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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Culture Shock

Papa and I in our canvas 'tennisses'
I'm sick again. This never happens. I almost never get sick. This winter hasn't been particularly harsh, and I can't ever remember a time when I took better care of myself in terms of diet and exercise, and yet here it is. I do get it though. I've been having nightmares pretty regularly too, and the tone of them is always the same. Sometimes the dream is about people I love joining a cult that does terrible things. Sometimes it's about people I love having friends that kill and torture people, but they have no issue with it. In my dreams, I always try to talk to my loved ones, and they either answer me in a foreign language and then laugh when I don't understand, or they tell me I need to get over it. Sometimes during these conversations there's screaming in the background. Sometimes it feels like I'm in hell and I can't find the way out. That feeling stays with me into the waking world sometimes, when I remember what the world is now. That's why I'm writing this. I won't stop getting sick until I acknowledge that what I really am is heartsick. What I feel is disconnected, because they changed and I didn't, though they think it's the other way around.

There's all this talk about going back to 'what was', but that's not the direction we're going. We're going in a direction that is as anti 'what was' as it is anti progress. I know what it's like to grow up in one world, and suddenly find yourself in a world that you don't really fit into anymore. I grew up in a small town. I knew and loved everybody. I would ride my bike to the library and know who lived in every house on the way. I always had quarters in my pocket (courtesy of my grandfather) so I could stop at Mr. Alberghini's store for a chocolate bar or some peanuts. If I picked up the mail on the way home, I always made sure to say "Hello" to Mr. McIntyre at the post office. There were dirt roads, farms, cows and horses. There was a roving pack of dogs that spent their days together (our dog was one of them), and who all were home by dinner time. I used to have brand new, homemade hats and mittens to wear to school every year. The town was overrun by kids riding bikes and horses every day in the summer. I went to church every Sunday and to catechism, and sometimes the priest would have dinner at our house. I sat on the front porch in a rocking chair watching it rain while my grandfather sang "Pennies From Heaven" (our family liked to sing), I played pick-up softball with the neighbors in the summer, sometimes until the sun went down. I was a girl scout, and learned to care for the planet and our natural resources. I was in 4-H and learned how to take responsibility for my animals. I learned that no man is an island, and that we are part of a community and in that way are responsible for each other. I watched westerns with my grandfather, and I wanted to be a cowboy (or an Indian. Either one, as long as I got to ride FAST) We went ice skating in the winter. We had a phone with a cord, and if you wanted a private conversation you had to sit at the top of the cellar stairs and talk quietly. We used to wait until it was dark, and then play hide and seek or tell ghost stories. I rode in the back of pick up trucks, my long hair usually in a ponytail and covered by a bandana. I went to drive-in movies and drive-up eateries. I remember when TV would end the broadcast day at midnight.

Back then, kindness and respect were the norm. We didn't have to legislate it or talk about it, because it was just a part of life. People who had respect for themselves treated others respectfully. It's just the way it was. It was part of the fabric of everything I knew. I said "Thank you" to my school bus driver and the lunch ladies every day. I always called folks who were older than me "Mr.", "Miss", or "Mrs." unless told to do otherwise (still do), out of respect. My grandparents weren't just real Republicans, they were real Christians. They always put people before money, and they were generous. When somebody needed help they were there if they could be. Most of the neighbor children had at least one toy fixed by my grandfather, or a boo boo tended to by my mom or grandmother. I learned that 'fiscal responsibility' meant spending carefully, and taking good care of things so that they would last a long time. That way, you'd have the money when you needed it for something important, like people, especially family. I learned that when you help somebody you do it without strings and without need of recognition. My grandparents helped me a lot financially, and they would refuse repayment (Nana: "I'm not taking your money. Do I look that cheap?"). But we grew up understanding that we were very, very fortunate to have the money, and that not everybody was. The lesson was that, as adults, we should be just as willing to share our good fortune with others should we also be so blessed. We also learned to love everybody. We didn't have to like them, but we did have to love them. We learned that it wasn't our place to judge other people, and that hating others was like poisoning yourself. If I came home talking smack about somebody (rare), my grandmother would say something like "Nevermind! You just worry about you!" I didn't really know anything about gender equality issues because my mom did whatever the hell she wanted, and didn't feel any need whatsoever to explain herself. It was through teachers and school that I learned how "scandalous" that was and how difficult my mom's path really had been. I admired the hell out of her because I saw the toll it took sometimes, but she kept on going.

Compared to the world I grew up in, the world I live in now seems cold, crass, tactless, selfish and often cruel. And it's getting worse, on purpose. I think it's part of why I have such a hard time with the current version of the Republican party. I'm an Independent, but will admit to leaning heavily to the left by default. I go where my inner morality takes me, and much of that morality was shaped by my grandparents who helped to raise me. My grandparents were REAL Republicans, when it was the party of the people, of workers rights, of empowerment of the individual through fair and ethical employment, and of fiscal responsibility. If you had asked them which party was more important, they would tell you that they both were important in order to create balance. I was too young to really grasp the specific political beliefs of my grandparents, but I knew and respected their personal values, and have tried (and continue to try) very hard to emulate those values in my adult life. I have to wonder what they would think of today's political climate. I know a lot of wonderful, decent people who still support the Republican party by default, despite it's departure from the party's real values. I have often wondered how that's possible. But I heard a story (parable, tale, whatever) the other day that sort of explained it for me. I can't remember where I heard it (TV?), but it was about how to boil a frog.  As the story goes, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will simply jump out and be on it's way. But if you put the same frog in cool water and turn up the temperature very gradually, the frog wont realize it's being boiled. Kind of a gross analogy, but you get the point. We've slowly, so slowly, given ourselves over to financial priorities. We have reality TV and cable news keeping us complacent and entertained. We've allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered for profit. And I'm so damned angry. I remember 'great'.  Great was ethical, kind, respectful, reasonable, inclusive, and GOOD. It was humane and careful and responsible. That's not where we're headed, not at all. And those good values I grew up with are being erased and made a mockery of. The truly Christian values I was raised with are being twisted and used to punish and hate. We're being sold an enormous lie and we are just going along with it, selling out what's important and to our own detriment. No wonder I feel sick. I wish there was a way I could shake people awake and remind them of who they are, but I don't know how. We're boiling. We're boiling like crazy, and people are cheering about it.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Learning to Listen

Full disclosure: I am sick, a feel like crap. I've had a really tough week, and coughing has meant I'm fairly sleep-deprived. I'm not coming from a place of strength and confidence just now. Sometimes I question whether or not I should even share anything with you all when I feel like this, but inevitably, one of you will thank me for doing so. I appreciate that, it means a lot to me, so here goes.

I had a really nice birthday dinner last night. It was small (family) and at my favorite restaurant. It was late, but doo doo happens, as do giant snow storms, sick siblings and what not. But it was nice just the same. My sister made me a giant pink cake that was everything. It wasn't fancy, it had had to travel a bit, but it was big, pink perfection. Sometimes it's a giant pink birthday cake that makes all things right with the world, and this was one of those times. But I felt like sh**, and a little bit gutted if we're being perfectly honest (again, tough week), and it made me more vulnerable than usual. You know how it goes.

I don't get to see my loved ones often, so when I do I like to catch up a little. I was talking about something that was bothering me about the current state of things, when another loved one interjects with "That's bullshit". It wasn't bullshit. It was something I actually knew quite a bit about. But in order to avoid a "thing" I just clammed up. But that's what we do to each other, isn't it? It didn't matter that I was stating an actual fact. I was silenced by an opinion. Any other day I would have been pretty 'whatever' about it, but I am just so fried. It highlights a problem that is actually pretty huge and relevant right now. Everybody has something to say, but nobody wants to listen. Double that if you dislike the facts. No good will ever come of that.

It reminds me of when I was a child in elementary school. I hated school with a fiery passion. The work bored me to tears, and I've never liked being around a lot of people. I've never been what could be considered anti-social, but I'm definitely an introvert in the extreme. Always have been. Going to a place that made me feel profoundly anxious every day (to the point of physical symptoms), just to be inundated with things I already knew, was like living in hell. I was going to try to find a less dramatic way to put that, but why sugar coat it? There was some discussion about having me skip a grade or two, but my lack of social whatever prevented them from doing so. My subsequent (and inevitable) lack of engagement in the classroom was apparently enough cause for concern that a child psychologist was brought in to deal with with me. He was nice guy with a PhD who meant well and worked with lots of troubled children. I think his only failing was that he'd never been one himself, so there was a giant gap in his perspective that his PhD couldn't fill. That in itself didn't need to be a problem, but he came into the situation predisposed to believe certain things, and he approached me and my issues with those preconceived ideas. Consequently, he didn't listen. He heard things that he wanted to hear, things that supported what he believed. The things that were the most real and important were discarded outright because they didn't fit the narrative he believed in. He was in a position to recognize something in me that, had he been able to see it, my whole life could have been different. Instead, he made suggestions and implemented situations on my behalf that did a whole wide world of damage. Because he couldn't/wouldn't hear me.

I don't bring this sh** up because I'm still grieving it or haven't moved on or any of that nonsense. I think the past is important because it provides context. It's supposed to teach us something and give us some perspective. You have to know what's wrong before you can fix it. But I think getting stuck there, and making every decision based on the past is a ginormous mistake. It's possible to get so stuck in "what was" that we lose the ability to learn and grow. Ahem. But I think the *listening* piece doesn't lose relevance. Failure in our ability to listen to each other is at the root of every social problem we have. It's the reason we have riots and protests. People are so fired up about what to do about this group of people or that one, but nobody is asking the people directly involved. Nobody is willing to hear the answers because they've already made up their minds. Instead, they discredit, dismiss and invalidate, throwing away the truth because it doesn't fit an accepted (albeit flawed/false) narrative that they are more comfortable with. It's like saying "Stop telling me who you are and what you need, because it doesn't mesh with what I think I know about you, and I don't like looking at reality". And that determination to make everything about numbers and policies, about ideologies and money, it's killing us. And sometimes it feels like watching it play out day after day is killing something in me. Don't worry, I won't let it. I won't be sick much longer and I'll get my equilibrium back.

But it's so damned important to listen. Until we're able to understand how profoundly our personal biases influence our beliefs about others, we'll never be able to relate at all to each other.  As long as nobody is willing to listen to the truth, it's all just noise.










Saturday, February 11, 2017

Birthday Wishes

Photo:happybirthdaycakeideas.com
Today is my birthday. I usually wake up happy, and shamelessly make the entire month of February all about me. I'm generally insufferable on my actual birthday, but it seems to be more amusing than annoying. Sometimes. You would think I was a four year old child instead of a lumpy, middle-aged woman. I say that without any of the implied self-deprecation. I don't happen to believe there is anything at all wrong with being either lumpy or middle-aged. I'm forty eight today, actually. And it's cool. But I woke up in kind of a sad space, and that's less cool.

There are several legitimate reasons, I suppose. It's cold, it's grey, and it's the time of year that I am SO sick of winter. Some dear friends of mine lost a really great dog yesterday, and that's heartbreaking. Our country is a sh**show, and there's nothing I can do about that (if you disagree with me on that point, please keep it to yourself. For me, even more depressing than the sh**show that our country has become is the  number of people looking straight at the situation and thinking its just awesome). And you know, I still don't have a pony. That last bit is in part my fault. I know what I want, I know what I want to do and it's an area of my life where I'm not willing to settle. It's also an area of my life where I have more than paid my dues, and it's time for a new experience.

I did come to a realization that brings me closer to that goal, though. There was once a time that I wanted nothing more than a house of my own in the middle of nowhere. I could keep my pony at home and I would feel 'free'. But my daughter, in her infinite wisdom (I swear that girl is a magical unicorn, and I have no idea how or why), reminded me that I could have a horse without "all that". She reminded me what it was like to live in a home in the middle of nowhere (which we did for many years) and asked me how I got 'freedom' out of that. She's not wrong. I think of the work and the responsibility, and the reality of living (single parenting, no less) in what is essentially a chore factory, and that really isn't where I want to spend my money or energy. Like, at all. It was definitely the right way for a child to grow up, but now it's my turn. Do I miss mowing the lawn? Shoveling snow? Cleaning off/repairing the roof? Or really, fixing ALL the things? Do I miss injuring myself repeatedly, dealing with getting water to the barn in the winter? Do I miss how impossible it is to go anywhere, or get anything else done? I'm forty eight today, and no, I do not miss all those things that beat me up when I was younger. Maybe someday I will, and I'll revisit the idea then. For now, I like the singularity and simplicity of my greatest financial goal: Pony.

It's a good feeling to be content. I love my neighbors. It was a thought that occurred to me only recently, but there it is. I like that I can make a phone call when something needs to be fixed. I like that my car lives in a garage filled with security cameras. I like that when I couldn't start my car, there were several friendly faces around to offer me a jump start (of COURSE I have cables). If I had the money, I would refurnish my place so that it's a little more 'me', but I have all my parents' furniture from their condo, so I'm not exactly hurting. They don't buy junk, and home is super comfy, so it's all good. We're actually okay, and it hasn't always been the case. I feel some pretty genuine gratitude around that in spite of my cruddy mood.

But this is a post about wishes, and I do have a few. Obviously, a pony and the resources to accessorize, support and show said pony are always in the front of my mind. My friend Autumn wants me to do mounted archery with her too, and that is also a loud and resounding HELL YES. I would like to have the time/focus to finish my new book. It seems to be writing itself, which is great, so if that could just keep happening I would totally dig that. I also wish for it's success. There's never a guarantee there. All I can do is hope that I'm writing something that people will want to read. Speaking of success, I wish that one of the movie producers who's been in touch with me would do more than talk to me about how awesome it would be to work with them. Option the damned book already! Yes, it WOULD be an awesome movie! Yes, I would LOVE to help with the screenplay! Let's do it! (See above re: Mama wants a pony). Here is where I completely acknowledge that I have entirely different problems than I used to, and I'm grateful as hell for that too.

Speaking of holy (we weren't, but let's pretend), I've been praying a lot. I know many of you don't believe in God, and that's cool. I don't know how I would still be alive if I didn't, and that's no exaggeration. You know, the question I get asked the most is "How can a loving God allow so much suffering?". No clue. You might as well ask me "How long is time?" and "How big is the Universe?" because I think they are all equal in terms of how far beyond our human purview they are. Faith is certainly at odds with my logical mind at times, but I have more reasons to believe than not. I've been to some dark places I'll probably never talk about. But faith makes me think of humanity. I'm struggling with that a bit just now. I know all the wonderful things we're capable of; space exploration, medical breakthroughs, art, music...it's endless. I hear our divinity in a singing chorus, or see it in an abstract sculpture that reaches me in spite of it's intangible yet somehow familiar form. I don't think we understand fully the best of what we are, but I wish we could at least try. I wish we could see in each other our naked humanity, free from whatever form(s) of groupthink we personally subscribe to. I wish we could remember who and what we are and love that in each other and treat each other accordingly. It's how we came into the world and it's how we're going to leave it. In the end, it won't matter who told you to think or feel what. In the end it's just you. Who are you?

Yeah, that last wish was a doozy. Unrealistic, yes. For now. But it's my birthday, dammit, and I had to ask. So off I go to enjoy the day, and may there be many happy returns for all of us.

For my fellow Aquarians: 


Monday, January 23, 2017

Women's March

Nick Offerman doning a cap in solidarity
It's been a loooong time since I've posted anything. I loved where I was at when I wrote my last post, and I wanted to be there again. It was the sort of energy I like to put out into the world. But let's be real here; things aren't okay. You would have to be a pet rock to be unaware of that (not that I have anything against pet rocks!). While this post is certainly inspired by the women's march, it isn't entirely about that. But the record numbers of participants and the ensuing (albeit feeble) attempts at discrediting the event provide an accurate representation of the general goings on.

I don't want this to be angry, and I don't want it to be political. But I do want to make a few points: 1)This wasn't a "liberal temper tantrum". It was widely attended by folks of all ideologies, and it was a GLOBAL event. 2) If you are a woman and you've never felt discriminated against, I think that's wonderful, I genuinely do, and I'm happy that you haven't had that negative, insulting and demeaning experience. You need to understand though, that many, many more of us have had a far different experience, are STILL having that  experience, and it's an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed (have I mentioned the GLOBAL participation?). 3) Failure to allow inclusion by pro-lifers was far from hypocrisy. "Pro-life" sounds nice, but it essentially functions as anti-choice. Trying to insert yourself into a group of people who are fighting for their rights, when your whole raison d'etre is to impose legislation on that same group of living, breathing, sentient human beings in order to deprive them of their fundamental right to their own phyisicality...yeah, it might not be the venue. 4) Stop trying to discredit the event. It's a waste of energy, and it's coming off as desperate. I've seen everything from "They're burning the flag!", to "It's Muslims!"(the two most popular propaganda/manipulation tactics, which took me less than ten minutes to check out and dismiss), and "Why aren't they at work?"memes (seriously?) and headlines that essentially read "Large crowd makes messes". Funny how that last one isn't newsworthy when it occurs at literally any other widely attended event. Come on, PLEASE be smarter than this. When you subscribe to a certain point of view, will only listen to things that support that point of view, and won't do your own objective research, and actively reject everything else as lies, you are going to miss out on some pretty hefty chunks of reality. When that happens, there are going to be many, many people who live that reality who are going to disagree with your point of view. Pretending problems aren't real just because they don't fit into your ideological box doesn't make them go away.

Feminism came about for a reason. The word Feminism gets a lot of bad press because people misunderstand it (due in no small part to misleading propaganda). They think "I can't be a feminist because I shave my legs and I like being a stay at home mom". But they've missed the point entirely. It isn't about escaping the conformity of artificial, socially-contrived gender expectations just to arrive within a new kind of conformity. People who are used to thinking in boxes have a really tough time with the idea of no box at all, but the point is equality and choice. If you choose to be a housewife and a stay at home mom because that's what you love, GREAT! It's about embracing what makes you happy, whatever that looks like.

And let's talk about ideology. Once upon a time, it used to be nothing more than subtle differences in priorities. Not so much any more. I'm an independent, so I get bombarded by correspondence from both sides. One side is being emotionally manipulated, the other side is being actively and relentlessly lied to about the other (emotionally manipulated as well, but with anger instead of a sense of compassion). And they'll never know, because they won't bother to check it out (one side is better about that than the other, for sure). An artificial duality of thought is being created; this idea that if I believe in one thing, the other side must believe the opposite. If it isn't one way, then it must be another. It's a limited way to think in the extreme, and it's terribly sad. It's the idea that "Me and people who think like me are the only ones plugged in to the universal truth".  Newsflash: If you really believe that, then the only thing you're plugged into is your own ego.

We have to stop relating to each other this way! Look at what we've done to our country. We actually have people fighting for the right to be disrespectful and mean to other people (anti-PC), while lamenting how disrespectful today's children are. Really?! You really don't get that?
In the real world, as it used to be, if somebody came to you and asked you to stop hurting them, any decent person would apologize and rethink their behavior. If your reaction to someone else's pain is to dismiss it as irrelevant and then call them names, YOU have something fundamentally wrong with you. If you think opinions are as important as facts, you need to go back to school.

I know people have a lot of different perceptions about 'the way things used to be', but let me share mine with you. When I was growing up, I learned that it was important to have respect for yourself and for others. I learned that being mean and hurting people was wrong. I learned that you treat ALL people with respect, not because of who they are, but because of who YOU are. I learned that it is not our place to judge other people, but God's. I learned that different people have different ways of doing things, and that's okay. I learned to respect my elders. I learned to feel sorry for bullies, because they probably aren't very happy people. I learned that the well being of a person (especially a family member) always, ALWAYS comes before financial considerations.  I learned the difference between value and cost, and to always buy the best I can and then take care of it. I learned not to be wasteful. Boastfulness and self-aggrandizement are undesirable qualities. If I see something that seems wrong, speak out. If somebody needs help, help them. If somebody is being bullied, defend them. God is the only creator I worship. Never believe in gossip or speculation. Think for yourself, always. BE. AWAKE.

None of that sounds appreciably like the way things are heading, but I feel hopeful just the same. The worldwide movement against subjugation was certainly inspiring. We have tough times ahead for sure, but this time period feels very much like the dying gasp of a prehistoric beast. We just need to hold on to our knickers for a bit, and it will be okay.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Riding with Kerrie

I walk for an hour every day. There was a time I would add "if I have time" to that statement, but my walk is no longer optional. As the social/political climate gets uglier and ever more bizarre, the sanity that walk brings me has become necessary and non-negotiable. I have had friends ask to join me, but I'm afraid the answer is always "no". I desperately need the solitude, and the opportunity for my mind to just wander. Walking is great for physical health, but it's my mental health that pushes me out that door every day. I don't even take Murphy (my dog). I walk him, then I walk me. My walk (and significantly limiting my time on social media) has become a survival strategy.

Today I caught the smell of leaves and wet earth, and it sent me immediately back to my childhood. It's funny how smells can do that better than anything else. It reminded me of riding with my sister, Kerrie. I needed that reminder of a time when peace, gentleness and kindness reigned.

My sister and I used to ride our horses every day. It was just an assumption. For miles and miles, with the careless lack of paying mind to our own mortality, with no awareness of time, we would while away the hours and days until the snow came and prevented us from doing so. We took that ease and peace so for granted. On my walk today, the memory was so vivid that I could almost hear the sound of shod hoofs on dirt and gravel, and feel the soft leather reins in my hands. I felt a confusing mixture of joy at the memory, and the ache of longing to be there again.

The thing we took so for granted as kids seems so impossible and unreal in the context of today's world. Once, for us, riding was breathing and horses were air. We rode bareback, almost always. We didn't give a thought to how strong it made us or what it did for our balance. We just knew that saddles weren't necessary unless we were showing, so we didn't use them. When we asked for a canter (read: gallop) there was no forethought. It was more like muscle-memory as subtle as instinct, and off we'd go. Our horses loved the increased speed. You could almost feel their joy in the freedom of their own movement. Faster and faster, as fast as we could go. The smell of sweaty horse, a mane brushing my nose. The wind blowing my hair off my face in a world before helmets. The blur of green as the corn on either side sped past. It was better than meditation, almost a prayer. The rhythm of hoof beats and the sound of our dog's tags as she raced beside us was almost a song. It was everything.

I miss those moments when there were only moments. Thousands of hours of blissful moments. I miss my strength and my fearlessness. I miss that connection to a magical unicorn. Horses have always been magic for me; almost a talisman. They represent everything strong, right and good. My life will never be complete without one, and I suspect Kerrie would say the same. I miss it so much it hurts, but I'm grateful, too. I'm grateful to have that, to know that kind of joy. To know that something in this world can provide me with that kind of happiness, and to have that to look forward to.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Weighty Issue

Photo: http://www.uline.com
So, I signed up for a three-month food-prep and weight loss class. If you know anything about me, you know how completely out of character that is. I HATE cooking. I mean, I LOATHE it. And I'm horrible at it too. I've actually set my back lawn on fire and had to put it out with a hose, and I wasn't even cooking outdoors. Long story. I used to make waffles once in awhile when my daughter was little, and everybody called them 'awfuls'. It's no joke guys. And weight loss? Please! Lets talk about how much I DON'T care about weight. And then lets talk about why.

When I was little, I felt like I hated most of what it was to be a girl. I never wanted to be a boy (and I thought they were gross, of course), but girls didn't seem to get to have any fun. If I had to wear a dress, it meant I had to wear tights (uncomfortable), shoes that I had to keep un-scuffed and clean. It also meant that I had to be 'ladylike' (whatever that meant) and 'modest', (another word I didn't really get). Essentially, what it boiled down to was sitting quietly and politely, ie; NO FUN. Fun meant digging in the dirt for worms (to bring in the house), looking for frogs (to bring in the house), looking for grasshoppers (to bring in the house) and taking old electronics apart and trying to put them back together. Okay, I was a weird kid. I was also obsessed with horses, rode whenever I had the opportunity, and pretended to be one when I didn't. I liked to be dirty, and outdoors. I liked to follow my grandfather around his wood shop until I was covered in sawdust. In short, any day that ended with me being filthy enough for my grandmother to say "Go clean up before potatoes start growing on you" was a fabulous day. And didn't involve dresses, being ladylike, or being modest.

Another odd bit for me was that the more uncomfortable I was, the more adults would compliment my appearance. I would be absolutely miserable, and my older relatives would be all " Wow! Look at how PRETTY you are!!". Early childhood lesson: Misery = social approval. Okay, and I get it's not like that for everybody and I fully embrace my weirdness here. I didn't get the impression that my sister or female cousins felt miserable at all about dressing up, so it seems like it was more of a 'me' thing. But there it was.

Unfortunately for me I was an early bloomer (and that list of issues is for another day. Maybe.), and that meant an awareness of all the usual social pressures on women to conform to a certain physical type. I wasn't fat, but I wasn't skinny either. For a young girl (especially one that was extremely uncomfortable in her own, ever-changing skin)"not skinny" was the end of the world. Couple that with growing up in a household where weight and appearance were always a priority and a discussion, and the relentless message was "she could be pretty if she wasn't fat" and boy does that lend itself to a whole bunch of self-loathing and trouble.

I very quickly learned that my body wasn't designed for weight loss. I would lose it for awhile , and then it would just plateau eternally. Eventually I was frustrated enough that I just stopped eating altogether. I started to lose weight again, so in my mind that must have been the right course of action. Because nothing was more important than being thin. EVERYBODY knows that. And it started to show. People started complimenting me on how good I looked, started saying things like "It must feel great to start getting so healthy!"So I kept on keeping on. My skin was grey, I had dark circles under my eyes, and the compliments kept coming. Then I got sick. REALLY sick.  I had mono, but not just for the usual couple of weeks. I had it for MONTHS. And then I had pneumonia. I missed my freshman year of high school. And I still wasn't skinny! My doc at the time knew what was going on and he threatened me with hospitalization. I knew he meant it. He said if my mom wasn't a nurse, I would already be there. It scared me enough to stop the behavior, but didn't do anything at all about the psychological impact. I thought making myself throw up would be safer. My doc saw the burst blood-vessels in my eyes and threatened me again. He also mentioned scary things like detached retinas, heart failure and blindness. So I gave up. I mean, completely.

I thought things like "I'll never be good enough" and "There's something wrong with me" (and it was JUST me. My sister was thin. Of course she was.) I drank a lot, but I never really liked it. And then I discovered cocaine and what a miraculous weight-loss aid that was. I never really talked about what I was feeling, because what was the point? Wasn't that just another failure? Another weakness? I felt like my inability to be like other young women or to care about the things they cared about made me bad and wrong somehow. I went to hair school, learned to do hair and makeup, and started to really focus on how I dressed. It was always on the wild side and I liked to wear leather (still do), so I felt like maybe I had just found my own unique way of caring about the 'right' things. I would just be a person who cares about such things, and it would be okay. The substance abuse was just for fun. Of course it was. Until it wasn't. I kicked it, but the weight was there, right where I left it. And I hadn't reached "skinny" anyway.

Eventually I got pregnant, and it was right around that time that I started to think: What if I have a girl? How will I teach her about 'all that' when I don't really have a grip on it myself? I thought about it a lot. I would look in the mirror when I was getting ready for work and think: I wish I could look in the mirror and just say "good morning, you", without having to change my face. I wish my very own face was good enough; perfect the way it is. I wish I could wear clothes for of how they make me feel, not how they make me look. I wish I could stop putting my human-shaped feet into pointed shoes; but I have to wear high-heels "because they make my legs look longer and beauty is pain, after all". (Just between us, how f***ing stupid IS that?) I wish I could say those conversations with myself were the beginning of some kind of revelation, of healing, but they weren't. Not yet.

I had my daughter, and then it was all about "Baby weight". For some women it's not a big deal. They get a belly-bump for awhile and then they have the baby and it's gone. I couldn't even get out of my own way, or wear shoes home after work because my feet were so swollen. It wasn't because I was lazy and uncommitted, but because it was just the way it was. The TV told me differently though: If I had a tough time with the baby weight, it was just another failure. I just didn't try hard enough. Never mind that I was an exhausted single parent. I didn't look 'right', and it was all my fault. Now I was not only jilted and alone with a child, nobody would ever want me or love me because I was just a big, fat mommy-blob. The way people treated me confirmed this: according to everybody, I was suddenly no longer me anymore. My whole identity was about being someone's mother, and I should automatically know what that meant because "instincts". Yeah, not so much. But hey, I met a guy who seemed to dig me (my daughter's father had literally left the country), and though he picked on me ruthlessly about my weight (all it takes is effort and willpower, don't be so lazy), I put up with it because hey, maybe I was still human after all. Even though I was fat. And then fen phen (or was it phen fen?) came on the market. It was experimental and maybe not safe, but what the hell.

I lost a ton of weight on the drug. I changed absolutely nothing about what I was doing in terms of diet and exercise, but I lost weight like crazy. I was risking my life, but here came the compliments: "Look how HEALTHY you are getting!" Yeah, I was healthy-ing my way into a smaller coffin, but I was taking up less space, becoming more socially acceptable. A 'real' person. I thought about that thing Kate Moss says "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels". But I HATED how thin felt. I felt weak and frail. I would look at myself in the mirror and see a gaunt (and old-looking!) version of my face perched on an alien body. I hated the knobbiness of my knees, and how bow-legged I looked. I hated the way my bones protruded through my thin flesh. It made me think of death. Once, I caught a glimpse of my backbone and ribs in a mirror as I bent down to tie my shoes and I was so horrified that I burst into tears. (It's funny, I never looked at my thin friends this way, but to me I looked awful). I was cold all the time (which I usually am, so it was worse), I couldn't get comfortable when I slept and even the smallest bump would hurt. I felt terrible. Of course when they took the drug off the market, the weight came back. It didn't matter what I did to stop it (or why). It always came back.

The "crazy" around weight didn't stop there. I starved, I chain smoked, I over-exercised. I still did all of that. I think it's pretty normal for women to accept self-flagellation as just another way of life. We call it other things (because the TV does). We call it 'motivation' or something along those lines. It's not. One day, I caught my daughter watching me. Is this what I wanted for her? Did I want to teach her to hate herself? Did I want her to think that her appearance was the most important thing she had to offer the world? So important that it took precedence over everything else? No, a thousand times no. I knew that if I wanted her to grow up loving herself, I had to love me. I had to show her what self-love looked like.That was a tough one, but I did it.

I finally accepted that I wasn't 'normal' (whatever that means), but that I didn't have to be. I was my own worst critic on that score. I accepted that I'm always going to be a little fluffy, and that means nothing about who I am or my value as a human being. I sent my daughter to a great school with a strict no media policy, and that just made things easier. It eradicated all those twisted media-messages directed at women. She and I would dig in the dirt together, grow things, make things, and joke about how many potatoes we could grow on ourselves. She went through a 'pink' phase, and then a 'blue' phase, and then a 'red' phase. Sometimes she liked to play with dolls and that was cool. And sometimes she didn't and that was cool too. She led the charge in terms of her preferences for toys, colors and activities, and all was well. We hiked with the dogs, we danced it out, we read books. We both dressed in clothes we liked for how they made us feel, we wore comfortable shoes (or no shoes!) and our faces were perfect exactly the way they were. Seeing myself through my daughter's eyes was really the beginning of healing for me. Healing from a lifetime of bullshit messages about how women should look and what they should care about. I needed the freedom from the media messages as much as my daughter, and it was the beginning. And there were many years of therapy (which continues).

It's been a long, slow climb through self-acceptance, and finally to self love. I'm really grateful to be where I am in that regard. I've come to realize that the cliche is true: beauty does, indeed originate within. I started looking for it in other people first. Where once I may have thought "She might be pretty if she wasn't so fat", I think "Wow, her face glows with kindness". And that's not something you will ever find in a make-up bag or a photo-altering app. Now, I can turn that same love and kindness on myself and mean it. It's kind of a big deal. And I now understand that not everything is about goals or climbing mountains. I do yoga because it feels good (Yes, Debbie, it's still your VHS tape!), I let my hair grow because it makes me sad to cut it, and I don't have to. I did add some purple and blue highlights though :-) I dress for comfort and wear comfortable shoes. I look at my face in the AM and say "Good morning you. It's a new day, lets make it a good one" without any thought whatsoever of changing my face. It's flaws are a perfect reflection of a lifetime of sun and smiles. I finally understand that trying to approximate a socially-contrived stereotype is not for everybody, and it certainly isn't for me. But you can imagine how it feels to have someone say "You know, you should lose some weight. It's just a little diet and exercise". Seriously folks, I WISH it was just about willpower, effort and self-control. I starved myself, almost to death, I drove myself to the hospital in labor, I raised a child alone. If it were just about gutting it out, it would have been a done deal a loooong time ago.

And what does any of that have to do with my opening statement? Well, everything. It took a long time to get to this place. I'm taking the class because I want to, without any particular goal in mind.  It's about self love. It's an apology to myself for everything I've done; for the starvation and the drugs, for the self-loathing and judgement, for the shitty, dehydrated food and the chemical-laden, meal-substitute shakes. For the abuse, really. Both the abuse I put up with from others, and that which I imposed on myself. And to learn. My daughter and I went from a crushing poverty that meant we had no real choices in terms of food because it always came down to "what is the cheapest thing we can tolerate today?" (FYI, folks who really think poor people are out there buying lobster and steak are so full of willful ignorance that it hurts every ounce of common sense I posses, which is a lot.) , and with very little transition, suddenly went to "Who do we call for take out today?". That was cool for awhile, but it's no way to live. So I'm doing this, I'm taking this class. I'm sure I'll lose some weight, and that's cool. Do I expect miracles? I really don't, and that's okay. Because that isn't the point. The point is, to take better care of ourselves, just to do that. I've spent 2 years studying canine nutrition, and the better part of a year on equine nutrition (I don't even have a horse right now!) and it's time to spend a little time learning about me, a human, who's worth it. And for all the right reasons.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why I love Circles

Photo: www.rgbstock.com
When I first started this blog, my intention was to keep it light-hearted. I wanted it to be a place where I could focus on the fluffy side of life; I wanted to make it primarily about animals and silliness. It hasn't exactly worked out that way. See, the thing about being online, about being part of any online community, is that it has a fairly pronounced dark side. I get that we all know this, and it isn't exactly the latest news. But it's easy to get caught up, to get dragged away and to be distracted by all the noise. For me, the worst part has been finding out about some of the horrible things that people believe in, even people I know and love. The feelings fall somewhere between a helpless kind of melancholy, and the realization that something with teeth is standing next to your bed at 3:00AM. It is what it is. And apparently, we're all about labels these days. We're all about making assumptions about large groups of people based on speculation, about passing judgement, about forgetting there is a difference between opinion and fact. Propaganda is propaganda no matter the source. Wanting to believe something doesn't make it true, but people believe just the same.

People believe nonsense about others simply because someone told them to. A failure to distinguish between opinion and fact compounds the issue. It feels heavy. It feels like negotiating an unpredictable landscape where logic and compassion no longer mean a damned thing, and anger, prejudice and greed are acceptable.  Everybody is competing to see who has it the worst, and those who have it good feel fully entitled to exploit the desperation of others. It's so in my face every day, and it makes it hard to stay fluffy. Everybody is looking out for number one. I want to talk about what I believe, and why it makes the rest of it so difficult.

I won't deny the importance of the individual, but here's the deal: Each and every one of us is unique. We are all "different". Even so, unless you live alone in the middle of nowhere, build your own house, grow all your own food, make your own clothes, create your own energy, etc, you are connected to the rest of us. Our fates are inextricably bound. But it goes deeper than that.

The reason I love circles isn't just because I abhor straight lines and the sharpness of angles, but because they accurately depict our relationship with everything. Circles are inclusive. They are found in nature in a perfect state. They hold us all within them; they accurately reflect the reality of how even the smallest act can create a far-reaching ripple.

natamcancer.org
Taken spiritually, the idea of the sacred circle has been embraced by many, many cultures, and not for nothing. I'll focus on the Native American medicine wheel pictured above (items like this beautifully quilled medicine wheel are available by clicking the link under the image, and benefit Native American cancer research. A site which I'm not affiliated with in any way). While the symbol has been adopted by many tribes, I am most familiar with the Lakota understanding (my great gram was Sihasapa, though I didn't know much about her). Even so, there are still a lot of holes in my personal understanding to fill in, so please feel free to comment if I'm missing something.

I love this symbol. It is the epitome of inclusiveness. It doesn't just represent the connection of all people, but all of nature. Nature doesn't place humanity above anything else; we are all one in nature. It is only humanity that tries to see itself as above everything. It is seen in small ways, like assigning morality to feeding oneself (veganism for the sake of the animals, which is a fine thing to do but it implies immorality of all flesh-eaters; and being anti-farm gets extra silly when you have dogs and/or cats), or the need we have to assign human emotions and judgement to animals in order to describe how great they are ("my dog felt guilty when he dirtied the carpet", "my dog feels sorry for the abused animals on the TV","my dog is like a little person"). The truth is, every dog is a perfect dog. Every horse is a perfect horse. Every animal is perfectly and wonderfully it's own being, and not human. That doesn't make it any less, just different. The idea that 'not human' is less than us is so ingrained that we look for ourselves in everything to prove it is worthy. There's rarely ill-intent, but it's disrespectful just the same. I know I've said that before, but it can be really difficult to fully appreciate what the idea of inclusiveness means without acknowledging our human tendencies. Even so, we are perfect humans, all of us, and a natural part of the circle.

We, as humans, tend to make our spirituality separate too, as though it is something outside of ourselves.  But it is a part of nature too, and a natural part of everything. We argue and fight about the different ways we perceive our spirituality, and don't stop to realize that nobody has the whole story, and that we all do. It doesn't belong to anyone more than anyone else. Our divinity isn't dependent on our financial place in the world, it's part of who we are. It's the very energy of our beings. Before you think I've gone all religious, you need to know that my understanding of spirituality goes beyond religion (my religion is Catholic, which is neither here nor there for the moment). Even the greatest minds in history acknowledge the force of energy: The law of Conservation of energy is absolute, and says essentially that energy can neither be created or destroyed. Tesla has been quoted as saying “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.” That's for those of us who need a little logic with our spiritualism. Having said that, my personal experiences have shown me a reality that many people have to take on faith. I know life doesn't end, because I've seen it. We are energy, and that energy is in all things. In that most profound, fundamental and unequivocal way, we are all connected. We can embrace it and live through it and with it, or not. But real separation is impossible, and the desire unhealthy. The individual is best able to manifest and thrive when that natural connectedness is acknowledged, and even more importantly, respected. For the more religious among you, for whom the Bible holds the most sway (or the curious), follow this link to multiple Bible passages that offer more incentive yet to support this point of view.

The problem arises when we need to be reminded of our connectedness. When we convince ourselves so thoroughly of our own self-importance that we become unable to see the validity of anything but our own priorities and our own point of view. As humans, it's something we need be aware of. Our big brains can be wonderful things; they can allow us to be stewards of our world, they can help us connect with the divinity of all things. Or they can give us a false sense of superiority and infallibility. Most of our biggest issues today come from trying to impose artificial priorities (like the acquisition of money and things) on a natural world that doesn't share or acknowledge our contrived values. The further we get from our natural state, the sicker we get. "We" meaning all of us and all of nature. That is a fact, Jack. There are ways to make it work, but the imposition of money on everything has functioned like a sickness in and of itself. It makes us hateful, paranoid, greedy. In our desire for a sense of control, we oversimplify everything; we make things so black and white that we fail to see the myriad of solutions that fall somewhere in the middle. The middle has become a blind spot. You think we would have noticed by now that the desire for money and control does nothing at all to make us better people or to improve our circumstances. We think having more makes us better. We get covetous and paranoid about our resources. It's ugly and it's violent. We use our big brains to justify it. We forget why we are here and what we're really about. We lose our magic in persuit of the trivial and insignificant.

So, those are my thoughts. I haven't found a way to adequately shield myself from the awfulness that exists, or to not get caught in it myself. We are going through a period of time when it's financially beneficial to play on peoples' prejudices and to exploit the worst of human nature. Our conversations are nothing more than hatred, name-calling, divisiveness and blame. It's so bad that we can't even see what we are doing to each other and to ourselves. We've forgotten the connection. All we can do is try to remember, and do our best to stay out of the fray.