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  • Reckoning With the Wreckage: A Midlife Love Story of Choosing Me

    By Shannon Lell

    Shannon Lell

     

    I’m writing this two weeks before my 40th birthday and in many ways, it feels like a rebirth; it’s definitely a love story. You see, my midlife crisis came early, a decade premature. Because of that, I spent the better part of my 30s in recovery, a kind of Life ICU.

    But all the milestones before that were on time.

    My husband and I got married when I was twenty-seven. We had our first child, a girl, when I was thirty-one. After three months of maternity leave, I went back to my demanding corporate career; the one I’d worked hard at for ten years and provided the bulk of our family income. But by thirty-two, I was fired. By thirty-three, the sexual harassment lawsuit I filed would be over and I had our second child, a boy. After that, I was wrecked. Litigation, a toddler and a newborn can do that to a person. After all that, I couldn’t go back to Corporate Me no matter how hard I tried. Because Corporate Me had been a lie. That meant I had to start over.

    Two toddlers and one career down by thirty four, and I was back to night school, working a part-time job, and dreaming of a writing career. But that wasn’t even the real part of the midlife crisis. That came a year later, at thirty-five.   

    I was an angry, self-hating woman. Rage was how I learned to deal with fear, and I was always afraid.

    I can’t remember a time I wasn’t afraid and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t angry inside. I was afraid of all the typical things: failure, unworthiness, dying, getting fat. These fears often came out in self-flagellation; depriving myself of the most basic comforts like food and rest. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing was ever enough, enough.

    But all of that happened in private — as good girls are taught to do — because in public I lived the Happy Lie.

    In private, I slammed doors, picked myself apart and had furious, imaginary tirades in my head. But in public, I dyed my hair, mowed my lawn, smiled a lot. In private, I seethed at my spouse, and everyone around me for not torturing themselves like me. In public, I only told people how grateful I was for all these blessings.

    We were in Maui on vacation living the Happy Marriage Lie when my first essay was published in an anthology. Actually, it was HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship. It was also the week a short story I wrote in night school was published in an obscure online literary journal. I was elated to see my hard work pay off, my dream coming true.

    I had been in sales. That’s how I met my husband, at work. Our lives revolved around a competitive industry and I suppose some of that competitiveness spilled into our marriage. We started out as opponents and I guess we never figured out how to be on the same team and when you’re sleeping with the enemy you’re always sleeping with one eye open. Even though we had plenty of it, money was always a subtext: who was making it, spending it, saving it, deserving of it. I had been the more successful one for most of our marriage and I was used to my joys being his pains, each achievement a personal affront.

    That day I became a published author, he made my choices clear with his own anger: I could be a writer, or I could be his wife because I wasn’t going to live my dream, if he wasn’t going to live his, and he was now the stressed out bread winner going to an office every day. Bottom line, if he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t going to allow me to be, either.    

    I raged louder than I’d ever raged. He pushed harder than he’d ever pushed. And then I ran away.

    I chose me.

    There is no such thing as a good divorce, but on the sliding scale of bad ones I got supremely unlucky.  It was one of the 5% to go to trial. In the biz, they call these divorces “high conflict,” but what they really mean is, never ending conflict. Let’s be clear, it’s about money, and it’s also not about money. It’s about winners and losers, just like our marriage had been.

    After it was all said and done I had become my attorney’s favorite client and $100,000 poorer.

    If my first round of litigation wrecked me, this one obliterated anything left standing. After more than a year and a four-day trial, I was officially divorced three days before my 37th birthday. But it was still not over.   

    Everyone in my life up until that point was from the before and I didn’t live there anymore. I was living in the permanent after. I’d had a blunt force trauma to my whole life in a few short years and nothing about me was the same. It would take me years to process what had happened. I was angrier than ever, and with that anger, I pushed everyone away.   

    Life gets pretty real when you’re sitting alone amongst the wreckage of all your hopes and dreams with two babies in your arms.

    At my lowest, I felt my life force leaving me. I was drained of everything. I didn’t know if I’d ever write again. I was uninspired, depressed, and I had no career to speak of. I had to find my way back but before I could do that, I had to get honest. I had to reckon with my wreckage. I had to let go of the fear and the anger and the self-hatred – it had been my armor – and I had to learn to be afraid and to feel again. I had to learn to be vulnerable. It was the only way I could let anyone back in.

    There were long days and nights and years that I could swear to you I wasn’t going to see the next. I wanted to run away so bad. There was this one remote island I saw in Fiji once that I fantasized about pitching a tent on near daily. No one would find me there. Because honesty in the face of humiliation, vulnerability without my anger felt like having the skin of an infant who should still be in the womb. Who is equipped to go through that? I have never known the kind of pain that is possible from being exposed to the harshness of the world without a protective layer. Excavating pain without a painkiller is brutal.

    In my darkest moments, when there was seemingly nothing left to lose because there was no one left to lose it to, when the pain stripped me of all defenses, when I was weaker than I’d ever known, more alone than I thought possibly, besides the yoga, and the biking and raising my kids, I did the one thing I knew I was meant to do… I wrote. I filled a dozen or more notebooks with words of my biggest fears and I shared them with people in workshops, online, in public and private. I got rejected a lot. It didn’t feel good, but I lived.

    There isn’t a birthday, anniversary, holiday or Tuesday when I don’t feel the ache from my past. But I am no longer angry, not like I was. The Lies kept me angry at everything, now I’m just appropriately angry at some things.

    Pretending is exhausting.

    Living one way and feeling another was what made me so afraid to live in my world as myself. Pain has a way of focusing the present moment, and Truth really does have magical freeing powers.  

    I try not to regret, I believe it is wasted energy, but one specific memory causes me the most particular ache when I think about all the mistakes I made in the last ten years. In that last year of our marriage, as I was angry and he was pushing, as we orbited away from our one, shared lie, my ex-husband told me a truth. We were having one of our epic fights, one that would last for hours and never get resolved, and he said to me something I’ll never forget. He said that the moment he loved me most was the moment our daughter was born. He said he saw something in my face as the doctor handed her to me that he’d never seen before. I know what he saw now. It was vulnerability. It was the moment I finally knew love. My husband was wrong about so many things but he was right about that.

    The searing pain of childbirth is often juxtaposed with the equally searing love of a child. Love does not exist without hate, and weakness is the ultimate strength because two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. It took me 40 years to figure this out. And it is the truest love story I will tell for the rest of my life.

    Shannon Lell is a writer, single mom, yogi and mountain bike enthusiast. She has written for The Washington Post, Longreads, The Rumpus, Scary Mommy, ESME and more. She is writing a memoir about her political, spiritual and sexual awakening in her 30’s titled, The Conservative Slut. You can find her at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
  • Nothing Like I Expected

    By Lindsey Mead

     

    If you’d asked me when I was a teenager what I wanted my life to look like in my 40s, I would have probably told you the following: I’d like two children, I’d like to have a happy marriage and a fulfilling career, and I would like to live in Cambridge. I’d risk going further: it wouldn’t be bad to have a degree or two, ideally from good schools. I’d like my parents to be happy and healthy and nearby. I’d like to have done what Dad had been urging me to do since my memory began: find my passion.

    Lo and behold. I am 43, and this is what my life looks like: I have two teenage children who are entertaining, motivated, and tremendously good company. I have two Ivy League degrees and a career that I am proud of. I have a happy marriage to a man I met when I was 23. We live in a house in Cambridge a mile from my parents’ house. I am passionate about writing, which I do in space around the edges of the rest of my commitments. Life looks an awful lot like I hoped it would.

    And yet.  There is so much that has surprised me—so much that continues to surprise me—about adulthood. On every dimension and at every turn, life has startled me with challenges and wonder in equal measure.

    Parenting has been far, far more bittersweet than I ever expected. From the very beginning, when my daughter was born more than 15 years ago, every laugh and every milestone has been shadowed by its own passing. Somehow the arrival and growth of my children has served as a sharp reminder of how short our time here is.  

    I try very hard not to let the sometimes dazzling pleasures of parenthood be entirely occluded by my knowledge of their impermanence, but I find that difficult. Having children has reminded me, unavoidably and indelibly, of life’s basic drumbeat forward motion. Grace and Whit have made me painfully aware of how quickly it all passes, and they have simultaneously made me appreciate life’s extraordinary beauty in a completely new way. There’s no question in my mind these two things are woven inextricably together.

    Marriage has been altogether different than I expected, too, both more difficult (in short: anyone you live with for 18 years is going to get a little, shall we say, irritating sometimes) and more wonderful (the familiarity and intimacy of those 18 shared years creates a comfort I couldn’t have imagined). One of the unanticipated pleasures of marriage, for me, is seeing my husband as a father, and seeing traits of his animate in our children.  

    I can’t remember where I read that marriage is the most private of geographies, but that’s definitely true. After 18 years, I know that I don’t know anything about anyone else’s marriage. Many of my assumptions and high-minded ideas about what marriage is have been destroyed, and in their place is a deep appreciation of the joys that come from making a life alongside one other person.  

    This rooted comfort and intimacy become more important than I could ever imagine in the last few months, because of another of life’s shocking surprises. My husband and I both lost our fathers in the autumn of 2017, 2 months and 3 days apart. These back-to-back losses have bound us together in a dark, sacred space of shared grief and radical empathy. My father’s sudden death from a heart attack is by a wide margin the most significant loss of my life. I’m certain that my experience will forever be split into before and after, with that one afternoon of bewilderment, fear, and gratitude balanced in between.

    My professional life has been yet another surprise. I joined a management consulting firm when I graduated from college, mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I quickly went to business school and then returned to the same firm. I moved into a recruiting-focused role for purely practical reasons (my husband traveled a lot and I could see that very quickly this would be impossible once we added children to our lives). For many years I worked part time and while I knew that I did not want to stop working entirely, my sense of my professional identity wavered, and I felt a bit purposeless.  I wrote about working part-time and the way it meant that I had a foot in two worlds and a home in neither. I felt like I was slogging, alone, up a very long, very climb.  

    And then somehow in the last few years the trees at the top of the climb opened, and I could see the view. It’s worth the climb. I started a company with four former colleagues and I truly love my professional life for the first time. I would never have imagined that I’d be an entrepreneur—and my husband often says the same, with a shake of his head and a smile. I love being a part of founding and growing something, and the joy and satisfaction that I feel professionally has been one of life’s greatest surprises so far.  

    I’m glad my father knew about the company I co-founded, and about our early success, before he died.  He had always urged me to find my passion, and he was proud of how much I was loving the new company. But writing, another midlife discovery, is equally the central passion of my life. I found my way back to the page after 20 years in business, and it was like coming home.

    All of my myriad roles matter crucially to me: mother, wife, financial services professional, writer. None of these individual pieces is simple, and in aggregate they form a complicated, noisy life. There’s no question adulthood is messier and more complex than I’d ever imagined, but it’s also more beautiful.  This is the deepest, truest, and most enduring of midlife’s surprises for me: in the dissonance lies the music.   

    Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and son. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in English and has an MBA from Harvard, and is currently eschewing her peripatetic trans-Atlantic childhood by having lived in the same house for 17 years. Her writing has been anthologized and published in a variety of print and on-line sources including Torn: True Stories of Kids, Careers, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, So Long: Short Narratives of Loss and Remembrance, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Literary Mama, the Huffington Post, and others. She writes regularly at A Design So Vast.

     

  • As Long As There Aren’t Trampolines

    By Victoria Fedden

    My daughter’s school recently held a get-together at an indoor trampoline park. When I was a kid, I dreamed of jumping on trampolines—doing flips, bouncing high into the air, and feeling weightless. I imagined it would be almost like flying, so on the day of the event, I donned my active wear and I swear, I think I was more excited than my daughter.

    I was going to be the cool mom, the mom who participates, the energetic, youthful type who’s a kid at heart herself. I imagined this all in vivid detail. I would not be one of those fuddy duddy moms who slouches on the sidelines lost in her phone while the children had all the fun.

    “Mommy, are you sure you can do this?” my daughter asked with obvious concern.

    Assuring her I was indeed down for a day of jumping, I leapt onto my very own trampoline.

    It lasted less than a minute.

    I did not do flips. I was instantly winded, and I think I bounced kind of high. I mean, it felt like it was pretty high, and I didn’t exactly feel like I was flying, because, well, I was too busy panicking about uncontrollably peeing on myself.

    That day, my experience at the trampoline park forced me to finally come to terms with my age. I was 44 years old, and I could no longer jump without fear of incontinence.

    At first I despaired, because I thought I’d become the woman on the Poise pads commercial, and I found this incredibly disturbing, because in my head, I felt more like I was still like one of the dewy ingénues from a Pantene ad—like the biggest problems in my life should be fly-aways, and deodorant on my little black dress, not peeing my pants while exercising. Was I old now? Did I look like an idiot on that trampoline? Was it time to give up and start saying things like “Well, back in my day?”

    Resigning myself to midlife was difficult for me, a proud Gen-Xer. I couldn’t stand the term midlife. It made me feel like I should be wearing elastic-waist jeans and carrying a casserole, watching Lawrence Welk and using a rotary phone. But I identified more with ripped jeans, and sushi, watching Black Mirror and scrolling through Instagram on my iPad. I was still full of life, dammit, even if I was halfway through it!

    Some of the problem is that my body has aged, but my mind hasn’t. Most of the time I still feel like the girl I was in 1990 with her dyed black hair and Doc Martens, listening to mix tapes of Smiths songs. These days I have to dye my hair black because it’s the only thing that will cover my greys, and I still listen to Smiths mixes, except now they’re on Spotify, and my daughter tells me that Morrissey, one of the greatest voices of my generation, sounds like a “whiny old man.”

    For a long time I had this idea that as soon as I hit my forties, it was all downhill, and this mindset was my problem. That was the year when I’d finally have to start shopping at Chicos, I imagined. This nearly waist-length hair would have to go too, in favor of one of those cropped, mushroom shaped styles. I believed I’d have to conform to a certain ideal of what a middle-aged woman was supposed to be like. She was frumpy, and invisible. She didn’t have a say. Her fun was over. She was supposed to stay home and be matriarchal, or something.

    Except, I’m nothing like those stereotypes, and neither are my friends. I would be a terrible matriarch, for the record. Admittedly, I am not Forever 21, but I’m also not a bedazzled sweatshirt and polyester slacks. I’m still managing to pull off the long hair (I think I am, anyway), and more important, I remain flexible both in my joints and in my worldviews.

    Our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations weren’t as open minded. For them, forty was the beginning of an end, but for Generation X, it’s a different kind of beginning. We aren’t conforming to those old ideals of what women should be and do. We didn’t in the nineties when we were just starting out, and we aren’t in our forties in 2018 either. We are a strong-willed generation of creatives and innovators.

    This isn’t a time to settle down. We’re starting businesses, becoming activists, saving lives, and reinventing ourselves, and most of the time, we’re enjoying it and getting to do things on our own terms. Shoot, many of us are just now having children, which is awesome. We’re working, and still seizing the day with the same passion as when we first saw Dead Poets Society. Instead of shaking our heads at the music these teenagers listen to these days, we’re rocking out right along with them. And no one cares!

    I’ve finally been able to reconcile myself to my age, even in those frustrating moments when my body can’t keep up with my mind, and the reason why is because my generation is redefining the years that were always called midlife. It’s no longer a time to sit in the easy chair and watch Jeopardy. Midlife doesn’t have to be a crisis, either. Women my age are awakening. We can look how we want, go where we want, and still use our energy and wisdom to create change in the world.

    Because Generation X is destroying stereotypes of what it means to be older women, I’m free to be whatever I want. The world we live in doesn’t exclude me from being fun, hip, energetic, and relevant, even as I’m pushing 50. I’m allowed to be youthful, although I am no longer young. I am still welcome to participate, and I plan to. You know, as long as there are no trampolines.

     

    Victoria Fedden is a writer and a mom from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her memoir This is Not My Beautiful Life was published June 2016 by Picador USA. She teaches college writing and occasionally blogs on her website at http://www.victoriafedden.com. Her essays and articles have appeared in Real Simple, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Huffington Post, Redbook, Elephant Journal, Scary Mommy, Babble and The South Florida Sun Sentinel, plus various other publications. Please visit her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/victoriacfedden for updates.

  • Is Midlife More Confusing for Gen X Women?

    When I was a teenager, I loved taking quizzes in my YM magazine. Any particular insight I could get into myself was validating and slightly thrilling. To be honest, I loved labels. “What Type of Friend Are You?” “How Confident Are You?” “What’s Your Vacation Style?” I seriously loved learning more about myself, and instead of feeling limited by these labels, I felt comforted and  powerful.

    It’s no surprise that I soaked up the Myers-Briggs personality test with great enthusiasm. Not only did I take the test, I read every article I could get my hands on about how my personality type affected my friendships, marriage, work relationships, and parenting style.

    As I’ve gotten older and more comfortable in my own skin, the question has become less “Who am I?” and more  “Where am I?” Like, in my life.  I, like so many other Gen X women, have arrived on the doorstep of 40 feeling slightly bewildered. Surely, we aren’t “middle aged” yet, right?  When precisely does that happen, because I’m still wearing the same jeans, tank tops, and Converse that I did in my mid-twenties. (OK, well not the same ones, because, childbirth.)

    And shouldn’t we be feeling more sure of ourselves, clearer on what comes next, and confident that we have adequately navigated our adult lives and will continue to do so? Because, no. So many of us still grapple with the impostor syndrome that leaves us feeling like we have no idea what we are doing on a regular basis. And most of us thought that would have resolved itself, I don’t know, ten years ago.

    So what is this part of our lives? I suspect it might be midlife, but I just don’t feel ready for that yet. How do Gen X women — born between approximately 1965-1980 — categorize ourselves at this phase of life? Gen Xers have long been dubbed “perpetual adolescents” who are reluctant to grow up, so maybe that’s part of this hesitant slide into the nebulous next phase.

    Additionally, our generation can’t exactly follow the roadmap of our mothers before us. Many of them confidently entered adulthood right after college (or high school, or marriage) and prepared themselves for the years of stability that would follow. The world is a vastly different place than it was then, and many of us feel like we’ve been dropped in a strange land with nothing to point us in the right direction. It is literally uncharted territory.

    And with the uncharted territory that many of us tentatively (reluctantly?) refer to as “midlife” come many challenges and stresses. But back to that label thing. It seems for once we lack an adequate label for what we are going through. Is this what it looks like to be a Gen X woman at midlife? A label, some definitions, and some direction would be greatly appreciated right now. But there is no magazine quiz to help us navigate this. So we look to each other.

    However, Gen X women are wildly all over the place when it comes to life stages. Mothers in their late 30s, 40s, and early 50s cannot claim child-raising stages as their common thread. Some women in their 40s are sending kids off to college, while others are just beginning their families. The choices we have that our Boomer mothers didn’t have has opened the door to myriad family and lifestyle possibilities.

    I distinctly remember my father’s 40th birthday. We delivered an array of black decorations to his workplace, “Over the Hill” balloons adorning his office. 40 was old. Of course, my opinion on such matters is vastly different from this perspective. Women in their 40s and 50s (and beyond!) are vibrant, relevant, powerful, and free. A recent Telegraph article, “Women In Their 40s and 50s Are the New Ageless Generation” introduced me to the term “perennials” to describe women in this stage of life. When I read the article, I felt a flood of relief: I was given permission to continue wearing my jeans and tank tops and Converse forever! And there was that little flicker of recognition that I used to feel when “finding myself” in a magazine quiz’s tidy definition. There I am. I am not alone.

    Several years ago as I floundered with my career aspirations and home duties I jokingly mentioned that I was having a ⅖ life crisis. Because at 37, I certainly didn’t want to believe my end point was 74! Even as my 40th birthday looms, I’d like to think I’ll live a little bit longer than 80! But I don’t think that lifespan is really the issue here. This, right now, where we are, whether it is a “geriatric pregnancy” or empty nest syndrome, whether it is balancing our health with a fast-paced career, whether it is nervously entering a second marriage, this is midlife.

    A few months ago we at The HerStories Project read the compelling viral article“The New Midlife Crisis: Why (And How) It’s Hitting Gen X Women” by Ada Calhoun, and it really fired us up. Sharing it with our community, we were blown away by the degree to which it seemed to resonate. So much so that we sent out our survey to find out what other women’s (mainly Gen X women) experiences of midlife looked like. We had questions; we wanted to know what the biggest common challenges women had with this stage of life.

    And many of us are struggling. With financial worries (we really are the first downwardly mobile generation when it comes to money), our health, the health of our parents, our children’s needs, anxiety about the state of the world, and myriad career concerns, we need support. From each other, mainly, as that aforementioned roadmap to midlife is nowhere in sight.

    So many women have told us that midlife is “nothing like they expected.” I wholeheartedly concur. I suspect that again, this is partially because the example of midlife we witnessed from our mothers in the 80s and 90s is nowhere to be found now. According to Neil Howe in the Salon article, “Generation X Gets Really Old: How Do Slackers Have a Breakdown?”: “The Xer in midlife is facing the opposite midlife than the Silent Generation,” Howe says. “The Silent experienced claustrophobia. Xers experience agoraphobia — everything is possible.”

    I was with a group of women recently at a class, and we were sharing our occupations, as many of us were not yet acquainted. One was a doula, illustrator, and graphic designer. Who also did bodywork. One was a hair stylist, astrologer, and yoga teacher. One was a part-time accountant and massage therapist. The instructor herself home-schooled her children and taught martial arts as well as philosophy and ethics at a local college. I shared that I am a music therapist, freelance writer, and co-editor of this website.

    It was striking that in a group of five women, 100% of us had  cobbled-together careers woven with several entirely unrelated skills. And it seemed to encapsulate yet another way in which midlife is different for Gen X women than it was for our Boomer mothers: that fearful and freeing combination of everything is possible.

    Add in the Internet, and it’s hard to fathom what midlife actually felt like in 1989. The freedom and choices we Gen X women have now is of course a good thing, but with increased options comes increased uncertainty. Many of us feel financial stress or are pulled in too many directions. Many of us have left jobs or even careers to pursue something entirely different; sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of us balance raising children with working part-time or full-time. We do all this, while also juggling our own health, friendships, and marriages and wondering why the hell we didn’t know it was going to be like this. I keep waiting to have “arrived,” but I’m starting to think there is no arriving.

    I have come to accept the fact that this stage of life may come to be defined for me by a distinct lack of definition. I am not going to find a relief-inducing description of where I am, what I should be doing, and what is coming next. Rather than following the tidy and well-worn map I would prefer, I am going to be paving my own way and keeping company with other women who are doing the same. We may be making it up as we go, but we won’t be alone.

  • Furious Awakening

    By Emily Nichols GrossiEmily Nichols Grossi

     

    The workmen come early, before the rising sun pierces the inky morning darkness. The sounds of hammers on chisels on wood reverberate through my home, and I jolt awake. The aggressive buzz of a circle saw adds to the concert downstairs. I feel joy.

    ***

    A friend sends me the circulating images of Rob Porter’s first wife, the one the top Trump aide beat up while on vacation in Italy. The woman’s face looks like Mardi Gras gone wrong—purple, green, and yellow bruises speckle her eyes and cheeks.

    My husband comes home after another long day in a month full of them. I am helping both kids finish their homework, sending a few emails on behalf of their school, cleaning the remains of their dinner, and reminding them that bath time is imminent. My husband lays down on the couch. I am as tired, and I am doing four things at once after having managed a day that included a two-hour snow delay, four carpool runs, and meetings with the contractor managing our kitchen renovation. I have no patience for what feels like servile invisibility. I feel fury.

    “Did you hear that Trump wants a military parade?” my husband calls from his horizontal perch. My blood begins to boil anew as I think about just how many women’s truths have been invalidated by Trump alone, and now he wants a fucking parade? I feel loathing.

    We head to bed early. I insert the mouthguard I had to get in late November of 2016. I was grinding my teeth so intensely that my molars now have hairline fissures in them. I also developed TMJ. I insert my ear plugs because I don’t sleep as soundly as I once did, and my husband’s snores bother me. I take my extra thyroid medicine in the hopes that my low T3, a thyroid hormone, rather than the daily stress of resisting Trump, is to blame for my thinning hair. After an hour of restless fidgeting, I take half an Ambien so I can finally sleep. I am tense.  

    ***

    I am a 41-year-old, upper middle class, well-educated white woman living comfortably in Chevy Chase, MD, less than a mile from the DC line. I was raised in the South where femininity and social decorum meant keeping quiet about certain topics in certain venues. I grew up trying to be the peacemaker.

    I am a stay-at-home mother of two sons with whom I work daily to instill a commitment to social justice and environmental stewardship, kindness and manners, and an awareness of the many ways in which they are privileged. The Nerf guns with which they love to play make me deeply uncomfortable, and we debate their presence in our home regularly.

    I am a pacifist who talks to the earthworms in my garden, relocates spiders and ants back outside rather than crush them, and recycles with a nearly manic gusto. I am vehemently pro-choice and committed to separation of church and state.

    Yet for most of my life, I have kept both my opinions and my work on behalf of these issues to myself and my family. That is what a polished lady does, right?

    After Trayvon Martin was murdered by a self-appointed neighborhood guard and Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Philando Castile and Freddie Gray and so many others were slain by policemen—none of whom were punished for their crimes—I found myself unable to maintain my reserve. Only the privileged have the luxury of silence and remove, and no longer could I stomach sitting in complacency. What kind of role model would silence be for my children? How could I ever say that I truly tried to let my life speak if I didn’t use my words publicly? And so I started speaking and acting and writing and canvassing.

    And then Trump was elected, and as America felt upended, so, too, did I.

    ***

    The thrill I’m taking in the demolition and noise wrought in my kitchen has been surprising, for in general I like progress and constructive growth, cleanliness, and peaceful quietude. It must be therapeutic, all the destruction, not least because it is purposeful and towards a greater and positive end—a way of channeling some of the rage and worry and disgust that courses through me daily in Trumpland.

    Trump’s election and the many dark underbellies in our democracy that his ascension unearthed removed from my eyes the remainder of the veil that, until several years ago, had shaded my awareness of systemic American racism. I struggle to manage my concern over my country’s future, the one into which I’m raising and delivering my children, as well as my disgust over the vanishing senses of decency and morality.

    Several months after Trump’s inauguration and marching in six protests in response, I told my husband that our marriage was at a crossroads. We could turn right and work toward a more perfect union or we could pivot left and into separation. What wasn’t acceptable anymore was our status quo.

    At that point, I’m not sure I’d have linked my reaction to Trump—an empowered awakening born of fury and fear—to my bold assertion about what I was no longer willing to accept in my marriage. My husband, a feminist who finds sexual misconduct unacceptable, has supported me in every personal and professional endeavor I have undertaken. I have never been sexually assaulted. But as my feelings of being unseen and unappreciated escalated, I realized that my awakening was a multifaceted one, showing itself in both my marriage and in my relation to womanhood at large; my Self as one of many female selves who had been underestimated, undervalued, and taken for granted for too long.

    My husband chose to turn right, into couples counseling and hard work. We are a different and much happier pair now, and that stress has largely disappeared, despite the evenings he takes to the couch rather than ask what the kids and I need.

    But the Roy Moores and Rob Porters and Bannons and Millers and Lewandowskys and Trump himself are still at large, poisoning our country in ways that serve only a few of privilege, that wreak havoc and ill-conceived destruction, that wind back the clocks of reproductive, civil, and gender equality rights for which people have fought for decades.

    Those who had begun advancing from the strictures of servile invisibility and who in no way wish to go back are and will continue to suffer the most even though they, like the rest of us, want to turn right—into a better tomorrow in which all of us are seen and valued and appreciated.

    In the meantime, when the demolition renders our kitchen returned to its foundation, I will exhale like a marathoner who’s just crossed the finish line: exhausted but proud, both weakened and strengthened. From there, we’ll rebuild, purposefully making the whole stronger and more functional than it was before. The same way my husband and I are doing with our marriage. The way I desperately hope our country will when Trump is finally gone.

     

    Emily is the stay-at-home mother of two spirited sons and a canning and pie-making instructor who can’t stop cooking. She also writes and photographs Em-i-lis, a sassy mishmash of all things motherhood, politics, and food, and owns Elucido: Make Your Written Work Shine, an editorial consultancy. She grew up in Louisiana and now lives in Chevy Chase, MD.

  • Do What’s a Blast

    By Ann Imig


    I spent my whole childhood and young adult life singing. My parents invested in years of vocal lessons, and I practiced everyday, everywhere. I sang the FAME soundtrack from the backseat of the car. I acted out “A Hard Knock Life” while we did dishes. I belted Whitney Houston from my bedroom. I drove my family bonkers.

    Singing introduced me to my husband “Ben the Drummer” at a musical theater in Colorado. We moved to Chicago and I kept singing. For a time. I quickly tired of the actor hustle, as Ben tired of the musician hustle. I put my meager day job funds toward hiring a big-time vocal coach, and never practiced. He told me I had what it took but needed to work a lot harder to make a professional singing career happen. Instead, I made hanging out on the couch with Ben The Drummer happen.

    We made our relationship happen, we made marriage happen, we made babies happen. I spent sleepless baby nights walking our halls, singing my entire repertoire from Broadway belters to Italian arias. I didn’t miss performing.

    My kids outgrew the lullaby years. I found a new way to satisfy a resurfacing urge to perform by blogging, creating a storytelling show, and becoming a public speaker. Twenty years clipped by without singing on a stage or for an audience.

    This past summer a song from Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” came on the car radio. I burst into tears. Apparently I missed singing. I felt a pull, but my inner critic deemed it childish and impractical. I hired an accompanist for an hour just for fun. My inner critic accepted that.

    “You sound good,” the accompanist said. “Are you going to do something? You should do something.”

    I wanted to do something. I had indeed thought of doing something. So, I gave myself permission to do something and told my inner critic she could deride me all day long. I would walk toward the stage anyhow.

    In the meantime a new show was coming together with ease, in the way things do when they feel meant to be. Synergy. As I paired my own writing from the past decade with some of my favorite show tunes, the hours flew by. My career coach says when the hours fly by and you hardly notice? Notice that. Do that. So I did. I hired a music director to help me develop my idea.

    I methodically moved forward, determined not to let my inner critic get the best of me. My inner critic grew louder: Who do you think you are? Want to make an gigantic weenie of yourself? NO ONE NEEDS AN HOUR OF ANN SHOW. She insisted I eat all the marshmallow charms from the kids’ cereal.

    Here’s the thing. I love my life. I love my life and also I felt adrift creatively and professionally. I felt blue, stuck in a rut. Yet, each time I worked on the new project it brought me delight. It gave everything else focus and balance: my parenting, my volunteer work, my daily life work.

    I confessed in a text to my friend Lisa.

    “I’m trying to see if the universe wants me to do this or not. My heart knows it would be a blast and my ego says this is humiliating and don’t embarrass yourself.”

    Lisa said: “Do what’s a blast.”

    She mirrored my own words back to me, with a gentle push. It felt like a revelation: have fun. In childhood, fun is a primary motivation. By midlife I’d completely erased it from the equation. Fun doesn’t look for external validation. Fun needs no permission. Fun holds no barometer for success.

    I told Lisa, “I’m a little afraid I’m going to make a fool of myself.”

    She responded, “That’s the risk with anything good and what makes it exciting.”

    Right. I forgot that’s why they call it a leap of faith.

    The show is happening: an evening of songs and stories cabaret-style, and all to benefit a wonderful non-profit cause. Here’s the bonus: I’m more equipped to take the stage than ever before. I now have producing and directing experience and a community ready to support my work. Years of running and yoga give me boss breath control, capacity, and endurance. The richness of love and loss in midlife bring new layers and meaning to the material. I don’t need to act — it’s all there.

    I’m having a blast. I’m taking a leap of faith. I’m terrified, but eating fewer marshmallow charms.

    Are you looking for a sign? For permission? For validation? Do what’s a blast. Thank you, Lisa.

     

    Ann Imig is the founder of the national live storytelling series LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER and editor of the acclaimed anthology LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now (Putnam Books, 2015). Ann’s award-winning writing has been featured on sites like CollegeHumor, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post. National TV appearances include ABCnews.com, NBC Nightly News and the webseries Battleground and The Louise Log.