I’m in a holding pattern. A “holding back” pattern, that is. Take my appearance for example. Thoughts of how I can be sexy and chic lately have overridden thoughts about the kids’ needs. Sexy and chic requires effort at this age, unfortunately. I have had the same hairstyle, with slight variations – medium length, with bangs and layers of varying lengths – for the last 10 years, at least. I’ve gone to expensive hairstylists, inexpensive ones, and ones in-between. It doesn’t really make a difference, though – as my last guy so very honestly pointed out, “You might as well go to Supercuts if you’re always going to wear it like that.” I got his point. That means pulled back in a ponytail, where no one can see the handiwork of a skilled stylist. I always tell them, “I need a wash-and-wear cut. I don’t blow dry my hair.” Wash-and-wear applies to my style in general, in fact. Clothes – casual, with only a very occasional need for the iron or drycleaning. Makeup – minimal, fresh, natural.

Now, I look in the mirror and see that my “fresh” and “natural” face needs a boost. More makeup – or something. I went to the dermatologist for the first time ever this summer, ostensibly for a long overdue baseline evaluation of my moles, but it was probably also a subliminal reconnaissance mission for cosmetic options. As the dermatologist’s eyes raked over me, I took in her creamy white skin. I guessed she was in her 50s but she easily looked younger because of her great, flawless skin. I tensed, bracing for her critique. I’ve never been one to have remarkable skin, with that dewy smooth quality that draws compliments from strangers. To boot, I have always felt self-conscious about my zillions of freckles, partly from growing up in the sun-ravaged Mojave Desert, partly hereditary – exacerbated by lifelong feedback from my Asian relatives, who gasp in dismay that my skin is not pristine and lilywhite and freckle-free. The dermatologist mapped my moles and even said, “You look great.” I was so relieved, I popped up and left, but kicked myself afterward for not asking her during my $500-per-quarter-hour visit what the options are for lightening my sunspots and freckles.

And my hair? I made an appointment at a chi-chi salon on Capitol Hill this week. Judging by their website photos, the stylists are funky, modern and edgy. Part of me wishes I would have the guts when I go in to say, “Do whatever you think suits me. Anything you want.” One of the best cuts of my life was at Bumble & Bumble in New York City, in my 20s, the only time I’ve had short hair. It was beautiful and chic at first – but high maintenance. Short hair requires frequent cuts, I found out, else you risk looking mangy.

And therein lies the problem. I want to be sexy and chic, but put in little or no effort. It doesn’t work that way in middle age, does it?

My appearance isn’t the only thing I’m holding back on. My writing, too. I’ve always been known for my self-discipline. Why am I not applying it to my writing? What am I afraid of? I let any hurdle get between me and my writing – no time, a bad prompt, my own critical voice, critiques by others, any perceived lack of interest of my writing group members in my piece – anything. My piece is not short enough, long enough, funny enough, I tell myself. Or, true writers are all about revision. I have revised … some. But I could have revised everything I’ve written in the last four years twice over in the amount of time I’ve spent surfing the internet. A friend who knows WordPress offered recently to set me up with a blog to self-publish my pieces. I had complained to her about all of the writings just sitting on my hard drive, going nowhere. “I can turn the blog on in a day,” she said. “What’s the title? Come up with a name.” A thrill went through me at the thought of people – random, anonymous people – actually reading my work! But I hesitated. “That seems so…public,” I said. She said, “Only if you make it public. No one knows to look for it. Even if you do publicize it, through Facebook or whatever,” she continued, “worst case, no one will read your blog. But that’s status quo – no one’s reading your stuff now.” How true. “But,” I persisted, “then I have to deal with feedback on my pieces.” She countered, “I can turn the comments off on the blog.” Her big eyes stared me down, silently calling my bluff.

It doesn’t end there. There’s my exercise regime, which has dwindled to near non-existence since August. I took our summer vacation as an excuse to do nothing, other than whatever the excursion of the day was. “I can’t believe people would jog here,” I said to my husband. “It seems so boring and everyday.” We were on the island of Kauai, then later on the big island. Joggers abounded on the shoulder of what was often the only road for miles – alongside eighteen-wheelers, tourists in their rental cars (and we all know how safe they are!), and bicyclists – diligently trying to work off their mai-tais and what remained of the previous night’s luau feast. Jogging might have been “boringly everyday,” but at least they were burning more calories than I was lounging by the hotel pool.

I assumed that I would just resume my regular exercise regime when we returned to DC. It’s now midway into September, and I have taken up tennis again two days a week – and that’s it. I toyed with the idea of going back to the yoga studio where I started last spring, but told myself it was really too crowded. I also contemplated joining the mom friends at my daughter’s school who are all training for a November half marathon. But I have apparently decided not to do anything proactive, like going on training runs, that would at least give me the option to compete should I decide last minute. I find myself trawling websites of the latest and greatest specialty gyms – Corepower Yoga, Solidcore, Soulcycle (anything with “core” in its name appeals to me) – to read about their respective workouts, with the thought that I will give them all a try and make a decision about my new normal. Soon.

I know what I need to do. Quit holding back. Just take the leap. Carpe diem. All the things my mom used to tell me. “What are you waiting for?” she would say impatiently, in her accented English. “Go for it, Tiger!” I will, I will. I just have a long windup.

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