Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Seniors and Soul

Being an older woman in an ageist culture is a lot like wearing an evening gown to a baseball game or being a vegetarian at a pig roast. I’m used to not fitting in. At sixteen, I was reading Shakespeare when other girls were thumbing through the pages of fashion magazines. I always cared about what in another century was called “the life of the mind” and wore the wrong shoes while caring. I remember Gloria Steinem’s famous remark in 1974 when told she didn’t look forty – “This is what forty looks like – we’ve been lying for so long who would know?” Women are still lying about their age, with botox and surgery. I remember the stereotypes of dear biddies with lace doilies everywhere and a propensity for tea drinking. The doily darlings were my grandmother’s generation. Except for special occasions, I practically live in jeans and a sweatshirt and I’ll take a cold beer over hot tea any day. Often, I receive left-handed compliments like “You look pretty trim for a woman your age.” I’m trying to imagine me saying to Wolfgang Puck, “That was a superb duck confit, for a partially balding man.”

The thing that bothers me most about America’s collective aging phobia is its soullessness. What else can obsessive concern about your face and body looking young be called? And how else can those scarily emotionless faces locked from surgeries be described? I saw a funny, bizarre, and totally wonderful film last night. Written and directed by Sophie Barthes and starring Paul Giamatti, “Cold Souls” is about “soul trafficking.” Giamatti plays an actor who puts his soul in storage and rents the soul of a Russian poet but he finds he misses his own soul and wants it back. Here's a quote from Salman Rushdie: “There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self. To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.” Best self and soul seem synonymous. Each of us, whether writers or waiters, has a “best self” that comes from within, not from fashion and facelifts. I recognize my soul when I am praying or writing, easily and gratefully. No surgery required.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Remembering My Irish Grandmothers

In 1882, on a voyage from Ireland to America, my great grandmother Celia Sheridan died giving birth to her son, who also died. She was survived by her husband John Sheridan and their daughter Beatrice.

At Sea

for Celia Sheridan

Your husband holds your daughter’s hand
as he mumbles something about heaven,
angels very near them both, still,
listening, like sailors on watch.

I imagine you slender, with long hair,
laughing softly, even when so ill.
That is the silly thing we are taught,
to be brave instead of sad.
Were you a devout Catholic
or did you read the Tarot,
trembling when the death card turned?

Your gentleness which I am
suddenly certain of
is like a white rose in a clear vase.
I like to think you owned
at least one beautiful dress,
a young girl’s princess dress, soft, lace,
and so feminine those who saw you smiled.

I wish I had a photograph of you
in that perfect dress, young,

Irish, and susceptible to dreams.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Live

It isn’t easy to laugh when the U.S. president confuses his executive power with the divine right of kings in 17th century England and France but thanks to Saturday Night Live it is possible. In "History of the World: Part 1" Mel Brooks says "It's good to be the king" and it certainly was for monarchs in ye olden days as they didn't answer to anyone on the planet earth.
Most of us with a television and a sense of humor have seen the SNL sketches with Alec Baldwin’s ongoing devastating and pitch perfect impression of the president, and Melissa McCarthy’s brilliant impersonation of press secretary Sean Spicer where she focuses more on Spicer’s anger management issues than his personal arrogance. The show’s parody of “Fatal Attraction” where Kate McKinnon plays the movie’s bunny-boiling psycho, and also Beck Bennett’s portrayal of Jake Tapper, was criticized by some as too mean. Humorists laugh at themselves but satirists laugh at others. Satire is often mean, and political satire can be especially mean. Recalling President Truman’s classic line, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” I had no problem with the skit’s meanness but I did have a problem with its attempt to make threatening someone with a knife funny. Still, the very end of the skit where the Conway character dies, and then reanimates Frankenstein style, was hilarious.
Sometimes a sketch can be too true to be too funny as in the SNL People’s Court sketch where Cecily Strong, playing a Judge scolds the president played by Baldwin, “You’re doing too much, okay? I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me!” Since the election, I wake up each morning thinking Who is the president going to harm today?
Every time the president obsessed about the missing people (missing because they didn’t actually exist) in the photograph of the inauguration day crowd, I thought of the scene from “The Caine Mutiny” when poor Captain Queeg goes bat shit crazy right before our eyes about those damn missing strawberries. Watching the president’s last press conference, scenes from two other movies occurred to me. The Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" doing a happy dance and singing “If I Only Had a Brain,” and those famous words of Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" as she was escorted to the funny farm, “I have always been dependent on the kindness of journalists.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Christmas Memory

The following was originally published Christmas 2013.

Remember the lace tablecloth used only on special occasions, the good china, silver, crystal glassware, and the Christmas candles in the center of the table. Dinner will be turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberry sauce, with a side dish of cucumber salad and an assortment of pies for dessert. Near the dining table, a bridge table is set for the children. Grandparents and aunts and uncles arrive in the afternoon with shopping bags bulging with presents. The Christmas tree is tall and crowned with a marvelous angel.  Everything smells of pine needles, pies, and wrapping paper.

Imagine the manger, before the magi visit, two chubby cows, an old donkey, and one lamb circling Mary and Joseph and little Lord Jesus. All warmed by the breath of the animals and the love within.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Illustration: "Nativity in Stained Glass " © Ewa Mazur/