Dressing for your Age

My friends from yoga are all over 50.  Yesterday we talked about the rise of wearing people wearing costumes which, over the past 10 years, has been nothing short of meteorological.  The consensus of my friends is that costumes for kids under age 10 is very acceptable, but for young adults that it may be overwhelming and confusing.  Over age  25, the general feeling was that except for the odd party, it-is-not-so-much-accepted.  This got me thinking again about self-expression as we age.  You see those photo-editorials in fashion magazines about dressing in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Should fashion get progressively drabber and boxier as age?  What constitutes “grown-up” behaviour in fashion and costuming?

The term Cosplay is short for costume play.   Like Halloween and other forms of theatrical performance, Cosplay is still the one place where people regardless of age, gender, economy, race, ability or sexual preference are judged for their enthusiasm, not their skill or the size of their weapon. 😛

There is, however, always the thought that one will be judged.  I was no exception to this as I prepared for FanExpo 2013.  I had decided to cosplay a character, Annie Leonhart, as known as the Female Titan in Attack on Titan.  Attack on Titan, it’s Japanese title Shingeki no Kyokyjin, is a manga series written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama.  It also had an April 2013 animated series release.

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Annie in her human form from the Japanese manga, Attack on Titan

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Annie Leonhart in Titan form.

Before I get into the Annie character and my cosplay, I want to say that cosplay is dominated by the 16-25 age group, both male and female.  However, there is much ballyhoo over young women cosplaying provocative characters from comics, manga, anime, film and television.  Before we get into the whole skanky slutty costume argument, here is a nice piece by Sushi Killer about the CONsent message.  ‘Nuf said.

My worry was still that no amount of padding or make-up would disguise the fact that I am over 50.  Would I be accepted?  Would other attendees think I should be acting/dressing my own age?

Luckily, my desire to cosplay was encouraged by my co-op students who still believe in the Live and Let Live message.  The view at FanExpo is like visiting an unfamiliar country with brightly coloured birds, exotic animals, rare butterflies and the occasional scary spider.  At this point, I was more anxious to see if the character would be recognized.  I had taken the liberty of cannibalizing a Morph Muscle suit by handpainting what I felt the character representation would be – more like fan art than meticulously recreating the character in the manga or in the anime.  On Saturday, as I walked the aisles of art art, t-shirts, new games, autograph sessions and panels I saw a lone Eren Yeager cosplayer in human form on Saturday, but he bit his hand so I ran away.  That’s an inside joke as when the human Eren bites his hand he transforms into a monster Titan like me.

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Posing for a Fan at the Nerd Mafia vendor booth.

It was finally gratifying when the few groups of young adults wearing Training and Survey cosplay recognized and wanted a picture with me, their nemesis – even this funny one where the Survey Corp cosplayers are towering over the supposed Titan.

The Colossal Titan [also a small female like me] made a brief appearance on Sunday, however, I think I was the only Female Titan during the entire FanExpo.  This excited me because the series is gaining popularity and you can’t buy the cosplay costume online.  Meaning that my costume was unique and I had to make it all from scratch which other cosplayers really appreciate.

Those who did not recognize the Annie-Female Titan character still complimented on on the hand-painted costume which I had laboured over for two weeks.  The tiny plastic figurines I had created for Armin Arlert and the Spinning Man were also a big hit.  They created conversation and gave me an opportunity to learn how to pose.  I’m sure some cosplayers spend hours in front of a mirror finding poses that are in character and show off the costume.

As the hours went on, I felt more comfortable and started to relate more to the character.  I came home happy and exhausted to a very understanding husband, who made me supper and poured me a glass of wine as I excitedly related my experience.

As for my clients at Fee FiFoFun Costumes & FX4 Costume Concierge, my goal is to find characters that are interesting, enjoyable and can be pulled off confidently.

Please visit my facebook page and my web store !

This article has been adapted and originally August 2013 in my In Disguise blog on all things costuming.

The Ward – a Fictionalized True Story

It was 6:30 a.m. as I washed my face and heard a faint warble.  For the two weeks  leading to Halloween night my iphone had been beeping non-stop with requests from Spider-Man to Doctor Who.  In a Pavlovian response, I scanned the media for meaning.  One stood out.  No Caller ID arriving at 3:00 a.m.

I hate those calls, when all you can think is that somebody died.

The message was from my son.  He was incoherent.  Blubbering that he had fucked up.  I’d never heard him blubber before, but then he was calling from the psych ward at St. Joe’s Hospital.  I was thinking, hoping, maybe he’d finally hit rock bottom.   I know that sounds callous coming from a mother, but sometimes rock bottom can be the place from which your children can rise fully formed.

Driving my SmartCar with Lake Ontario’s bright sparkling water conflicting my day, I realized that I wasn’t panicked.  I could no longer remember, though, if that calm was part of my personality or whether I was like a triage nurse who’d seen it all.

There was a lot of comfort in the fact that my son had called and not the Hospital.  He was alive and I was grateful, but still I had that sour metallic taste in my mouth.  An emotional knee jerk reaction.  Not because he was in trouble, but because I’d been here before with another family member.

You might be thinking, oh maybe mental illness runs in her family, but neither of these ward members are genetically related to me.  After miscarriage and infertility, I’d hoped to give Darwin a good fight.  There was a time when my sisters and I laughed thinking my adoption of children would improve our family DNA, like replacing our flat Scottish bottoms with a real bouncy round derriere gene.

We stopped laughing so much after the deaths of our father, mother and sister.  Half of us were gone and there was no stopping the trajectory of  stomach Cancer in our family.   My goals had changed since the average lifespan in my family was now 57 years.   I just wanted to see my kids grown up and happy.

Emergency was quiet and orderly.  The occasional voice of a wailing child rose and fell with the opening of the pneumatic door into the Juvenile Room.   As I stood behind the yellow line I thought about getting a coffee, but did not want to miss my turn.  Finally with the mention of my son’s name the sliding glass doors opened from the waiting room into the treatment areas.  My reluctant feet knew their way past the thread bare curtained rooms where knees were stitched and bones were set to the heavy door separating the crazies from the almost crazy.

The door had a window.  I did not look in, but leaned against the wall, hand paused above the buzzer.  The last time I was here I made a choice to leave alone.  The memory of the small shocked face of my daughter getting smaller in that same window as I walked away, is difficult.   For seven years that face, that memory, had me chained to hopes and dreams shattered by alcohol and drugs and what comes with it.

What was I committing myself to by walking through this door again? I was alone physically and emotionally with the indecision of loving my son and potentially threatening my own well being.

I pressed the buzzer.  The staff and two beefy security barely glanced up.  Who would though, I’m the tiny WASP blonde grandma.  Not much of a threat.

The control room dominated this ward.  There were no privacy curtains only small locked treatment rooms, a bathroom and a bank of seats.  My 23 year old son was sitting on an orange chair fatigued to the pallor of a 40 year old Bay Street broker with too much credit and no self control.   I let him ramble through a bizarre tale of over-drinking with friends to the point of paranoia.  A mad run, through the neighbourhood he grew up in, from someone who was trying to “kill him”, ending up crouching inside the local convenience store.

He said he’d called out for help, but the store clerk had disappeared, increasing his paranoia that he was in danger.  The next thing he remembered was breaking through a plate glass window only to be faced with a squad of armed officers.   I’m thinking, what was he on to get that crazy and thank god the clerk hightailed it out to call the Police.

Toronto’s finest took him to the Hospital and not the Drunk Tank.  Miracle One.  After a series of tests, the Doctor let him call me, but he said he was terrified that I wouldn’t show.  His father thought we should leave him here to toughen him up.  I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do.

I sat back finally in the chair.  A small Asian woman walked the perimeter of the ward, I thought like a mouse retracing it’s steps, sure that they’ve missed an opening or a morsel of food.

I was sad.  Like my daughter, my son had narrowly escaped accidental death more than once.  What was the universal meaning in this?  I rubbed my face, thinking about what to say.

I wanted to understand what happened, so I queried like Agatha Christie.  Was someone angry at you?  How much did you drink?  Did you mix it with pot?  Who else was there?

I could see truths skirting around the edges of my son’s eyes, but impairment is subjective.  He could be mixing up days of drinking with fears rising like hallucinations.  One tiny piece of information could put the story together for me or break my heart.  I’m glad he doesn’t tell me everything.  Mothers shouldn’t know everything.

A young man with dark hair and dark eyes, who had been lying on a gurney, arm over his eyes, rises.   Boredom, curiosity, or maybe even hope drive him into the bathroom and then to sit beside us.  Shock still in a blue gown, listening to the murmurings of a Mother and son.  Where is his mother, I think.

A smell was now making it’s memory or rather demanding recognition from me.  Not like death, or illness or even hospital disinfectant which were all now in my 54 year old life’s repertoire.   I couldn’t put my finger on it, till I thought, it’s neither pleasant or unpleasant.  It’s just there, like something deciding.

The woman passed again, her competency and speed increasing as her hands stretched out, tracing the contours of the wall.  The kind of person who you would appreciate filling your 7:45 a.m. Timmy’s order.

Having made no progress with understanding my son’s story I went to the nurse’s desk.  I’m that typical Canadian.  Waiting politely to be acknowledged.  Sure that there is something more important than myself  that is keeping them.  The woman now stands beside me and says in no particular direction, “I’d like my toothbrush now.”

The nurse says, “The Doctor will be right with you. ”  I wonder how he knows that.  The phone didn’t ring.  Is it some magical telepathy developed by psych room staff only.  The woman’s voice says confidently,  “I’d like my toothbrush and a change of clothes.”  She is almost standing on my toes, like we could merge into one person to make us bigger, more impressive.  Almost an afterthought, she says, “I’m ready to go home now.”

As they negotiate her surrender, I retreat.  An orderly has offered a tray to my son and myself.  We both take one and I realize that I can’t, being celiac, eat anything on the tray.   My son’s tray of all beige food also stays untouched.  “Why do you take it if you don’t want it.”, I say knowing that we are both food snobs and it is my fault.

Dark Boy asks if he can have the food and says he and the woman are here voluntarily.   He is waiting for us to share the story.  My son is amiable and gentle as they chat.  With this incongruency, I have to stand and stretch.

A man, who looks like all the other staff except for a clipboard, crosses to us.  The Doctor.  After small talk about how my son got here he says,  like I should know, “So you see, he really shouldn’t be here at all.”  “He’s alright to go with you,” he continues as a question.

I am confused, but not really.  He’s asking if I have any concerns about my son’s mental health.  Anything that would necessitate a Doctor enacting the health act which states that my son could be kept if proven to be of danger to himself or others.

The forced practice of the staff to ignore unreasonable requests has the   woman now screaming at everyone and no one.  I shake my head, “No, he’s fine to come home.”  I am not lying, but with only the violent insanity of my daughter seven years ago to compare him to, he is fine.

I stand, but the Doctor has his hand on my arm.  “We found something”, he says.  I sit.

The woman flies by muttering, “I want my toothbrush.  I want to go.  I want …”, then the door to the bathroom slams and the screaming turns to wailing.  On the exact opposite side to the Juvenile ward where the toddler screams, the irony about the fragility of human beings is not lost on me.ColinDrMac

My son is now perfectly quiet, like a sharp intake of breath before you blow out a candle.  “We did an x-ray of his head and found a dark spot on his brain.”  I am thinking, why did they do an head x-ray of drunk boy-man?  Miracle Two.

“I think it’s a brain bleed, but I want to consult with St Michael’s.”,  he offers.  “Is this spot in his brain related to his strange behaviour?”,  I blurt.  I’m ashamed now, but for a nanosecond, part of me was desperate that my son isn’t an addict, spoiled or poorly raised.

I have too much fucking information, now thinking about my mother who survived skin cancer and a brain aneurysm only to die in her sleep from a heart attack at age 67.  Her best friend, Joan, was supposed to meet her for an early supper and she didn’t show.  Joan told us girls that she didn’t suffer.  That she was curled on her side in that way that she sleeps which is so familiar to me.  Was so familiar to us.

I didn’t wait for the Doctor to answer.  Instead, with my palm on my son’s back, I open that heavy steel door with the tempered glass and we walk out together.  Miracle Three.

 

Cardamom Culture

One of my favourite past times is cooking Indian.  I’m not saying I’m good at cooking Indian, but it brings me comforting memories and I am hooked on the incredible number and variety of spices that go into making good Indian food.  The smell of one in particular always makes me smile with pleasure and that is cardamom.

According to Agriinfo, Cardamom, known as ‘Queen of Spices’, is a dried fruit of a tall perennial herbaceous plant.  It’s delicate aroma make it one of the most expensive spices in the world.  Till the seventies India enjoyed a near monopoly position, but currently Guatemala, Columbia and even Sri Lanka are vying to compete in the production and export of this fragrant pod.

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Cardamom Pods – Photo Source: CardamomNation Blogspot

The comfort comes from my friend Nutan Brown, who when I was rotating in/out of our family home during my divorce, allowed me to stay just down the road in her beautiful home.  Not only are her husband Jack and her kids superheroes for sharing their t.v. room, as my bedroom, Bombay-born Nutan fed me Butter Chicken, Cholay and other Indian delicacies made from the recipes of her mother.  It helped me heal and the memory followed and inspired me.

It’s been a long road to find and learn how to grind my own spices, helped by Monisha Bharadwaj’s most awesome book, The Indian Kitchen.  Not a cook book, but a cook’s book, on the key ingredients and recipes from Indian medicinal and culinary practices that result in healthy, yummy, beautiful food.

Indian food, unless you are using Patak’s or Kitchen’s of India, is very time consuming, but I love the way it makes me feel and you will too.

Cardamom really gets around and can be used as aroma therapy and in cooking pumpkin breads, Crème brûlée, fruit smoothies and even breakfast, like in this recipe for Icelandic pancakes.  The blog Cardamom Nation shares recipes and their eight reasons for using cardamom [as if we needed more].   What’s your favourite use for cardamom?

Sex … for Over 50 Women

Yes that is the word sex in the title.  If you are looking for titillation or if you know me and don’t want to picture me in the same sentence as sex, then please do NOT read on.

Abraham Maslow presented a paper in 1943 called The Theory of Human Motivation.  In this paper, he details the motivators or needs of humans through a hierarchy and at the bottom grounding this hierarchy are breathing, water, food, excretion, sleep, homeostasis and sex.

It’s not hard to acknowledge that sex dominates the Cultural thoughts of men and women in society.  Self-help sections are full of authors who believe they all have the bead on sex from physical, emotional, spiritual, and religious or rather Cultural points of view.  The industry of sex, excluding porn and sex-trade, continues to become main stream with growth in the areas of lingerie, sex toys, condoms and other products related to intercourse and sex, representing billions of dollars.  Look at the mainstream popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book and movie.

One could argue that procreation is the only reason for sex, for the continuation of the species.  If so, then why can the act cause such pleasure or be the basis for such pain for men and for women?

I cannot answer that question.  I can only speak from my personal experience and I think it’s important to talk about sex for women over age fifty.  I’ve always liked sex, but physically I’d always found intercourse painful and never knew why.  I can’t tell you how many times I asked my family doctor if I was somehow built differently.  Each answer no forced me to examine the spiritual and physical sides, that maybe I had trust issues.  Maybe I didn’t actually love/like my partner.  Maybe I had issues from a time I was sexually harassed [before it was a buzz phrase] at the office.  Maybe I was ancestrally from a Culture of frigid women.   I mean, I was desperate to understand why my insides did not match my outsides.

The proverbial nail in the coffin of my 20 year marriage was when our therapist suggested I might have successive micro-tears causing pain and that it was okay to take a break from sex.  This loss of intimacy was reason enough for my then-husband to move onto a new partner, one where he felt “desired and appreciated” .  His argument was flawed in many many ways, but it was in motion and stayed in motion through separation, divorce and forward it goes.

After divorce, I did take a break from sex.  For five years I was celibate.  There was the odd hilarious attempt at self-sex, but in the end wine and lots of dancing seemed to more helpful than the vibrator my best friend gave me.  I’m sorry, but I couldn’t take a red vibrating phallic appliance seriously.

During this hiatus, I was still in my parenting group.  Our kids were older and the focus wandered to subjects other than parenting and one member brought in a guest speaker.  It was that whole empty-your-cup kind of motivational guru who also happened to be dreadlocked and male.  At the end of one session, on a beautiful June day in my friend’s garden, he asked us each to go out and buy a pair of panties.  What?

We didn’t have to bring them or show them, he said, but we had to be prepared to share the experience of the panty buying with the group.  We all tittered, shifting comfortably in our seats.

We all did buy panties, but at the next meeting two women refused to discuss it at all, blushing and stuttering.  Most of discussion was about colour and style of panty, athough one gal got up and pulled a Lewinksy.  Yes, the same gal who gave me the vibrator.

Just as it came to my turn to speak, I had an epiphany.  I said, “I had fun buying them. Then I took them home and put them away in the drawer because they are too pretty to be worn.”  That summed up my sexuality then.  I like it, but I won’t wear it because it’ll get dirty [be criticized by myself or others].

That summer, I met a man younger than myself who was searching for a life mate to have a family with.  While he waited, we had a summer fling.  Without any emotional ties, I learned that there are many truths about sex and my sexuality.  Yes, it’s never as good as the first time.  Yes, the first time is not always the best time.  Yes, fatigue, trust, self esteem all impact sex.  Yes, there are many ways to have sex.  Yes, mutual respect always laid the foundation for the best sex.  The summer was over just like that and so, we decided, was the affair.  I was 45 years old.

I also lied about the lack of emotional ties, I cried like a baby when we decided not to continue.   I guess I can’t separate sex and emotion.  Another lesson.

I dated other men with not a hint of interest in sex with them.  I wasn’t ready.  One fellow I dated four times over three years.  He turned out to be the one.  I was ready.  It’s a great story for another time.  The point is that I now knew about my sexuality emotionally and spiritually, but I was no further ahead in that physical department.  I was 47 years old.

I again bothered my family doctor about my anatomy and she sighed and finally referred me to a gynecology specialist.   I’m not sure if she was sighing because she felt she’d already answered the question, after all she is a “Doctor”.  I wondered, though, if she was thinking that I am too old to be worrying about/ interested in sex.

The gynecologist‘s office was filled mostly young and/or pregnant women, which was oddly comforting.  I waited twenty minutes before being ushered in to strip and don a paper gown.  The Doctor had my feet in the stirrups about ten seconds, when he peeled and tossed his gloves in the trash.  He handed me a script and said, “In two weeks, you will feel like a new woman.”  I was 53.

It seems that since I finished menopause at 44, and quite possibly before that, I have a severe shortage of estrogen resulting in, ahem, low muscle tone.  53 Years of Life.  33 years of painful intercourse.  Ten seconds of diagnosis and treatment.

The Doctor was right, I do feel like a new women.  Myself.

The only thing left for me to do is find a natural alternative to the drug because a. drugs are never good, and b. this product is made from urine of pregnant mares and I’m struggling with the whole cruelty of forced urine collection from a living creature so that I can have pleasure.

I’m glad I took other chances to reinvent my sexuality well into my fifties.  If you want to read more here’s another article by Marlo Thomas from the Huffington Post

Mothers

I live in a family with many different mothers.  Among us, inter-generationally and internationally, adoptees who are now mothers and mothers and through birth, death, divorce or adoption.

I could share the story about my long road to motherhood and my sense of meaning and purpose in being a mother.  If I did share this, however, it’s likely to trigger someone somewhere to feel bad about themselves and perhaps rage at me.

It seems that this is a standard occurrence for just about anything today.   A commercial about a mom and a dad negates two gays parenting.  An ad with an Asian on the left and a Black on the right of a White causes an self esteem issues.  The choice to sponsor a blogger with a hajib headscarf is called political pandering.  Witches stricken from Halloween so society doesn’t equate Wicca with evil women on brooms.  The term biological mother becomes birth mother becomes natural mother becomes first mother, still it means mother or does it?

Myself included, when did we all get so fucking sensitive?  About everything.   So politically correct, especially in Canada, that one can hardly turn without fear of using the wrong term or offending someone and where we are legislating ourselves into oblivion.

A practitioner who works with troubled teens, that included one of mine for a time, gave me Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankel was a doctor and holocaust survivor.  He questioned why some prisoners in the concentration camp he was in rose to the challenge of life while others, even once liberated, failed to thrive.  He observed, “…  There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

The idea of finding meaning and purpose in life is daunting.  How does one finding meaning in life when we are so sure the even out basic rights are not in our control?  The step-parent with no child-raising experience is thrust into parenting rebellious teens.  The 15 year old who finds herself pregnant and her  mother making the decisions.  The 19 year old giving birth in a war torn country with no family and no social services.  The 30 year old who finds herself unable to maintain a pregnancy.  The boy, whose father remarries after being widowed, who can no longer remember his dead mother.  The father who feels himself alienated after divorce.  The 21 year old adoptee who finds his birth mother and doesn’t like her.  The adoptee who chooses not to search and gets flack from his adopted siblings.  The adoptee who thinks his life will turn around if he given his birth history, but even then finds he’s still angry and confused.

All want to label themselves as unique and call themselves down trodden.  If we are all down trodden on whose back shall we find true respite?

Frankl says, however, that while we have limited freedom with our circumstances, we do have ultimate freedom about how we react … how we take responsibility for ourselves.

He said that this choice [finding meaning] and action [finding purpose] for our suffering makes it an achievement rather than a tragedy.  How many people do you know like that, like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama?

I  believe that suffering does not end whether we choose to parent, to place for adoption, to seek an abortion or remain childless.   Even under great duress we still make a choice and  all actions have consequences.

I am neither a sinner or a saint because I worked and eventually became a mother.  I learned that my role as mother is precarious and subjective.  You do not need to be a perfect mother, nor your children’s first mother, but I learned that you are only a mother when someone calls you mother.

Suffering is not something we can just get over or move past.  Suffering is the universal human circumstance which we must make part of our everyday lives.  It may shape us, but it cannot decide for us who we are and how we will act.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl