Thursday, July 31, 2014

Free the Nipple


Yes, there's a movement called Free the Nipple. It confronts American society's squeamishness about women's nipples and how they remain one of the last parts of the human body that we believe must be restrained at all times. The male nipple? Let it fly free. The female nipple? It must be banned from sight as soon as the girl is old enough to walk.

Going without a bra in the U.S. is an act of bravery and defiance because women's bodies are not considered acceptable as men's bodies are. There are more parts of our bodies that we can get arrested for exposing. Images of male genitalia and bare butts don't create the same reaction as the part of a woman that can feed a baby. Why? Because Americans have hyper-sexualized women's mammary glands to the point of obsession. Many cultures around the world take the female breast in stride, but in originally-Puritan-America, it makes many of us unable to think straight.

It's brave for women to leave the bra off because we are such sexual targets. Being out in public bra-less is seen as an indication that we're sexually available to anyone with the right disgusting leer. A woman with uncontained breasts just bouncing around out there is suspect: at the very least, men and boys think they can call after such a woman and stare at her as much as they like. To be a woman is to constantly navigate an environment of sexual menace, and being without a bra multiplies that vulnerability.

I've known women who didn't wear bras and I admired them. Some of them had small breasts so their chest freedom wasn't as noticeable. I envy any woman with small breasts and nipples. My breasts are unfortunately pendulous, especially since I became middle-aged and put on an extra 40 pounds. I've always had large nipples, but now I really have to use bra inserts to keep them from showing their outline through my tops. It's sadly, painfully obvious when I don't have a bra on.

But on weekends, at the age of 48, I'm finally developing the guts to go without a bra, not even a sports bra. I wear my middle-aged, pendulous, fat, heavily-nippled mammaries covered only by a shirt. O, the shamelessness! Keep in mind: I don't have a car to hide in as I navigate the big city (Chicago, Illinois). I walk blocks to the train station or bus stop, take public transportation along with dozens of others, then get off and walk blocks to the store or wherever I'm going. This gives hundreds of people a chance to notice that my flesh is swinging free. Some men stare. Some women stare. Many don't notice at all, but enough do that I feel slightly naked. I try not to think about it, but I can't deny that I feel more vulnerable without that one key garment.

I hate that I feel vulnerable without that one key garment! It really is asinine that Americans believe that a woman's breasts, no matter the size, require a harnessing device at all times. It's equally asinine that we'll tolerate a lot of breast hanging out of a tank top or bathing suit, but not the nipple. Not the nipple -- for the love of god, hide that thing! 

Behold the misogyny that fears parts of the female anatomy, that demands that those parts stay out of sight, that uses safety or modesty as an excuse to control women's bodies. I'm proud to have finally worked up the nerve to leave my home without a chest-binding-contraption (at least on weekends) because the brassiere has only been part of American fashion since the late 1800s and I intend to contribute to its American disappearance.

Here are the reasons I have finally started leaving my bras in the dresser drawer:

1. I'm a fat, middle-aged woman and don't feel as targeted (hunted) by men as I did when I was younger. I feel safer in my body at this age.

2. If women stop wearing bras, we can normalize the sight of free, unleashed breasts. That would be great.

3. Women should feel free to slip on a shirt and walk out the door, just like men do. Bras are uncomfortable!

4.  I want to support the message that being bra-less does not equal "asking for it."

Many women who try to make a Free the Nipple statement by leaving their bra at home don't have the chest size to really be noticeable. Others get caught in the problem of having assholes leering at them and objectifying them. This is the problem of going topless when you have young breasts. But when I let my saggy, middle-aged boobs sway before me as I swagger down the street, I do not present as titillating a spectacle. I'm simply an over-the-hill woman who's losing her looks and exercising my right to walk without physical restraints or public humiliation. I feel powerful in my lack of youth and sexiness. Does someone still want to ogle my tits? Fine, but he better look into my don't-mess-with-me expression before he opens his mouth. 

I believe part of the problem with topless demonstrations is that they're mostly populated by young women. Men stare and cheer them on. It's easy to sexualize such a political act and that diffuses it. We need more middle-aged and old women leaving our bras at home. There are many of us out there already, but let's have more so we can make the point that going braless is NOT an invitation for sex. When I walk bra-less I'm proud to contribute to a new paradigm that holds that wearing or not wearing a bra is no indication of how much attention a woman is seeking.  I'm helping to make protruding nipples so commonplace and UNsexy that people will lose their fixation on them. I'm helping to normalize the female nipple so that it can become as acceptable in public as the male nipple. Leaving my bra at home is a deliberate, political act, especially for a middle-aged woman. Join me!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Listen to my virtual CD of original songs

This is just a reminder that if you scroll to the bottom of this blog homepage you'll find links to my original music. Yes, that's me singing songs I made up out of my own head. If you're on a device that doesn't let you see those links, go to my page on CD I'm also on iTunes.

The album (which is only digital) is called This Is My Going of Age, which is a lyric from of one of my favorite songs that I ever wrote (and I wrote a LOT of songs in the depressed years between 1997 and 2004). What I appreciate about "Going of Age" is that it describes the feeling of passing from young womanhood to middle-aged-and-beyond womanhood. It applied to my life when I wrote it at age 37 and it applies now that I'm 48. It says that I'm okay with losing the markers of youth because I'm gaining a new kind of power and grace and it feels good. It ends with the idea that I no longer need to look attractive to everyone I pass in the street. I just need the right person to appreciate me.

Never too much cake

Friday, July 25, 2014

Birthday evening

I'm getting together with friends this weekend to celebrate my 48th birthday, but I told myself that last night I'd go home and do whatever I wanted on the evening of my actual birthday. What did I end up doing? Opening gifts my sister sent*, reading a book and watching product demonstration videos on They're mesmerizing. Not only can you see photos of an item and read a description, many Zappo items also have a less-than-a-minute video that shows someone wearing it and moving in ways that show how the item will look as people admire you from afar. I love those videos, especially the shoes. I can watch a lot of them with absolutely no intention of buying anything. (No, I didn't buy anything.)

And that was my birthday evening. Yup.

*Ayurveda cookbook, Ayurveda home remedy book and an Urban Shelf. Perfect. Thanks, Judy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just an image, but lovely

A friend sent me this photo as part of a birthday greeting and I'm posting it just because I love it.

Pink is my favorite color and cake is my favorite thing...

My 48th Birthday

Today I am 48 years old. I'm also a middle-aged woman with an edgy haircut.

OH, yeah. This is edgy.

Please note that I'm turning 48 years old on the 24th. It's a mathematical birthday!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reasons it's great to be 50 years old

This Thursday, July 24th will be my 48th birthday. I'm excited about it because I like patterns and 48 is twice 24. I'm also partial to multiples of 12 and have been waiting for this birthday ever since I turned 36. (Anyone familiar with the Chinese Zodiac knows that every twelve years your Chinese animal sign comes around. This is the year of the horse and I'm a horse.)

I enjoy birthdays for a few reasons: I like getting together with friends, I like eating cake and I like getting older. When I was a child, people taught me that adult women don't like getting older or letting people know their age. I thought this sounded ridiculous and couldn't imagine ever feeling that way. I'll be 48 years old in a few days and I still don't understand why women don't like revealing their age. This is one of those adult mysteries that people said I'd understand when I grew up, but it never happened. (They also told me I'd eventually enjoy the taste of alcohol, but that didn't happen either.)

A friend asked if I'm looking forward to turning 50. I'm not because 50 isn't a multiple of twelve -- although 60 is! But as I thought about it, I realized there are plenty of reasons to look forward to turning 50. Here are a few.

(Just some) Reasons it's great to be 50 years old:

1. It's the age when the senior discounts begin.

2. You have more authority to talk about things that happened, even in the distant past, because you were there.

3. People can no longer give you that patronizing “Wait until you get older. You’ll change your mind.” (For example, when a 48-year-old says "I don't want children," you have to believe her!)

4. All you have to do is put on a suit and a serious expression and you look like a person with decades of experience in business.

5. Your opinions count more because they’re based on actual experience and not speculation (such as managing employees, child raising, running your own business, divorce, surgery).

6. The cost of auto insurance goes down.

7. It's easier to rent an apartment, get a loan and do other things that cause people to size up how responsible you are based on your appearance.

8. If you’re a 50-year-old woman who isn't trying to look younger (with short skirts, wild shoes, etc) men don’t give you the same bullshit as when you’re young, such as “Smile, honey,” “Hey, baby,” etc.

9. If you’re a 50-year-old man and who isn't trying to look younger, you’re less likely to be hassled by police just for standing on a street corner.

10. For women, self-esteem at age 50 tends to be higher than at younger ages. I know it's true for me!

So let's hear it for middle-age! Yes, I'm talking to you, Reader-in-Your-40s-or-50s. We are middle-aged and it's a great place to be. Have doubts? Write me!

I'm middle-aged and I'm at peace
 P.S. This is a photo of me with my new reading glasses that I bought at a chain store for $15. I'm not only old enough to need bifocals, but to need glasses to read with in my own home! This pleases me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Judgment after divorce

Even though I'm divorced, I'm Catholic (actually I'm an atheist, but just follow me here), so I know that on the Day of Judgment when we all rise from the dead, there I'll be, standing next to my only groom. In the eyes of God our marital bond will be unbroken, and at that time I will turn to my eternal spouse, point at him and say: "Ha, ha! You're my husband!"

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Never too late to resume a friendship

I have friends that I mainly connect with through email. Sometimes one of these long distance friends will go a long time in between emails. After I've emailed a few times with no response, I call. Sometimes that doesn't get a response either. I once sent a regular snail mail to someone, making sure I'd made every attempt to reach her. I still got nothing. Years later, when I finally talked to her, I got the explanation I get every once in a while from a friend who has dropped out of my life. She said every time she heard from me she swore to herself that she'd respond, but she'd get busy and wouldn't get back to me, and then so much time went by that she felt too self-conscious to respond. She just felt stupid, so she never contacted me. I told her to never let that get in the way! I didn't care how much time had gone by. I was just happy to be back in touch.

Friends are extremely important to me and I pour attention on them. Even when I was married, the time I spent with my friends didn't shrink. I doggedly invited people to meet me for tea or dinner and invited friends over to my place regularly. When my husband ended things, I stepped back into my single life, surrounded by friends, without a pause. Many people were there to support me through my divorce because I'd stayed in close touch with them. I'm proud of this. It's an accomplishment and a survival skill.

Some friends are an integral part of my life and I'm in contact with them all the time. Many of my friends aren't as available and pop up when they can. With some, it can take months of wheedling to get them to spend some time with me. And a few feel like far flung satellites, hard to keep sight of, difficult to track, but held in my heart as I hope to welcome them back one day. If any of them are reading this, I'd like to say, "Please email or call when you can. It would be the best birthday present if I could just sit across a table with you for an hour and catch up. Don't let guilt keep you from texting. I know you're busy, but I'm ready to hang out whenever you are."

One of the deadliest forces on a friendship is ego. It would be easy to get offended by someone's apparent disinterest in my friendship, but I carefully don't allow that. If I've tried and tried to set up time with someone and she just can't do it, I tend to assume she just has too much going on and that's okay. How busy someone is and how low I rank on her To-Do List has nothing to do with me. Ego would drive me to compete for her attention and feel insulted when dinner with me isn't enough to tear her away from everything else in her life, but that's childish. I used to think that way, but now I know that even if someone decides not to make time for Regina, that's no reflection on me. I'm a great friend and if someone can't wedge me into her schedule, I'll find someone who can. And if that first person ever manages to make time for me, I'll happily be there.

It's taken me decades to learn how to do this friendship thing, and it's a skill many adult Americans don't have. Hobbled by our egos, we wait for the other person to make the first move, assume others don't want to be bothered by us, keep score of invitations given and accepted and forget that time with friends can be a much better way to spend an evening than with the TV or the Internet. Sometimes I feel like I'm part of a dying tradition of inviting friends to my place for a meal or a game night. I host people all year long and rarely receive party invitations in return, but does that matter to me? Nope. Hosting people in my home invigorates me and lets me re-connect with many people in one evening. I love when people "come play at my house." I'd rather have friends than keep score.

If you have a friend you really want in your life, but whose last email or phone call you never returned, get in touch with them now. Even if the last time you heard from them was years ago, it's worth swallowing your pride and risking looking foolish because chances are they're going to be delighted to hear from you. A real friend won't care what caused the delay, she just wants to catch up and re-connect. Believe me because I'm one of those people who lives in joyful hope that certain friends will surface from their busy lives and get back to me. When they do, I'll be here. I promise.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Generation X

I've been reading Neil Howe and William Strauss' 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? "Thirteenth Generation" is what Howe and Strauss call what's more commonly known as Generation X. I wish their term had dominated because I've always felt like "Generation X" is a non-name, as if those of us born between 1961 and 1980 are so generic that we have no character to speak of. "Thirteenth Generation" has more style, but because "Generation X" is the term that has won out, I'll use it in this post.

13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? was published in 1993, when Generation X still occupied high schools and colleges, except for those of us born early in the cohort who were trying to figure out how to earn a living. I was 26 for most of 1993 and if I had come across this book then, I would have dismissed it as old people trying to tell me who I was. Reading it now I can see that Howe and Strauss were actually trying to be sympathetic to Generation X. They depict us as young people who have never really been given a chance, who were raised during a time when adults were "finding themselves," focusing on their inner growth, getting divorced in record numbers and not as focused on child-raising as past generations of parents had been. During our childhood, adults were experimenting with classroom format and curriculum changes, new ways of grading students and taking the focus off of traditional core subjects. Howe and Strauss describe our plight as not having been offered a traditional education and then being criticized for not knowing what we would have learned with a traditional education.

It's kind of sad reading the book now. I think Howe and Strauss got a lot of things right, one of which is that Generation X will never hold the cultural attention that the Baby Boom Generation got -- and is still getting (the Boomers were born between 1946 and 1960). One explanation I've seen for why Generation X doesn't have a lot written about us these days is that we're not at an interesting stage of life. This perplexes me because the Baby Boomers attract attention every time they enter a new decade. If the middle adulthood of Generation X isn't that interesting, am I supposed to believe that the middle adulthood of the Baby Boomers was? Am I the only one who saw and heard discussions of the Boomers turning 40, 50 and 60? Where was the cultural recognition of the first Generation X-ers turning 50? It came and went quietly.

Howe and Strauss also describe us as a kind of clean-up crew. As early as 1993 Howe and Strauss saw that the establishments and traditions that had been battered by the previous generations were now the inheritance of Generation X. Boomers and their predecessor generation -- the Silents -- had torn down old traditions, knocked down classroom walls and turned old definitions inside out. A lot of this was good. It was progress. But a lot of it also left things in tatters (such as the educational system).

Impressively, this book identified Generation X as the hapless generation made to clean up after the idealism and hubris of the Boomers, fifteen years before the housing bubble led us into the Great Recession. And this book came eight years before the Enron debacle showed us what a house of cards our energy system had become. Talk about Generation X being left holding the bag for the bright ideas of the Boomers. The election of Barack Obama (born in 1961) was the quintessential hand-off of a huge mess that had been created during the previous two presidencies of George W. Bush (born in 1946) and Bill Clinton (born in 1946).

One of my favorite points that Howe and Straus make is the phenomenon of the devil baby. These authors point out the slew of movies made between 1964 and 1984 that depicted babies and children as evil, destructive creatures. From Rosemary's Baby through The Exorcist to Children of the Corn, kids were seen as the enemy during Generation X's childhood as during no other. By 1986 Hollywood had done an about-face on child-raising with movies like Three Men and a Baby and Baby Boom. It's not that there haven't been any horror movies since then that have shown kids as scary, but the dominance of children as monsters is over.

The title of 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? uses the language of computers to reflect how Boomers and Silents have regarded Generation X. Apparently, after the invention of the birth control pill and better access to abortion services, we were the most avoided and aborted generation in history (ouch). In fact, reading this book and seeing how drastically attitudes towards babies and childbearing have changed over the past 50 years has convinced me that what access to abortion services we still have in 2014 will not last. Once the pendulum has finished swinging, the limited rights American women have over our bodies will disappear. I just hope I'm not still here to witness it.

There are many things about Strauss and Howe's book that don't work for me. It's not an annotated, sociological discussion, but reads like a book that was trying to be fun and controversial. The authors created a Generation X character called "crasher" who interjects his/her opinions periodically. The dialogue between crasher and the authors strikes me as strained and pandering and makes me wonder why the two Boomers who wrote this book tried to mimic the voice of Generation X. I find those passages distracting and they don't add much to my experience of the book.

I haven't quite finished it yet and am wondering if I should. It's discouraging. To counter the gloom that came over me as I read it, I googled things that have been written about Generation X recently. There isn't a whole lot, but one study that I found says that Generation X has grown into an optimistic bunch who are devoted to our children, highly value marriage and family and see a bright future for ourselves. I don't know those people, but it was uplifting to read that Generation X hasn't gone from being a surly bunch of teenage cynics to a surly bunch of middle aged cynics. At least, not all of us.

Now the Millennials take up large amounts of cultural attention and will continue to do so in at least the amounts that the Boomers did/still do. To be part of Generation X is to be in the background, trying to get things back on track while the generations that sandwich us talk to interviewers. Will we get another Generation X president before the Millennials take over the American political arena from the Boomers? Who knows? Howe and Strauss' groundbreaking book Generations: The History of American's Future, determined that generations alternate between being dominant and non-dominant. Generation X just isn't a dominant generation. I hope I don't seem too much like a Generation X-er when I write that there's nothing that can be done about this. It just is.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Polio is doomed; gun violence isn't

Now read Time Magazine's Jeffrey Kluger as he viscerates American lawmakers by comparing them to the people who are eradicating polio from the planet in Why Polio is Doomed and Gun Violence Isn't.

Part of Rotary International's campaign to raise awareness of the need for polio eradication.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

10th Birthday of My Blog!

Today my blog is 10 years old! I'm excited and proud because this blog represents my longest commitment and the creative outlet I've never abandoned. Since I started this blog I've been through two apartments, five jobs, been married and divorced, I've gotten down to 118 pounds and gone up to 180, but no matter what happens the blog endures.

Since that first post on Thursday, June 17, 2004, I actually picked up some readers. Thank you to everyone who has been reading. I'm very grateful to everyone who reads and I especially appreciate those who have commented. I feel kind of ridiculous for having named this blog "Chicana on the edge." It sounds pretentious and dramatic, but it's also even more appropriate for me now than in 2004. I just don't see things the way others do and that often puts me on the outer rim of conversations, social circles and friendships. I say things out loud that are "edgy" without realizing they are. This makes me even more grateful for the friends I do have, the ones who are okay with me having such beliefs as the homo sapien species is due for extinction, parenthood is a no-win risk, everyone is racist, and life isn't too short, often it's too long. I'm not saying any of my friends agree with any of these statements, but they can accept that they have a friend who believes them that's good enough for me.

Ten years ago I started this blog because I'd just found out that a friend of mine had a blog and I figured if she could have a blog, why not me? I also read an article that said that one of the things that makes a good blogger is the habit of spending hours a day online. It asserted that if you're not already spending hours in front of a screen, you won't make time to do it just because of a blog and then your blog will languish. When I read that, I knew blogging was for me. What else did I have to do with my time in June 2004?

It turns out blogging must be more than having time to spend online because even though my free time has fluctuated greatly in the past ten years, I keep coming back to the blog. It's as if I have too much going on in my head and I have to let some of it out. I think of my blogging as a release valve on a pressure cooker, like men with too much iron giving blood, like shearing a sheep of its excess wool, like anything that builds up and has to be let out a little at a time. I also simply love to write. So even though it sounds very mid-aughts, I proudly say that I'm a blogger. I also like the word in Spanish: bloguera!

Here's a question for you: ten years ago, where did you think you'd be today? Ten years ago I thought I'd still be a performing and recording musician. I'm very much at peace with that not being the case. Music did what it needed to in my life and then I let it go. I've also lost what little tolerance I had for late nights and loud amplification. The musician life was never really for me.

Ten years ago I hoped that by now I would be happily married, having found the man who was just right for me. If not that, I hoped to be divorced. I'm serious. In 2004 I just wanted to lose my "single, never married" status and I was desperate enough to stop caring how it happened. Married or divorced, I would know that for once in my life I had managed to get a boy to marry me because that's how you determine your worth as an American woman -- by being married. Oh, it's terrible what American culture can do to a woman when combined with low self-esteem. So now that I have indeed been married and divorced, how do I feel about this one? I have to say I'm neutral on it. I'm not proud of achieving this goal because it was driven by such self-loathing, but I have to admit that I got the job done, unquestionably.

I look at my family members and friends who managed to sustain a bond with the same man for ten whole years, or twenty, or twenty-five and I wonder what that's like. It seems like there are some benefits there, like it must be nice to be with someone with whom you share such closeness. But I'm too smart (unfortunately) to believe that it's the luck of the draw or the hand of God that leads you to such a bond. I know we end up in the situations that we are drawn to and there just aren't a lot of us that are so healthy, whole and balanced that we end up in a wonderful long-term relationship that never stops dipping and bending as we grow, providing unconditional love and, if not complete understanding, complete acceptance, to the end of our lives. If you're capable of that, you do that. I was not.

So here I am. If you had told me ten years ago that in 2014 I'd be living alone after having been married for five years, I probably would have been okay with it. It sounds just like what I would do. But instead of music, writing is now my creative focus and I'm very happy with that development. It fits my temperament better because I like getting up early, having quiet days, and going to bed at 10 o'clock. Also, writing is what I've done since age 11; it's like breathing for me. This is who I am.

Now I'm supposed to say that even though I'm not where I expected to be at this point in my life, I'm better off than if I'd stayed with those dreams I outgrew. I'm supposed to say that I'm happy with where I am and I trust that the things that didn't happen weren't meant to be. Of course, I don't believe that meant to be and everything happens for a reason crap. It's a godless, random universe and stuff just happens.

Given that, I guess I've attained an acceptable place. I'll be 48 next month with a divorce under my belt, a book manuscript written, a totally great apartment and all the wonderful friends and family I want. I have very promising projects and goals underway, my self-esteem is a thousand god#$%@ times better than ten years ago and I've learned excellent tools for dealing with stress and the depression that still kicks up for me. (I'm also proud to NOT have the following: debt, a miserable job, children, or a relationship I can't figure out how to scrape off.) While I have to admit that I'm not making the money I want, I'm not in love and I still can't do that full plow pose, it's also true that I'm not dead yet. In many ways, I'm materially the same as ten years ago, but I like myself a lot better and I think that's worth the rest of it.