Peri-menopause: For Barbara in Texas

IMG_3372Peri-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.

Slicing Through Artist Block: for my friend Vanessa


There are those awful times when I didn’t feel like I’d ever have another idea.  For anything.  Everything I thought of, I’d already done several times over and I just can’t get motivated to do the next – dance with the same set of movements, another still life, or another poem about rain. I believe that you are your actions, rather than your thoughts and therefore, I could no longer count on my old identity as an artist.  (This is a somewhat comforting thought when you are occasionally homicidal toward coworkers or spouse or the really bad driver in front of you, as I am.)

In retrospect, I find that in those barren stretches I do things that eventually erupt into creativity again.  But I don’t realize it at the time.  Many of these times, I often feel the world heavy around me.  Or I’m running in too many directions because of desire to learn as much as possible about the world.  Or I wish to dissolve into fantasy (at which point I read a lot of novels).  I might be putting a lot of energy into work or politicking or socializing, or not have any energy at all.

Then, boom.  Something changes.  It could be as simple as the strep throat I am just getting over.  I  step back, slow down, and watch the world go by.  The ideas drift by like pollen in the spring air. Achoo, ideas start flowing into my thoughts and popping into my journals.  My journals start plumping.  It as if all that time I spent away from paints and song were simply a catalyst.

So here’s a list to step once more on the path of creation.  These are ideas for writing or art, my two main endeavors these days, but they are applicable to any art form.

1. Make your own list of things you’d like to do or learn but haven’t yet. Investigate what it would take to do one or two.  Maybe start one. (My latest favorites are jumping out of an airplane and learning welding.)

2. Work on writer’s prompts or art exercises.  You can find these on the web and in books.  My favorite books for writer’s prompts are Susan Wooldridge “Poem Crazy” and Josip Novakovitch “Fiction Writer’s Workshop.”  For art, I find inspiration reading books about symbolism in history and across cultures, or leafing through the art books I’ve accumulated.

3. Read books.  Go to museums.   Visit the theatre.  Enjoy friends.

4. Tell yourself you’re going to do something small.  Something that just takes 5 minutes.  A quick sketch or two of your cat.  A few random words about yourself or why you hate your boss.

5. Do something small as regularly as possible.  Maybe vow to make it once a day.  It’s okay if you don’t keep the vow and end up doing this once a week.  Keep going.

6. Turn off the media stream.  Give yourself some quiet time to think.  I like to take walks and just look and listen carefully.

7. Switch creative outlets.  If you’re a writer, try drawing.  If you’re a painter, try singing.  Sometimes trying something we don’t have any expectations of being good at is just what we need.  Beginner’s mind.  After, I find I approach my regular channels with that same beginner’s mind and a different perspective.

8. Do “morning pages,”  writing steadily for 3 pages anything that comes into your head.  Each day. (See rule above about daily work.) Don’t edit, don’t think much.  Try to spill words onto the page as fluidly and steadily as possible.  You can throw out the pages afterward.  I like doing this in the morning captivated by the warmth of a cup of coffee.  But any time in the day can work.

9. Remember the process of making art is the important part.  Whether the product is good or bad doesn’t matter.  The finished work is merely the by-product of the process.  Sometimes I like what I did. About 9 out of 10 times, I toss it in the garbage.

10. Be patient.  Know the muse will find you when you are both ready.  It will happen.

painting, sketching and the muse

IMG_2222Thus far I’ve talked about the variety of creativity.  I was first opened to creative thought by drawing and dancing as a kid.  I remember climbing my favorite tree, a crab apple tree in the front yard, and discovering perspective by sketching the house across the suburban street.  As I grew through adolescence and young adulthood, I kept journals that contained everything I was thinking in words and drawings, prose and poetry.  I still keep these journals, although now they don’t have as much in them since I often write prose on the computer.  Poetry, which comes to me at random times, is still in the journals and also on all sorts of random scraps of paper.  The muse is chaos and does not come only when bidden.

And after a long hiatus, I am finally drawing and painting again.  It feels like the world has gotten bigger and beauty is everywhere. My favorite prayer is a Navaho one:

I see beauty in front of me.

I see beauty behind me.

I see beauty to the right of me.

I see beauty to the left of me.

I see beauty above me.

I see beauty below me.

In that spirit, I hope you will enjoy these samples of my art.


Painted at Sparrow’s Point in Baltimore.


A sketch done of my son when we were on vacation at the beach in Rehobeth, Delaware.


This watercolor is of a wetlands near Kennedy airport in New York City. I attached it to re-bar that I found while wandering in the city.  At the time, I didn’t know what it was but it looked like the perfect frame for a small painting.


One of my earliest oil paintings was done on wood I found.  I love painting on wood and it is easy to find scraps that are being thrown out from construction sites.


A favorite corner of my home with two small paintings.  The larger painting is of my sister Kim, sitting on a bench at Clark Gardens on Long Island.  The smaller piece is oil on canvas stretched over hanger wire.  The photos are of my mom and great-grandmother.  There is a lovely porcelain cup given to me by Sensei Kiyota.  The figurines are of Shiva and Laksmi.  I picked up Laksmi when I was in India.  My husband coincidentally had Shiva well before we met.  Now they are together.


Both the above and below paintings were done when I lived and worked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  It was still a rough neighborhood but was a growing artists’ community at that time.



Above is my guardian angel.  She was painted after I had a horrific bicycling accident and my foot was run over by the tire of a street sweeper.  My foot looked just like it does in the painting before the doctor stitched it up, although it was (thank goodness) still attached.  After the accident my lawyer, Clay Evall, came to the house.  Clay told me later that when he saw the huge truck tire in my apartment (which I had used to practice bokken), he knew I’d somehow get better.