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The real lives of women

Posted in Life & Love

Fiddler crabOn the phone with my childhood friend Silvia, our customary Sunday call, I confess to being rather crabby. Not sad, or melancholy or down in the dumps – just crabby. And I use the English word as I can’t come up with an adequate Italian translation.
“What does it mean, exactly?” Silvia asks, and while I am wrecking my brain, she looks it up.

The Italian translation of crabby is “acido” which aptly conveys the acidic subtext of crabby. These days I have a tart retort for anyone or anything not to my liking, like the Chinese man who was compelled to stop the entire flow of traffic at LAX while trying to park, unsuccessfully, his minivan at the very entrance of a lot with thousands other empty spots. I didn’t think twice and hopped out of my car to harangue him, only to be chastised by a look of incomprehension and confusion that made me feel like the bitch I was.

If I were a fruit, passion fruit would best embody my state of affairs: sweet and inviting to look at but bite at your own peril. As sofagirl said, given enough rope, we can complain about just about anything.
Not that I have any reasons to be crabby, other than minor annoyances and mishaps – and of course everything can be put into perspective by imagining how it would be to live in Gaza or Afghanistan, but that is a myopic way of looking at one’s moods: by empathizing with anyone in worse shape than us is supposed to make our problems feel insignificant and so First World, as it has become fashionable to say. But it’s a gimmick that only works in the short term, and forces us to soldier on and shut up, rather than go to the root of our ills.

As crabbiness is not one of my most usual moods, I took the time to trace its origins. A few days ago, an e-mail from sofagirl mused how nice it would be not to have to work at this stage in our lives and have enough money to tool around, take classes, go on trips. But, in the end, she concluded “on the upside, we have real lives. And many women our age don’t.”

Family on beach
Happy endings?

That comment about real lives struck a chord in me. Books, that have an uncanny habit of inhabiting serendipity, also played a part – a book in particular, “The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud that I had begun a few days prior to receiving the email. It’s the story of a 40 something pleasant woman, a third grade teacher adored by students and parents alike, single and childless and, by her own admission, with abandoned aspirations of becoming an artist, a painter, a wife and a mother. Her bitterness, kept hidden from the world, finds an outlet in the hijacking of a couple’s life – the parents of one of her favorite students – artsy, worldly and intellectual types, the sort of people she thought she would become.

While taken to an extreme for the sake of fiction, it’s not uncommon to find women who wake up middle-aged to the bone chilling realization that their dreams and aspirations are not coming to pass. When do you stop believing in your dreams? I wondered. How do your readjust your focus? How do you fill a life that feels too solitary and yet not as free as it once did? How do you not succumb to self-pity and to the ghosts of what should have been but wasn’t and, now, will never be? How do you find happiness again? Do you rearrange your priorities and push under the radar what seemed so important just a year ago? And how do you pinpoint the moment real life comes knocking and you can’t ignore it anymore?

And what’s a real life anyway? Is it the jumble of emotions and aspirations and wishful thinking that trail our everyday actions? Or is it the total sum of all the actions that brought us where we are?

We all start out thinking our lives will be extraordinary and moulded around our dreams. We factor in some obstacles, even some tragedy, but the future is bound to hold and deliver everything we are capable of conjuring: a career, a walk down the aisle, a brood of sparkling children, eternal love, a two-story house, a Nobel prize. Until the future becomes a freeway with only a few exits left and none of the big prizes have found their way to our doorstep.

These women are not me but the difference between my life and theirs is just a matter of shades of expectations, and possibly just dumb luck. Thinking about all the women I know or come in contact with, I wondered how many put a happy mask day and day out; how many feel things haven’t gone according to plan and still they soldier on and shut up?

I am crabby because yes, it would be nice to have enough money not to have to work, and maybe right now I am not exactly where I want to be but the exits left on my freeway are still appealing. I do have a “real life”, where I am asked to juggle chaos, and family members’ problems, and random mishaps but also love, and laughter and moments of utter bliss. My outer life is messy and full and hectic and my inner life is rich and dreamy and at times hyperbolic but, by and large, the two are aligned. Is that the key to a “real life”? What do you think?

 

 

 

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28 Comments

  1. I read your post and smiled. It reminded me of my own ‘crabbish’ emotions some days. Life can be a real challenge, especially for women. Expectations (both on ourselves as well as those of society’s) can be so burdensome. It’s hard to always juggle balls and yet be as light and whimsical as a dandelion in bloom. Your words remind me it is possible. Thank you for sharing words from your heart. You both continue to inspire me. ❤️

    July 22, 2014
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    • Such a nice compliment. Love the image of a a light and whimsical dandelion in bloom. Sometimes I think I write to feel the kinship of connecting with other likeminded women.

      July 22, 2014
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  2. I think you’ve written a beautifully honest post. I’ve said it before, you are a lovely and sensitive writer.
    I too wish I didn’t have to work. I never knew it when I was in my 20s and 30s but I am actually a work shy layabout! It’s quite a revelation to me. I thought I was driven and career oriented. Truth is, I just want to do what I want to do, be told otherwise by no one, buy whatever I want, and live to be an old bat of150 years surviving on red wine and buttery toast.

    July 17, 2014
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    • Thank you Jackie. “I just want to do what I want to do” resonates with me. I really do not miss the corporate world – I am still ambitious, but on my own terms which doesn’t make for easy living at times.
      Your buttery toast comment reminded me of my first trips to England, as a teenager, and discovering fluffy white toast with salted butter, neither of which existed in Italy. I promptly put on 5 pounds in a month by gorging on it. Still an unsurpassed delicacy in my eyes!

      July 17, 2014
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    • Linda
      Linda

      This is so me!

      September 22, 2014
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      • Thanks for saying that. It does help to know I am not alone in my craziness!

        September 22, 2014
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  3. You are crabby because it’s around your birthday and you always get crabby around your birthday. Usually lasts a month so, in another week, you will be well into your 53rd year and getting on with life. Why do you get crabby? I think your romantic soul quietly dreads a Miss Havisham final sitting. Where you are alone at a table in a too-youthful white dress with no-one to pass you a pot of tea. But I don’t see that for you. The thing about a having “a real life” is that there are always other people around – grabbing at the cake, spilling the milk, smashing the tea cups. And that’s what keeps it, and us, interesting. Besides, if I do run out of money, as I constantly fear I will – I will be at your elbow, raising my eyebrows at the dress and re-cycling the tea bags.

    July 15, 2014
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    • One thing is for sure – you and Sylvia will be around to put up with my crabbiness forever more. And she does know about the juggling story and how you feel about the juggler….

      July 15, 2014
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    • Too sweet. You will be the Estella to her Miss Hav 🙂

      July 17, 2014
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  4. Elma Jonckheer
    Elma Jonckheer

    Fifty something? Too soon to be crabby! Nearly half your life still ahead.The time will come when you will be nostalgic for fifty something.

    July 15, 2014
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    • Not sure I am crabby because I am fifty (2). Have always been a moody sort of soul – but I can see how I will become nostalgic for this time, when my body is still functioning right and I have plenty of energy. Better stock up on that Campari now! Thank you Elma.

      July 15, 2014
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  5. Linda
    Linda

    Very mindful thoughts.Accepting the chaos of our own present moment and ownig it ,is true freedom.

    July 15, 2014
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    • I suppose our world was born of chaos – if you believe the Big Bang Theory – so I suppose that spending one’s life trying to organize it might be counter intuitive! Thank you Linda.

      July 15, 2014
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  6. silvia
    silvia

    Second time you and sofagirl use the word juggling. Interesting…
    Maybe we are all jugglers and a few people can keep the balls circling in the air longer than others revealing a good balance between inner and outer world.
    My experience tells me that as long as we nourish our self with dreams, thoughts, anything that make us feel alive chance are that we can better relate with world around us.
    Someone once told me and I treasure it as one of life secrets you have to have infinite thoughts.

    July 15, 2014
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    • At the rate my brain churns out thoughts I should be the happiest person! Cannot possibly keep them all organized, hence I juggle (is there a subtext here that you are trying to convey to both of us? just kidding..)

      July 15, 2014
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    • Oh – Sylvia – Claudia knows all about juggling balls. Remind me to tell you sometime.

      July 15, 2014
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  7. Good questions. I do wonder about this. Sometimes, it seems that some people who are regarded as having a “full life”, are just occupied 24/7 with fulfilling other people’s expectations. Their kids’, their spouse’s (family in general), and those posed by work commitments… is there a perfect formula? Whichever path you choose, you’re never going to have ‘it all’, even if it looks enviable from the outside.

    To paraphrase a quote I read once, a guaranteed route to dissatisfaction with yourself and your life is to compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

    July 15, 2014
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    • Wonderful quote! I hope that having it all will never be the standard again for women entering adulthood now – it sets us up for disappointment. Having what matters (and it’s different for each and one of us) seems to be a better standard.

      July 15, 2014
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      • Yes, absolutely. And also having the freedom and the agency to do some tweaking and make revisions as we get older and our needs and priorities change.

        July 15, 2014
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  8. I think the word ‘crabby’ comes from the Scots word ‘crabbit’ which is still in use today. Crabbit is used to describe someone who is sour/grumpy and is usually applied to an old person – and sad to say usually to a woman – ‘she’s an awfu crabbit old wifie..’ I think the word travelled to the US with Scottish immigrants and got shortened there to ‘crabby’. A young person who is often crabby is Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip.

    July 15, 2014
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    • You can’t imagine how I appreciate this digging into the meaning of crabby. I have a fetish for words’ etymology – so thank you. I will own my crabbit old wifie..

      July 15, 2014
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    • I did not know the origin was crabbit. I’m Northern Irish and we use that word a lot but I thought it was a small country dialect my mum used and have since dropped it. Now I’m going to wear my Crabbit proudly. Thanks for that! 🙂

      July 17, 2014
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  9. You know, I SO love the voice in your writing – I congratulate you….and if you ever wonder in your darkest moments about your real life, I will tell you – you are a writer. And a very good one. Your voice is rich, it’s real, and it’s crabby in a way that makes me connect with you – and that is a real gift. It’s not my writing voice (at this point anyway) but it’s yours and I love it!

    July 15, 2014
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    • Could you have left a nicer comment? I don’t think so. Thank you Margaret – will do my best to live up to it.

      July 15, 2014
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