Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Book Club: a Movie Review

The movie review at rogerebert.com starts like this: “When I learned that Book Club was Hollywood’s latest bid to please the senior-discount demo with a glittering array of big-screen notables of a certain age was partly inspired by the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy—aka The Joy of Sex for semi-literates—I shuddered a bit. Please, don’t waste the estimable talents of Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, all acting together for the very first time, on kinky cosplay.” Have you ever googled a word like “cosplay” and after reading what pops up you still don’t have a clear picture of what the person who used it was trying to say? Understand it or not I’m using the quote above to supplement how IMDb sums up the storyline of the film: “Four lifelong friends have their lives forever changed after reading Fifty Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.”

Each character supposedly “represents a romantic stage of older womanhood,” but I personally don’t known any wealthy women who have never married---Fonda’s part---who has an active sex life but never gets emotionally involved with any of her sex partners. When she hands out the ‘Fifty Shades’ book she picked for the group to read one of the ladies said, “Give me a break. I’m not reading that!” and another says, “To even be holding this book is embarrassing." I’ve never known a federal judge either---Bergen’s part. She plays a divorced woman who hasn’t been interesting in dating (or sex) in nearly two decades. At one point in the movie she says could put Christian Grey “in jail for any one of those things” he did to Ana in the book. Steenburgen plays a married woman who hasn't has sex in sex months. Keaton plays a widow one year out who is being pressured to move into a ‘senior-safe’ basement suite at her daughter’s house. And one of the best lines in the movie came when she told her daughters “you both seem to have good mothering instincts but you should save it for your children.” 

You can’t have love and romance in a movie without men---well, you could but not in this storyline---and they paired Fonda with Don Johnson and Bergen with Richard Dreyfuss. Steeburgen’s husband was played by Craig Nelson and I saved the best for last, Keaton was paired with Andy Garcia. All six of us who saw the movie together left the theater in love with Andy’s character. He and Johnson provided the required silver-fox eye candy for this old hen flick. (Old hen as opposed to chick flick. Not funny? Sue me.) The casting director‘s choice of Don was an interesting pick considering his daughter, Dakota Johnson, played the lead in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. In an interview he said he didn’t see the movies because “there are some images that shouldn’t be in a father’s head.” Good choice, Don.

I don’t know how the opening weekend box office sales were but judging by the fact that I could have seen Book Club with three separate groups, I’m guessing they were good. My senior hall Movie and Lunch club chose it but I only went to lunch with the fifteen in that group. My Red Hat Society chapter threw in an extra outing for May just to see the movie and that doesn’t happen often. I went with my Gathering Girls group. We laughed. Two of us cried. And all of us had a fabulous time and several of us---including me---want to see Book Club again because there was so much dialogue that got lost in the laughter at the theater. 

As a feminist I had mixed feelings about seeing a movie that piggybacked on the popularity of the ‘Fifty Shades’ books and movies. I even wrote a blog in 2015 about how I think the mainstreaming of sadism and masochism is a dangerous message to send to the young women and men. Last February the first movie came on late night TV and I decided I’d bitched about the so-called “erotic romance” enough that I should see if my impression that hard core S&M and grooming for such was being passed off as romantic foreplay matched up with what was actually in the film. It did. S&M should stay in The Encyclopedia of Abnormal Human Behavior Encyclopedia where I first learned about it decades ago. When I was telling one of the Gathering Girls pals about my skepticism about seeing the film she said, “We don’t know how the material is handled in THIS movie.” That was a good point and reason enough for me to give up my qualms about paying money for something that might elevate the ‘Fifty Shades’ mind-set.

As it turned out, the characters in Book Club agreed near the end of reading the trilogy that it wasn’t very good even though it did bring changes in each of their lives. (The emotionally unavailable hotel owner opened herself up to being vulnerable. The judge started online dating, the recent widow found her voice and the married couple made their way back to each other.) Although one of the characters said a line about trilogy that rubbed me the wrong way: "It's just a love story that proves even a guy who is fifty shades of fucked up needs love.” If they had left that one line out of the movie my feminist sensibilities would have been happier. It's a dog-whistle to abused women who suckle at the tit of ‘Fifty Shades’ suggesting they should keep loving their abuser instead of leaving. 

The bottom line from my point of view is you don’t have to like the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey books and movies to enjoy a light comedy like Book Club. I sure did. And it definitely wasn't "cosplay"---I finally figured out what the word means. No one dressed up in S&M garb or bought handcuffs or set up a red room with torture devices like Mr. Grey's. The characters were relatable and believable and I loved the way Candice Bergen delivered her nuanced humor. She was my favorite character. If you saw the movie who was your favorite? ©

If you want to read a funny (but long) tongue-in-cheek movie review of the last of the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy movies, I highly recommend one from The Atlantic. Fifty Shades Freed: a Spoilereview

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Time Zones and Royal Weddings

Lectures at the senior hall are never a crap-shoot, meaning they book good quality speakers who talk about interesting topics. This month’s lecture was titled Michigan’s Great Time Confusion but it could have been labeled for any other state as well. We probably all know that back when travel was by stage coach, wagons and horseback time in America was set in what is known as Solar or Sun Time. But, I for one, didn’t know that most communities had one person in town that was appointed by local ordinances to be the official time keeper for its citizens. If you wanted to set your pocket watch correctly you’d walk down to the city hall or church tower clock to check their time. The keeper of the official town clock would use a Meridiem Chart that depends on the position of the sun in the sky, the date and their location on the globe to adjust the time a few minutes back or forward each day. It didn’t much matter if the towns half way across the state were running its official time twenty minutes faster or slower because there wasn’t much commerce done between them. 

Then the railroads and telegraphs came along and it wasn’t long after when they found themselves operating in 27 different time zones just in Michigan alone and other states faced similar problems. It was a nightmare for the rail companies trying to print and keep schedules, for travelers and for businesses shipping by train, so the railroad lines started pushing to standardize time across America. Thus Railroad Time was invented. Cities and towns and the schools, tradesmen and factories within them fought over whether or not to change to Railroad Time and in many communities they used both Solar and Railroad Time. Individuals fought about the time, especially at bar closing time, in courthouses and at train stations and housewives hated having to get their husbands ready for work on Railroad Time and their children ready to go to school on Solar Time. Towns voted Railroad Time in, then back out again and it got so confusing that the federal government finally stepped in and in 1882 the National Time Standard was established.

Then in 1918 Daylight Savings Time started, an act meant to help preserve coal during WWI that was used to make electricity so they’d have more coal available for troop trains and ships. It was so unpopular that the law was repealed later on making DLS time a local option until WWII came along and Daylight Savings Time was mandated year-around across the nation and it was called War Time. The chaotic transition from Solar Sun Time to Railroad Time to Standard Time was a complicated story to tell but our speaker used lots of newspaper clippings, railroad schedules, charts, photographs and court and government documents that he projected on a screen to make the lecture come alive. I loved it! 

Time zones were important the following weekend to those of us around the world who wanted to watch the royal wedding in Windsor. The actual wedding started “over the pond” at twelve noon their time, 7:00 AM my time. I woke up a half hour late but what I didn’t see at the beginning I caught in the replays afterward. And if I hadn’t already been smitten with Harry and Meghan I sure was after hearing the song they chose for their wedding, Stand By Me. “When the night has come and the land is dark and the moon is the only light we'll see, no I won't be afraid. No I won't be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by me.” To use one of my all-time favorites---a song about enduring love and solidarity that’s been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its historically significance---as their wedding song is a wonderful window into Harry and Meghan’s union. They seem genuinely happy and in tune with each other’s life goals and after my twenty years of dealing with brides and grooms when I was in the working world I can say that with real conviction. 

Forever more Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. And that got me to wondering if Prince Harry actually has a last name for feminist Meghan to reject or accept changing hers to. Harry’s full name according to Wikipedia is: “His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales. And, no, Wales is not his last name…” After a frustrating google search I still didn’t have a definitive answer. But I did learn that it was her feminist choice to walk halfway down the aisle by herself, meeting tradition halfway to the altar where Harry’s father (standing in for hers) joined her. Pretty cool symbolism, if you ask me, and I noted that she didn’t vow to obey. I don’t get why any bride would make that vow in this day and age…and yet last summer I watched in shock as a young bride did just that. I’m surprised I didn’t stand up and yell, “I object!”  ©

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Widow’s Photographs and Dreams

I don’t have a lot of photos of my husband on display (or anywhere for that matter). Just three framed snapshots---one sits in the library, one on a chest of drawers in the hall and one is high on top of an antique medicine cabinet in my bedroom. Don loved photography and at social gatherings and on vacations he was always the person with a foot-long camera hanging around his neck thus he rarely appeared in the photos we had. Before we met I was into photography big time, took lots of classes and even knew how to develop my own film. (Boy, does that date me!) I loved taking photos of children and people who were unaware they were being photographed. Try doing that in this century and I’d get reported to the police for being creepy. And the few times in recent years when I’ve tried taking pictures of my toddler-age great-nieces and nephews they are so programed to taking selfies with their parents that the minute a camera appears they are posing with their tiny, fake smiles in place. I fear no one will ever take an arty-farty photo of a child again!

Don was a work-alcoholic with no other hobbies so he evolved into the chief photo documentarian of our travels through life. I had other hobbies, I collected them like some people collect stamps which, by the way, was one of my hobbies back in the day. Unfortunately, his pictures were all taken with a slide camera and you probably know what that means. Yup, they sit in boxes, unseen. Several years before he died I spent days sorting through the slides, picking out the best of the best intending to have them converted to a memory card to use in a photo-frame slide show. I set aside 200 slides and was planning to throw the rest out. However, my husband strongly nixed that idea. Mind you, no one had looked at those slides in decades but a wise woman knows where to pick her battles. So back down the basement the boxes went. Except for the best of the best that are still sitting in my closet with my good intentions to turn them into a viewable format all but forgotten. 

While sorting through the hundreds of slides it became apparent---as if I didn’t know already---that my husband also had favorite subjects in his view finder: landscapes, sunsets, flowers, wildlife and the dog. Rarely did he snap pictures of people. You can only look at so many photos of lovely landscapes, colorful sunsets and flowers, deer in fields and birds in the trees before they all start looking the same. And let me tell you about the many slides he took of our male dogs peeing! To me, if you’ve seen one dog peeing you’ve seen them all but Don was always looking for a humorous angle to the theme and sometimes, I have to admit, he found it. 

I’m reading My Mrs. Brown for book club and a passage had me reading it twice. It describes how Mrs. Brown takes a framed photo out of her bedside table drawer every night and displays it, then every morning she puts it back in the drawer. At first I thought, boy, is that ever weird! But then the author, William Norwich, went on to explain and I changed my mind. Mrs. Brown, he wrote, “was protecting her treasured photograph from time’s most corrosive element: forgetting.” He went on to describe how in a room full of furniture and knickknacks we get so used to seeing photographs among the other clutter that most of the time we don’t even see them anymore. “Her ritual of in and out from the drawer, morning and night, helps Mrs. Brown keep her greatest treasure alive...” I sure recognize the truth in that logic…not so much as a widow who has a few photos of Don on display but because the passage brought echoes back around of something Don often said about fixing broken things around a house. “If you let something go for more than two weeks,” he’d say, “you don’t see it anymore and it doesn’t get fixed until you’re getting ready to have a party or move.”

That book passage had me thinking that maybe I should adopt that in and out of the drawer each morning and night routine with a photo of Don. It’s a sweet tradition, isn’t it. But then I discarded the idea because Don comes to me in my dreams so often I couldn’t forget him if I tried. Last night he and I got separated at a huge flea market and I couldn’t find his cell phone number in my phone. He and I have been getting lost or separated in my dreams so damned often lately and I wake up with a jolt and sometimes I can't fall back to sleep. I’m amazed at how many different ways during REM sleep my bran finds to keep us separated. But that begs the question, which is the real me? My nighttime self who apparently still suffers from separation anxiety or my daytime self who likes to believe she's a well-adjusted woman? ©

The photo above, was taken by Don. That poodle could always find 'creative places' to pee.

P.S. If you read my last blog entry you might like to know that I finally got two hummingbirds to come out of the pines and down to my feeder!