It's May, and a huge number of writer friends have new books out, myself included. I will run an essay each weekday in May from some of these folks, links galore. Go read!
Today (and why not everyday?), let's hear from Sandra Tsing Loh, who I have known since our days at Buzz Magazine in Los Angeles, and about that: a friend who was also a Buzz columnist and whom I shall not identify (oh, okay, it was Tom Christie) once told me about being taken to lunch by an editor a year after Buzz closed, and the editor saying, "Of all the writers there, Sandra was the real star," and then, perhaps from the look of "did you just say that to me?" on Tom's handsome face, realizing what she'd just said. But it's true! And I say this as a fellow Buzz columnist and, in this century, Bad Girl of LA Lit.
In anticipation of Sandra's reading on Monday May 5 at Powell's City of Books, here's our recent exchange about the change that dare not speak its name.
So looking forward to seeing you in Portland, where I'll be talking about. . . the NEW menopause! Oh, the glamor! (As the late great Donald Rawley would say, although I'm sure he could mix up a fabulous martini-based elixir to quell hot flashes.)
For your May blogapalooza, I'm attaching a link to my original (Best American 2012, I'm not too shy to add) essay "The Bitch Is Back," in the Atlantic Monthly, which was the inspiration for my new memoir, THE MADWOMAN IN THE VOLVO: MY YEAR OF RAGING HORMONES. Note that the word "menopause" occurs neither in the title nor sub-title, as WW Norton's (terrific and supportive, I'm not too ungrateful to add) marketing department said the word "menopause" is a killer. . . Even though women ages 45-60 are America's biggest demographic group (50 million of us) and by 2015 almost 1 in 2 U.S. women will be, yes, MENOPAUSAL! That's right. . . almost half! I'm wondering, in fact, if menopause is the next feminist issue? (Clunker sentence: contains both the word "menopause" and "feminist"!) Nancy (I love repeating the word "Nancy," it's bloggily intimate), when I first got my period (at 11, a bit early) I cried. I couldn't believe what I was being told. "What? You're telling me I don't just get a period ONCE and then I'm a 'woman'? You're telling me from now on to like forever this violation is going to be happening to me every single MONTH? You are shitting me!"
In the end, I'm quite delighted to have birthed my two now 12 and 13 year old daughters out of my "bagina"(once I had to fill out this odd LA Unified School District form which asked the types of "births" my daughters had and I put down in block letters: "OUT OF MY VAGINA"). Thank you, wacky female body, not for the horrible pain of labor--that blew--still questioning evolutionarily why that is absolutely necessary?--but for those awesome hormones that lent such romance, in my girls' very early (still nursing) years, to that "new baby smell." Sometimes I catch a whiff of Mustela baby lotion and I sniff the fumes of those feelings.
Having a baby and nursing it and being awash in all that estrogen, oxytocin and more was a peak life experience, hallucinogenic, one of a kind, a giggle, a laugh, perfect contentment, amazing. It was also nuts and sleep-deprived and crazy, and as a friend of mine said, "If you have a child, that will be the best thing in your life, and if you don't, something ELSE will be the best thing in your life." (For the record, he is married, no kids, two dogs--they are quite happy.)
That said, my 29 years of fertility was a lot of tampons to go through and I don't miss it. (Recently, when interviewing awesome Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I foolishly asked him: "Do you still ballroom dance?" and he erupted: "I don't STILL do anything! I did ballroom dancing for a while, now I do other things!") Man, I cried when I got my first period, so when the little red hen(?) finally goes away, it's celebration time! Menopause isn't "the change." Due to our much longer lifespans (to almost 90), women are fertile less than a third of our lives. . . so in fact the brief cloud of estrogen of FERTILITY that sweeps over us is "the change," not menopause. In menopause, in fact, a woman's hormone levels return to those of a pre-adolescent girls (with higher levels of free testosterone). So menopause is less "the change" than THE RETURN. . . to ourselves. It's like you first lived on earth, then you went to the moon for a while, had a successful mission, and now you've returned to earth. WELCOME HOME! (And congrats, you have almost half your life left.)
I wonder, then, why menopause should have such negative connotations. (You know, of women becoming dried-up, old, unsexy, crepey, bloated, invisible, a mustache sprouts, there is schvitzing, irrationality, dish ware is hurled, etc., etc.) Sure, it's inconvenient: estrogen made a Stepford wife in a yellow apron who set the table and fed a family of 12 year after year when they could have helped out and done it themselves, now in menopause she is HURLING those dishes. I think the negative connotations ("You're old! You're ugly! You're invisible! You don't MAKE EGGS ANY MORE! It's all about the eggs! You have lost your egg-making ABILITY! Poor you!") are perhaps a combo of society's general stupidity (older people of both sexes aren't particularly revered) and maybe a female tendency to beat ourselves up anyway ("I can even make eggs any more! No eggs! Even though I never wanted to in the first place!") like it's yet another kind of failure (along with not doing Pilates and Kegels, coupled with my inability to avoid fried food if it is put in front of me) (I have a boyfriend who fries bacon on the weekends--I yelled at him, "You can have a happy girlfriend or a relatively un-fat girlfriend, you can't have both!") (he as usual deemed me nuts) (bacon is the best food on earth, I digress).
But in fact, I think we're at an interesting time in evolution. Look at politics, for instance. In the old days, it was: "A woman can't be president! She gets her period, goes nuts, hits the red button!" How ridiculous. As we've seen, estrogen is FAR LESS a handicap than fuckin' testosterone. How many of our most promising male (Democrat, as I am) politicians were ridiculously undone by their frickin' zippers, in the most illogical ways, where it really leaves you with some head-scratching? "What? An intern? Who was bi-polar? With a history of blackmail? Right there in his office? Under surveillance cameras? Two hours before the debate? With Vladimir Putin on the phone?" I mean it! Clinton, Edwards, Hart (insert 12 more names here). . . What the FUCK? Take some fucking pills to manage your testosterone problems! They're a drag and getting in the way! But it is interesting that men tend to be considered the norm and women are supposed to be medicated. (Oprah never does a show saying, "Men should take pills to want sex less," it's that "Women should take pills to want sex more.") Why are we talking about estrogen? We should be talking about testosterone!
And then of course you chuckle when thinking about Hillary. One misstep about baking cookies (baking cookies!) and she has never erred again. She is now ruled neither by estrogen nor testosterone. She has got a full complement of both conventionally male and female weapons in her toolkit, and she will live forever. Interesting times!
To conclude this note, instead of menopausal women, I think of us a Freewomen. (I should retweak the title of the movie 12 Years A Slave.) I myself love being 52. It's awesome. Best time of my life. Fun. Great. My girls rock my world. I love my man. There is every kind of bacon. (And perhaps one day. . . grannnnnndchildren. Grannnnnchildren. The Mustela will ride again!) Oh, and there's lots of work to do.
(By the way Nancy, you have always been hot. Eerily, you seem to only be getting hotter over the years. What gives?)
Here's the link:
Hey Sandra -
I'm going to LINK the Atlantic piece but I'm going to run THIS (unless you tell me otherwise), maybe even keep the part about me being hot.
I will add that getting a period at all is a 20th century phenomena. Before b-control most women were constantly pregnant or nursing so you got maybe a period a year.
I have noticed there's a certain swanning when it comes to friends who still bleed, as in, "Oh, yes, I still get my period." Translation: I am still juicy and desired. I get mine but it's probably manufactured by the pharms.
My first period (age 12), I lied and told my mom I was vaulting over a parking meter (which we Brooklyn kids did) and hit my cooch. "Well," the gynecologist said, "it must have brought on her period." Sha, as if he didn't know.