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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Human Sexuality 101

Frank talk about sex has always come easily to me. Having already read The Joy of Sex (Alex Comfort, 1972 ) and Fear of Flying (Erica Jong, 1973) by the time I was fifteen, I was on a quest for more information about human sexuality. I felt prepared for extensive knowledge on a topic that had captured my attention and imagination. In retrospect, I believe that I perceived the tremendous power that sex held over men and women, and I was afraid of it. My lifelong response to facing my fears has to been to educate myself as fully as possible on the topic. Whether it was physics, acrophobia or sexuality, I have been one to face the dragon head on and stare it down. That is how I came to check out The Kama-Sutra from the Providence Public Library when I was seventeen.  Knowledge is Power.  I needed knowledge.  

A small aside: May I just pause for a moment to reflect that, in 1974, borrowing such a book was considered very gutsy? First, I had to pass for eighteen. The library did not allow minors to borrow “pornography.”  I had to show a library card and an id. Mine was borrowed, and fake. Today, forty years later, anyone can buy The Kama Sutra online at www.Amazon.com  What’s more, it is free!  

In any event, as one of the few remaining virgins in my high school senior class, I was the most versed in all aspects of human sexuality and reproduction. I was often viewed as something of an oddity...a thin,nerdy, bookworm of a girl - partial to head scarves and bobby socks with my school uniform - who loved to laugh.  Adding a vast knowledge of sex to my curriculum vitae did not hurt my popularity. My high school made practice of giving each student a book of their own choosing upon graduation.  I chose, Our Bodies, Our Selves (Women’s Education Collaborative).  It was customary to choose dictionaries.  

As a natural progression to my study of human sexuality, I took two semesters on the topic in college.  Both of them were taught within the Five Colleges in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts; the Five Colleges is a consortium consisting of U. Mass - Amherst, Hampshire College, Smith College, Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College. The Five Colleges allows students to take coursework at any of the schools in the network.  It was not a surprise that conservative Mount Holyoke did not offer classes in sexuality back in the mid-seventies. To get the education I desired, I had to farm myself out to Amherst and Hampshire Colleges.  The Amherst College course, entitled Human Sexuality, was affectionately called Holes and Poles by students. The Hampshire College course had a long, unwieldy name -- something like Embracing Our Sexuality in Today’s Society. The courses could not have been more different.  Amherst College supplied a large, dark, lecture hall, one hundred-twenty horny men, six women, lots of adult films, an occasional lecturer, and multiple choice tests.  Hampshire College provided “Professorial Discussion Leaders,” twenty-five ethnically and sexually diverse students, guest speakers, round-table discussions and blue books (commonly used in colleges for essay question responses). I learned from both approaches. Bolstered by courses in Anatomy and Physiology, Human Reproduction and Psychology, I had carved a unique path for myself.
With my newly-minted wealth of knowledge, I felt prepared to volunteer as a Peer Counselor on Sexuality on the Mount Holyoke campus. I can’t imagine this job still exists.  After all, the internet brings answers to any question that one could possibly seek.  Before the ready-accessibility of computers, that was my job.  I worked out of the Health Center. There was a brief indoctrination period, but my knowledge surpassed that of my examiner’s.  If a Mount Holyoke woman had a question pertaining to the functionality or use of her reproductive system or that of her partner’s, I was the go-to gal. I has the resources of the Health Center nurses and physician’s if I felt out of my league or needed to make a referral.  The job brought with it many interesting conversations -- most of which have faded in the fog of time.  What I most loved about the work was being engaged with a topic about which I was passionate and well-informed. When a Mount Holyoke woman left our discussions, I hoped that she was equally passionate and informed.  Moreover, I hoped she was reassured about her specific concerns and that she better-appreciated her own body.

What’s next with a knowledge that included where to snip the vas deferens to perform a vasectomy and the average response time of women to orgasm by oral stimulation? I practically had a Masters in Masters and Johnson and nowhere to go with it. It is in hindsight that I can discern what happened to that sexually versed woman.  I interwove my studies of human sexuality into the fabric of my life.  There are three ways in which I see how I applied this knowledge.
First, I was hired to write, and edit, a high-school text-book.  My particular chapter was on the topic of human sexuality.  I kept my day-job working in a bank, but nights and weekends were dedicated to this other assignment.  I was uniquely suited to the job because I was a scientist, a writer and I liked to teach.
Second, I brought my understanding and curiosity to my own marriage. In a field such as this, who wouldn’t enjoy the experimentation?  There is an infinite amount to learn about human sexuality.  The mechanics are no longer as interesting to me as the emotional aspects of sexual expression.
Finally, I hope that my background allowed me to foster an understanding, respect and appreciation for sexuality in my own children. I imagine myself a bit like the character played by Barbra Streisand in Meet the Parents.  Her frank and open acknowledgement of sex was often viewed as aberrant and a bit jarring by her family, but she was generally spot-on with her observations and recommendations. That I should be so apt! I marvel that I am the same person who borrowed a fake id at the Providence Public Library simply for the sake of attaining access to purloined literature. Times have changed, and so have I.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brain on Concussion


Okay, I feel like I am making far too much of the headache, brain fog, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and sound that are accompanying this concussion.... until I found this thread of an essay that -- apparently -- I had started to knit. I forgot about it and found it open on my laptop. To me, it was more than just an unfinished idea, it was like looking in the mirror and thinking....Ooh, it’s worse than I thought.  I wrote,

As a mother, it is essential to believe in the Law of Nature that commands that matter cn not be created or destroyed. This is what allows us to say, “it can’t sompleh disapper[[[[ 

I believe I intended to write, “As a mother, it is essential to believe in the laws of nature. In particular, the one that commands that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. This is what allows us to say to our children when they complain something cherished or prized (such as car keys) is “lost,” that it is unlikely to have simply disappeared. I might suggest that, “It is more likely to have been misplaced. As we all know, matter can neither be created nor destroyed.”
I know I am gaining clarity -- albeit, slowly -- every day. I described the sensation to my daughter in this way, “I am having more moments, even up to an hour, of lucidity. Without warning, I am plunged, once again, into a world that feels like I am moving underwater and no body else is underwater with me." When complaining about this sorry state of affairs to my son, he said, “But your BLOG, Mom... you ARE writing your blog, right?” When I abashedly said, “Not so much...” he gave me a lesson in readership and consistency and branding.
During this hiatus on sparkly, incisive writing, I can only plead that I am doing my level best to heal and be whole so that I can tackle my next project. Be patient, dear readers. Forgive me my trespasses on consistency and branding. I have in mind to discuss the remarkable value of redundancy in our lives and how it appears in nature as well as man’s work. I have been trying to understand the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, both purportedly developed based on Mark’s work as well as a possible theoretical source that has been called Q. The issue is, however, I can not wrap my brain around much and while I feel on the verge of a great realization, it crashes around me and I go and make myself a pot of tea instead. And that, Ladies and Gentleman, is a brain injury.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

26 Acts of Kindness


The idea that each of us can pay tribute to the lives lost in Newtown, CT last month resonates with me. Ann Curry, NBC correspondent, started the idea. And it has spread and spread as such things do.  I can see how easy it would be to look for, and find, 26 ways to serve others.  Why not bring respite or care to someone in need? Challenge yourself. Pay ahead on a gas pump. Offer to shovel a neighbor's walk. Call an aged relative. Give of your time and your heart to someone. Who among us is not is need?  Who is not in need of understanding, tolerance, acceptance and love? Never mind in need of warm clothes, full bellies, and a safe place to lay one's head?  I did not set out to memorialize the children and teachers who died, but the groundswell is too strong for me. I will find a way to deliver 26 acts of kindness today, tomorrow and for the days ahead. I will surprise myself with the creative ways I find to deliver my acts of kindness. Keep an eye out, you just may be surprised, an unexpected act of kindness may be headed your way.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Doctor's Orders


A note for those who wondered: the image on the last blog was a peephole.  
The peephole was photographed from my eldest daughter's very secure apartment.  I stayed there for two days en route to a spell on Martha’s Vineyard. I did not get very far.  After two days, I realized I wouldn’t be able to live alone on the Vineyard as planned.  My mind was too jumbled. The concussion I sustained in a recent sleepwalking episode has slowed my thinking to a crawl, my writing to nothing.  I returned to my doctor and said, “Please, make this stop. My thoughts are jumbled, my memory shot, I have a headache. Please, what can I do?”
She said, “Nothing. Do absolutely nothing. You need to heal.  Your body and your brain are telling you this. Try being more buddhist in your thinking. Simply BE.  No laundry, no housework, no blogging.”
In the interest of expediting the healing process -- and since my way has not been working -- I will take her advice -- for the next few days, at least. 
As a space holder, and because I will be back, I will post other people’s thoughts for you to consider. Please be patient. My pen will return to my hand as surely as the waves to the shore. 

New year, new beginnings.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Guessing Game

Do you recognize this object?

There was a book I used to look at with my children. It was comprised of photographs of common objects; the reader had to discern what thing was laid out on the page. We learned that simply by lifting a common item out of its normal environment, the item can take on a whole new appearance.  Further manipulating the item by changing the background increased the mystery.  Lots of laughs ensued as we tried to divine exactly what we were seeing. For example, out of a jungle pattern, a teapot might emerge.  Today, unexpectedly, I recognized a shape that would have been sure to challenge my children. I look at it myself and can hardly believe what it is.  I will leave you guessing.

Answer will be posted tomorrow!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fingerless Gloves and Other Sundry Pleasures

Fingerless Gloves, a Christmas gift

My long, skinny arms get cold, quickly, and often.  I have a lifetime of moments spent tugging down sleeves.  The sleeves on most shirts, dresses, coats and sweaters are most often, too short. Growing up, I lived with snow-packed sleeves on my parkas, because mittens did not extend far enough. I have spend several semesters in college wearing gloves, under mittens, while I studied in my thrifty, 62 degree apartment.  I have eschewed three-quarter length sleeves; they always seem both too short to be fashionable and too short to be warm.   
The movie Flashdance brought with all its publicity about sexual tension, an acute understanding on my part. Shirts with extra long -- albeit, shoulder-bearing -- sleeves could look sexy and fresh. In the decade I spent looking for shirts that would do that whole iron-worker ballerina thing for me, the style came and went.  My lust for these Goliath-armed sleeves did not fade.
I caught glimpses of Carrie in Sex in the City wearing sleeves with thumbholes. This design anchored the sleeve and allowed her to type her blog.  I also saw her wear fingerless gloves.  I poohpoohed these frivolities until my own hands and arms grew colder and more achy from the winter chill.  Bring on the gloves, long sleeves and cashmere shawls. Less a fashion statement than a simple matter of comfort and survival, I was hooked.   For Christmas, my daughter, Hannah, surprised me with a long, knit pair of teal fingerless gloves.  I want to wear them everywhere, even in the bathtub. I have succumbed to reason and have limited myself to wearing them outside of the bathroom and the kitchen.  The long-sleeved shirts with thumb holes have eluded me.  I did feel some thrill however, when, searching for that kind of shirt, I found arm warmers through dance suppliers.  Sign me up.  Still, those shirts with thumbholes escaped me. Then, on New Year’s Eve - 2013, one of my closest friends changed for a gathering we were attending together. Wouldn’t you know, she emerged from her bedroom sporting a blouse with delicately hidden holes for her thumbs?  I was awash in fashion pleasure and curiosity about her shopping adventure.  Had I been a kitten, I would have been purring. I knew with utter confidence, that my quest for warmer arms was about to take a twist in a new, warmer, direction.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


When I was twelve, my sister took me to Hane’s department store to buy a training bra. I had already arrived at an exact understanding of which one I wanted.  My mother permitted me to buy two; one to wear while the other was in the wash. At the time, my  school uniform consisted of a white blouse with Peter Pan collar and a blue jumper.  My small step toward womanhood was initiated by Brookside Elementary School’s gym uniform. It was a one piece blouson kind of thing. It was just sheer enough to cause me excruciating embarrassment when I wore it. My newly developing breasts were evident for all the other students to see. What was almost as bad was that I was subject to the other girl’s inspection when we had to change back from our gym uniforms to our dress uniforms. The girls shared one large shower room, and showers were required before returning to class. We had ten minutes to shower and change. That ten minutes could have been three hours; it was hell for me. I was skinny, under-developed and painfully awkward. The other girls were sometimes ruthless about my hard-edged, rib- defined physique.  With the training bra came some dignity. Shielded from taunts and ridicule, I felt my budding breasts better belonged to me. 

On that trip to Hane’s my sister suffered unexpected mortification. She is three and a half years older than I am; she was appalled that the sales woman asked her if she was seeking a training bra for herself.  After that misunderstanding was rectified, we headed to the back of the store where Intimates were sold. My sister’s disgruntled attitude did not dampen my spirits. I had secretly studied the pages of our Sears and Roebuck’s magazine. I had visited department stores on excursions with my bustier and more endowed sixth grade friends. I knew exactly which box, which size would be mine. Little Miss 30AA.  I liked that style bra because it had a little pink bow on the front band. There were not actual cups, instead, a stretchy, smooth cotton conformed to my growing figure. 

I became an expert in bras, how they fit, which one for what event, where to shop for them and how to choose them. I saw beauty in their soft curves and concomitant functionality. I was drawn to there special beauty and how they serve. My interest blossomed such that I had my eye on all lingerie. In my home-economics sewing class, I whipped up a bra, a slip and a robe while the other girls made a skirt, a blouse and a sundress.  The secret comfort and beauty hidden beneath a girl’s, a woman’s clothes was a secret I loved to keep. 

The years granted my figure an ever-changing landscape. Gravity, maternity, children -- they have all worked their way on me. What startles me, even now, is how much pure, giddy joy I still find in looking at bras, underwear, chemises, garter belts, nightgown and robes. I can not account for my unnatural predilection for all things lingerie. I love Betsy Johnson, Calvin Klein, Chantelle Intimates, Cosabella, Elle Macpherson, Eberjey, Felina, Freya, Hanro, Honeydew, Huit, Josie, Kensie, La Perla, Le Mystere, Natori, On Gossamer, Panache, Shimera, and Zella -- to name a few.

My joy is complete, however, because my daughter, a student in Fashion and Design at Pratt Institute, has embraced my love of silks, laces and women’s secret things. She sews them like the couturier she has become.  She stalks sample sales and sidewalk vendors in Manhattan. She is savvy and smart and has a far better eye than I for the very fine things found in the world of women’s unmentionables. Oops, I mentioned them!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eat Your Cake and Have It, Too.

We all have pet peeves. I suppose it makes sense that many of mine center around language, verbiage and pronunciation.  There are some particularly offensive phrases kicking around these days.  What puzzles me is that I hear no other voices joining mine in expressing dismay. How did we arrive on the doorstep of a new world?  One in which our society has adopted the habit of turning nouns into verbs? To my mind, it is lazy and a form of cheating; someone that turns the words “to make a priority” into “prioritize” is lazy. Admittedly, the use of “prioritize” has grown so widespread that is in the dictionary.  Never-the-less, it does not go down easy with me. Nor does the use of “tasking” someone with a job.  Turning a task (noun) into tasking (verb) is just plain offensive. However, I heard on the news the other night that is exactly what President Obama has done; he has tasked V.P. Biden with looking at gun control laws.  
Another phrase that sets my teeth on edge is “these ones.” Are you kidding me? It is like pointing at something, then pointing at it again. I notice people under the age of 25 seem most likely to violate the rule of grammar I once learned almost half a century ago. The word “these” replaces a plural noun. It is simply redundant to say these ones. Now those ones, that is a horse of a different color.
The most jarring idiom I have heard of late is “I’m not lying to you.” This phrase is tacked on to the end of sentences, seemingly randomly as a space filler. What it does, however, it raise the notion that maybe the person is doing just that -- lying to me. I literally cringe when I have to bear the assault to a language I so love.  Why on earth bother to tell me a story or express your feelings, then negate it with “I’m not lyin’ to ya”?
An example might help.  Suzie says, “I couldn’t believe I saw her with James. She looked twenty years younger. I’m not lyin’ to ya.”  Really, is that necessary? 
Finally, a phrase that merited a lot of discussion over one family meal was “to have your cake and eat it, too.”  A twenty minute debate had us all convinced that the saying should, in fact, be “to eat your cake and have it, too.”  The notion that is being expressed is that someone wants to benefit from enjoying their cake and still reserve some for later.  When expressed as “to have your cake and eat it, too”, is senseless since, in fact, you have to have your cake before you can eat it.  For the adage to have merit, we decided it could only be expressed one way. We swore to uphold the movement to reverse that little bit of linguistic inaccuracy.  If, over the ensuing years, we manage to succeed, it will be as if we have been able “to eat our cake and have it, too.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Knocked for a Doozy

The dangers of bathrooms are well-documented. They have hard surfaces.  There is water.  There is soap. There are germs.  They could be posted with CAUTION: Danger Ahead signs.  I can attest to the inherent dangers of bathrooms. I was injured without suds, germs or water. No, I took a tumble. I wasn’t rambunctious, nor was I careless -- I was asleep. It is a particular quirk of my sleeping pattern that, yes, I sleep talk, I sleep walk, I even sleep cook. Last night,  I woke up on, or about the time, my head hit the floor. I do not know what led up to my trip to the ground.  These precise distinctions were more important than I realized I later discovered.  I had an emergency room doctor grill me on the details.   He wanted to know if I was seated or standing when I fell. Shrug. Did I lose consciousness? I couldn’t tell him.  He was quite good-natured, suggesting I google a recent movie about a man who sleepwalks and the extents to which he goes to deal with it. (Sleepwalking, 2008).
The E.R. doc said he wasn’t ready to suggest I wear a helmet to bed, but, in the movie, the star climbed into a sleeping bag tied at the neck, with mittens to limit his ability to unzip the sleeping bag.  Imprisonment in a sleeping bag doesn’t seem like a real solution.  I have scheduled a followup appointment with the sleep specialist. I don’t have a much better strategy than that. Until then, I’m in lock-down mode. With a headache. And a bump on my kanoggen!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tax Year 2012


Procrastination; it has never been one of my coping mechanism. That all changed today.  I have a stack of financial papers to evaluate and sort. Then, I have to make sense of them and whip them into numeric sense....all in preparation for the tax man who cometh.  It seems to me that I race against this particular deadline earlier every year.  However, I have found myself drifting lately, precariously off-course, due to the ready availability of on-line shopping.  I have been at my computer with occasional doses of concerted effort for the better part of four hours.  Now, however, I am much more intrigued with January White Sales than calculating deductions. I am guilty of being seduced by handbags and tempted by sweet nothings of silk and lace.  I tried to satiate the desire by simply relenting. I window-shopped on Nordstrom, browsed Bed, Bath and Beyond, even popped in on Amazon.  When in doubt, books can never be considered extraneous, can they?  To my credit, I have not spent a penny. I have, unfortunately, filled numerous shopping carts with goods too alluring to pass upon.  These days, most of the larger companies have embedded software that sends messages to prospective buyers such as, “Oops, you have left something in your cart! Perhaps you would like to visit us again. While you are retrieving your item, be sure to take advantage of our sale this week!”
I am savvy. I know better. I fill carts with confidence and a limitless budget. Then, I purge. I purge openly, freely, indiscriminately. I DO NOT LOOK at all the books and bags and bras that might be mine if I opened my wallet or gave up my credit card number.  I DO NOT revisit my cart to see what first enticed me.  If I did that, I might wind up having insufficient funds to pay the tax man his due. Procrastination can lead to delays, but sometimes, it simply offers a healthy distraction.

Monday, January 7, 2013

One Half Fenway

Once in a while, I get blown away by my son.  Today, it wasn't the fact that his short film, Doodle, was chosen to be in the Screen Actor's Guild Film Showcase later this month.  No, it was because of the encouragement he offered me about my blog. I expressed doubt and fatigue and disappointment in myself because I have been inconsistent in my writing recently.  I showed him that my views are at 15,973.  Just shy of 16,000 over 16 months. Wow! I was amazed. Still, I bemoaned that my book has not yet found an audience,   He said, "Think of it, Mom, that the number of people who have read your blog would fill half of Fenway Park!" I am reminded of the importance of perspective.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Past Arrives

Abbey Chapel, Mount Holyoke College

I heard from the past today. My friend, Dorothy, from college called.  In retrospect, it is kind of amazing that I had a friend in college. Seven of the eight semesters that I spent at Mount Holyoke College, I lived off-campus. For a campus that was almost entirely residential, these living arrangements did not foster a lot of close college friendships.  I had numerous situational friends, but only two close, enduring friends. That number divided neatly in half when, years later, I found out that one of my “friends” tried to put the moves on my live-in boyfriend (who confided this to me before we married).  Dorothy forged a bond over nothing less than Statistics.  She came over the mountain from Amherst College to take advantage of this Five College consortium offering. A class of infinite boredom passed entirely around a rather large conference table. We passed notes through the long hours it took to wind our way through formulas and word problems.  At the end of a mathematically trying course, we were friends.  Nearly six years later, on my wedding day, she could not attend, but she faithfully sent me a dozen roses.  Our friendship endured.  We have remained steadfast about writing our Christmas cards to each other. Often months, late. Some years, merely signed, but my friend’s cards are spectacular Hollywood spectacles of witty family portraiture.  Mine might just as well be printed at Walmart or picked up at T.J. Maxx at an after-Christmas sale.  Her annual cards feature the entire three or four generations of living progeny of her husband’s clan posed and photographed against a timely and popular backdrop. However, the times we talk, whether it is every six years or six months, the dialogue picks up like we saw each other at school last week. I am reminded anew of her intelligence, her curiosity, her imagination and her kick-ass skills as a mother, a daughter, a sister and a wife. If the past has to catch up with me, I think that Dorothy is one pretty sweet act.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Come to Me

                                Come to Me

Come to me mournfully as the grey sky of evening settles heavily into the darkness of night.

Come to me blissfully ready to dine on lofty bread and yeasty wine.

Come to me softly when the fingers of dawn stretch across the broad horizon.

Come to me quickly when your salted tears tell the tale of a battered heart.

Come to me joyfully with your gleeful laughter that paints my world.

Come to me in surrender to rest your tired head upon my shoulder.

Just come to me...

and I will hold you.

first drafted  2008
revised        2013