The many labels of me

NOTE: “Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother” is about a remembered conversation with Hartley Waltman, who has read and approved its publication. Hartley has also kindly provided the illustrations that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful. “You’ve said that twice in the last 15 minutes,” my friend Hartley noted, watching me wolf down a spicy fish taco at Bill’s Burger Bar just off Rockefeller Plaza. “Said what twice?” I asked. “That you have two lives. You said, ‘In my New York life,’ as though your New York life is some life other than the one you have with your husband wherever his works takes him,” he explained, like a therapist might to a patient in denial about something baldly obvious. A hint of a grin pulled up the corners of his mouth. He watched me with the resolute bearing of someone convinced I couldn’t possibly come back with a logical response, waiting, I imagined, for me to wipe Sriracha Mayo from my lips and acknowledge that he was right. “But I do have two lives. My husband has one, I have two. He has his work, his children and me, sort of like a TV show in which I’m a special guest. When I’m in New York, if you’re lucky, you might catch me on my own show, in which my friends accuse me of appearing so infrequently they’re surprised it hasn’t been cancelled. I live and work here and carry my costumes and props back and forth between my reality and his reality, where it’s sort of like hanging out in a green room waiting to film my cameo,” I said confidently, but more than a little miffed that the unconvinced look on his face meant I would have to further explain my meaning. Fortifying myself, I dove into another fish taco. Taking advantage of my silence Hartley insisted, “But you don’t. It’s… Continue reading The many labels of me

Woman, writer, designer…wife

Friend?  Family?  Should we start a new Circle?” I asked. I put you in family, G.  You’re an Altman,” she answered. I laughed when I read my stepdaughter’s sweet and swift response to how I should list her among my Circles on Google+.  I thought a moment about her instantaneous claim that I was an Altman (my husband’s name) before typing the words, “Actually, for what it’s worth…I kind of sort of think of you as a Minoli!” An innocent enough exchange on the surface, its subtext was rich and packed with meaning – that even if a woman doesn’t change her name when she gets married (yes, I am one of those women) she is still somehow automatically considered a new member of her husband’s clan, rather than remaining a member of her birth clan who has simply chosen to enrich her life with the experience of marriage. The difference in sentiment between her answer and my response gnawed at me.  “I put you in family, G.  You’re an Altman,” is such a confident and declarative statement, decidedly no nonsense and optimistic, as if there is absolutely no question that I am one of my husband’s clan. My response, on the other had, was decorated in the helter-skelterish “I kind of sort of think of you as a Minoli!” Even I was aware that the exclamation point I tacked on at the end like a caboose was a last ditch effort to put my surname forth as of equal worth to that of my husband.

There’s something about T-straps…

…that I’ve always had a strong visceral reaction to, but I never gave it much thought…until this past Friday afternoon. The way the standing leg of the “T” stretches up the middle of the forefoot to meet the cross bar, which circles around the ankle and cinches at the side in a buckle, only to tie the foot up so that it can’t easily get away, makes me feel constricted, confined, controlled.  The hair lifts off the surface of my arms, my breathing becomes shallow, my shoulders rise up toward my ears, my toes assert themselves and spread out along the insides of my shoes, as though trying to push their way right through the seams to free themselves of the leather that binds them. When I was a child, the thought of not being able to kick a shoe off in an instant and wade through the waters of the Rio Grande River if I wanted to, the thought of not being able to slip out of a pair of shoes on a whim, climb over the fence of the horse corral and slide, barefoot, onto the back of my horse, Patches…the thought of not being able to run free made me crazy nervous.  Nutty, perhaps.  But I’m more than a bit of a claustrophobe and it extends to footwear. I don’t remember a time when T-straps haven’t been more or less in fashion, often in black patent leather, a high-gloss enameled treatment of animal skin to which I was strangely attracted when I was 15.  When I was invited to the prom by a friend of my older brother’s I used my savings to buy an above-the-knee cream-colored long-sleeved lace dress with a matching slip to modestly cover my almost non-existent breasts.  A search of virtually every shoe… Continue reading There’s something about T-straps…

On Single Parenting…and the Promise of Sopapillas at El Pinto

When I was a kid I would scour the landscape for mothers with children and watch them as though through a microscope.  Mothers with packs of children followed us everywhere – to our dentist’s and doctor’s offices, to the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat and the bank. They drove up behind us at the window at McIlhaney’s Dairy to exchange their glass milk bottles just like we did, the back seats of their Pontiacs and Chevys and Plymouths stuffed with bored and grim-faced kids who had been dragged along on these usually Saturday morning excursions just like my brother and sister and I had been.  They would pull up next to us at an intersection, check us out, then speed off down the road leaving our car covered in silky New Mexico desert dust. After Unitarian Sunday School my mother would sometimes take us to the doughnut shop, where there were always other mothers with children in tow – pressing their noses against the glass cases, pleading, “I wanna a chocolate-glazed one,” or “I’ll have a vanilla cream-filled one, please,” or, “No, wait!  I can’t decide.  Okay, okay, can I have that big powdered sugar one in the front?” or, “Sorry, but I changed my mind…I want a chocolate on chocolate one…‘cause they’re fatter, okay, Mom?” and, “Can we have a box of doughnut holes please please please please please?  For later on, please?” And the sly looks on the faces of those other mothers’ children were the same as on ours – the smugness of knowing that our willingness to go along for the ride on chore days could only be pacified with a doughnut, a cookie, a popsicle, an ice cream cone…or the ultimate promise of sopapillas at El Pinto later…and woe be unto the mother who resisted this particular form… Continue reading On Single Parenting…and the Promise of Sopapillas at El Pinto