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The Vault: the best of herkind.com/ What I Learned from Kate Middleton

In honour of Kate’s 31st birthday today, here’s a piece I wrote in July 2011, just after the newlyweds took their first trip abroad to Canada.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM KATE MIDDLETON

The other day I tripped on a busy city sidewalk and fell in plain public view. I can only hope my skirt didn’t fly up as I landed. At the time I was too busy trying to buffer myself from too much injury to notice. Now, anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m clumsy, so tripping and falling is not all that unusual; the one and only time I’ve ever broken anything – my foot – was during a fall from two harmless and not even steep concrete steps.

But, my recent tumble is different. It happened because I was trying to BE Kate Middleton.

Kate walks with confidence

One day after the Duke and Duchess left Canada, and following days of my obsessive royal watching, I tried to emulate Kate’s flawless, confident walk. Instead of the normal cautious stride of a serial klutz, head down, carefully watching my step for any potential risks, I breezed along, head high, looking forward. I wish I could tell you my heels were too high, or my shoes were too tight, but no – nothing. Just klutziness and, well, the sidewalk might have been uneven. Something the Duchess likely never has to worry about, what with all the planning and inspections and all the practicing and coaching that goes into being a royal on display to the fawning public and unforgiving media.

So, why had I taken up the mantra of “what would Kate do?”

“it should have been me”

Well, because there’s a little bit of Kate Middleton in all of us, isn’t there? Sure, she’s a Duchess now, married to a prince who will one day helm one of the most influential monarchies around. She’ll likely produce a child who will also one day inherit the throne.  Her parents are now millionaire entrepreneurs, but at the time of her birth in 1982, they were airline employees. She’s what is known in British circles as a “commoner” – not so different from the women in the crowd that lined the royal wedding route with signs on their backs reading “it should have been me.” It well could have been.

Kate’s 29, born in 1982. I’m 50, born in 1960. There’s no way I could ever be her at this point in my life, but watching her reminds me of  the promise that life holds in your 20s, when anything is possible, everything achievable. Life before too much heartache; thwarted dreams, lost jobs, men, parents, friends; events that can affect even the way you stand, and walk in the world. I realized, watching Kate, that I’ve developed a hunch – part weariness, part self-protectiveness. It’s been awhile since I approached my life with the confidence I once exuded, with the poise my mother insisted I learn, with the spark constantly remarked upon and admired.  And, I honestly never thought life could drag me so far down that it would show in my countenance. In fact, my mantra has always been, “just keep moving forward.”  Yet somewhere along the way, I stopped doing it, no matter how often I give this advice to others.

Of course it didn’t immediately occur to me why the royals gripped me so strongly. But now I see that they look exactly like I used to feel. Happy, friendly, looking out, focused on the moment, ready for anything, generally game for life.

Prince William is compelling enough on his own – born and bred to one day be King, adored and protected by his mom, Diana, Princess of Wales, he was probably one of the most photographed babies ever. Who can forget his silent, heartbreaking walk behind his mom’s coffin after her tragic death? We felt invested in his growing up, his success at school and his struggle to learn to live within the stricture of his destiny. We watched and waited to see who William would choose for a partner. And though we saw all the tabloid “waity Katy” fluff, depicting her as a woman he trifled with and didn’t intend to marry, when they finally became engaged after eight years of dating, living together and one very public break up, everyone began to focus not just on what Kate wore, but on who she really is. Who is this steady, calming influence on our beloved Wills?

We caught glimpses of her on their wedding day – elegant and glowing, she looked to the entire world nothing but ready to become the Duchess of Cambridge, with all the attention – positive or negative, and service that is involved in being a member of the British royal family.

partners, lovers, friends, royals

But, it wasn’t until she stepped onto Canadian soil for her first official Royal trip abroad with her husband that we saw her true nature. Leading up to the wedding I wrote a number of feature articles on the plans and preparations and I’ll admit it, I kind of fell in love with them. Now, since I’m a journalist I’m supposed to be naturally wary, or jaded or something that I can never quite pull off. So the thing is, they looked and seemed so down to earth, that I believe I was seeing one fairly normal human being, who just happened to be born Royal and bred to be King. And one natural beauty that just happened to appear in his sphere and become the object of his affection.

Some have said Kate Middleton quite strategically became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. That she set her sights on William at St. Andrew’s university where they both studied, and manipulated her way into his heart, that her mother helped her come up with ways to ensure she’d one day marry that prince.

Tell me, though, what teenage girl doesn’t dream of marrying a prince, real or figuratively? And if you happen to live in England and are around the same age as him, sure you’d have his photo on your wall.  “Harry Hunters” have had the “spare” prince squarely in their sights for years. These are girls, mostly from abroad, who enroll in British universities and then track down Prince Harry in clubs for a chance to meet him.

At 20, when Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married, the younger Prince Andrew attended an Ontario boy’s school in Lakefield, where my best friend lived. We weren’t aristocracy like Diana, but we felt sure we had a chance with him.  We may not have had the breeding but we did have the poise, the manners and, most important, pureness of heart. The princess dream starts early and dies hard, or never.

Now, I’m not looking for a prince. One good man will do. And that’s something else about Kate and my sidewalk tumble. The dapper Prince is entirely protective of his bride. Never too far from her side, he often extends a reassuring hand to her back. Since royal protocol restricts too much, or any PDA, this is his way of letting her – and us avid watchers looking for signs of affection – know how he feels (I don’t want to even talk about the adoring and knowing looks that pass between them). They are obviously in a true partnership. They are clearly there for each other.

I’m here for you

Since stumbling is par for the course for me, I’m usually pretty good at catching myself before I fall. This time however, I walked beside a male companion – someone I’ve spent a good deal of time with, whom I trust and care for. As I began to fall, I reached out for assistance, grabbing his arm with my hand as I went down. He let it go. He didn’t catch me; he said he thought I would catch myself.

Come to think of it, if there’s anything strategic about Kate Middleton’s behavior it’s that she was smart enough to leave a man who exhibited ambivalence about her. And he was clever enough to look inside his heart and out at his options, and see he had a good thing going and went back to get her.

So, what I learned from Kate Middleton is something I used to know. A little thing called confidence goes a long way to achieving the rewards you want, and deserve.

bereavement · family life · herkind.com · Media · News and current affairs · Televison

The Power and the Story

I’ve been telling 1st person stories for most of my writing life. I can’t help it, it’s my strongest voice. Which isn’t to say that by reading something I’ve written, that you will know everything about me. I get some criticism, but mostly praise and sometimes awe for having the so-called courage to put my life out there and myself on the line. The stories I choose to reveal my life through are the ones I think are the most relatable and the least told out loud. An example is my continual return to my feelings about being childless – I just think it’s a taboo topic that needs to be made a  little more visible in order to be understood. Another is my struggle with loneliness, a word and state still so feared. Yet, another is my interest in fatherless sons and the voids in their lives because of it. Not my story to tell, but the topic of my upcoming book because of the many men I know who have suffered in silence. When we reveal ourselves in the most vulnerable ways we show how connected we really are by the condition of life. It can only help.

lspThat’s why I’m so interested in a new show on OWN Canada (Oprah Winfrey’s network) called Life Story Project. My friend and colleague, the talented Dale Curd is a creator and co-host. Armed with deceptively easy to answer questions (“what was your most memorable 1st?” or, “what was your moment of truth?” and, “what does it feel like to fall in love?”) the two hosts – one a life-coach, the other a seasoned men’s counselor- invite random passers-by to  sit on a purple couch and chat. What ends up being revealed is often a surprise to them, even though they have so much experience listening to “truths” from their clients. The show is not over-produced or stylishly edited. Participants have not been cast, though I’m sure the footage has been picked over for the best, most moving or entertaining stories. That’s just TV.  The result is a fairly authentic representation of the powerful stories we all have living inside of us. People seem immediately to go to the crux of their pain or joy. One woman revealed how an accident she had caused resulted in her child’s eye disease which meant he couldn’t recognize her until he heard her voice. When asked if she had regrets her answer was a thoughtful and very raw, “I don’t know.”

Life’s just like that. It’s not always possible to wrap it up with a pretty bow and that elusive thing we love to say we’re seeking… closure.

While watching the debut show, I shared my experience of it with other viewers on twitter. Some of the comments surprised me. More than a few people said things like, “you never know what the person next to you is dealing with.” Really? Do we not know? Are we so caught up in our own private dramas that we can’t imagine others are having their own versions?

With all the soap boxing that’s available on television where people are continually revealing their issues to Oprah et al, how is it possible to still not realize we all have emotional confusion, pain, loss, doubt just as much as happiness, joy, contentment. You can’t have one without the other. Just because our minds return to the place of hurt when asked a simple question does not mean we haven’t processed it and moved on. Resilience is one of our finest qualities. But, why are we still so afraid of the dark side, even when we know experiencing it has certainly shaped our lives?

I think the beauty of this show is two- maybe even three-fold. 1) it’s local – the purple coach was placed on the Kew Beach boardwalk, in the middle of the Distillery district, and at Sunnyside Pavillion, so there’s always a chance someone familiar will show up. Not only that, but it’s much easier to relate to people nearer to us than on talk or reality show taped in some remote American city. 2) People seem to need a reminder that we all operate along the same thin emotional thread, though the manifestation may be different, and 3) Even the more empathetic of us who regularly tell the powerful stories of others, and our own, can be further moved by these ones, and also appreciate the skill of the hosts in drawing them out.

I recommend the show, especially if you need a reminder of the vulnerability of and the triumph over being human. Here’s the broadcast schedule.

Well done Dale & co!

Baking · Classic Cupcakes · family life · herkind.com

Apple of my eye

Making apple pie can be a daunting task when you had a mother who was famous for hers. Nevertheless, having finally learned the trick to making a successful crust (it’s all about cold butter), I ventured into my first apple pie try.

apple pie
fresh out of the oven

Leaving aside that it doesn’t look as pretty as it could because I haven’t finessed the art of the crimple to make the edges pretty – it tastes pretty good.

As a kid, I never ate my mom’s pie. I didn’t like the texture of the cooked apples, or the taste. Maybe I thought it was too sweet – apples don’t really need sugar. I much preferred her lemon meringue or, even  better, chocolate pie.

And, as with many of her recipes, I never took the time to learn from her, other than the basics you need as a kid.  Now that I’m using her 1970s Kitchen Aid, and since I’ve been working part-time as a professional baker, it seems important to channel mom’s baking expertise and revisit the family favorites.

By the way, I have a proper baking blog for my catering business on tumblr. Check it out.

bereavement · family life · herkind.com · Raw Writing · Uncategorized · Women

Witness

Rummaging through some computer files, I found this piece that I wrote in about 2001. In reading it over, I wondered if it’s still true in the age of social media and quick, all-hours connection. Also, it seems I’ve been writing about loneliness for a very long time!

WITNESS

Henry Porter, the debonair British editor of Vanity Fair, was a guest on the talk show I work on and while the lot of us were out for drinks after the taping he said something simple, yet so profound that all who heard it have found cause to repeat it at one time or another. He said that recently a single  male friend of his made a confession of sorts, saying  he envied Henry his marriage relationship because when you live alone and are unattached, you have no witness to your life, and no-one’s life to witness. And it can be quite lonely and a little frightening.

True.

I call it the “check in.”

Something else:  While reading a book called Solitaire, in which writer Marion Botsford Fraser takes the temperature of Canadian single woman — currently an unprecedented 4 million of us —  one thing became painfully, depressingly clear to me. People will say anything in order to avoid saying they are lonely. Out of 50 excerpted interviews, only about four women were able to even utter the word. These four women were over 50. If you’re young and single you may not use the L-word (those damn L-words are a big problem, aren’t they?). It seems to be socially unacceptable.

But the truth is we all get lonely. Every single living being. Even cats and dogs get lonely. We are not meant to live in isolation from one another. It is the most natural thing in the world to be among people, and to fall into couples. To touch and be touched. To have a witness and to bear witness. What is unnatural is this denial and bravado we are all striving so hard to pull off. Like we’re fooling anyone anyway! Lest we should be considered crazy women with a small apartment, dinner for one, the cat batting about the ball of yarn we are using to knit doilies, or worse, booties for someone else’s baby. Lest we be perceived as drying up from lack of sexual activity. Lest we be considered social outcast loser women who sit at home every night crying into the hot water of our bubble baths.  But, God forbid and heaven’s above, don’t, ever, ever, ever let anyone catch us being human, and being (don’t dare say it… okay, but only if you whisper) l-o-n-e-l-y.

I used to be one of these women who feared a word. Not anymore. Maybe because of this book, and all the transparent denial within it.  I do get lonely. Sometimes capital L lonely. Used to be my lonely feelings were attached to a specific person. So, if I spent a great deal of time with someone and then we were separated, I’d feel lonely for them. Like a best girlfriend who went away, or a boyfriend after a break-up. That was before my mom died. As long as she was alive, I really never felt free floating loneliness because I knew I always had someone within reach. A witness to my daily thoughts, triumphs, sadnesses, boredom. laughter, tears, what’s for dinner. Someone to check in with. Someone who thinks what is on my mind at any given time is important and interesting. Someone to whom I can give everything that is in my heart and on my mind. Knowing that they are willing, because of trust and friendship and love, to share their personal self and all their intimacies. I guess I’m past the point of pretending, for whatever reasons I used to, that this is not what I want, what I need. I am willing to be strong enough to be vulnerable enough to be human.

Raw Writing · The Vault: best of Herkind.com · The Writing Life · Vancouver

The Vault: the best of herkind.com / An Ocean of Spilled Ink

Lately I’ve been wondering why I no longer keep a consistent journal.  I feel like I’ve lost the habit of putting pen to paper and sometimes I just want to write something down to remember it – a passing thought, a good sentence I may need in the future; to recount a fun night out or a good conversation, or to work out a worry. My iPhone notes app has 238 very small entries in it! Everything from grocery lists to rough drafts of articles, recipes, books I want, music I need, song lyrics, blog post drafts, quotes from authors at their readings, interview notes, etc. Most entries would have been expanded and expounded upon in my journal. Is technology making me a lazy writer… and thinker?

Then I remembered this:

Originally published March 20, 2006

In eight short days I leave Vancouver, where I have lived the last five and a half years, to return to home to Toronto. Well, it’s not so much going back as it is going toward (I thank my wise Uncle John for asking me to differentiate between the two). I’m going toward my future, toward what I have made peace with as the next part of my life, rather than the last half of it, as I had recently been stuck on thinking. I’m sure some people out there can identify with the dilemma of losing both parents, therefore having a viable via genetics end of life date. That thought immobilized me for the better part of last year.

But… now that I’m on the move again, it’s time to truly relieve myself of the past. So, I’ve made what I’ve learned is a controversial decision to get rid of a lifetime of journals filled with a good deal of stuff I have moved beyond. After much thought, soul searching, double checking and some stomach churning anxiety, I see no real need to continue lugging The Vault around. Good thing too because movers charge by the pound and a lifetime of paper weighs A LOT!

There’s just one tiny problem. It’s impossible to open The Vault without actually reading and noticing what’s in there. Impossible to cut up paper with eyes closed. I have to wonder why I left it til the last week to crack. Day One only released a mere five journals out of about one hundred!

a few journals
Now, The Vault is a trunk full of not just journals since about 13 years of age, but day timers for about 20 years in a row (wherein I wrote everything I did and everything I thought to minute detail), photos, letters and emails received and sent to family, friends, boyfriends, hopeful boyfriends, ex boyfriends (torturous)! The Vault also contains my juvenilia and other younger writing (which will not be pitched).I made a few mistakes with The Vault today:1) I read some of those crushing, vulnerable, even pathetic emails and letters;2) I read but one journal passage (1985 I think) which defined my life with men, then and up until far too recently (but hopefully not going forward);

3) I opened up some letters from my much missed dead mother written in 1981, the first time I left home to move West. The letters reveal our lifelong closeness and inability to live apart. What a joy to see her handwriting, evidence of her life; and read the words, evidence of her love; but Oh what heartbreak to be smacked hard again with the reality of her loss.

Result – a pool of tears onto an ocean of spilled ink.

It’s good to cry though. So they say. I was just trying to save it up for my last walk around the Seawall, behind sunglasses and away from everything, released and lost into the vast Pacific.

Try as I might to look at this move as just another day in my life, it’s really so very much more than that. The need to purge – to not lug the life back that I brought here – is large.

Next week my pal Steph and I are gonna burn all this paper. Cutting it up is just the dress rehearsal. People have been advising me not to do it, but I crave, and am fully ready, for a life unfettered by the past. From now on, what is in my head and in my heart, and on the legitimate writing page is what will be remembered.

Lived, felt, and let go.

bereavement · family life · herkind.com · Vancouver

Consecration

Last week marked the 15th anniversary of my dear mom’s death. So, I thought it was about time I scattered her ashes.

Shrine

If only because every single time I moved them (at least 3 cross-country trips and a handful of smaller ones), no matter how carefully I wrapped the beautiful  alabaster box that contained them, first in plastic bubble wrap and then in a small postal envelope, her dust would inevitably fall onto my hands. Moving them meant opening the box and nothing can ever prepare you for seeing the grey/white ash, dotted with small pebble-like pieces – no matter how many times you see it. So, wiping away a natural tear or two left some ash on my face or even in my eyes.

An accidental consecration.

Now, the odyssey of these ashes could fill a book but suffice it to say, I’ve never felt our family, or myself individually, has done her enough justice in an exact way to pay tribute to her. And then of course, I’ve never stopped missing her and still wanting to talk to her so nothing I could ever do would be as good as having her back in my life. Hanging on to this last vestige of her physical self was the best I could do.

The little alabaster box followed me to the west coast, where I moved three years after her death. Knowing how much my mom enjoyed the one time she spent there had me believing that she should be scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

In almost 6 years, I could never bring myself to do it.

I spoke to a de-cluttering expert about this while prepping her for a segment on the TV show where I worked. I boasted about my ability to purge my life often, about how easily I could let material things go. Heck, I even burned about 50 journals in order to draw a line between the past and my future. But I just simply could not cast off the contents of THE BOX. She explained to me that emotional clutter – like, for instance, the ashes of a dead loved one, has the ability to hold a person back from life.

Hmm…

My first summer back in Toronto, I visited my mom’s marker in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery – where one full year after her death, me and my siblings scattered half her ashes (I had asked their permission to hold onto the other half). The true nature of my relationship with my mother had always been somewhat of a secret from the rest of my family – she feared our closeness would cause jealousy and tension, and she was right. So in deference to her wisdom (I thought), I couldn’t allow myself to openly show the extent of my pain. While my sisters and brother looked indulgently on, I stumbled over a stanza of Leonard Cohen’s poem, There Are Some Men , not able to really convey why I felt the words important enough to read aloud.

That summer day after my return to Toronto, I wandered around the massive cemetery  grounds only to discover I had completely forgotten where she was. I had to double back to  the office to get my bearings. Though I didn’t have the ashes with me, I became convinced that what remained of her should be where the other part of her rested. I went home exhausted and heavy hearted by a day’s wandering on sacred ground.

Yes, I realized that whatever was left in the box resting on my dresser in a mini-shrine, had long since ceased to actually be her.  Still, I waited another few years. Last year, on the 14th anniversary, I made an attempt – at least in my mind, to do the deed. I even arranged a friend to come with me. But the more I thought about it, the higher my anxiety level became. Would I really be able to let go once and for all?  Could I live without these last pieces of dust that long ago made up the strong body, spirit, brain and tender heart of my beautiful mother?

I cancelled.

One helluva woman!
On Nov. 7th, 2012, 15 years to the day after the sudden and therefore shocking end of her life, a shock that lives in my muscle memory forcing me to relive it each November, I went with my friend D. to the Forest of Remembrance at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, and I finally reconciled my divided mother with her long gone other half.

I don’t exactly know why I was able to do it this time. It could have been that D – inseparable friend of my youth,  had been returned to me recently, alleviating a great deal of my loneliness. It could be that I felt that, of all the people in my life, D knew how the loss of my mother had deeply marked me, though I hadn’t seen or spoken to her since long before my mother died. It could be that, over the last few years, I’d begun to understand how holding on to the ashes meant vital parts of my life were standing still.

To do this properly though, I had to send a message to my mother that would only be between us. I had something I needed to say to her. Something fairly final. So I tore a piece of paper out of my journal, cut it in half and wrote her a tiny note, folded it into the smallest square I could and tucked it into the postal envelope ready and waiting to go. D came over at our arranged time, armed with a beautiful bouquet of fall flowers. Not only was she willing to help me out with this weighted task, but having known my mother for so many years, I think she welcomed a chance to pay her respects. We drove to the cemetery, but not before we reviewed the exact location of the garden.  It took a few minutes to find the area where we’d previously scattered her and left a marker but once we did I silently dug a small hole in the soil where I placed my note, then emptied out the ashes on top. Thankfully, there was no wind, but the ashes, which had now been sedentary for the last few years, stubbornly stuck to the sides and corners of the box. With a tissue, I tried to wipe them all onto the ground. Of course, the dust fell into my hands. The effort it took to do all this almost distracted me from the feeling of doing it. D. gathered up a few wandering leaves and placed her flowers on top of the note, the soil, the ashes… my mother. She bowed her head in a silent prayer. We held onto each other for a minute, and then walked back to the car. I could feel my mother’s ashes on my face.

kindred spirits

I never thought I could live one day without my mother, yet a decade and a half seems to have flown by and I’m still here. I think I finally learned to let her go. And it turns out it’s exactly the right time. I can’t prove that exactly, I just know something feels.. something IS different.

The truth is, I could never forget my mom because every time I look in the mirror, I see her. Every time I find myself rising in passion – for a belief, in protection of a loved one, for love, or for the love of voicing a well-thought out opinion, I channel her. So much of her resides in me and that was always the basis of us anyway – we were kindred, destined to find each other in the world, but lucky enough that her giving birth to me made the meeting easier.

Life goes on, as it was meant to all along. Imagine that!

bereavement · Books and Authors · family life · herkind.com · Media · News and current affairs · The Vault: best of Herkind.com · The Writing Life · Vancouver

The Vault: best of herkind.com/ Solo

Originally published February 8, 2010

A few months ago I went to a concert by myself. I do this a lot, go out alone. Sometimes I prefer it. I really didn’t think it was a big deal until I told a couple of people about the concert. Of course the inevitable question was, who’d you go with? The reactions surprised me.

Apparently it’s courageous to do something social on your own. Or, maybe it’s even anti-social!

I’ve often written about my intermittent loneliness and how I feel that it is something that, although difficult, can be overcome. The key is to learn how to not let it affect big decisions. I’ve let that happen and learned from it – I hope. The biggest one, I believe, was moving back to Toronto from Vancouver before I’d given my life there enough of a chance. I felt indescribably lonely and was susceptible to family and friends saying, just come home. It was a mistake, but one I am trying to make the best of.

These days I’m more willing to wait the lonely feeling out. To let it run its course, because I believe it always will.

I never felt lonely a day on earth while my mother was alive and because I believe my loneliness is attached to her death, I always think of it as situational. That she’s been gone 12 years doesn’t seem to affect my characterization of the feeling. It comes, it goes.

A new book called Lonely by a Canadian writer, Emily White has got me doubting myself and wondering if I’ve caught the bravado bug I sometimes accuse others of having, the ones who are unwilling to admit their loneliness.

White bravely tells of her chronic loneliness which she  felt most of her life, but intensely so for about 3 years in her mid-30s. Three years! Chronic? Oh dear.

I have to admit I read the book with much fear. In fact, in parts my heart was beating so fast I felt sure I was having a full out panic attack. Her early life mirrors my own: feelings of separation, isolation, too much of a gap of age and temperament with siblings, parents at odds with one another, their evident loneliness, a mother who held me a little too close to fill in the spaces for her. Hell, even Emily White’s first boyfriend had the same name as mine. Has my loneliness been with me my whole life? Could feelings of loneliness and isolation be the reason I have so few memories of my young life?

I looked up from the book at the prints decorating my bedroom – it’s not the first time I’ve wondered why every single one of them depicts a woman alone.

Picasso’s Blue Nude, hangs above my bed

Has loneliness so shaped my life that it’s the reason I am middle-aged, single, with no safety net, a tiny social circle and indistinguishable social life and, worst of all, no kids? Did I somehow make this happen? And collect the art to reflect it back to me each day upon waking?

Do people look at me walking down the streets of my neighbourhood and say, there goes that lonely woman. Always alone. (no wonder I feel giddy when I can go into a local coffee shop once in awhile accompanied by a – usually male – friend. Phew, they will know I have friends and maybe even a boyfriend!)

White makes a case for loneliness as an affliction caused by genetics and nurturing. She believes we are wired through DNA to be lonely. And that sometimes our loneliness mirrors that of our parents, in her case mostly her mother. Because she wants it more out in the open, she believes it should be listed in the updated version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), due to come out in 2012. This, she says, would ensure it gets properly funded for research and treatment, the natural progression of this being medication.

Now, I haven’t done the exhaustive research she has but I disagree.

I think loneliness is a periodic state of being that visits itself upon each and every one of us at various times. Let’s face it, more people live alone now and gone are the days of close knit communities and extended families. The key is learning to understand how it affects you and what to do to work through it. After all, we’re supposed to grow and learn in life. Sometimes my loneliness is acute and it feels like nothing can alleviate it. Since I’m pretty comfortable alone it’s not being alone that triggers it. It’s being alone when I don’t want to be and feeling like I can’t connect with anyone. It’s that feeling that there’s no way to communicate my deepest feelings that makes me the loneliest.

Admittedly, the biggest reason is not having a one and only – which isn’t necessarily a love partner, though that would be nice. And I’m trying to find a way to understand how to make that very neglected part of my life work. But, just one or a few good companionable, compatible, supportive friends would do the trick.

I have friends like this, but they are mostly busy with their lives of husband/wife, active young family connections. Or they’re too far away to connect with very often. I’m a natural sharer and sometimes feel unbelievably bereft, and afraid for my future with no safeties in place. Also, being alone so much means that my nurturing instincts can go numb with disuse, or worse, get misplaced on someone entirely inappropriate. Something that can catch me unawares if I’m not careful.

Emily White thinks this type of dulling of the senses is a result of loneliness. She also offers up plenty of studies, although they are relatively small ones, that show how loneliness affects heart health, and is implicated in dementia. These pieces of information are nothing short of terrifying to me and the surest way to get me to try any outlet at all towards connection.

White says lonely people are reluctant to tell their families and friends that they are lonely. It’s true. Most people end up feeling responsible for how you feel and it only serves to turn them further away, not closer. I prefer to just bare down and get myself through it. But I’m also not afraid to say it’s a pretty big part of my life right now. But that really is my challenge, not anyone else’s.

I do know how to reach out and I enjoy sociability. I welcome it, when I’m feeling up to it. The truth is, through many years of therapy and 5 years of living away from home, I discovered the original me and that person requires more time and space, which usually means plenty of solitude of the chosen variety.

Most lonely people I know -whether they admit to being lonely or whether it’s something I sense – are creative, singular,  and as I like to call it, living outside the much touted “normal” lines. I can’t really complain about feel lonely when I bring it on by leaping out of my life every five years, at least.

My worry is that I will always do this and never settle down and that my innate (not genetic though) loneliness causes me to do this.

Perhaps I will never know. It’s not a worry I really want to take on. I prefer to believe it’s a badge of maturity to learn to live with loneliness. or should I say, live it out.

But I certainly have no intention of taking a pill for it. Nor will I stop my solo, apparently oh so courageous, outings to concerts and social gatherings.

Books and Authors · Feminism · herkind.com · Media · Men · News and current affairs · Televison · TVO: The Agenda · Women

A review of Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf

American feminist writer Naomi Wolf

Veteran 3rd wave feminist Naomi Wolf‘s new book, Vagina: A New Biography, reveals some new science about female sexual response and the power that good, attentive sex can give women. It’s been receiving scathing reviews, but I think there’s valuable and interesting information contained within.

I went out on a feminist limb and liked the book, then reviewed it for  TVO The Agenda’s blog:

The sexual revolution has not been kind to women or men; our information about the intricate science of female sexual response is at least a half century out of date; history reveals that in many cultures the vagina was once revered but has also been continually under attack as a systemic way to suppress women’s power; the click-of-a-computer-key availability of porn is rewiring our brains and impeding our ability to be intimate; and a woman’s sexual history – especially if it is violent – is held in nerve memory, but can be healed.

Read the full review on The Agenda website.

herkind.com · music · Raw Writing · The Writing Life

Let me be lighter

Music is powerful. It can get right under your skin when you least expect it. I had this experience last night.

Pink’s new album, The Truth About Love

I downloaded the new Pink album, The Truth About Love, and then settled in to listen as I was falling asleep. Well now, Pink’s music is probably a little too lively to fall asleep to and it wasn’t exactly doing the trick. So, when song # 9, Beam Me Up, came on, I was expecting another high energy song. Instead I got a soft guitar intro and Pink’s quieter, more vulnerable voice. Not fully paying attention (to be honest I had begun to play a game on my iPhone while listening) I was surprised to find myself crying after the second verse. Completely unprompted. It was the soaring music, which by this time included a violin, more than the words but then:

There are times I feel the shiver and cold

it only happens when I’m on my own

that’s how you tell me I’m not alone”

(now I’m officially balling, – it’s that word ALONE that always does it)

“Could you beam me up

give me a minute

I don’t know what I’d say in it

I’d probably just stare

happy just to be there, holding your face

could you beam me up

let me be lighter

I’m tired of being a fighter

I think – a minute’s enough

Could you beam me up?”

I admire people who can write  songs that convey, through lyrics and their perfect musical arrangements, so succinctly what is felt so deeply. I’ve been trying to write about my personal feelings about losing my mother (it’s partially because the anniversary is coming up that I feel so emotionally susceptible to a song like this) for the almost 15 years she’s been dead. I feel I’ve never been successful. The feelings are buried so far down by now but they are still so raw and I can never get to the crux of them. I just miss her.

All I can do is thank the musicians for their work – as artists, they quest for perfection and relatability in the songs they send out in the world. I doubt they really know how often they strike us at the exact time we need them.

Books and Authors · Feminism · herkind.com · Media · Men · Women

The Sex Lives of Girls and Women: review of Naomi Wolf’s Promiscuities

Originally written in 1997

Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf, pub. 1997

The Sex Lives of Girls and Women

“We did not know when we felt wild and danced to Patti Smith’s Horses with our hair flying and could not stand ourselves for one more minute and wanted to tear the world open, we were not incipient sluts but normal girls becoming women.”

Women are more carnal than men.  Petting should be taught in schools.  Rituals marking the passage from girlhood into womanhood are necessary in our culture.  Girls need to have a voice with which to tell the stories of their erotic awakenings and experiences.  These are some of the revelations, and recommendations put forth by third-wave feminist, speaker and writer Naomi Wolf in her new book, Promiscuities:  The Secret Struggle for Womanhood.  Wolf is the author of two previous polemical books, The Beauty Myth and Fire with Fire, both of which changed the tide of feminist debate and have since become cemented in current mainstream feminist ideology.  Now Ms. Wolf veers into confessional mode in order to tell what she describes as a “sexual coming of age story for girls,” that is also an inquiry into the nature of female sexual passion.

With ideology firmly entrenched in power feminism Wolf urges girls and women to take the control they already have over their own bodies, emotions, and essences as women.

Wolf’s own sexual awakening story, and those of her girlhood friends are woven in and out of historical and cultural facts about the resilient quality of women’s passion.  The setting is “ground zero of the Sexual Revolution;”  those turbulent years between the Pill and AIDS, in her hometown The Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.  Wolf outlines the intricacies of dating, hierarchical “partner” selection, drug experimentation, sex struggles, loss of virginity, et al,  against the backdrop of the newly forming  ideas of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” blip in our history.

In the process we discover that our own culture keeps women forever adolescent  by not empowering us to make informed decisions about what to do with our very real feelings of desire.  While in some other cultures, Ancient China for example, men and women celebrated women’s passion as a force strong enough to hold the universe together.  In fact, Wolf tells us, Western culture is the only one that doesn’t exalt female sexuality as an entity quite separate from men.  This, of course, has devastating effects on young women.  Wolf asks us to consider this:  Any trace of “the bases”—petting stages somewhat accepted, or at the very least acknowledged as part of courtship in the ‘50s—has been virtually wiped out.  This is exacerbated by an increased number of confusing media and pop-culture images, in which there is often no clear delineation between sex and violence.  In the ‘60s and ‘70s these images were front and centre for the first time,  perhaps too readily available to the developing pre-sexual teen.  Post-sexual revolution teenagers, Wolf argues, go from “zero to sixty,” with little or no self-knowledge based on healthy exploration, on their own or with partners.

Most girls of her generation couldn’t wait to lose their virginity—to be all grown up—but they had no idea what it meant or would mean.  They did know that if they were good girls they weren’t supposed to want it.  After asking her friends about their “first time” sex experiences, Wolf concludes that many women talk about their “passage” with surprising passivity.  “It just happened,” a chorus of women says.  Consequently, they were unprepared, since preparation meant planning and actively participating in the act.  Possibly even acting as the aggressor.  “’Drawing a blank’—lack of consciousness—absolves you,” Wolf says of this phenomenon.  Which leads to a high percentage of teen pregnancies and STDs  that no amount of safe sex counseling seems to be able to control or change.

Wolf’s ideas about the sexual complexities facing teenagers and women today are a necessary addition to the feminist dialogue.  But they are, at times, disturbing to ponder.   In a section called  “A Short History of the Slut,” Wolf recounts the stories of two schoolmates who were casualties in the secret struggle; one by becoming pregnant, the other by fulfilling the prophecy of “loose” bestowed upon her because of her early physical development.  Wolf then traces female sexuality through two millennia and various cultures, engaging in some intricate discussion about what has been considered the norm for women, what our history can teach us about the true nature of female desire, and how hard it is to decipher all the in-betweens.  Here, women’s history and today’s accepted sexual behaviours collide, shocking us into the sad realization that two hundred years of history and so-called progress has not redeemed women and their desire beyond the label of slut.  Which raises the question:  Will we ever feel healthy about our sexual selves?  Will we ever be able to break our codes of silence, even with each other, to reveal that we are women full of desire, sometimes as much for the pure pleasure of connecting through sex for the sake of sex, as for the development and sustenance of a love relationship.

Thankfully, Wolf injects some comic relief with her search and rescue effort through history to reveal the path to female sexual pleasure:  the clitoris.  “Lost and Found: The Story of the Clitoris” spans 1559—the pleasure spot’s identification—through what Wolf calls The Great Forgetting period at the end of the 18th Century, to a brief 1896 celebration of it, to tiny evidences of its existence in the early 20th Century.  Finally, second-wave feminists of the ‘70s introduced it as a novel discovery.  Women, however, have been first hand witness to its reality all along.

As with all of Wolf’s books, Promiscuities asks more questions than it answers and opens the floodgate to healthy debate about the issues raised.  Not the least of which is always:  how to live in the world and still be feminist.  I find Naomi Wolf a much better speaker than writer.  Her weighty ideas are contained within sentences that are often poorly structured.  Such big, complicated thoughts would be more comprehensible rendered through clean, clear prose.  Her recall of verbatim dialogue from her youth, and the recounting of the stories of her friends seems, at times, contrived.  And her own confessions would have the emotional impact that I’m sure she intended and felt were she a better writer.

That said, I personally loved reading this book simply because it represents the time-frame of my own coming of age–a moment in history that has not been discussed in any meaningful way.  The pop-culture references alone were pleasing to look back upon.  By risking telling her story, Wolf has helped many of us of that generation piece together our own.  Over the years Naomi Wolf has provided a necessary link between the feminism of our mothers and that of a progressive and inclusive new feminism whose theories are less utopian and more achievable in our day-to-day existence as women. To my mind her uniqueness among feminists is that she is a living example for young women—who are often alienated by feminism to the point of rejecting the label even while embracing the ideals and goals—that it is possible to live within an inherited patriarchal construct, to do all we can to make it a better world for women, and also to be whole women.  In other words, she shows us over and over, through her ideologies and prescriptions for change, and her own life as a wife, mother and now a woman with a sexual past, that it’s not necessary to take the feminine out of feminist.

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto writer who works by day in Communications at Bravo!