The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

The Autumnal Equinox

posted by Donna Henes

The Autumn Equinox today ushers in the dark season. The season of diminished light. From now until the Vernal Equinox, six months hence, the nights will be longer than the days. Shade and chill prevail. The year, the season, the sun, are slowing down, growing cold, getting old. The insidious forces of death sweep in and overshadow the vibrant life source.

The air and land, once alive with teeming species, are becoming empty in fall, and mute. Birds leave. Insects nest. Burrowing animals hunker. The trees discard their once-green mantles, shrugging off leaves aglow with the fiery patina of age and sun. Stripped, they emerge skinny and naked, shivering in the wind. The flowering and fruitful plants shrivel and wither and prepare to die with the coming cold. Fruits, nuts, ripe grains and grasses are gathered in before the fatal first frost.

Fall is like being 60. Having weathered the cycles, the rainbows and the storms, the trials and the troubles, the struggles; the teachings of a full life, it is now the season to reap what you have sown. If you planted your seeds in the spring and tended them well — watered and weeded, pruned and staked, mulched and sprayed, propitiated and prayed; and if the weather was willing — enough, but not too much, sun, wind and rain; and if you were lucky — favored by the powers-that-be in the universe; come autumn it is prime time to harvest your crop.

You have lived responsibly, raised your family. You have followed your calling, perfected your craft, participated in community. You have done your job, played your part. You have paid your dues — not to mention your payments, your taxes. You have worked your ass off. You are ready for a rest. You earned it. You yearn for the freedom and leisure that follows hard work well done. This is the future you have been saving for. In fall, you cash in and collect the fruits of your love and long labor.

Throughout world mythology, the goddess of the good ground, the grain, the autumn harvest, has been appropriately portrayed as a knowledgeable woman of the world, an experienced, mature mistress of all earthly domains. A matriarch. A Queen. She was known as Astarte, Ishtar by the ancient Semites, Semele by Phrygians, Isis in Egypt, Demeter in Greece, and Ceres in Rome. She is Tari Pennu to the Bengalis, Old Woman Who Never Dies to the Mandan and Mother Quescapenek to the Salish. To the Aztec, she is Chicomecoatl and the Huichol call her Our Mother Dove Girl, Mother of Maize.

Autumn age provides the perspective of the telescope of time. Here is the potential to ripen to a healthy, golden perfection before the stalk of life is scythed. To propagate the plentiful seeds of genes, of experience, of heritage, of the accumulated wisdom of the generations grown patiently over time. These are the seeds of survival. This is true for plants, too. In the fall of their lives when they are past their prime, as their last productive act and in a grand-finale flurry of display, they go to seed. They issue forth from themselves the fertile means to assure a continuous succession.

The parent plant scatters these precious seeds to the four directions. They send them out on the winds and over the waters. They arrange for them to be delivered in the fur of animal couriers and dispersed from the air by birds and bats. They are given over to the grain harvesters of many species. It is imperative that these wild and domestic seeds find their way back into the earth womb to germinate and grow again. This accomplished, their lives complete, their genetic deed done, they die. Their decomposing leaves and stalks serve to cover the embryonic seed asleep in the cold ground. Even in death, they serve to nourish new life.
Autumn is inexorably associated with ripe maturity, harvest and death, as well as the implicit understanding of an eventual rebirth, the offer of resurrection. Just as the dying sun is sure to return, so, too, will the seeds buried deep in the dark, begin to sprout come springtime. This potent promise of prospective plenitude sustains us through the empty-stomach months.

Our old women gods, we ask you!
Our old women gods, we ask you!
Then give us long life together,
May we live until our frosted hair
Is white; may we live till then
This life that now we know!

- Tewa Prayer to the Corn Mothers
Join me tonight, SEPTEMBER 22, 6:30 PM

A sunset ceremony on the first day of Fall.
This is a family friendly event. Bring kids, dogs, drums, percussions and plenty of spirit.

Grand Army Plaza, Park Slope, Exotic Brooklyn.
Meet at the Fountain. 2/3 train to Grand Army Plaza
For info: 718-857-1343

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


Summer Before the Dark

posted by Donna Henes

Doris Lessing’s wonderful book, Summer Before the Dark is as insightful, articulate, and compassionate an account of the process of a midlife woman’s transformation into the Queen of Her Self that I have ever read. She was 64 when it was published in 1983, and clearly, she knew what she knew about the process. This book had a profound effect on me and was a tremendous inspirational influence on The Queen of My Self.

As the summer begins, Kate Brown — attractive, intelligent, forty-five, happily enough married, with a house in the London suburbs and three grown children — has no reason to expect anything will change. But when the summer ends, the woman she was — living behind a protective camouflage of feminine charm and caring — no longer exists. This novel, Doris Lessing’s brilliant excursion into the terrifying stretch of time between youth and old age, is her journey: from London to Turkey to Spain, from husband to lover to madness: on the road to a frightening new independence and a confrontation with self that lets her, finally, come truly of age.
- From Summer Before the Dark book jacket notes

At first Kate Brown resigns herself to the realization that this would be the last summer before her family goes their own ways and she is left with an empty nest and the start of a new stage of life — aging — sets in. But the summer brings her unexpected experiences through which she discovers a new sense of Self that is not defined by her roles of wife or mother. She emerges rejuvenated and centered, which results in a new sense of social dynamics with her family, friends, coworkers, and strangers.

Do read this book. Do, do read this book!

Doris Lessing was a marvelous chronicler of the inner lives of women and wrote candidly of our deepest emotions, including anger and aggression. She was attacked as “unfeminine” in doing so. Her response to her critics: “Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.”  

In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy described her as the “epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire, and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.”

Queen Doris’ most famous novel and, perhaps her strongest legacy, The Golden Notebook, published in 1962 when she was 43 years old, inspired a generation of feminists. She was adamant that women should be free to lead independent lives as the sovereign rulers of their own destinies.

“Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself”

Today HRM Lessing lives in London. She is 88 years old and still feisty, a brave and impeccably honest shero of the first order.

“I have found it to be true that the older I’ve become the better my life has become.”

May it continue to be so. Long live the literary Queen!

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Birthday Pleasures

posted by Donna Henes

Yesterday was my birthday.

Those many years ago, I was born on my mother’s birthday. As a child, I was absolutely enchanted by this bit of information. Did I come all wrapped in ribbons, I would ask? Were there balloons? A cake? Did the nurses sing “Happy Birthday To You” to you? And my mother, being of the-glass-is-half-empty-school, would reply that, although I was certainly a lovely present, she could think of several things that she’d rather have been doing on her (pre-Lamaze) birthday.

Sulpicia, the famed First Century Roman poet, also was piqued by the circumstances of her would-be party day. She cursed her “hateful birthday to be spent in the boring old country.” Most of us cherish a certain notion of entitlement on our birthdays, and often, a stylized celebration fantasy as well. A mythically idealized expectation based on popular practice, historic precedent and personal memory.  As Elizabeth Goudge wrote in Green Dolphin Street,

“Her birthdays were always important to her; for being a born lover of life, she would always keep the day of her entrance into it as a very great festival indeed.”

Who doesn’t awaken on their birthday with a tingle, a heart-skip of excitement? A trill of a thrill, a nascent throb? The date jumps out at us from newspapers, calendars, mail and memos, and we start the day with a stimulated sense of anticipation, or, for some, perhaps, trepidation. In any case, a heightened awareness of a period of personal significance. Of specialness. Our birthday is the anniversary of our Self, the blessing of the fact of our being.

Our birthday is our own personal new year. It is an annual reunion with ourselves, and attendance is required. It is a periodic opportunity to take serious personal stock. “How am I doing?,” as Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, would always ask. What have I learned? And what can I just not get through my thick skull? Like any new beginning, our birthday is an ideal time to sharpen our focus, realign our perspective and rededicate ourselves to living the very best life we can.  

Ultimate good girl that she was, Princess Victoria of Great Britain wrote in her journal on her eighteenth birthday,

“How  old! and yet how far I am from being what should be….I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study….to keep my attention always well fixed on whatever I am about, and strive everyday to become less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wils (sic) it, I’m someday to become!”

Somehow, especially as we grow older, cake and low-fat frozen yogurt are no longer the fulfilling richness we seek in our birthday celebrations. A party doesn’t feed us, the day doesn’t quite seem to satisfy us the way it used to. The promise implicit in the pomp is gone. We have seen what we have seen. We know what we know. We are left, more and more, with a an unsettling reminder of the ever-swifter passage of time. A birthday, then, becomes a time line, a life-line, a party line, a deadline. An assessment of our annual bottom line.

Every September I take time out of time to evaluate my past experiences and actions and to prepare myself mentally, physically and spiritually for the coming year. I usually retreat to some extent and fast to some degree during the two-week period surrounding my birthday.

This experience is intended to center me and slow me down. It is my birthday gift to myself. During my fast/retreat I devote myself completely to cleansing and centering myself: body, mind and spirit in readiness for the future. I rinse my system with fresh water and teas, I clean my house and altars and I use yoga, meditation and t’ai chi to flush my mind clear of the mental detritus that I have accumulated.

Once I have created a safe cocoon of centered, silent, ceremonial solitude, I immerse myself in my Birthday Book. This once-a-year journal, which I have kept since the mid 1980s and now runs to seven volumes, is the record of my involvements, experiences and lessons over the years. In it I process my impressions, plot my progress, ponder my problems and plan my goals.

This sacred period of Self reflection is the greatest gift that I can give myself. Every year
it sets me up to move forward along my karmic path, with a renewed and refined sense of purpose, passion and empowerment.
- Lovingly dedicated to the memory of my mother, Adelaide Trugman (b. September 19, 1914 – d. June 27, 1994). She was a woman ahead of her time and my role model for The Queen of My Self.

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


Terms Of Endearment Or Disrespect? – Part 2

posted by Donna Henes

Here are more responses from readers to Natalie Angier’s article “Just Don’t Call Me …,” (New York Times, Week in Review, Aug. 29, 2010):

To the Editor:
Having said “ma’am” all my life to be polite, I read “Just Don’t Call Me …” with chagrin. To learn that “ma’am” is outmoded because it makes women feel old has me feeling, well, old.

- Mark Weston, Armonk, NY

To the Editor:
Natalie Angier’s discussion of the term “ma’am” in society was revealing to this native Southerner, whose mother taught him to say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” without fail. What a pity that some women cannot accept a term of respect when it is offered. Another aspect of civility is lost.

- Hunter George, Birmingham, AL

To the Editor:
Many people object wrongly, I think, to the term “ma’am.” If the queen of England is content with that form of address, which is nothing more than a title of respect, irrespective of age, how can one take umbrage?

Now, when I hear “Move your car, lady,” I see red. That’s patronizing.

- Helen Benardo, Bronx, NY

To the Editor:
I do not have a problem with anyone calling me “ma’am.” What I hate and find totally insulting is when a man calls me “young lady” when we both know it’s a lie. 

- Susan Immergut, New York, NY

This from the Wikipedia explanation of Ma’am:

Ma’am – 1660s colloquial shortening of madam (q.v.). Formerly the ordinary respectful form of address to a married woman; later restricted to the queen, royal princesses, or by servants to their mistresses.
n. – A woman of refinement.

After addressing her as “Your Majesty” once, it is correct to address The Queen of the United Kingdom as “Ma’am” for the remainder of a conversation, with the pronunciation as in “ham” and not as in “chum” or “farm.”

Usage of “Ma’am” is becoming increasingly uncommon in the United States and in Western Canada and is already out of common usage in Australia, New Zealand and England.

In the past, the term was to be used only for married women, In practice, however, those who cling to the use of the term “Ma’am” tend to address only older women this way, while they address younger women as “Miss.”
Because of this age divide, most U.S. women object to the use of “Ma’am” or “Miss” as addresses as there is no formal equal address for a younger man in common use. Men are always called “Sir”, whether they are 18 or 80, while an 18-year old woman would be called “Miss,” and a 40-year old woman “Ma’am.”
As of 2010, most American women equate the label “Ma’am” as meaning “Old lady” and eschew its use. In fact, in 2009 the European Union issued guidance against the use of status-specific titles for women as the title for men, Mr., makes no reference to a man’s marital status. By the same token, the use of “Ma’am” for women over 40 and of “Miss” for women in their teens, twenties and thirties is seen as expressing the same sexism.

As society progresses, it is now more common to state, “Would you like milk with your tea this evening?” rather than, “Would you like milk with your tea, Ma’am.” The former query is inclusive, as it does not label the person to whom the question is being made and therefore does not offend. The latter sentence does label the person being questioned, and is more likely to offend than to not offend.

How do YOU feel about being called ma’am?

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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