If 50 is the New 40, Is 25 the New 15?

Here’s my first blog appearing in the Huffington Post/Post50 Section.  Somebody had to say it!

Anyone who’d like to read it directly online, click here.

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Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni Blogger, fiction writer, PR professional and over-sharer on www.copywritelife.com, @suzmattaboni

Posted: 11/30/2015 8:00 am EST Updated: 11/30/2015 8:00 am EST

Years ago, I dreamed of a woman who stood at the end of a road. Low-dropping sun backlit her hair. She waved. She had pretty much knocked out all the hard stuff. When she smiled, a knot in the pit of my stomach dissolved.

She was me, after completing 20 years of life tasks.

At 51, I’ve finally caught up with that woman. Both my children have charged out the door to college, my husband and I still like each other, and my public relations consulting career is at a pinnacle.

Sure, I miss having accurate vision, a near-photographic memory and an unfairly rapid metabolism. I miss not having to dye-out my graylights every month. But more or less, I wonder what everyone has been crying about.

Being over 50 is a blast.

I’m just going to say it: Menopause is a blast.

I dare anyone to look back on their life and not have something — or if you’re myself, 10 somethings — you wish you could have done in an alternate life. Even we Wonder Women of the ’80s and ’90s, who coined the phrase “Have It All,” likely had to prioritize our outrageous ambitions to focus on the things that demanded our greater attention. Now we can do those other things.

And here’s the kicker, ladies: Not only do we get to pursue these secondary goals without our beloved offspring drooling on our shoulders, we can do so without tampons. Or cramps. We can do these things without ridiculous food cravings and handfuls of aspirin and heating pads and birth control pills. Best of all (cue impressive kettle drum-roll, building to a cymbal crash):

We can do them without PMS.

When I turned 21, my body evolved, like a mutant X-person. I thanked my Maker for finally bestowing me with boobs. But I noticed a strange, cyclical phenomenon akin to someone whispering a mantra in my ear all day: Everything is wrong, all the time! Everything!

I’d been lucky enough to live 20 years as a stable and consistent person, I thought, but that was over. And so it proceeded each month for 30 years. Those hormones were in force for decades, for the privilege of popping out two children.

When I turned 50 and the spigot began to toggle off, so to speak, I was sad. I had no further genetic material to offer the world, unless I chose to be cloned.

Then the happiness set in. And stayed.

It hit me: I AM FREE from hormonal bondage.

So here I am: not the skinny, laser-focused nymph I was, by far. But thanks to years of aerobics and substantial servings of vegetables, I’m strong. Thanks to decades of professional diligence, I have more money in my pocket than I imagined for myself. And I am no longer subject to bloating, mood swings, pharmaceutical side effects, or drug store products that I’m embarrassed to hand the cashier.

It’s like being a man.

I’ve thought about launching a platform on the topic. I’d call it Continuation Nation©. If I have to publicly admit I am in this age bracket, I might as well celebrate it and establish a brand.

Except I feel guilty about one thing: We tail-end baby boomers (including men) have better nutrition and moisturizers and work-out regimens, better cancer therapies and prevention programs and replacement joints than any generation before us. We’ve developed technologies that allow us to work from our cushy dens. Meanwhile, the Social Security system is wheezing to a halt, and the tradition of pensions is becoming a dim memory.

So we keep working.

And we wonder why our sons and daughters can’t find employment. We are a big reason why. We are the waning end of the largest population spike in modern history, and we refuse to step down, either in the marketplace or in the greater cultural consciousness. We early-50-somethings consider ourselves far too essential to pass the torch. And financially, we’re not even sure we can afford to, long-term.

Keep in mind: If 50 is the new 40, then 25 becomes the new 15.

This could be why our post-college kids continue to inhabit their childhood bedrooms.

Although I’m confronting middle age with verve, I worry if I’m doing so at the expense of the very peer group we post-primers birthed and raised.

All I can hope is that there will be room for all of us in the professional and culturrear viewal landscape going forward. And that by maintaining vital pursuits, I can transfer my expertise and connections to my children, to help further their own objectives. This is something the secretarial, mid-century generation before us did not have the opportunity to provide, no matter how giving they were otherwise.

There is yin and yang to everything. Even being fabulous at 50.

 

 

I’m Going Like This

I’m Going Like This

My husband does this thing. I tend to rush around my bedroom, jumping into clothes and multitasking, trying to accomplish some task and get clothed simultaneously. Sometimes I do this while conducting a business conversation via phone. As he sees me frenzying around, talking technology PR in a blouse and no pants, he invariably points and says, “You going like that?”

I drop what I’m doing and say, “Yes. I’m going like this.”

He and I will often conduct full conversations about our household as we change to go out somewhere, clothes flying. As I pull off a pair of jeans to transition to a different outfit, John stops mid-sentence and says, “You don’t have to get that excited.”

I do a happy dance about whatever ridiculously banal item we’re discussing.

After multiple years of this, I have gotten the hang of it. When his business line bounces to his cell phone too early in the morning and he hops out of bed to answer it, I mouth to him, “You goin’ like that?”

He silent-laughs at me.

Someday, he says, when we die, they should bury us together. Naked. And our headstones will read:

“THEY WENT LIKE THIS.”

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Winner:  First Place, Non-Fiction category in the Pennwriter’s Conference Flash Fiction “In Other Words” competition, 2016

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Sing It That Way, Suzanne

Sing It That Way, Suzanne

Thoughts on Creativity and the Broken Brain

 

I recently watched “Love and Mercy,” the biopic on Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys, and last week took a look at “The Imitation Game” with Benedict Cumberbatch.

I am reminded how torturous it is to watch people who are inherently genius, yet are so deeply troubled that they have to suffer for it their whole lives. I am also reminded of a conclusion that I’ve held for years:

Maybe this is an intrinsic part of being brilliant.

Maybe you have to have a few things missing from your brain in order to have quite enough flexibility day dreamfor all that cool stuff to happen as it does. Maybe authentic creativity requires a brain that does not function like a normal person’s. Creativity is in fact a side-effect of impairment.

Not to categorize myself as Miss Brilliant, but I’ve always had an affinity for the tortured artist type. I’ve felt my brain on occasion go to off-beat places because it had to, because of aberrant dyslexic flashes where I can’t put two and two together. The signals in my brain don’t make the jump from one synapse to another like a regular Joe’s. It skips over the traditional thought process and crafts a new way to interpret stimuli.

I’ve sometimes remarked that all my creative impulses may be one big, undiagnosed dyslexia symptom.

Scary thing is, my brain is so good at compensating that there have been times I have surreptitiously seen and heard and things that weren’t there. (Or sometimes didn’t see something that was there.) Usually I hear something musical, or narrative, where a story or a melody start running in my head.

There are scenes in Love and Mercy where Brian Wilson lies down and hears things… people talking, melodies and harmonies singing, sounds in the background. I’ve had instances of that. I’ve lain back, or dropped half-asleep, and heard songs playing or people speaking dialog that I’d never heard before. I hit a state where things start writing themselves, and I sit back and listen. It’s a weird and beautiful experience. It is magic. But sometimes it is spontaneous enough that it takes you by surprise and makes you wonder about your reality.

My husband insists I fabricate these kinds of things to position myself as special. It’s not true. I’ve walked through my life seeing certain things backwards or further away or closer than they are. Or sometimes I don’t see an object in front of me at all—it blanks-out and fades into the background. Yet my brain bridges the gap.

No one has ever really asked me, but this is my life:

Have you ever had that moment when you pick up a glass, and you think it’s full but you’re mistaken?

You lift it, and the glass goes flying and you spill water because your muscles were bracing for a different level of heaviness. You were fooled. Your brain misperceived it.color leaves

That’s my existence. I walk past a door jamb or a coffee table, and my brain tells me it is twelve inches from my body when it is actually only three inches away. I smack my shin on the table or bang my shoulder against the molding. I have dealt with unjustifiable bumps, bruises and scrapes my whole life. I am a grown woman who walks into things.

One day when my brother and I were in a band together, we were practicing in his room. He played the bass line to The Police’s “Roxanne.” I said, No, Jim, wait—you’re missing a couple of cool notes here, that’s not how it goes. Where are those two other notes?

“What two other notes?”

I mouthed the bass line. “You know, DAT DAT – dat dat… DAT DAT – dat dat… Loved you since I knew ya’…”

He said, No, what are you talking about? That’s not how it goes.

I said, oh please, I’ve listened to this song a thousand times.

I sang it again, and he argued. Finally he sat me down with my ear next to an enormous speaker and played the record. He turned up the bass on the equalizer. He said, “I want you to take a deep breath and listen.”

Wait, I said, where did those other bass notes go? I swear they’ve been there all this time.

He said, “YOU WROTE THEM.”splat guitar

“What?”

You wrote them, Sue. You hear them in your head because you wrote them into the song.”

And then there was the day I sang in my high school talent show. A fellow theater student played piano behind me … and then he just stopped. I kept singing, because that’s what they teach you to do when something screws up on stage. You keep going. The piano kicked back in.

After the number I went to the accompanist and said, What happened?

He said, “What do you mean?”

“You stopped playing. In the middle of the song.”

He gave me the face. The expression people deliver when I inadvertently admit I’m not experiencing quite the same world as they are.

“I never stopped playing,” he said.

I asked another friend in the show, What did you hear? Did he stop playing?

There was the look again. The tilted head and squinty eyes. “Of course he didn’t stop playing,” she said. “He was fine.”

I thought to myself, Jesus, it’s me. My brain stops perceiving things sometimes. Yet I always push on.

Flash-forward to the few weeks I tried to learn piano. A friend in a band gifted me his cast-off Moog keyboard. I commandeered some rocker guy with long, carbon-black curls to give me keyboard lessons at Focus II Guitars in Babylon, NY. He made me practice scales, and sent me home with a few measures to learn.

Next lesson, I swung open my workbook and banged out the piece. It was a lovely bit of music.

Rocker guy scratched his head. “That was nice,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“What was it?” he said.

???!!

I pointed to the sheet music. “It was this.”

He tried not to do the face, because he otherwise kind of liked me. “No,” he said. “It was pretty and all. But that wasn’t the music I gave you.”

He stood behind the keyboard and played the measures as they were written.

A whole different piece. I had developed my own version.

I never did learn to play keyboard.

There was also a rehearsal for “Godspell,” the first show I ever did outside a school production. I was eighteen. The cast sat around a table so Eddie the director, who also played Jesus, could teach us the harmonies to “Prepare Ye.”

“Do you know how they go?” he asked.

Oh, yeah.” I had in fact had been listening to the original Broadway soundtrack on vinyl since fourth grade.

He said, “Okay, Kerry, please sing the melody and Suzanne, you sing the harmony.” I sang it the way I’d been doing since I was 10 years-old.

“Cool,” Eddie said to me. “Where is that from?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who taught you that part? Is that from the movie soundtrack?”

I shrugged my shoulders. No one taught it to me. “I just thought it was pretty. Isn’t that what’s on the album?”

“No,” he said. “This is what’s on the album.” He and Kerry sang the harmony that was written for the show. Which completely diverged from what I’d been singing half my life.

He said, “Now you sing your part with us,” and I chimed in. It was gorgeous. Suddenly, we had three different parts going, one of which had never appeared in any other production.

Eddie said, “Sing it that way in the show, Suzanne.”

Way to make dysfunction work.

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In Mysterious Ways…

My Entry in Mysterious Ways Today:

The editor of Mysterious Ways read my online comment in response to the Green Angel newsletter sent by Guideposts (see previous post, “A Message From Jason”). It described the incidence of my opening the newsletter to find it was about my family members. She wrote more about it, which is on the Mysterious Ways Facebook Site TODAY.  (Look quick; I’m not sure how long it will be there, front and center…)

I’ll keep watch for this to appear in the print/online version as well and will literally keep everyone posted. I’ve got plenty else to say about what happened regarding this little phenomenon.

If nothing else, an editor I’ve been following for years personally called me to discuss my work.

(BTW, a big THANK YOU to Jason!)

Click to read online.

(Scroll to 10/17 entry)

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Read the “Message of Comfort Newsletter” as per above

While we’re at it, this self-same editor, Diana Aydin, had posted one of the most exceptional stories I’ve ever read on Guideposts, so it was an honor to get to speak with her and somehow be included in this community.

Here’s that story:

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A Message from Jason, 9/11

A MESSAGE FROM JASON, ALL RIGHT

I am a huge fan of Guideposts. Yet I’m not a huge fan of eNewsletters.  You’d never know this, because I receive an electronic heap of them per day. SmartBriefs, trade newsletters, Chicken Soup newsletters since I am a former contributor, spam eNewsletters … up the wazoo.  So many go unopened that a majority now end up in my spam file. I’ve been too distracted to go into them and unsubscribe.

A Guideposts eNewsletter appeared in my spam file yesterday.

Eh, I thought. Maybe I’ll read one today.

I clicked on “This is not spam.” The newsletter moved to my inbox.

THE STORY WAS ABOUT MY COUSIN.

My cousin Jason DeFazio worked on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, he was 29 years-old.  He had gotten married three months before. Much of mjason micheley mother’s family was at his wedding, laughing and celebrating with him. On September 11th, his wedding pictures hadn’t even come back from the photographer yet.

The last his mother (my mom’s first cousin Roseann) heard from him, he was in a stairwell.

That was all.

His family held a service for him in October.  Around the room, his wedding photos were displayed in frames on bakers racks. “This is all I have of him now,” Roseann said to me as she walked me through the sets of portraits. She had nothing to bury. She didn’t receive a physical scrap of him back. This is difficult for an Italian family. We want visceral closure, backed with physicality. We want something and somewhere to visit, to pay our respects.

I held Roseann’s hand. I wanted to repay her. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with her family in Staten Island, but almost 15 years before, my aunt had died of Lupus. Still a teenager, and one who identified fiercely with my Aunt Joanne, I was devastated enough to develop allergy symptoms that mimicked her disease, which continued for months to come.  Roseann came out to Long Island for the funeral and held my hand. She told me stories about when she, Joanne and my mother were girls. She stood in my grandmother’s basement and took my mother’s hand and tap danced on the concrete floor like they did when they were kids in dance class, and made my mother laugh. It made me feel like my beautiful aunt would not be forgotten, did not go into the ether. Note, that “Chicken Soup for the Soul” contribution I mentioned was about my aunt.

Right now, I don’t feel like being eloquent. I feel like figuring out what this is supposed to mean. I Google Jason’s name and see a plethora of photographs of him that make me cry, even though he was not a cousin that I spent time with. It still makes me want to repay Roseann more. Like the world owes her more.

The crux of the newsletter was that Roseann was receiving messages from Jason. I can’t help but wonder what message I was meant to discern when I randomly rescued an item from a spam file that turned out to be a posting about my own relative. Except that maybe I should write about him.

This is the story Guideposts sent around:

A Message of Comfort from a Loved One Lost on 9/11Marquee_GreenAngel

 

 

 

Amy and Nina and the Statue of Liberty

liberty stairsAmy and Nina and the Statue of Liberty

I saw a meme with two young girls walking, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. “Who was your best friend when you were 10 years old? Tag them if you’re friends on Facebook.”

*          *          *          *

I was the type of kid who only needed one good friend. One person I trusted, who liked me better than anyone else.

Amy and I knew each other since we were seven. It’s been kind of unbelievable.

Amy, however, always preferred to have a lot of different friends, even while being devoted to our kinship. I was loyal as hell, but in the cold light of day, I was likely downright clingy and isolated and over-emotional compared to an easy-going, bawdy kid like her, who attracted leagues of buddies and pre-pubescent boyfriends at a time. She’d often try to share them with me. Through it all, I knew she would always liketen me best.

Amy’s other friends always noticed—and often resented—the bond between us. Not all those other friends took kindly to our attachment. Or to me. Instead of branching out with additional friendships of my own, I took it personally. I was intense.

In fifth grade, Amy became buddies with another girl in our class named Nina. Amy “shared” Nina with me, bringing the three of us into one fold, which worked out nicely for a while. In time, Nina got tired of being the third girl in the triumvirate. She wasn’t always so friendly anymore. She’d invite Amy to do cool things like ice-skating on the pond by her house, which my mother didn’t allow me to do, edging me into sporadic third-wheel status.

Throughout fifth grade at our Long Island elementary school, we students had been building classroom “points” for tasks and good deeds and high grades and such. Our teacher Miss Harrigan conducted a year-end class auction where we could purchase garage-sale items based on the points we accumulated.

There was a grand prize offering:  A trip to New York City with Miss Harrigan to the Statue of Liberty. Only five kids could win that, whomever bid the highest amount, secret-Chinese-auction-style.

I didn’t need the trinkets Miss Harrigan assembled. I bought a magenta glass brooch shaped like an apple, then dumped my remaining wad of points into the New York City prize envelope. Amy said she’d do the same.

Me, Amy, Nina and two “popular” girls in the class won the trip. I wonder if Miss Harrigan hand-picked a set of power girls and claimed we were the highest bidders. I resolved to go, even if Nina was no longer crazy about me, even if I was a loner and not Miss Popularity like the rest of the bubbly crew.1003NewYorkCity092 Statue of Liberty View through Crowne towards Manhattan

We climbed hundreds of steps to the crown. Amy, Nina and the girls were cordial enough, yet I waited for the shoe to drop where Nina might decide to cool it and not speak to me. I still felt that veil of threat between us, even knowing that some of it was a threat I represented to her, the girl who reciprocally forced her to apportion Amy’s attention. Meanwhile, my relationship with the best friend I had in the world sat squarely in the hands of a third party.

I’m not sure what happened to the teacher, but we ended up five eleven year-olds alone at the top of the Statue of Liberty. We gazed through the panels of the crown across a gray New York Harbor, the skyline miniaturized as to fit into a snow globe. I stared at the Gulliver-sized book Miss Liberty tucked under her arm (“JULY IV”). Satisfied, Amy and our two other classmates shot back down book july IVthe steel spiral staircase, echoing chatter. I moved to tag along—always the follower, never the leader.

Nina grabbed my arm and squeezed.

“DON’T LEAVE ME.”

I thought she was kidding.

Our friends’ footsteps were already too far below to hear. “Come on, let’s go,” I said. “The other girls are way ahead ….”

Nina had a death grip on my forearm against the stair rail. Her body vibrated like a scrap of paper caught against the back of a fan. Fifth graders in New York would rather burst into flames than cry in front of each other. Yet Nina stared at me, wide-eyed and blinking back tears, her feet rooted in place.

“YOU HAVE TO HELP ME DOWN,” she said. “Please, Suzanne. Please-please-please. I can’t do it.”

Amy was nowhere to be found.

I couldn’t leave Nina there.

I hugged onto her shoulders and said, okay, let’s go slow. We literally took one step at a time, resting on each step before she could face the next one. She wouldn’t let go of me. Every pace, she insisted she couldn’t finish. Every step, I said, it’s okay, try just one more.

Three hundred and fifty-four steps.

It took us nearly an hour. She asked me not to tell the other girls.

*          *          *          *

This morning on Facebook, I saw the meme again. It warmed my heart to see two friends from middle school tag each other across the miles, defying decades.

Then Nina tagged Amy—and me.

 

 

 

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Note I changed the names here. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty Shades of Subjugation, You Mean

 

Fifty Shades of Subjugation

I’ll admit it:  I’m more than pleased that the Fifty Shades of Grey movie was not a blockbuster, and neither was its recent DVD release.

Let’s forego the fact that, according to more accounts than mine, it was a sadly crafted piece of fiction. Beyond that, it perpetrates something worse on women. It is another stone around our necks, making us believe our own perfectly normal and even thrillingly exciting exploits are not up to snuff.

The concept here is that a woman is reluctantly, and only under the conditions of an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), drawn into a sadomasochistic relationship straight from virginhood by an uncommonly wealthy, good-looking CEO. I get the fantasy aspect. Here’s what I don’t love, however:

Is this an expression of romantic and sexual freedom, or is it instead an admission that, even in our most daring fantasies, we must imagine it only when forced into it by a man (literally via contract in this instance), therefore relinquishing responsibility for the entire exercise? 

 

As the marketplace readied itself for the DVD release, I noticed various magazine articles on trends in bondage, as if it were the new, cool thing. Can’t we so much as have sex with each other now without adhering to the latest trending directives in order for the experience to be valid?

I’ll reveal something here: I recall one semi-boyfriend (in his early twenties at the time) who, despite being one of the most personable guys I had ever met, refused to engage in sex with a woman unless she inflicted pain on him. This was not some steamy fetish. His mother was bedridden for years with a debilitating disease. His older teenage siblings expelled their anger by verbally abusing her. She died by the time he was 14. He points to this as cause for his need to be physically abused by women during sex, as some distorted form of retribution.

He refused to involve me in this, saying he felt intimidated (his word, not mine) by the fact that I shadeswas expecting a “normal” relationship—no matter how emotionally sympathetic I tried to appear.

Does everyone with a sadomasochistic flair develop it in response to mental trauma? Maybe not. I’m not a psychologist or a sex therapist. I’m just a girl. But Fifty Shades glamorizes what seemed to be a tortured aspect in the life of an otherwise very gracious and funny and even affectionate human being. This leads me to think maybe it’s not so glamorous. Maybe it doesn’t come from a good place. So plucking it out of someone’s imagination and into the context of the real world is another case of warping expectations well past the recognizable limits of what we can achieve in reality.

Like Photoshopping our sexual desires, it is another brush stroke toward tainting our every encounter, making our lives and bodies and practices and surroundings seem particularly banal and unworthy in comparison.

Live it up, people. You don’t need the cat o’ nine tails. Unless it’s really what you want.