Monthly Archives: July 2010

On A Ship Out In Mid Ocean

With gratitude to the late Kate McGarrigle for the title, I am writing to you from inside a floating auditorium on board the last of the great transatlantic ocean liners, the historic and beautiful Queen Mary II. We are sailing eastward across the Atlantic toward Southampton England and are presently several hundred miles south of Nova Scotia.

At the podium, unsinkable at 82, stands all four foot seven inches of the world’s most famous sex therapist. Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s Swiss accent and salty aphorisms are as strong as they were when she became a media icon in the 1980s. She could make a sailor blush with her unabashed sex talk, so it’s a good thing the sailors are elsewhere, and the room filled with liberal minded couples over 50.

It’s time for questions from the crowd, and as I raise my hand, and wait for my turn, I realize that I am faced with one of Life’s Great Opportunities. I can ask the legendary Dr. Ruth anything I want about relationships.

Microphone in hand, I inquire of the scrappy sexologist what she has to say to women over 50 about sexual timing with a prospective suitor. It seems that if you swoon too soon you lose and also if you wait too long. What’s the right timing, Dr. Ruth?

What does the great Doctor have to say?

Vell, the first thing is that her onboard sexual advice (“your assignment is to try a new position this afternoon in your cabin”) is “for couples only,” and she doesn’t want us Crazy Zingles running off and grabbing someone for an impromptu tryst in the stateroom. “I em an old skvair,” she says. (That’s square, folks.) To bolster this confession, she notes that she disapproves of young women who dress for the shopping mall as if “they ver going to the beach” and fears that this scourge of scantily clad females may be a catalyst for sexual criminals.

Dr. Ruth is extremely concerned about STDs and promiscuity. “How do you know that he did not zleep with 10 other vommen on the boat before you?” she inquires, pragmatically.

On the general topic of when it is best to say Yes, Dr. Ruth is cautious. She allows that some folks consummate on the first date with great results. On the other hand, she warns, ” Don’t think just because you zleep with him thet you hev ziss man.” In general, her advice is to keep the libido in check until you have found someone who is interested in you as a person and not just for sex, and to “take it ZLOW.”

Vats to disagree with?

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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Travels


Pity Me I Need You

Guess I haven’t learned my lesson.

As you may recall, I was upbraided for taking exception to those Puritans who condemn what they call self-pity and self-centeredness and self-god-knows-what. Still, my friends, I must add a postscript to my controversial statements, which I think illustrates exactly what I was talking about.

By the way, in case you did not know, the title of this post is a quote from Ole Blue Eyes, from his song “I’m A Fool To Want You,” which was apparently based on his tragic love affair with Ava Gardner, who broke Frank’s tough-guy heart.

Yesterday, I said goodbye to someone who has been a part of my life for nearly three decades, someone whom I have loved and depended on through various changes in a relationship both profound and complex. We had a farewell lunch and then, before driving out of town for the last time, he walked me home. En route, I started to cry. I felt overcome with sadness that this person was actually leaving my life after years and years of closeness. I was crying as I realized I was going to miss him, and how much I loved him, and what a huge loss it was that he was going.

Seeing me wipe my eyes and snuffle, he grew irritated: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,”  he barked. Stung, I said and I meant it: “I am not feeling sorry for myself. I am crying because I am sad that you are going away.”

It was then that I had an epiphany about the whole durned Self-Pity business:

There are people in this world who feel emotions strongly and need or want or are able to express them. There are people who feel emotions but don’t want or need or feel able to express them. To SOME people in the second group, the people in the first group are a bunch of selfish whiners. To SOME people in the first group, the people in the second group are incredibly cold and unsympathetic.

Thinking about the gap between me and the beloved person I was saying goodbye to makes me want to cry all over again. Without apologies.

I am glad I feel things. I feel them for others and for me, too. I feel sorry for people who don’t know how to express emotion. NO, they aren’t inferior, just different.

I am very happy that I know how to feel sad.


Posted by on July 15, 2010 in Essays, Girl Loses Boy



A welcome light rain turns the skies pale gray and sinks gently into deserted lawns and scorched flowerbeds. Dragonflies and goldfinches dart boldly through the garden. A young male cardinal flashes scarlet in the bushes.

In the alley, wild five-foot thistles burst with purple blooms. Crape myrtles bow gracefully under the weight of white and pink blossoms. The fallen flowers carpet the alleyway with rosy hues. In the uncut grass adjoining the sidewalk, startling blue cornflowers have sprung up. A pair of squirrels appears to  be mating, or perhaps only playing, in an empty driveway.

At night, in the smudged charcoal darkness, the chorus of cicadas swells and diminishes. A raccoon shinnies up a drainpipe. Inside a neighboring house, a dog barks, sensing the raccoon. At the top of the hill, lights change rhythmically from red to green but there are no people and no cars at the intersection.

The city sighs in the sweet emptiness.


Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Meditations on Nature, Summer



It is astonishing to me how little I know about simple daily maintenance of body and soul. Perhaps you have felt the same.

I have been single for five years, and alive for more than five decades and still many aspects of my own physical and spiritual upkeep remain challenging.

For this reason I am deeply grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has invented numerous aphorisms and catchwords that reach beyond the alcoholic community to help anyone who needs to take better care of him or herself.

Recently, for instance, I became aware of a favorite AA acronym that is also a powerful directive: HALT.

In AA parlance, HALT stands for the physical and spiritual states to which we need to pay attention if we are to maintain sobriety and mental health. Specifically these are: Hungry Angry Lonely and Tired. They’re the Four Dwarves that Disney left out. HALT represents self-care basics that we tend to ignore.

Let’s start with Lonely:  When I first became single in my late 40s I could not see my own solitude. After decades of being paired up and taking company for granted, I had difficulty recognizing my growing loneliness, and a shyness I had not known was there. Solving the problem was even more of an obstacle. It took me several years of solitude, before I realized that if I wanted someone around I was going to have to pick up the phone and make it happen.

HELL-OH-OH. I know.  Such basic human needs, and how to meet them, should be obvious. For me they weren’t. Training myself to seek out friends, after years of taking love for granted, was a Big Deal. I could write a magazine article on any subject. I could do a pretty good job of keeping a bunch of drunk people entertained with my singing. Making a date, however, was incredibly daunting.

When it comes to Anger, taming my ire has been a struggle  at times. Learning how to recognize and handle one’s anger is of course an essential life skill. For me, angry outbursts tend to occur when I have piled on too much stress and then one more irritating thing happens. After decades of embarrassing meltdowns, I am beginning to learn that one must never pile on so much pressure that more cannot be tolerated. Check Murphy’s Law. There is always more exasperation around the corner.

As for Tired, I used to pride myself on being a woman who never took a nap. Couldn’t stand ’em. What a waste of time. How could you possibly lie down in the middle of the day when there was so much to be done? I do not recall what changed my mind about this. Maybe it was a self-help book, or the gentle prodding of a mental health professional or perhaps it was what the folks in AA call a Moment of Clarity. Whatever prompted me to draw the blinds and lie down for my first adult nap, I found myself marveling at the sweet simple luxury of blankets and a firm but kind mattress in the afternoon.

Hunger management is a lifelong quest. The vanity-fueled dream of, of svelte-itude and chronic confusion over what to put in my refrigerator, and my mouth, has left me Cranky, Drowsy or simply Starving. All I can say now is gradually I am learning to keep myself fueled following a few decent well-known rules of nutrition: whole grains (stuff that looks like hamster food, not brown-colored bread), the proverbial fresh vegetables, lean protein, a lot of water, and a minimum of sugary, refined, processed foods. Yams and brown rice, not potatoes and pasta.

As I review the trouble I have had paying attention to the basics of physical and mental wellbeing, and the challenges I face still, I start to recognize how out of it I’ve been for much of my life. I guess I really did need to HALT and think it over.

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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Body and Soul, Essays