What follows is the preface of a book I am writing for my six year old grand daughter to read when she turns thirty. I will be long gone by then and I want her to have a credible source to tell her what she might need to know for the next part of her life. I want to give her the irreverent reality of an aging woman and I am hoping rather than dreading it she can look forward to it. Even though you are not my grand daughter I am sharing it with you in case you also find it helpful or amusing.
I laid out on the wall by the Tagus River which runs through the center of Lisbon by it’s main square where Monarchs have come and gone for five hundred years. A man plugged in his guitar and played wordless versions of songs by “The Police” and I drifted in the sunlight with my head on my lovers lap. The day after Christmas and soon another year starting but all I could feel was a deep exhaustion. “I’m done looking for happiness.” The thought came in so firmly that it startled me. Then I thought it again, “I’m exhausted from all this searching outside of me. I’m not going to do it anymore.”
I knew it was true. I knew in the same way the night before when he lay on top of me pushing himself deeply into me and I thought, “I have an unconquerable soul.”
At fifty I suppose I was just tired. I threw myself into it all. I left my home, joined a monastery, worked crazy odd jobs which wrecked my hands and threatened my sanity, landed a professorship and traveled a few thousand miles to love a man I’d never met in person all in the name of figuring something out. But there under the Portuguese sun I understood there was nothing to figure out. I don’t know if I could have known that without trying but it all came in clearly in that moment; there is no one happiness that you can have all the time. I learned that when you do feel happiness don’t do anything about it. Enjoy it. That’s all.
Love is not happiness but it’s very nice. Sex is not happiness but it can feel like it in the moment. Money is not happiness but it can help you avoid some stupid suffering. And any part of regret or guilt will not lead to happiness. There is no way to happiness because happiness is the way. It exists and you can only know it when you see it.
In the next pages you will read about my relentless journey of one year to capture happiness. I’ve already given away the ending–I did not capture it but I did find it. My goal is that in reading this you can find it too. My other goal is to let us know as women that it gets better as we get older despite what the photo shopped pictures and movies tell us. After fifty you will have your cake and you will eat it right down to the last crumb without caring what anyone thinks about it.
I had a student recently ask me what advice I would give him not just about study and work, but about life. I was flattered by the question and I answered him honestly, “Be shameless.” There is no time to be ashamed of anything you do. You do it and you learn from it. If you’re doing it right you enjoy it at the time even if it turns out to have some consequences you later wish you could avoid. Life is about trying and failing and loving all of it. Life is not about being a good person. No one can agree on what that is. Life is about doing things which are helpful but even when you are selfish and mean and don’t help you can forgive yourself and others will too. It’s okay, you can always double back. You can turn around and try again even if it’s just to say you’re sorry you were selfish and mean. That still counts and it’s honest but not ashamed. Making an apology can be an art and very life affirming. Don’t fear mistakes. They make you who you are.
I also learned there is no role in life more confusing than being female. You are supposed to be good and chaste and selfless yet you must be smart and cunning and sexy. You must love your partner and children and all of humanity while taking care of yourself. How does one do all of that especially when it appears at odds with itself? How is one fierce and nurturing, light hearted yet loyal? I don’t exactly know but somewhere along the line you get the hang of it and the training wheels fly off while you’re riding down a steep hill smiling with groceries and babies all rattling in the cart behind you. Somehow you work your job and work your home and help with the homework. Some of us get bitter in the process and that’s no good. But we also get through that and find ourselves on a beach in the sun breaking the rules at Christmas and feeling fine. Somewhere along the line you give yourself permission. You finally listen to the older lady in red lipstick who wants to tell you, “Do it–do it now while you’re young and you can!”
I have the first of many confessions in this book: I regret the times I didn’t do it, didn’t have the secret affair or go for the crazy job that would have changed things so much more than the times I did. I was so busy earning my way into heaven by being the good girl that I missed out on some experiences that would have expanded my heart and mind in a more meaningful way. I read Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” with the paper cover over the book jacket. I read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and came in my twin bed at night alone just thinking about all that forbidden sex and feeling certain there was something deeply wrong with me. I wish I would have known that nearly every one of the thousands of women who read it did the same thing and that it was okay to read whatever I wanted and explore those thoughts and feelings openly. It’s wrong to carry unnecessary burdens. Writers like Jong and D.H. Lawrence offer us freedom. Lawrence did not tell us we could follow our passion and be okay because he’s a man and he can’t give that permission but Jong certainly did. It took me fifty years to get here but I’ve arrived and I want to take you with me.
I want you to know what I only discovered recently– you can have sex without giving yourself to anyone. Actually sex is a gift from you to you with a willing partner and participant who’s getting the same gift. You don’t need to lose anything or give anything away. Just enjoy what your body is designed to do. Be smart, protect yourself from harm like disease and unwanted pregnancy because that’s real, then enjoy. The body is the soul. The soul is meant to fly.
So beloved, consider that you are precious. You are meant to enjoy your life as the freedom which comes with it. You cannot earn love and you don’t need to try. Wake up, hold yourself and be glad you are who you are in your mind, body and soul. You are capable of creating life if you feel like it but you don’t have to. You can enjoy sex, and fudge brownies and you can leave whenever you want to. You can confess what you like and also keep secrets. You can love until you can’t and then you can chuck it all and start over just because. Yes, you are very powerful so be kind but there’s no need to limit that kindness at you–it’s crucial to be kind to you because there are times in life when you will be the only one looking out for you. This will happen to you no matter how good you’ve been to everyone else. There will be periods when it’s just you so plan for that day with some money of your own, good health and a nice face that smiles back at you. Oh, and always stay on good terms with your mother, if not the one who birthed you the one you adopted. Mothers can always find a little something to help you when you need it and so can your girl friends and your gay friends. Straight men are often and largely unreliable unless they want sex and even then it’s conditional so how much is it really worth? (Sorry guys I know it’s a generalization but I’ve got to say what I see).
If you become a mother–love that. Don’t worry about being too in love, giving too freely or spoiling your children. Every time you give to your baby you give to you. You raise yourself by raising your children. Even when your children are allegedly adults keep giving as much as you can because it will make you happy and help them feel safe. Lots of people do not get to be mothers, if you do, enjoy the privilege and don’t skimp on it. Some men get jealous of how much you love the kids and have tantrums about it. Excuse me, but fuck them. They have mothers. Tell them to go back to them if they don’t like it. Motherhood is a delirious, delicious, wonderful love ride and no one, not even the guy who helped you bring the baby about has the right to lessen this gift for you. Be selfish about being unselfish and dive into motherhood with abandon. This does not mean to forget all the things I’ve already said. Look great, have great sex, love your work, love yourself and if a partner fits and helps you then do that too. Laugh loud, don’t give up dancing and for God sakes eat! No one ever died from a dimple on their thigh. But denial of motherhood as the greatest adventure is just another form of pouting patriarchy. Not allowing you the full enjoyment of motherhood is like telling a man he can’t ejaculate because you don’t. It’s ridiculous. Don’t let anyone take something from you as fun as being a mom, not even for a minute. Don’t let your ambitions, your man or someone’s opinion who is not you ruin motherhood. Many men are great fathers and dive right in there with you. If you’ve got one like that enjoy it. Give him the knowing smile as she makes a replica of the Louvre in her mashed potatoes or suspects she sounds just like Taylor Swift as she belts out a song in the back seat. Those moments are gold and best shared if you’ve got a partner to do it. If not, they’re still gold.
What follows is how I came to all these conclusions. Now it didn’t all happen in a single year so it will be somewhat compressed and I played with timing and changed most of the names because I’m through asking permission in life and it’s easier. But you will be taken through a long term marriage break up (sucks but it moves us along so hang in there my dear), a career shift more like a tsunami sea change, a hitch as a Zen monk, a wild lands restorer, a reality show grip, a university professor and finally a coquette. You will meet some super sages and experience some fantastic sex and when it’s over you’ll be proud in some odd way because you lived through it with a greater sense of gift and humor.
You will read the real time blogs as this happened so you can authenticate the timing and if you follow me through the archives you’ll be part of the conspiracy of confession.
I love you and hope you find it helpful.