You Know What's Prettier Than My Face? My Thoughts on Modern Feminism

In a moment of weekend boredom, I created an OkCupid account.  There are a lot of factors that went into this, but I'll only mention three: looking through someone else's Tinder account last week, being in a new city, and thus, a new pool of potential relationships, and the fact that eye-contact avoidance is like a pro sport here.  I find myself in familiar territory, because in spite of the fact that I have like eight messages after one day, I don't feel compelled to respond to any.  In related news, I found myself protesting being called cute (not even in a remotely sexual way) over the weekend.  I just did a project for school that specifically employed empowering compliments as a tool for increasing people’s happiness.  In the end, however, my reaction to being called beautiful or cute is often overwhelmingly negative.  Why?

As I tend to tell people that I know at some point or another, I have an angry feminist inside of me, and sometime she makes an appearance.  But I  think my aversion to statements like “I’m glad I got to bask in your energy,” “I love your pics,” or “You’re amazingly beautiful,” from strangers is slightly more complex than the fact that I don’t want to be subjugated to a second-class existence because of my gender.  I recognize that I’m setting myself up for this shit by belonging to an online dating site, but let’s forget that for a second.  What do I think when I hear or see statements like this?    I think I had absolutely nothing to do with my blue eyes and blonde hair.  I think there’s a lot more to me than my objective prettiness.  I think that I expect people to be as weirdly observant as I am, and thus able to come up with more original lines.

Don’t kid yourself, this is primarily a women’s issue.  I’ll tell you why:  women are societally conditioned to a) accept these compliments as high praise b) accept uniform standards of beauty and aspire to them and c) respond to such statements as positive compliments, even if their delivery is unbelievably creepy or inappropriate.  I’m not saying that this isn’t an issue for men, but I am not a man, and therefore I don’t feel that my perspective is relevant to that debate (take note, GOP legislators). I’m sure that my oppositional personality is partly to blame for my negative response.  If I’m expected to act a certain way for no good reason, I will actively attempt to act the exact opposite way.  I’ve done this since childhood and truly believe it to be an inherent trait, though I’ve become more conscious of managing it as I’ve grown older.

Somehow, though, I think the problem lies more in the tendency to reduce very complicated issues to simple statements.  Saying I’m beautiful (without context) may make me feel good for about a minute.  Then I remember my adolescence, fraught with negative self-image and doubt that the society around me perpetuated, and that I still struggle with at times.  I think of the fact that it is unfair that I am complimented because I have objectively pretty characteristics, and that others are denied those same compliments because of how they look through no fault of their own.  I wonder if this statement comes from a place of sincerity, or if it is simply a means to an end; something that people think I want to hear.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while such a superficial compliment may come from an entirely authentic place, it shows me that the speaker sees me, and not necessarily who I am.  A facebook like on a picture or a one-sentence message on OkCupid telling me I’m pretty is a nice gesture, but it fades into the background really quickly.  What stands out much more is a sincere facebook chat helping me think through a difficult situation, or a  question, any question, that shows you’ll put forth a little effort in getting to know my personality, and not only my pretty face or my body.  I am not against social media in any way, but I think that it allows us too easily not to think or have intention about our interactions with others.

I’m all about equal treatment for women, but I think that this issue has to be addressed in a larger framework of the treatment we are asking to be equalized. Furthermore, we need to examine how we define the word equality. If the meaning of feminism can be reduced to “equal treatment,” then I might as well start cat-calling attractive men on the street tomorrow.  We can do better.  Let’s raise the standard of treatment for all by admitting that, try as we might, no human fits into some neat category.  There is no logic model that applies the same way to every person. There are too many variables to consider. In the end, authentic human interaction means letting go of assumptions, no matter where they come from.  So, as Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, here’s to letting go.  And chocolate.  Can’t forget chocolate.

This Ain't No Travel Blog

I can’t count the number of people who, upon wishing me safe travels and a wonderful year abroad, told me they’d follow my blog for updates.  It’s a reasonable expectation, really; travel, new experiences, and life in a foreign country all seem like the bullshit good blogs are made of.  I, however, being of moody and particular stock, can’t be contented with painting syntactical pictures of sights that appear in person more or less the same as they do among google image search results.  I am as annoyed as anyone else that I wince when I think about just detailing the differences I have noticed between British and American culture, and amidst my malcontent, a single phrase keeps popping into my mind: “This Ain’t No Travel Blog.”  The previous sentence is not why new acquaintances have dubbed me “Anna from Ohio,” though it might as well be.

 

Right now, Britain represents a new frontier for me, and perhaps that is why I’m not brimming with things to say about it as of yet.  I’ve been at this point before.  I’ve done new before.  I relish the exploring and the learning and the meeting new people and the discovery of a world separate to the one I’d inhabited before.  Along with my love of new beginnings is the comforting knowledge that, before I know it, the unfamiliar will become routine, and I will once again have proved to myself that I can boldly weather life’s changes.  I want this year to be particularly transformative for me, and maybe this is why I can’t write about Big Ben and crumpets as if all I’ve culled from my time abroad are the things I knew about England before I came here.  In the end, I think it could be said that I chose to do this as much to find a new world within myself as to enjoy the external world that is new to me.

 

There’s a brand of food at a grocery store near me named McEnnedy’s (tagline: The American Way) that sells things like peanut butter and frozen pizzas.  I find that humorous.  The only America-related news story on the front page of the UK version of Huffington Post a couple of days ago was about the Swiss Cheese Pervert from Philadelphia.  I read Sylvia Plath on long tube rides.  Though I think Plath is a brilliant writer, I can’t seem to pick up the book at home.  But put me in a confined space with a bunch of strangers and I am all over that shit.  All of these things: stereotypes about American food, stories about crazy Americans, and me avoiding social contact (though, to be fair, this seems to be the status quo on the subway) are familiar.

 

So, I guess what I’m saying is this:  London is cool and I know that I will bear witness to some really amazing sights and experiences during this year.  Rather than assimilate neatly into this new environment and tell you about cute accents and the terrible, terrible exchange rate between pounds and dollars, I’ll be attempting to keep myself from sinking into the cozy chair of complacency.  I want each day to challenge myself to not live my same life in new surroundings, but to remain uncomfortable and revel in the freedom of not knowing what awaits me around each corner.  Even more than this, I hope for the freedom of not knowing how I will react to what awaits me around each corner.  Also, Big Ben…not that big.

A Damn Comfortable Safety Net

Faith is not a topic I find myself discussing fairly often.  I was raised by a woman who has transitioned in her adult life from Catholic to Methodist to Fundamentalist Christian to a positive spiritual lady who can sometimes be a little overbearing when it comes to her relationship with God, and the one she thinks I should also have.  For these reasons, I think I tend to keep my faith private, though it is there, and though it takes various unusual forms.  I read the bible from time to time, and I believe in Jesus, but I also believe in the spiritual energy of the universe as a whole, and I also give credence to dreams, tarot cards, and meditation.

It's been an interesting few days for me, a series of good learning experiences regarding my faith and my intuition.  We all want someone to hold us at night, and to tell us that we are loved and wanted.  I, perhaps, grew a little overzealous in this desire, and decided to act upon something that wasn't the greatest of ideas.  There's part of my faith that is, more often than not, inconvenient, and that is the faith and belief that everyone can and should live the best possible life open to them, that everyone has great potential even if it is hidden beneath endless layers of scar tissue.  After a childhood and adolescence largely governed by anxiety, depression, and an innate need to protect myself through isolation, I've finally found a place where I believe that no experience is wasted, and so, I think, I feel moved to try to communicate that to others, that they, too might find healing, because this life can be amazing if you think about it.  I share this vulnerable part of myself because I've been fortunate enough to have had the life experiences and support to find it, and I recognize that I am lucky (or blessed, as Mom would say) to be in such a position. As much as I want others to be able to find joy in life, the fact that I am willing to offer it is not a guarantee that it will be seized upon with reciprocal zeal.

While at first, after a disappointment, my default is to get down on myself for having made myself vulnerable in the first place.  My brother, to whom I have both similarities and stark differences, recently sent me this text message: "while coy and aloof may be your default, direct is your go to and guys tend to dig that in girls."  Self-blame may be my default, but faith is my go to.   Faith is what reminds me that, upon second thought, if your stomach is churning with anxiety for a day and a half after a first date, perhaps you ought to pay attention to such an intense physical reaction rather than wondering when you can go out again.  Faith is what caused a scene from Center Stage (dance movie of my generation) to pop into my head this morning.  I can't find a video clip of it, but it's with Eva and the lady dance teacher.  The teacher finds her practicing the part she didn't get in an empty dance studio, and says something to the effect of, "When life gets hard, you come here," meaning you return to your passion in hardship.  For me, that is writing. Faith is the knowledge that writing will soothe my soul until I find someone to share my life with, even if it is not tomorrow or the next day.  Faith is what caused the theme from the Little Women movie to pop into my head this evening.  That story, more than many, is a reminder that life can be hard and, at times, heartbreaking, but that, if we weather the storms, there are times of laughter and love ahead.

Thanksgiving is next week.  Ordinarily I'm the type who posts articles exposing the atrocities of the real first Thanksgiving and making fun of people for posting all the shit they are thankful for on facebook.  That is my default.  Here is my go to.  My religious and spiritual convictions may not fit into a neat little box, but I am overwhelmed (in a good way) with faith.  Whether it appears in the calming reassurances of friends and family, whether it causes me to chill out for a second and stop freaking out about life, whether it comes in the form of a song in my head, or a sentence on a page, faith is always my silver lining.  It takes many forms: faith in others, faith in myself, faith in God, faith in the universe, faith in the knowledge that life goes on, or faith in the transformative power of music or literature.  It is everywhere we choose to see it and to feel it, and for that I am abundantly grateful. Life can seem like a tightrope, and sometimes the winds blow a little harder, or we lose our footing.  Faith is like a damn comfortable safety net beneath that tightrope, providing us with some measure of security, and maybe even a little courage to fall from time to time.

Ice Cream and Frozen Dairy Dessert Are Not the Same Thing

Sleep is one of the activities which I both love and am pretty good at.  Only two things can spontaneously wake me from a deep sleep: crazy bad dreams and intense physical pain.  A couple of nights ago, I woke up because of really bad cramps.  I'm all about new experiences, but that was one I could have done without.  Thanks, body.  So, lightly glossing over the monthly hormonal shitstorm that all women have to deal with, I'll skip ahead to my related ice-cream buying excursion the next day.  By excursion, I mean me stopping at a gas station and buying a pint of Moosetracks-flavored frozen dairy dessert.  While sufficiently chocolatey, the quality of this concoction fit perfectly in line with the fact that I bought it at a gas station.  The fact that it was not "real" ice cream was apparent and thoroughly disappointing.

My continual half-assed focus on connecting what I'm eating with my emotional health mandates that I devote at least a couple of seconds to pondering how this mediocre ice-cream experience reflects on my life.  So what does this frozen dairy dessert actually symbolize?  A quick fix, a convenient and unsatisfying substitute, a knee-jerk reaction to an age-old craving, a moment of weakness? I knew when I bought the shitty ice cream that it only half-promised to be the answer to my needs, and, in spite of that I was still kind of disappointed with its low quality. My mother was, as well, after finding it in the freezer.  "They don't even call it real ice cream," she disappointedly told me this morning. A big theme in my book, and one that I am constantly examining in my life and the lives of those around me, is the phenomenon of false satisfaction.  We are so trained to look at life as a scarce commodity that we grasp at tiny pieces of what we suppose to be truth, becoming incensed when we realize that they aren't the panacea we thought they were.

For sensitive dreamers such as myself, I think part of the problem (if you can even call it that) is the gentle but unwavering need to find a good side in each person, in each situation, in each tub of frozen dairy dessert.  If that ice-cream imposter were human, and said something along the lines of, "Meh. I'm not ice cream, I'm just a lowly dairy dessert," my immediate reaction would be something along the lines of, "Don't say that about yourself.  You're doing just fine.  Anything is possible."  Unless the hypothetical personified ice cream was being an asshole.  Then there's always a chance that I'd be an asshole right back to them.  I would regret very much if the image I portray of myself is that I'm always cheerful and dreamy.  I'm not, however much I wish I could be.

So, the logical next step in this thought process is that if I stopped having unrealistic expectations, I wouldn't be disappointed.  If I didn't hope that the non-ice cream could fill the shoes of its authentic cousin, I wouldn't be pissed when there are like two little reese's cups in the entire pint.  I could just automatically know that gas-station ice cream is gonna be kind of shitty.  If I didn't hone in on the two insightful or sensitive things that an otherwise unsavory person said to me, I wouldn't be sad when I learned that they were exactly as unsavory as I had first thought.  That's the reality that the world tries to give us; the one where you don't dream big because dreaming hurts you. The one where change doesn't happen, and situations don't improve.

There's strength in being able to tell the difference between ice cream and frozen dairy dessert.  It can be helpful to differentiate between assholes and everybody else.  I guess I just hope that, rather than developing expectations based on that knowledge of difference, I can hold inside myself the knowledge that there are hidden layers and treasures in every supposedly black and white situation.  Maybe we find a bunch of undiscovered chocolate at the bottom of the frozen dairy dessert that makes up for the rest of it being mediocre.  Life is full of determinations and judgments, and I suppose that, instead of standing staunchly in those determinations and judgments that have already been made, I hope to keep mine largely fluid enough that they recognize the hidden treasures in otherwise hopeless circumstances.

Even Dark Days Have Their Sunshine

Before the advent of brainyquotes.com and its ilk (and the internet, come to that), there were a couple of occasions in elementary school where I needed to look up quotes, and would turn to the family copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.  A little context, for those of you unfamiliar with this volume:  originally published in late 1800s, our copy is from 1937 and came from my mother's mother, an English major.  A quick flip through reveals gems such as "Ho! Tis the time for salads," "Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table," and "Remember, it's as easy to marry a rich woman as a poor woman."  There are more recognizable things, too, which have mostly been simplified and colloquialized in today's lexicon, but you get the idea.  There's something magical about finding a sentence which you identify with, but which is more beautifully articulated than you could have imagined or said.  As I continue to read Brené Brown's Daring Greatly, and continue to struggle with allowing myself to be vulnerable and to make fear as minimal a part of my life as possible, I find particular comfort in others' emotional expression.  Unpacking emotional baggage and embracing pain as much as I embrace happiness can leave me at a loss.  While I try to figure out why I feel the way that I feel, the lyrics of a song or a shred of a book or poem that explicitly say what I'm having trouble explaining are great tools to make use of.

Not a particularly new revelation, I know, but I tend to forget small comforts, especially on days like these. I woke up to gray skies, which is pretty par for the course in Ohio as we amble through fall and batten down the hatches for another spastic and gloomy winter.  My seasonal depression and proclivities for sweets make me prone to hibernation during such weather, in spite of anything, really.  Then I remembered that this weather was about the same as it was when I went photo exploring in Detroit last spring, which was a formative and liberating experience for me.  I have a distinct memory of standing on the top floor of the Fisher Body plant in Detroit, enjoying a breeze through the glass-less window frames, surveying the city, and feeling so free.  There's a lot that's sad in Detroit, but I will remember it for the feeling of tremendous opportunity that I got each time I was there.  There is a lot of decay there, and with each decaying building dies a million memories, years of life that once seemed solid and unshakeable and are now crumbled and structurally unsound.  There are many who say that Detroit is a story of defeat, and in some sense this is true.  However, there is another inference that can be made in this situation: empires crumble and die around us all the time, not as a reminder of defeat, but as a gift, giving us boundless opportunities to cast off vices and wounds of the past and start afresh.

In Daring Greatly, Brown touches upon the reasons for our societal rejection of vulnerability as a strength.  They are many, and varied, and they all come down to our human need to connect to others, the pain of rejection, and our propensity to equate strength with invulnerability.  I remember feeling pretty self-conscious when, as a child, I brought in Bartlett's quotations, often stanzas of poems, that seemed incredibly misplaced among concise pronouncements made by Martin Luther King, Jr., or Abraham Lincoln.  As a child, how could I be expected to have any other response?  In hindsight, however, I realize the power of embracing the Bartlett quotes, not simply because they were different, but because, they, at some point, had spoken to something within me.  We focus on the differences because they are what make us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.  We focus on the darkness in the sky rather than the fact that the sky is still there, and our emotionally stunted society rewards us for this.  We focus on the fact that Detroit is bankrupt rather than the beautiful truth, which is that each and every day, someone in that city claims their own pile of rubble to be turned into something new.  I focus on the fact that I have "trouble" being vulnerable rather than the truth, which is: my very awareness of this fact is incredible progress from where I was a few years ago.

When writing, I tend to get down on myself for repeating themes and extolling too much on my emotional growth and my life journey. What I need to do instead, I think, is stick with the idea that, like my Bartlett quotes that didn't make sense to my fellow fifth-graders, my blog posts or rantings might not always make sense to the majority of those that read them.  However, at one moment in time, for at least one reader, my words might speak to something inside of them, might give them a way to describe the feelings that they cannot, and honestly, that is more than enough.

In Defense of Naïveté

Ever since I can remember, my father has been preparing a questionnaire for the boys.  Literally since I was a very little girl, each time Dad calls me pretty, he'll follow up with a comment like, "I'll have to get the questionnaire ready for the boys."  The implication being that in order to date or even show interest in me, a boy would have to answer a series of questions thought up by my father.  As a child, I imagined these questionnaires being distributed by voter rolls, in much the same way as summons to jury duty are mailed out.  Despite the fact that I'm twenty-four years old, I suspect that my father will keep using this line until I get married.  This morning he said he didn't know how he was going to get the questionnaire to the boys in England, where I'm bound in a couple of months.  My mother, in her frank and infinite wisdom, replied, "Ed.  We have the internet."

I think in today's world, and especially in my niche of it, it is incredibly easy to rely on statistics and linear information to aid the decision making process.  We have pinterest boards of wedding inspiration long before the promise of an impending marriage, appeal is gauged through facebook likes, and if you're addicted to buzzfeed like me, you devour news in enumerated lists (regrettably called listicles).  In this sense, my Dad is really quite ahead of his time in insisting upon some measurable way to ensure my future happiness, despite the fact that he has never actually produced such a questionnaire and he also knows I would never actually tolerate such paternalistic bullshit.  I'm about to travel to a foreign country to study something decidedly opaque and immeasurable (Applied Imagination) and when I first floated this idea to my parents, both of them were uncomfortable with the idea.  "Why don't you go to business school?  That's what you're doing now."  "Well, if writing's what you want to do, why don't you go to school for that?"

Now that it is actually happening, Mom and Dad have both accepted it, and are, I think even getting a little excited for me.  They know it's right for me, this swirling cloud of uncertainty and debt is what I'm meant to do next, though every set of numbers or statistics they'd consult might say differently (for months, my Dad has been telling me the insurance industry is hiring, as if there was some logical place for me there.)  I had lunch today with a good friend, which always involves the five-minute relationship status/boy update, and she described someone in the following words, "He just gets it."  I think, in spite of all the limits and logic we try to apply to life, to careers and relationships, there's something to be said for feeling, for not having to rationalize or explain.  My mother also said to me this morning that "you never know where you're going to meet that special someone."  Somewhat true, though not a comforting response when I'm telling you about a creepy customer's compliment.  She went on to tell me to enjoy compliments, because the older you get the less people tell you you're pretty. She needs more caffeine in her life.

Anyway, I think the feeling of calm and certainty I get when I think about London, as well as the creepy vibe I get when a customer tells the child he's with to "give the money to the beautiful woman at the register," are both to be listened to.  There might not be a ton of empirical evidence as to why I should embrace one and reject the other, and I may be called naive time and again. If we define naive as unsophisticated it sounds like an insult; but according to dictionary.com its latin root is nasci, which means "to be born."  I'd rather live life as though I'd just been born, learning new things everyday and expressing wonder at the world, than reject situations and individuals around me because they didn't answer a questionnaire exactly the right way.  Despite the fact that my father has been talking about this questionnaire for years, and that my mother is basically telling me not to automatically reject creepers that she herself would react negatively to, they know the power of naivete, too.  My father pursued teaching in Ohio because it was right for him, in spite of his family history of finance and business in New York City.  My mother married my father because "he just gets it," in spite of her family's repeated attempts to get her not to do so because Dad wasn't a doctor or lawyer.

When I mentioned to my mother that Dad and I had never actually discussed what would be on this questionnaire, she astutely observed that he'd probably say something like, "Can you live with a girl who picks her nose?"  For anyone doubting the veracity of this supposition, he just walked past my room, just now, and told me to open my curtains because "the cooties won't grow as much that way." So, I've given up on extracting a real questionnaire from him, which was my original idea for this blog post.  Which is just as well, since I've settled on adding a pinch of naivete to my life plan anyway.

What Government Shutdowns Have to Do with My Drunken College Years

Though I studied Political Science in college, I go through phases of political disinterest and obsession.  Once in a while, usually when scandal occurs, I'll watch c-span footage of congressional hearings, and I do have Huffington Post set as my internet homepage (though that's really a mix of politics and gossip magazines).  I scan the newspaper.  I know basic issues.  But I have to admit, if it looks like the usual partisan dick-measuring back and forth, I tend to tune it out.  So, although I knew a government shutdown was a possibility, since it seems like this has been a topic of discussion for years that never really comes to a head, I wasn't waiting nervously for something to happen. As of about an hour ago, the federal government is in some kind of shutdown.  I suspect that not even the federal government really fully understands what that means.  Meanwhile, I'm watching Bill Nye do the robot on Dancing with the Stars and eating pasta.

While we're on the DWTS subject, I think Tom Bergeron should have his own reality show, preferably one in which he doesn't give a fuck and is given unlimited access to liquor.  Maybe that's not such a digression after all; there have been multiple news reports that members of Congress are boozing it up at the same time they're not doing shit.  Rumor has it they drink a special liquor containing the tears of college graduates who have too much debt.  It costs $12 a glass, which is more than those same college grads get paid per hour at the shit job they end up actually having to work.  Anyway, I think we can all agree that that's pretty ridiculous behavior.  They should at least be drinking coffee or something.  However questionable, I think the whole "drinking on the job" bit brings up an excellent new way to think of our political system: as a huge party of drunkards trying to make sense of life.

I think a fairly large contingent of congress probably falls under the "oafish football player" category of drunk (and yes, I'm using generalizations here.  Sue me.)  I picture them sitting on a stained plaid sofa that has somehow made it's way on to the front porch of a house, each with a case of Natty Light under one arm.  One of them will pick a fight with someone at the bar later, the second is hugging people they don't know and doing way too many shotguns, and the third is like, "Hey, there's a hot girl totally passed out upstairs.  I'm gonna go get with her."

Out of nowhere, some kid in an ironic shirt and sandals is like, "Yeah, someone should check on her and make sure she's still breathing.  Also, you can't hook up with drunk girls because that's rape."  (That's Obama...he's had a few beers, but he's still pretty logical.)  Instead of personally going to check on the passed-out girl, though, he sends another drunk girl to do it, which fixes the problem for a little while, but ultimately ends with both girls holding each other and crying as they struggle drunkenly home.

The next morning no one really knows quite what happened.  Someone puked on the bushes out front, nobody can find the cat, somebody has a black eye, and like five people wake up in beds they don't remember getting into.  Maybe things are going to be a little awkward today because you made out with your friend-zoned friend.  Maybe you're going to need to spend some money you don't have to get some greasy breakfast food so you don't feel like you're dying.  Here's the thing: you do what you need to do to get through it.

The current congressional dynamic is such that they'd all rather sit in a room accusing each other of puking on the bushes rather than someone just going and hosing it down.  Rather than just being like, "Hey, sorry, let's be friends and call our drunken hook-up what it was: a hot mess," current congressman are taking the stairs to avoid seeing that other person in the dorm elevator and avoiding eye contact at all costs.  The culture of binge drinking allows for a lot of bullshit, but it also engenders the idea that everyone does stupid shit and fucks up on occasion.  What matters is how you deal with the fallout.  You clean up the mess and forget that your best friend called you a "fucking bitch" in a drunken rage because it's more fun for everyone that way.  It might not be perfect, but it's the only way that the next weekend, and the weekend after that, are going to be at all enjoyable.

So here's my advice to Congress.  Forget your expensive scotch.  Lock yourselves in the capitol, buy a bunch of cheap beer, and let the drinking games commence.  When morning dawns, you act like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi weren't groping each other on the dancefloor, and you act like John Boehner didn't cry hysterically as he asked you repeatedly why his parents don't just love him.  You bond over your hangovers, and you fix our fucking government, because I am tired of this bullshit.

Wishbones (Not About the Awesome TV series. Sorry.)

Most of the insanely introverted ideological deconstructions that happen on here are a result of my random and meandering thought process.  So, of course, this blog must begin with me gazing out my back door this afternoon, at the honey locust tree in the corner of my parents' yard that has been there my entire childhood.  A tree service had trimmed away a bunch of little auxiliary branches earlier, which may or may not have been the reason I, in my infinite wisdom, thought, "huh, that's an interesting shape."This is what it looks like:

 

It looks to me like two wishbones one on top of the other.  Being the person that I am, I googled "double wishbone" to see what symbolic value I could glean from this.  Turns out there's some kind of suspension called a double wishbone that is used in fancy cars for its' load-bearing capacity, like I know what the fuck that means. Also, part of it looks like this rune:

 

Runes I also do not understand, and much of the commentary on this sounds like the picture book about Thor that I read to my nephew, but you can read more here (http://runesecrets.com/rune-meanings/algiz-rune-meaning-analysis).  If you click the link you can see that there are multiple interpretations, and because I have no idea which one is correct in this case, I like the one about a flower opening up to life the best.

So, now that we've covered that tangent, it got me thinking about how we think of shapes in general, but also how we think of shape in terms of body image and health.  Because if the shape of my tree in the backyard can correlate to auto parts as well as ancient Norse picture languages, it should follow that a certain body type can correlate to a plethora of things, as well.  I remember the first time I remember being dissatisfied with my body shape.  I was probably nine, and like a lot of tween girls had developed the unfortunately named breast buds and a bit of a belly.  Shit happens.

Today, I also happened upon this piece from Gawker, which is disturbing in its own right (http://gawker.com/racist-romeo-willing-to-pay-for-non-fat-non-slut-non-1385130657?utm_source=feedly).  It's long, but the gist is that this asshole is willing to pay for a girlfriend, but only if she fits a bunch of requirements.  It is filled with gems about body shape:

"I like girls that are thin, or with a toned or athletic build. A average build is fine too, just as long as you are not over weight. I will not date a overweight or fat girl."

"I like girls that are 130 pounds or less. Of course weight needs to be in proportion to their height, as long as they aren’t considred overweight, they should be fine. Being overweight is a total dealbreaker with me."

"I prefer a woman that has never had children, because having kids does ruin a womans body often times."

Clearly this is an extreme example, but yikes! That kind of vague bullshit is all over okcupid, too.  "I want a girl who takes care of her body and goes to the gym," and "I'll go overweight, but not obese."  So, basically, we're bombarded with constant reminders of what is and is not acceptable for others that actually are not clear or helpful at all. Maybe that's the issue I have with before and after pictures, as well.  Two images will not ever, I think, accurately convey to me the huge hurdles anyone has had to leap over to achieve greater health (or a dependency on fen-phen, you never know.) Like, one second, there's a morbidly obese person in a large mumu, and then, they're transformed to a trim person who is fashionably dressed.  Where are the pictures of them hating life because they've been on an exercise bike for 45 minutes?  To that end, because I'm suffering from realness (though Doctors have not yet said I'm the illest), here's a picture of me after I worked out tonight:

 

Weight loss or health is still debatable, but at least you know that if one of those is ever achieved, it was not reached without me looking sweaty and deranged from time to time.

Now, back to my tree image: since I don't understand either of the "meanings" I found for that shape, I'm making up my own.  A single wishbone ends up being great for one person and a big disappointment for the other person.  So, maybe two wishbones represents a re-do of sorts, a second opportunity for everybody to get something good out of the deal.  And maybe that's also how we should define body shape in the future.  Maybe in the past, and pretty much now, it's been accepted that there is only good or bad, fat or thin, toned or flabby, what-the-fuck-ever.  That dualism was created and propagated by the assholes that got the larger piece of the first wishbone.  Now's our turn to break off the winning half of the second wishbone and be like, "Hey, I have thin legs and a fat ass and I love myself enough not to analyze that every day."  If we're going to have before and after pictures, and #transformationtuesday, let's make them reflect changing attitudes, rather than just shrinking bodies.

Perfect Weather for Napping

I guess the way I choose books at the library makes sense, given my personality.  My mother, not always but a lot of the time, will go to the library with a specific book in mind, search the catalog, and retrieve it off the shelf after two minutes.  I have certainly done this in the context of research, but one of my joys in life, when I'm pretending time and obligations do not exist, is to indiscriminately browse bookshelves for reading material.  I've chosen books for the cool graphic design on their covers, for the author's dedication, for a sentence I read after randomly flipping to a page, and sometimes, because they just look interesting.  It should come as no surprise that I also write down quotes and sentences from books that I love.  I'm going to share a couple now:

From Frank Lloyd Wright's The Living City:

"I have described true discipline as developed from within, as the expression of the soul instead of something applied by force in some form."

From Ford: Expansion and Challenge: 1915-1933 by Allan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill, as said by Henry Ford:

"Everything is in flux, and was meant to be.  Life flows.  We may live at the same number on the same street, but it is never the same man who lives there."

From The Letters of Charles Lamb:

"It too artfully aims at simplicity of expression.  And you sometimes doubt if simplicity be not a cover for poverty."

So, we're back to the point I often reach when I write blogs, and that is that I understand, on one hand, people's need for simplicity, but on the other hand, believe that most matters are inexorably complex.  I get that if I ate less calories, I would lose weight, but I also know that I have difficulties making self-denial a healthy act.  I understand that exercise needs to become a regular part of my life, but I realize that if I look at pictures of myself at age six and envy my muscle tone then, there are larger body-image issues at play that won't be resolved just by working out.  I understand the ease of marketing one identity for myself: writer, health blogger, unabashedly frank person who would love to write for Saturday Night Live, but not if it means doing stand-up, marketer, novelist.  I also know that I find it completely impossible to limit myself to any one of those silos.

I'm sure any number of you are like "God, stop bitching about being in your twenties and not knowing what to do.  We get it.  You're constantly in the throes of existential crises."  It's a fair point.  A lot of the time I feel like a broken record playing, "Work is hard. Meh, adulthood sucks.  The economy sucks.  I really want a doughnut right now.  I need more caffeine.  It's perfect weather for napping." Conventional logic would tell me to suck it up, pull myself up by the bootstraps, and expect less out of life.  I'm pretty sure the previous sentence is the most Republican thing I've ever written, and just by virtue of that, I have a natural reflex to reject it, like a recently transplanted kidney by its new body.

Revisiting those quotes, I think it is important to remember this: simplicity is overrated, forcing things to be simple is soul-crushing, and even simple things are constantly subject to change.  So, instead of fighting it, I guess I'm going to try to embrace the insanity.  Right at this moment, I'm an aspiring author trying to build a brand on social media who likes art, music, business, people, well-crafted tweets, and a good cup of coffee.  I like the environment, and I like to knit, and I like to cook without recipes, and bake with them.  I've been told I'm good at giving advice.  I've been told I'm hard to read. I am unapologetically blunt, I love butter, and sparkling water, and really fresh veggies.  I love magnolia trees and old photographs and new memories.  I plan on taking all of this with me to London in a few months.  Maybe I'll eat more healthfully.  Maybe I won't.  Maybe I'll run a half-marathon.  Maybe I won't.  I can promise that what I will deliver is life, constantly in flux, and I hope you will continue to join me in this simple, complex undertaking.

Aim For More Awesome than Asshole, and You’re Probably Okay

It seems like there have been a lot of commentaries given lately on my generation: gen y.  Apparently we're lazy, entitled, arrogant, delusional assholes.  Here's my response to this description:  I may be all of those things, but so is every human being, ever.  Including the writers of those articles.  A friend recently sent me the link to the following:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wait-but-why/generation-y-unhappy_b_3930620.html

I'll start by saying that I think there is a fair amount of truth in the above essay.  But, clearly, that's not why I'm responding to it.  My response is my own.  I won't pretend to be the mouthpiece of a huge group of people who are varied and diverse.  So, first, the author coins the term "gypsy" as an acronym for "Gen Y Protagonists and Special Yuppies."  Okay.  I like it.  Gypsy is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, ever (watch video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WZ3na8NGjY).  Moving on.

The author claims that, while our parents were taught that  they could reach a lush, green lawn with years of hard work, we not only don't want to work, but expect a lawn with flowers.  Hold on to your seats: I'm going to make an analogy.  Our parents reached that lush, green lawn by, in addition to their hard work, fertilizing the shit out of it.  In addition to that lawn, we inherited the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and little signs telling us not to walk our dogs on it, because they might become ill.  Let's not pretend that our parents reached some state of grace that we're rejecting for no reason.  That lush, green lawn comes with baggage.  Not pretty, custom-made Louis Vuitton leather trunks, either.  No, the luggage our parents have handed down is more like a canvas duffel bag from the Army Surplus store that spent the entire flight underneath a leaking toilet tank.  As for the flowers, I, for one, am not clamoring for a Bird of Paradise to sprout in the middle of my lawn.  A few clover blossoms wouldn't hurt, though.  I once had a professor tell me that clover was standard in all grass seed before the invention of some herbicide whose name I can't remember.  Clover is also really drought-resistant and can survive on less water than plain old grass.  So really, when we prefer a lawn with flowers, we're just trying to get back to our less environmentally fucked up roots.

The second thing I take issue with is the author's problem with everyone thinking they're special.  Saying most people are special is, evidently, in violation of the word's definition.  You know, because in the past, defining people in binary terms, one or the other, has worked so well.  You can only be smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, black or white, straight or gay, conservative or liberal.  This fails to acknowledge the vast and brilliant spectrum humans fall upon.  We are stronger than the simplistic labels some of us insist upon perpetuating.  The sooner that we realize that each of us is an infinite combination of parts constantly in flux, and that, at least once in our lives, these parts conspire to contribute to something greater, the better off we will be.  We ARE all special.  Maybe not all the time, maybe not in every way, but sometimes and some ways, we ARE special.  If everyone goes about their lives thinking they are just ordinary, what hope do we have of progressing as a species?

Thirdly, I'd like to address the following phrase: "the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor."  Let me tell you something, my generation knows all about merit.  We grew up taking proficiency tests, re-taking the SATs when our scores didn't meet expectations, being pushed into Advanced Placement classes, and doggedly told that a college education was the key to a successful life.  One of the reasons we like to think we're special is because we busted our asses throughout high school building resumes and writing essays to prove to colleges that we were special.  Special enough to get in.  Special enough to get a scholarship.  The reason why the "real world" galls so completely is that just a small portion of what our adolescent selves are trained to present is at all relevant when it comes to getting a job.  Also, I'm fairly certain that any time anyone uses the phrase "the real world," it only serves to show that they have had to sacrifice something they loved to be a part of this world, and are now inflicting the pain they suffered onto everyone else.

Lastly, the author tells us that we are victims of social media profiles reminding us that everyone else is doing better than we are.  To some extent, this is true.  But the focus on technology distracts from the underlying issue, which is that we've been trained to value ourselves in comparison to others.  This attitude reaches at least back to the boomers, and pervades many parts of American society.  It isn't new, and it isn't unique to gen y.  That said, anyone who watched the recent Miss America pageant can attest to the fact that this attitude, and its ability to saturate every form of communication, has a strong presence.

The author concludes with advice (because everyone my age REALLY wants it): stay wildly ambitious, stop thinking that you're special, and ignore everyone else.  Here's my advice to myself, and my generation (but only if you want it, because I try not to be a condescending ass):

A) You should follow your passion.  Following your passion does not preclude work, as anyone who has attempted it knows.  Be ambitious, but know why.  A wise man once told me, "you always want to loosen the pursestrings, but you have to stick with your passion" meaning that everyone would like to be financially comfortable, but if you're not emotionally fulfilled by what you're doing, then the money has limited value.

B) You're not only special, you're fucking awesome.  You also know that you are not always, nor only, fucking awesome.  Sometimes, you suck.  Sometimes, you're kind of an asshole.  Aim for more awesome than asshole, and you're probably okay.

C) Ignore everyone else.  I agree with this.  You should ignore everyone else.  Especially people who write columns telling you why your generation sucks, or doesn't suck.  People who tell you why you suck, or how you can suck less.  You have a moral compass (unless you're a sociopath) and you can figure it out on your own.

Congrats, ladies and gents.  You've made it to the last paragraph of this here blog post.  I mentioned earlier that Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac is a favorite.  My favorite lyrics from the song are: "I have no fear/I have only love/and if I was a child/ and the child was enough/ enough for me to love."  Regardless of our expectations of life, dear gen-y-ers, let's go through life with no fear, and only love.  We may be crazy dreamers, and thus will most certainly be called arrogant and delusional, but you know the people who are crazy enough to change the world are the only ones who ever do.

When Life Hands You Student Loans and Vinyl Tablecloths, What Else Are You Going To Do, If Not Dream?

I just finished watching Moonrise Kingdom, the latest (I think) Wes Anderson film.  I’ve been a fan of Anderson ever since I first watched The Royal Tenenbaums, which my family had on VHS, so it was a reasonable time ago. This post is not to be an ode to Wes Anderson, but, as a dreamer, I do so appreciate all of the tiny details embedded in his films, and the constant tension between dysfunction and happiness.  Also, lines such as “She stabbed me in the back with leftie scissors,” are, one has to admit, little nuggets of genius.  One of the themes of the film, or I guess one that I perceived, is the phenomenon of adults who are woefully unhappy with their lives trying to raise children to act in the same ways that they have done, even though they are miserable.  I think its a far more common exchange than most would care to believe, and one that continues to mystify me.  It is also a central theme of my novel.  See, I’m nearly to the point where I can say I’m writing a “novel” without feeling like an intellectual asshole.  With my knowledge of the publishing world limited to what I read on the interwebs, it is my understanding that, when querying a literary agent, one must have a paragraph-long pitch summarizing the book.  So, I thought I’d take a stab at it, because the whole healthy eating thing has not been inspiring writing from me lately. Here goes:

When a stagnant economy forces Addie to move back home following college, she is unwillingly immersed in the very traditions the surplus of the Clinton era might have allowed her to escape. Convinced that this pause in her life will lead to being stuck in a world of skirt suits, church services, and cutting children’s sandwiches into adorable shapes, she struggles to redefine what she wants from life, all the while hating that she has to contemplate life at all.  Everywhere she looks, it seems, those around her are ticking off marriage and children as though on a neatly written to-do list, and she’s stuck fighting with her mother about cleaning her room.  As she struggles to assimilate to the community she hated as a child, she finds almost love (scourge of 20-somethings everywhere), employment (nothing to do with her degree), and a forgotten family secret that undermines the very foundation on which her life up to this point has been built.

Okay, so I guess that’s my first attempt.  Though a complete work of fiction, I suppose you write what you know, what you relate to, and perhaps that’s why Moonrise Kingdom made me think of my book.  There are such very brief moments in life when we can stand defiant and follow our hearts.  There are so many reasons we can give, or be given, to grow into the mold already created for us.  To “have adventures…not get stuck in one place,” takes, I think, much more imagination, and a fortified resistance to those around us who have already chosen their places in life.  I also think that for us idealists who nurture that imagination quietly year after year, there is no life but the one we’ve imagined.  I admit it’s all very dreamy, head in the clouds and all that.  Honestly, though, when real life hands you student loans and vinyl tablecloths, what else are you going to do, if not dream?

I’ll stop rambling now, but you get the idea.  Now, hopefully I’ve impassioned and inspired you to follow your own dreams, and I’m going to ask you to help me follow mine.  The person who tags my facebook writer page (https://www.facebook.com/annawrites1019) in the status that generates the most traffic (and hopefully, the most likes) in the next week, will have a supporting character in the novel named after them.  So, get to steppin’.  Because I’m pretty much done with this whole student loans and vinyl tablecloths thing.

The Word Exercise is Suspiciously Similar to the Word Exorcise. Discuss.

Every time I see an article that uses the terms “exercise,” or “physical activity,” it makes me cringe a little.  Not because I think we shouldn’t discuss those topics, but because those terms are so dry and unappealing.  Let’s examine them a little further, shall we?  Below are links to interwebs definitions of them.

Exercise (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/exercise?s=t)

Physical Activity, Physical Exercise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_activity)

Skimming through both of those, it seems to me that there is a common theme of repetitive training toward a goal (physical health, muscle tone, weight loss etc.)  A concept not without merit, I suppose, but that, like IRAs and health insurance, stinks of the sad, responsible adulthood I am still doggedly trying to avoid.  Also, I find the very small difference between the words exercise and exorcise unnerving.  It sort of makes sense, I guess.  Both can result in a sort of release.  But, then, no-one has ever considered an exorcism enjoyable or fun.  I would imagine that many of the situational descriptors used by someone who has undergone an exorcism would be equally applicable to me running on a treadmill.

I am also an introvert, which experts would say means I “have a rich inner life,” and I would say means that a great deal of the time I’d rather be daydreaming than dealing with real life (hence my avoidance of typical responsibilities).  I think this, as much as anything, explains why I hate, and I really do hate, going to the gym.  Feeling like my lungs are on fire while reading subtitles of Wolf Blitzer does not allow for adequate daydreaming.  And yet, there is a part of me that recognizes the importance of exertion, much as I dislike it.

Over the past week, I have done the New York City Ballet workout thrice.  It is a bit ridiculous; there’s a vaguely European man narrating, classical music and awful slides in between sections that look like they were made in 1996 (they might have been…don’t know the copyright year.)  I think perhaps I like it because it allows me to suppose that I am working toward something beautiful, something that, in the end, might tell a story other than someone grumbling about the same news story for half an hour or me pulling a muscle.  Never mind the fact that I might actually look like a floundering goldfish who has escaped its bowl.  In my imagination I look much more like Margo Fonteyn.  I could try to be more creative, I suppose, on the treadmill, but all I can think of is running and running and never getting where I want to be, whether in a marathon, or in life.

We’ve established that I hate the words exercise and physical activity, but that doesn’t leave me with a better idea of what to call things that fall into that category.  Perhaps it is time to create a better term; something that doesn’t repel those of us who are not driven to pound the pavement in search of a shrinking number.  Perhaps it is time to exorcise ourselves of exercise, this thing we regard as necessary yet unenjoyable.  I submit that we should (and I will be taking suggestions) invent some sort of new game.  Something that gets us moving and thinking all at once.  Something that isn’t marred by competitive assholes.  Something that allows me to delay adulthood just a bit longer.

Did Helen Reddy Teach Me Nothing?

There were a couple of summers when my mother and I took weekend camping trips together in the summer.  I was between 9-11 years old.  I’m not sure where the idea for them originated, but they sort of became these little girls-only outings where my mother explained the birds and the bees to me, charmingly using fallen twigs and pinecones to illustrate fallopian tubes next to the campfire.  I also have quite a distinct memory of her trying to explain Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu4xpDuf84A) to me; the only words she could remember were “I am strong! I am invincible! I am woman!”  I have a pretty clear image of her belting out these words on some grassy knoll during a hike, and me being embarrassed even though no-one was around.

As I’ve tried to be more mindful of my automatic reactions to food, eating patterns, and my attitude toward my body the last week, this image of her pulling a Sound of Music  has come to mind.  Not because it embodies exactly how I feel about these things: quite the opposite.  Monday night I had eaten dinner (vegan shepherd’s pie and salad) at around six, and around nine, there I was, hungry again.  This is perfectly normal, especially given the low fat content of my meal.  So then, I spent a good hour and a half watching tv and ruminating about what snack I could fix and eat and feel good about that would also be the least offensive to my plans for weight loss, followed by world domination.  Was there anything I actually wanted to eat and would feel satisfied by that didn’t contain some sugar or fat or starch?  I came no closer to reaching the decision I wanted myself to reach, but became absolutely ravenous and went upstairs and made myself a few pieces of applesauce toast (sourdough bread, butter, applesauce).  That was what I wanted to eat.  That was what tasted good.  And I was furious at myself.

I got an artsy little book this week called Preliminary Materials For A Theory of the Young-Girl by Tiqqun (which a google search informs me is a French philosophical journal.)  I’m not sure I trust myself to explain it well or at all, but there is a quote and corresponding idea that I find thought-provoking and relevant.  First, the quote:

“The Young-Girl would like to be a thing, but does not want to be treated like a thing.  Yet all her distress comes not only from the fact that she’s treated like a thing, but that on top of that she can’t manage to really be a thing.”

The corresponding concept is a woman, especially a young woman, whose identity is that she is a commodity, or who struggles with the fact that she is expected to be a commodity.

I will now clumsily try to make the connection between these philosophical thoughts and my own journey.  There are parts of me that want to be a very specific thing: thin, rich, pretty, composed, perfect.  This image has surrounded me throughout childhood and continues to do so in its own special way.  Because at the same time my mother was telling me empowering things over the campfire, she was both consciously and subconsciously reinforcing the idea at home that boys wouldn’t like me unless I lost weight, and that being a good wife meant ironing her husband’s shirts every night for work the next day and cooking dinners that everyone liked.

I think at least some of my feelings when it comes to food can be related to this juxtaposition.  I want to be that girl who has a breakfast of raw vegetables and egg whites, even though I rail against anyone who would expect it of me. I rarely want vegetables at breakfast, and this fills me with hatred a) for myself, because I can’t make myself want what I am told I should want and b) for the society that has told me my worth is somehow wrapped up in the fact that I eat specific breakfast foods. If you listen to the rest of the lyrics to I am Woman, Helen sort of hints at this constant push and pull.  Wisdom born from pain and all that.  I find it difficult to conclude this post for a couple of reasons.  I might be on this journey of self-worth and how it fits into my being a woman and how it stems from my childhood and whether I can find peace my entire life, not just one blog post.  Also, I’m hungry.

 

featured on Project Eve

Can We Measure Feelings Like We Measure Portions?

So, the truth of the matter is, that, as much as I would really love for weight loss to be an effortless thing for me, it is not.  There’s a lot to be said for listening to intuition and inner voice, and knowing the reasons for your motivation and reflecting upon them.  In the end, however, as much importance as I place on emotional literacy (and I believe it is a huge, huge part of the equation) there is some pretty undeniable science related to health and weight loss.  Figuring out how to blast through both of these obstacles has always been a bit of a quandary for me.

I have started and quit Weight Watchers so many times I have lost count.  I remember the first time I began going to meetings with my mother, I was so young that I had to have a prescription from my doctor to participate.  I was only ten-twenty pounds overweight then, though my goals, at the bottom of my heart, were always to become unhealthily thin.  If I’m telling the truth, that is something I still crave, though I am conscious of the fact that it is not healthy now.  The last time I had a flat stomach, I was eight.  I’ve always been jealous of the girls whose thighs don’t naturally touch in the middle.  I look at pictures of myself and position my fingers in front of them in order to see what my face could be without the double chin.  The point being that, while I have clearly had obsessive tendencies toward my weight and appearance for a long time, adhering to any sort of weight-loss program has only worked for me in short bursts.   While I go through the motions and tell myself that health is the priority, these deep-set aspirations for extreme results are silently needling away at the success that I have.  Why? Success is not perfection.

We only get over things when we know what it is we need to overcome.  My goal for this week is to embrace the pain and the negativity and document it.  What do I think when I see myself in the mirror?  What do I think when I eat sugar in a moment of weakness?  What triggers unhealthy habits?  What does my inner voice say to me when it comes to food?  to the fact that I’m only really comfortable in pants with some stretch to them?  Where are those voices coming from, and how can I separate them from my own?

If you are so inclined, feel free to journal along with me, to write down those thoughts that creep out around the edges, that you think you ignore, but that affect you at a deep, spiritual level.  I know how to eat vegetables.  I know how to measure portions.  And after this week, perhaps I will know why that knowledge has never translated into lasting results for me.

I Hate to Go All Carrie Bradshaw on Your Asses, But…

 

A few months ago, I treated myself to a photography excursion in Detroit during which I visited three rather iconic abandoned buildings with a group solely for the purpose of taking pictures.  The picture above (ALONE graffiti) is from the Lee Plaza Hotel (was a hotel, then senior housing, now an abandoned building with a hole in the side that people crawl through to explore and take artsy photos.)  It was in the stairwell on the first landing from the ground floor.  There are eighteen floors before you hit the roof.  I took the following picture there (Idle No More graffiti)

I’m not sure why the juxtaposition of the two, and the fact that climbing eighteen flights of stairs lay between them, never occurred to me until now.  Aside from the fact that I am not particularly physically fit, these stairs are, for the most part, covered in crumbled plaster and unlit (I had a flashlight.)  Each landing leads to a hallway of hotel rooms/apartments that have no windows, are equally covered in plaster, and contain the odd chair or dresser and assorted trash.  At first, and especially if you choose to venture off on your own, the solitude of the place is quite arresting, the quiet and openness of the space almost calming.  At the same time, each new floor explored is a reminder of how many souls have passed through this building.  After all, who belongs to the marigold-yellow high heel hanging out of a dresser drawer?  The roll of tattered wrapping paper atop a pile of plaster?  The wig hanging out on the side of the bathtub?  As a rather proficient daydreamer, I can’t help but marvel at all of the memories that were made here, of all the moments of people’s lives that happened here, that have been reduced to the things the scrappers didn’t want and squatters didn’t deem valuable.  By the time I made it to the roof, out of breath, my brain was swirling with imagined families watching television in the small rooms, neighbors passing each other in the halls, the sadness of having to leave a place.  I wanted to believe the “idle no more” message had something to do with stopping this slow death of so many lives, of a whole city.  Anyway, it looked cool, so I took a picture.

I hate to go all Carrie Bradshaw on your asses, but now I can’t help but wonder: when it comes to relationships (of any kind), are we alone because we are idle, and if so, what are the staircases that lie between that sad, lonely figure, and being “idle no more?”  At age 24, I  find myself in somewhat of a holding pattern when it comes to romance.  I’ve had the first big love that was short-lived, and ridiculous, and totally broke my heart.  I’ve made questionable decisions when intoxicated, had fun, then forgotten any details I might have known about the guy days later.  I’ve done the internet dating thing.  It sucks, though I did get a couple of free meals from it.  I don’t particularly want to be alone, but then, I’m okay with the reasons for it.  Fair warning to my next victim:  if you taste my Woodchuck cider and tell me “It’s sweet….like you,” or make a big show of saying how cold it is outside before putting your arm around me, you’re done.  Sorry.  So, in many ways, I don’t feel like I’m on the ground floor of the Lee Plaza hotel.  I mean, I’m at least a couple of flights up…maybe the floor with the cans of tomato juice and industrial-size container of ground pepper.

On the other hand, I guess the roof, the “idle no more” symbolizes pursuing something permanent, something I’m not ready for.  Friends are engaged and married, and the thought of that, nice as it is, scares me shitless. Or being idle no more could mean pursuing a relationship just for the sake of not being alone, which, despite my boredom at present, I cannot seem to make myself do.  Then, of course, once you’re on the roof, you have much farther to fall if something goes wrong.

For now, it seems, I’m somewhere in between, stumbling through the rubble, aided by my flashlight, and surrounded by the loves and losses of people I will never know.  If you need me, I’ll be standing at the windowless window frame, enjoying the breeze and daydreaming.

Great Expectations: The Lost Pages

In spite of the fact that I read, discussed, and wrote essays about Dickens’ Great Expectations in high school, to this day, the thing I remember the most is the dialect of the conwict who accosts young Pip in the very beginning of the novel.  I recall the rest of the book being fairly depressing, but there is some shred of playfulness in the conwict’s accent as he begs for wittles, and evidently that is what I have chosen to cling to from said literary classic.  Why in God’s name am I discussing any of this?  Because my topics for reflection in this post are a) expectations tend to disappoint and b) small memories from our childhoods that seem completely unimportant often turn out to be at least a little significant.

Now, having grown up in an upper-middle-class suburb in the Midwest, I have no lurid tales of conwicts to relate from my own childhood, but, having just moved back in with the parents, I find myself taking a trip of sorts down memory lane.  Rather than typing this on my laptop, I’m writing it on a legal pad while I sit cross-legged on my bed.  I say “my” bed, but I’m actually sleeping in the bedroom that belonged to my sister after our brother left for college and we didn’t have to share anymore.  Since that time, the walls have been covered with pictures of my nephews, ages 3 and 6.  They spend a great deal of time at my parents house, and that, coupled with hearing stories of their childhood exploits, always leaves me absentmindedly contemplating my own.

For whatever reason, when I pause to take a drink of water, my eyes on one of the fifteen frames on the wall, a random memory pops into my head, one so fleeting I might have instantly forgotten it were I not in writing mode.  I am young in this memory.  Too young to insert age or grade in school into the storyline.  I’m baking something with my mother, keeping my eyes open for stray blobs of batter or other spoils of sugary kitchen endeavors.  I notice some powdered sugar that has spilled on the counter and greedily dip my finger in it for a taste.  Disappointment ensues when I discover that it is not, in fact, powdered sugar, but flour.  In hindsight, I think that was the first time I ever tasted plain flour, whose taste, while not completely awful, is bland and lackluster.  Would I have had the same disappointment if I had not expected the sugar to begin with?  I mean, I probably wouldn’t have been crazy about the flour, but I also wouldn’t have felt tricked by common cookie ingredients.

I’ll be here, in my parents house, for the foreseeable future.  I’m not thrilled about it, nor about the fact that I am once again in the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life.  But, the point I am trying to make, I suppose, is that rather than expecting this set of circumstances to be flour, I should keep open the possibility that they might end up being powdered sugar instead.  Or laundry detergent.  Or cocaine.  Any white, powdered substance, really.  We all know how having great expectations worked out for Pip.  I’m not really in danger of my life turning into some depressing portrait of Victorian Britain, but I’ll leave out those pesky expectations just the same.

You’re So Sweet: The Chemistry of Compliments

I don’t know if this is an exclusively Midwestern value, but I’ve been writing thank-you notes ever since I can remember.  I mostly identify them with Christmas and its requisite checks in the mail from extended family.  The first time I was expected to do this was second grade, I think.  I remember sitting down to do it, then realizing that I had no idea what I was doing, and asking my father how to write a thank-you note as he attempted to read the newspaper in our rocking chair.  I’ve learned how to write compound sentences since then, and how to personalize a note despite its inevitable formulaic quality, and in the future I’m sure I’ll make my children continue the tradition.  Thank-you notes must always contain at least a couple of compliments: “that was thoughtful,” “your support means a lot,” and my personal favorite, “you’re so sweet.” Though meant to be personal acknowledgments, these letters too often devolve into a bunch of happy-sounding phrases strung together and become impersonal and largely meaningless.

Over the past couple of months, I decided to try out the I Quit Sugar plan developed by Australian writer Sarah Wilson.  My family’s predilection for sugar and all things sweet is well-documented; there’s a newspaper article buried in some old book at my parent’s house containing a quote by some ancestor who was a NY state senator, in the 1800s (I think) about how he couldn’t survive politics without liberal helpings of pie.  There are multiple photos of me covered in cake batter and/or ice cream and/or chomping down on cookies as a child.  Anyone who knows me at all knows that dessert of any kind, and any caliber, is one of my favorite things.  Earlier this year, I survived fairly regularly on large quantities of diet coke and processed sugar (candy, doughnuts, ice cream, didn’t matter).  I can’t pinpoint the moment when I realized that it was an addiction, but I suspect that it occurred during one of my dozen doughnut binges.  They weren’t even good doughnuts, but I needed more of them.  I needed to eat four or five in one sitting before I was anywhere near sated.  Anyway, I successfully completed the 8 week I Quit Sugar detox plan, to my complete surprise. Eight weeks.  No sugar. I stopped needing to nap almost every day after work, and I feel queasy if I try to indulge in a cookie or something now.  I recommend it highly.

This new perspective on sugar has got me thinking about the emotional rewards I, and society, have placed on fructose and its many bastard children.  It seems to me that sugar as a reward is often given with the understanding that there is lack to be made up for somewhere else.  A child has to wait quietly in a long line at the bank and they’re given a sucker.  I had a hard day at work, so I deserve that pasta bowl full of ice cream.  If siblings behave well at some stuffy, adult function, they are promised a trip to the ice cream store afterward.  Sweets are treats; they are not for everyday, but for special times.  Conversely, if you’re experiencing a nadir in joie de vivre, the act of consuming sweets alone will make the mediocre times better.  That is, at least, what sweets have meant to me, and what I think they mean to a lot of Americans.  Which brings us to the American tendency to avoid root issues in favor of quick fixes, of which I am a storied offender.

This attitude, in the end, pervades our national health journey just as much as it does our long-established social norms.  So, perhaps, the answers to both awful thank-you notes and the diabetes and obesity epidemics are not all that different.  Exploring the psychology of sugar as a reward must result in confusion for a lot of people.  For years, allowing your child, or yourself, a sweet treat has meant love, nurturing, and indulgence.  If you believe the studies coming out right now that sugar is addictive, that it increases risk for all sorts of cancer, that it almost invariably begets disease, the connection between love and sweet gluttony is sullied. Similarly, the phrase “You’re so sweet,” takes on a completely different meaning, doesn’t it?  I mean, before, it was unimaginative with a good connotation, and now it’s unimaginative and we don’t know what to think of it.

I suspect that both of these problems can be solved if we’re willing to stop and be a bit introspective.  I think that both thank-you notes and emotional sugar consumption can be tied pretty conclusively to the need to express the emotions we think we ought to have, rather than exploring the emotions we actually feel.  I might feel depressed, but rather than work through why I feel the way I do, I’d rather work through a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  A mother might not be able to mask the crazed feeling she’s developed spending a long day with her children, but she can give them cookies, and that tells them in a roundabout way that she loves them.

I’ll close with the fake Marie Antoinette quote, “Let them eat cake.”  If you want a piece of cake, by all means, eat it.  God knows I’ve had my share.  I’m simply saying that you might want to explore a) whether you are addicted to sugar (you are…) and b) what your longing for that piece of cake is actually telling you.  If it’s telling you that some aspect of your life is unfulfilled, have the courage to change that, rather than eating cake.  From courage comes happiness.  From happiness comes gratitude.  And from true gratitude comes the thank-you note actually worth reading.

“No Regrets”: Thoughts On This and Other Things I Love to Say and Want to Mean

While I’ve always been mature for my age (cue my sister telling me that I’m not mature…can’t have me getting too much of a big head), I like to think that my progression from high school to now can be illustrated through the phrases I like to identify myself with.  God knows why I thought that “Pearls are my raison d’etre” was something that even meant anything, but I remember looking in the mirror as a high-schooler and feeling like a glamorous bad-ass as I said it in my head.  Now, I like to tell myself that “I don’t believe in regrets.”  I don’t.  I try not to have many, but the truth of the matter is, my psyche loves peering into the past and identifying fresh things to feel bad about or to look back on in shame.

As I prepare to move back in with my parents, back to my hometown, I find myself in a vulnerable mood, and regressing a bit to the social norms I so desperately wanted to be above in high school.  When I think about it, perhaps the whole “Pearls are my Raison d’Etre,” thing was a small form of self-protection, a way of saying, “I hate the petty shit that goes on between human beings around me, so I’m going to pin all of my worth and hopes on something inanimate.”

Despite the fact that I’ve taken some pretty tremendous risks recently that I would have balked at furiously in high school, and despite the fact that I am much more self-aware than I was then, I can feel myself silently preparing to return home by building up walls that I’ve worked hard to weaken, and by somewhat embracing the rejection-based value system that caused me to build those walls in the first place.

After living successfully on a tiny stipend for the past year, and, in large part, shirking material things in favor of developing my spirituality and pursuing my arts-related passions, suddenly I’m back to planning a wardrobe full of pencil skirts and heels, looking at corporate, clerical jobs because they sound impressive, and obsessing over how I’m going to exercise and cut out carbohydrates as soon as I get home.  I’m clearly not following a logical thought pattern, but if I was, I suspect that it would sound something like the following: if I have a “good job”, if I look put-together all the time, then I won’t have to feel bad when I explain to people that I’m living with my parents, or that amidst engagements and weddings, I’m not in a serious relationship.  If I’m running the tree-lined sidewalks in sporty leggings and can say that I’m working at a law firm before going to graduate school in London, I can ignore the fact that I’m still not entirely sure the exact trajectory my life will take.

Even though I’ve figured out that maybe I measure success a little differently in my own space, I crave the conventional success a competitive school district taught me to strive for.  On a subconscious level, I equate that success with emotional belonging and acceptance, something I felt unable to obtain from my community as a whole throughout my childhood and adolescence.  When a conventionally successful high-school classmate looked at my profile on LinkedIn a couple of days ago, but neglected to accept my “invitation to connect,” as much as I’ve grown, I had the same internal reaction as in second grade, when a classmate convinced the entire class to ostracize me because I had eaten something at lunch that she had wanted.  I didn’t understand unnecessary rejection then, and I don’t now, and as much as I remind myself that this LinkedIn guy is the same kid who literally used to do “groin stretches” in the middle of freshman English class for attention, that twinge of hurt, that feeling of  not being good enough, still happens.

I’ve been on the fence about getting a tattoo for a while now.  My parents are so uncomfortable with this idea that my father once threatened to quit paying my college tuition if I ever got a tattoo.  Sidenote: he wouldn’t have actually done this; he’s not that much of a hard-ass.  I’ve heard all the usual arguments: you won’t get a job, your skin will sag and it will look disgusting in like twenty years.  This gets me thinking about how much of the things we reject in life are rejected simply because we are scared.  I know, I know, now you’re thinking, “So, you’re trying to say that that guy rejected you on LinkedIn because he’s scared?”  No.  It’s not that simple.  But it is as simple as realizing that that guy, that everyone has their own story of building up walls and tearing them down, that everyone has deep-seated emotional reactions to things that they can neither understand nor control.  And the sooner I forgive myself for these reactions, the sooner I can empathize with others.  Which brings me to my tattoo: a small heart.  Because in the end, I believe that love will save us just as much as I do not believe in regrets.

A Time for Frozen Kefir

A friend of mine recommended the bookDaring Greatly by Brené Brown a while back, and I finally picked it up a couple of weekends ago at Barnes and Noble in the middle of one of my “gotta get out of the house” jaunts around town.  Brown is a social worker and has done tons of research on the power of confronting feelings of shame and learning to embrace vulnerability as a strategy for a purposeful, fulfilling life.  I read a couple of chapters the first day I had it, and I haven’t opened it since.

A few other facts about my life right now.  I went to Meijer today for hummus, and found myself on the brink of tears for no reason.  I bought tarot cards and use them, which I’m sure my mother will think is a sign I’ve become a heathen.  I ate half a cookie and a pancake with chocolate chips and strawberries yesterday, and felt hungover today because I went on an 8-week no-sugar plan.  I’m moving back in with my parents in two weeks.  I got accepted to graduate school in London for Applied Imagination.  I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that I haven’t touched this book, because right now I don’t want to hear anyone else’s perspective on vulnerability.  I just want to survive my own.

I have been so conditioned to accept nothing short of perfection that I am even trying to apply it to a self-help book that counsels against it.  In the meantime, every goddamn tarot reading I’ve given myself has centered around the theme of trusting myself, diving within, and accepting the whole, and not just some of the parts.  So, spurred on by another writer, and a fantastic friend (see her blog here:http://bravegirlswalk.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/the-right-to-write/), this is me attempting to get over my quest to do everything the “right” way.  When I started this blog, I told myself I had to be different, that I had to set myself apart by dramatically rejecting all other health-related blogs and their before-and-after pictures, their “skinny” recipes, and their encouraging maxims such as “Do you not have time to hit the gym for a few hours or do you not have time to spend your whole life being fat?”

I will post on this blog regularly, and I will write about my personal journey with health and whatever comes with it.  Because, in the end, it’s not about writing the blog that will get me a book deal, or only sharing parts of myself because those are the parts that I consider worthy.  It’s about loving all of myself, as much as I can.  It’s about recognizing that, every once in a while, frozen kefir, delicious and lower-sugar as it is, is not going to replace real ice cream.  It is about knowing that if I eat neither, one, or both of these things, that has no bearing on my character or whether I am deserving of love and happiness.  And it is about reminding myself of this fact no matter how many crazy things are happening in my life.

Life: The Original Entrepreneurial Adventure

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of being able to participate in the development of a new business venture through work.  Two new take-aways that I’ve gotten from this whole process are the concepts of visioning and end-user analysis.  The former is pretty much what it sounds like: envisioning where you would like your business to be in some amount of time.  The latter is slightly more complicated to explain.  It basically involves formulating fictional characters that you would like to be the end-user for your product or service.  Here’s an example: If my business is manufacturing juiceboxes, my end-user might be Charlie, a five-year-old who doesn’t like to eat vegetables and really likes dinosaurs.  The idea behind this is that if I know this about my intended juicebox drinker, I can maybe throw some veggie juice into my fruit juices and put some dinosaur facts on packaging to make my product more appealing.

While these concepts are obvi tailored to business, lately I’ve been playing around with them a lot in terms of my personal life.  I wrote a five-year vision statement for my life, which, by the way, I recommend to EVERYONE in my age cohort.  Don’t focus on what you think you should have done or what will allow you to be financially solvent.  Think about what your perfect day looks like in five years:  who’s there, where are you, what do you see, what do you smell, what do you get to do, what do you not do etc.  For those who know me, and my hippie/hipster leanings, it should be no surprise that mine involves a barn converted into a mixed-use art space and long walks in the woods :)

I’m going to go off on another tangent now, but I’ll get back to the point eventually, so just be patient.  For quite a while, a coping mechanism of mine has been to be constantly dreaming about the next step in my life.  I don’t think this is particularly unusual, but I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m like, “Hmm….the fact that I spend so much of the present fantasizing about the future is probably not healthy.  I think I’ll eat another Reeses cup.”  (Take the Reese’s consumption as a symbol if you want.  In reality, it’s just something that I think quite often.)  At any rate, I have a habit of surrounding myself with reminders of the next great phase in my life.  Senior year of college, when I really wanted to move to New York City after graduation, the screensaver on my laptop was this ridiculous, but technically beautiful, photograph of Carrie and Big from Sex in the City kissing on top of some skyscraper.  I dream big.  I recently acquired a bunch of vintage National Geographic magazines that I’ve been collaging from like a fool.  A fool who collages.  The old maps, the saturated color photos of things completely different from the gray fucking landscape in Michigan right now, the cheesy old ads…I love everything about them.  So tonight, I find a map of England, and this really cool photo of the Thames.  London is my intended next stop, so instantly I’m all “I’m going to make a new vision board. Yeah!”

I drew a horrific likeness of myself (from the back…faces are hardest to draw…although it’s not as though I was going for realism with my roommate’s crayola markers) wearing a pretty tan trench coat and riding boots, a gratuitously long red scarf wound around my long blond hair.  With hands that look like hockey sticks.  I glued it above the photo of the Thames…you know…it’s like a smartly dressed future me is floating above London, HP style…I’m shaking my head at myself right now.  I drew a giant speech bubble and proceeded to fill it with adjectives of how I envision my London self to be.  Epiphany:  the dream places I continually conjure as my “next step” may be different, but they ALL involve me feeling a certain way about my life.

The whole business planning thing also involves a certain amount of faking it until you make it.  Basically, you follow the vision and figure out how to make it happen, not abandoning the vision because some operational detail seemingly isn’t working out.  How does this relate to the health journey focus of this blog, you ask?  My evolving philosophy is that I could lose all the weight in the world and still be unhappy if I don’t somehow experience the feelings that I am constantly relegating to the future.  So, if I focus on making these feelings a part of my life, then perhaps the healthy part falls into place.  Here’s the deal, at least for today:  I’m going to share the “future me” attributes that I came up with with you, and subsequent posts will focus on ways I am working to cultivate those in my life.  Holy existential crisis, Batman!

So here are adjectives describing future bamf me:

fearless, confident, happy, joyful, faithful, light-hearted, smiling, healthy, amazonian, kind, loved, loving, creating, hopeful, sparkly-eyed, clear, simple, musical, determined, able, enriching others lives, making the world more beautiful than I found it, living by the sea (those last two are courtesy of the children’s book The Lupine Lady…excellent read), excited, in love, complete, courageous, exuding light, open, wise, belonging, growing, planting, inspired, inspiring, forgiving, outside, with the sun on my face, with the wind in my hair, sated, hungry for more, a pillar of light, building life, forward-thinking, learning, flexible, free, dancing, able to detach from the world, feeling more than seeing, believing, writing, painting, helping others, showing the world what true happiness is, never apologizing, loving every single second, feeling that my life is the most wonderful existence.