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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.