Category Archives: aging

CAN YOU PLEASE LEAVE ME IN MY BUBBLE?

Happy bubbles

If you are a male reader, I beg you to stop reading now. There are images of your woman you just don’t want ingrained in your mind. Go have a coffee and I will see you tomorrow. If you are a girl of any age, carry on – you might recognize or see your future yourself.

This morning, battling LA traffic trying to reach the office of my gyno, I thought back at the time of my first period, age 13. It was a Sunday, I was in the back of the family car, on the way home from a day trip to Florence, my little sister napping next to me. Once inside the house, there was a surprise in my panties. I knew what it was, girls talk, but my mother wasn’t extremely helpful – with only some tampons on hand and pharmacies closed, she couldn’t think of anything better than handing me a huge wad of cotton wool to put between my legs. I felt I was sitting on a saddle and mentally reminded myself to avoid scheduling any major life events on a Sunday.

Thirty years or so later, I am driving to the gyno because my super regular, trusted periods that invariably followed the moon cycles, have become wacky. I know where this is leading to but I am living in a heightened state of denial, still convinced there might be a medical explanation. “You are all good!” she announces cheerily, brandishing a gigantic white and blue vaginal wand that would put any vibrator to shame. “But what about my wacky periods?” “Do you have any other symptoms? No? You will just have to grin and bear them, you are peri-menopausal”.

In sign of protest at this unwelcome piece of news, instead of hurrying to work, I veer into Pain Quotidien, the rip-off Belgian chain known for its wonderful bread, the quaint communal tables and the coffee served in those adorable French cafe au lait bowls that get me every time. I blow $10 over a small cappuccino and two slices of rye bread with butter and jam, all organic – mind you – breaking my golden rule of keeping dairy and wheat at a minimum in my daily diet. The coffee brings me back to a state of denial, in which I decide that this peri-menopausal state will last for a good 10 years. I am finally ready to face the rest of the day.

Fast forward a few hours and, in a (unwelcome) case of serendipity, a very pleasant looking lady zeroes in on me at work, while I am on my break, sipping coffee in the sun. In the space of five minutes, this stranger manages to tell me she is turning 60 tomorrow, she is a breast cancer survivor, she is on Weight Watcher (although she looks extremely slim to me) because she wanted to look fabulous for her birthday.

“You know, menopause made me gain 1 pound a year. You’ll see, I was as slim as you (she still is). You need to start taking calcium now because you have small bones and all your bone mass will be lost in the next few years. And go for the hormone replacement therapy. I look way better than all my friends who don’t do it – their skin sags and they look old. And the hair, the texture of the hair changes, mine became curly and it was as straight as yours.  And, my god, the mood swings, I kept crying all the time”.

At this point, I just want this lunatic to go away, breaking as she is into my denial bubble, where I carved a very comfortable place for myself. But nameless lady is relentless. “It just sucks, I am so depressed at turning 60”. I tell her she looks pretty wonderful to me, in her white skinny jeans and a powder blue top that matches the color of her eyes but I know that, no matter how sincere my compliments come across, they won’t lift her funky mood.

“Start taking your calcium” she insists, finally walking away. I feel like I have been inducted in another secret society. From the one of budding breasts and knowing smiles to the one of sleepless nights and hot flushes. I slowly go back to work, closing behind me the door of my denial bubble. Just watch me, 10  more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ON A QUEST

It must have been in my early 20’s that I wondered, for the first time, whether there was more to life than I was experiencing. For reasons long forgotten, I found myself one night at a meeting of followers of a branch of Japanese Buddhism, chanting “nam myoho renge kyo”, wishing for my dreams to come true. Or that is what I came away with. Plus the knowledge that Tina Turner was also an adept. This form of Buddhism was predicated on reaching your material goals first, leaving you free to move on to higher spiritual pursuits. My love affair with this group didn’t last long, mainly because of the pressure of bringing new adherents on a constant basis. And then I moved to London anyway, where I became more concerned with making ends meet, furthering my career of choice and just having a modicum of fun. Spiritual matters and the pursuit of meaning of life had to be shelved for over a decade.

It wasn’t until I relocated to Los Angeles, severely alone, with everything I knew left behind, that the question “What am I doing here?” became to encompass more than just my geographical circumstances. The quest every human being embarks on once their basic needs are met, had started in earnest. For some it’s just as simple as following the religious teachings they began to study as children. As to me, I always had trouble believing in an all sentient God that looked down on us and sent us terrible misfortunes on a global scale. But I always envied such blind and unquestioning faith – if there is a God, it’s his fault he made me so argumentative to question his own existence.

Whether there is a God, an afterlife, a parallel universe or spirits hanging around are all questions I stopped bothered asking as there will be no definitive answer. What I am more concerned with is how to live this one and only life I was lucky enough to get: with integrity, passion, fulfillment, compassion, love and ethic principles I could abide by.

Like most people, knowledge of self is where it all starts. I believe that getting to know ourselves intimately is sometimes harder than getting to know others. In my case, learning to embrace my darker side, the one I am not proud of, has been the most challenging process. Along the way, there has been Jungian therapy (twice), study of yoga and basic Buddhist principles, meditation and a lot of ink on blank pages. What I am left with, on the verge of turning 50, is a much better understanding of who I am and how I work, more forgiveness for my shortcomings and a realization that happiness is conquered one day at a time and not bestowed. Not by others, not by wealth or circumstances. It’s a fundamental choice.

When I look back, I know I have been given so much. I was born in a developed country, free of mortal infant diseases, in a family of means. Like everybody, I had my share of sorrows, heartaches, battles to fight, people lost, fears to conquer. But, by and large, I ploughed  on with enthusiasm. I really couldn’t have asked for more.

With all the books piled up I still have to read, I do hope for another 50 years ahead of me. But, were it all be taken away from me tomorrow, I can honestly say I gave as good as I got. And what I got was plentiful.

PS

If you are wondering what sent me spiralling on this tangent, I blame two recent posts: 100 Words by Emma, an exercise I encourage you to do (I couldn’t get to the end) and Gingergirl’s Let go and be happy and its 15 things to get rid of to achieve a better life.

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LIFE FRAGMENTS

Not my friend - and his lederhosen were actually more outlandish

Anyone who got to know me in the second half of my life can scarcely believe me when I admit to a lifelong case of shyness. At work I tend to be bossy, a natural at telling people what to do; in my private life I am opinionated, stubborn and foul-mouthed and I am that driver who will tailgate you for a couple of miles, cursing, if you happen to cut me off.

Yet, I was painfully shy as a kid and, to this day, I prefer intimate gatherings to loud and crowded parties which, in my book, are any get together comprising more than eight people.

The last time I celebrated a birthday with a large cast of characters was my 30th – my boyfriend at the time organized the dinner under a pergola, in a restaurant on the outskirt of Milan, followed by a jaunt at an old-fashioned amusement park. It was actually a lot of  fun and I have happy Polaroids to prove it: me embracing a rifle, trying to win a rubber duck. With my 50th birthday approaching (which I am confessing now and then never ever mention again), I thought it might be fun to mark the occasion with another dinner under a pergola, this time on the hills outside my native town, surrounded by as many people I love as I could think of.

On the phone with my best friend and mistress of ceremonies, I ran through a tentative guest list that ended up including one night stands and every Tom, Dick and Anne we could think of. While it was a laugh to bring back to life those souls from our past that had left a mark, albeit not indelible, it was clearly not feasible or cost effective. So I sat down by myself, old-fashioned pen and paper in hand and started jotting down names. Besides the close friends and family that make up the fabric of my everyday life, I realized how many people I could think of that had touched me, really touched me along the different roads I travelled in the last five decades.

What suddenly came to mind was a black and white photo I haven’t seen in years, no doubt buried in the mess in one of my mother’s drawers, of  a little boy of six, holding the hand of a grinning five-year old girl dressed in tartan pants that itched like a bitch and a stupid looking Tyrolean jacket, black hair cropped short and a teddy bear dangling from her other hand. His thin legs were swallowed by hiking boots and left bare by a pair of lederhosen that no parent should inflict on an unsuspecting offspring.  We were standing on the side of a mountain somewhere in Austria, during one of those Summer vacations our parents dragged us on.  I am now convinced that this attire we had no part in choosing contributed to our eventual breaking free of conventions and leading lives outside the parameters of the expected. He went on to become a professional photographer and writer and I, well, here I am.

I felt a sudden urge to have my childhood buddy, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly 20 years, near me again. Which, in turn, led me to thinking about how many people, in the course of a life, contribute to making us who we are. All these life fragments are neatly glued together inside us and, far too often, we don’t give them the credit they are due.

Either that or I am getting incredibly sentimental in my old age.

PS And yes, he will be coming to my party. And, 20 years later, he has the same identical photograph tacked to his kitchen wall.

Photo courtesy of bavarianspecialty.com where you can buy the lederhosen

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FRIDAY MUSINGS AND SILLY DREAMS

The extra-sized white envelope inside the mailbox was a surprise. The name and address were handwritten and the post stamp indicated the letter had travelled all the way from Italy. Who gets handwritten mail any longer? If I think of all those letters I penned in my youth, to friends, lovers, family, I become a touch nostalgic.

I recognized the handwriting on the front at first glance – you are not friends with someone for over 30 years without absorbing certain details on an intimate, visceral level even if, these days, the bulk of our communication is carried on through e-mail. Inside, one of my oldest and best friends, lovingly folded a full page of Repubblica, an Italian daily, with a black and white photo of a famous person I used to have an enormous crush on and whose face is now being used to advertise jeans. I smiled, remembering a time when life’s difficulties comprised nothing more than balancing a checkbook (perpetually empty) and getting over a heartache.

I tacked the photo by my desk at work, certainly not because the crush still has merits (and, sadly, the object of my old desire is no more) but to remind myself, while I slog through e-mails, recipes, whining staff and the like, that life is too short even if you live to a hundred and that dreams, no matter how silly or improbable, are at the heart of our existence, the driving force behind who we are. Impossible or unattainable are not adjectives we should ever ascribe to our dreams. The point is not whether they become true or not but what we do, along the way, to try and reach them. The process will transform us and, sometimes, will transform our dreams too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NAVIGATING THE HORMONAL TEMPEST

My current mood

It starts innocuously enough. I am going about the business of my day and I will be suddenly enveloped by an inexplicable sadness, or an unjustified rage. Usually coinciding with the arrival of my period.

It’s official. I have entered peri-menopause, that stretch of time that can go for years, prior to my ovaries shutting down for good, after having earned their retirement. Like most governments around the world, I am prodding them to continue working past their previously assumed retirement age. No golfing or condo in Florida for my reproductive system just yet, I decided. And, as their proud owner, shouldn’t I be entitled to any major decisions involving our well-being? That is why we have tete-a-tete once in a while, in which I pray them to, please, pretty please, keep on marching on, keep on producing that estrogen that keeps my skin from drying up, my collagen to not drain away just yet and my bones to stay strong. So far, they have been cooperating. But for how much longer?

So far, the worst of my symptoms, other than my periods coming closer together, are the bitchy mood swings. In my ’20’s, my English doctor prescribed me some new fangled, slow release contraception pill – within a week, I would find myself bursting into tears whenever someone asked me to do something at work. Sometimes, the mere approach of my desk would send me into teary spasms. It was my first encounter with a hormonal tempest, quickly put to an end by switching to a regular pill.

I am now becoming re-acquainted with my bitchy alter ego. What I found is that, more than ever, I have to control what I say when I find myself riding the hormonal waves. My first instinct is to let the rage take over and blurt out venom as it rises to my lips – but I have learnt to walk away, move to a different space and reconsider whether my uttering what I think are words of wisdom might be better left to a different time. The answer is, 9 out of 10 times, yes. My friend Luisa will argue that this is not at all a symptom of peri-menopause but just the crankiness that sets in with age but I know better.

Tears can also surface more easily which is a bit of a worry, as I am known to cry watching Bambi for the millionth time or recounting my dogs’ adventures. “You are prone to crocodile tears” my mother would always remind me since childhood. The only barrier now between me and tears in public is a coating of mascara, and not wanting to look like a raccoon for no good reason.

All this has led me to a polite exchange with my hormones as well as my ovaries. I understand they might be annoyed too at the idea of dwindling and finally having to leave my body, but all I ask is some advance notice of when they are planning to strike, as even Ottie is sometimes taken by surprise and today’s bout of sadness was greeted not with a wet muzzle on my face while I was lying listlessly on the couch, but with a detour to the patio, in order to catch the last fading rays. Traitor. Now, if Ottie is having a hard time dealing with my moods, pity my poor staff at work or, worse, the man who shares my bed.

So, for the time it’s going to take for me to become a quaint old lady, I am trying to reach a truce with the hormonal changes affecting my body. It’s still a work in progress – just know that if I bite, it’s nothing personal.

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THE INEPT BLOGGER

As I was re-reading yesterday’s post (not something I am in the habit of doing), I was painfully aware that I wrote about a wonderful meal in a visually interesting and intriguing place and I didn’t attach a single picture. The reason being, I didn’t take any and, for once, it wasn’t out of forgetfulness.

I scour, subscribe and follow a number blogs – some food related – and I am always amazed, and a touch envious, at how much photographic content people come up with, and a lot of it better than average. I am an inept photographer, which is problem number one, as you might have surmised by the instructional photos of my recipe posts. And then there is the age factor. I will whip out my phone to take impromptu pictures of my canine companions at the drop of a hat, I will take shots while travelling or on special occasions but I draw the line when sitting down for dinner in a restaurant.

Mostly, I want to enjoy my meals without forcing everyone to stop, move back and let me take pictures. And, secondly, I don’t want to look like yet another blogger or geek or out of towner having to snap every dish set in front of me –  but since when did I start caring about appearances? In reality, I don’t. This is where the generational gap comes into play. Unlike younger people, I haven’t grown up bombarded by images, or in front of videos or too intrigued by what things or people look like. I am still insanely attached to words.

In the blogosphere, this is decidedly a drawback. Every site, news item, blog, Facebook page draws you in with a single shot. In my case, I persevere with my lunacy, for those who are as attached to words as I am and to satisfy a perverse need to be contrarian. Which also comes with age, by the way.

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NO LONGER AFRAID OF FLYING

“As I get older, I find myself becoming ruder”, muses my friend from Wales in her latest e-mail. What she means is that she has fewer internal brakes to stop her voicing what she really thinks.

At a gathering of women, huddled over baked pasta, the hostess recounts a story and ends by proclaiming that maturity has finally bestowed fearlessness on her.

I couldn’t agree more.

At 20, we are completely unaware of our beauty and live with bravado behind a shield of insecurity.

At 30, we are a bit more cocky and self-assured but still grappling with career and relationship issues (or, god help us, motherhood).

At 40, we have set in some of our ways, we are more comfortable in our skins and less fearful of speaking out, standing up for ourselves and others, but we begin to worry our best days might be behind us.

While approaching 50, trying to reconcile the lines on our faces that don’t match our energy and our enthusiasm for life, I have indeed noticed an absence of fear. Don’t get me wrong, I am petrified at the thought of getting seriously sick and the idea of eventually dying is none too pleasant nor readily accepted, but I have become fearless in a million ways I am actually conscious of.

Unlike the fearlessness of youth, dictated by inexperience, foolishness and the absence of known consequences (or imaginable ones), my current bout of courage stems from knowing what the consequences are and not caring. White lies are sometimes necessary but going with the truth 99% of the time is liberating. Having managed to accept myself for who I am, I tend to be more accepting of others who, in return, must vow not to try and change me or wish I were different.

Trying new experiences is not a dilemma any longer as the “life is too short” motto pretty much sums it up and eliminates indecision.

In a perverse way, I am looking forward to getting to the point where the mirror doesn’t matter any longer and a hat is all you need for a bad hair day. Possibly pink and straw.

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FRIDAY MUSINGS

Three, very unrelated, items pricked my ears this week. In no particular order:

  1. While motivated and caring individuals and chefs like Alice Waters, Ann Cooper, Jamie Oliver and even Mrs. Obama have been working for years to improve the dismal lunches that get served in our public schools, Congress is caving in to the demands of some powerful food lobbies. What’s new? Not much. But, if not for its sadness, it would actually be funny to see that, after pressure from the potato lobby, French fries are still on school menus under the heading of “vegetables” and pizza is poised to become an item that qualifies as nutritious. A slice will be considered to contain all the three required families of grains, meat alternative and vegetables – the vegetables being the couple of tomato paste spoons that make up the sauce. Hilarious.
  2. I don’t typically spend much time thinking about the housing conditions of murderers, rapists and the like. Like all Californians, I am aware of the overcrowding of our prisons and jails, even the Supreme Court said so and ordered the state to reduce the inmate population by 30,000. Said inmates are mainly being transferred to city jails, such as the Los Angeles Men Jail in downtown LA. Zev Yaroslavsky, our brilliant county supervisor for the third district, in his latest newsletter vividly depicts the typical condition of an inmate, be he a small time offender or a rapist waiting for trial. Basement cells originally meant for 2, now being occupied by up to 4, all sharing the in-cell toilet and basin. How can we expect to rehabilitate human beings if we keep them in sub-human conditions? For the full story and pictures go to Zev’s blogpost
  3. Unless you were sleeping (or not in my age bracket),you probably heard that R.E.M., after 31 years together, decided to call it quits (before succumbing to the Rolling Stones’ syndrome). I happened to catch a lovely interview on NPR with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills. On answering the inevitable “what’s next?” question, Michael Stipe replied he didn’t know. He then added he had attended a couple of shows lately and, while standing in the audience, he thought he will never again experience that inebriating feeling of being on stage, in front of thousands of people. In the folds of his gravelly voice, one could hear a touching vulnerability, even a tinge of regret. Until his band mate chimed in: “Michael, you will make music again. You have too much of a gift to let it go. It won’t be with us, it will be with other people. It won’t feel the same as with us, it will feel different but it will feel good”. Mike Mills sounded very much like the hen pushing her brood out of the coop. Never was there a more graceful underscoring of the fact that we have grown up. And it’s time to move on.

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RUNNING FOR THE HILLS

Direct marketers the world over need to let me age and die in peace. My mailbox has become a source of anxiety as I feel the dread mounting while going about the mundane task of retrieving my daily mail.

In rapid succession, this week I received a lavish brochure from Forest Hill Memorial, hellbent on selling me eternal rest in a lovely plot overlooking the new, expanded six lanes of the 405. Dear Forest Hill Memorial, for the record, I want whomever will have the misfortune to deal with my dead body to shoulder the expense and the bureaucracy of shipping said body back to Italy, where it can rest in peace in a lovely plot overlooking an Italian freeway which, all things being equal, is more likely to be a lot better looking than the new and improved 405.

Next came the leaflet from West Hills Retirement Home (is the word “hills” supposed to conjure an upgrade on death?), offering me a private room with cable, to better fritter my time buying watches from  shopping channels, flower chintz curtains and weekly bingo, so I can spend my last years with other like-minded and semi incapacitated seniors and hopefully keel over after hitting the bingo jackpot.

Today, the AARP took it upon itself to let me know there are fair to excellent chances  I might live to see my 50th birthday, in which case I should take up discounted cruises along the Mississippi, explore discounted Bed and Breakfasts in Georgia and look forward to their monthly magazine, full of vital tips on how to get the most out of my sex life in the golden years.

No, really, do they know who they are talking to? How does Madonna deal with this constant reminder that, despite her mummified appearance that permanently locks her in an indefinite over 40 age, she is on her way to being decrepit? Wait, one of the perks of fame is never having to deal with a mailbox. If you think that Christmas card you are sending to George Clooney will actually be read by him, you are truly mistaken. You will have sent it to a nondescript production office address, where minions or elves are paid to sort through the mail and make sure George sees none of it.

Me, I am stuck with my suburban looking mailbox, which not only does it remind me the mortgage is due but also that I am indeed on the path to decrepitude. I am seriously considering turning my life 100% paperless – every bill paid on-line, every magazine digitally scrolled, every card or invitation received through those maddeningly impersonal sites and never, never open that mailbox again.

My golden years will be spent in a house on the ocean, surrounded by dogs and best friends to banter and bicker with, sipping Pimm’s Cups and wearing pink hats in a blissful and delirious denial that the best times are behind us. Happiness is never have  to reach for that AARP card inside my Prada purse.

 

 

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SENIOR GRACE

My mother taught me that a good fabric and a good cut will go a long a way in making you look stylish, and that it’s better to buy fewer quality items than a lot of junk. I have abided by her advice most of my life which is now reflected in a rather large size closet, with some pieces that date back to the time when I could still wear mini-skirts. I mean, real mini-skirts. Once a year, I weed through it, often times with the help of a friend whose merciless eye will help me get rid of the neon pink dress  I only wore once or the white lace number bought second-hand that makes me look like a St. Honore cake. The rule is – if it hasn’t been worn in a year, it  must go.
Since my high earning days are well behind me, I have no problem mixing and matching some nicer items with Target or H&M cheapos, or even Forever 21, where I really have no business shopping. To keep up on who is designing what, I started subscribing to sites such as Moda Operandi that sells couture I cannot possibly afford but gives me ideas. In the last few months, though, I find myself going back to Garance Dore, a French graphic designer/photographer who has become a bit of a style guru. Her site is uncluttered, the images of models/friends/women on the street appealing and inspiring – en
But my latest find (well, the latest NY Times’ find) is a site I am growing obsessed with. How come never thought about it before?www.advancedstyle.blogspot.com is dedicated to stylish women of advanced age. The blogger, Ari Seth Cohen,, roams the streets of New York and other fashion cities, looking for interesting older women, to prove that style, fashion and age can go hand in hand. Check out Ruth who, at 100, still does Pilates, travels and doesn’t look a day over 85. She is my new idol.
The ladies photographed on the streets of Milan could possibly be me in a couple of decades. I always thought I would end up with a perky collection of extravagant hats and frosted lipsticks (what I know for sure is that track-suits will never be an option. What is it with old ladies and track-suits anyway?) but advancedstyle is making me re-think my options. Nice to know I have some and a bit more time to figure them out.

 

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