The Paradox of Body Acceptance

Image of street art reading "Love your fat body"
Photo credit: Green Kozi, via Flickr

Fat acceptance isn’t always about loving your body. It’s not always about standing up and proclaiming that fat is flabulous. Sometimes fat acceptance is just about accepting your body as it is at this moment.

My road to fat acceptance has been a long and winding one. Unlike some of the larger voices in the movement, I’m not a lifelong fattie. I’ve fluctuated up and down in body size since childhood, although I’ve been holding steady at my current size for the last decade or so. My first introduction was back in 1996, when my mother gave me a book called Nothing to Lose: A Guide to Sane Living in a Larger Body, by Cheri Erdman. This was long before the fatosphere — even before the blogosphere — and it was the first time I was exposed to the idea that fat people shouldn’t be ashamed of their bodies. I’d already gone through two large fluctuations in weight at that point: once in the sixth grade, and once again in college. In the sixth grade, my mother took me aside one day and told me that obesity ran in our family, and that I “had to be careful.” I joined the YMCA and began to run every day. I still remember one of the neighborhood kids looking at me incredulously and saying, “You can’t run!” I went ahead and ran anyway. Puberty caught up with me and I grew out of my ugly ducking phase.

Continue reading “The Paradox of Body Acceptance”

What Lokito’s Death Reminded Me About the Gifts of Being Present During Painful Moments

photograph of a cat and a kitten on a suburban lawn
Old man Walter and young pup Loki

I was visiting a good friend in Hartford, CT on a fine spring day in 1998 when a passel of kittens tumbled across her neighbor’s driveway and onto the grass, mewing and scratching and generally working their kitten magic. From that litter I adopted Loki, a tiger/calico mix with kohl-like markings around his eyes. It seemed appropriate to name a kitten after the Norse god of mischief.

He lived up to his name. On Saturday mornings he would skitter over the hardwood floors of my apartment and under my futon, scratching the underside of it and then running away again. Continue reading “What Lokito’s Death Reminded Me About the Gifts of Being Present During Painful Moments”

One Year After the Boston Marathon Bombing

Image of military vehicles in Boston in the aftermath of the 2013 marathon bombing.
Photo credit: Jeff Cutler (Flickr Creative Commons)

Ever since moving to Boston in 1999, I’ve been keenly aware of the ways in which I am separate from the city’s mainstream culture. As a queer woman, as a poet, as a [insert any one of a variety of labels that apply to me], I’m used to feeling different, apart, separate. About this time last year though, an odd thing happened.

In the hours and the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, I began to feel like I was part of a unified whole. That the Boston portrayed in the national press, the Boston of skinny white women sporting Tiffany bracelets in the Back Bay, the Boston of drunken Red Sox fans on the Green Line, the Boston of disaffected immigrants in search of a reason for living — that all of these Bostons — was also the Boston that I know: the Boston of slam poets congregating at the Cantab in Cambridge, the Boston of nerds in black turtlenecks eating sushi and joking about obscure internet memes, the Boston of queers congregating in living rooms and church basements, the Boston of police brutality and entrenched segregation.

Continue reading “One Year After the Boston Marathon Bombing”

National Poetry Month in the Year of the Horse

crocus-yam-2014It’s national poetry month again. My website was briefly down because Gmail did such an amazing job of sorting my email for me, I never got the notices reminding me to renew the domain registration for Gardenofwords.com. That was a killer way to start off national poetry month.

I noticed the outage when I was pitching a website redesign to a poet whom I greatly admire. I’m fortunate to be able to pick and choose my clients in a way I wasn’t always able to in the past. As a result, my very short client roster is full of interesting, creative women. This latest client would probably point out that I am an interesting, creative woman myself, to which I respond “pshaw.” It’s nice to have friends who say complimentary things about you. In the Po-Biz, that’s how you get blurbs for the back of your book.

April has been surprisingly un-cruel in the past couple of days, especially given March, February, January, and December, all of whom I want to roll up into a big ball, flatten with a giant rolling pin, dry in the sun, and then fold into lots of sharp corners and stick up the posterior of  this past winter. It’s very easy to forget that things are exponentially better for me today than they were this time last month, and the month before. Just the other morning I forgot about it while packing my lunch. M. and I got into a lively discussion* about his tactical decision to forgo buying lettuce on Monday night rather than buying me non-organic lettuce which I might not eat. It wasn’t about lettuce, of course. It was about my own severe anxiety at having less than $10 in my checking account the day before I got paid. And the very uncomfortable dynamic that develops when two people fall in love and move in together, and then one of them takes a hefty pay cut.

On the plus side, we worked it out, as we always do. I’m continually amazed at M’s ability to handle situations that have baffled me for most of my life. Emotional intelligence comes in all kinds of packages — some of them former infantrymen. Also on the plus side, I’m steadily plugging back up the hill toward a full-time work schedule. Also also on the plus side, I took a walk yesterday afternoon and TOOK OFF MY COAT. And didn’t put it back on once. Which just goes to show you anything is possible.

Spring is late this year, but it’s here. The hills are still grey and brown with bare trees, but the moss has turned bright green and the grass won’t be far behind. Snowdrops have been out for weeks now, lingering in the cool spring air. Crocuses are here, and may even be gone in another week. The daffodils in my back garden have been poking their little green heads up. Ralph chases the squirrels until well past 6:00 pm.

Poetry-wise, I’m doing less and more than I’ve done in years past. Whereas in past years I’ve adhered to a strict regimen of a poem-a-day, I find myself moving more fluidly now. I’m making inroads into new techniques for revision, attempts to cut away the dross and find surprising turns of phrase. A sort of Orb-style remix, but with random poems instead of sound clips.

The bout of illness and the 40th anniversary of my birth made me stop and think about what I’m doing with my life, and if it’s what I want to be doing, and what I can do about all that. When I’m very ill, I will often decide that This One Big Change is what will fix all of my problems. Past experience has taught me that it usually just creates more instability and makes it harder to get back to a baseline. A cursory search of the Intartubes (“year of the horse” plus “horoscope” plus “2014” plus “water ox”) gives me highly scientific** evidence that this is not the year for me to make any sudden changes. In the Year of the Horse, things gallop along. You might find yourself miles from where you started, only to discover you’ve gotten on the wrong horse. For a person born in the year of the water ox (1973), it’s not a good year to be moving and changing. But it is a good year to send out hidden feelers under the earth, gathering information through the mycelium that binds us all together.

The seed inside unfurls with the longer days, reaching toward the light. I watch it, worry, pray it won’t be killed in an early frost. April is cruel in a different way every year. I am curious to know its cruelty this year, in the year of the horse. Maybe there will be a kindness to its cruelty, as I slog and toil and trudge into something warmer, something sunny, something else.

 

*which our neighbor could hear through the walls, no doubt

** and by “scientific,” I mean the opposite, of course

Cranky List / Gratitude List

Things that make me cranky:

  • waking up feeling worse than when I went to bed
  • trading one set of medication side effects for another
  • feeling my body getting heavier and older
  • expecting to be able to exercise the way I used to when I was 25 and at the peak of training
  • days when the only thing I seem fit to do is putter around the house and take in a matinee
  • Boston’s schizophrenic spring weather
  • focusing on my own needs and the ways they’re not being met
  • getting away from support systems that help me feel connected
  • pollyanna-ish spiritual literature that tells me to just focus on the positive! and everything will be fine!
  • focusing on the things that make me cranky, especially when they’re things I can’t control

Things that make me happy:

  • posting cranky status updates on Facebook (and the one or two people who say they can identify)
  • comparing the treatments available today to what people used to endure 50-60 years ago
  • considering advances in genetic research that may make it easier for doctors to pinpoint which kinds of medication will be most effective for individuals with my illness
  • friends and mentors who can say the sorts of things that snap me out of negative thinking and help me focus on what will work
  • reconnecting with support systems that remind me I am part of beloved community
  • focusing on how I can be of service instead of on what I can get — or what I think I SHOULD be getting
  • remembering that work is a wonderful opportunity to be of service
  • making moderate progress while conserving energy — sometimes this is better than exhausting myself by FIXING ALL THE THINGS
  • identifying small, achievable tasks toward a larger goal — and checking them off a task list
  • putting stickers next to completed items on my task lists
  • remembering that all things pass — even the line in the Post Office on a Saturday afternoon
  • moderate exercise
  • intense exercise (in moderation)
  • dancing at weddings
  • professional massages
  • hot tubs and steam rooms
  • inexpensive (and free) self-care, like a spa day at home
  • vanilla-scented bubble bath
  • taking myself on an artist date
  • reading 101 artist date ideas
  • the unwinding feeling that comes with relaxation — in all kinds of ways, expected and unexpected. Sometimes in meditation, sometimes when I’m laying in a big bed all by myself, sometimes when I’m in a field of grass in warm weather, sometimes when I’m sitting with a cup of tea and looking at the trees as the sky fades from blue to darker blue.
  • the first time in 2014 that I smell rain on unfrozen soil

Things That Make Me Happy

  1. Tiny dog wiggling in the back window of a car
  2. Going to the gym for the first time in months
  3. A cashmere scarf against my neck on a cold day
  4. 5:00 PM and the sun still high in the sky
  5. My family — all three of us — in the same place for the first time in years
  6. A house full of guests
  7. An empty house, tidied by my mother before she left
  8. The time to sit in silence with a cup of tea, looking out the window

Tiny Update, March Edition (In Thirteen Easy Steps)

  1. The first session of writing group wrapped up successfully back in December. Folks were excited about starting again in late February.
  2. My health took a turn for the worse just before Christmas. As a result, the writing group will not reconvene until this summer at the earliest.
  3. My 40th birthday turned out quite differently than I planned it.
  4. That may have been for the best.
  5. I started writing a post all about living with a chronic illness back in February but put it away until I could complete it without crying.
  6. Two months is the longest I’ve ever been out of work on medical disability.
  7. While self-employed I spent many moons desperately ill, but without the luxury of disability insurance.
  8. I returned to work the day before Valentine’s Day — in a snow storm.
  9. Ben Gibbard was right. The gift of memory’s an awful curse. In my case, because I remember being younger, stronger, faster, better. Oh wait, now I’m quoting Daft Punk.
  10. The only way out is through.
  11. In addition to the indignities and frustrations of diminished capacity, I find myself in serious financial straits as a result of prolonged illness and the reduced income it brings.
  12. In spite of all these difficulties, I continue to have flashes of gratitude and humble acceptance.
  13. I look forward to being able to stride across a hillside without danger of slipping on the ice. Some day, the snow will melt. Until then, I have a sturdy walking stick and snow shoes.

Snow Days

To break a new path through the wordless white
To be alive, heart pumping in the season of death
To be outside and free when others cower indoors
To see and feel and hear and smell what cannot be captured by a camera
The gifts of winter are like the gifts of madness: solitary, irreplaceable, precious in their rarity.

20140205-114757.jpg

20140205-114806.jpg

20140205-114841.jpg

20140205-114854.jpg

20140205-114914.jpg

20140205-114929.jpg

20140205-114940.jpg

20140205-114954.jpg

20140205-115006.jpg

20140205-115019.jpg

November: National Guilt Month

Fallen leaves against grass and asphalt
The colors of November always surprise me — fading glory, but still glorious.

November is many things: my least favorite month of the year, one long sugar hangover between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the void into which the long evenings of autumn light become the sudden dusk of winter nights. It’s Movember, when men, women, and cars sprout moustaches to remind us that men should have shower cards too. It’s National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for those of us too hip to pronounce entire words). It’s Grateful November. In 2010, it was my own NaPoWriMo for about four days.

All of these 30-day, month-long commitments, all of these mutually supported do-good movements are great. They’re wonderful. They’re a sign of the in-gathering that is winter in the northern hemisphere: after the expansive summer and the exhausting harvest, the drawing together of the tribe around the fire to tell stories and… tweet about how many words they’ve written.

And for a perfectionist like me, they can also be a huge set-up for over-commitment and failure. Historically, November has been the worst month for me to do just about anything but plod along and show up day by day. The body knows this very well, but the mind forgets on a regular basis.

So this November, I resolve to do everything imperfectly. I will get my ass out of bed on a daily basis — imperfectly. I will express gratitude imperfectly, sometimes with mere gestures and sometimes with more sincerity. I will write haiku and journal imperfectly. I will update this blog imperfectly–perhaps weekly, perhaps less. I will join in the Dverse Poets community when it’s reasonable for me to do so, not each and every week, no matter how many times my calendar reminds me to.

I will conduct the next two sessions of my writing workshop imperfectly, doing my best to inspire and be inspired, enjoying the unfolding relationships developing among us all– and feeling lucky to be teaching writing, something so near and so dear and so close to my heart.

Imperfectly, I will accept the blessings and the gifts each day has to give me. And I will forgive myself for my own imperfections, give myself as many breaks and second chances as I need, and relax about whether I’m doing my imperfect November as imperfectly as I would like.