ring I wore (Did Husband make it? No.), the sweater, the black jeans, the BCBG black shoes, the silver bangles.  I had makeup and less crazy glasses on as well.  When she could not seem to stop, I interjected “Yes.  I clean up.”  She seemed embarrassed at that point.  I usually drop him off and pick him up while cleaning or gardening, or any number of banal and mundane activities that require “work clothes”.  Also, I know I am invisible when I dress down and no one bothers me.  They avoid me actually, so I suppose my appearance is a few steps above bag lady.

 I have a fantasy about my own super heroine.  She is a late 50’s retired chemist, widowed.  She lives in a neat and orderly craftsman style house in an older neighborhood, in a university town.  Her neighbor is a Native American man who looks after her garden when she travels.  Her old grad assistant looks after her dog.  She has become a finely attuned killer.  She has educated herself about all manner of methods (very funny scenes in the beginning of the development of her alter ego when she is learning methods of how to kill).  She scans various newspapers for people she believes deserve to be taken out of the gene pool as she says; child abusers who have gotten off on technicalities for example.   She expertly hunts them down and erases them.  She does so with relative ease because she is smart, but also because she is invisible.  She is the kindly, graying older woman no one takes seriously.  She slips through crowds without being seen, but without needing camouflage.  Hey, men have their Spider-mans and Dark Knights.  I have my Invisible Woman. 

 One sided dialogue from imagined film pitch:

“No.  Not like Ms. Marple.”

“No.  Not like Dexter.”

“No.  She does not have super powers.”

“No.  She does not dress like a tart.  I don’t think you get the idea.”

“No.  Not like Stephanie Plum.”

“No.  No no no.  The core demographic is not male 12-35.”

“Do you know what irony is?”

“We are done here.”

  That’s pretty much how life goes anyway.

I may not have the brains or nerve to BE my super heroine, but on a smaller scale I know how to manipulate my appearance and energy to achieve certain perceptions.  You have to “work with what you have” my mother used to say.  I was never beautiful, and youth is a great help in attractiveness.  Middle age is another situation entirely.   It was near the end of my graduate school experiences, at a conference, when a woman told me “you look like somebodys mother”.  I had not dressed that way, and wondered why she got off on insulting me.  She was older than I was and trying way too hard to be hip in her appearance.  It was just another straw on the proverbial camels back for me regarding academia, and not really a surprise.  People are just as messed up, petty, competitive, dim and prone to superficiality as in any other arena, they just have the skills to mask it better.  Being invisible does not mean it is a good quality, and there are a lot of women whom it really chafes.

Most of us know as we slip into invisibility.  Men cease to take the automatic sneak peek at our breasts, and we move beyond sexual opportunity into “safe” ; not yet grandmotherly, but not a sexual bulls eye to hit either.  We gain a little social authority, but only when we are persistent in a goal.  Otherwise we risk being called crazy, or threatening and are thus dismissed.  As Husband says, that is a grave mistake- because a middle aged woman comfortable in her body and experienced is “a thing of wonder and pleasure”.

Try to remember: you never know about all those ladies you pass on the street.  Don’t underestimate us, because you really have no idea about all the things we are and who we can be.  You have been given fair warning.  Besides, isn’t it better to imagine a bunch of terrific Invisible Women out there fighting for the greater good in the world?