Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Curse

The Curse

    Sister Mary Louise’s dusty voice was even more hushed than usual, almost sepulchral. The assembled gaggle of girls leaned forward to hear what the Dean of Women had on her mind this time.
“… and we have heard some of you talking openly and disrespectfully in the rest rooms and even the halls, where the boys might hear. We have heard you calling it the Curse. But there is a more beautiful way to think of your monthly period. You could see it as your womb weeping because it will not become a mother this month.”
     This from an ancient nun whose womb must have blubbered unheard until it gave up around 1950, to a group of high school juniors marinating in hormones. It was too silly, especially because my womb was taking it particularly hard at that very moment. I leaned over to Mary Beth and whispered, “Then mine’s practically hysterical.”
   Giggling spread over several rows. Sister Mary Louise never did find out who said what, but you could tell by her martyred look that she just knew it was disrespectful. In her private moments she probably called us the curse. We called her Sister Mary Elephant – as in: ancient, gray and never forgets a face she’s had in for one of those little private conferences many of us had experienced. The teachers tended to develop crushes on the boys in their charge and girls who hung out too obviously with these chosen ones were reported and called in for interrogation by the dean. My current boyfriend was president of the glee club and worked closely with Sister St. Jude, who led it. I couldn’t even sing. No wonder she was miffed and turned me in. But in those innocent days kissing and holding hands was as far as it went, no matter what our teachers imagined. Okay, a few girls every year made their wombs stop weeping, but most of us had no intention of becoming mothers. This was Catholic high school in the 60s, after all, and we figured we would be headed straight for the bad place if we checked out those interesting bulges in the guys’ trousers too carefully. The curse was just one topic of conversation, like clothes and braces and insurmountable algebra. Most of us had “cursed dresses” for days 1 and 2. Mine was a cotton shirtdress in uterine colors, swirls of purple, burgundy and charcoal so a bleedthrough was almost invisible.
    Already then my mother warned me that I would have the curse at most of the most important moments of my life. My, but that woman knew the score. One thing though, I’ve never had the curse on my wedding night and that is good going, because I’ve had three. Nothing else has been spared, but in one case that turned out to be a good thing. When I worked for a Europe House – an international education center in Denmark – I traveled a lot with groups of students. On 95% of those jaunts I had the curse, but that meant it was just over when I got home to my husband, all revved up for a welcome tumble.
    My favorite cartoon shows a horrible hag – wart on the nose, frazzled hair, broom leaning against the wall – complaining into the telephone, “I can’t tonight, Walter, I’ve got the curse.” Is there a woman on earth who couldn’t identify? I know I speak for 95% of womanhood when I say I could never imagine missing that monthly irritation, but I know of women whose cycles were wildly out of whack, who seldom or never got the curse and missed it. Missed the cleansing, they said. I suspect they missed the feeling of womanliness, the clear red proof of who was meant for motherhood, whether they chose to use it or not. That must be awful. Some menopausal women feel the same, but I suppose they are the ones who fear aging, maybe feel they haven’t accomplished enough in their lives or regretted not having children. I can’t say for sure because I consider menopause the one positive reward of growing older. Okay, it's one more door to a side of life that closes forever. Even so ….
     In the throes of menopause my brain seemed connected to the rest – mainly speech organs and manual dexterity – only periodically, like a server you switch on and off. Only with a server you know, with the brain you get no warning of the sudden vacations from logical thought, problem solving and the ability to lift a spoon or a garbage bag without dropping it on your foot. Most menopausal women have jobs these days, making this part more annoying than the hot flashes and thickening waists. When I moaned about this to women who were even older, they answered as one: Relax, it gets much worse. But my mother-in-law gave me a ray of hope. She assured me there would be a period – lasting weeks, perhaps – in which I could stuff my brains back in through my ears and be rational again before senility set in. And she’s right! Learning new stuff takes longer, but it can be done. I can also tease my brain to remember the whole song or poem when a snatch comes back for no reason. I really work at that. Okay, sometimes I have to admit defeat and Google the line in the third verse that will not resurface, but I have to remember the title to do that, right? It feels like it helps, anyway.
    New research says exercise makes us smarter and keeps us that way – also beyond menopause – so we have to do that too. I like to walk and bike and dance and swim. I take the stairs instead of the elevator – within reason – and dig my garden, but the best cardio is still sex. Use it or lose it, they say, and the best thing about being past menopause is no more plus or minus days, use them or not. For this I will gladly keep the olive oil on hand to grease the gates of paradise should it ever become necessary. Anyway, olive oil never made anybody feel as bloated as a blowfish unless she slugged down a mug full, in contrast to the curse. It is ironic that now we have no kids living at home to dampen the fires of passion with their accidental attention and no minus days, I’m usually perfectly satisfied to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays with a nice dinner, especially one I didn’t cook. The romantic aftermath is very sweet, but it can wait a bit. Back in the 60s Alan Sherman sang: I’m in the mood for love, you’re in the mood for herring. When I’m in the mood for herring, you’re in the mood for love. Now I’m the one who’s in the 60s and there is a certain resonance. You have to have 25+ years together to say – even as your breath quickens – Can I just finish my tea? After 40 years with the curse we all deserve a good cuddle, good friends, good books, a good man or our independence. Ten times better alone than dragging to the end with Mr. Wrong. Old Girl Power is not a curse!

Kort dansk summering af anden halvdel:
Den engelske del startede med en lille historie fra high school, men pointen er, at jeg ser overgangsalderen – menopause – som den ene sande gave skænket af alderdom. Jeg kan ikke forestille mig, at nogen kunne savne den månedlige irritation, men ja, det betyder at døren lukkes ved endnu en side af livet, der aldrig kommer igen.
   I overgangsalderen virkede min hjerne kun delvis forbundet med resten – såsom sprogcentret og koordination – som en server man tænder og slukker. Men med en server ved man hvornår den slukker, med hjernen får man ikke varslet de korte ferier fra logiske tankegang, problemløsning eller evnen til at løfte en ske eller skraldepose uden at tabe den på foden. De fleste kvinder i overgangsalderen i dag har arbejde og det gør denne del mere irriterende end hedeture og forsvindende taljer.  
   Når jeg klagede til ældre kvinder, lød svaret ens: Bare rolig, det bliver værre endnu. Men min svigermor gav mig håb da hun fortalte, at der ville komme en tid – varende måske flere uger – hvor jeg kunne proppe hjernen ind gennem ørerne igen før demens satte ind. Og det er rigtigt! Det tager længere tid at lære noget nyt, men det kan lade sig gøre. Jeg pirker til min hjerne indtil jeg kan huske hele sangen eller digtet fra langt tilbage, når en lille flig popper op. Nogle gange skal jeg til Google for at finde vendingen i tredje vers, men jeg skal huske titlen for at gøre det – ikke? Det virker som om det hjælper.
    Forskning siger også, at motion gør klogt og så skal vi alle motionere. Jeg kan lide at svømme og gå og danse og cykle, men den bedste cardio er stadig sex. Dog kan den vente lidt længere end før. Man skal have 25+ år sammen for at sige – alt imens åndedrættet bliver hurtigere – Må jeg lige drikke min te færdig?
     Efter 40 år med plus og minus dage, vi fortjener alle en god krammer, gode venner, gode bøger, en god mand eller vores uafhængighed. Ti gange hellere alene end sammen med Mr. Wrong til vores dages ende. Old Girl Power styrer!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fifty shades of throwback
Just read a terrific review of the new printed sensation – I’m sure not going to call it ‘literary sensation’ – in my Danish newspaper, Weekendavisen. It’s written by Leonora Christina Skov & is entitled Fifty Shades of Fucked Up. Dang – that’s exactly what I would have called this blog. Leonora has actually read the thing, which I have not, so I believe her report. She’s one of my favorite reviewers.
By now it’s clear I’m referring to Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, who claims she’s just writing her midlife crisis fantasies & had originally imagined them going on – & on & on – between Edward Cullen & Bella Swan. Discerning fans of this Twilit couple asked her to knock it off; she was grossing them out. Perhaps, speculates Leonora Christina Skov, that’s why Mr. Grey seems 527 years old rather than the 27 he’s said to be. And then she adds, “I would prefer not to believe that women everywhere dream about being a little inexperienced girl, who is dominated in every area of her life by Father with a Strap.” (my translation)
I’m all for sexual fantasies & good sex scenes too. Yum! They’re even more fun to write than read. Way back in 1991 I wrote a short story about a girl who is almost done by a horny panther before its trainer takes over. The trainer set up the encounter, goaded by the green-eyed monster jealousy, but both he & she realize their feelings for each other at the crucial moment & he is a good guy as well as a good lay. It seems so tame now, but I had to choose between my favorite women’s magazine, ALT for damerne & the soft porn rag Cupido. Both wanted my little fantasy, but I chose the women’s magazine because that version seemed more true to my main character. In both versions this nice guy finishes first. I chose him too – anyway the man he’s modeled after. He’s even better now & I am privileged.
I would seriously hate men to get the idea that spanking & domination are what women really want. I mean, they have enough dumb ideas already, thanks to the conflicting signals we’re so good at sending & so bad at thinking through. The 2 things that make me least proud of my sex are related: 1. the way any man who smells of power, no matter how corrupt, repulsive, primitive or just plain fat can command a whole gaggle of girls queuing up to drop their knickers for him & 2. the seemingly irresistible charm of Bad Boys. I have an English friend who’s an ex-bad boy. He says he & his youthful bad company scored often with upper class girls wanting an adventure before they married their banker fiancé. (Of course, bankers are often more ruthless than motorcycle bullies, but that’s another story.) I had mine in my 20s – sexy second-generation Italian who actually read good books. Whew – got that out of my system. It’s the otherwise sensible women who insist on marrying a bad boy & lame-ducking him for 20 years before they figure it out that I don’t get.
Remember “Chandler” complaining in an early episode of Friends: “When she says, Chandler, you’re such a nice guy, that means ‘I’m going to date a creep on a motorcycle & complain about him to you.’.” Right on. Too bad. Yes, the domestic male ideal from the 70s is just as useless as today’s tough dude, but dang, sisters! Are we ever going to make it past our lust for Mr. Hyde? Do we love hassles & humiliation that much, even though we can earn our own money & are often smarter than those tough dudes by a hefty margin? We talk a lot about equality. When will we let it into the bedroom? As a last note, I will repeat the question asked by a Danish standup comic whose name escapes me: “When did you ever hear a man say, She’s too sweet; I need a half-psychopathic bitch to give me some resistance?” Exactly.
Fifty shades of damned throwback! Grow up & try some mutual lust with a brain behind it, can’t we? Leonora Christina Skov is worth reading – not E.L. James.
Kort dansk opsummering: Har lige læst en rammende anmeldelse af den nye trykte sensation – jeg nægter at kalde den ‘litterære sensation’ – i Weekendavisen. Den er skrevet af Leonora Christina Skov og hedder Fifty Shades of Fucked Up. Pokkers! Den ville ellers være titlen på denne blog! Leonora har ren faktisk læst tingesten, hvilket jeg ikke har, så jeg tror på hendes rapport. Hun er en af mine yndlings anmeldere.
Nu ved alle at jeg refererer til Fifty Shades – Fanget af E.L. James, som hævder at hun blot skriver sin midtlivs krise fantasier og mente at de skulle foregå mellem Edward Cullen og Bella Swan, men fans af denne Twilight par bad hende holde op; de var – i et ord – bvadr. Det får Leonora Christina Skov til at spekulere om, det er derfor Mr. Grey ligner mere en 527-årig end de 27 år han i virkeligheden er. Så tilføjer hun: ”Jeg vil helst ikke tro, at det, alverdens kvinder drømmer om, er at være en lille uerfaren pige, der i alle livets forhold bliver domineret af Far Med Spanskrøret.”
Jeg har det fint med seksuelle fantasier samt med gode sex scener. Mums! De er endnu sjovere at skrive end at læse. Tilbage i 1991 skrev jeg en novelle om en pige, der er lige ved at blive ordnet af en brunstig panter, før dens træner tager over. Træneren er en flink fyr såvel som en god knald og jeg ville have, at den gode fyr skulle vinde, for en gangs skyld. Det virker så tam nu, men den gang ville både ALT for damerne og Cupido trykke min lille fantasi – jeg valgte ALT for damerne. Også manden, der står model til panter-træneren. Jeg er privilegeret – indrømmet.
Jeg ville virkelig hade det hvis mænd begynder at tro, at spanking og domination er det, kvinder virkelig ønsker. Jeg mener, de har allerede tilstrækkelig mange dumme ideer, takket være de modsatrettede signaler vi er så gode til at sende ud og så dårlige til at tænke igennem. De 2 ting der gør mig mindst stolt af mit køn er beslægtet: 1. at enhver mand, der lugter af magt – lige meget hvor korrupt, frastødende, primitiv eller bare fed – har en hel gåseflok af piger klare til at smide trusserne og 2. Bad Boys’ tilsyneladende uimodståelige charme. Som eventyr hen af vejen – ja. Har været der selv. Det er de ellers velfungerende kvinder, der absolut skal gifte sig og slæbe ham med i 20 år før de regner den ud, som jeg ikke grejer. Den bløde mand i 70erne var en lige så stor misforståelse som nutidens seje dude, men hvornår tager vi ligestilling alvorligt, også i sengen? Vi snakker jo om den hele tiden. Som en standup komiker, hvis navn jeg desværre har glemt, udtrykte det: ”Hvornår har du nogensinde hørt en mand sige, Hun er for sød. Jeg skal have en halvpsykopatisk bitch, der kan give mig modstand.?” Netop.
Fifty shades af forbandet falliterklæring! Skip Mr. Grey, voks op og prøv noget gensidig lyst med en hjerne bag, kan vi ikke? Leonora Christina Skov er værd at læse, ikke E.L. James.