Thursday, September 30, 2010

ameena & the amazons

it's funny how the things that throw you in life are never the big ones. those big historical events where you save the newspaper in a plastic bag (until you lose the bag in the piles of magazines and recycling)  don't really mean as much at breakfast. as thrilling as it was to have obama elected president, not much changed in the ensuing days or weeks - at least, not in my apartment. (rather, we had to move out. but that was the trajectory we were on anyway.)

september 11, 2001: even living through the chaos and the shock and the drama downtown, didn't rock our lives in the same way my extended family managed to do it. this september, i kept thinking about that article in the new york times back in december, 2001. "ameena is celebrating the holidays with a cast of thousands..." even when the air outside was still hazy with smoke, we were a happy, layered family and i used to congratulate myself for getting it right.

then all of a sudden, my life is a rollercoaster like the emotional lives of my three teenagers in an apartment with huge leaky skylights that's as up-and-down as my financial life, cancer and unpredictable exhusbands and nothing happens quite the way i imagined it.

occasionally, parents of younger children who are getting divorced ask me advice. i say the same thing now, "i have no idea." even two years' ago, i could have told you how to manage a blissful blended family. i could have told you how my exhusbands come to sunday dinner or stay at my parents' house for christmas, how we bake cakes and give them parties on their birthdays. i could have told you why we never needed to make strict rules about who goes to whose house when because we were loving and civilized.

because we were always more concerned about what was good for the amazons than anything else.

i would have told you that once you were in love with someone you always still cared about them and wished them the best, even though you didn't want to stay together.

a few years ago, i could have told you how to raise girls so they had high self-esteem and no body image problems. how to teach them it was better to be smart than pretty. how to teach your kids to make wise decisions in adolescence.

excuse me while i collapse in laughter. or is it tears?

then again, some days, maybe just for the day, everything comes together. and we are our happy tribe again, the amazons prancing through the wilds of new york city. maybe it's the perfect trip to target. or dinner at mr. chow's during restaurant week. 

other days, we are all still reeling. my answering machine is full of things i want to avoid and the newspapers are overflowing with rage and whooped-up rabble rousers. i feel myself and my beliefs slandered and libeled. i wonder if the anger - towards bankers, big business, immigrants, muslims, gay and lesbians, teachers, obama - roiling through this country will take us back to germany in 1920.

this morning, rain torrents threw themselves against the skylight (while i murmured prayers that they didn't break through). zarina yelled from downstairs, "mama, it's six o' clock!" (and went back to bed, i'm sorry to say) and i emerged from the beach resort of my dream life. i have the loveliest pillow.

after i sorted out the latest morning dramas and came close to feeding everyone breakfast, i stood perfectly still for a few seconds. i stood still and took it all in. the cool, smooth floor under my bare feet. the smell of the chocolate muffins in the air.  i looked at sasha's leather jacket thrown on the back of the blue sofa (that i bought because it floated on the carpet like the sea on a summer day) and rara's battered keds. my fingers were still sticky with the juice of the melon i cut into slices at six-thirty. i breathed and felt the air move slowly down through my sternum into my belly. the apartment was silent, except for the rain, gentler now, against the glass and the occasional clank of cars moving in the parking lot outside.

i remembered that wherever i was was temporary.

life, the big catastrophes and the small historical events, is moving so fast that there is barely a moment to think that we've got it all wrong. or all right.

we just have to stop and be happy to be here.

(in our case, in the urban jungle).

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I hate the end of summer. Even a horrid, tense, unpredictable one like the one that just ended. I love the heat and the lack of structure. I love summer food. The bright flavors that explode on your tongue. The lush, licentious bounty of fruits and vegetables warm and sticky with juice in the sun. I like seeing my wide-spread toes in a pair of sandals. It's late summer for the earth and late summer, or maybe even autumn, for me.

I’m addicted to a friend's online novel, the blackberry diet and talking to women friends who all seem to be in the same place. Wondering what love and sex means in your late thirties and forties and then your 50s and 60s, often with a kid or two, some half-grown, and perhaps some exhusbands or even current ones.

In America, love and sexuality are almost synonymous with adolescence - or very late adolescence, perhaps dragged out into your early twenties. A pretty woman is unconsciously sexual, it's all about youth, fragility and honesty. Sweetness.

An older woman reeks of seduction, premeditated manipulation. All the most evil things in American culture.

That's why, when you watch classic American movies, the bad guy is always the one who is too slick. He speaks too many languages, he knows how to dress, he’s suave, too sophisticated. He turns into American Psycho. In a love story, he always loses to the young, earnest guy. The simple, honest one who’s socially awkward but on the straight and narrow.

So who are our role models? We’re still sexual and physically active (not just gardening). We’re not ready to morph into the comfortable, sweater-wearing wives of 15 or 20 years. But we don’t want to be Mrs. Robinson either.

It feels like the only option to baggy sweaters is a fire-engine red lipstick and a tight décolleté.

In America, au naturel, we are no longer sweet. We are invisible. Dressed up, we are attractive but deadly. For an older woman, it seems like the only choice is self-consciousness. Careful grooming. Botox. Plastic surgery that leaves your face sharp as a mask and your breasts like torpedos.

I’m in love (but who knows what that means now?) with a 28 year-old. Does that mean I’m a cougar with fresh blood dripping from my lips?

One friend just wants a nice intellectual but can’t figure out how you meet them. Online dating seems cold and unseemly, the realm of college students, not writers. Another friend is pulling off her bra at Hogs and Heifers. Another is focusing all her attention on her kids. Not one of us really knows how to be sexy without being indecorous.

I love seeing young girls, all long-limbs and false bravado. I live with three, so I don’t wish I could go backwards. But I miss knowing which step to take. For the first time since I was 15, I feel ungainly and unsure of myself.

If we’re single, the romantic choices that become our station are divorced or widowed men in their mid to late 60s or even 70s in well-cut suits. Gently graying, cynical and world-weary. Emotionally, they proceed with caution rather than passion.

We need to reinvent ourselves.

I’d still like moments of innocence in my relationships. I like surprise and – I’m an American – I’m still attracted to honesty. The scent of clean skin. A just-washed t-shirt. A smile in the morning with no make-up. My women friends and I all want something simple and warm. We don't want danger or violence. We want earnestness. Passion.

Is that possible now? And if it is, where do you find it – so that it feels real, not botoxed or silicone or collagen-enhanced? How do you do it so it feels easy. So you can walk out holding hands and not feel like you are mutton dressed as lamb. Come on, baby boomers, give us a heads-up. Diane Keaton can’t be the best you have to offer. One of the few women writers who knows how to do it is Catherine Texier. Anyone else to give us a map?

It’s the end of summer and there’s always that sudden heatwave. The air gets thick and hot and you wonder if the calendar slipped backwards. I always liked the line in Madonna’s “Material Girl,” “experience has made me rich and now they all want me…”