In Celebration of Women of a Certain Age

She wears sorrow well, a Chanel jacket of translucent threads and occasional sunbeam, each loss a scarf, bracelet, or glove.

Do not even enter her life unless you are the stuff of finest silk, metal, or perfume.

She will transform you when you are gone.                                               

We are three women, 70 and older, living alone, our houses next to each other. We have been married five times, divorced four times, widowed twice, and lost two partners to dementia. We are called les trois graces. We radiate class.

Beyond my street, I have many more women friends of a certain age. My five closest friends, now living alone, have had six marriages, three long-time partners, four divorces, and been widowed three times. Each woman is more engaging and beautiful than the other.

Only one of us has serious health issues, two have had love affairs with men half our age, one is having a movie made of her life, another does scuba dives and two of us ice skate, one is active with on-line dating while another is an international fashion icon, two of us are working to inspire global movements to create a better world, and one of us is prodigiously creating miniature collages juxtaposing spiritual light and earthly violence. One is in Cuba with her Belgium lover. We have gravitas and style that women under 50 have not yet considered possible for themselves.

We know how to deal with men who are pompous, wear classic suits from two decades ago, cook signature dishes from each of the many lives we’ve led, travel anywhere in the world and order the best food on the menu, flirt without taking our clothes off, manage money, and create homes that are breathtaking. Breathtaking.

Plus, we get to say things like “I saw on Facebook that the second husband of the woman currently with my third husband just had an operation.” It takes decades of life to be able to say something like that. It’s almost worth it just for that.

It’s not about what we have done – led organizations, published innumerable books, been in the foreign service in Asian posts, run art galleries, headed boards, set up global networks, and been mothers, wives, and organizers. No, it’s about who we are now. It’s about what our pasts have become.

We are burnished, elaborated, embossed, glowing, subtle, nuanced, tricky, Baccarat crystal, crepe de chine, and mysterious. We are mysterious even to ourselves.

We became who we are not only through decades of experience, and continuing losses, and low points that were as low as the highs were high, but by what we chose to leave behind and what we chose to bring with us to now – by what we discarded and what we embraced.

We created the beings we are. We selected this memory and discarded that one. We interpreted experiences in ways where we rung whatever juice was in them out of them so we could drink of it and say “Yes, this is good” or “Yes, you taste bitter, but I accept you.”

We learned how to leave things and people when that was called for and to make the path of the future wider, not narrower. We learned that people will leave us, abandon us, betray us and still we make the path of the future wider, not narrower.

We learned to answer the call to joy. We learned to swim through the dark deep waters and observe wild creatures of grief, first in rawness and then, slowly slowly, dressed politely enough to be brought to the surface, presentable at the dining table as our friend.

We learned that when you have a minority fraction of your life left that nothing is so important as to make it sweet and to savor it. We have learned to make things of beauty out of loss. We have made things of beauty out of our selves.


Menagerie of Loneliness, or Making Mermaids out of Manatees

My relationship to loneliness is that of an amateur, not a true expert. We are sniffing out what to expect from each other. She arrives on panther feet during the night and waits, languid but alert, tail slightly flicking, for me to open my eyes.

black-panthers-wallpaper-hd-1440x900“You’re awake. Want to play?”
“No, go away.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to play?”
“No, I do not want to play.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Go away.”
“Why don’t you want to play?”

By the time I’ve brushed my teeth, she has skulked into the corner to wait 24 hours before trying to entice me again. I attribute her persistence to the fact that, like the majority of women of a certain age, I live alone. The panther of loneliness wants cuddling and petting and knows we do too. She knows that, even if we prefer dogs, we are in this way all cat women.

Loneliness is also a state of many older women who do not live alone, which is its own kind of hell. Great women of a certain age outnumber great men of a certain age by 10,000 to 1. My friends and I have done the math. Really, this is the true ratio.

It is single men, including the great ones, however, who are most ravaged by loss of intimacy and loneliness, but that is a little off track . . . though not so much. We will talk about mermaids in a bit.

First, let’s take the stigma off of loneliness. Loneliness is a sign of good mental health. It is a healthy natural response to being a social creature without enough meaningful warm social contact. It shows that you are tracking the reality of your socio-emotional life and registering that you are alive in real time and have needs.

By extension, it shows you are not willing to compromise yourself and the quality of your life just to avoid being alone. The last 1/3rd or 1/4th of your life is a time to contemplate, grow, explore, travel, learn new things, experience the wonder of existence, be awestruck, and bring to the world your experience, love, and wisdom. It is not a time to waste on meaningless diversions and social junk food. You are not a sitcom.

But while loneliness registers reality, it invites fantasy to ease the way. Our imaginations create solutions to life’s big and little problems. On to the mermaids.


Sailors created exquisite sea creatures – half-fish, half-human female – out of blubbery manatees and dugongs. With the sun flickering off their tails under the waves and their hair unraveled in golden skeins, mermaids lured them into impossible dreams. Lonely men on the same old same old unending magnificent ocean found solace in watery visions of intimacy that were possible only in their imaginations.

Imagined mermaids with good hearts wanted to mate with the sailors. Imagined mermaids with evil hearts, i.e. sirens, called them to crash into cliffs and to perish. (See photo of a mermaid of the nasty kind luring innocent sailors into danger. She’s also vain, note the mirror.)


Whether the mermaids wanted to make love with the men or were sirens luring them to their deaths had to do with the imagination of the sailor, not with the dugongs. Dugongs and manatees presumably have no need for fantasy. If they thought anything about the sailors, it was to stay away. Harpoons. (See photo of a dugong, kin of manatees.)

But humans have for millennia created beasties to lift us from burdens, boredom, and trials. We create and, in turn, are mesmerized by phantasmagoria – conjoined beasts or conjoined humans and beasts. We “in-body” our fears, desires, and impulses into imagined beings – good and bad – that reveal to us who we are. We used to think they were real. Now we go to Jungian analysts.

Still, in our minds we make love to mermaids, ride bareback on unicorns and winged horses, rise out of the ashes of devastation as brightly-colored birds. We also cringe and quake before werewolves, vampires, cyclops, and ogres. We ride some dragons and slay others. We invented these creatures in order to cope, to rise again, and to take our fears from amorphous into form – dragons and vampires can be slain.


Several months ago I commissioned a small painting of myself for a tabletop. (See photo.)

As a Sagittarius, I am a centaur, half-human, half-horse – and a hunter, wild and humane. The painting makes me feel capable and strong. It is good to own your animals.

I wish to own my panther. I realized that in the writing of this blog, which kept shifting and morphing over several days.

My dog Phoenix, named for the bird, and I as centaur would walk with the panther through the city, the country, relationships, and time. I would get her a collar with diamonds.

See how slinky and elegant she is? She would purr if panthers could. Instead she growls in a way that sounds like a purr. I ran out of excuses not to play.

full table1


PS: See photo of the centaur Sagittarius against a cosmos of star creatures, on a tabletop. 

Hope is a phoenix, not a dove

Common images of hope are wimpy: lights at ends of tunnels, birds’ wings, drops of water after a dry spell. But I don’t think hope is like that. I think it is a tide that can well up as a sea change from depths of muck, shipwrecks, and old tires. I think it is a hairy monster that refuses to die. I think it is growly and tenacious and says “f**k you” to things that prod it in the side.

How else would people in real duress survive. Birds’ wings? What? To fly over the 8-meter high concrete walls around the West Bank?

Drops of water? For what, to lift up a couple tissue-petaled flowers when you need a torrent?

A light that’s over there somewhere far away… ? Well, maybe my analogy breaks down on this one. A light in the dark is always a good thing. No metaphors are ever 100% exact because a thing is the thing it is, not something else.

What you need in real duress is not something that can be taken down quickly by a bulldozer, men with guns, poverty, or prejudice.

Hope is the power that rises out of compost. It is what allows families and loved ones to take care of themselves for their future’s sake after their daughter, sister, father, friend is killed in a revolution or protest of Arab Spring or….  Well, you name it. There certainly are enough battles going on around the world.

Hope is “I will not be stopped by you” by a woman raped in India, the DRC, or Minneapolis. Hope is Malala after being shot in the head by the Taliban.

Hope is “you harmed me, but I when I return I will be stronger and I will win, or I will die trying.” And some people win, which is why hope is an evolutionary plus.

Hope is somehow connected to morality. I am not, in case you haven’t gotten the tone, talking about hopes for wealth and power. I am talking about hopes for opportunity, for a chance, for equal rights, safety, expression of true selves, creativity, nourishment and heath, freedom of travel, education, justice.

Hope is somehow connected to morality. It is aligned with steely-backboned non-violence and creativity with little elements of playfulness that give it a Zen advantage and flexibility through repression and deprivation and prejudice.

Hope is somehow connected to morality because it aligns with joy, caring, truth, nourishment, education, being free to dance, and pursuit of happiness in just societies.

Okay, why today does hope rise in me as a tidal wave filled with muck? Oh, just one more idiot in the world against the LGBT community, just one more ploy by Netanyahu, just one more battered woman, just a few hundred more Syrian refugees. Just one more last straw.

And that’s before we get to the starving lions, tigers, horses, and donkeys in the world. Were they always there and only just now coming through my mail slot?

I think I am not alone in feeling that we make a decision to live with hope or live without hope. EXCEPT, it’s not a decision because it’s not a choice. Hope is hard to put down.Try to end it and it will evade you. Try to shut it in a dark room and it will wiggle out through the keyhole. Try to snuff it, and it will burn you.

Hope is life’s desire to live. It says, “You may give up but I won’t, so get over it and keep going.”

For me it’s easy, I’m not in Crimea, or Syria, or Gaza, or the DRC, or Brazil, or North Korea. I am not in poverty, and I am not without health care. I am not clinical depressed. I am infinitely blessed. So why am I kvelling? I’m kvelling because how can I be truly happy when others suffer? I cannot. It is that annoyingly true.

Hope is connected to morality. It does not allow us to be voluntarily blind, deaf, or dumb to others. Hope cuts through excuses. It saves us, individually and collectively. It’s unmercifully stubborn about getting things right.