Can a fifty-something woman be as hungry to lose 70 pounds as she is compelled to continually improve her skills in a world that’s constantly evolving?
You bet she can.
In the midst of completing a 6-month role assisting in a Documentum migration for Dell EMC’s Online Support Services in 2016, my father was diagnosed with stage-4 kidney cancer. He had called, laid the news on me, disconnected, and left me uncontrollably sobbing in my cube.
Difficult news to deliver; difficult news to fathom.
He responded well to chemo despite the inoperable and ample tumor lodged on his kidney. He kept going about much of his daily routine, tenacious and brave, and I on the other hand in a mix of empathy and envisioning life without him, packed on the pounds.
When I began working in Dell EMC’s Services and IT Marketing in 2017, more than six months beyond the time the doctors surmised my father would last, I assumed my father’s gumption for life and dismissed the tenuous notion of his leaving us. I delved into my new role, ingesting bits and pieces of Big Data technology, and began riding the 12.3-mile commute to and from work on my bike. (Hopkinton, as I like to say, has a few of its own Heartbreak Hills.)
The physical effort afforded me what my dad had: endurance. Braving the traffic and heat? His courage. Being drawn to this new technology at my fingertips? His curiosity and passion to gain knowledge.
When the weather turned cold and my husband hoisted my bike up to the rafters in the garage, I had dropped 40 pounds and enrolled in a number of lunchtime exercise classes at work, ranging from yoga to step to body conditioning. Yoga! I had always wanted to try it but was intimidated by those sinewy, lithe bodies. The instructor, Nancy Galiardi, readily allayed my insecurity. And all through my first step class, I kept shouting ‘wow, this is great! I haven’t done Step since the 80’s!”
The benefits, too, of working out goes beyond my 70-pound weight loss. The endorphin-residual and feeling of well-being empowers my work, my knowledge, my abilities and my demeanor. It puts me in a position of ‘future-ready’- fit to assimilate new technology, new perspectives, new responsibilities.
I may not be invincible like my father was with his cancer, but he made me a survivor before he was even gone. Being fit is empowering. Taking advantage of the fitness amenities Dell offers continue to be a 360-something I can’t afford to leave behind.
What’s keeping you from getting fit and empowering yourself with the fortitude to survive 2020 and beyond?
Unmasked: Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty is out and my work’s in it.
And what’s this about Santa Barbara?
I’ll be out there on Wednesday for the Anthology launch at Carr Vineyards and Winery to read my essay to a crowd of women hungry for advice on rediscovering their sex drive.
My signing pen is ready!
C’mon, ladies, how relevant is this topic?
Women over fifty are “the invisible woman” in American culture. In a society that reveres youth – and particularly young, sexy women – women over fifty fade into the shadows. Yet, for many women at mid-life, this is a time of flowering and coming into one’s own, sexually and otherwise. Many older women love sex and crave the intimacy it provides. For every story of a harried mother who turns her husband away at night, or the older woman who long ago lost her libido, there are legions of others whose sex drives match those of men.
A recent study found that sixty percent of women fifty to fifty-nine were sexually active, that almost fifty percent of women in their sixties were sexually active, and nearly thirty percent of those over seventy were sexually active. So, why is so little attention paid to sex and intimacy among women in later life? Other than a smattering of magazine articles and some academic books, very little has been written about women, sex and intimacy. Oh, there are plenty of how-tos: advice on vaginal dryness and pain during sex and erectile dysfunction. But there is a dearth of work written by women about their sexual experiences after fifty.
This collection of essays and poetry is meant to bring sex after fifty for women into the open, to proclaim that it is important, it is natural and healthy and, for some women, it is absolutely necessary. Unmasked will surprise, inform, and–it is hoped–encourage all women of a certain age to (re)discover their sexuality.
I am so proud to be a contributor to this Anthology. Join me and some other randy women in Santa Barbara for a signed copy of the book and a celebratory glass of wine!
I remember it vividly. That day I met my best friend.
After a really long time in a dark musty container, the door to the daylight slid open and I was hysterical. All of us were yapping madly as my crate door came undone and I was led to Lisa. I was so overwhelmed with joy because I knew she was here for me, to take me home and love me.
Eight years later, I’m the one who loves to take care of her. You see, an accident in one of those cars so many of us dogs like to chase, caused permanent damage to her insides. I’m here to alert her when she needs to go to the restroom and comfort her when she suffers acute intestinal pains.
Ours is a special work relationship, but having a friend at the office is something everyone can benefit from. I overheard someone mention that something called LinkedIn did a study that found 46 percent of workers worldwide believe that work friends are important to their overall happiness.
So with that in mind, I’d like to share with you my tips for making friends at work:
1. Approach with Respect
At work I sit beneath Lisa’s desk and no one even knows I’m there. I’m quiet in her cube, but may bark when someone approaches her abruptly. The other day I barked because this nice, tall Millennial guy appeared suddenly and started talking excitedly. When working with others, it’s important to respect their space and try not to interrupt when they are busy.
2. Step Away from the Keyboard
Lisa gets so tense doing her work sometimes in front of her computer I think she will explode. In this maddening pace of what you call “digital transformation,” I beg you to remain kind to one another. Take time to say good morning to your coworkers. Sometimes I don’t hear that enough. I hear the clack clack clack of the keyboard, “elastic data platform” and the funny word Hadoop.
3. Talk About Something Other Than Work
Lisa works in Services Marketing and IT in Hopkinton and likes to watch football. Sometimes when she watches a Pat’s game the announcer says, “Look there at Brady, despite the pressure, he stays ‘soft and relaxed’ in the pocket.” So when we’re at work, I like to send her vibes of “stay soft and relaxed in the pocket” and other free-your-mind nuggets of truth. Talking about non-work things with your teammates can help you find common interests that can further friendships.
4. Find Time to Laugh
At meetings with Lisa, I sometimes gently approach certain people because I can feel how tense they are and I place my nose to their hand. Without realizing it, they begin to pet me, continue talking to everyone, and I can feel the tension melt away in their body. They just stroke and stroke. I am medicine to them, too.
I can’t be there for everyone, but laughter is also known as a great form of medicine that is free for all. So, please, laugh a little. It breaks up the intensity. Your brain will appreciate the hiccup and the tension in your body will momentarily release. Keeping the mind open frees creativity and provides learning to stick, allows for kindness with others.
5. Say Thank You
Sometime in my past, I may or may not have chewed on a copy of Shape Magazine with an article that talked about the health benefits of gratitude. To show Lisa I was thankful for rescuing me, I collapsed and rolled onto my back. She embraced my head and neck so hard I thought it might rip off. Oh, to be loved.
You may not want to show that much emotion, but being part of a team at work means that there will be times when someone takes on the lion’s share of a project or gives you assistance with your own responsibilities. Expressing an attitude of gratitude makes you both feel better and encourages more cooperation.
I’m thankful the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows me and other certified service animals to come to work at places like Dell. Lisa needs me like I needed her. Now we need each other. That’s true friendship.
Sabrina is a Labrador and Golden Retriever mix that is named for her handler’s favorite movie – the original “Sabrina” with Audrey Hepburn. Eight years after being rescued from terrible conditions, she lives happily with her human Lisa, as well as a cat and two bunnies. She is a devoted helper, a medical assist dog, that enables her human to stay on the job at Dell EMC.
“5 Ways to Make a Friend at Work” can be located on Dell’s blog here.
Watch Sabrina days after we rescued her. She’s Just Like Heaven.
Ah, the catalyst, revealed.
The impact of loss scars the heart and you go on living your life ’cause you’re young and have to conform and can’t fall apart and you don’t realize those wounds are still there, throbbing raw, the fibers of tissue meshing over that open gap of mess. You don’t realize you mask that pain with the alcohol thirty fucking years later, that there’s a reason why you drink until the TV and the stand it rests on becomes unhinged.
You write and write and write. For seven years, straight, you do nothing but write and you’re told your writing has no depth or meaning. You keep writing because you’re still madly and blindly driven to it despite having lost all your assets and pockets are filled with nothing but dust and lint. You’re there writing, looking up the definition of a word online, fact checking, and you read, alcoholism is a well-documented pathological reaction to unresolved grief and glance down at the billionth line you just put in black and white and Jesus, the whole goddamn story comes clear.
At two years old, Lady’s ribs protruded from her coat and her belly was swollen with milk.
Like the thirteen other Labs that had arrived at a rest stop in Union, CT on the straight 12½-hour drive from Muncie, IN, she was presented to us on a crisp autumn day amid the chaos of respective adopters.
My husband Dennis had never experienced the warmth and companionship of having a dog and well, I surprised him with Lady, who we quickly renamed to Sabrina. The very afternoon we picked her up, we raced to the park, wanting her to feel the joy of freedom and play. My husband’s face lit up and while I was thrilled at the opportunity to befriend and care for Sabrina; it meant closing the 20-year gap since our beloved German Shepard from my childhood passed away.
Until laying my eyes on Sabrina’s profile, my heart couldn’t entertain loving another dog.
And what canine isn’t after the same love?
In Sabrina’s case, she couldn’t know of the family members that awaited to embrace her presence. Within days of the initial hair-raising excitement, the cat sought out occasions to groom her ears. Our pet rat was free to waddle the kitchen floor un-bothered, and the pair of bonded bunnies in want of company stretched out beside her on the living room floor.
Dog, cat, rat, rabbit?
And Dennis and me?
Like kids again.
Sabrina settled into the folds of our lives, well-nourished and exercised in Boston’s epic snowfall in the winter of 2009-2010, taking careful watch over all of us. The fear expressed in her eyes pre-adoption disappeared.
Eight years later, she watches over me in particular. Thirty years ago, I was struck and thrown from the passenger side of a car until my abdomen collided with the steering wheel—blunt force that called for iterative repair to my digestive system and caused permanent damage to the nerves that signal my bladder is full.
Today when I’m busy working away, Sabrina will alert me to get up every couple of hours to make a trip to the restroom by gently placing her head in my lap.
When I suffer acute intestinal cramping, Crohns-like symptoms, she’ll sit at my side and lean her body against mine. Her calm and steady source of nurturing, helps me to relax and mitigates the cramps.
In 2008, the Department of Justice amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include digestive, bowel and bladder impairments that limit major life activities as the disabled, calling for employers to make reasonable accommodations and if the individual elects, to allow task-oriented service animals [dog or miniature horse] to accompany them on the job.
Sabrina, serving in the capacity of a sensory/medical assist – alerting me to get up and take care of myself – qualifies.
The HR Director, Debra Susler of Reputation Institute in Cambridge, MA would not allow Sabrina to accompany me on-the-job. I sent her an elaborate email explaining my condition and Sabrina’s certification. She replied “no” not to me, but to my supervisor.
I walked out of the place.
Sabrina: rescue dog to helper dog.
Respectively, Sabrina’s competencies and understanding of language cease to astound us and her behavior on-the-job at Dell EMC is so well-mannered, coworkers never run out of compliments.
And bystanders in public? The grocery store, pharmacy, gym, dentist, doctor?
Gazes from cell phones are broken, conversations fall short.
Then, come the smiles. A question. Praise. The feel-good moment.
Sabrina brings people together.
I recently read a distressing post from a woman who said every time she looks into a service dog’s eyes, she sees sadness. Even Ingrid Newkirk, CEO and Co-Founder of PETA, has told me, “the life of a typical service dog is a terrible one.”
It’s true. Any canine enslaved to servitude is doomed a dog’s life unlived.
Service animals are working animals, not pets.
The ADA confirms it.
But that’s not the relationship Sabrina and I share [and I understand it can’t be the same with other handlers and service dogs].
And what have I learned something from Sabrina?
She shows me how to exist in the moment — just like she does. To enjoy the sight of the sun shimmering through the trees, the call of the birds, the fragrance of wildflowers, the feel of the soft soil I tread a few yards behind her when we’re on our hikes.
What more could a dog do for a girl?
Sabrina Is Just Like Heaven.
The sister-editors in Oakland, CA are starting their own magazine, The Crux, and desire to pay their contributors [bless you, Katie and Jennifer]. This is my second time getting paid for work—the first time I earned $0.015 AUD per word at 994 words.
Never did the math.
Didn’t give up writing either.
The essay depicts the story of my girlfriend leaving me behind at Heathrow for a guy she met on the flight from Boston. It does not have a happy ending.
For me or her.
We arrive at Heathrow with less than thirty minutes to departure. Nebraska throws money at the cabbie and engages a porter to manage the baggage in an act of efficiency that surprises me. I stand there, holding my gym bag to my belly, a pacifier of sorts, pleading silently at Lexi. Eye contact, Lex, make eye contact with me. She doesn’t. Nebraska takes hold of her arm and whisks her through the retracting doors and into the terminal. I watch them, a good-looking couple, scurry and break through the pockets of people — Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton of the Mod Squad. The porter trots after them. I follow in their wake.
A boarding call for the flight penetrates the PA system. Nebraska and Lexi stand before a pre-ticketed counter. They’re changing her flights. She is reaching into her purse, the two of them conversing to one another and an agent, then she starts back to where I’m standing in the midst of the foot traffic, being bumped and fumbled about in a state of befuddlement. Once before me, everything around her blurs into gray, chaos goes underwater. I gaze into her face wide-eyed, imploring, Lexi, let’s go back to the inn. “His name is Lane,” she says.
“You keep calling him Nebraska.” Her expression is dead serious. “His name is Lane.”
She just said Lane two times. Her processor is defunct.
“Here’s some cash.” She stuffs a wad of green into my hand.
“Lane has invited us to a small family wedding in the Botanic Garden in Meise.”
I already know this. She points to a ticketing counter with a queue that zigzags around four times.
“Lexi, you don’t even know ‘Lame’ and have no business attending the wedding. Where’s your head? What about our plans?”
Her eyes well-up. I’ve never seen anyone look so much like they’re going to cry but the tear doesn’t swell over their lower eyelid. I tell her, “He’s short-tempered and an asshole.” Football players saunter by and I’m clobbered on both sides by equipment bags—balls and cleats. I elbow away the last of it. “What if he hurts you?”
Lane appears. The tear at last makes the leap over Lexi’s lower eyelid and tracks down her face. He takes her arm, pulls her away, as if we’re not in mid-conversation, as if we didn’t share profound intimacy the night before. Lexi knew my true intentions all along, and she created Nebraska, Brussels, and the trashy getup to sabotage my own manifestation.
The two of them dash toward the departing gate. “Lexi, don’t go.” I say it in sotto voce, it’s all I got.
I watch them until they become smaller and smaller and finally disappear. Lexi didn’t look back.
Through the closed lids of my eyes, I feel the morning sunlight streaming in.
Hey, it’s the weekend.
I take inventory of my brain for traces of a hangover.
We’re in the clear.
And then I check for any activity that might be stirring in the netherworld between my legs which has, of late, been about as playful as a schoolmarm.
I can hear Chris breathing beside me. Sweet beautiful man, and yet for weeks now no amount of touching or stroking or licking on his part can bring back the phenomenon of rapture, nothing eases our hearty pursuit of it. Chris has tried, I’ve grimaced.
Sex-wise, everything was going great until I hit 50. Because it had been so easy before, I couldn’t understand why climaxing had become like trudging up Mount Washington with a dead body strapped to my back.
A quick Google search advised me to: “Get a pedicure, touch up your roots, spritz on your favorite perfume, get some exercise, schedule your sex, add a toy or two, try porn…”
But lately I’ve wondered if this was about something that KY Jelly can’t fix.
Hidden in my bedside drawer are sweet almond and rose oil and some ylang ylang I got at the organic food store. These oils are aphrodisiacs, but they are also antidepressants, hypotensives, nervines, and sedatives, and while I want that man sleeping beside me to slip inside and have a go, there’s also a reason I want the regular, easy cures to work.
I don’t want to acknowledge the changes going on in my 50-year-old body, the fact that I am no longer wet at the drop of a man’s hand feels like a failure somehow.
And, because I feel like a failure, I’ve been avoiding my body and therefore my self-Reiki practice. Reiki, a wild healing energy we can apply to ourselves, seeks out what’s maligned and out of whack in the body — blocks to creativity, depression, grief. It’s a catalyst to deepening spirituality that can offer glimpses of the divine.
On this Saturday morning with the aromatherapy hidden in my bedside table, I think: And isn’t sex divine?
With self-Reiki, you put your hands on yourself (absolutely anywhere, it really doesn’t matter… your arm, your belly) and bring your life force through your hands and into the body.
So, on this light-filled Saturday morning, because I am dying (literally) to be with the guy I used to crave, because last night during a scotch-induced haze I fell asleep while he was saying, “How about this?” and I was saying, “Nothing,” I put my hands on my abdomen and start.
My hands get warm, and I feel a deep sense of relaxation, not sleep but something wider, more alive.
That energy, whatever it is, doesn’t care whether you can have sex or not, how old you are, if you are getting a pudge around your middle, how many wrinkles have settled around your eyes.
Time slips away, I slip away, all that remains is blissed-out peace. Like drinking a martini — without the edge.
When I finish, I eyeball Chris. His eyes are half-mast, he’s styling an alfalfa hairdo, an imprint from a crease in his pillowcase runs across the right side of his face.
Not exactly a turn-on, but I don’t care. “Let’s give it a go,” I say.
Being a man in love (if he’s not too far under the influence of scotch), Chris is always ready to give it a go.
With a blind hand, I pull the end table drawer open and fumble for oil I concocted from the health food store.
Forget the sticky KY goop, this stuff glides like heaven.
Chris gets his hands on the love rub, goes about the business of inducing the hopeful rapture amid my numb equipment.
I anticipate the onslaught of banter that has ensued for the past few months like doc to patient:
“How about here?”
Those myriad times when I can no longer tell if his are the hands of a green gynecologist or a prospective cow buyer at auction.
But today something whispers: Hang in, be still.
Stop trying so hard; relax. Look, there, out into the horizon.
That little voice sounds suspiciously like my intuition. I don’t hear it very often, mostly because I’m too busy listening to the voices saying I’m not supple enough, pretty enough, I’m past my prime…
The horizon? I ask it.
Behind your eyes.
There’s a horizon in my head?
Just close your eyes.
The atmosphere changes.
And the change is charged.
“Here?” asks Chris.
Humidity — wet blanket type — sweeps in.
The storm hits.
The rapture fills me — a delicious swell that comes from the bottom of the ocean, too big to be experienced but a moment or two.
The wave recedes, leaving me pie-eyed, legs in rigor, fists clenched tight.
I look to Chris, who is hovering over me, his expression one of delight, the crease from the pillowcase stretched thin against the smiling muscles of his cheek. Given that he has a technical mind and has a limited repertoire of reactions, it’s rather comical.
“The self-Reiki,” I say, “the essential oils.” I catch wind of my torso. It’s charred in places and emits wisps of smoke.
We may have a formula to bring about a bit of the ol’ spark.
As the blood begins to seep back into my flesh, I let out a laugh — ribald, raucous. Besides having a great partner who will push and prod without feeling like a jackass, and will let you get as woo-woo as you want in the sack, I no longer feel old. Sex can last until 90. We just need to nurture ourselves in order to feel sparked about anything, including our libido.
And, in order to feel the wonders of the Universe, we need to let go and let god, whatever the hell your definition of god is, to be a part of it.
This essay appears in the anthology, Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty.
Outside the ER it’s a winter wonderland. Snow pelts the ground. Visibility is practically nil. Two men dressed in bright lime-colored gear, crisscross one another gathering snow in the plastic blades of their shovels. The sliding doors retract and close; the sensor dumb to their indiscreet footsteps. Sirens scream into the dense moisture-laden air; an ambulance appears in the circular drive. Its beacons intermittently strobe the exterior of the entryway. EMTs hop and pop from the circus of lights and noise, emissions choking out of the vehicle’s exhaust; open the rear doors wide to wheel out the wounded.
It’s the perfect sort of day for a boy and a girl to curl up with Grandma’s crocheted afghan, a movie, and bowl of hot soup, one of the EMT muses. Cop a feel when a parental unit isn’t paying any attention. Watch the snow coat the ground and evergreens with a fresh blanket of white. Stay out the elements, keep safe and sound. Like what Barry Burbank, WBZ’s weatherman, said this morning.
Keep safe. And sound.
I am not aware of the siren screams, nor the strobes and snow falling, the men shoveling and carting in damaged bodies. I don’t recall that I’m in the midst of college break, it’s right smack midway through the glorious eighties, I’m nearly twenty and leaving my teens behind. I don’t know my first love, the one I’m supposed to be curled up with and swatting his hands away from my breasts, is reluctantly chatting with his mother in the small ER waiting room designated for loved ones of the injured about which new car she’ll buy since the Jaws of Life just destroyed her other one.
I lay comatose in an adjacent room. My mind, the faculty of my consciousness and thoughts, remaining numb to stimuli. There’s no perception, no transmission; it’s void, dark, deadly quiet. My brain is busy sustaining that void, deploying an arsenal of chemicals to compensate for the split in time, suppressing the sensory receptors from the blunt trauma—my broken bones, the hit taken to my abdomen that’s pulverized tissue and organs, and punctured veins and arteries. My heart, the renegade, the betrayer, as always, is not listening to my brain—its pumping blood out at a spastic rate through the holes.
An external disturbance registers. A voice. It’s relentless, miraculously breaking through that mechanism of my brain’s fortification, bringing me into the present. Breathe, Lease, breathe, it commands. There is only one person that calls me Lease. My mother. The person who heard Burbank’s forecast and eyeballed the elements herself and tried to protect me so my brain wouldn’t have to. I am granted a fleeting window of awareness. But not through my eyes. My lids are heavy, steel traps. A depiction of involuntary desperateness is felt in my body. Each gasp caused by my choking, thrusts a knife’s blade deep into my gut. Choke. Stab. Choke. Stab.
Something foreign is tickling the back of my throat. I listen to my mother, it’s a precedent. I stop resisting. Succumb. A tube slips down my windpipe. I can breathe. The stabbing doesn’t abate, giving rise to the melodramatic statement, it only hurts when I breathe. And not breathe. My brain is wrestling, calling me back to unconsciousness; the pain galaxies beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before, flirts with my semi-consciousness, invites me to become fully awake. It’s a struggle. A shot of morphine provides no contest. My brain, working in concert with my mind, fires the artillery it has left. A barrage of fireworks ignites behind the closed lids of my eyes. I fall into that quiet dark place again.