Body of Gratitude — Reprise


I wrote most of this blog a year ago. At that point, I wrote about the previous year, and the journey I had taken out of heartbreak. Most of the 30 blog posts leading up to last Thanksgiving’s blog were stepping stones to healing, taking me closer to moments of real happiness. I have come to realize that happiness is, though an aspiration worthy of us, a bonus, like when the champagne pops or they move you up to first class for no apparent reason.

Today I am with my family. This whole week, actually. My entire family, which includes not only my children, but also the father of my children, once so estranged from me that we divorced. There is no accounting for how the heart’s GPS will take you. Eventually you end up where you are meant to be. And for that, I am grateful this Thanksgiving. The rest of this blog is the same as it was before. I liked it then, and think it worthy of another Thanksgiving. I hope you like it….

Some people have a body of work to represent a lifetime of creation. Today, I find that I have a body of gratitude that represents a lifetime of blessings.

Head. Inside my extra-large head there is a brain that works well, most of the time. I have always trusted my brain to get me through. To be smart and capable. It is a quick thinker, and I’m grateful it lets me keep up. I may not be able to remember a lot of life’s details (see my blog on memory), but I remember enough. I remember falling in love with books, acquiring my baby sisters during the dark night of childhood, feeling happiness like bubbles that would surprise me on a Friday afternoon as I boarded the crosstown bus home from school. I remember dancing on the bar, skinnydipping at dawn, road trips at midnight with the friends of the moment. I remember the people I have loved and cleaved to for life: true friends. My head has gotten me into plenty of trouble, don’t get me wrong. I can overthink, overanalyze, the usual roadblocks of a writer and reader. But my brain has always been secure for me, and my friend. I am grateful for my head and everything that goes on in there.

Eyes. Thank you, universe, for not making me blind. I am as close to it as a person can be without actually being blind at all. My vision is appallingly bad – once estimated at 20/1800 by a surprised ophthalmologist I went to. But thanks to modern technology I am corrected to about 20/35 and have seen Swan Lake and The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. I have seen the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean and the Atlantic. I have seen a giant humpback whale staring at me from 20 feet below, as she popped up beside my boat. I have seen the faces of students look at me with disbelief, gratitude, pride, exhilaration, realization, frustration, desperation, love, joy, and the thrill of epiphany. I have read books, love letters, and the poetry of my gifted daughter. I have looked down from the top of the Eiffel Tower at the lights of Paris and have looked up at Arenal—a live volcano in Costa Rica, as it spewed truck sized globs of magma down its sides in glowing rivers. I have seen the look of love on the face of a few good men. Best of all, of course, I saw the faces of my children still smeary and blurred with the exercise of birthing. I saw them open their eyes for the first time to look at me, their mother in this beautiful lifetime. I am grateful for my eyes.

Mouth. What is life without the taste of fermented grapes, roasted coffee, or aged cheese? How can I ever describe how thankful I am for deep soft kisses?

Ears. My son is a musician. That alone gives my ears meaning. My father gave me his love by sitting me down in his study to listen to Sibelius, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Puccini. Etc. The music of my life, from Joni to Aretha, poured through my ears and filled the spaces inside me like custard in a mold. Soon enough, the music was me. What about the sound of the surf, distant lawnmowers on a summer’s day, the swish of skis on groomed snow, the crackle of a fire, or the song of a mockingbird? Yeah, all of it.

Throat. The chakra spins. Having a voice. To speak, to be. I think with my head but I write with my body – my throat where my voice lives, and my hands that know how to get it all out. I am grateful for my throat.

Heart. There is no real explanation for why the heart works the way it does. I don’t mean why it pumps blood and oxygen to all the other parts of the body (grateful or otherwise)– scientists have that figured out. I’m talking about The Heart – the metaphorical seat of feeling. How does anyone know how to love? How can even the most damaged of souls have a heart of love inside them? I am grateful that loving has always come easily to me. Not necessarily trusting or sharing – but love, yes. My heart does not hold grudges. I loved my sisters on sight and that feeling has never waned. I love so many friends who could ask anything of me. I love my uncles, aunts, cousins galore, without reservation. I have loved a few men in my life. Not many. Enough. That love does not go away any more than any other love goes away. When someone is gone, the love just hibernates in the deep cells of the body of gratitude. I am grateful for those loves. The love a mother feels for the human beings grown in her body, fed from her body, nurtured on her body. Well, it seems obvious and effortless but I suppose it is not. Did my mother know that love? Hard to say. But I am grateful that I do.

Breasts. It took me a long time to be grateful for mine. As a young woman, I resented their asymmetry (which is remarkable and no I won’t put up a picture to prove it), their perky girlishness (was I insane?). Now I think my boobs kick all kinds of ass. They fed two very hungry babies who grew at record breaking rates. They have gained character and given me and others pleasure over the years. And at this stage in my life I am most grateful that they have retained their shape and… uh, elevation. Good job, breasts. Thank you.

Uterus. What can I say? I’m a goddess, as is every woman who contains within her the power of life. I fell in love with my body for positive sure when I grew a person inside me. And then again when I pushed it out with the power of all the love and gratitude any mere human can muster. And then I did it again.

Vagina. The magical mystery of being female. The vagina is a way out – for blood and/or life. Everyone starts life through that flowering exit. And it is the way in—to the center of a woman.  It is a mystery that everyone ponders, some fear, and some love. I am grateful for my vagina. It has given me joy, pleasure, glory, pain, and myself.

Legs. I am grateful for my legs and how pretty they have always been. How they let me dance. How they let me be tall. They ache now and then. My knees creak. But I can still boogie my ass off and hike a mountain and ride a bike and that’s awesome.

Feet. I am not always fearless. In fact fear has overcome me at times in my life. But I have guts. My feet, they walk. I do what I need to do. I go where I need to go, and work as hard as I need to work. Most of the time, my feet don’t fail me. I am grateful to my feet for carrying my body of gratitude through five decades of living. I am also grateful for pedicures.

There is not much in my life I am not grateful for, come to think of it. I even love the pain and heartbreak – how else could I be me without it? And I have food, clean water, health insurance, and a home I am not in danger of losing. I can use my head, my heart, my voice, my legs – to make a difference however small. I can go. I can come. I can say yes. I can say no. I can embrace. I can push away. I can stand tall. I can lie down. I can stay silent. But I probably won’t.




“Your Loss, Sailorman” OR You Don’t Need a Man to Tell You How Kickass You Are, Girl – a Hindsight Analysis of the Song Brandy

Brandy, one year later.

Brandy, one year later.

I came of age while the song “Brandy” by Looking Glass was a major hit on the radio. It came out in 1972 when I was 12. I was biologically mature, and, like all 12 year olds, still a little girl. Despite the fact that the still newborn thing called feminism was doing its level best to empower me and my fellow females, I was still very much at the mercy of the overarching societal dumbass assumptions about heterosexual relationships, and so Brandy just became a part of my indoctrination. Unbeknownst to me.

If you have not heard the song (probably because you are extremely young), you can listen here: “Brandy” by Looking Glass. The lyrics are posted at the bottom of this blog.

The song gets into your head immediately. It is catchy. Very. Though according to my cursory research Looking Glass had four hits, Brandy is the only one I actually remember, and I listened to the radio constantly. Back then, it was either that, or vinyl.

I always felt sorry for Brandy. I mean, she loved a man, and he loved her. But poor Brandy lost him to the sea… which he apparently loved a lot more than he loved her. He didn’t die, or anything. No. He just left her and said, “Sorry. You’re great. You’d be a super fine wife. But I’m married to the ocean, which holds my heart and you basically have no hope of competing, ever.”

The other day this song popped up on one of my more self-indulgent Pandora stations. As per usual, I was singing along as I went about my business. Then something happened. I actually heard the words coming out of my mouth – words I had known by heart for 40 years.

And I got really pissed off. “Wait a god damned minute,” I said to my reflection in the mirror as I held the blow dryer away from my head.

The chorus, sung three whole times, tells Brandy she’d make a “fine wife.” By what criteria and who says? And why does that even MATTER? As if being a “fine wife” is the be all and end all of Brandy’s hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

The song beats us about the head with the blunt, but implicit, message that A. her qualifications as a wife are determined by a bunch of dudes who hang out in a bar and a guy who doesn’t have the balls to commit to her and actually find out and B. that she is a tragic figure because she will not ever be granted the privilege of becoming his wife. That wifehood is the only life path for her… aside from being a barmaid, which is a highly honorable profession that allows her to be self-sufficient, and yet is belittled in the song lyrics as nothing more than “laying whiskey down.” Anyone out there who has bartended or waited tables (like me and Brandy) knows it takes a lot of chutzpah and brains, not to mention organizational and time-management skills. Not to mention people skills.

Brandy as painter

Brandy as painter

But that’s not even all. We don’t know what Brandy does in her off hours! What if she paints, or makes dream catchers and sells them on the 1972 equivalent of Etsy, or has a huge garden full of organic veggies and flowers? We don’t know because she is marginalized in the song by the sexist idea that, though she would have done the job of wife just “fine,” she won’t have a chance because she had the misfortune to fall for an asshole. End of story. The narrative is exclusively that of the unnamed sailor whose rejection becomes the END of Brandy’s story.

Maybe I’m being harsh – he might not be an asshole. He might just be a guy trapped in the classic male-defined paradigm. Unfortunately, so is Brandy.

I can only assume that there is a whole back story to Brandy that we don’t know about… and that the sailorman never had a chance to find out before he sped back to his irresistible life at sea.

If Brandy were to write the song, I imagine it would go a little differently. Especially after she got in touch with her empowered kickass self and realized she was a fully actualized person not dependent on the approval of a man, let alone matrimony.

She would write a song about a passionate fling she had one summer with an intense sailor who passed through town, gave her a silver locket, some mindblowing sex, and a few days of laughs and long afternoon naps, bodies entwined. She liked him… a lot. They could have had something, but the guy A. had no interest in living on land, B. used the sea as a cover for his commitment-phobic issues, or C. was overwhelmed by how strong the feelings were with Brandy in just a few days, so he bolted.

In her version of the song, Brandy thinks, “Your loss, sailor man.” And in that version, she is sad for awhile. Then she paints a few erotically charged paintings of her seafaring ex-lover, pulls weeds in her garden and plants a rose bush in his honor, and releases him in a fire ceremony with some of her closest women friends who also, funnily enough, say, “Your loss, sailor man.”

Brandy's fire ceremony

Brandy’s fire ceremony

Lyrics to Brandy:

There’s a port on a Western bay
And it serves a hundred ships a day
Lonely sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes

There’s a girl in this harbor town
And she works laying whiskey down
They say Brandy, fetch another round
She serves them whisky and wine
The sailors say…

Chorus: Brandy, you’re a fine girl
< you’re a fine girl >
What a good wife you would be
Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea

Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the north of Spain
A locket that bears the name of the man that Brandy loves
He came on a summer’s day – bearing gifts – from far away
But he made it clear he couldn’t stay
The harbor was his home

– Chorus –

Bridge: Brandy used to watch his eyes
As he told his sailor stories
She could feel the ocean fall and rise
She saw its raging glory
But he had always told the truth
Lord he was an honest man
And Brandy does her best to understand

At night when the bars close down
Brandy walks through a silent town
And loves a man who’s not around
She still can hear him say
She hears him say… (Chorus)

Meditation on Why Some Men Get it, and Some Don’t, and How Cool My Son Is

Why am I impressed that a son I raised is so honorable in his attitudes towards and relationships with women? I’m not overly impressed that my daughter is…. Am even I, staunch feminist, so inured to a world in which men disappoint me that when my own kid doesn’t, it’s like a big thing? Maybe. And I lied. I am impressed by my daughter’s fierce strength in the face of a world that casually belittles her on a daily basis, and her refusal to be marginalized as a woman or a lesbian, and the way she walks the walk. And as for my son, he walks the walk too. Am I impressed? Sure. But he’s not at all impressed with himself. He can’t imagine being any other way.

A few weeks ago he called me to talk. He told me that he was giving a lot of thought to what he would call his students, at the ski school where he teaches, and when he finishes his degree in outdoor education. “People have to stop saying ‘guys’ to groups of people that are half girls or women.” I caught myself being super impressed with him for thinking a simple thought I have pondered frequently. He was just thinking out loud – he said he’s thought about it before too, but now he realizes it’s important to take a stand on stuff like this when he’s dealing with kids, because basically, he doesn’t want to perpetuate the language of the patriarchy. So I tried to tamp down my maternal awe and just think, Yeah. Damned straight. (In case you’re wondering, he’s thinking about using “padawan” – the term used by Jedi masters in Star Wars to refer to an apprentice. Seems pretty perfect for a feminist millennial teacher….)

Women have a profound influence on the men of the world. On our husbands, boyfriends, friends, sons, even fathers. They say that men who have daughters are much more generous in their charitable giving. To mention one totally random statistic. Sons raised by interesting, independent women tend to respect women. Shocker. And so on.

But this influence is not automatic and should not be assumed or taken for granted. We only have an influence if we are allowed to by the culture in which we exist. There are exceptions, clearly. There are girls who exist under the thumb of and live steeped in the attitudes of the Taliban who grow up to fight back and claim their power and refuse to own the status quo.  But most of the time, a community closed to diversity of thought will remain closed, and narrow, and people within it will be marginalized, subjugated, killed.

So a culture in which it is accepted that women are “less than” perpetuates the idea of women being “less than” until no one can imagine it being any other way. The myths and false beliefs are perpetuated—that men control women, that men are superior to them, that women do not have autonomy over their actions, bodies, choices, even lives—whether on a grand scale as when gangs of Egyptian men publicly rape women with little consequence, or on a quieter but also frightening scale as when fathers can “own” their daughters’ virginity (and thus sexuality), or when everyone seems cool with the fact that women just don’t make as much money as men. Or that a woman is too _____ (fill in the blank) to: govern, manage, be a CEO, be a rocket scientist, get an education, achieve much of anything, choose what to do with the unborn embryo in her uterus, drive, be a soldier, or decide when she does not want to have sex.

When everyone a child knows, meets, sees, and hears tells him or her, directly or indirectly, that women (or blacks, or gays, or “Arabs,” or the transgendered, etc. etc.) are “other” and “less than” – what do we expect?

When everyone in the room laughs at the dumb blonde joke, what’s a child to think? When no one ever stands up for mom when her husband/brother/father tells her to “Go get me a beer,” are we surprised when her son, at 21, does the same? Or that her daughter meekly responds when she is thus commanded?

My son has not had that many girlfriends. He is fairly picky. I mean, he doesn’t even like the term ‘girlfriend’ – he thinks labels are limiting. (RIGHT?) But anyway, they have all been wonderful. Smart, savvy, independent, quirky, warm women. He has zero tolerance for women who throw themselves at him (he plays guitar in a band so this actually does happen), who devalue themselves, who act the way they think men want them to act – helpless, cute, dumb, fragile. He knows better.

He grew up among women – aunts, friends of the family, me, cousins, his sister, teachers, mentors. He knows who women are. He came from his own version of an insular world, in which it would never occur to anyone that a woman should make 30% less than a man for doing the same job, be the brunt of jokes, or be openly insulted as “ugly,” “fat,” “useless,” “dumb,” or “bitchy.” He is the child who, at age 3, asked who the women presidents were. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I said there were none. Pure confusion.

Last night we talked about Scott Esk, running for state rep in Oklahoma—the guy who would be okay with a law calling for stoning gays. My son said to me, “We all think we’re right. The people who traffic in hate and think stoning gays or raping women is the way to go – they think they’re right. And we think we are.”

But we are right, aren’t we? I mean, as my daughter said once so simply, “How can fairness and love be wrong?” But the point remains. My children are tremendously privileged to have grown up in a world, however small, where hate and fear of difference are not norms, and where women kick all kinds of ass being awesome, and where the women and most of the men talk about women’s issues (and all civil rights issues) as if they mattered… because they do.  Meanwhile, children all over this country and the world are disadvantaged. Girls grow up without enough role models – women who are privileged to be able to claim their power without dire consequences to their spirits, their bodies, or their lives. Boys grow up without role models – men who treat women as equals and respect them. Openly. As if to respect women is something that has to come out of the closet.

Me with my lovely dear son... a few years ago.

Me with my lovely dear super awesome and cool son….


In Honor of the Crone

Have you read about the grandmothers in India? The ones who were taught to build, install and repair solar lighting systems, and put together solar lanterns, water heaters and cookers? When a college got the idea to teach undergrads how to do the work in order to bring light to villages in India, the youngsters (men) absconded to the big cities to make money. So someone brilliant had the idea to empower elder women from local communities, knowing they would do the right thing. And they have. So far they have brought light to almost 10,000 households in India. Subsequently, the Indian grandmothers taught elder women from other countries. These solar engineers—elder women all—have brought solar power to 45,000 households in 64 developing countries. If you want to read more about it, check out Tara Sophia Mohr’s blog Link to Mohr’s blog. It was Tara who inspired me to follow this thread today.

Women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s are in a powerful stage of life. In ancient traditions, goddess centered or otherwise non-Christian, this elder woman was called the crone, and was deeply revered as the holder of truth, wisdom and love. Linked to the new moon, the dark phase, she holds secret knowledge and can teach the spiritual mysteries.

If you think about your favorite elder woman, grandmother or not—wise and loving, with the endless patience to share with you all she has to teach—that is the crone. The word has been co-opted by a western, patriarchal mythology that turned the crone into a feared destroyer. Picture Hansel and Gretel’s witch. She epitomizes what is actually a quite modern view of the “terrible crone.” In fact, the crone has lived a life full of loving, birthing, tending, creating, giving, thinking, solving, planning, worshiping, guiding, and supporting. As the people of India realize—she is a resource to be tapped, not a feared monster nor a disposable commodity to be tossed away.

The women I know are reclaiming the word, honoring their passage from mother to crone with ceremony, reverence, appreciation and awe. And we are talking about some very sexy, savvy crones. The dark moon goddess is still sexual, seductive, enticing in her wisdom and authority. What has she to fear? She understands the world better than she ever has. She understands herself and is stepping into her power.

The sexy white-haired man—CEO, senator, diplomat, author. You know him, right? Well, his counterpart is not a little old lady sitting in a rocking chair or pulling cookies out of the oven. No. His equal, his match is the sexy crone—CEO, senator, diplomat, author. Artist, dancer, healer, teacher. Whatever she is, she is the holder of the moon energy, the silver light that flows into us all.

So here’s to our crones. Think of that woman—the one you will never forget. The one whose presence can inspire, calm, empower, teach and move you. If you are lucky enough to have a powerful crone in your life, sit at her feet every chance you get. Dance with her, drum with her, drink with her, pray with her, listen to her, touch her. And if she is not with you any more, she is probably somewhere nearby, guiding you in one way or another. Perhaps simply through the inspiration she provides by having lived. Or maybe there is more to it than that. Only you can know.

Jane Fonda is 75

Jane Fonda is 75

Betty White is 91

Betty White is 91

Hillary Clinton is 65

Hillary Clinton is 65

Ruth Bador Ginsberg is 80

Ruth Bador Ginsberg is 80

Maya Angelou is 85

Maya Angelou is 85