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Writer Heaven with Margaritas: The Women’s Fiction Writers Association Retreat 2016

Two days after returning from the WFWA retreat, my inner music track is still playing the Partridge Family’s “Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque.” Go ahead, children of the ’70s, give a listen.

Wasn’t David Cassidy dreamy?

Albuquerque is where the WFWA held its second annual Writers’ Retreat last week. What a lovely town! We stayed in the Hotel Albuquerque, two short blocks from the historic city center.

Here I am in front the San Felipe de Neri church, built in 1793, on the Old Town Plaza

Here I am in front the San Felipe de Neri church, built in 1793, on the Old Town Plaza. 1793!

Adobe shops in Albuquerque's Old Town

Adobe shops in Albuquerque’s Old Town

Albuquerque’s Old Town is charming, as is the Hotel Albuquerque. There was ample room on the patio where writers hung out, spun tales, and sipped margaritas. I didn’t spend much time on the patio, though; I came for the workshops and discussions. Orly Konig Lopez, author of The Memory of Hoofbeats, and the rest of the WFWA board and helpers created a brain-busting, notebook filling learn-a-palooza for writers of women’s fiction, and then scheduled three group dinners where we blew off steam—did I mention the margaritas?

This was the largest writers’ workshop I’ve attended, and easily the most welcoming. I didn’t know a soul before my arrival, and am at heart a quivering introvert who requires a lot of psychic energy to approach strangers. The eighty women and one guy could not have been more welcoming. Many of the writers in attendance had already published novels, some independently, some traditionally, but an atmosphere of “we’re all in this together” pervaded the 3 ½ day event.

Margie-fied pages

Margie-fied pages

A highlight was Margie Lawson’s workshop on her Deep Editing techniques. I’ve read dozens of books on the craft of writing, but nothing has provided as much immediate practical benefit as this workshop, where we turned our printed chapters into rainbows of highlights, circles, underlines and margin notes. I’ll definitely continue exploring her courses as I polish up this and future manuscripts. And Margie’s long list of rhetorical devices, from alliteration to zeugma, put a grin on the face of this former English teacher. Here’s where you can learn more about Margie’s courses:

Another highlight was connecting with so many writers who “get it,” IT being the joys and frustrations of the writer’s journey to publication. There were sessions on diversity in fiction, queries, log lines, reaching out to readers, modalities of publishing, social media, agents and how/whether to find them, along with editors and publicists, how to stage a coming-out party for your debut book, and navigating the social media jungle.

I got to spend time with some fascinating women from across the US and Canada, along with one adorable guy, Scott Wilbanks, winner of the WFWA Star Award for The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. I met businesswomen, professors, attorneys, stay-at-home mothers, yoginis, teachers, journalists–all of them passionate about spinning stories. And you’ve never heard such raving about each other’s books! I have a long reading list of women’s fiction to warm the cold winter months.

And while you’re stocking your bookshelves, check out The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes, WFWA Star Award Winner for Outstanding Debut.



Summer Visits and Visitors

San Francisco

One of the main reasons D. and I chose to retire when we did was to spend more time with family, and this summer was rich with visits and travel, though we haven’t gone far from home. We’ve lived in Tacoma, Washington, for over two years now, and I’ve barely begun to explore the interesting places this area offers. Having guests helps. Have you noticed how often we neglect the tourist attractions in our own home territory until there’s a visitor to share them with?

Our summer actually began in late May, when I popped over to the Bay Area to visit with my mom and daughter. The three of us spent lots of time walking about, and found a path behind the ruins of Sutro Baths that led us to the view above. There’s something soothing about walks in Golden Gate Park, especially when the afternoon fog rolls in a patters my face with tiny kisses. The smell of the pines and eucalyptus trees sings to my heart of home.

Next we gathered with the G. clan near Phoenix for D’s son’s graduation from medical school. We were able to rent a house big enough for the lot of us, and there are a lot of us. The heat was fierce, but spirits were high as we celebrated a new beginning in the lives of M. and his marvelous girlfriend.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

Back in Washington, D. and I celebrated our second anniversary at Lake Chelan in central Washington. It was bloody hot, but the views are gorgeous. We’d hoped to rent a canoe or small boat and putter about on the lake, but all we found were Jet Skis and speed boats–not at all conducive to leisurely rides. (There were kayaks too, but I’m allergic to any craft that’s hard to exit in an emergency. The point of a boat is to stay on top of the water, right?) To soothe our disappointment, we visited wineries. Nice.

USS Turner Joy

Back at home, D. and I visited Bremerton and toured the USS Turner Joy, a destroyer-class ship that played an important role in the Vietnam War. We had the great good fortune to meet John F. Keift, author of The Saltiest Ship in the Fleet, who gave us an extensive tour. Keift showed us the control room where the men who controlled the big guns watched radar blips that represented heavily armed Vietnamese fishing vessels zooming toward the ship. He spoke with gravity about pushing the buttons that erased those blips from the radar screen, knowing that each blip represented many lives.

In July, my mother came to Tacoma, where she and I explored every quilt shop we could find. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the art quilt exhibit in the Washington State History Museum, alas. I was expecting quaint bedspreads; instead, we were amazed by the depth, detail, and texture of the artwork on display. There was even a 3-D forest scene sculpted from cloth and fibers.

We also braved the hellish traffic to visit Seattle’s Museum of Asian Art in Volunteer Park. Lovely spot, and Capitol Hill is a lovely neighborhood, with beautifully restored historic homes and mature trees. In fact, a huge branch crashed to the street just outside the Volunteer Cafe, where Mom and I were eating lunch. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but what a shock to come home and find that a third of your tree has fallen into the street, blocking traffic. Anyway, the exhibit was entitled Mood Indigo and featured textiles and clothing from around the world colored with this precious blue.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Shorty after Mom left, my daughter came with her boyfriend. Nerds to the core, they enjoyed the Pokemon hunt at the fairgrounds in Puyallup. The state fair doesn’t open until Labor Day weekend, but the grounds were crawling with people intently staring at their phones–very funny to watch.

Hunting Pokemon at the Fairgrounds

A highlight of their visit was Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum, where we saw sacred relics at the Star Trek exhibit,

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

wearable art,

Wearable art at EMP

and a tower of guitars that plays music for visitors.

Tower of Guitars at EMP

You haven’t really experienced Michael Jackson’s Thriller until you see it on the EMP’s ginormous screen. Why was I the only person dancing? The horror movie display is also not to be missed–delightfully creepy.

Closer to home, we finally visited Tacoma’s Union Station, now converted to a courthouse, which houses several works of Dale Chihuly’s blown-glass art. He’s a Tacoma native, and has richly decorated his home town.

Tacoma's Union Station

Summer’s winding down, despite our current heat wave, and I’m getting ready for a few mini-jobs in the local schools, plus the writing I’ve put on the back burner during all these visits.

I hope you’ve spent a restful summer with your nearest and dearest. What was your highlight?



Book Review: Meet Me in Paris, by Juliette Sobanet

Meet Me In Paris

First of all, let me thank Ms. Sobanet for the free copy of Meet Me in Paris that she sent me in exchange for an honest review. Let me also disclose that I am not a fan of most romance fiction, finding it too formulaic, unrealistic and predictable. But I do love France, especially Paris, and I also love well-written memoirs of audacious women. I swallowed this romance writer’s memoir in one big, juicy gulp and can recommend in heartily to my romance-loving friends.

Any woman who’s been divorced, or who has contemplated divorce, will relate to Sobanet’s painful process of choosing between two men—and beyond that, between two potential lives. Throw her lifelong love for France into the mix and you have a big, messy dilemma. I was immediately drawn in, as if I were listening to a drama-prone friend pour her heart out. I was frustrated by this process; throughout her narrative, Sobanet is so buffeted by her emotions that she makes many self-destructive decisions–again and again, she finds herself sobbing on the bathroom floor. At times, it became tiresome, but something about her writing kept me turning pages.

Perhaps it was her bravery: she doesn’t spare us the details that made her look foolish or weak, and she doesn’t sugar-coat her bad decisions. Certainly, her love of Paris and Lyon shines through in her descriptions and reactions. I enjoyed meeting her fascinating friends, both in France and in the U.S. She also handles her sex scenes gracefully—I never cringed. While she has a tendency to repeat herself, she does finally come to a satisfying conclusion that has more to do with understanding herself than with finding the right guy.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, and I may even try one of her Paris romances next.


Book Review: This Chair Rocks, by Ashton Applewhite

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against AgeismThis Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I’ll read again and again in order to counter the stupid things people (both youngers and olders, Applewhite’s terms) say to justify mistreatment and disregard of people who are no longer young. This is basically a sociological/psychological study of our fear of aging and of the ageism that results. Don’t worry, though–it’s not a dry tome; Applewhite provides plenty of interesting anecdotes to personalize the issues she examines.

As an old person in training (also her term), I’m determined not to allow others’ ideas of what an older person should be/do/think limit my possibilities, and I’m becoming more and more aware of what a battle that will be. Just as we women sometimes try to keep other women down in order to avoid examining our own choices and assumptions, so do olders sometimes try to keep their fellow olders down in order to justify their own inertia. Reading this book was truly a consciousness-raising experience.

View all my reviews

Blogging from A-Z Challenge 2016

A2Z-BADGE [2016]

Oh my stars and garters–it’s almost April! How can that be? It seems the older I get, the more I find my self exclaiming about time’s swift passing. Tempus fugit all over the place!

Here in Tacoma, WA, April brings clear skies (occasionally), blossoming rhododendrons, the constant sound of gardening machines (Shut up, already!), and for us, a total kitchen remodel. Starting on the fourth, workers will be traipsing in and out, tearing out the 1956 kitchen down to the studs and then rebuilding. The whole process will take seven weeks if we’re very lucky. If you’ve ever landed on this blog before, you’ll  notice that I enjoy cooking. In the archives under “The Leftover Project” you’ll find several original recipes to help you re-purpose your leftovers, as well as other seasonal treats.

But seven weeks without a kitchen! I know, first-world problem, right? Trader Joe is about to become my new best friend, as I work my way through their ready-to-heat meals.

To keep my sanity during this chaotic time, I’ve taken on the A-Z blogging challenge. Starting April first, I’ll be blogging each day except Sunday, working my way through alphabetical topics, as well as visiting a plethora of bloggers who have also accepted the challenge.

And my topic is…(Please provide your own drum roll)…(very nice)…Making the most of early retirement. Tah daahhh! See you on April first.

A Writer Battles the Butt Bulge–or–Get Up Off of That Thang!


I really need all this space for writing!

I really need all this space for writing!

We’ve all read the stories: Sitting is the new trans-fat (or sugar, or gluten—name your favorite poison). According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “A recent study suggested that sitting for prolonged periods increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, even among people who exercise regularly.”¹

Well, y’all, guess what I do all day. It’s pretty hard to write fiction without spending several hours each day sitting. My mantra, posted on my wall, is BICFOKTAM:  Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly. Plus, in order to improve at my chosen genres (blogging, women’s fiction, mystery) I have to read widely and voraciously in those genres, not to mention books, magazines and websites about the craft of writing.

I find that reading while pacing about the house is a good arm toner, especially if the book in question is heavy, but leads to stubbed toes and worse. I do have one piece of furniture at about the right height for reading in a standing position, and I can sometimes be found there, plugged into my ancient iPod, doing a little shuffling dance while reading. Somehow, though, I find it more difficult to concentrate when reading or writing in a standing position.

Research bears this out. According to a study by the Draugiem Group, “…for tasks which require a creative approach—for example, thinking about a possible coding solution, or writing a great article—then the urgency provided by standing is more of a hindrance. We found that for creative tasks, sitting and not paying attention to your corporal self was helpful in letting your mind wander and explore creative options.”²

And writing requires more surface area than my little sideboard offers; in addition to my little laptop, I need note cards, pens, coffee, snacks, pages of comments from my critique group, reference books…

I do go to the gym pretty often, but one hour of exercise doesn’t counteract spending the rest of the day in a chair—and I’ve got the butt to prove it.

My internet search for “workout for writers” and similar terms led mostly to writing tips and prompts—all very well, but that won’t get me out of my chair. I did find this one, good for improving blood flow and de-tensing muscles, but most of these exercises are performed while seated.

In the meantime, I’m trying measures like these:

  • Set a timer at 30-minute intervals. When it rings, get up and clean something. I tend to ignore most housework until it reaches out and grabs me—say, my feet encounter a sticky spot on the floor. This technique could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone, if I can only force myself not to ignore the timer. Or,
  • If it’s not pouring down rain (I live in the Pacific Northwest), suit up and go for a walk around the block. Or,
  • When the timer rings, get up and dance vigorously to one song. Making a playlist for this exercise will be fun. I’m particularly fond of fast Latin music.
  • I could get up and talk to Hubs. He’s currently recovering from knee surgery, so he’s at home all the time, poor man, when he’s not in physical therapy. But once I get involved in a writing project, I tend to temporarily forget the existence of other humans. It’s good for me to switch focus for a ten minutes and go connect, preferably while standing.
  • At the end of a chapter, get up and do an online exercise video. You Tube is a rich source of these. My favorite there is a Lebanese belly dance workout that lasts twenty-seven minutes. Here’s the link: also offers a whole library of exercise videos. This twelve-minute Pilates abs     workout is tough:

So far, my results are spotty, but I’m making progress in getting my butt out of the chair more regularly. How about you? Do you work in a chair? What do you do to break up long spells of sitting?

¹ Prolonged Sitting Linked to Serious Health Risks, Death, AAFP

² We Tested Standing Desks—Here’s Proof They Make You More Productive, by Julia Gifford




On Mixed Feelings and Therapeutic Walking

So many changes in such a short time! Since my retirement in mid-June, I have married the most wonderful man, moved back to the US, set up a new home in Tacoma, a new-to-me city, and am now trying to figure out how to live without deadlines and imposed schedules. It’s one thing to list all the fun and fulfilling things I’ll do when I have the time. It’s quite another to do those things once my time is my own. I’ve only had real success in one area, fitness – probably because my favorite classes are offered at a certain time (deadlines!). We’ve become quite the gym rats. My big plans for writing, cooking, entertaining, learning Spanish, and keeping up with this blog – well, it’s early days yet.

For the past three months, I’ve surfed the first waves of homesickness and culture shock, and have mostly kept my sanity. A few weeks ago, while downloading happy German beer-drinking songs for our first Oktoberfest party, I suddenly found myself weeping. That reaction surprised me; it was the first time that  a yearning for Germany really hit me, and it sort of punched me in the stomach. But last week another wave of change knocked me down but good. I’m still trying to blow metaphorical salt water out of my sinuses and catch my breath.

My ex-husband has died. The father of our wonderful daughter, he was a troubled soul, a complicated person, and his passing was sudden though not completely unexpected. I’m sure that some of you have had similar experiences; if a family member is the source of wonderful memories and yet has caused tremendous pain – well, it’s hard to know how to feel when s/he dies. Oh, we’re supposed to say only flattering, kind things about the dead, lest we be accused of – what? Tackiness? Cold-heartedness? Impiety? Well, I’m 52 years old and know my own mind and my own heart. I am going to feel what I feel and speak my own truth. He’s gone, and my feelings about that are – complicated.

But my dear daughter is devasted. She’s shown tremendous strength and wisdom in the past week, but she’ll be surfing waves of confusing emotion for a long time to come. I’m glad I was able to stay with her for those first days after she received the news – she lives in California – and I’m glad that her friends are circling the wagons and holding her up as she takes her first steps into life after Dad. Alas, his relationship with her was also complicated, and she has to deal with sorrow, anger, heartbreak – tremendous waves of emotion knocking her off balance.

So, what do you do between phone calls, e-mails, and bouts of tears? How do you pass the time after a death that’s changed your world? We walked. And walked, and walked, and walked.

I remembered San Francisco’s “Indian Summer,” a month or two of clear skies and mild temperatures that begins when school starts. But I don’t remember such heat! We were sizzling by the bay, with temperatures in the 90s. Despite the heat, just sitting on the couch and talking was too painful, so we walked. First all around the zoo, where we watched Magellanic penguins swim madly around their pool, trying to catch the dragonflies that zipped by just out of reach. Most of the animals were hunkered down in the shade, waiting out the heat of the day, but we silly humans just plodded on, talking in small, measured doses about painful subjects, and marvelling at the animals. The two-month-old giraffe baby was beyond precious – such long lashes! Such huge, liquid eyes! His mama watched over him protectively from the shade – smart lady. It was easier to talk about the animals and the heat than about the painful subject on both our minds.

Ghirardelli Square

The next day, we took BART into the city (San Franciscans call SF “the city.” A bit arrogant, perhaps, but it’s quite a city.) We emerged from the cool of the underground station into oppresive heat and blinding sun – something you just don’t expect in a town known for its fog. Between exclamations of “Holy cow, it’s hot!” and other expressions not appropriate for your tender ears, we darted like lizards from shady patch to shady patch. We ate salmon burgers and watched the sea lions battle for the most comfortable spot on the pier. Their cries of complaint sound like a combination of belching and cursing. A French tour guide called to them, “Hey, petit, petit, petit.” Really? These creatures are far from petit – more like overstuffed beanbag chairs, and it’s so funny to watch yet another one try to pile onto the bodies draped across the floating pier. We saw buskers, tourists from many lands, mad people shouting at invisible foes, a very talented spray-paint artist, and a naked toddler spashing in the bay. We visited art galleries where we saw orignial paintings and sculptures by none other than Doctor Seuss! (Check out his “unorthodox taxedermy” here: ) And we ended up at that holy temple of chocolate, Ghirardelli Square. I hadn’t seen these buxom mermaids since I was younger than my daughter is now. I love how lifelike they are, with bodies like those of real women – minus the scaly tails, of course. We listened to the musical stylings of a very talented gent who crooned jazz standards and played the clarinette. And, as we munched ice cream, we snuck in a few thoughts about that painful subject. Just a bit, between bites of sweet cold delight, to make the heartache and anger more palatable.

Buxom mermaids

Another day, we walked along the beach. Is there anything more charming that watching little children and dogs romp along the beach? We tried to help a distressed black and russet dachsund that was racing along the shoreline, in a panic because he couldn’t see his people who were surfing just a twenty meters away. He looked so worried, poor little guy. This was yet another good setting for talking about loss and grief – while in motion, while the people were merrily enjoying the gift of sun and sea.

flower children

On the final day, we walked all over Golden Gate Park, one of my very favorite places in the world. It was the last day of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and we wandered from meadow to meadow, sampling performances that ranged from traditional Malawian music to traditional bluegrass to modern country – Rosanne Cash – and folky-rock from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. We swayed under the fierce sun as the crowd sang along to “Mr. Bojangles.” Weaving their way through the crowd were some time-travelers – flower children selling, you guessed it, flowers for your hair. What heat! What a crowd! What wonderful music – and all of it free! There wasn’t much time to talk about painful memories and regrets over all that music – and so much the better for our battered hearts.

I think all this walking helped my daughter; it sure helped me. Grief and sorrow and bitter anger need to be nibbled at, digested slowly, and it’s good to wear out the body with walking when the heart is weary. We sleep better, I think, when our bodies have trekked across a distance. Even the most unquiet mind and the heaviest heart will eventually surrender to a well-earned rest. May my complicated ex rest in peace, and may my beautiful daughter heal and find comfort.



“There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits”

– Robert Southey (English Poet and Writer of prose. 1774-1843)

Here I sit at my rickety card table, courtesy of Goodwill of Tacoma. It’s the only table in the house at the moment, and I’m glad to have it. But I find myself cranky and out of sorts because we’re on our third week now of camping out in a mostly-empty house. It’s a lovely house; built in 1956, it reminds me of my grandmother’s home in Watsonville, California. As my husband says, (wow, it still feels odd to say that – I giggle a bit each time I refer to D as “my husband”) this is a thoroughly middle-class house, and we must make it ours. We’ve begun the process, repainting a few rooms and repairing some leaky plumbing, and trimming up some unruly bushes and vines.

But I find myself out of sorts and cranky because we still have two weeks to go before our stuff will arrive. Our pots and pans, our towels, our books and tchotchkes and electronics and furniture – all of this is sitting in the Port of Tacoma, not yet released to the movers. I want my stuff! And I feel like a silly twit for being in such a snit over mere stuff! I mean, all my basic needs are met, and we’ve been able to improvise temporary solutions to problems posed by lack of stuff – hanging laundry in the tulip tree because I don’t have drying racks or clothespins, for example, and sleeping on the new couch. I must be spoiled indeed to get so hung up and stressed by this temporary separation from my material possessions. That’s not the sort of person I want to be.

But dammit – I want my stuff! Familiar surroundings over which we have some control – that’s a deep human need, I think. Of course, there are people who enjoy travelling light, moving from place to place with just a backpack and really soaking in the new surroundings. Do they not have this need to control their environment, I wonder? Or have they evolved beyond the reliance on stuff to feel comfortable and safe? I enjoy travel too, but I enjoy it most when I have a comfortable “home base” – hotel room, flat, RV – in which to spread out and organize my stuff. I hate, hate, hate living out of a messy suitcase.

Even homeless people carry around familiar stuff – often quite a lot of it – and set it up “just so” to comfort themselves, to protect themselves from the crazy, noisy, intrusive world that swirls around them – and inside their troubled heads.

I did a quick Google search for “the human need to control one’s environment” and found only some dry, scholarly articles. I also searched “the importance of home” and found mostly right-wing discussions of “family values” and their role in raising children. A search for “nesting” led to articles about how pregnant women tend to sort and organize their belongings shortly before giving birth – not what I had in mind. A search for quotes about home turned up thoughts about the people who live there – not quite what I’m looking for. No, what interests me right now is the importance of home as a place of stability and comfort, a place where we feel safe and in control. Right now I’m focusing more on the actual building, and all that it contains – the yard, the home base, the shelter, the stuff, and why it’s so important for our peace of mind to arrange that to our liking.

Homesick – that’s what I am. I expected to be homesick for Germany, for Europe, for the friends who are still living there. And I do miss that place and those people – but what I’m missing most right now in a bone-deep way is the feeling of “home” I got from having my nest set up to my liking. I think we’ll be happy here in this new house, this new city. But I don’t yet feel nested here, and I really want to feel that way. I want familiar things around me. I want my comforts and conveniences, the physical ones that made me feel safe and well taken care of. And that feeling of being off-center and on edge because my stuff is not here – that bothers me, dear reader. I do not want to be the sort of person who defines herself by her belongings, yet without my belongings I feel cranky, unstable, dissatisfied.

For his enlightening book Material World: A Global Family Portrait, photojournalist Peter Menzel photographed families around the world with all their belongings laid out in front of their homes. (If you haven’t yet seen this book, you really should. Then take a look at his What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.) In global terms, what we have in this house right now far exceeds what many of those families have. We have enough clothing, for example, to wear a fresh outfit every day for three weeks without having to do much laundry. We have a skillet, two pots, and a wok. We have dishes for four people, and we’re only two people. We have a fridge and a microwave oven and big, new, comfy couch. So I feel like a silly twit for whining about wanting my stuff.

And yet, I know that I’ll breathe a huge sigh when the stuff arrives and I can set up my nest. I obviously have some spiritual work to do, but I think this need to furnish one’s nest is probably a very human need that we all share.

How about you? How attached are you to your nest?

Call Me Ma’am

“Thank you, Ma’am. You have a good one.” The 20-something gate guard hands me my ID card and I drive on through. At the military installation where I work, everyone must show a military ID card in order to enter the base. The gate guard may be military or civilian, but the greeting always contains a “Ma’am” – and that’s just fine with me. Ma’am, after all, is the polite term of address for a grown-up female human whose name one does not know. And at 50, I’m certainly a grown-up female human.
I’m aware that some of my fellow grown-up female humans object to this term of address, saying “It makes me feel old,” or some such silly twaddle. What would you prefer: Honey, Miss, or perhaps Young Lady? Please, my sisters, get a grip.
A few years back, I was dining with my parents, my daughter, and my ex in one of those obnoxious chain restaurants – let’s call it “Blue Sparrow.” Our waiter was forty if he was a day, and when he approached our table, electronic order pad in hand, he purred greasily, “Now what can I get you young ladies?” I looked over at my daughter, the only young lady present at our table. No, he wasn’t addressing her. He was talking to my mother and me.
“Excuse me?” I inquired, my left eyebrow – the snarky one – reaching for my hairline.
“What would you lovely young ladies like to drink?” he oozed at Mom and me.
Now, this is not the first time that I’ve encountered this disrespectful, slimy, angling-for-a-bigger tip tactic, but for some reason I was especially offended this time. Even as I fought for control, I felt my eyes squinch, my lip curl and my hackles rise.
“This grown woman will have an ice tea,” I snarled at him. He was clearly taken aback – the poor schmuck seemed to have no clue what he’d done wrong, but he could see his fat tip melting away.
“Mom!” my gorgeous daughter poked me after he left. “That was mean!” My mother just laughed. She and Dad told me about the patronizing language and tone they so often encountered: “You young folks, you dears, you sweeties, you kids…” Salesmen, clerks, cashiers and waiters felt justified in treating my dignified, educated, grown-up parents, both in their early 70s, as if they were children. Unbelievable!
Alas, I’ve seldom been blessed with a quick retort when insulted, but here’s what I should have said to the waiter, in front of his manager, back then:
I find your patronizing tone offensive. I am obviously not a ‘young lady,’ and neither is my mother. We don’t buy your phony flattery, which is clearly intended to get a bigger tip from us – but you won’t get a tip by insulting your customers. Let’s look at the assumption behind your comment, shall we? You think that young is better than old, and that we’ll be flattered if you refer to us as ‘young.’ As it turns out, we’re both perfectly content to be the age we are – 48 and 70 are both lovely ages to be. Young is not better than old, nor is old better than young. Any age that a person happens to be is a perfectly fine age to be. And the proper way to address an adult female customer is Ma’am. Now please send us a different server – you’ve spoiled my appetite.”

I live in Germany now, and one thing I enjoy about this culture is the polite formality of business transactions here. My doctor’s receptionist does not call me by my first name; she calls me “Frau S-.” So do clerks, salespeople – anyone who is conducting any kind of business with me. I appreciate the sense of respect that comes with this old-fashioned politeness. We’re not pals, after all – I’m your client, your patient, your customer. And if you treat me politely, I’ll be your repeat customer. Thanks for calling me Ma’am.

The Musings of a Late-Blooming Rose

Last night’s dream left me with clammy, sweat-soaked sheets and a heavy ball of nausea in my gut.  I was chained to a mule train, but we weren’t mules – we were matrons. An endless train of lumpy women with bowed backs, flabby butts, and thick ankles, we shuffled forward along a narrow dusty path, hauling heavy loads on our backs. We were so many that our plodding had worn a rut deep into the earth, and walls of gray clay rose on either side, hemming us in.  It was cool and damp down in there, but up above the sun shone. I paused to look up, but the women behind me jostled me back into line.

“Keep going.”

“We’ve got work to do.”

“Gotta pick the kids up from soccer practice.”

“PTA tonight.”

“Repairman’s coming at five.”

“Get back into line, sister.”

“Whatta ya think you are, special?”

And so I fell into line, too tired to look up at the sun, too weighted down with backpacks, diaper bags, and – Oh dear God, a mini-van !

Well, the mini-van’s been gone for a while now, replaced with a sleek VW station wagon, and …wait a minute, hold the phone! Can a station wagon be sleek? See, I thought I was making a more stylish choice, but it seems I’m back on the chain gang, shuffling through the dust. And here’s the thing: I only had one child, and now she’s off at college. So why is it so hard to shake off this mommy self-image? Why is it so hard to make choices in car, clothes, comportment, activities that reflect the fascinating, mature, worldly woman I really am? Is it, perhaps, that this fascinating woman got trampled in the dust of that endless train of trudging matrons?

You know how sometimes you wake up mid-dream, vivid images still spinning around your befuddled head, frustrated because you want to finish the scenario, bring the story to a close? And, once in a great while, you’re able to go back to sleep, rejoin the dream, bring it to a satisfying conclusion. Here’s how I’d end this one:

I glance up once more at the tantalizing sunshine high above me. The unthinking, unfeeling women behind me give me a shove, this time to the side, out of the line of trudging drudges.

“Get out of the way, dreamer.”

“Yeah, you’re holding up the line. Move it.”

And, befuddled, I set down my load. From high above me, I hear a musical sound – was that laughter? I look up and see faces looking down at me. Merry faces, laughing eyes, and a pointing hand.

“Looks like they lost one.”

“Hey, you down there. Want to come up?”

I glance around, feeling a little panicked.

“Can I do that?”

“Sure you can! Come on!”

And a hand reaches down toward me, then another. Someone dangles a long, sparkling scarf. I reach up, but those helping hands are just out of reach; the end of the scarf tickles my fingertips. Well then, there’s nothing for it but to climb. I dig my fingertips into the cool clay of the canyon walls and find that I can grip, can lift myself inch by inch above the plodders, closer and closer to the sunlight. Words of encouragement rain down from above.

“Look, she’s climbing! You can do it! Come on!”

I slip once, nearly falling back into the abyss, but I haul myself up, exhausted, to the lip of the canyon, where soft, strong hands reach down to grasp me. Hands with sparkly rings, brilliantly polished nails, dangly-bangly bracelets that tinkle. And up, up, up they pull me until I’m rolling onto the soft, springy grass. I blink into the sunlight and see myself surrounded by women – lovely, colorful, fascinating women – and all of them smiling at me.

“We’ve been expecting you. Come on – let’s have some fun.” And off they go, dancing, strolling, swaying, striding across the lawn, toward what seems to be a party, a wild, outdoor festival.

Now that’s where I want to wake up.

And, in fact, I am waking up. And, upon further reflection on this dream, I realize that the women trudging in their rut all looked an awful lot like me. You see, there isn’t any one particular person who encouraged me to be a mommy drudge, a drone, a drab, duty-bound automaton – not friends, not my child, not even my ex-spouse. (Well, he didn’t exactly encourage me to shine, but still…)

And there’s no one who’s going to lift me up to the next phase of my life, not even my dear friends, nor my amazing boyfriend. I have to make that climb on my own. But I’ll bet I’ll have lots of company on the way – other women my age who are waking up from a dream to find that the sunshine’s just out of reach – but reachable. Let’s climb up out of our rut together, toward the sunshine. I want to see what that party is, just over the horizon. I’ll bet there are lots of fascinating, fabulous women over there, and I’m going to be one of them. How about you?