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

The Mythical Presence of Eros & Psyche: A Dialogue about the Bedroom, the Boardroom…and a Piece of Bread… (by Giselle Minoli and Meg Tufano)

I don’t watch much television, but these past few months I have looked forward to late Sunday nights with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, an update of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired in 1980 to mesmerized viewing. Standing on the barren landscape of what was once Uruk in ancient Sumer, now known as Iraq, in The Immortals (Episode 11 of the modernized series), Tyson tells us about Enheduanna, an Akkadian Princess (2285-2250 BCE) about whom I had never heard until The Immortals aired on May 18, 2014. Enheduanna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, who appointed her High Priestess of the Moon, a role of political importance often held by daughters of royalty. But Princess and Priestess Enheduanna was also a respected poet, who made a decision about herself and the words she penned that had an everlasting impact on literature – Enheduanna became the first person we know of to sign her name to what she wrote and, in so doing, she became an author. Tyson relayed that Enheduanna is “…the first person about whom we can say we know who she was, and what she dreamed. She dreamed of stepping through the Gate of Wonder. Here’s a thought Enheduanna sent across more than 4,000 years to you. It’s from her work, entitled Lady of the Largest Heart:” Inanna, the Planet Venus, Goddess of Love, will have a great destiny throughout the entire Universe. – Enheduanna Tyson followed the story about Enheduanna with that of another ancient Sumerian, whose name was Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, the very first real life epic hero, whose travels and superhuman feats were chronicled in The Epic of Gilgamesh, an early Mesopotamian work of poetic literature that, in contrast to the writings of Enheduanna, was the work of numerous… Continue reading The Mythical Presence of Eros & Psyche: A Dialogue about the Bedroom, the Boardroom…and a Piece of Bread… (by Giselle Minoli and Meg Tufano)

A Woman’s Worth

A Woman’s Worth was published online in the August 2013 issue of SynaptIQ+: The Journal for Social Era Knowledge. Workin’ Woman Blues Lyrics by Valerie June I ain’t fit to be no mother I ain’t fit to be no wife yet I been workin’ like a man, y’all I been workin’ all my life yeah There ain’t no dinner on the table Ain’t no food in the ‘fridgerator I’ll go to work and I’ll be back later I go to work said I’d be back later Lord you know I’m a good looking woman Lord you know I’m a good looking girl If you want to give me something Anything in this great big world yeah Lord you know that I am ready for my sugar my sugar daddy. …chants Valerie June in Workin’ Woman Blues, from Pushin’ Against a Stone, a collection of songs and ballads I can only describe as Blues Gospel Folk Soul Incantation Poetry. Music is visceral, entering the spirit as do the sounds, sights and scents of a long walk on the beach—sea foam meeting ocean spray, kelp bulb greeting beach grass, driftwood adorning sand dune, bare toes testing tide pull, salt wind softening gull caw, seal bark parting morning fog—the whole intoxicating whiff of it infused into my body and soul come stroll’s end. When the voice and lyrics of a song kiss my imagination in that way that raises goosebumps, I stop, and listen.. …to June’s Tennessee-stropped voice calling out the most primary of female choices—to work, or to be a wife and mother—evoking in me the night howl of a She-Wolf, until the crepuscule cedes to morning light and washes the air of its haunting sound, and the creature, hiding from the sun on the fringes of civilization, waits for another’s day’s dusk… Continue reading A Woman’s Worth

A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution

I wrote A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution in stupefied disbelief that Sheryl Sandberg, the successful and highly educated woman at the COO helm of the legendary FaceBook, would write Lean In, a modern feminist call-to-arms, in which she essentially claims that women, individually and collectively, are not occupying their rightful place at the top of the business world next to men because they do not know how to use their negotiating skills to their professional advantage. This assertion flies in the face of what I have personally witnessed in business over the course of the last 35 years of my life, during which time I have seen scores of brilliant, visionary and highly assertive women be turned down repeatedly for seats at the top for reasons that have nothing to do with their lack of skill or their unwillingness to be assertive, and everything to do with the massive support structure that men provide one another…a support structure that is unavailable to women because there simply are not enough of them in top management to provide a supportive structure for other women coming up the ladder. When I was growing up I watched with a mixture of envy, awe and anger the tightly knit and organized infrastructure that encouraged my older brother’s life. Much of the considerable mentoring and tutelage about survival skills that he received came from the numerous sports he enjoyed – baseball, football, rugby, basketball and scuba diving. Boys learn, at a very early age, to work together, to compete with one another, to fight with one another, and to help one another even if they don’t like one another, and, when all is said and done, to end their days joking in the locker room or having a beer at the corner bar… Continue reading A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution

Climbing the Steps: Conversations with My Stepson About Life, Love and Loss

My conscious awareness of the meaning of the word “stepparent” didn’t begin until I married a man with three adult children.  For someone is not a stepparent unless they are legally married to a person who has offspring from a prior relationship.  I really should have known this, or at least given it some serious thought, because my mother was the stepmother to my father’s daughter from his previous marriage, a girl who therefore legally also became my half-sister because we had the same father. But that was all a very long time ago, when I was quite young and didn’t put any thought into the meaning of words and the preconceived notions about certain relationships that are burdened by the attachment of  ‘step’ in front of ‘daughter,’ ‘son,’ ‘mother’ ‘father,’ or ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ for that matter.  And it does matter.  Quite a lot, in fact. If you are a member of a stepfamily, most likely no one ever sat you down at the onset and explained the emotional and psychological complexity of the relationships you were about to encounter.  Most likely no one ever told you that there would be considerable competition for attention, which is normal and to be expected.  Mostly likely no one ever told you that you would often feel like you were on the outside of the biological family looking in, and that the members of the biological family would more than likely feel the same way about the newly formed blended family, as it is often called.  And most likely no one ever told you that it is no easier to be a stepparent than it is to be a parent, that it is no easier to be a stepdaughter than to be a daughter.  And that it is almost more difficult to… Continue reading Climbing the Steps: Conversations with My Stepson About Life, Love and Loss

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.

My year of goodbyes…

My fault entirely for making the task so difficult.  How foolish to have created so many enticing views from which I was forced to disengage.  How indulgent to have installed a window over my husband’s Jacuzzi, in which he bathed and read in the early morning hours while I slept, and from which it was possible to see all the way to the south gap in the Massanutten Ridge. How absurd to have six windows rounding the north and east corners of our bedroom, all the better from which to watch a raccoon, for instance, make its way along the entire length of Farmer Marsden’s apple orchard before disappearing into the pasture on the other side of the vegetable garden. I had no one to blame but myself for making it so painful to say goodbye to the small house my husband and I had built in the Virginia countryside, and the vivid mental picture I’d painted of the long life I thought we would spend in that beautiful light-filled space. But I hardened myself to the siren song of the panorama and closed the blinds to the ridge, then to the apple orchard, then to the western view from my stepson’s room — blinds that were never fully open because he preferred the womblike comfort and warmth of darkness to the expansive beckoning energy of sunlight — before steeling myself against the allure of the writing room, which is arranged around a 12-foot long Hepplewhite Tiger Maple table that sits beneath four windows and two frosted glass and brass pulley lights. A master carpenter had managed to strike the perfect spatial union of proximity and distance; there was ample space for two writers to work side by side, or, possibly, to be pulled away from the often lonely task of… Continue reading My year of goodbyes…

Further Reflections on Mantises, Mothers & the Art of Mating…

“In species in which males care for young, testosterone is often high during mating periods but then declines to allow for caregiving of resulting offspring.” – Department of Anthropology, Cells to Society, Center on Social Disparities and Health, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, July 2011 I cannot help but contemplate the full meaning of a recent study indicating that men are biologically primed to lend a significant hand in caring for their young – and not abandon women to do it alone – when I notice that yet another female Praying Mantis has appeared in my red hibiscus, this one slightly younger than the more elegant creature that selected an Oleander in which to take refuge several weeks ago. Their continued presence in my life is a sign, surely, of something I am quite meant to contemplate. I sense many layers of meaning within the folds of their wings, which one rarely sees fully unfurled.  For they save the energy needed to produce such glorious displays for moments when they feel particularly threatened, rearing back on their hind legs, the forelegs ready to strike.  They like the heat and their days are precious.  They have much work to do.  They must find mates and secure places to shield their eggs from the winds of winter.  When the heated air of Labor Day weekend, perfect for the concentrated stillness of coupling, ceded its power to a string of wet and chilly days, I was saddened at the thought that I might not see another of their kind this end of summer season.  It had been many decades since I’d been blessed with the company of even one so close, and I’d not gotten enough of a fix to satisfy my senses before I knew the inevitable cool of Fall would… Continue reading Further Reflections on Mantises, Mothers & the Art of Mating…

Our Mothers, Sex…and Freedom

For reasons I have never quite understood, children tend to flinch, blanch and wince at any suggestion that their parents might have had sex for the pure pleasure of it, rather than solely for the purpose of having children.  It has never made sense to me that a child might prefer to think they were conceived by an emotionally disconnected physical act, rather than one drenched in pleasure and absorbed in carnal indulgence and abandon.  It seems to be almost universally against the nature of children to think of their parents as having had a sexual appetite, let alone a possibly ravenous one.  Taking pleasure is often perceived as selfish, and parents are supposed to be decidedly self-less. Indeed if children were to spend any time thinking about their parents having been so physically and emotionally enraptured and enwrapped, other questions might arise from which to further flinch, blanch and wince.  Such as how often their parents had sex.  And what kind of sex they had.  And where they had it.  And under what circumstances.  Which might actually lead to a conversation with their parents about, well, you know…sex.  Children don’t want to go there.  Nor, really, do their parents.  Parent/child conversations about sex usually revolve around the egg/sperm get together, and preventing pregnancy and being responsible and careful and cautious.  With all the worry involved, how can one openly and curiously venture into the dangerous territory of physical pleasure? All of which musings would naturally lead to these dreaded, inevitable, inexorable, and ultimate queries:  Within all of our parents’ wanton and woozy pleasure, did they actually mean to have us or was our conception merely a byproduct of sex rather than as the sole intended purpose of it?  Are we meant to be here, or were we merely accidents?… Continue reading Our Mothers, Sex…and Freedom

On Birthdays and Black Nail Polish

I never set out to write about being a stepparent, but then I never set out to be a stepmother. To be honest, I never set out to get married or to have children, so long before not intending to be a stepmother, I hadn’t intended to be a biological, adoptive or surrogate mother either.  No, I never set out to embrace the neatly ordered schedule traditionally required by a husband, children, assorted pets, multiple cars and a house-and-yard-with-white-picket-fence. Unlike little girls I well remember from my childhood, I never dressed up like a fairy princess, I never dreamed about marrying a handsome prince, never fantasized about an exotic wedding, or imagined what we might call our children, fervently writing down possible names on little slips of paper until hitting upon the ones that would perfectly reflect the magical essence of our carefully envisioned family.  But I was always ever so slightly jealous of girls who had these innocent fantasies, because it seemed so normal, so natural to want to grow up, get married and start a family. And it seemed decidedly, dismayingly, even distressingly abnormal not to want to.  At least that is what everyone told me, particularly other little girls.  And we all know how convincing little girls can be. I confess that even in my teenaged years I was never compelled to plaster my bedroom walls with the airbrushed images of fantasy princes – most popularly embodied at the time by John, Paul, George and Ringo – one of whom would surely, if only I could be at the right place at the right moment, put a ring on my finger one day.