Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Aging Defiantly

I always took sex for granted. I was always curious, always interested, and an eager and willing student. In my fifties, little has changed, except I no longer take sex for granted.  The changes in my sexuality surprised me as much as my first period, my first orgasms,  the loss of my virginity, and childbirth. My reaction to all these events was consistently the same: did my body just do that?”  I was eleven when I got my first period. It was hot. Probably the end of June. I was wearing sky blue Wrangler shorts. My mother asked me to go to the grocery store. I remember waiting at the corner of Ellwood and Nagle for the light to change. I felt nauseated, and I had a headache. I had never had a headache before.  On the way back from the grocery store, I felt faint. Once I got home. I put the milk in the refrigerator and the bread in the breadbox. When I pulled my shorts and underpants down in the bathroom so I could pee, I was mildly surprised to see blood. I knew what had happened. I just never knew it would really happen to me. I went to get the sanitary pads and belt that I had sent away to Kotex for on my own and clean clothes. I soaked my shorts and underpants in the tub and went to tell my mother. In keeping with European tradition, my mother slapped me on the cheek and said, “You’re a woman now.” I didn’t feel like a woman, but I was pleased. My father brought home roses for me that night, and my older brother grunted something indistinguishable at me. Nothing seemed to have changed.

Orgasms were another story entirely. I welcomed them with ardent enthusiasm though I didn’t really understand the mechanics of this almost out-of-body experience. Still, I loved that my body could experience them—with or without a partner.  In retrospect, there may have been nothing sexier than all those years of making out and groping that I enjoyed with my high school boyfriend, and then later with the boy I almost lost my virginity to before fate intervened. The doorbell interrupted us at the definitive moment—a lifelong regret that still leaves me wondering.  I could have kissed him for hours. All those years of preparation offered the promise that orgasms would always be available. Then, of course, once I was no longer a virgin, orgasms took on a different, even better context.  It never occurred to me that there was anything my body could not achieve.

I don’t remember my first orgasm, but I do remember the day I was no longer a virgin. I’m fairly certain everyone remembers his or her first time.  Mostly, I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror after it was over and wondering if anyone would be able to tell. I didn’t feel any different, and I certainly didn’t look any different. Nevertheless, I had passed a milestone. My body had obliged, forfeited its status, catapulting me into alleged womanhood. I applied myself with intensity to my new rank and enjoyed each new discovery. I was a college freshman, but I was only sixteen, still very young to play at womanhood in spite of my body’s impatience.

Childbirth was remarkable for any number of reasons. However, after twenty-two hours of labor and a forceps delivery, I looked down between my legs and seeing the screaming, bloody head of my son and feeling somewhat stunned that he was emerging from my body. It seemed impossible that this creature was not only mine, but that I had carried him around for over nine months in my swelling body. The separation was profound. When the nurse placed him against my chest, I wondered how it would feel to move through the world without him inside my body.

None of these events, however, could have prepared me for menopause. In my own way, I mourned the end of my periods. I know that might seem strange to some women, but the loss confirmed the inevitable—unwelcome changes that would require some commitment.  I was not ready to abandon my sexuality, so I initiated a campaign to circumvent the realities. In the process, I developed a kinder, gentler attitude toward my body. Perhaps, for the first time in my life, I am less critical of my body. It’s a perfectly fine body for a fifty-seven-year-old woman. Indeed, it is flawed, but I so foolishly thought that the fifteen-year-old body I once had was also flawed even though the boy I then loved told me that I looked like an angel.  Mostly, my body still works. It works differently than it used to, but it works. I have finally come to understand that desire is about how someone makes you feel. It’s such an easy lesson that I wonder why it too me so long to learn it. The women in my novel The Sinner’s Guide to Confession are still looking for love and still enjoying sex.  They are strong women, women who acknowledge the changes that cannot be ignored, but I know that any one of them would be happy to go back to those long days of endless kissing and fondling with a boy who made her heart skip a beat each time he looked at her. And any one of them would agree that here and now is still a good place to be.


May 21, 2010 Posted by | relationships. women, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

My Women Friends

Yoga has been an extraordinary journey for me. I leave every class with something new, something I did not have or know before. Mindfulness. It is such a powerful word. When I am mindful of my breath, when I focus on integrating my breath with my movement, I can always deepen my pose. Mindfulness. It is what I take out of the studio and into my life that makes me appreciate yoga even more. The physical and spiritual strength I hone in yoga is carried into my writing. Like my writing and like life, nothing moves in a straight line. Some days, my balance is better than others. Some days, I can hold one leg out straight in front and grab my toes. Other days, I feel unable to hold myself upright. It is the same with my writing… an unpredictable journey.

I had an amazing yoga class the other day. During class, my teacher stood behind me, placed her hands on either side of my head and moved them down as though she were outlining my entire body. For a moment, I couldn’t be certain if her hands were on me, or if was simply the heat of her proximity. Regardless, I felt energy radiate from her presence. Then, in the final meditation, she sat behind me, back to back, still instructing the class, as she breathed against me. I was mesmerized by the sensation of her breath against my back, and almost immediately, my breath fell in sync with hers.  I felt nurtured by her touch, and then by her breath. The Hamsa mantra asks: Who am I? Soham provides the answer: I am that. Ohm Hum So Hum. If you say it over and over, it declares I am that I am that I am that I am. It seems so simple.

Yoga nurtures me.  The touch of my teachers nurtures me. I believe this is the essence of what women give each other: touch that nurtures. In Willing Spirits and in The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, I explore the relationships between women and how these relationships define me. The women in my life sustain me as nothing else can or does. The touch of another woman nurtures me, anchors me to the present. In Willing Spirits, my protagonists, Jane and Gwen, take comfort in each other as a way to weather the disappointments of their lives. When their children are young, the two women take their toddlers to the park, watching them play. Yet, Jane and Gwen are often confused about why their lives did not work out as expected:

They had obeyed the prescribed customs. They had obeyed the prescribed customs. They had carried out the rituals, and they were still bereft of the love they had been promised.                                               They talked of witchcraft and sorcerers and speculated about the future.

I always found this an especially poignant passage. It is sort of startling when we realize that our lives do not always fulfill our expectations. At this point in my own life, I understand the value of the Hamsa mantra in a way I never could have appreciated in my thirties or perhaps even in my forties: I am that. Ohm Hum So Hum. If you say it over and over, it declares I am that I am that I am that I am. The characters in Willing Spirits transition throughout the novel, but in this particular flashback, they are in turmoil, a state eased by their friendship and the comfort their presence gives each other:            They had sat quietly, holding hands, watching their children and wondering why they couldn’t find men whom they loved as much as they loved each other.

It’s an important question… and one I believe many women ask themselves. I wish I had the answer. Perhaps Anna Quindlen offers one of the closet explanations in her essay, The Company of Women in which she describes the difference between her conversations with her husband and with her female friends: “He was oxford cloth, I embroidery. We simply weren’t in the same shirt.”

I am that I am that I am. Ohm Hum So Hum. Right now, it’s a good place to be… thanks to my women, the embroidery in my life.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | relationships. women, Uncategorized, women's friendship, yoga | Leave a comment