When my mother was in her 60s she started wearing scarves. She didn’t buy many clothes and never really got into shoes, but the woman had a scarf for every occasion. I never saw her go out in public without one. One day I said, Mom what’s with the scarves? She said, oh I hate my neck.
Years and years later when I had reached about that same age, one of the young women who worked for me said, you know Nancy, I would never have known you were over 50 — except for your neck. That night I looked hard into the bathroom mirror. I keep the lighting low in my house so I couldn’t really see the details of my neck.
Then a few years ago, the late Nora Ephron wrote a best seller titled I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman. I remember my first reaction was, it should be badly, the adverb, I feel badly about my neck. Not bad. (One of my favorite lines is don’t should on me, so who am I to should on this very funny and brilliant writer? Besides, titles don’t have to have perfect grammar.)
But the neck thing continued to niggle. I started to look at peoples’ necks.
And then recently, I was in a friend’s bathroom where the lights were bright and there was one of those magnifying mirrors. I have always joked about those mirrors — why would anyone want to see that much of a bad thing? But there I was and the temptation was too great. I pulled the thing out and did a thorough examination. Oh my God. There was only one word that came to mind. Poultry.
That night I said to my husband, what do you think of my neck?
Without skipping a beat, he said 16 million American children go to bed hungry every night. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard what I had said. My neck, I repeated a little louder. What do you think of my neck?
He continued: 15 million children die of starvation in the world every year. The polar ice caps are melting. Al Gore owns five huge houses, four and a half too many. We have 18 trident submarines that cost $3 billion each to build and each one carries 960 warheads . . . .
Okay, okay stop! I yelled. When I was in labor many years ago, he promptly forgot all the Lamaze training we had done together and instead of coaching me: breathe, breathe, breathe Nance, he said, if you think this hurts think of the guys coming back wounded from Viet Nam. If I hadn’t been concentrating so much on pushing, my baby would have been born fatherless. But this time the man is totally right. He has become my perspective guru. So I get it. My neck holds up my head, it wears a lovely necklace, it helps me swallow, it functions with or without a scarf and with sexy lighting it looks just fine.
So maybe I’ll write a book: “I feel lousy about the world but good about my neck.”
Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart (Hyperion/Little Brown). She is a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop.