10/12/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This is going to be one of those “I’m not so sure this should have made me happy, but it did, so I guess I’m going to write about it” posts.

So in 2019, my novel, If You Tame Me, was published. This is the opening of the synopsis:

On some birthdays, there’s just nothing else to do but buy an iguana. For newly fifty-five year old Audrey, the world has become as befuddling as it was when she was fifteen. There’s a president in the White House whose name she can’t bring herself to say. Young women are wearing “Not The F-Word” t-shirts, declaring what Audrey considers herself – a (F)eminist – to be as awful as the crudest curse word. There’s been no marriage for Audrey, there’s been no children. At fifty-five, Audrey finds herself questioning all of her ideals and goals…and her own authenticity.

Basically, the book is about a woman who considers herself a feminist, but wonders if she can do so when she feels that her life is incomplete because she doesn’t have a husband. So she adopts an iguana and names him Newt.

Truly, this has something to do with my Moment, even though I don’t have an iguana. This wondering if I can be a feminist because…well, you’ll see.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about going to my 45th high school reunion. Specifically, I wrote about my eyes, how they were crossed because of strabismus until I had my fifth surgery when I was fifteen years old. Also, from the time I was six until I was twelve, I lived in a very northern Minnesota town where, the last year I was there, they finally allowed girls to wear pants on Tuesdays and Thursdays – as long as they were polyester pant suits or dress pants. No jeans. No corduroys. And up top, no t-shirts, just blouses. Consequently, when I went to my first day of sixth grade in a new town in Wisconsin, where kids wore Levis and bell-bottoms and t-shirts to school, and I was in a bright red polyester pants suit, I sorta stood out. Which led to lots of what we called then, “teasing.” I was in that town through sophomore year, and no one ever forgot the pantsuit or accepted my eyes…or me. The night before school pictures was a nightmare. My mother would practice with me for hours as to how to hold my head so the photo would look like I had straight eyes. It never worked. There were a couple years when she refused to buy my pictures, and so I bought them myself. I think every kid wants a record of who they were.

First semester junior year, we moved again and I attended Cedarburg high school. When I was sitting in the bleachers with the marching band, a blond-haired green-eyed boy came to sit next to me. “You’re new,” he said. “I wanted to meet you because you have the most beautiful eyes.”

That’s all it took. I married him a month before I turned twenty-one, when I was in between my junior and senior years of college. That marriage lasted seventeen years, before I walked away. He no longer saw me as beautiful.

In the middle of that marriage, I lost a ton of weight. I went to the Y every day, doing advanced step-aerobics and lifting weights. I considered training for body building and I was asked to be an instructor. One evening, as I walked from the Y to the library, I was still wearing, as was popular then, white capri skin-tight exercise leggings, a blue leotard, red legwarmers, and a black leather bomber jacket. As I approached the library doors, a man standing there watched me. He began to slowly nod. As I passed, he said, “Oh, that’s nice.”

I admit it. I grinned from ear to ear and called out, “Thank you!”

Was I a feminist? I thought I was.

I began working as a weight loss instructor. Every day, I had to dress like a model, complete with make-up that I learned how to apply professionally. And every day, I signed people on to the weight loss program I worked for, because people wanted to look like me. I was called beautiful.

Each time, I smiled and said, “Thank you!”

Was I a feminist?

And attending my first writing conference, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, I turned thirty years old. On my birthday, I went into the cafeteria of the school to have lunch with my mentor, writer Ellen Hunnicutt, who was the person who encouraged me to go to the conference, and to fight back against my husband’s protests by applying for a full scholarship, which I received. As I got to the table, she looked up at me and smiled. “You know, you’re heading into a very handsome middle age,” she said.

I wasn’t nuts about the middle age, but the “handsome”  struck me. And my reaction was the same. I grinned from ear to ear and said, “Thank you!”

Was I a feminist?

It’s been a lot of years since then. I no longer wear make-up, and haven’t since the middle 90s. I still go to the gym several times a week, walking the treadmill and lifting weights, but I am no longer a size 4. And for the most part, I’m happier.

But that word, beautiful, isn’t used so much anymore.

Last week, I was coming home in my Chrysler 200 convertible. The top was down. The music was up. I wore my sunglasses and I felt relaxed and comfortable. As I waited at a light by a bar, I saw three relatively young men standing just outside the door. One of them turned and looked at me…or my car, I figured. But as I drove around the corner, he stepped away from his group and walked so he could see me. And then he called out, “Hello, beautiful!”

And without even thinking, I grinned from ear to ear and called out, “Thank you!”

A minute later, I pulled into my garage, turned off the car and the music, put away my sunglasses, and sat there for a moment.

And then I giggled like a 16-year old. As if I’d just been complimented by a really cute, blond-haired, green-eyed boy, or a man who’d nodded his appreciation outside the library door.

Which was immediately followed with the thought, just like Audrey in my book, could I still be considered a feminist if I turned into a blushing, giggling, and grateful woman, even at 63, when someone called me beautiful?

I was ready to come down hard on myself. But then I didn’t. Because…

I didn’t need to be called beautiful for validation. I know that I’m smart. I know that I’m creative, that I have talent, and that I have abilities. I’ve had 14 books published, and a 15th is on the way. I had an idea, plucked it out of the air, and turned it into an international business, soon to be 19 years old, all without losing my humanitarianism and compassion and desire to help people.

Nobody ever believed I could do these things. But I believed. And then I did it.

I also believe that I can stand next to any man and be an equal, even if there are things he can do that I can’t, because there are things I can do that he can’t. I believe that women should have control over their own bodies. I believe that a woman is a woman first, before she is a wife, a mother, or any other role.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being tickled about being called beautiful, even when I’m 63.

With no make-up.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

2nd grade picture. After 3 eye surgeries.
Engagement announcement photo, taken during my sophomore year in college.
Working as a weight loss instructor.
First author photo.
Now.

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