Having arrived at a certain age and come through a bout of cancer, I find myself taking stock.
Some decades ago I decided that one of the shortest roads to happiness would be to lower my expectations. In retrospect, it would have been more accurate to say I needed to get in touch with reality.
Check out the lyrics of this beautiful iconic entry in the American songbook:
“There’s a someone that I’m longing to see,
I hope that he
Turns out to be
Someone to watch over me.”
© 1926 George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Boy, did that, and almost every other song I heard, give me the wrong idea. That’s the trouble with exposing children to things that they don’t understand and can’t handle – song lyrics, Bible verses, loaded guns.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? Someone taking care of you and all your worries for the rest of your life? Who does that?
By the time I was in my late twenties I knew what I wanted: a partner, a friend. Someone who did not lie to me or cheat on me.
Against all odds, and after several Mr. Oh-Hell-Nos, Rick and I got together, and we were friends, and we were partners, and we played music together, and we took care of each other, and we drove each other crazy, and we laughed a lot, and we raised a couple of great kids.
Our marriage wasn’t a fairy tale – name me one that is – but it was a good if sometimes hard life. There wasn’t a lot of money most of the time, and that was the hardest part.
Then, before Rick and I could share our old age together, he died.
So “happily ever after” was a crock from the get-go.
Yeah. I was raised with a ton of unrealistic expectations, or as I think of them now, lies.
What about you men? What was the crock you were fed about your place in life and relationships?
Do you like women? Do you resent and fear women? I think that a lot of men resent and fear women. That is made clear by how women are treated, and how some men speak about women when they think we are not around.
When I was young I accidentally overheard men talking about women a few times. It was enlightening. It didn’t make me feel like men saw me as an equal human being. It made me feel like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of a man’s shoe.
I say that in sadness, not anger. I burned through my anger at men as a class decades ago. I know how many good men there are, by which I mean decent people doing the best they can. Now I think someone is an asshat when I experience them as an asshat, regardless of classification, by gender or anything else.
There were dreams I had in this life.
I meant to spend my adult life touring all over the country as a singer/songwriter, eventually ending up doing it with Rick.
I started out doing it solo in my twenties, and in my thirties and forties did a lot more of it in the trio, Women, Women & Song. We went up and down the West Coast a few times and had a lot of fun. Wrote a lot of songs, did some radio, did some television, made some recordings, played the Northwest Folklife Festival every year.
But then I had these children.
Being childless is an asset in the life of a traveling singer/songwriter; that or having a stay-at-home spouse to mind the family, and it is mostly male singer/songwriters who have that arrangement. Rick did his best when I was out playing music, but he was not a stay-at-home spouse. That was one reason I left the trio in 1991 and went home. That was the end of my touring days.
Most of all, in my youth I hoped to make a difference for the better in the world. I worked hard most of my adult life trying to prove to the mean voice in my head (my mother’s, it turned out) that I had worth, that I could make a difference.
So now, at a certain age, having had cancer, looking my life over, what do I see?
I did the best I could. Sometimes great, sometimes tragically wrong, mostly somewhere in between.
Now I write, and I sing, and sometimes make people laugh, and sometimes I listen, and I love people.
I am beginning to think that I am enough, at last.
You are, too – enough, I mean. Who you are, what gifts you have, what you bring to your life. You have nothing to prove.
Funny how it’s easier to say that to the whole wide world than to myself.