Sometimes we receive a reminder of the lives we used to lead, and usually when we least expect it. Sometimes this reminder can be painful, and sometimes it can also be a bit of a relief. Sometimes both. Reminders usually grant us a bit of perspective, which can be hard to gain otherwise. Because the whole saying, Out of sight, out of mind, can be true to an extent. I try to be aware of what I am feeling, but sometimes we don’t even know what we’re feeling. And then we receive a reminder.
Though it hasn’t been a year yet, I actually forget sometimes how much my life has changed since the beginning of August, how only a short while ago I was leading an entirely different kind of existence. Yes, in my old life of less than a year ago I had already given up booze, but I was still living a different kind of life. When you’re living a new life, you’re in it, living it, and don’t have much time to reflect. I don’t know if this is good or bad. I keep trying to find the balance between reflection and living.
Perhaps I should sit with my feelings a bit more, instead of always charging full speed ahead, but I don’t want to sit around brooding over what I have “lost.” But I also don’t want to pretend that my old life never existed, because it all serves a purpose. This past weekend I received a reminder of my old life, of how things used to be. You see, I saw my ex-boyfriend, out of nowhere, and it threw me for a loop a little bit.
Though I am happy in my new life, though with time and some perspective I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change how anything went down last year, I was thrown when he walked into the restaurant where I used to work. Where I was having dinner with my new boyfriend. The two hadn’t met before. I hadn’t seen my ex since Christmas. Needless to say, my heart dropped. Um, could a more awkward scenario be imagined? I think not. But it was bound to happen sooner or later, in this small town where I live. I guess then was a good a time as any. I just wasn’t prepared, not at all. I guess we never are.
Seeing my ex-boyfriend as I sat beside my new one was something I hadn’t foreseen happening, at least not anytime soon, and it rattled me. How did one behave in such a situation? How do you respect all parties involved? I won’t go into the details out of respect for all parties involved, but I will say that these reminders usually occur when we need to be granted some perspective. To be reminded that things work out as they should, and that if you ask for what you truly need, you will most likely receive it, in one form or another.
I can’t disregard or forget the twelve years I spent, off-and-on, with this other person, nor do I want to, not really. Twelve years is a long time. But I also can’t, and don’t want to, relive old memories all the time. What is the in-between of forgetting and remembering? I don’t really have the answer… maybe feeling? Being present? Being in the moment, taking the time to honor what you’re feeling in that moment, and continuing on. That’s all of us can do, really, is try to be present and to continue living.
My life has changed so much since my past relationship ended, and not just because that time in my life came to an end. I have a new job, new experiences, new people, new life. I know I will always cherish that time, but I also value this new time, this new life. I will attempt to do both, and will try not to live in the past and to not be consumed by the future. To be. But I believe I received a reminder this past weekend for a reason. To continue on, but to also remember. Because that old life happened, just as this new one is happening, and all of it is intertwined, bringing me to where I am, here, now.
It’s that time of year when we all (hopefully) take a moment to think about all we are grateful for. It’s a time of year when we pause and take stock of what brings a smile to our face, what gives us sustenance in one form or another, what keeps us going. I hope that we all came up with many things to be thankful for. I hope that we not only recognized, but truly appreciated, all that has been bestowed upon us.
I wish that we did this more than once a year, and perhaps some of us do, but I know that I don’t. I do go through spurts of appreciation, moments of gratitude. I try to look on the bright side, to see the silver lining. This isn’t always possible, but I know that it is possible to focus our attention on what matters more than what doesn’t. This long weekend reminded me of this, to focus my attention on the present, to hone in on the brightness and the light.
Though I don’t want kids (which many of you know; or you can read about it here), they are a great reminder to be present, to laugh and play, to just simply stand in wonder. Spending time with my niece and nephew on Thanksgiving reminded me of this, of the simple beauty in this world. These two little people gave me pause, made me stop and think about not only how miraculous they are, but how miraculous life in and of itself is.
It’s miraculous that my one-year-old niece says “Auntie” and “Love you” now. It’s miraculous how funny my three-year-old nephew is. They just say whatever it is that’s on their minds. They are kind, crazy, sweet. I could listen to them all day. They both have so much personality, so much curiosity and wonder for the world. Their wonder revives my own, shifts my perspective, gives me clarity. The simple fact that we are here is wonder enough, not to mention that I get to be an auntie to these little humans, these pockets of giggles and tears.
Not only do I get to be an auntie, but I also get to be a sister and a daughter. As we held hands around the table to give thanks, I looked around me and smiled. My sister, who makes me so very proud, who makes me want to be a better person, was on my left. My brother-in-law, who works so hard to provide for his family, and his son, the class president at his school, to my right. My niece chatting with herself in her highchair beside my sister. Laughter coming from the living room where my mom, who reminds me to pursue my passions, who has always placed value in language and art, was playing with my nephew. I was so grateful.
The wonder of it all continued to strike me after my day with my family. The day after Thanksgiving I did yoga in my living room in the morning light before going out to the coast with a friend. The drive was beautiful, winding wet roads and rolling green hills. Redwood trees and glimmering water. I remarked how amazing it is that we live in a place this gorgeous. After we parked we got coffee and sat outside amid the frigid beauty, the water glinting silver and gray, black birds hopping across the lush wet grass. When it got too cold we went back inside the cafe to find a corner where we could continue talking.
We talked about life and death, friendship and loss, relationships, school, family. I had never spoken with this friend in this way before; we had never really had the opportunity to talk as we did in that moment, just the two of us. It was a moment. A moment where I paused and was grateful. I was grateful for the warmth of the cafe, the coffee I was drinking, the company of this friend I suddenly knew. I felt like she let me know her more than before, and I appreciated it. She reminded me that vulnerability is a kind of strength.
Then yesterday I found myself pausing in another moment of gratitude. I was thankful for a different friend of mine, and not just because she cooked me breakfast and drove us to San Francisco (she’s amazing). I was grateful for her no-nonsense sweetness, how she does not mince words but is still inherently thoughtful. I was thankful for her companionship and our friendship, which has just grown and grown over the years. She’s the kind of friend where you can sit without talking and it’s not awkward. That’s pretty rare. I appreciated how opinionated she is without being rude; she knows who she is and what she likes and doesn’t like and will let you know. She reminded me of the beauty in just being yourself.
There is beauty in just being yourself, in being vulnerable, in being childlike with wonder. Some may see these actions as weak, but I know that these actions make you more resilient. If you are fully yourself, you become your own anchor in a chaotic sea. If you are vulnerable, you create stronger relationships, including with yourself. If you are silly with glee, you make the world a brighter place to live. I am grateful for these actions. And I am even more grateful for the friends and family who remind me of this, of the brightness and the light.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dark days lie ahead. It is a time of uncertainty. A time of disbelief, shock, confusion, disappointment. It is a time I did not see coming. Perhaps I was naive, but my faith in humanity prevented me from believing this moment would come. A moment where a bigoted, racist, sexist, homophobic man would become the president of the United States. I thought we had come further than this. I thought we had come further as Americans, humans, people. We are all people. So why would we elect someone who denigrates and separates people? Us?
I know that it is very easy to say we are all one and the same, that we should all be able to get along. I know that we are the same as human beings but that we all have different backgrounds, experiences, upbringings. So why not learn about one another’s differences? Why not seek to understand what we can’t comprehend? Instead of shunning or shutting out, why can’t we ask and aim to be open?
We are frightened of what we don’t understand. So I would say, obviously, the remedy is to try to understand. Killing, dividing, hating; what does this grant us? When we see our brothers and sisters as strangers, when we see our great family as the enemy, we lose our humanity. When we let our insecurity, our fear, manifest and take control of our lives, we lose our chance to become great, to honor this bewildering, beautiful existence. We falter.
We falter as a people, as a human race, when we uphold false idols, when we take comfort in words of hate. We falter as Americans when we see ourselves reflected back in the face of a pathetic man with no morals, values, integrity. It’s not about which political party we identify with. It’s about what kind of person we identify with. It’s about what and who we stand for and behind. It’s about supporting a campaign of disrespect and disregard rather than honor and inclusion. It’s about hate.
My heart is breaking that my fellow Americans, my fellow human beings, would want someone like this in a position of power. That they would agree with what he says, what he believes in. That they would find logic in the emptiness of his words and actions. I am saddened by the lack of integrity, the separatism, the shallowness. I thought more of us. I believe in open minds and open hearts, curiosity and compassion. I wanted to believe that we all did. That we still do.
My heart is breaking as a woman, as a person of color, as a hardworking citizen, as a human being. My heart is breaking as a person on this planet, a simultaneous drop in the bucket and a voice that will be heard. I am numb with the sadness of it all, I am angry, I am.
I am. I am still here, I am still breathing, my heart is still beating. I remind myself of this as I turn off the radio, as I attempt to do something, anything, than dwell on this darkness. I am here, I am alive, my voice, like your voice, matters. I will not give up, I will not despair. I will grieve, I will be angry. But then I will fight.
I will not fight with hate in my heart. I will not let hate win. I will fight with love, for love, because of love. I will even love those I do not see eye to eye with, those who believe in words of hate and madness. I will even try to love this orange man who hates so openly and freely. He hates those who are different from him, us, because he is ignorant, entitled, arrogant. His bluster does not hide the truth from me: he has hate in his heart because he is insecure and frightened. So I will send some love his way. We could all use more if it right now.
As the saying goes: when one door closes, another door opens. Lately it does seem that way, that when a door slams closed in my face or another clicks softly closed behind me, a hidden door will suddenly spring open a moment later. When an era ends, a new era always begins. I’ve been noticing this cyclical nature of life more and more lately, the endings coinciding with the beginnings, the sadness and the joy that seems to exist on the very same plane.
Last week I didn’t write because I was at a celebration of life. One of my dear friends experienced a sudden loss in the family, a loss that rocked our group of friends deeply. We have experienced a lot of loss lately it seems. We gathered last Sunday to share our stories and honor the beloved person we all lost in our own way. It was a sad but sweet day, a day of laughter and tears, of remembrance and of looking to the future.
Then yesterday I attended a close friend’s baby shower. A celebration of life as well, only of a different variety. This celebration was a welcoming of an unknown but already loved little being. We gathered to share our favorite children’s books and honor the person whom we are all excited to meet. Last weekend was about loss, this weekend was about an addition to the family. Needless to say, the emotions have been quite varied from day to day.
How can we be so disheartened one moment and then so excited the next? How can life be so cruel and yet so kind? I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast. The sooner we (I) can accept that, the better off we will be. Life doesn’t always make sense. It rarely does. But just as it can seem cold, it can also be warm and inviting. What we don’t know, what we can never know, is how it will be from one day to the next.
How can we live with such uncertainty? The not knowing if we will lose someone so suddenly? I suppose because we must, because there is no other option. Even if we lock ourselves in our homes and turn our backs on the world, the world will keep on spinning. Even if we fiercely guard the ones we love, what we hold dear, we can still lose it all in the blink of an eye. There are no guarantees.
But you know what is guaranteed? That we will suffer heartbreak and we will also experience wild joy. We will lose it all only to start over and rebuild. Does this hurt? Like hell. But it happens and then, just when we’ve given up hope, a secret door, one that was invisible to our eyes only moments before, sighs open. Or blows wide open, compelling us to act and act quickly. We don’t know when this will happen, we can’t plan for it, we can’t hide from it.
I believe that we cannot dictate our future, that we cannot control the outcome. This does not mean that we shouldn’t try to orchestrate the life we wish to see, not by any means. But it does mean that when things don’t make sense, when we’re mired down, the only way out is to feel the fear and surrender to the experience. Surrendering not in the sense of giving up, but of relinquishing some of our white-knuckled attempt to control everything. The harder we bear down, the tighter we clutch and grasp, the more likely we are to miss the secret doors whispering open. The more we try to make sense of what is right in front of us, the less we are able to see the light off in the distance.
I’ve been sad and blindsided by my friend’s loss, by what life has thrown my way. But I have also been excited for the impending birth of a new person, created by two lovely people I am happy to know. I’ve been stressed and overwhelmed with tackling all of the aspects of my new life, but I’ve also been exhilarated and renewed. I just have to ride the wave, I guess. I have to trust that it will all turn out how it is supposed to. Life very rarely makes sense, but man, is it a beautiful, wild ride nonetheless.
I started writing today and abandoned the draft. I probably won’t finish it. It didn’t feel… real.
I’m having an off day, where the past and the future are looming on either side of me, where it’s difficult to sit in the present moment and just be. What is authentic: today I am down with a head cold and feeling listless. It doesn’t help that I went out this weekend, that I stayed up late and ate food that’s not the best for me. In the moment it was worth it, to be with friends and feel like I was a part of the world. But today I am tired.
I see that though I have been having fun, I have been trying to distract myself. Distract myself from the waves of awareness: my relationship is over. My new life, the life I have been working the past five years for, has begun. The low and the high, in stark relief, can be overwhelming at times. To not be able to share the excitement with the one person who knows how hard I’ve worked for it is strange. To miss the person when you just want to be angry is hard. But everything has an end. Just as everything has a beginning.
Thinking about this today, feeling sick and a little glum, prompted me to find and re-read a poem that has been with me for a long time. My mother shared this book of poetry with me years ago called Picnic, Lighting, by Billy Collins. Though I don’t remember many of the other poems, this specific one has seemed to accompany me on my many journeys, through my trying moments and my hard days. It’s just so… honest, sad, beautiful. It’s like life. I thought it appropriate to share it today.
Rather than write more when I am feeling depleted, rather than slap something together because I feel like I should, I would prefer to send something out into the void that has beauty and meaning. That has soothed my soul by reminding me, in a beautiful, truthful way, that everything ends. That it’s okay that everything ends. That life is cyclical, wondrous, unadulterated even amongst the confusion and the grime. I hope it is a balm for you, as well.
by Billy Collins
This is the beginning. Almost anything can happen. This is where you find the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land, the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page. Think of an egg, the letter A, a woman ironing on a bare stage as the heavy curtain rises. This is the very beginning. The first-person narrator introduces himself, tells us about his lineage. The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings. Here the climbers are studying a map or pulling on their long woolen socks. This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn. The profile of an animal is being smeared on the wall of a cave, and you have not yet learned to crawl. This is the opening, the gambit, a pawn moving forward an inch. This is your first night with her, your first night without her. This is the first part where the wheels begin to turn, where the elevator begins its ascent, before the doors lurch apart. This is the middle. Things have had time to get complicated, messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore. Cities have sprouted up along the rivers teeming with people at cross-purposes— a million schemes, a million wild looks. Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack here and pitches his ragged tent. This is the sticky part where the plot congeals, where the action suddenly reverses or swerves off in an outrageous direction. Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph to why Miriam does not want Edward’s child. Someone hides a letter under a pillow. Here the aria rises to a pitch, a song of betrayal, salted with revenge. And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge halfway up the mountain. This is the bridge, the painful modulation. This is the thick of things. So much is crowded into the middle— the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados, Russian uniforms, noisy parties, lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall— too much to name, too much to think about. And this is the end, the car running out of road, the river losing its name in an ocean, the long nose of the photographed horse touching the white electronic line. This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade, the empty wheelchair, and pigeons floating down in the evening. Here the stage is littered with bodies, the narrator leads the characters to their cells, and the climbers are in their graves. It is me hitting the period and you closing the book. It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck. This is the final bit thinning away to nothing. This is the end, according to Aristotle, what we have all been waiting for, what everything comes down to, the destination we cannot help imagining, a streak of light in the sky, a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.
It’s been awhile. Been awhile since I sat down to write my weekly post. Been awhile since I began the process of living a wild, free life. It’s been quite the journey since I started writing this blog a year ago (almost exactly!). I have changed my life in numerous ways, thought I had it all figured out (now I know that we never do), only to start again once more. I haven’t written because I’ve been adjusting to my new life, lifestyle, career, home, experiences. I haven’t written because I have had to allow myself the space and time to rediscover how I wish to be in this world.
When I began my journey of aiming to live a wilder, freer life, I opened myself up in a way I never had before. Not only through sharing my experiences here, but also out in the world. I slowly but surely began to break down many walls that I hadn’t even known existed. I shed an old skin and began to fill out a new one, to grow into a different kind of person. Though I was and remain the same at my core, I became a person who forged connections with myself and others, where before I had shied away from them.
I do not regret this transformation, this opening up and expanding; I welcomed it then as a new way to be, and I have much appreciation for it now. My growth allowed me to gain more than I have lost. But now, now that I have experienced the recent and blindsiding experience of losing all that I thought I would have forever, I find that I am retracting slightly.
These past two weeks of not writing, I have found myself once again shifting and changing shape. My arms and mind are open, but I find that my heart is another story. I am not closing myself off from the world like I have been known to do in the past, but I seem to have built a structure around the tenderest part of me. Not necessarily a wall… perhaps more of a partition.
This partition is not to keep people out, but to keep myself protected. I know we get hurt in this life, it’s unavoidable, but I also know now that I can keep some of my heart to myself, for myself. I have bounded from one end of the spectrum to the other, from closed to wide open, and now I seem to be settling somewhere in the middle. It feels… right.
I was so excited about the seemingly endless possibilities that appeared when I started my new way of living that I can see, in hindsight, I got swept up. I didn’t realize that my willingness to be vulnerable would not always be reciprocated by those closest to me. I didn’t embrace the idea that I could and can be in collaboration with the world while still being my sarcastic, skeptical self. I can wish to believe but still question, I can maintain a spiritual practice and still read trashy magazines. I don’t have to become a yoga teacher or go to an ashram for a month to live truthfully.
I can see that the events that have led me to here, to this moment, have coincided to bring me more awareness. While before I thought I was completely aware, I know that I am more conscious now. I have been brought back down to earth. I did not welcome this descension, the thud and the pain that accompanies such a fall, but I am grateful for it now.
I have always considered myself a grounded person, practical and pragmatic, almost to a fault. My practicality limited me in a way for some time, preventing me from believing in alternate routes that I could take. Luckily, when I removed my old blocks from view I started to see that there’s more out there. But somewhere along the way of living with more freedom, more abandon, I got a little lost. I disdained the ideas of having security or stability, I disregarded my intuition, telling myself that everything would work out, that it always does. I felt that to truly live wild and free, I wouldn’t work a “traditional” job or live a “traditional” life. This was an error on my part.
My error led me to being too caught up in potentials, in appearances, than concerning myself with what was and always has been inside. Whether I work a traditional job or not, I am me. Whether I am in a relationship or not, I am me. And me, myself, is someone who deserves to be taken care of, by me and me alone, at least for now. I made the mistake of trusting too much in others. I made the mistake of linking awareness with a path that doesn’t seem to fit.
Don’t get me wrong, I will keep the faith and the trust, but on a more pragmatic scale. I will trust myself first and foremost. I will remember that I can live truthfully and freely while working a 9-5. I will not beat myself up if I say something that Gandhi wouldn’t approve of. I am human, frail but also much stronger than I give myself credit for. Flawed yet determined. Sweet and sour. Bratty and kind. I am not perfect and I never will be.
What matters is that I am trying. Trying to be more than a sleepwalker, someone who just floats through life, who lets life happen to them. Trying to live openly and authentically. Trying to rearrange and realign, to pick myself back up after I stumble. Trying to protect myself while I continue to try making connections. Trying to reach for the stars with my feet planted firmly on the ground. I don’t have it all figured out, but no one does. We figure it out along the way.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thank god for my sister. She who knows me so well, she who is the best person I know. She has the uncanny ability of calling me out without me even knowing it. Because she knows when I need it, she knows when I am burying my head in the sand out of fear.
Though I consider myself an educated individual, I rarely watch the news. I avoid my Facebook feed when yet another tragedy has befallen the human race. I flip past magazine articles or eschew the front page of the newspaper in favor of less despairing reading. But who does that serve? Though I do this out of faulty self-preservation tactics, it does not even serve me. I look to protect myself from the weight of the world, from it all being too much, but then before I know it all I see is sand. I am an ostrich.
I was forced to pull my head out of the sand and take a look at myself after a conversation with my sister on the phone this morning. I had to take a hard look at the person I am in relation to the person I want to be. As a woman of color, as a citizen of the world, as an American, as someone who believes in justice and equality and beauty. If I am a person who is all of these things, then how is it that I did not know very much about what is going on right now in the world? That I had willfully avoided the news and therefore knew next to nothing about the Black Lives Matter movement, about the recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile?
I was forced to take a look at myself when my sister asked if I had heard about what was going on. I was forced to admit that I knew just the bare bones of the two most current stories. The stories of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Two Black men who were shot by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively. I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to know anymore. I knew enough to know that my heart hurt, that I was frightened, that racism is, as I already knew, an institution in my country.
This country, home of the American dream, of riches and bounty, of possibility and wonder; this country was also built on the backs of Black men and women. Which, as so many of us are often quick to say, is in the past. But the past has tentacles which reach far into the future. Tentacles that taint the very fabric of our society. In a country where African Americans constitute 30% of the population yet 50% of prisoners are African American, how can anyone say otherwise? The ostrich can say otherwise, with her head buried in the sand. The ostrich, fearful of reality, can say we are all doing the best that we can.
Which I know many of us are. We are all doing the best that we can, with the tools that we have been given, in the environments where we dwell. But our best isn’t good enough if our heads are buried. Our best is pretty damn weak if we deem ourselves too fragile to face the atrocities of the world. Our best isn’t good enough if we know we live in a bubble and decide to never leave it. Which I came to realize after my phone conversation with my sister. I live in a bubble and I take its cozy environs for granted.
I live in a bubble in beautiful Sonoma County, where self-care and yoga are mainstream, where finding healthful, organic food is almost easier than finding cigarettes. I live where I am surrounded by beauty, where art and culture are valued (even though there isn’t much in the way of nightlife). I live in West County, where everyone is mostly white and many are wealthy and make wine. And I do not begrudge anyone of anything, but I do see that the urgency and the direness of our situation as a country is muted and faded in the bubble I call home.
Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself lucky to live where I do. Though I wish there was more diversity (it’s getting better), I am grateful that I do not have to worry about violence happening in my backyard. I am grateful that I wake up in the morning to the sound birds chirping and not guns firing. But just because it is not happening in my own backyard does not mean that violence and oppression do not exist. Just because I am fortunate it does not give me the right to bury my head, to turn a blind eye. I must remove my head from the sand, and not just because I am a Black woman, but because I am a human being.
There is suffering in this world, suffering at every turn, much of it that is senseless and not easily explained. But the shootings of Black men in this country, though senseless, can be explained. These shootings occur because racism is still ingrained in the practices of our government, our economy, our society, our police forces. Racism is not simply a bygone affliction. It is a lingering evil that is perpetuated by our institutions of power.
Oppression is a reality for people of color, where the color of our skin often dictates our lot in life. Even if we do manage to succeed, even if we are fortunate to live somewhere that affords more opportunity or we are able to go to school, just by being alive we run the risk of being murdered in the street or in our car. Just by being Black we run the risk of dying. Dying a senseless death, dying before it our time, dying at the hands of those who are meant to protect us.
So, at my sister’s urging, I watched the videos of Sterling and Castile’s murders. When she told me to watch them I said I didn’t think I could handle it. She made me think again when she spoke of being a mother to her son, of being a wife. Castile and Sterling could be my nephew, my brother-in-law. Sterling and Castile could be me. So I watched the videos. I watched them to remove my head from the sand, to educate myself. I watched them so I can attempt to do something in an informed way. I watched them because it serves no one to “protect” myself from the horrors of the world.
I took the first step when I watched the videos today, when I learned the names of the men who were gunned down for no reason other than they were Black. I took the second step when I reached out to the Black Lives Matter movement, asking how I can help. I may not know what to do, but I have to do something. We all have to do something. Because these killings, this violence, this ignorance and oppression, has to stop. No matter what color we are, we are all in this together. We have to be, or it will never end. And for those who don’t know, the Black Lives Matter movement strives for the equality of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, creeds. The movement gives voice to the voiceless, it works to lift up the disenfranchised, to create the world we wish to see. Which is the duty of all of us as human beings who share this world. Will you join me?
I wish you a wild, free life. (And if you do live wild and free, please don’t take that freedom for granted. Use it.)
It’s unavoidable. It seems that a day doesn’t go by without my receiving a comment on how I look. And yes, I know that I look different from how I looked before I quit drinking. I certainly feel different. I know that nearly 30 pounds changes how a person looks. But this weight loss that I have experienced is just a side effect of changing my life. I didn’t set out looking to lose weight. I set out looking to change my life for the better. The weight loss is simply a byproduct. But according to our culture, it should be the icing on the cake. According to our culture, it warrants the full spectrum of commentary on my body and what others think of it.
What I have been so bewildered by is that I have not asked anyone for their opinion or their input on my appearance. But I hear it nonetheless. It would be one thing if someone simply said, “You look healthy.” Sometimes that is what I hear, and I thank them and continue on with my day. Though it can be nice to hear from someone I know that I look healthy — because I feel healthy and am the healthiest I have ever been — this is often not the case.
Everyone has their own opinion, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that they don’t always have to share their opinion. Sure, you can feel strongly about something, but if someone hasn’t asked for your input, you’re better off keeping your thoughts to yourself. Because your words have weight. Yes, it is up to me how I respond to what others say to me, and I strive to not take anything personally, but it is a constant practice and people are often unaware of how cruel their words can be.
Whether I take something personally or not, I believe that our words have power, have meaning. I believe that language can cultivate change, whether for the good or the bad. So why not use our words for good? Why not extend words of love and care rather than tossing around careless comments? Why would someone feel compelled to say to someone they hardly know, “Where did your body go?” (Yep, someone said that to me). Which, though rude and hurtful, actually just reminds me of a truth that is very easy to forget: It’s not about me.
It’s not about me. What a relief, right? To remember, realize, recognize, that the comments that people decide to share are not about me. Are never about me. They are about them. Them and their perception of the world. These comments come from a place of their own self-perception, their own history with their own bodies and their own experiences. Does that make it okay for them to spew whatever bubbles to the surface? No. Knowing does not excuse their behavior, but it does explain it.
Though I know it is not about me, it is still rather exhausting to continually hear comments directed at me about my body. To hear, “You’re too skinny” or “Where’d your butt go?” or even, “You look amazing, how did you do it?” The last comment can be tiring because people typically don’t want to hear the reality of my weight loss. They want me to say, “I did a juice cleanse” or “I cut out carbs.” They don’t want to hear the truth: “I quit drinking.” And they also most definitely don’t want to hear that I have an overgrowth of yeast in my body and that I’ve had to cut out what feeds the yeast. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let me start at the beginning.
When I quit drinking, I unknowingly began a journey of losing weight. Because I cut out a source of anxiety and pain, I immediately began to reap the benefits. The notorious alcohol bloat disappeared. As I became more mindful, I ate healthier foods because they were what I intuitively wanted and needed. But because I cut out alcohol, I also began to crave and eat sweets. Though I was eating a lot of sugar, I thought that I was making smart decisions based on the quality of sweets. Nothing processed, nothing fake, nothing like Twinkies or anything like that. But I was eating sugar every day.
Though I continued to lose weight, I began to feel sick. What I did not realize, what the doctors didn’t tell me, is that because I had taken antibiotics and did not have the knowledge of supplementing with strong probiotics and avoiding sugar, I had killed all of the good bacteria in my body. And not only killed the good bacteria, but had fed the bad. By eating so much sugar with a weakened immune system I had caused the yeast, which is naturally occurring in all bodies and beneficial when in balance, to essentially explode. The yeast, fed by my daily sugar intake, took over my body. Every time I ate a cookie or ice cream or bread, I fed the yeast. I had no idea, all I knew was that even though I had quit drinking and lost 20 pounds because of it, I felt bloated, tired, irritable, itchy, and out of balance.
After Western medicine failed to eradicate the yeast overgrowth in my body, which had culminated in underarm rashes and a furry yellow tongue (I know, sorry, it’s disgusting), I had to find other alternatives. I had to educate myself. I had found out from my initial research that sugar was the culprit, which caused me to cut out my beloved desserts, but I still hadn’t found relief. Only after reading countless books and poring over websites did I find out I had only been scratching the surface.
I found out that I had to not just cut out sugar, but also gluten and dairy, which the body processes as sugar. And not just those three culprits, but also mushrooms (yeast is a mold and feeds off of moldy foods like mushrooms), vinegar, and soy. Not to mention countless other items. Nothing processed, only small amounts of complex carbs like quinoa and brown rice, and a limited fruit intake (even natural sugar is bad in excess). Needless to say, I was miserable.
Not miserable because I had to eat healthy, for I was already eating better than I had in years, but that I had to cut out foods that made me happy and hadn’t seemed “bad.” Like mushrooms. Who knew? (I hadn’t; if I had known I would not have spent a month drinking a green smoothie every day which consisted of powder supplemented by multiple dried mushrooms, ugh!). Like dairy. I LOVE cheese! I had already given up alcohol, which was notorious for feeding yeast, and yet I still had to deal with this? To give up some of my only pleasures in life, like cheese and dessert? It wasn’t fair!
But this diet also led me to discover and take note of all the different ways I had replaced alcohol, how I had traded one method of coping for others. When I had to cut out my sweets, I saw that I had replaced booze with sugar, that sugar was a comforting presence in my diet but one that was also wreaking havoc on my system, like alcohol had. When I had to cut out my daily soy milk and chocolate croissants, I saw that I had taken comfort in foods that had little to no nutritional value, which was out of alignment with my newfound holistic approach to well-being. Though I was starving for what I craved, I also, finally and for the first time, became intimate with what my body needed. And I also, without trying or wanting to, lost another 10 pounds (cue the commentary). It is an ongoing journey, struggle, dance. It has been about four months since I fully committed to this diet, and I am still not “cured.” I’ve improved, but it’s still a long road ahead.
So when people comment on my body, it is frustrating because 1) I never set out to lose weight and 2) I have to eat the way that I do because I am fighting a fungus that has taken over my body! It is frustrating because, outside of the yeast, I am the healthiest I have ever been. I no longer drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes and I rarely eat anything processed. I do yoga nearly every day, I meditate most mornings, and I believe that I have begun a positive collaboration with the world. My body has changed because my life has changed. Which makes me so very happy and so unconcerned with how my body looks. I care about how my body feels. I am more than my body. And furthermore, it is frustrating because: how often do men hear the kinds of comments that I do daily? Why is it okay for people to sound off on women’s bodies? Are we merely objects, subject to scrutiny? I think not.
I think we as women are much more than our physical selves. We are more than the numbers on the scale or the size on the tags. And yes, we might lose weight or gain weight, but being thin does not equate to being happy. I can attest to that. All that matters is that we are healthy, that we are caring for ourselves to the utmost of our ability, that we are vibrant and, most importantly, that we’re happy.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
My heart is heavy. How is it that we as human beings can create beauty and yet also have the desire and capacity to destroy it? How can we hurt other people? Why is the human community separated to such a degree that so many of us feel so isolated? So alone?
I believe that what happened in Orlando could not have happened if the shooter had had a sense of community. If he had felt supported and embraced by other human beings. The destruction and horror he committed is not just a political issue, but also a human issue. An issue of isolation and mental illness, of unsuccessful denial of who he truly was. In a world where it is easier to get a gun than it is to connect with other fellow human beings, what is the solution? Where are we heading? When does it stop?
I am horrified and despaired by the killings in Orlando. My heart goes out to all who have been affected — which is all of us. Even if we do not personally know someone related to one of the victims, we have all been altered by this event. Because we are all human beings. Because love is love. Because we are a tribe, no matter our sexual orientation, religion, gender, ethnicity, creed. The only creed that does matter is if we are committed to supporting and embracing ourselves and our community.
When I say community, I mean both our immediate community and our vast human community. Instead of always being plugged in to our phones, we should look up and look people in the eye. The person making our latte in the morning. Our significant others. Our neighbor. Instead of avoiding tragedies around the world because we feel helpless, we should make an effort where we can: at home.
Even if we are not actively spreading hate, we allow it to grow when we ignore others, when we narrow our vision, when we cultivate ignorance. Hate grows in empty, dark, lonely places. In places devoid of human connection and curiosity. In narrow alleys of the mind where the light of understanding does not shine. Lack of understanding, lack of empathy, lack of compassion — these are the voids where hate grows, where we are rendered unrecognizable, where we lose our humanity.
We lose our humanity when we divide humanity into sections dependent on the categories I mentioned earlier: sexual orientation, religion, etc. If someone or something is different from us, why not seek to understand them? Why are we so afraid of what we do not know? The solution to this not knowing is to discover the actuality, the truth. To love ourselves for who and what we are so we can love one another with more intensity and understanding than we thought possible. If we deny ourselves, how can we accept others?
Last night I was lucky to be a part of a beautiful experience that helped to fortify my faith in humanity and the power of community. I went to my friend’s yoga class, where she announced that the theme of class was love; we would set our intention to send love to Orlando. I was surrounded by my immediate community as we honored and dedicated our practice to the LGBTQ community, to our vast human community.
I was moved as we lied in savasana and the music washed over me, as I thought of the victims of the shooting and the assumed mental state of the shooter. I thought of how alone he must have felt, how he felt he couldn’t be who he truly was. I thought of so many beautiful people out on an ordinary evening of dancing and, in an instant, their lives were irrevocably changed. How to find meaning out of such a senseless, violent event?
I am once again brought to tears as I write these words, as I struggle to remember that there is love and light that dwells within each of us. I struggle to understand why our country, our world, is so rife with violence, with lonely, mentally ill individuals who feel they have no other outlet or option than to kill other human beings. I struggle to keep the faith in our global tribe, but I know that that is what I must do.
Our global tribe needs us to not only keep the faith, but to endeavor to nurture, embody, embrace, and cultivate the love and the light that dwells within. To recognize or encourage it in those who surround us. To celebrate our differences while maintaining the truth: we are all the same. We all want to connect, to love, to be ourselves and feel accepted. We cannot continue down this path of separation and isolation, of plugging in and tuning out, of turning our backs on what is hard, of numbing ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I am done with numbing myself. I took the first step when I gave up drinking over a year ago. Now I feel and see so much more, so much that it can be overwhelming. But I would rather be overwhelmed, I would rather feel it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly, than feel isolated or alone, than to avoid the messy and beautiful parts of being alive. So how do we honor those who we lost in Orlando, to those who are no longer alive? By living with purpose, truth, honesty, curiosity. By driving out the darkness. By embracing our true selves and the true selves of those in our communities.
I felt the light and love last night of my community. I do not know the survivors or the victims in Orlando; I did not even know many of the people in yoga class. But knowing and understanding aren’t the same thing, are they? We may not know each other personally, but what does that matter? Shine the light within and without. Fill up the void. Embrace one another. Embrace yourself.
Working where I do, at a bar, it is not uncommon to be the recipient of unwarranted and often inappropriate comments from patrons. Though I am used to a certain level of loose-lipped “complimenting,” I often wonder if working where I do means that I have to simply grin and bear it. Most of the time, it’s not worth it to be affronted, especially now that I am continually working on not taking things personally. But sometimes, people cross the line. What then?
In college I had to take a course on rhetoric, which, though sometimes boring, also underscored what I uphold as a strong belief: our words have power. In class we discussed many different forms of rhetoric, speeches and persuasions, monologues and asides. One day we discussed feminist rhetoric and an antithesis of feminist rhetoric: catcalling. What is the catcaller’s purpose when he/she (but let’s be honest, it’s usually a he) yells a comment out to a passerby? When before I had thought in response, “Do you really think this is going to get you anywhere?” after our discussion I realized that that is not the catcaller’s aim. My professor revealed that these apparent attempts to get a date are usually postures of power-seeking.
Even when we do know what these attempts actually are, how do we respond? Why is this something that so many women have to deal with? Why can we not just go about our business without being subject to the male gaze? If someone tells me that I am beautiful or something like that I don’t usually have a problem, though I often don’t know how to respond. But when someone invades my space and my business with an inappropriate comment? Not okay. And what’s worse? Not allowing me the opportunity to reply! But what’s even worse than that? Not knowing what I would have said if I had been given the space to respond.
It’s not only working in the service industry, where we have to maintain a modicum of carefully curated nonchalance, but it’s also being a woman. A woman in a culture where we are encouraged to never offend, to take what is given, to be meek and mild, to giggle at inappropriate comments or playfully slap someone’s arm when we really want to deck them in the face. Though I am offended and my principles tell me that I would have spoken up for myself, I have to ask, in reality, would I have actually stepped up? For another woman, in a heartbeat. I am the woman out with my friends who tells a bothersome guy to leave a girlfriend alone. I am a woman who has pushed a man away from my friend when we were out dancing at a club and told him to eff off. But for myself? I want to say that I would do the same, but the truth is, I’m not sure.
Not only am I not sure, but when recounting the story to a friend and she asked what I had been wearing (which right there is an example of the tentative environment we are in as women), I actually said something along the lines of, “I was covered up.” As if being uncovered would be an excuse for a man to say something inappropriate! Though I call myself a feminist, I must admit to myself that I am also deeply entrenched in male culture. When I was younger I always wanted to be pleasing to other people, to be not only acceptable but popular, which shifted my sense of self measurably. And though I have come a long way, I also have a much longer way to go. Why shouldn’t I speak up for myself without worrying about how I will come across to others? Who cares?
So this is what happened: last week I was at work, wearing a sleeveless knee-length shift dress (“covered up”; insert eye-roll here), and was on the phone taking a reservation. One of our regular customers, who shall remain nameless (see, why do I feel like I should protect him even though he crossed the line?), had been at the bar for most of the day, and I hadn’t had a chance to say hello to him. I never seek out an opportunity to say hello, but if I am behind the bar or I walk by, I say hi. Does this mean that I am “asking for it”? It means that I am doing my job.
Anyway, as I was writing in the reservation book this man walked by, startling me as he came in close, sliding a torn piece of paper onto my desk before rushing out the side door and leaving. Finishing the call, I hung up the phone and unfolded the little note. Though I was apprehensive — this guy says all kinds of outlandish things — I also thought that perhaps it was a book recommendation; we’ve seen each other at the local library and he often asks me what I’m currently reading. Well, as I am sure you have assumed by now if you didn’t happen to catch the picture at the beginning of this post, the note was not a book recommendation.
It was a wildly inappropriate and quite bewildering… comment. What else to call it? He wrote: “That’s not a dress[,] it’s an instrument of torture!” And though he signed his name, I was sure to cover it up with my finger when I took the photo of it. Why? Perhaps because I already feel like I am giving this guy more attention than he deserves just by writing this post. Perhaps because I am still tangled in a web of societal constructs that dictate how women should behave. I don’t know. But I do know that I felt supremely uncomfortable as soon as I read his note. Why would he feel compelled to write such a gross thing? And not only that, but give it to me? It was also quite strange that he had made a beeline for the exit as soon as he slipped the note on my desk. Perhaps because he knew if was wrong? I don’t know that either. But if he was okay with what he was doing, why not just say it to my face? Why slip me a note and run away like a coward?
I was left blindsided, holding this scrap of paper, wondering what possessed a grown, not to mention married, man to involve me in his afternoon reverie. I didn’t want to know his thoughts! Of course the note caused me to think of what he was thinking of, to view myself through his eyes: as an object. As a titillating young woman in a torture-inducing dress. Why would I want to be privy to this knowledge? Though before my college rhetoric class I would have wondered, What does he think he’s going to get out of this? I now wondered, What the hell? If this was some kind of power-play, as my rhetoric professor would have said, what compelled this old man — who disturbingly is surrounded by young women all the time (he is a professor at the local junior college) — to involve me in his grasping for power?
If this man was trying to exert his power, why? Why me? Minding my own business, at my place of work, on the phone and unable to respond? If I tried to figure that out, I could be obsessing forever! It’s none of my business what’s going on with him, not to mention I don’t care to know, but you can’t help but ponder the possibilities when you’re subject to this kind of nonsense. In the past I probably would’ve gotten really upset about this, and I am definitely not pleased, but I am luckily in a place where I can laugh at it. But laughing at it does not excuse his behavior. And that’s what I am pondering currently, it’s what I think I am most upset about: would I have excused his behavior to his face if he hadn’t done a written drive-by and note-bombed me?
Would I have simply laughed it off? Would I have slapped his arm and called him a rascal? It scares me that I don’t really know. What will I say or do when I see him next, as I certainly will in the near future? What makes him think that that kind of thing is okay to do to a woman at her place of work? Or at all? Now I am wondering, what am I going to say to this guy when I have to see him at the restaurant? I am guessing (and dreading) that I will probably see him as soon as tomorrow! He often comes in in the late afternoon on Fridays to drink beer and talk to anyone who will listen. What will I say?
It is very annoying that this train of thought is taking up my precious time and my thoughts. I already have so many (and more important) things to think about, to ponder and work through. Like where I will be in a few months. Will I get the job I applied for last week? Will I embark on a yoga teacher training? Am I following my path, my truth? Am I where I’m supposed to be? These thoughts, though often stressful, are much more worthy of my time than stressing over what I am going to say to this imbecile. Than wondering if I am making a big of a deal out of nothing. But I suppose I am also grateful for this intrusion because it has caused me to reflect on another aspect of myself. To delve into more self-inquiry. Self-inquiry is not always pleasant, and we don’t always have the time for it, but it is essential.
The self-inquiry I am speaking of is not only about who I am, but how I wish to be in relation to this world. How do I respond in varying situations? I am pleased to know that I no longer let occurrences like this “break” me, but I am anxious to know how I will handle it when I have to see this person’s face. Will I stand strong and tall? Will I laugh it off? Where I am right now in my life, I am endeavoring to be present and not worry too about the future. So I can’t really say how I will reply because I want to try to play it by ear. To see how I feel in the moment, seeing his face, and to simply speak my truth. I have come too far to let a scribbled note affect my sense of self by deflecting how it truly makes me feel. As long as I speak from a place of honesty, I can’t go wrong. Wish me luck.