Made a flag by sewing the legs of old martial arts uniforms. Here’s both sides.
I’ve kept notebooks to write ideas, scribble in, and well…scribble more in. Keeping them handy has helped me create my poems, stories, and art. Looking through my old notebooks is like going back in time and discovering who I was. Here’s a few drawings from the past year.
Trigger Warning: I draw my cat a lot. Cuteness overload may occur.
In the rain.
Recently, I opened a notebook from a few months ago and found lovely drawings and stories that I didn’t remember doing. I had intended to write on the leftover blank pages but started viewing the work. It felt like I was looking at someone else’s work.
I often put aside writings or paintings for at least a month or more after finishing them, before editing them or making the final touches. When I come back to the work, I have enough perspective to edit words severely, add an extra line of paint, or eliminate a too busy portion. Sometimes I just note what I liked and what I didn’t like about the piece, tuck the piece away, and use that information to inform future work. Then, I move on. I figure that good work will emerge about 1 out of 10 times, if I’m lucky that day. This doesn’t bother me. My artwork is done for my own entertainment, catharsis, and meditation. The final product is merely a by-product of the process. But occasionally, when I look back, there is a lovely sensation of satisfaction of having done something well.
Peri-menopause, the time in our lives from regular menstrual periods to one year after the cessation of periods, is a trip, in all senses of the word. For some of my friends, it is a time that they hardly take note of, nothing much changes. For me, however, it is a time with wildly fluctuating moods, changes in temperature regulation, and bizarre effects. As my friend Barbara put it, peri-menopause is something that no one talks about. Certainly, it was not discussed when we were growing up. Only recently, among certain women, is it now considered an okay topic for discussion, albeit, a little risqué.
Firstly, the good effects. I have always been a slender woman prone to feeling cold. I go out in a down coat when other people are in their shirt sleeves. I think I was meant to live in the tropics. At the onset of perimenopause, I’d get hot flashes and find them extremely pleasant. Finally, at least for the short time of the hot flash, I felt the temperature the same as everyone else. I could take off my coat or jacket or whatever extra layers of clothing I was wearing at the time. In later peri-menopause, I found I had trained myself to regulate my temperature somewhat by increasing the heat in my hands and toes. I also found I’d learned to relax my body somewhat, even when I was tense. For both of these, I used techniques learned from martial arts and yoga. This relaxation of muscles and temperature regulation is somewhat related, which is why they are sitting together in my paragraph.
Somewhere around the first few years of peri-menopause, I got tired of dyeing my hair and let it go gray. It was a relief, since dyeing was both an expense and time-consuming. Then, I found that I could be invisible whenever I wanted. It was like having a magic cloak that would make one disappear. People pass me on the street without looking at me, or even giving any thought to my presence. They will continue their conversation, their thoughts, whatever gait and posture they had without interruption. I could observe them carefully without their ever noticing me. I could listen in to conversations. (Yes, as a writer, I am perpetually nosy.) If I wanted to be visible, all I have to do is walk/stand purposefully and speak up. Like taking off the magic cloak.
The gray hair also allows me to call others “dear,” to speak at will to strangers and get them talking, and to immediately create an authoritative presence at work meetings. I can coo and make faces at babies and parents would smile, understand and tolerate me. People trust me. What a mistake..haha. This is particularly fun when practicing martial arts with those who don’t know me. What do they see? A tiny, old lady. She’s probably fragile. Then suddenly they are on the floor and I am giggling.
Another effect of peri-menopause was wildly swinging moods. One minute I’m crying and the next I’m laughing hysterically, or singing at the top of my lungs (in my car). It also brought some of the worst depressions I’ve had. These might have been partially due to the fact that peri-menopause coincided with a move from NYC to Baltimore, along with a change of jobs. I found myself with a new roommate (my new husband), a different job, and a city where I had some strong acquaintances, but no friends as yet. I also found I couldn’t paint as I had been doing, due to space considerations. That worked out okay though. I decided to join a writer’s group that met regularly to help each other with writing. After that, I started pottery with a marvelous teacher, who became a good friend. But then, I had another devastating depression. This was followed by nearly two years of feeling okay, but numb. I wasn’t creating and cared little about the things that had formerly seemed important. I sat in a comfortable chair and read, mostly escape literature like mystery novels. I felt little energy for martial arts or exercising. I forced myself to keep up somewhat with the martial arts and also, to walk. I couldn’t seem to do the simple domestic tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening that had given me pleasure. (Actually, I did add to my notebooks some poems, stories and drawings, but I didn’t realize I did it at the time, and the output was much less than usual.) This was the scary part of peri-menopause; I thought I’d be like that for the rest of my life, that aging meant that I wouldn’t have the energy or passion of previous times.
Now, I think I may be at the tail end of peri-menopause. In any event, I feel like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, or Sleeping Beauty finally awakened by passion into life again. In retrospect, I think the time of calm numbness may have actually been a time of contemplation of my values, an evaluation of where I had been, and an assessment of where I wanted to go with the remainder of my life. I feel more committed to this world and more dedicated to acting on my own ethics. I am going through a period of great creativity. At some point, I may experience a time of less energy or creativity, as my creativity naturally waxes and wanes over time, but I’m merrily riding this wave while it lasts.
After getting a cat, I am surprised to find myself getting attached to him, as he is to me. Buddy, my cat, was given to my husband by his mother. She would go into the nursing home if he would take the cat. It was a deal only my mother-in-law could broach, mafia-like he “couldn’t refuse,” ha. Now that Buddy has taken over my house and favorite chair, he has also become an art inspiration. Mind control??
Imrana Sayed and Wick O’Brien have made their beautiful house by building and decorating in and onto an existing house in Staten Island. They bought their house many years ago but over time have changed it. Wick is a skilled builder. He redid the kitchen, tore off the roof, built stairs, and made the attic into a master bedroom with attached bath. Imrana is skilled at sewing. She regularly sews clothes or makes toys (like stuffed bears) for children. She sewed slip covers for couches and chairs as well as creating all the curtains. I think the couch they are sitting in is about to get a remake! Imrana also did a lot of the less skilled work that required patience and persistence, like stripping layers of paint from the original wood and refinishing it. Then, she decorated the house with found objects and friends’ artwork. I have experienced their hospitality in the house more times than I can count and it’s always like coming home.
Dining room. Painting by Mike Hamilton. For more beautiful paintings go to his website mikehamiltonpaintings.com Disclosure: He’s the father of my children, too. Makes beautiful kids and paintings!
Below is the dining room wall opposite Mike’s painting. The cross in the corner was actually a wooden mould for metal pipes.
A corner of the living room. My painting of a lamplit street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was done at night in winter, under a street light and wearing many layers of clothing.
I saw this whimsical, carved and painted fence when I was bicycling around the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. Although this is on the outside of the house, I consider gardens and fences to be part of the house so I included it in this part of the conversation.
Betsy Bennett is an actor, comedian, writer and also my sister-in-law. She decorated her apartment in an idiosyncratic way, with family heirlooms plus objects and artwork she found at thrift stores and flea markets. I found it delightful to stay at her home when I went to visit. In every nook there was a surprise!
For a taste of Betsy’s most recent comedy, “Assisted Living: The Musical” go to http://www.comptonandbennett.com
Although I love traveling, I am always happy to come home.