The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

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 thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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 thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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 thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

Terms Of Endearment Or Disrespect? – Part 1

posted by Donna Henes

Continuing from yesterday, here are 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:
I have to wonder how many women surveyed in your “completely unscientific poll” were from the Midwestern and Southern states (and no, the Virginia suburbs of Washington do not count).

I am an Ivy League graduate, a liberal and a feminist, but see nothing “desexualizing” or “classist” about the word “ma’am.” Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., I was taught that it was a term of respect: nothing more, nothing less. I gave the title to my mother, to cafeteria workers and even to my teenage babysitters.

The next time some poor unsuspecting waiter refers to Natalie Angier as a “ma’am,” I hope she does not coldly dismiss him. There’s a better than average chance that he’s a transplant from my neck of the woods. Where we come from, calling someone “ma’am” is a sincere attempt at courtesy. And goodness knows, our country needs more of that.

- Amy Watson, Birmingham, AL


To the Editor:
I had to smile upon reading the essay about manners. You may have just taken on every teacher south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where the salutation is not only encouraged but, at least in the past, very much expected.

When we moved from Rhode Island to Georgia in 1977, our daughter was in the second grade. At our first teacher’s conference, I was told that she needed to show more respect to the teacher by only answering, “yes, ma’am or “no, ma’am.” I tried to explain that our Yankee background did not include this particular show of manners and that she was not being rude.
I’m not sure I got my point across, but I have never forgotten the admonition!

- Sandra Moore, Washington Township, NJ


To the Editor:
“Just Don’t Call Me . . .” doesn’t mention that “madam,” hence, “ma’am” is from the French “madame,” meaning “my lady.” Sounds, what? Courtly, romantic, classist?

But for me, at any age, better than the phone solicitor’s “Karen, I just want to tell you about … ” A little respectful formality and distance, please! And some humanity. What should I call that waitress with the hot plate when I need more water?

The younger woman who slices my bread at the market hands it to me and says, “Here you are, my lady,” and I think it’s delightful, as I did when a woman older than I picked up a paper I’d dropped on a Paris Métro platform and called out, “Ma chérie, you dropped this.” I always say to the woman at the market, “Thank you, my dear.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could call one another “my dear” and really mean it?

- Karen Goodman,Studio City, CA


To the Editor:
I have never been a great fan of being addressed as “ma’am,” and years ago came up with a simple way of letting others know what to say instead.

While out to dinner with my spouse one evening, our server asked, “Would you care for something to drink, ma’am?”

I shook my head, signaling disapproval, and motioned for her to come closer. “It’s not ‘ma’am,’ ” I said sotto voce. “It’s ‘goddess.’ “

She nodded, and then asked with a big smile on her face, “Can I take your order, Goddess?” which she, my spouse and I all agreed sounded much, much better.

Another time, after being similarly instructed, a server asked if instead of Goddess, she could address me as “diva.” “Care for a refill, Diva?” worked for me.

- Lesléa Newman, Holyoke, MA

Coming tomorrow, more reader responses.

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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