You never wanted to be a “little blue-haired lady,” did you? Yet here we are. [Read more…]
At this age, many of us are evaluating our lives, wondering why we made so many bad choices.
In her brand-new memoir, my friend Kathy Pooler, nurse, cancer survivor, and all-around-good girl, comes to understand why she married two abusive and borderline-dangerous men. It’s a great narrative which reads like a novel. As I read, I felt like screaming “NO!” Of course, it’s easy to say that now, having earned better judgment after living through my own bad decisions.
In the following interview, edited for brevity, Kathy refers to “magical thinking,” a phrase popularized by the great Joan Didion. In general, this is when you cling to the hope that something will happen to magically change your spouse from, say, a philanderer to faithful, or an addict to drug-or-alcohol-free, if only we love them enough. If only we put up with enough. If only…
Why did you write Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse?
I started out writing a different story about a cancer diagnosis and watching a beloved son spiral downward into substance abuse but realized I could not write about that until I wrote about getting into and out of two abusive marriages…It is possible to climb out of the abyss of poor decisions and go on to live life on your own terms.
Was there any one person who was your inspiration for your main character?
Me. I was driven by the question: “How does a young woman from a loving Catholic family make so many wise choices about career, yet so many poor choices about love, that she and her two children end up escaping from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?” It was time to answer the question that had been asked of me my entire life by those who loved me.
In the book, you say “a loving family, a solid career and a strong faith cannot rescue her until she decides to rescue herself.” Why do you feel that way?
One of the lessons I learned when I wrote this book is that…I only needed to claim and honor my own inner strength. I was the only one who could do it for myself. It sounds so simple, but it took me years to realize this.
What’s the most important thing readers will learn from Ever Faithful to His Lead?
Three things come to mind:
- One does not have to sustain broken bones or bruises to be abused. Emotional abuse is harmful and the impact on the children of mothers who are in abusive relationships is far-reaching and damaging.
- Abuse impacts all socioeconomic groups. I was a masters-prepared nurse from a loving family and yet I got into two emotionally abusive marriages.
- Denial and magical thinking can keep one from recognizing abusive behavior and taking action.
Lynne here. Whew. I’m no stranger to domestic abuse – grew up with it and married into it, twice (but I must clarify that, as with Kathy, we are now in loving, gratifying marriages). But this memoir took me back. On a lighter note, I enjoyed the references to Growing Up Boomer, since Kathy and I are the same age. Ever Faithful is an enlightening book, one that younger women would benefit from reading – before they choose life partners.
Let’s switch gears and talk about the writing life. I asked Kathy:
When do you write? Is it easier to write in the morning or at night?
I don’t have a specific routine. The muse can strike early in the morning, in the afternoon or late at night. I’ve had times when I’ve awakened up in the middle of the night to write because the thoughts swirling in my head would not let me rest until they found a place on the page. I do know that if I do not get my quota of writing done during the day, I often end up staying up late.
Who’s your favorite author?
That’s a tough question because I read a variety of authors. But two of my favorites are James Michener for the rich detail of his historical novels and Ernest Hemingway for his sparse prose that says so much. And of course, Lynne Spreen! I mean, if Jim and Ernie were alive today, they’d want to know her secret for slapping a novel together.
Okay, I wrote that. – LMS
Where can we buy the book? Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, my website, Pen & Publish Press.
10% of the proceeds of the sale of Ever Faithful to His Lead will go toward the National Coalition for the Awareness of Domestic Violence.
Like you, I was struck by the death of Nora Ephron. I kept saying to Bill, “I can’t believe it.” Tears surprised me.
Nora spoke to me through her books (Her last one, I Remember Nothing, is reviewed in the left sidebar.) She made me laugh, and I passed her books around to my friends. Like you, I felt as if she and I were friends. I can’t believe such a vibrant, creative, insightful, witty, valuable life is gone.
I’m unhappy now, made so by feelings of disagreement with my old friend. As I reread I Feel Bad About My Neck, I was struck by the negativity in her words. Here are some examples:
Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever’s writing it says it’s great to be old. It’s great to be wise and sage and mellow: it’s great to be at the point where you understand just what matters in life. I can’t stand people who say things like this.
That would be me. Here’s another:
Sometimes I go out to lunch with my girlfriends — I got that far into the sentence and caught myself. I suppose I mean my women friends. We are no longer girls and have not been girls for forty years.
Sigh. What a worldview. Lastly:
But the honest truth is that it’s sad to be over sixty. The long shadows are everywhere–friends dying and battling illness. A miasma of melancholy hangs there, forcing you to deal with the fact that your life, however happy and successful, has been full of disappointments and mistakes, little ones and big ones. There are dreams that are never quite going to come true, ambitions that will never quite be realized. There are, in short, regrets.
I Feel Bad About My Neck was published in 2008. We now know that Nora was suffering from leukemia at the time, and I’m flattened by the fact that she could write (at all), write things that were funny, and keep her illness a secret while ensuring that her show went on. What a champ.
But a certain part of me wants to – needs to – live in denial of mortality, so for my mental health, I’m going to keep referring to myself and my friends as girls, or even the hick-ish gals. I’m not “full of regrets” even though I’ve experienced (and caused) great pain in my life. I respect the pain, but I need to sublimate it and move forward with anticipation and excitement.
Nora, I’ll never be half the person you were. Rest in peace, girl.
Do you ever hear this?
Sure, I had it bad when I was growing up, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It made me who I am today.
I admire the “can-do” spirit in those words – the refusal to be kept down by adversity. Since we can’t go back and change things, I guess it’s good to adapt, but what if adaptation involves denial, and that denial interferes with our ability to enjoy the last half of our lives?
I’ll give you an example. My friend, let’s call her “Carol,” had a horrible childhood, worse than you can fathom, so bad that I’m not going to describe it. Carol says it made her what she is today. Let me tell you, what she is today is heartbreakingly valiant. She labors along, saving the world with her heroic efforts, but never seems to get what she wants or needs. Most of her efforts benefit others.
I had a challenging childhood, so I have the battle scars to speak to this. I ask Carol, “What if we hadn’t had to endure such torture? Who or what might we have become?” She refuses to consider it, as if the answer would open a Pandora’s Box.
My upbringing made me a slave for many years, always putting everyone else first, or hypersensitive to the moods of others, unable to relax and enjoy fulfilling my own needs. I still fight the tendency (like you?) to apologize all the time, and I tend to fidget, doing repetitive movements that substitute, no doubt, for banging my head against the wall in frustration.
What if Carol had been born to parents who adored her and told her how smart and capable she was? For she is a genius, and hugely talented, but has hidden her light under a barrel for almost sixty years. This girl could have played Carnegie Hall, or written the Great American Novel. Instead…not. She’s a hero, no doubt about it. She’s the hero of her life, the same role I decided to shed almost twenty years ago.
I’m sure it’s wrong to extrapolate from just Carol and me, so I’ll refer you to one of the most useful books I’ve ever read, The Narcissistic Family by Pressman and Pressman. An excerpt:
One of the biggest problems for adults raised in narcissistic family systems is that they tend to take responsibility for things over which they have little or no control, yet refuse to take responsibility for what is happening to them today.
I started watching the new HBO series, Girls, but couldn’t even get through the first episode. Everybody is so young and vulnerable. Thank God we get older and, I do believe, smarter. At least most of us. For Carol and the rest, I pray you win the lottery so you can quit working so damned hard and enjoy the rewards you deserve.
I like money. I mean, who doesn’t? So why is it so hard for me to accept it from people to whom I’m giving a skill or benefit?
Mika Brzezinsky wrote about this in Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth. Women are good at giving, but not so good at taking. That’s beautiful, and the world needs more of it, but sometimes we stand in our own way. Mika careened from not asking her bosses for adequate pay, to asking inappropriately (acting like a man would, since that’s who modeled the intervention for her), to asking in a way that was true to her comfort level. The last time, when she asked authentically, it happened.
Part of my problem is that I am starting a new business, so my students were my guinea pigs. I didn’t feel it was right to charge them for something that wasn’t particularly polished, but now it’s a valuable product, so I had to break the news.
I felt like a jerk, but I did it, and they were beautiful!
“Of course; your classes are worth it!” was the general sentiment. I am so relieved, but I still feel kind of clunky. To be honest, I dread when my book is published and I have to take money for that. Not the money part. The take part.
I never had any problem negotiating in a corporate setting, because for some reason that seems impersonal. My problem is asking individuals to open their very own wallet and share their personal cash with me.
Some of it is my upbringing: very Catholic. We were taught to give and give and give until it hurts. And then give some more. From my North Dakota German heritage I got the idea that we only give, never take. And then there’s this timeworn maxim: it’s better to give than receive. Right?
My parents taught me to give. My mother worshiped sacrifice and we kids were indoctrinated. No surprise I supported two jobless husbands. When I met Prospective Husband Number Three, I took him to be interviewed by my therapist. Seriously – I didn’t trust my own judgment. After thirty minutes, Dr. N looked at me and said, “He’s got a job. What the hell do you see in him?”
But I digress. Women still earn less than men, and one reason is because they don’t ask, let alone negotiate.
Here’s a surprise: the younger generations are no better.
When interviewed about their book, Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever say this:
A lot of the younger women we talked to…believe that they’re just as assertive about what they want as their male peers. Unfortunately, this is not true. Younger women may assume that things have changed far more than they have, but our studies show that even among men and women in their 20s and early 30s, men are much more likely to initiate negotiations than women.
I’m going to take a stab here and say it’s probably about two things: one, our indoctrination as caregivers and nurturers, and two, the lack of role models. I guess that was redundant.
The situation perpetuates itself.
In the future I’m going to read up on and study more about this topic for my own benefit, yours, and that of my daughters and granddaughters. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making a sacrifice for those you love, but it can’t be all you, all the time. The act of taking cash from your peers may feel creepy, but giving away your work feels worse.
Have you experienced this inability to ask for what you’re worth? Did you figure out a way to overcome it? What’s your story?
I used to be a hero. That sounds conceited. [Read more…]
Rick Hanson, Ph.D, who wrote Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, says our brains are designed to scan for danger. When we see something to worry about, the negative information makes a big impression and we’re more likely to be affected by it, because that’s going to help us stay alive. Positive information, on the other hand, isn’t so sticky.
Blue sky, big deal. Saber-toothed cat? BIG deal.
To make matters worse, our fast-paced, information overload-culture increases the amount of scanning our brains do. So we’re constantly gathering more and more negative data.
And we’re stressing the hell out!
On the one hand, it’s kind of cool to think that my brain has a good reason for focusing on the negative. (And here I thought it was just me.) I appreciate the evolutionary necessity of this tendency.
But now that we understand why it’s happening, we can perceive some of our anxiety as an unreliable narrator wringing her hands. Just because the murder rate went up in Texas last year doesn’t mean I have more reason to fear.
Tell your inner worrier to chill.
Kindle readers can email me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.
Sometimes people ask me about the subhead on this blog. Mostly it’s younger-sounding peeps responding to comments I make on The Huffington Post. I don’t answer, but I could, and here’s what I’d say:
If you have to ask, you’re too young.
As we Boomers stare into the 7x magnifying mirror, trying not to stab ourselves in the eye with the mascara wand and bemoaning the crevasses in our skin, we should remember there’s some compensation for getting old. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see them. The Senior Discount, for example, if you’re not too proud to take it. Most of the younger folks are too innocent to know the difference between a 57-year-old and a 65-year-old, so I get the discount and they don’t card me. All us old people look alike to them.
Recently at the pool, I was trying to reassure my 86-year-old Mom that nobody cares if her legs are crisscrossed with bulbous veins or her backbone is curved or she doesn’t fill out her swimsuit top anymore. None of us in my 55+ community would win any beauty contests except maybe my friend Joan. I pointed at all the adorable children and beautiful young adults visiting their elders on that sunny Saturday. “Take a look around, Mom. The only people who look really good don’t qualify to live here.” And then my big sis and I shared a snarky laugh.
Mom knows what I’m talking about. She’s still independent, but it’s getting harder. Sometimes she has to negotiate with people who are too young, too busy, or too mean to care about a 4′ 11″ woman in her mid-eighties. So Mom prepares. We rehearse before the attack. One of her strategies is to “Play the Grandma Card.” For example, she might tell a clerk, “I’m just an old woman. At the rate you’re going, I could be dead by the time you (fill in the objective).” The poor kids are shocked because they believe her, and they really snap to. You might think this is unethical but I think it’s a benefit of age. Kids play the youth/beauty card all the time. Why shouldn’t we take advantage, just like they do?
Use whatcha got.
Kindle readers can contact me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.
My friend Nanci just retired from a career in public education, first as an elementary school teacher and then as principal. We met in the eighties when we worked for the Jurupa Unified School District in Riverside, California. Here’s what Nanci did to kick-start her retirement:
Nanci, thanks for sharing your experience with us. You always did set the bar high, for yourself first and then your staff and students. All of your friends at Any Shiny Thing wish you a joyous retirement. Looks like you’re off to a flying start.
According to neuroscientist and stroke survivor Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD., feelings generated by negative stimulus don’t have to last more than 90 seconds.
I’ll let Martha Beck explain it:
“Physiologically, it takes only 90 seconds of feeling the emotion caused by a negative event before the body finishes processing its stress hormones and returns to its baseline setting.”
According to Dr. Taylor,
“Unless you rerun that loop by rethinking the thoughts that restimulate the emotion…the uncomfortable feelings will go away.”
I actually think I saw this happen in my own body recently. I was putting together a video tribute to my late father and it got to me. My husband gave me a hug and I fell apart, but after a half-dozen good sobs, the negativity faded and I was able to return to my normal happy state.
Dr. Taylor is a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke, observed how it affected the destruction of her brain, and recovered to write and speak about the experience. If you have about 15 minutes, watch her preso at TED. It gets pretty emotional toward the end, but in a good way. She makes you feel hopeful about the great gift of being human.
Kindle readers can email me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.