This Is Us

Lessons from a season of table service

Photo: Hans Vivek/Unsplash

I told a lie to get the job. It was 1981 and I said I was 18, old enough to legally serve alcohol. I was 17. I needed cash and something to fill the time that wasn’t school or the bad boyfriend. My place of employment — my first real job — was a mid-range French restaurant on the fringes of Washington, D.C. For a few years, while in college, I worked six days a week, serving lunch, dinner, and private parties. …


This Is Us

How midlife loosened my tongue

Middle finger up in the middle of a field.
Photo: Gwendal Cottin/Unsplash

When I flipped off the speeding truck, I knew things had changed. Sending a hearty “fuck you” to a stranger was a thing I had almost never considered before, but in the moment, it seemed oddly, perfectly natural. I briefly reconsidered the wisdom of this change when he doubled back. And then I did it again.

Walking on my quiet country road in upstate New York, as I do every day, a jumped-up pickup with a tiny red-hat boy at the wheel came roaring down the road at an unreasonable speed. Frightening, aggressive speed. When he rounded the corner and…


I ate a gummy and it was a ride

Photo: Glen Carrie on Unsplash

The gummy cubes are tiny, about half the size of a standard sugar cube, and they’re pleasingly packaged in an adorable tin. The accompanying literature suggests I drop them in tea, coffee, or cocktails. Just like sugar cubes. They’re flavored — “like those hot cinnamon candies,” say the people who claim to love me. They taste like stinky boy.

Thank god someone said, “Mom, you should start with half and wait a while.”

My experiment was based on hope and research. Anna Wilcox writes, “Using cannabis to ease menopausal symptoms is nothing new. Back in the 1920s, medical texts identified…


A short, cranky rant

Photo by McGill Library on Unsplash

It’s never good news. No one ever says, “Women your age should drink more gin.” No one tells you, “Women your age make such good friends.”

“Women your age should be paid more,” is not a thing you will hear.

This time it was a massage therapist saying, “Women your age need to work on strengthening the core.” I don’t want to. I hate the core. But my hips hurt, my knees and my ankles ache, and women my age need to work on the core.

Women my age are, however, not a uniform cohort. You can not effectively speak…


And do I really want one?

Photo by McGill Library on Unsplash

Last year, in the thick of a global pandemic, an editor with an Australian publishing house reached out and asked if I’d like to write a book. Hello! She found my writing online and envisioned a collection of essays, just as I have done in my favorite dreams.

After lots of email and Zooming, I made it through the first acquisitions meeting with a few things to work on. It was exhilarating — and terrifying — when the talk turned to design and promotion. The second (decisive) acquisitions meeting came on the very day (of course) that a national lockdown…


It’s about what happened there

“Nude Descending a Staircase (№2)” by Marcel Duchamp

I’ve been working on a collection of essays about menopause and am miserable. Why am I doing this? Who would read this? It’s tedious and horrible, unsavory and ugly, not unlike those long nights, spooked days, endless years. But I’ve realized that it’s not a thing to write about, like politics or the moon. Menopause is not the subject. It’s a place, the background of a story, and everything after is seen through its lens.

It’s hard to write about menopause because I want to write about anything else. And now, everything else is somehow informed by these last difficult…


When negative space is positive

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” Maya Angelou

When I was a kid, my father gave me music. I fell in mad love with most of it, and turned to it often; to speak my pain, quell the fear, celebrate joy, and hold me tight. I hid myself in the music — turn that down!! was a key note in the soundtrack of my youth. When the world’s cacophony is too much, music offers order and comfort, shelter in all the storms.

I’m not qualified to speak…


Unpaid work is still work

Photo by Adam Nir on Unsplash

I’ve been paid to be a lot of things: server, cook, barmaid, receptionist, gallery girl, accountant, data entry automaton, catering drudge, writer, editor, and curatorial assistant. The pay has never been great — or even good — but it has helped, as every dollar does. Some of it was hard, some boring, and some fun, but all of it was paid.

Then I had kids. I worked some, in the beginning, but finally crashed into the modern mothers’ quandary — money. The best job I could find, 30 years ago with a pitiful Art History degree, offered a salary of…


Midlife in a pandemic

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When the pandemic started and you all went home with your toilet paper and locked your doors, I was already there. I’ve been hiding out with bulk supplies for years, like some doomsday hermit, ever since peri/menopause body-slammed me and wrestled me into submission. I was working on my triumphant return when the plague showed up.

Imagine: You’re at a party and it’s going great. Lots of people, good food, wine’s flowing. You’ve got some responsibility at this party, but the kind that’s mostly satisfying. Challenging, but ultimately fulfilling. Maybe you’re in charge of lighting or managing some of the…


Hope dies last

Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

Jesters do oft prove prophets. — Shakespeare

My son brought a clown to dinner last night. We ate sloppy joes, drank beer, and talked about death. It was unexpected dinner chat with a clown, but it turns out that all conversational roads eventually end there. The dearth of fireflies led us to the death of the bees, and on and on. The clown pointed out that the sexy extinctions get all the press — big cats, pandas, etc. — while the critical insects fly under the radar. Everything is dying, always, a perpetual cycle. The coral reefs, the soil, the…

Lisa Renee

Write it down.

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