Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Girl Named Lee

Apparently the world does not like women who are named Lee. Or any 'either-or' name. Maybe they forget women like Lee Remick and Billie Holiday.

Still, I shouldn’t be surprised that it happened again – another virtual sex change.

For those out there who don’t know, my full name is Rebecca Lee Darling.

I call myself Lee. My friends call me Lee. I prefer to write under the name Lee Darling.

But a poem published this week is described by the editor as a man’s vision of an old woman crawling in bed with him! This in spite of the fact that I very carefully used the feminine pronoun in my bio. And the bio, as printed, is correct.

I notified the publication and they have indicated a correction will be made.

Last time it happened, the poem was about me choosing a little black dress. The error then was partially my fault, since I had not been specific in my bio. I found humor then, visualizing a burly, hairy chested man in a little black dress with plunging V-bodice.

This time, I’m not amused. I’m tired of the assumption that because my name is neither male nor female, I must be male. I’m tired of the assumption that my career as a computer programmer defines me as male.

I think I’m just tired. And old. Maybe I should write a song about it, like Johnny Cash. Only mine would be A Girl Named Lee.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Best She Can Do

It’s the best I can do, she said. The best internet deal with a phone is just $1.00 less. I’ve explained I don’t need a phone. I have one. I’m only one. One person. Single. Singly purposed today with unknotting confusion over my bill.

She admonishes me to be patient. Difficult, when all my bills are going up. Difficult when promised yesterday that this bill would not. Difficult when surprised by today’s email indicating a $25 increase. Difficult when explanations via phone this morning came with accent and awkward phrases.

Here in the store, she can only see part of what happened. Next time, call during normal business hours, she says, so you’re not outsourced to the Philippines.

I want to scream. I breathe. She finds an in-between solution, a moderate increase from last month.

the fella in Manilla
I knew his name
wasn’t Adrian

Sunday, May 21, 2017

VENUS de MILO’S ARMS

Examining my naked self in the mirror the other day, it occurred to me that without my arms, I would look like a much younger woman – a little like Venus de Milo. I hear you snickering! Well, I began to laugh, too, surmising that perhaps Venus had examined herself and reached the same conclusion.

I sang to my reflection a version of that song from the 60s (!):
Venus de Milo was noted for her charms
But strictly between us you’re older than Venus
And ew – just look at those arms!


I’m not sure how old she was when her arms went missing, but I’m guessing about sixty. At least my experience would point there.

You see, less than a week after my sixtieth birthday, I noticed my arms. I was wearing a sleeveless top, bending to pick up the hose. And I saw them, drooping like wet crepe paper. Old woman arms. Oh! My! God!

I began to notice other women’s arms. And their necks. And examine myself in the mirror, posing in various ways to hide any hint of turkey neck. I switched to three-quarter length sleeves in summer. Winter was safe, as I’d always worn long-sleeve turtlenecks anyway.

So now – waaay past sixty – I can either overdress all summer or expose my aging self as gracefully as possible. I wear pants that cover my knees and rarely don sleeveless items. It’s not that I want to hide my age. It’s just this: I don’t want see my ropey arms or evidence of gravity’s grip on my knees.

For Venus, saggy knees aren’t an issue, since her lower body and legs are hidden from view; the slight tuck of her head shadows her neck.

But, Venus, I want to know – how did you get rid of those arms?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Not My Style

I model clothes not worn since summer. Sleeveless tops reveal ropey arms, slack muscles, colorless skin not exposed all winter. I shake my head at dressy items, wonder why I bought them, where to wear them, and will they look dated?

Dated! I’m dated last century. I need pants that sit at my waist, stay at my waist. Yes, even at my age, I still have a waist. I’ve had wide hips since I was twelve. My legs are sturdy and curvy. I don’t want baggy knees or saggy butt when I stand.

Skinny jeans with short zippers?

Not my style.

Midrise with extra flesh spilling over?

Not my style.

Backside gaps? Gender-equality reigns, but –

Not my style.

My pile of discards grows large. I look at what I’ve saved and remember the guy who said I looked like I was from Boston. I think he meant my style of dress – turtlenecks and tailored pants, multiple layers, sensible shoes.

I am a New England native, relocated West as a child.

Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck.

There’s my style.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Sundown

My home town in Southern California was named for John Greenleaf Whittier, a New England poet, Quaker and avid abolitionist. My parents moved us there in 1949 before my first grade year.

We’d moved to California from the Boston area. Mom liked Whittier because of the old homes and large trees in the uptown area and because of Whittier College. And I think she felt at home in a town named for a New Englander. I’m pretty sure neither she nor Dad realized it was a Sundown Town.

Whittier is east of Los Angeles proper. Mom used to take us to East Los Angeles – a predominately black neighborhood – to shop for clothes. We were often the only white people in the store. I don’t remember being bothered by it. But in downtown L.A. the fancier department stores had separate colored and white dressing rooms.

Whittier itself was very white. Even the Mexicans (yes, we called them Mexicans) didn’t come to the older sections of town, a fact no one in my family commented on.

But in 1949, the Whittier School District was already bussing Mexican kids, scattering them through the district. The elementary school closest to where most of them lived hadn’t prepared them well. They’d spoken Spanish at recess and often in class. Those who went on to middle and high school couldn’t compete.

So I shared classrooms and lunch tables with Mary Ortiz, Carlotta Chac√≥n, Julie Perez and Nettie Aguilera. I thought of them as friends, though we parted when the school day ended – they on one bus, me on another. They lived in an area we called Jim Town. I don’t know whether it was within the city limits, but it was clearly within the school district boundary.

Then, in 1957, a black family came to Whittier. The father had been hired as director of a juvenile detention center. He wanted to live where he could walk to work so his wife could use their car during the day.

The detention center was inside the city limits. So was the house they wanted to buy. That’s when we learned about the Sundown Law. They couldn’t buy that house, at least not until the law was repealed. Thankfully, the city saw wisdom - perhaps with some outside encouragement - in doing just that. The three children from that family became the first black kids to attend Whittier High School.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hidden Figures, Twisted Facts

The movie Hidden Figures brought back memories of the IBM ‘uniform’ of the early 70s: white shirt, skinny tie, black pants. All male.

Except not always.

In 1970, I was hired as a computer programmer in a place with many other women programmers. In the mid-70s, a co-worker and I were puzzled at our invitation to a meeting for “older and non-traditional workers.” We were certainly not older! We were surprised to be considered female in a male-dominated profession.

No surprise, then, that I was enthralled by the movie Hidden Figures. I bought the book.

I know, always a bad idea. Or, in this case, a good one. The movie got the message across, that women and especially black women are rarely acknowledged.

But Hollywood once again twisted the story to make it more . . . more engaging? More outrageous? More macho-heroic?

The three women – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn – initially worked in West Computing but for far less time than the movie portrayed. Katherine was reassigned by Dorothy after two weeks, Mary after a couple of days.

Katherine never ran back and forth for restroom breaks. She simply used the available facility and no one objected. And she was not the only woman in the Flight Research Division. While her seatmate got up and left when she first sat at the desk, they quickly became good friends – unlike the adversarial relationship shown in the movie.

Mary Jackson integrated the evening classes at Hampton High School with permission from the City of Hampton, not with that little speech to the judge. And her reaction to getting inside that coveted building? Surprise that it was not as imagined, just a musty old school building.

I began to doubt the whole movie and was relieved to read that John Glenn did in fact ask to “have the girl check the figures.” The girl he had in mind was Katherine Johnson.

These women were accepted because they were brilliant and devoted to their work. I don’t claim to the same level of brilliance, but my female co-workers and I were also accepted for our skills and dedication.

So, Hollywood, even with the exaggerations, you delivered the message. These women not only broke barriers for black women, they made sure to bring many of their sisters with them.

Hooray – for them, for the story now told, for a message of hope.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO DONALD TRUMP


January 22, 2017

No, we are not sore losers. Nor are we fired apprentices – belittled and shamed because we failed to please you. We will not slink away.

With the exception of Native Americans, we are the children of immigrants, whether our American journey began in colonial days or the 21st century. The descendants of slaves helped us win WWII, smash the sound barrier, and send a man to the moon, though they could only dent the barriers to their own civil rights.

No, we are not sore losers. We are the ones with memories longer than your most recent tweet – memories that include fighting for women’s rights to work, to be treated as equals and to choose when and with whom to bear children. We marched to end wars. We marched to garner civil rights for all.

We boycotted, we protested, we marched again. And we brought down presidents who ignored our power.

We are a force, re-awakened, ready to stand together. We are on the march again, not as sore losers, but as guardians of our country.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

PAC


My heart stutters and skips,
puts a choke-hold on my breath
as though seeking escape.

Should I ignore this irregular tempo
pulsing in my chest?

It refuses to be tamed by
ape-like chest thumping,
pays no heed to scold,
is neither soothed by soup
nor calmed by tea.

I learned the name
for this worrying condition
from a nurse.

PAC, she said.
Pre-atrial contraction.
These things happen
as we age.


I wanted to object.
I am not old!
But she knows
I am.

Still, I bet she’s never
spent a day
with skittering, crazy,
unsynchronized cadence.

I’ve been free of it
for months now.
I'm puzzled.
Why is it back?
What have I changed?

Memory blips:
Another bump in the road
to old age.