MIRROR, MIRROR – ELLIN CURLEY

A lot has been written about dieting and body image. What interests me is how we develop our body image in childhood and how this image haunts us through life.

Here’s an innocuous example. I am short. Very short. I am less than 5’1” tall. So it would be reasonable to assume that “short” would be part of my innate body image. But it’s not. I am constantly surprised when I stand next to normal sized people and realize how much bigger they are than I am. I believe this is because I grew early and stopped growing early.

So, in my formative years, I was one of the taller kids in the class. When you lined up by size, I was near the back of the line in first grade next to a girl named Liz who grew to be about 5’8” tall. I barely noticed as the years went by and everyone else continued to grow and I didn’t. It didn’t hit me until one day in sixth grade that I was at the front of the line next to my peanut-sized friend, Cathy.

How did that happen? As a result, I have never thought of myself as small. I am still confused when people comment on how tiny I am.

My mother illustrates the more pernicious effects of childhood perceptions. She was adorable as a child but had a thick, black uni-brow. Insensitive parents and family members referred to her as “the ugly one”. At the age of 13, she blossomed into a true beauty. This is not just an adoring daughter talking. My mother was scheduled to go to Hollywood in the 1940’s for a screen test until she got a severe case of Rheumatic fever that permanently damaged her heart. No matter how many people in her adult life told her how beautiful she was, her image of herself was always as the ugly duckling. She always felt totally inadequate physically.

Photo: thefrontporch.org

Photo: thefrontporch.org

When I was growing up, my insecure mom overemphasized the importance of looks to me. This made me very self-conscious about my appearance. She often told me that she didn’t understand how women who were not thin and beautiful ever got husbands. It’s no wonder that it was only in my 50’s that I felt confident to go out of the house without makeup on – ever! Even to the supermarket. I always wore makeup at home, alone with my husband, until recently with husband number two. It is liberating to be able to finally feel acceptable without cosmetic enhancement.

I believe that the self-image that is imprinted on us early in life stays with us forever. Extended therapy can improve the situation and strengthen the ego. But I think that it’s crucial for parents to make sure that their kids leave home with a positive body image. Too much emphasis is placed on physical appearance early on. So too many children, including me, grow up thinking that being beautiful is synonymous with being accepted, valued and loved.

We all need to feel comfortable in our own skin, whether we’re good looking in a conventional way or not; whether we’re skinny or “big-boned” or whether we are male or female. Neither of my children have serious body issues but I’m not sure if that is because of me or in spite of me. For me, I wish I could “do-over” my childhood and deemphasize the physical. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life as obsessed with looking “good” all the time.

NOTE: Ellin is “in the air” today coming back from Los Angeles. I will be fielding comments in her stead. She says she’s sorry, but they don’t give you WiFi in the air. I can vouch for that. We were in dead space while we were coming back from Arizona. It’s one of many “cost cutting” features that makes air travel so much fun these days.

MEMORY, MEMORIES AND WHERE THE HELL ARE MY KEYS? – by TOM CURLEY

First off, this isn’t a blog about “Senior Moments”. You know, like when you get up and go into another room and the second you enter the other room you can’t for the life of you remember why you’re there.

drz.org

drz.org

The annoying part is that the only way to remember why you went in there is to go back to the room you started in. As soon as you do, you immediately remember why you got up in the first place.

“Oh right. I really have to pee.”

No, this blog is about memory and memories. Why does my brain work the way it does? Why do I remember some things and not others?

Let me explain.

I went to college. I was a biology major and pre-med. I took lots and lots of science courses; biology, physics, math, and chemistry. I got good grades. All A’s or B’s.

I learned lots of stuff. I knew calculus. I knew what a derivative was. No, not the financial thingies that caused the global crash of 2008. But equations that started with dy/dx, or something like that.

Notice the past tense in these last sentences? I “knew” all these things. Today, all that information is gone! Vanished, like I never took any of those courses. Actually, I do remember that there was something called the “Krebs Cycle.” It had to do with respiration or metabolism. I know it’s something we all do that’s very important. If we don’t do it, we die. But that’s all I remember.

Yet, with no effort at all, I can recite all the words to the theme song to the 1960’s TV show Mr. Ed!!!

mr ed

Youtube.com

“A horse is a horse of course of course, and nobody can talk to a horse of course. That is of course, unless the horse, is the famous Mr. Ed.” I could go on to the second verse.

But I won’t.

Hell, I can even recite the words to “Car 54 Where Are You?” And I didn’t really watch the show that often!

Youtube.com

Youtube.com

“There’s a hold up in the Bronx,

Brooklyn’s broken out in fights.

There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child.

Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild.

Car 54 where are you?”

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I swear I wrote those from memory. They flowed effortlessly from my brain, like crap through a goose. I didn’t Google them.

Which brings me to my next point.

We live in an amazing age. We have all the knowledge of the world literally at our fingertips. Any question you could possibly think of can be googled. It’s gotten so easy that you can type the most rambling of questions and still get the right answer.

For example, a while ago I got into a conversation about time travel and it reminded me of a movie I’d seen a long time ago. It was about an aircraft carrier that went back in time to just before Pearl Harbor. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name so I typed the following sentence into Google:

“There was this movie a long time ago about an aircraft carrier that goes back in time to just before Pearl Harbor and ….”

google-search-screen

At this point Google popped up “The Final Countdown.” It listed the cast, the plot, and where I could buy it. All before I could finish typing a full sentence! Wow!

imdb.com

imdb.com

It made me realize something. I could use the internet to bring back all that science knowledge I once had!

But I don’t.

I use it for far more important stuff. Mostly, finding out the name of the actor my wife and I are currently watching on TV. We know we’ve seen him or her on some other show. But we can’t for the life of us remember either his/her name or the show’s name. Google it! Go to IMDB!

“Oh, right! She was the head doctor on that show we used to watch back in the 90’s!”

“Right! She was married to … what’s his name?  He was on … what was the name of that show?”

Back to Google.

So in the end, I still don’t know why my brain works the way it does. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the Kreb’s Cycle.

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

When I started reading it, I actually remembered most of it. Although I gotta admit. It was pretty dull. Mr. Ed was a lot more fun.

Hmm, maybe I do know why my brain works the way it does.

COLD MEMORY

I grew up in a very old, cold house.

It was first built in the mid 1800s as a four-room bungalow with a crawl space attic. At some point, owners raised the roof and built a small apartment under the eaves. One little bedroom, a miniature living room, tiny kitchen, and a bath. In front, there was a balcony just big enough for a single adult to stand and look down at the countryside.

This would eventually morph into our upstairs bedrooms. Two “kids” rooms so small the drawers were recessed into the walls to make room for beds, plus a slightly bigger space for my parents.

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The lower main floor expanded in all directions. From the original four modest rooms, it became seven. Each room was added to a different side of the house without regard for architecture or logic. It was a classic of “country” design based on utility alone. Eventually, the dining room had no windows and the large “salon” had but one small opening that faced north.

The downstairs was dark as night all the time. And chilly.

Two stairways twisted around each other, but there were eighteen doorways. You could get lost in the twisting hallways of that house. Some hallways ended at a blank wall. Perhaps they had gone somewhere … once upon a time.

My parents loved it. From the day we moved in, they began a series of renovation projects that would never be completed. I can’t remember when it wasn’t being remodeled. I still have a horror of home renovation projects.

One year, a slow-moving contractor left us without a wall in the dining room through a long, freezing New York winter. We wore overcoats from November till April when finally, the walls for the new room were added.

With all this renovating going on, you’d think they’d have put in a modern heating system at some point, but they didn’t. They kept the converted coal burner that probably was original to the house. The radiators were surely antiques, ornate, cast-iron relics from the turn of the century — possibly earlier.

That old furnace was barely able to heat to the first floor. The second story was effectively unheated.

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I was cold in that house most of the time. I developed a love-hate relationship with bathing. I loved being in a tub of hot water. It was the only time I was entirely warm. Getting in or out of the tub was terrible. The bathroom was frigid and I was a tiny, skinny kid. The kind of kid that is always being urged to eat.

Even today, I have trouble convincing myself to get wet in anything but the warmest weather. I have a knee-jerk reaction that getting wet equals chilled-to-the-bone. Until I develop some momentum, it’s a battle.

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It’s odd how old, nearly forgotten memories live on in our bodies. Physical memory is sometimes more powerful that more normal mental images. Some of my physical memories elude my conscious brain completely. I react, but I have only a dim, shadowy memory fragment of why. A lot of things I can’t remember are probably best left on the trash pile of personal history.

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One thing has come back to me.

I had a cold childhood. Cold at night, cold by day. Cold relationships with cold people. It shaped me in all kinds of odd ways that still linger as I trudge forward into my “golden” years.

BASKING IN THE ROSY GLOW OF A REINVENTED PAST

THE ROSY GLOW OF WHAT NEVER HAPPENED

The big day was coming up — my 50th high school reunion. I was not going, but somehow, I was on the mailing list. I found myself deluged with email from “The Reunion Group.”

I couldn’t (wouldn’t) read all of them, but every once in a while, I opened one. Just to punish myself. I was always sorry.

The discussion rambled from planning the event, to each person telling the story of his or her far-better-than-my life tale of incredible triumph, to reminiscing about the school song. Which had to be the definition of ” sublime to ridiculous.”

JamaicHSLongView

We never sang that song. Not once because no one knew the words. I did because I found them goofy and memorized them for kicks.

Why do people need to transform an experience rich with a mix of memories — good, bad, and indifferent — into a Lifetime movie re-titled “the best years of our lives?” It wasn’t anyone’s best years. They cancelled our Senior Prom. Due to lack of interest. I know because I actually had a date for the prom, but he and I were the only two people who signed up, so they cancelled it. Which says a lot about the truth of those times.

A few of the “reunion list” people also went to elementary and junior high school with me. We got to know each other better than we ever wanted.
96-Me Young in Maine

Fifty years later, these folks are literally singing the praises of Jamaica High School —  huge, over-crowded, and sometimes dangerous. A school in which if you didn’t get into the “college-bound” group, all you got from the school was a place to sit while being bullied.

Why do these people — most of whom have, at least on the surface led a charmed life — need to cast a rosy glow over a time that wasn’t rosy? My former classmates were intent on reliving a past that never happened.

It was what it was. The whole collective stumbling down memory lane thing seemed a bizarre form of self-hypnosis — or possibly delusions. Why? It’s years later, but I don’t have a sensible answer to that.

High school was far too weird to make good fodder for a daily prompt. I didn’t go to my 50th reunion and if anyone is alive for the 55th, I still won’t. This is as close to a speech about it as I’ll ever make.

THE GREAT JEWELRY CRISIS

I’m terrible about unpacking following a vacation. I don’t like packing, but I really hate putting clothing away afterward. I rarely empty my bags completely until it’s time to re-pack them for another trip. At which point, it becomes a voyage of discovery.

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“Oh, look, there are those jeans. I wondered what happened to them …”

“Oh, wow. My makeup! Well, I guess I have two sets now …”

Since my new haircut, I’ve been wearing earrings. This haircut looks much better with something dangling from my ears. Today, I decided to wear my favorite turquoise and coral beaded dangles.

Jewelry drawers in chest

After I put them on, it being an exceptionally lovely, warm, sunny day — in the middle of winter — I thought a necklace would balance the “look.”

But the necklace was missing from its usual location. Where was it? For that matter, the green turquoise pendant was missing too. Oh no! Did I leave them in Arizona? On the plane? Accidentally throw them out?

Fear and panic gripped me. I dove into the half-empty suitcase. There was stuff in it, but no jewelry.

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Now, I was in full panic mode. I emptied and checked every drawer in both jewelry chests. Every drawer, each hook. Coming up with nothing, I looked in all the cache trays where I temporarily stow jewelry.

Nothing. Nada. Zero.

I stood there. Paralyzed. My jewelry box was open, staring at me. All the little chokers were on their hooks — exactly where those missing pieces should be.

I took a break to look in the little cups in the bathroom where I sometimes put jewelry I remove when I’m getting ready for bed. When I came back into the bedroom, I looked at the jewelry box.

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My necklaces were in front of me. Exactly where they were supposed to be. Previously invisible, but now, I could see them. Obviously, they had been there all along.

Thus ended today’s jewelry crisis. This is not the first time this has happened and I suppose it won’t be the last. It is why I have two identical pairs of some earrings.

I blame the pesky pixies. Because it can’t be my fault. It simply can’t.

THREATENED BY BEEF

Weird stuff keeps happening. I think maybe I am the “happener.

It started the other day. I reached for my sandwich and encountered a frozen sirloin steak. On my desk. Where my sandwich ought to be. I picked up the frozen beef, took it to the kitchen, and showed it to Garry.

“Why,” I asked him, “Do I have a frozen steak to my office?”

“I have no idea,” he said, “Offhand? I’d guess you took it out of the freezer and put it there yourself. Or the pixies are at it again. Maybe the dogs did it. They look guilty to me.”

“I think they are trying to sucker you out of another round of treats,” I commented. But that was a safe bet as they are always on the prowl.

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I never got to the bottom of the steak mystery. If something shows up completely out-of-place, it’s usually because I meant to grab one thing, but instead, grabbed another. In this case, I also had my coffee and a sandwich, so how could I have transported one more thing. No spare hand. Two is my maximum.

A frozen sirloin is not the sort of thing I typically have lying around. I would must have made a special effort to get to it. Which is to say I’d have had to extract the slab of beef from the freezer.

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I assume — unless someone out there has a better explanation — I was intending to put it in the fridge to defrost, but I got distracted. However, I don’t remember taking it out of the freezer in the first place. No idea what I had in mind. Perhaps I was planning to eat it frozen and raw. Anything is possible.

Forgetfulness is my constant companion and I accept it … but what about the frozen steak?

Should I feel threatened by this unexplained meaty appearance?

SHARING MY WORLD – ANOTHER BIRTHDAY

The birthday bouquet

The birthday bouquet

How appropriate to be part of Cee’s Share Your World – Week 10  today. Birthdays aren’t as heartwarming as they were when I was a kid. As kids, we embraced each year. We were counting up towards a vast, unknown, and limitless future. Now, we are counting down. Most of what we were planning to do, either we’ve already done it, or we acknowledge it will have to wait for the next trip around the wheel.

I’m feeling pretty good about life, over all. Bumps in the road … okay some huge bumps … but I’m here. I plan to hang around awhile. Good stuff still lies ahead.

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When you lose electricity in a storm, do you light the candles or turn on the flashlight? How many of each do you own?

We’ve been lucky. We haven’t lost power, even during blizzards, for more than a few minutes in several years. People living a few miles away have had outages that lasted weeks. So far, so good. We have flashlights. We don’t use them often and have to check periodically to make sure the batteries haven’t died. When power goes out at night around here, it is very dark. No street lights, no light from other houses. It’s dark as a dungeon — unless there’s a full moon, of course.

We use the flashlights to find the matches and the candles. We have probably more than a dozen scented candles in the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Older eyes don’t see well in low light … especially not myopic old eyes. My toes appreciate the courtesy of not bashing them into furniture and walls.

The dogs don’t care. It’s all the same to them.

You are given $5,000 and the chance to exchange it for one of two envelopes. One envelope contains $50,000 and one contains $500. Do you make the trade? Why or why not?

I’m not a gambler. $5,000 in the hand beats $50,000 in the bush. Las Vegas wouldn’t make much from me!

One year old!

One year old!

What’s your first memory?

It was a cold, pre-dawn morning in New York. I was in my crib. We were in a terrible old tenement in Freeport. I wasn’t talking yet. I started crying for no reason I can remember. Maybe that was the closest I could come to words. I was standing in my crib when my mother came. She picked me up. I stopped crying.

What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep, toss and turn, or get up and try to do something?

Sleep is not easy for me. Ever. I have an iPad on which I listen to audiobooks. When I feel sleep coming on, I bookmark my current place, set the sleep timer for 15 minutes, and drift off. My problem has never been falling asleep. It’s staying asleep. If the committee meeting in my head could recess for a few nights, that would really help!

What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful to have made it to this birthday. It’s been  touch and go for the past 13 years. I’m looking forward to a peaceful week — and year — to come. I’ll settle gratefully for uneventful.