Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sister Wisdom

"No ray shall light the caverns of your shame,
Fevered miasms filtering through the chinks
Shall suddenly like lamps burst into flame,
Steeping your bodies in a sweat that stinks."
Charles Baudelaire Fleurs Du Mal,
Trans: — Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

Not a bad description of menopause - for a guy. The symptoms suck. No wonder, some woman want to forgo the symptoms altogether. And according to the Mayo Clinic, women should be able to mask their bad symptoms with drugs. They should be able to have their cake and eat it too: “even though menopause is not an illness, you shouldn't hesitate to get treatment if you're having severe symptoms.”

I almost strained my irony bone trying to digest the affirming if baffling advice. You’re fine, just fine! But can I get you anything approved by the benevolent and compassionate men in the FDA and big pharma? There is a storm brewing inside your body and you might burst into flames at any moment. Try a few of these to weather the coming storm.

I’ve got a better theory, which I’ll explain in a minute. But first, this brief digression on sister wisdom.

Sister-to-Sister oral traditions are a species of inter-generational oral history outside the bounds of the more typical vertically inter-generation teachings passed down from mother to daughter: parent-child teachings. I'm talking about a different spiecies of oral history: sister to sister.

I mean here, "sisters" in the broader sense: peer-to-peer relationships between older women. These days, women are realizing they can establish friendships with other women even if (or especially if) they become too old to have “girl friends”.

So, what’s the difference from mother-daughter teachings about wisdom? Well, mothers tell their daughters what they know about how to live among men. Things like how to tease boys and remain pure, and how to lock away all your cares and fears and cook us dinner. How to remain nubile and attractive, and did I mention how to cook? How to live with Fathers, brothers, sons. In contrast, sister-to-sister wisdom tells women how to live with themselves.

Which brings me to my take on menopause. Here's my theory about Menopause, or it’s alarming ancestor, Hysteria, which women “suffer” as they age. The hormonal stew sloshing around in women of child-bearing ages is the real sickness and the storms of menopause sweep away the miasmas of fever. From the onset of puberty, hormones that make women nubile make them very distracted. Then comes menopause, and women pass another hormonal mountain range. The end of menopause permits women to pay attention. They can (if lucky) retire from their lifelong role as daughter, wife, mother, caregiver. As the word itself subtly hints, women can pause in their lifelong task of caring for men, pause, and become sisters with other women.

Once past that point, women can put away hormones, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, and every other masking agent that shields our loved ones from ourselves. We can cultivate our own gardens. Blogging our stories about growing up with a sisters, is, to me, like a joyful reunion of sisters after a 40-year stretch where we had to be wives and mothers. We last spoke when were were young, when we were sisters together in our father's house.

So, that's my sister wisdom secret. Re-connecting with sisters when we're past menopause is not a sweat and a fever. It's a wonderful treat.

(This post was inspired by post by a lyrical post by Goldendaze
“I am the youngest of five girls and Barbara is the second from the oldest. She has just turned 80 and I wondered if she would corroborate my memory. Sure enough, she not only remembered the instance but was able to fill in the empty spots. “)


Ginnie said...

Thanks for the referral. I see that you are the oldest of six sisters and I am the youngest of five. It is interesting to me that all five of us are so very different and I'll bet that applies to you too.

greeny said...

Oh, my, I think I have stumbled onto a very wonderful secret here at your blog.
I love the way you write and I look forward to coming back to visit.
I came by way of Mr. Brown Thumb


kate said...

I've never thought of menopause in this way - a pause from men.

The idea of being able to reconnect with sisters is a pretty special one. I can see it happening already with my older sister and me.

What a beautiful post - I love your style!