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

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

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.

Pt. Reyes, California: The power of the natural landscape

Arriving, I remember everything exactly as it was – the sights, sounds and smells of a place I have often visited in my memory these past 37 years.  White Calla Lilies tucked among the wild grasses alongside Stinson Beach in winter, hawks kiting into the wind, wings outstretched, suspended above the surf.  Fog, guardian of seaside mysteries, shroud for molting Eucalyptus, billowing a warning to stay off the winding mountain road, yet beckoning one onward.  Sunglasses lightly misting over with sea spray, ears cooled by the coastal wind, dry lips salted and licked.  Sea foam and kelp bulbs, children giggling and dogs digging, and cold wet sand rising up through painted red toes. On leaving, my need to remember certain sensations and vistas verges on desperate.  The last bit of sun faded by haze as it slips beneath the horizon.  The last bit of warmth on my skin before goose bumps rise.  The last turnout at which to contemplate staying forever.  The last lone cyclist hugging the cliff’s edge, as reluctant as I to turn his back to the sea and head for home at the end of the day. I do not have the ability to say goodbye, I never have, to any person or any place, really, but particularly to landscapes in which I’ve lived.  Scattered traces of my soul linger like ghosts across the countryside, over the sagebrush strewn deserts of Northern New Mexico where I grew up, in the valleys and ridges of the Shenandoah Valley where my husband and I have a home, in Kentucky where I too have soared like a hawk, the wings of my small plane outstretched and kiting into the wind, in the Po River Valley of my father’s agrarian ancestors, and in New York City, where I have lived for… Continue reading Pt. Reyes, California: The power of the natural landscape

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…

Overdue reflections on days gone by…

People from my early professional life seem to be popping up everywhere.  I’ll receive an out of the blue email from one person, while the smiling face of another emerges from a sea of faintly recognizable features somewhere on social media. Funny how these old friends seem to know that all these years later I still have a land line, their instantly recognizable voices sometimes leaving long and detailed hellos from various places around the world. Yet the sudden reappearance of someone I used to know well, after so many decades of silence, always jars me, for I have to remind myself that in truth we no longer know one another all that well, the years in between having claimed the real lives we all hoped we would eventually have and leaving us merely with memories of what we used to be like and perhaps a few fantasies about what we are like now. When I moved to New York little more than three years out of college, I had no idea that life wasn’t about getting a job, making money and climbing the ladder of success, something I couldn’t possibly have suspected at the time because I’d moved there specifically to work with CBS Records as the (very young) National Director of Customer Merchandising.  As an apprentice to the nascent women’s movement, surely there wasn’t a more fortuitous title for a young woman who had won every regional and national award for merchandising, prompting her company to summarily airlift her out of her sea foam-kissed life in San Francisco and plop her onto the concrete-encrusted island of Manhattan to begin a clamber to the top that would have been the dream of any college graduate. New York City!  Carnegie Hall!  Wall Street!  Lincoln Center!  MoMA!  Broadway!  The Public Theatre!… Continue reading Overdue reflections on days gone by…