Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Life Lessons

Change of Life

My grandmother’s generation called it “the change of life.”  But nowadays, women of a certain age call it what it actually is: menopause.  Me, I like the phrase “change of life,” because it evokes the notion that when you reach a certain age, you’ve lived long enough that there’s not much left that scares you, and you’re willing and open to taking chances.  There’s the belief, and even the expectation, that you can actually change your life in some grand way.  Granted this takes a great leap of faith, with no guarantee of the eventual outcome.  But if you possess the will to change, the conviction to stick with your decision, and have support and encouragement from some friends or family, well…

Case in point: a friend of mine with a cool studio apartment and a great job in Manhattan left it all behind and moved to Denver.  For a man she was dating who swore he would never get married again.  Ten months later, they were engaged.  In a few months, they’ll be celebrating their seven-year wedding anniversary.  Another friend took a chance on an old house in the country that needed extensive work.  As she and the realtor stood in the kitchen, my friend turned on the faucet, and thought: if water comes out, I’ll buy this house.  The water flowed and it turns out buying that house not only changed her address, it changed her livelihood and led her to a new love.

Now I know what you’re thinking – these sound like the plots of Hallmark Channel movies, but I promise both are completely true.

However, unlike all those entertaining Hallmark movies, where the heroine always finds true love in the end, I stand firm in my belief that a happy ending can be anything you want it to be.  Which brings me to my “change of life.”

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be leaving my job of nearly 17 years.  As the news spread through my office, the same questions were posed to me.  Where are you going?  What are your plans?   And when I answer – that I don’t know exactly where I’ll land – I’m met with various reactions.  Some think I’m a little crazy, while others are proud of me, excited for me, and at least one colleague wishes she could do what I’m doing.

My change of life is not about a man.  It’s about how I want to spend the next years of my life.  It’s about purpose and well-being.  It’s about faith and resilience.

As a writer, I’m big on symbolism.  We are deep in October so everywhere I turn, in my quiet neighborhood, as well as on the city streets, I see mums in rich autumn hues of burgundy, pumpkin, and gold.   Mums are generally under-rated when compared to other flowers, like cheery tulips or romantic roses.  But, while tulips are synonymous with spring and growth, let’s face it, their delicate stems easily flop over.  And the roses of summer are fragrant but they are hard to grow.  Mums can weather change, and they don’t wither on the first cold day.  Just like women of a certain age who aren’t afraid of much, mums remain hearty and resilient.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

September in Boston

Emerson UnionThe following is a re-post from September 2016.

“They’re baaaack…”   At summer’s end, nearly a quarter-of-a-million college students descend upon Boston.  They arrive in SUV’s and with U-Hauls that get double and triple parked along the city streets.  It’s a chaotic and familiar scene that jars my memory, transports me back to a September when I was a student.

My classes took place in a cluster of century-old brownstones that was Emerson College.  The Back Bay streets I walked were lined with gas street lamps, and every statue and church marked a piece of history.  There was no quad, no field house, no bookstore, nothing even remotely resembling a traditional campus – this was an urban campus.

The city was filled with a new kind of student – their oxford shirts and Shetland sweaters were packed away in their parents’ attics.  These young men and women were costumed in vivid colors, leather jackets, tight black trousers, walking boots, male and female alike wearing haircuts as short as their fathers had worn thirty years before.  They liked to gather in front of the Mass Communications Building and smoke clove cigarettes.  Their energy was palpable and it made me feel as if I were in the midst of a bizarre 1980’s new-wave cartoon with loud, clashing colors.

The Emerson Library windows overlooked the Charles River.  The water was calm but I could imagine the prep school trained crew teams from the Cambridge side of the river out in the early morning, their movements synchronized, their breath coming in steamy huffs.  I never got up early enough to actually go down to the Esplanade to watch them.  I would’ve felt out of place there.

It was an odd mix of scenery, of philosophy, of fashion.  At first I didn’t know exactly where I fit into the picture.  But this was where I belonged.  I found my niche.  My peeps.  My voice.  And although I knew it was not possible, that September, I wished that for once, time could stand still.

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Life Lessons

Walking on the Moon

Although it happened fifty years ago, I vividly remember the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I was eight and my brother was five and my father woke us in the middle of the night and hurried us downstairs to the family room and our large black and white television set.  The screen’s blue glow was harsh on my sleepy eyes, and although it was summertime, the air conditioning gave me a chill as I stood there in my pajamas.  Mom ran and got my bathrobe.

This was not the first time my father had summoned us to the television to watch the astronauts.  I knew their names: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  I knew this mission was Apollo 11, and I knew that they had landed on the moon in a place called the Sea of Tranquility.  My father loved this stuff.  He read nothing but science fiction paperbacks by writers like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury and he talked to my brother endlessly about UFO’s and what supposedly happened in Roswell.  Me?  I found the whole idea of space a little bit scary, but as I watched the contrasting images on the television screen – David Brinkley; the men in the control room, who all looked alike with their short haircuts, black-rimmed geek frame eyeglasses, white shirts and skinny ties; and finally the spacecraft itself, which was partially shrouded in darkness – I felt the same anticipation that comes on Christmas Eve.  In a few minutes we were actually going to see a man walking on the moon.

Even in the best of circumstances, our television reception was only so good.  Now add to that the quality of the moon-to-earth image, and it was no surprise the picture was snowy and no amount of adjusting the rabbit ears would make it clear.

“There he is!  There he is!” my brother exclaimed when Neil Armstrong emerged from the lunar module.  We couldn’t see his face through the shiny black face shield of his huge bubble helmet.  Instead, we saw a reflection of what he saw – the spacecraft and the spotlights.  When Neil Armstrong finally walked down the steps of the spacecraft and stepped onto the moon, we all cheered and clapped our hands.

As the coverage continued the next day, the clip of Neil Armstrong stepping from the ladder onto the surface of the moon was replayed again and again.  And we all watched it as if we hadn’t seen it before.  When I finally asked my father, “Why did you make us get up in the middle of the night to see this when we could’ve just seen it today?” he answered with a crack in his voice, “Because last night it was history.”

My father has always been a pragmatic man, but with his because last night it was history remark, he’d managed to be poetic.  I took his words to heart, realizing that big things were happening in the world, many of which I was still too young to fully understand or take part in.  Just like Roswell, the names of places had taken on new and deeper meanings.  No longer simply locations, Vietnam, Chappaquiddick, and Woodstock referred to a war, an accident, and a concert.  Even more than history, that summer I became acutely aware of pop culture, and began to understand how art, music, and literature reflected all that was happening.

I was twelve years old when knew I wanted to be a writer – something my practical yet perceptive father already surmised.  He once admitted to me, “Ever since you were a little girl, I knew you marched to a different drummer.”  I don’t know if this path is what he would have chosen for me; I’ve never asked him that.  But he’d accepted it without question and, realizing why it was so important for me to witness the moment in history when a man walked on the moon, had encouraged it.

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Life Lessons

July 4, 1959

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  Their 60th!  I’m both proud and amazed.  Proud of them for sharing such a loving and enduring marriage, and amazed at how quickly time has passed.  It hardly seems like it was 10 years ago that we were celebrating their 50th golden anniversary.  We had a big party, with all of our extended family, and their many friends.  My brother gave the customary champagne toast and I told the story of how my parents got together.  Today seems like the appropriate time to tell it once again:

Have you ever heard the story of how Babe and Freddie got together?  Sure, they were both living on 91st Street in Jackson Heights. But Babe was a freshman at Bryant High and Freddie a senior at Newtown.  Besides, he was dating this girl Barbara, his mom, Filomena, didn’t like much.  Barbara wasn’t Italian, and she had something of a reputation.  Anyway, Filomena supposedly suggested to Freddie, “Why don’t you date a nice girl like Louise?” although this claim has never been substantiated.

One night in May 1953, Freddie and his crowd were busy at work under the hood of one of their jalopies.  Babe still recalls how cool Freddie was.  He wore his hair in a D.A. and rolled up his pack of cigarettes in the sleeve of his white t-shirt.  His crowd – his brother Joe and cousin Bill, George the Greek, Bobby Fitz, Gesner, Benz, and Desmoni – they were all cool too.  And in a scene reminiscent of the movie Grease, this group of teen-aged buddies had just made a wager with Freddie.  They bet him that he couldn’t get a date with the next girl who walked down the street.  If she said yes, they each had to pay him fifty-cents.  If she said no, he had to pay them.

Meanwhile, Babe’s father, Mike, asked her to go down the street to buy him a pack of smokes at the corner candy store.  Despite being only fourteen, Babe was pretty cool herself.  She wore cat’s eye frame glasses which only accentuated her penciled in high arching eyebrows, and her bright red lipstick.  And when she wasn’t wearing a poodle skirt, she wore peddle pushers!

Freddie took Babe completely by surprise when he approached her because she figured he thought of her as a kid.  When he asked her to go out with him that Friday night she said no.  What else could she do – she was young and her father was strict.  But Freddie persisted, “What about Saturday night?”  Again she refused.  “What’s the matter?” he asked, “Don’t you like me?”  And Babe was forced to admit that although she did like him, her father wouldn’t let her go out on a date.  Without missing a beat, Freddie suggested, “Okay then what about Sunday afternoon?”  And Babe, realizing how easy it would be to sneak out of the house on a Sunday afternoon, finally accepted.

On their first date, Freddie took Babe into the city to Radio City Music Hall to see the floor show and the western, Shane.  After the movie they went for a bite.  Babe was so nervous that she couldn’t quite enjoy herself.  The older girls on the block had coached her, advising her not to order the most expensive thing on the menu or the cheapest.

Apparently, Freddie never technically asked her out for their second date – it was just understood.  And every week it went on, the guys continued to pay Freddie another fifty-cents.  His buddies thought it was all a joke, and didn’t think the relationship would last.  All the while, Babe had no idea about the bet.

Then, Memorial Day Weekend, Freddie took Babe on Newtown’s Senior Boat Ride on the Hudson Day Liner.  When Barbara saw Babe, she got a little crazy and threatened to throw Babe overboard.  Later that day, Freddie asked Babe to go steady.

In June, they were still dating on the sly and Babe couldn’t figure out how she was going to sneak out of the house in a Prom dress, so Freddie finally had to ask her father for permission to date his daughter.  It so happened that Mike was painting the house – a job he didn’t relish – so Freddie offered to help him paint, and we all know how Freddie loves to paint.  And that seemed to do the trick.

The following year, Babe transferred to Newtown and Freddie was going to L.I.U.  Most days, he picked her up after school in his old green Studebaker, which Freddie’s buddies nicknamed The Babe Mobile.  You see, they realized that Babe and Freddie’s relationship was getting serious, so serious in fact, that by the time Babe found out about the bet, it didn’t seem to matter very much.

So how long did the guys keep paying Freddie the fifty-cents?  Well, nobody really remembers.  But they do remember Babe and Freddie’s wedding on July 4, 1959 and how all the guys were flipping Freddie quarters at the reception.

Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

 

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

Shopping With My Mother

This weekend my mom will be celebrating a special b-day – her 80th birthday!  She’s not only my mother, she’s my best friend.  She doesn’t look eighty, and she doesn’t act eighty.  Here is a re-post from January 2016 to give you an idea of what I mean.

“What other colors does it come in?”

This is how my mother shops for clothing.  When she sees something she likes – be it a blouse, or a particular style of pants, not to mention shoes – she’ll buy it in several different colors.  It’s insanity, I know, but now she’s even got me doing it.  Yes, all I’ve learned about shopping, I’ve learned from my mother.

You’d think living over two hundred miles apart would’ve put a crimp in our shopping expeditions, but it hasn’t.  When I’m home for the weekend, our shopping marathons lead us to fine stores everywhere.  And when she’s visiting me, we often drive up to the outlets in Kittery for a full day of shopping in the great state of Maine.

Then there’s the long distance shopping… I’ll find a voice mail message when I get home at night: “I got something for you today.  It’ll arrive tomorrow by FED EX.”

I’ll call back to tell her, “Thanks Mom, but you didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but it was so perfect for you – and they were just giving it away.”

“Why’d you FED EX it? I’m coming home in two weeks.”

“I couldn’t wait – I wanted you to have it now.”

When I offer to pay for said item, she flatly refuses.  And I don’t have the heart to point out to her that whatever she supposedly saved on the sale, she’s more than spent on the FED EX charge.

Her other big rationalization for committing what can only be described as consumer carnage is that she wasn’t even looking for this latest treasure.  “I fell over it!” she’ll insist.

She frequents craft fairs, not only to support the local artists, but also to pick up some truly unique, one-of-a-kind items.  She’ll present me with a stunning ceramic bowl or piece of stained glass that’s been stuffed into a shopping bag with bubble wrap and wads of tissue paper.  When I innocently comment, “You didn’t get a box?” she’ll reply, “Box, schmox – he would only take cash – it was tough goin’.”

Despite all the shopping, one of my mother’s greatest gifts to me is not something she purchased, but rather something she taught me.  How to always, always, be generous.

Happy Birthday, Mom!  XOXOXO

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

I Blame Shakespeare

My friend’s two young daughters refer to Valentine’s Day as “the love holiday” because, even at their tender age, they’ve figured out that couples celebrate with greeting cards pledging love and devotion, bouquets of flowers, and gigantic heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.  But not everyone has a significant other.  And for some single folks, February 14th can be a tough day.  Here’s a re-post from March 2016 with my perspective.

The “rom-com” plot never changes: the pretty, but downtrodden, single woman gets saved by the rich, good looking, completely idealized man, whose only flaw is that it takes him a little while to figure out that he’s in love with her; then in the last ten minutes of the movie, he must race somewhere to find her and keep her from leaving town.

“Feel good movies,” that’s what they’re called.  But who feels good after seeing them?  Single women?  Like seeing this one movie is going to wash away past hurts and disappointments, bringing instead, inspiration and hope to carry on – and to believe – yes believe, that the exact same thing will happen for you because Mr. Right is just around the very next turn…

While channel surfing late one night, I realized this movie formula was well-established with 1950’s films like Sabrina, and the Doris Day comedies.  Who says that in order to have a happy ending, the couple must get together?

The BardShakespeare.  He’s the one.  All the comedies end with a wedding, just as all the tragedies end with a death.  We’ve had over four hundred years of conditioning!  But The Bard was wrong.  This is the new millennium and, back me up here ladies, in the real world the guy tells the girl that he doesn’t deserve her, that she’s going to be a great wife for some other lucky guy, blah, blah, blah, before leaving her with a few mementos and a broken heart.

So what’s a modern girl to do?

I muted the television and sat for a while in the darkness, only the blue glow of the screen lighting my way.  And in the solitude of my living room, I figured it out.

It’s time to change the narrative.  You can’t expect or rely on another person for your happiness.  You have to find your own bliss.  A happy ending can be whatever you want it to be.red poppy

 

 

 

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Roommates

Whenever I speak about them, I don’t call them my friends.  Our relationship is special and it needs a qualifier to describe who they are and what they mean to me.  So I refer to them as my old roommates because living together made us closer than friends, and more like family.  Even though it’s been many years since we last lived together, this still holds true.

We met as grad students at Emerson College.  All three of us came from the New York-New Jersey area and were new to Boston.  The close quarters of grad school housing only helped our friendship to flourish.  At the end of the year, another New Yorker joined us, and the four of us moved off-campus.  Our new digs, a railroad-style apartment, was much larger, but in need of a major face-lift.  As young women living in the city, we didn’t mind residing in a self-proclaimed student slum.  We were too busy having fun.

Graduations and jobs inevitably ended our time of living together.  My roommates left Massachusetts – for New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico, while I found a cute studio apartment and stayed in Boston.  Although we often go for long periods of time without seeing one another, we stay in close contact.

Last winter, New York was the first of the roommates to visit me in my new home, arriving only a few weeks after I’d moved in.  She could see beyond the bare walls and the pile of cartons in every room, to what it would become with time.  And her enthusiasm for me was palpable.

In early November, New Jersey and New Mexico came to town for a conference and stayed with me for a couple of nights.  My first over-night guests since the big home reno was completed.  This symbolism was not lost on me.

We talk, we text.  And when I’m lucky enough to spend time with any of these three amazing women, we don’t miss a beat.  Time and age do not matter.  We feel as if we’ve never lived apart.  I’m sure we always will.

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