Thursday, June 23, 2022

Angry Mommy

By Kate Poux
My daughter came to me the other night in a rare moment of appreciation. She has a friend who has been fighting intensely with her mom lately. She says it sounds like the mom is going through perimenopause, because the rage is different, and seems to come out of nowhere. “They’ll be cleaning the kitchen, and (her friend) will be like, ‘maybe pre-wash that before you put it in the dishwasher,’ and her mom will fly into a rage, screaming and yelling and it turns into a full-blown fight.” My daughter said it makes her appreciate me, because it’s been a long time since we had a fight like that. I felt grateful for this affirmation, but I mostly felt deep compassion for this mom. Immediately I wanted to console her, and bring her into the Claws in your Pause fold. I wanted to let her know that she is neither alone nor crazy.

After a moment I asked my daughter, “Did we ever scream and fight like that?” and she and my husband exchanged a look. She said not for a long time, mostly when she and her sister were younger. This was horrifying to me, and made perfect sense. Horrifying because that means that I was losing my shit with my young children, 4,5,6 years old, so much worse than screaming at your teenager. It made sense because I began to experience perimenopause in my early 40s. The kids were young, and I was suffering. I can remember staring out the window of my daughters’ bedroom when they were young, thinking that I needed to run away, that everyone in my family would be so much better without me around. I wanted to disappear, for the benefit of everyone around me. Remembering this I feel deep shame, compassion, and relief that it’s not as bad as it was, but I wish that I and my family had more support and information back then.

Perimenopause can last 4-10 years, and begins for some women as early as their 30s. Estrogen levels begin to fluctuate wildly, and since estrogen affects production of serotonin and oxytocin, mood changes, often dramatic and intense, are a prescient symptom of perimenopause. One study found that irritability and anger were the most common symptoms of perimenopause in 70% of women. 8 years ago, without a biological explanation, I blamed myself and felt crazy, and pitied everyone around me. I didn’t have a name for any of it. Recent research shows that there are ways that women can manage perimenopausal mood swings, including accepting the anger. Self-silencing, stuffing it down, puts us at much greater risk of depression. This was key for me. When I finally began to learn about the transition to menopause, I kept track and described my moods. When I felt certain symptoms I reminded myself, “It’s not you, it’s your hormones,” and I would do something healthy to disrupt the agro, like go for a run, take a long shower, get a dog. And, I would also warn my family! I became a little obsessed with scales to measure my mood and my energy, which helped me listen to myself better. Sometimes it helped, but not always. And I still struggle today, but with less intensity, maybe because I feel prepared.

In her 2019 memoir, Deep Creek, Anne Houston offers advice to a younger woman: “I’m just saying, I guess, there’s another version, after this version, to look forward to. Because of wisdom or hormones or just enough years going by. If you live long enough you quit chasing the things that hurt you; you eventually learn to hear the sound of your own voice.” Put Some Claws in Your Pause is an invitation to come alongside other women on their same-but-different journey through perimenopause and menopause. It’s a supportive, non-judgmental place to practice hearing the sound of our own voice. Even if it’s an angry, yelling voice.

The Polar Bear Pause

About five years ago my friend Kate and I birthed the organization Launch Your Pause. We created and hosted a three-day retreat, Put Some Claws in Your Pause, offering women at all stages of menopause an opportunity to learn about, explore and celebrate all things menopause. A big part of the retreat is the opportunity to be around other women at a similar crossroads.

The truth about menopause is that it is a pause. “Meno” means monthly so technically, menopause is a pause from the meno, or the monthly period we’ve been experiencing over the course of our fertile years. There are so many jacked-up ways that our society has repurposed the concept of menopause. The medical world has done ridiculously little to understand menopause and most women are left to find their own answers to confusing questions about both physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Many women feel like it is a death sentence — thin hair, crepey skin, stomach paunch, sleepless nights with no libido. I know that before I intentionally reframed menopause and turned it into something meaningful and worthy of ritualized attention, I thought about it that way.

This year will be our fourth annual Put Some Claws in Your Pause overnight retreat. We basically do the same thing each year — writing, yoga, meditating, sharing meals and hot tubs and saunas, and rich conversation — but it never gets old. These years are important. They represent our time to pause and reflect. What comes out of this intentional experience is boundless…. if we give ourselves a real pause.

I recently read Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams. The book, a memoir augmented by a fascinating collection of scientific questions and answers about aging and emotions, begins when the author is fifty years old and going through an unexpected, unwanted divorce.

At one point in the book, Williams shares a scene from a conversation she had with an anthropologist about his work with an Inuit woman. After completing his interviews, the anthropologist says to the woman,

“I see everything but the years from when you were 50–54.”

“Oh, I have no words for those years,” she replied

“Why not?”

“In those years,” she told him, “I was a polar bear.”

In “those years” that woman felt different; she felt like a polar bear. I’ve talked to women who feel like they are losing their minds — they can’t sleep, they lose interest in things that used to mean something to them, they suddenly, inexplicably hate their spouses and children. 

The polar bear years are different. These are years when we see women change careers, relationships, and fashion sensibilities. This is the period when women take off and live in another country, or travel cross country in a camper van for a year or two. These are years when, as my friend Molly says, “your give-a-damn is broke.”

The polar bear pause is real and it deserves to be honored, attended to and ritualized. The culmination of William’s wonderful book is her taking a solo paddling voyage for three months. Her vast emotional landscape is mirrored in the terrain and waterways she covers on her journey. She gave herself a well-deserved pause, an honoring of her life stage. 

Though it’s only three days, I hope that the women who come to our retreat get a taste of this kind of ritual. I hope they will feel the symbolism in taking a pause out of the grind of day-to-day life to honor themselves as polar bears for a few days. 

Monday, March 7, 2022

I Remember You. But I don't Remember Me

Last weekend I spent two days with my twin sister and three of our high school friends. We’ve seen each other a handful of times over the years but we live all over the country in four different states and we rarely spend time together, especially as a group. To my surprise, everyone was able to coordinate their busy lives to make the weekend happen.

It’s been more than forty years since we became friends in a tiny high school on the south side of Chicago. We’ve lived all over the country and the world. Some of us have been married and had kids. Some of us have been divorced. We’ve lost parents and siblings. We’ve gone to college and graduate school. We’ve had jobs we’ve loved and jobs we’ve hated. We’ve each lived over half a century. The opportunity to come together and connect as older women was thrilling. 

It was also slightly daunting. My twin sister told me that she almost texted us all that she had COVID on Thursday so she wouldn’t have to come. Another of the five said her daughter had to really egg her on so she’d follow through. I myself hemmed and hawed about getting on my 6am flight after a long week of work. 

But we did it. The five of us gathered at my mom’s house outside of Phoenix. We decided to hold our reunion at my mother’s house in part to offer her a distraction from the recent passing of my stepfather. I’ve been worrying about Mom being alone after over forty years of partnership. I thought bringing the old crew back would be a healing for her. I didn’t realize how healing it would be healing for the rest of us. 

We spent a total of forty-eight hours together. We drank coffee on Mom’s patio, hiked, shared meals, went thrift-shopping and laughed. We sat outside in the sun or on couches in the living room drinking our coffee or our wine, sharing stories of our current lives and retelling stories from our high school days. We laughed until we peed. After a few hours it felt like we were in high school all over again.

It was hard to believe that forty-years had passed since we’d first become friends. It was obvious from the outside that we’d all aged, but energetically everyone felt fundamentally unchanged. As I watched and listened to these old friends, they felt utterly familiar — the dry sense of humor of one, the squinty-eyed cackling laughter of another, the overflowing curiosity of a third, and of course the life-long knowing of my twin sister.

They were all so familiar to me, yet as I thought back to myself, to what I was like at that age, I couldn’t place myself. It was as if I was a ghost. I wondered if I’d been like I am now — anxious and chronically planning, directing, taking charge. I wondered if my friends felt the same familiarity about me that I felt about them. 

Why couldn't I remember me as a teenager? At age fourteen or fifteen or sixteen, I was so focused on the outside that I couldn’t connect with what was on the inside. I observed and studied my peers- how to dress, flirt, eat, dance, and interact with my parents. I learned how to be from watching others instead of feeling myself. 

I thought back to how I was in high school. Our sophomore year I spearheaded a service group to help us bolster our college applications. In our senior year of high school I planned our senior trip. I booked the hotel, bought the plane tickets, and wrangled the troops to get us all from Chicago to Sanibel Island, Florida via Newark, New Jersey on People’s Express Airlines. I was the one who took more than the mandatory science and math classes because I thought it made me seem smarter. 

And I could see that I am still very much like I was in high school. I still plan the trips and organize the events. I still put too much on my plate. This is me. This has always been me. When I was a teenager I felt too self-conscious, too different to embrace this identity but now I’m older. I’m wiser. I feel okay about who I am. 

Over the course of the weekend we all laughed with (and sometimes at) each other. My friends and sister playfully teased me for my over-planning and bossy approach. They grew irritated by my insistence that we create a shared album of the weekend on our iPhones. But it was okay. I could laugh with them because I wasn’t looking for my identity outside of myself anymore. Finally, after all these years I could see myself clearly. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Menopause in the Matrix


My friend Lisa and I agree to disagree about The Matrix. I remember 20+ years ago when she complained about the fact that the rebels can figure out the complexities of jacking in and out of the Matrix but still have to eat tasteless gruel and wear tattered clothes. My husband and I are Matrix fans and have watched them all, many times together, happily suspending our skepticism for the particular sci-fi premise and dope kung fu. This past December, as I was rewatching all the Matrix movies in preparation for Resurrection to drop, I joked with Lisa about her plans to watch the new one. This time she complained most about the fact that Trinity has to play second fiddle to Neo in the first 4 movies. “Why doesn’t Trinity get to be the One?”. Hmmm. She made a good point. 

And then, like a glitch in the matrix, like reaching into a goopey liquid mirror, like puzzling over a rhyme from the Oracle,  it happened. It was revealed. Trinity, at age 52, the same age as me, is actually, the One. She’s the one who can fly, she’s the one who saves Neo and therefore the human colonies, she’s the one who tells the Analyst how it’s going to be. Maybe she was the One all along, or maybe she became it, realized it, only at this midlife moment. I choose to believe that Trinity becomes The One as part of her menopausal transformation. 

The menopause metaphors are all there: will she choose the red pill or the blue pill,  Trinity’s pent up anger and rage about the confines of life in the Matrix, the hot prickling sensation that something is very wrong, that we are not who we pretend to be, and radical change is necessary. Trinity’s liberators worry that she won’t take the red pill, that if given the choice to reject/abandon/destroy the conventional life that she is living in order to see the truth she will choose the blue pill and stay in the life society expects of her. Maybe embracing menopause is a red pill. It is the disruptive uncomfortable awareness that we are out of sync with the societal expectations for female youth, beauty  and responsibility. It is the acceptance that our true happiness might create rifts, disruptions in the course that we accepted for ourselves years ago. The blue pill is hiding it, ignoring menopause, denying the inauthenticity we perceive now. 

When Trinity accepts the “truth”, wakes up from her matrix coma, she transcends all past iterations of her brilliance. She is shining, calm, confident. In a 2021 New York Times interview with Carrie Ann Moss, she describes her 52-year-old embodiment of Trinity,  during the filming of Resurrection: “I laugh because at times I would just feel so cool, I got this. Someone would take a video and I’d look at it and be like, “Oh my god, I don’t look cool at all!” I would just have to constantly relax that part of my brain. I continually chose to know that I was going to be enough.” I am inspired by the wisdom of relaxing the part of my brain that says “You look stupid. You can’t do this. You are a loser.”  Maybe menopause is an invitation to strengthen this part of our brains. I don’t know kung-fu, but  I can  choose to know that I am enough, that I am the One. “Dodge this.”

Friday, February 18, 2022

Menopause: Another Perspective


Deep Sleep came back. The night after I wrote, Oh Deep Sleep, Where Have You Gone? it returned. I am sleeping through the night again. My FitBit tells me this is true. My scores have been between 80 and 90. I am waking up refreshed, full of rest that comes from the world of deep sleep, ready to welcome the day ahead. It’s a true gift. I feel like a magical fairy has blessed me with Deep Sleep again.

I’m at the age where I am waiting for things to fall apart. I am waiting for my hair to turn fully gray. I am waiting for my knees to give out. I am waiting for my belly to round like both of my grandmothers. I am waiting for my eyesight and hearing to go. I am waiting for longtime faithful companion Deep Sleep to leave me. Everyone says it’s going to happen. Friends, family members, doctors, random shop clerks, started warning me when I was 48, then again when I turned 50. And now I’m 53 so surely I am just biding my time until all of these things happen to me. 

These years of warnings are why I was so prepared to end my relationship with Deep Sleep. I set myself up to expect that losing Deep Sleep was inevitable. Some of the things I was warned would happen have happened. My hair is getting gray and my belly is much rounder than it used to be. My hearing seems fine but I’ve graduated to progressives. But my knees are great most days and my cherished friend Deep Sleep came back!

As women age, there is an elusive magic suitcase full of unpleasant expectations awaiting us. We are prepped for all of the bad things to come. We are told in myriad ways that this, older age, is the end of the line, the stop where all the bad stuff comes. But that’s a bunch of bullshit. That’s some weird patriarchal concept designed to make women think that their only value is in their ability to procreate; that once those years are over it’s all downhill (but that’s another essay).

C.S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of my favorite stories growing up. Lucy and her three siblings are sent to the country to escape the Blitz during World War II. They stay with the professor, a friend of their parents, in a foreign town in an unfamiliar house. There, Lucy and her three siblings find a wardrobe that leads to another land. 

The adventures the kids had — both wonderful and perilous — drew me in and carried me away. What if menopause is like the first stop in Narnia? It’s scary. It’s foreign. There are strange creatures and mysterious events that make us feel lost and scared and alone at times. But there are also mystical, magical adventures that make us feel welcome and happy.

There are evil characters — like the White Witch — hot flashes, sensitivity to alcohol and coffee, hormonal mood changes. And there are good ones like Asian the Lion, the brave King of Narnia who saves the children. In the land of menopause Asian would be that strong inner sense women have at this age. It is the roar of knowing that it’s time to change jobs or shake up a relationship. 

And then there are Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, the kind couple who welcome the children and make them feel at home. In many ways, menopause feels like that. Finally at home, free from the heavy socializing, trying to achieve more, do better, get noticed. It’s nice to feel like it’s enough to sit at home and have a cup of tea. 

And for me, there’s Mr. Tumnus, the faun, who, in my menopause land, represents Deep Sleep. Mr. Tumnus is at first the kind and welcoming, nurturing and caring companion to Lucy when she arrives in Narnia. But Tumnus is under the control of the White Witch and thinks of betraying Lucy, forsaking her to the evil side of Nania. In the end, though, Tumnus’ conscience is restored and he leads Lucy back home to her wardrobe where she can rest safely with her siblings. 

Lucy and her siblings escaped to the wardrobe. Their life, war-torn, sequestered away from their parents, friends, and all things known to them, was already scary. Narnia was an escape, a place to be somewhere different, to be someone different. 

Menopause is like going to another land in a lot of ways. But like Narnia, the new land isn’t all bad. When I think about what came before menopause, life on the other side of the wardrobe, I feel delighted to have an escape from all of that. There’s good and bad here, but it’s also sometimes magical. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Better Angels of Our Nature

By Laura Culberg
One of the things I inherited from my grandmother Sally is weepy eyes and a constantly runny nose when the weather is cold. For about ten months out of every year I keep a hanky in my sleeve or my coat pocket. Whenever I am outside I dab my nose and my eyes constantly. 

Today when I was walking around Seward Park which I do as often as I can, I pulled out my hanky to blow my nose and a man walking towards me crossed clearly to the other side of the path. I don't blame him. The culture that has evolved with Coronavirus is worrisome to some and completely paralyzing to others. I fall intermittently somewhere in between, but mostly towards paralysis. I realize that these years of living in a country run by a man who disregards our environment and humanity in so many ways has taken a toll on me. COVID-19 seems to be what has tipped me over the edge. I worry about people I love. I worry about the mentally ill homeless man I walk by on Capitol Hill. I worry about my old parents and your old parents and my friends who have auto-immune diseases.

In a podcast I was listening to during my walk today I heard the phrase "the better angels of our nature" and it made me think about what my better angels are. I always connect with people at the park-- I say hi, wave, smile, share appreciation for a heron or an eagle. I love Seward Park and the people there. I love the trees and the birds and the turtles. But I was aware today how, though I did smile and nod or wave to different people, there was also a pallor of despair, like a persistent grey cloud, stalking me.

My worry and occasional paralysis from events of recent days and weeks has muted my better angels. When the man crossed away from me on the path,  I totally understood why he did that, but it got me thinking about what micro-actions like these do to us over a sustained period of time. We are all doing them. The news is telling us to steer clear of each other, to stay home, to worry. And yes, we have to worry, but this constant state of mental-emotional hijack is unsustainable. It's unsustainable for me and I fear it is unsustainable for our society. 

When I got home I looked up "the better angels of our nature" and learned that this phrase was used by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address. Renowned psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a book with that same title and uses the phrase as a metaphor for four human motivations — empathy, self-control, the "moral sense," and reason. (1) We tend to lose focus, especially in times like these, of the innate goodness of ourselves and each other, and how could we not? My daughter was informed that she is no longer supposed to high five the opposing team after games. People in the drug store are competing for the ingredients to make DIY hand sanitizer. 

What do I want? I want to feel calm again. I want to come back to connecting with empathy, self-control, moral sense and reason. Where do we turn when the majority of people in our midst are suffering from the same anxieties and fears? The only thing that makes sense is to turn outwards instead of inwards. We can still stay safe. We can still follow the CDC recommendations, but we can find ways to connect. Share food with your neighbors. Don't buy twelve rolls of toilet paper. Check in on your friends who live alone. Tell your kids to be kind to their classmates.

And helping actually helps. Yesterday when I was walking up Madison I watched a man in a wheelchair ask a guy to help him cross potholed Ninth Avenue and the guy rushed by, shaking his head "no". As I crossed, I knew the man would ask me too. I contemplated what it would mean to put my bare palms on his wheelchair handles, but then I did it anyway. I pushed him across the street, got him up the curb and turned back up the hill. I made an effort to keep my hands away from my face until I could wash them again. But for that moment after helping that man I wasn't worrying. I was connecting with one of the better angels of my nature and I felt like everything would be okay.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Yin and Yang

By Laura Culberg
A few weeks ago I flew down to Phoenix to spend time with my mother and stepfather. My mother is seventy-nine and my stepfather Al is ninety-two. My mom takes care of pretty much everything-- the meals, the house, the bills, the finances, the travel arrangements, communication with family and care givers. She's got a ton of energy and she's very connected. She rivals my fifteen-year-old daughter for time on her cell phone. She's always in touch with someone or researching something or getting directions on her phone.

My stepfather, on the other hand, was too old to take on a smart phone when the technology burst onto the scene. At ninety-two Al is in good shape. Though he no longer drives, he still plays bridge once or twice a week and is pretty mentally lucid. During my week visiting them I was aware of how their little universe functioned. Mom buzzed about cooking, cleaning, typing away on her laptop or cell phone, going to the gym, taking care of her houseguests (me and my daughter Lucia).  While mom was always up when I woke (early), Al slept later. He rose and dressed slowly and then took his time walking with the help of his walker or cane from the end of the house where the bedroom was to the other end of the house where he spent most of his time, in his study.  Mom spurred Al along to eat, get dressed, take his meds, and Al offered Mom the invitation to slow down and be at rest. Though I could tell it was challenging for her at times, I noticed that Mom sat longer at the table at meals,  patiently waited for Al to make his way down the hall, allotted more time to get into and out of the car. 

Al would eat his breakfast of yogurt and granola that my mom made and set in front of him, watch some news, and tinker at his desk. Sometimes he fell asleep for five or ten minutes sitting on the couch or in his chair at the dining room table. One afternoon after lunch on the patio, Lucia and my mom went out the garage to finish an art project they were working on. I said I'd clean up but Al struck up a conversation and I ended up sitting at the patio table with him for over an hour. I had the itch to get up and go into the house to do the dishes so that my mother wouldn't have to do them when she came back in, but something told me not to.

Al and I sat there, mostly in quiet, looking over the landscape of Saguaros, Chollas and Ocotillos. The multiple bird feeders on the patio hosted cardinals, cactus wren, Gambel's quail and curved-billed thrashers. Every once in a while I would ask Al what kind of bird was feeding or Al would ask me a question, something about what I was doing in my life these days or our plans for the rest of the day. A few times he fell asleep. But as quietly as he fell asleep he woke up again and resumed our conversation. After an hour or so Mom came in, walking her efficient, determined walk, to check on us. It was a natural moment to transition-- me to the dishes and Al back to his study. But the stillness and silence I felt from sitting with Al stayed with me.

I've thought about that time with Mom and Al a lot-- how this complex system of energies balances their lives. Mom is the Yang to Al's Yin and vice versa. The symbiosis of their energies makes their life as a couple possible. It's a reminder to me that we all need both. Maybe our partner or our kids or our co-worker offers some Yin to our Yang. Maybe we need a little Yang to fire things up and we find it through another person, animal or place. The point is that we all need both the Yin and the Yang energies to be in balance. And though we might weigh more heavily in one area, both the Yin and Yang energies live within each of us.

Being more Yang myself, I appreciated the experience of sitting with Al, this quiet force of stillness. And I appreciated that Mom kept his quiet world spinning with her gale force energy. My time sitting with Al that week helped me connect with my Yin energy a little bit. Al, at ninety-two, embodies the authentic grace that comes from slowing down and the end of a very long life. I feel grateful to have had that special, enlightening time with him. I hope the feeling stays with me for a while.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Road Home

By Laura Culberg

Last night terrible cramps wove their way into my dreams. I'm one of those annoying women who says, "I've never had menstrual cramps," so I didn't fully understand what they were until I woke up. When I was giving birth to my daughter Lucia fifteen years ago, the midwife asked if I was having contractions. Having never given birth before I asked her what they felt like. She said they felt like menstrual cramps. I explained to her that I'd never experienced menstrual cramps so couldn't identify if I was indeed having contractions. But now, at age 51, I know what cramps feel like. Cramps are intense. They do indeed remind me of being in labor.

In the last few years contemplating my own aging, I have become compelled to understand more about menopause, both for myself and for other women. In doing this exploration I have learned a lot about the broader implications of aging for women, in particular the stigma and shame associated with the very process of menopause. Many women my age have no one to query about what her mother's menopause was like because so many of our mothers had hysterectomies. It seemed that twenty years ago, and still today, the medical response to this change in life has been to just take out those confusing female organs.

In my research of both scientific data and personal accounts of menopause, I have generated a working theory that there is a mirror-like symmetry between pre-puberty and post-fertility (aka menopause). Physiologically, both pre-puberty and post-fertility are times when we have lower estrogen levels. Emotionally and mentally, in the time before puberty--when we are little girls-- we are playful, unselfconscious and more authentically true to ourselves. Pre-puberty, girls operate from an internal compass. Once girls enter puberty they begin the long journey of a life in which they are assessed and evaluated on their performance and appearance. Puberty launches girls into periods and cramps and dating and parenthood and peer pressure and social media and media objectification. It is exhausting and unrelenting. 

Then, in middle age, the time when our fertile window has closed, women come back to a stage more similar to our pre-pubescent selves. There is a decrease in estrogen, a slowing down, an opportunity to settle back into our true nature of childhood. This beautiful hormonal symmetry offers women in menopause a chance to re-meet this playful, unselfconscious self; we come home to our true nature again.

I don't know if the  cramps will come again next month or if the cramps will be replaced with hot flashes tomorrow or next month. Maybe I'll have both. I'm prepared for whatever comes because I know, whatever it is, I'm on the road home again. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

New Cleats and Chanting

By Laura Culberg
Last week I took my fifteen-year-old daughter to Dick's Sporting Goods to get new cleats. We'd been trying to find a spare hour to go to the mall in Renton for weeks and finally eked one out on a dreary rainy afternoon, between piano and dinner. It had been a shitty day already. I'd heard ten too many sound bites from Donald Trump on the radio and I was convinced, beyond measure, that his message of selfishness, laziness and stupidity was permeating the brain membranes of sane people everywhere, like the strange force that made people lose their minds in Sandra Bullock's movie Bird Box.

Dick's Sporting Goods is like Costco for sporty stuff. It's huge and echoey and I swear ghosts work there. Whenever I tried to get someone to help us they would miraculously disappear behind a rack or through a door. When I finally found someone and asked where the bathroom was because I just needed a moment to splash water on my hot flashing face, they told me where it was. After walking across the store I found the bathroom but there was a code on the door and the guy hadn't given me the code, so I walked back to try to find another ghost who might have the code. My patience, thin before entering the toxic vortex of vinyl and lycra, was almost non-existent by this point. I kept thinking, "This is the Donald Trump influence. People are selfish and lazy and stupid!"

Among all of the hundreds of boxes of cleats, none organized by size or style or even brand, Lucia finally found a pair in her size for an affordable price. We walked the block back to the register where the clerk told us the shoes would be $103. "The display said $49.99" I told him, feeling very close to punching him like a mob boss might punch an underling in Good Fellas, square in the nose with one sharp "Pop" and he'd be down. We'd just take the shoes and walk slowly to our car. I imagined the whole scene in my mind. But I didn't punch Joshua the clerk. We returned to the cleats and found three pair that might work. We walked back up to have a different clerk scan each of them to make sure they were indeed the price marked. Lucia chose a pair, I paid, and we walked out.

It was still dark. Still raining. I was starving and pumping with adrenaline. When we got in the car Lucia looked at me, very concerned. "Mommy, are you okay?" "I'm fine." I replied. "I'm just glad that's over with." But she could feel it, my rage, my fury. I'm sure to her it felt like I was about to blow. And then who would drive us home?

We drove through the packed parking lot, past the gargantuan store for all things for your pets. Past the half-block store with make ups and creams, past the health club and all the slow-fast food restaurants. When we got to Boeing field, right before Rainier Avenue South, Lucia started chanting. First she chanted Om Namah Shivaya, a chant I used to play when I taught kids' yoga at her school and my studio. I joined in, happy to be putting my energy outside of my seemingly stuck negativity. Lucia moved on to a Chakra balancing chant that I taught her a few years ago when I came home from my first trip to India. We chanted the whole way home, a good half-hour drive. We harmonized. We took turns leading. As we moved geographically away from Dick's Sporting Goods, my mind moved too, into balance, harmony and even joy.

When we drove into the driveway it was still raining. I could hear the dog barking for us to come in. As I pushed the parking brake into place I looked at Lucia, "That was so nice. Thank you." I said to her. "I thought it would calm you down," replied my teenage daughter, smiling, I think with relief that I was no longer insane. How did she know that would help? I'm not sure, but I'm so grateful for her insight on that dark, rainy, politically-depressing night. Thank you Lucia.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Party-Style Twists

By Laura Culberg
Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists even, but I wore them anyway. When I was a kid we called this "party style." I rarely wear my hair down. It makes me feel young, somehow not myself. That night I chose this style to disguise my incoming gray hair. Maybe it was a subconscious move to try to create youth in the midst of inevitable aging.

Since wearing my hair in twists that night I've had a series of random memories from when I was a girl. I remember in fourth grade, Ms. Funk's class at William H. Ray Elementary in Chicago. It was picture day and I'd decided on my burgundy v-neck velour shirt with juliet sleeves. It was one of my nicest shirts and I had begged my mother to buy it for me at the tiny Breslauer's Department Store on 53rd Street.  I was obsessed with my hair that morning, desperate to get my two twists to match. I wanted my long brown hair to cascade down from the perfectly matched twists that crowned my head like a princess. But I didn't have the right supplies. I needed bobby pins and all I had were mismatched barrettes and rubber bands.

That same obsession for the perfect twists has recently replayed itself in my memory. I don't know if it was the same year, but in my mind's eye, I am about the same age. It was my grandfather's birthday party and we were all to get dressed up. I had a red and white seersucker blouse and skirt that my grandmother had splurged on at Saks Fifth Avenue downtown. It was perfect. But my hair! I remember standing in front of the living room mirror with my sisters and cousins, five girls all primping, and I could not get the twists to work. "I need bobby pins!," I howled to no one in particular, and before I knew it my dad was out the door to the Wilco to get a package big enough for five heads of hair.

I don't know why certain memories stick in our minds and I don't know why they revisit us at certain times in life, but the prominence of these two hair-twist memories feels like something worth attending to. One of the things that happens in middle age, in part because of hormones, and in part because of earned wisdom from life experience, is that we come back to our true nature, that essence of self that can become buried during the twenties and thirties when other big life events take center stage.

I'm grateful for the clarity and potency of these memories. In middle-age there is a quieting, a slowing down that makes room for that essential nature to resurface, like coming out of the rubble after an earthquake, there is a peacefulness, a stillness. Maybe these memories are a sign to me, a message from fourth-grade Laura, that this is time to come back and revisit that energy from my younger self. Or maybe these hair-twist memories are here now to show me how much I've learned, how far I've come from that place where a botched hair style was a national disaster. Now I know it's just a pesky cowlick.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Collective Effervescence

By Laura Culberg

Collective Effervescence is a term coined by Sociologist Emile Durkeim. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Collective effervescence refers to moments in societal life when the group of individuals that makes up a society comes together in order to perform a religious ritual. During these moments, the group comes together and communicates in the same thought and participates in the same action, which serves to unify a group of individuals. When individuals come into close contact with one another and when they are assembled in such a fashion, a certain “electricity” is created and released, leading participants to a high degree of collective emotional excitement or delirium. This impersonal, extra-individual force, which is a core element of religion, transports the individuals into a new, ideal realm, lifts them up outside of themselves, and makes them feel as if they are in contact with an extraordinary energy."

When I read that paragraph, I replaced the word ‘religion’ with ‘menopause’ which makes for some key sentences that perfectly describe our upcoming retreat. The first, “Collective effervescence refers to moments in societal life when the group of individuals that makes up a society comes together in order to perform a MENOPAUSE ritual.” Yes! We are our own little society of women going through physical, emotional and spiritual changes that deserve to be recognized by slowing down and engaging in some rituals that honor this time in our lives. That's why we created Put Some Claws in Your Pause. We want women to feel honored and supported as they move through these mid-life changes. 

The second set of sentences, when religion is replaced with menopause read, "When individuals come into close contact with one another and when they are assembled in such a fashion, a certain “electricity” is created and released, leading participants to a high degree of collective emotional excitement or delirium. This impersonal, extra-individual force, which is a core element of MENOPAUSE, transports the individuals into a new, ideal realm, lifts them up outside of themselves, and makes them feel as if they are in contact with an extraordinary energy."

We're now in our third year of doing Put Some Claws in Your Pause, a retreat honoring women at all stages of menopause and all that is true. There is electricity. There is emotional excitement, maybe even delirium. There's also yoga, meditation, delicious meals, hiking, writing, sleeping and laughing. There's optional watercoloring and book making. There's community. And at the end of the three days of rest, ritual and community, we leave and go our separate ways, still connected and united by collective effervescence, that amazing energy that transports us all to a new realm. 

Angry Mommy

By Kate Poux My daughter came to me the other night in a rare moment of appreciation. She has a friend who has been fighting intensely with ...