Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Can't Believe It's a ...........

Let’s talk about girdles. If I can’t breathe and walk at the same time, I’m not wearing them. I don’t care how great they’re supposed to make me look. Of course now, collectively, they’re called shapewear and cover far more than just the tush and tummy. They problem solve for those troublesome areas. In my mother’s day, however, they were white and rubber and only existed to help you suck it in, to work toward creating that hourglass figure, and, had they covered the entire body, might have come in handy for staying warm in deep waters. They were ugly contraptions that were even uglier getting on and off. And should the effort result in the desired payoff, looks and admiration and possibly just a bit more, well, a hilarious bedroom scene from Bridget Jones comes to mind.

That is sexy?! I’ll tell you what sexy is. Sexy is a nice fitting pair of jeans and a little white scoop neck tee, maybe a peek of cleavage. And speaking of jeans, when a woman stands in front of you and asks if these jeans make her butt look big, she does it for one of two reasons. Reason number one is that she knows they make her butt look gigantic, but she can’t pull out her go-to pair of fat jeans because, well, these are her fat jeans and if she could just get a confirmation, even a fake one, that the rear view is not totally and completely hideous, then, yes, the pants are acceptable to wear in public, just this once. Reason number two is that she knows the jeans look great on her, absolutely great, but a woman can never receive too many compliments, especially one that involves an enthusiastic “Whoa! Nice ass” from the one she loves along with that look from her partner that says without any words at all you and me, baby, right here, right now.

Four years ago I dropped forty pounds. I celebrated by throwing out my tummy tucker. I no longer needed help looking not lumpy in a dress. Tossing that panty girdle into the trash was one of the greatest statements of independence I have ever made. I was loose. I was free. I was shouting to the world that I was totally fine just as I was. It felt a bit risqué, at first, sporting only my black lacy cheekies under my J. Jill skirt. Then I realized that that was just as it should have been all along.

I wonder, though, how a girdle is any different than my white eyelet push-up? They both aim to squish stuff into places where one wishes it to be squished in order to maximize looks and desire from those one looks to have desiring. The girdle can go, but the push-up stays. Who comes up with these ideas anyway? Who gets to decide what’s hot and what’s not? Who gets to write the definition for physical beauty? Nobody even knows that answer. I recently asked a group of friends what physical beauty looks like in a woman. Apparently, women don’t know, and men are afraid to say. I think that’s why we girls spend so much time shoving body parts into clothing that’s meant to shape and contour and make us look all pretty, but really just constricts us to the point that we can’t wait to strip it off and inhale, or exhale, or both.

I know I should be writing about worldly issues, about complex stuff, deep stuff, stuff that challenges your mind and makes you want to take action and affect some sort of positive change but, sometimes, all I can think of is girdles and how they’re uncomfortable as hell and who even invented them anyway. Sometimes, I just want to say, to quote our hippie ancestors, that we should each just let it all hang out, that we should love each other just as we are and that we should appreciate the human form in the package that it came instead of the one we created for it. Sometimes I just want to say that wearing a wet suit around your middle all day is never a good idea, under any circumstance, no matter how lacy or prettied up it is. Sometimes I want to say all this, sometimes, but then I consider that white eyelet push-up, and I think maybe I should stick to writing on worldly issues should somebody happen to call me on that one.

Friday, July 29, 2011

HOPE

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. ........... Helen Keller



I have a Hope rock sitting beside my computer. It’s a rock, and it has the word Hope carved into one side in both English and Chinese. That’s it. I paid seven bucks for a rock, a gray one. I bought it in Chinatown in San Francisco when I was on vacation with my family. I bought it because it called to me, because I would like to believe, that, yes, there is Hope, always, and because sometimes I need a reminder of that. I heard someone say to his friend as I was passing in the hallway, “I’ve given up on the idea of world peace. I don’t think we will ever all live together in a world where everyone gets along, where we’re friends and we think of each other and put each others’ needs right up there with our own.” I wanted to stop myself mid-stride, plant my hands on my hips and give this young man a talking to the likes of which he would never forget. Sadly, though, a tiny part of me agreed with him. I thought of my Hope rock. I thought maybe it was a waste of seven bucks.

It’s interesting to me that when I write an essay, as I recently did, on breasts, I get more reads than when I write an essay on world hunger or compassion or global warming. We as readers, it would seem, would rather enjoy a nice piece on big bazoongas than one which suggests ways we might contribute to ending poverty or fostering health and well-being in our children. We don’t want to read about boys and girls around the world, let alone boys and girls who may be dying from starvation, but—oh, yeah, baby!!--bring on those button-popping blouses! I find that strange, and disturbing.

People ask me sometimes why I am vegan. I tell them first the simple answer, the one to which I think they can most relate. I tell them that seventy percent of Americans die of some type of chronic disease, the majority of which can be prevented through following a plant-based diet. Maybe they have first-hand experience with diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Maybe they have a relative or friend on insulin or blood pressure medicine. Very likely, they know multiple people with multiple chronic disease issues. I tell them that I don’t care how long I live, but that I want to be able to participate in my life, to participate to the fullest. I tell them for me life is a matter of quality over quantity. I tell them that I don’t want to end my life with a tackle box full of prescription meds. I tell them that maybe a vegan diet won’t cure all, but it will cure some. And for me, that is enough. “Oh,” they say. “I see.” I don’t always believe they do.

What I really want to tell them is that by going vegan I feel that I am doing my little bit in the war against world hunger. I want to tell them that using grain for meat production is such an inefficient way to feed people. I want to educate a bit on CAFO’s, concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms), and on egg and dairy farming practices. I want to tell these questioners of mine that we have plenty of food, that we could feed so many of us if we just used the grains we give to animals-- animals that normally in nature just eat grass and such anyway--to feed people instead. I want to tell them that death by starvation doesn’t have to happen, that maybe we could consider plant-based eating a viable way to end world hunger. I want to tell them that they are contributing to so many deaths by snarfing down that cheeseburger and frying up that bacon. I want to tell them. I want to, but they wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t care because the majority of them couldn’t relate. Most of them have never been hungry, have never gone without even a single meal. Most likely they would ponder the enormity of an issue like world hunger and shrug their shoulders in a what-could-I-do-about-it-anyway-I-am-only-one kind of way. So, no, I don’t tell them this. I don’t tell them the starving children thing.

I look at my Hope rock and think maybe, maybe there is Hope and I just don’t see it. Maybe readers care more than I think. Maybe they just don’t have the necessary information to make informed choices. We have been fed such crap (pun very much intended) by organizations we believe are set up to protect us, but really exist to protect and promote their own best interests. We have been taught that our bodies NEED milk and meat and eggs and cheese. We have been taught that these things are good for us. Menopausal women down glasses and glasses of two percent and skim in the hopes of maintaining good bone health, and yet, studies have shown that countries which consume milk have higher rates of osteoporosis than countries that do not. In addition, that milk that we are encouraged to “Got” contributes to allergies and asthma and mucus formation and bloating and gas. We are the only species that drinks the milk of another and the only that drinks milk past infancy. And what about meat? Where, if not from meat, would we get our protein? To borrow a line from a nurse friend of mine, I have seen more individuals in hospital beds due to complications related to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than from protein deficiency. I have seen more individuals die from one of these complications than from failing to eat a sufficient amount of chicken or beef or shrimp. Individuals on the standard American diet, anyway, generally get twice as much protein as they need. And all foods, as it turns out, save for oils, contain some amount of protein. I think we’re good on protein. Education, indeed, is an excellent tool, but it’s always a good idea to do a bit of fact checking. I remember the day a high school teacher told me that not everything I read in a book is true. Blasphemy, I thought!! But, in the end, it was true.

What if all the world went vegan for a day?

Would we all turn pale and sickly? Would we suffer protein deficiency en masse? What would we eat? Would the hospitals be filled? Would we wither and die?

Let’s pretend for a minute that we all did go vegan for a day. What then? What would that look like? How would we feel? I have been vegetarian for seven years, vegan for the past four. I felt great when I made the switch from a meat-eating diet to one that dropped the chicken, beef, and fish. I felt good. But when I made the decision to go vegan, to drop the eggs and dairy, I cannot explain to you the changes that occurred. I felt wonderful, not just good. My skin was clearer. My hair was healthier. I rarely got sick. I felt, for lack of a better term, cleaner. I had energy enough for everyone in my family. I am middle-aged, for Pete’s sake, and I feel better than I did when I was thirty. One friend who has known me forever but only recently discovered my plant-based ways said to me one day, “I never would have guessed that you’re vegan. You’re so, so…..” “So, what?,” I asked. “Healthy?” “No,” she said, “so colorful.” I had never been called colorful before. It was sort of nice. I felt proud to break her “pale and frail” stereotype of us vegans.

I once told my militant lacto-ovo niece very matter-of-factly that I could never go vegetarian, that I could never give up meat. I think now that I could never go back. I could never go back to my carnivorous ways for more reasons than would first appear. Sure, following a plant-based diet is the kind thing to do as far as the animals are concerned. And, yes, vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancers than do their meat-eating counterparts (and, hey, vegans have even lower rates of all these than do their lacto-ovo cousins), but by leaving out meat, I feel that I am doing my tiny part to help end world hunger. I can no longer continue to eat knowing that I am taking from others, that I am contributing to death, both in animals and in children. I can no longer put dead things into my body in the name of celebrating or socializing or simply satisfying an urge. I can’t in good conscience sit down to a nice grilled Angus, or even a barbecued chicken breast, knowing that somewhere in the world, because I feel entitled to more resources, perhaps, someone will go without. I just can’t do that. I think of my words to my niece, and I think of my current diet, and I think that maybe, maybe I do have Hope.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dear Diary

I’ve lived half my life in my head. Sometimes it’s tough to find that line between reality and mind’s creation. Sometimes things happen in the head, good things and not so good things that never come to fruition, that stay forever in my brain. I’ve carried out entire conversations that never existed, played out scenarios that happened only in my thoughts, accomplished things I would be incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing had I actually accomplished them. I’ve fostered the development of positive relationships and talked myself out of situations I probably should have talked myself into. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what’s real and what’s not. Sometimes the feelings are just the same. Some people hardly live in reality at all. Their reality is ugly. Pretend is so much prettier and hurts so much less. For me, the mind is more like a parallel universe, one complete life that I live in my dream world while this other life is going on right out in front of everybody.

A writer learns early on that the empty page is a best friend. That giant blank white space will listen to anything you have to say, without judgment, without interruption, without question, without any attempt at fixing the problem. It just sits there while you pour out what’s inside your head--better than therapy and much, much cheaper. The problem is this. On occasion that blank page will betray the writer. It will take the words the writer has so carefully and painstakingly laid out and share them with others. It will be that friend who promises to keep the secret and then, without regard, passes on the news as if it is front page headlines.

That’s why I keep a secret journal in my head.

It’s sort of like that one I got from my aunt on that birthday I turned twelve. It has lovely purple flowers on the cover and a tiny gold key. I don’t use it this time as a diary, however, but simply as a pretty little spot to keep private thoughts, both happy thoughts and sad thoughts, because I do have both of these, you know, in forms that I cannot share. And I’m a very good hider, so no one will find this diary of mine, ever.

And that would be problem number two. I have never been a good secret keeper myself. I want to run grab that diary of mine sometimes from between the folds of my good-hider brain and share with someone. I want to throw that key on the table and say, “But look!! What do you think about this?!” I want hugs and words of wisdom and sympathy and consoling and a shoulder to cry on for as long as I need to cry. Or, again, depending on the material, I want the reader to celebrate with me the possibilities that I have spilled onto this paper of mine. I want words of encouragement and praise. I want the reader to jump with much excitement and to say, “Yes! I see it!! I so can see it!” I want to feel that smile on the outside that to now has existed only in my heart.

This very moment I have a dilemma. I want to run grab that journal right now as I’m typing. I have thoughts in my secret journal that I want to show you, not happy thoughts this time, but the other kind. I want to sit my journal in front of you and let you look at that page. I want to hear what you think, to hear your guidance and suggestions. I want to cry a bit, not much this time, but just a bit. I want you to put your arms around me. And, then, I want you to tell me that it will all be ok, that I am ok, and that life is not so bad as I have written.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hello There, Sunshine!

He was black and stout with an irresistible personality. He strolled right up to me and introduced himself, suggested we step outside for a walk and a bit of fresh air. I was wowed by his charm, his charisma, his silly little quirks. My heart melted. Yes, I thought, there is such a thing as love at first sight.

This was my first day to volunteer at this particular animal shelter, at any animal shelter, and the poodle mix tagged Marcus made my job easy. He was a joy to spend time with, thanked me profusely with love and kisses, and had a long line of volunteers waiting their turn for his affection.

Then I saw Tess and Toodles, not exactly the adorable little lap dogs you would associate with such names. They shared a cage. They were friends. Possibly the only friend the other had. They were Chihuahuas, not an especially cute breed, and on the pudgy side at that, a medium tan with bulging eyes, dogs that only a mother could love if, in fact, they had a mother. I approached the kennel slowly and with a soothing voice. They cowered, were not excited to see me, wished, at least I thought, that I would go away. I did not approach them directly. I simply sat in their space. I told them how beautiful they were and how glad I was to be able to visit them. Tess allowed me to sit her in my lap, though she wasn’t exactly sure what to do once she got there. She was stiff and uncertain, not used to such praise and attention. Toodles would have no part of such and was content with simple conversation while hovering in my general vicinity. They had never known love, had come from a home where such did not exist. They had never heard the keys jingle, the knob turn, and then a big warm “Hey girls!! Mommy’s home!” They had never been slipped that last bit of cookie or ice cream or other assorted treaties. They had never sat all comfy like in a cozy lap watching back seasons of last year’s hit drama.

I wondered if this is how it is with people.

I am sitting on my front porch working at an essay and the neighbor girl pops over. She is four, with a mess of blond hair and the sun on her face and shoulders. She wears giant green rain boots, purple flowered underpants, and a red floppy hat. She asks if she can pet my dog. Of course, I say, he would love that, and good job for asking first. She tells me about her little brother. She tells me about her grandma. She asks me what I’m doing and what exactly is an essay. I tell her it’s a story and that maybe she would be in it, I’m not sure just yet, and then we talk about some of the stories she likes. She asks if she can run through my sprinkler. I say yes because, after all, she is dressed for the occasion. My heart is filled. It is difficult not to smile. It is difficult not to love this angel in the green galoshes.

Thinking of this miniature ray of sunshine in the red floppy hat, I am reminded of another time in my life.

I am in college and working to pay tuition. I am working as an occupational therapist’s aide for at-risk preschoolers. These children are developmentally behind and from environments that are less than supportive to their physical, mental, and emotional needs. They show up on Friday in the same clothes they wear on Monday. And Tuesday and Wednesday. And Thursday. They reek of cigarette smoke and body odor. And urine. Lori, the occupational therapist, and I say that we are working on motor development, both gross and fine, but really we are playing with Play-Doh and finger paints and bubbles and aqua blue wading pools filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts or sand or water. Or Jello.

At first I’m not sure. The children stink. I can’t be near them. I throw up a little when no one is looking.

They don’t talk about princesses or ponies or superheroes or action figures or other five-year-old stuff. They don’t talk about their grandmas or their brothers or their giant green galoshes. Mostly they just don’t talk.

But, Courtney, the little girl with Down’s Syndrome, smiles. She smiles all the time. Love is in her heart. Always. It is infectious, her smile. It is difficult not to smile back. And Terrell can make the best cow sounds I have ever heard, a trick he is very proud of and rightly so. Granted, he does it with his eyes closed in a creepy sort of way and with the full belief that he is a cow, but, nonetheIess, is the best imitator I have ever heard. If you’re quiet with Jonathon and don’t approach him, but, sort of like with Tess and Toodles let him come to you, it’s amazing how much he shares, always something new, some undiscovered bit of unbelievable information on what happens at home with Mom and Grandpa and Mom’s new boyfriend. Then we all come together to form our own disjointed circle and to play Hokey Pokey, to put our various body parts in, or not, and to turn ourselves around, or maybe, ok, not. And then, either Lori or I will need to leave the circle to chase down Jermaine. It is always quite a chase as he is speedy and sneaky and not at all interested in reason or bribes.

I begin to love these children.

I go home and shower because I reek of cigarette smoke and body odor. And urine. I realize that I am just like the children, only I am bigger and not as great at making cow sounds. I, too, smile and stomp bubbles and string macaroni necklaces and share just a bit when I feel most comfortable with someone and when I think they aren’t listening too hard. And sometimes, like Jermaine, I want to run away even if everybody else is laughing and dancing and putting their left foot in. Sometimes I am just not in my happy place and would like to go off and be alone. Sometimes, secretly, I cheer Jermaine on, wishing him a good hiding spot and a bit of private time, a bit of time to be in his place. And though I shower and wash all of that wretched stink down the drain at the end of each day, I don’t clean it all. I never can if I try wash off the feel of Jonathon’s trusting cheek on my arm. I can never erase Terrell’s incredible sense of pride out of my brain. And I can never, even if I try, rid my insides of Courtney’s indelible smile.

I realize now as I sit typing that sunshine is sometimes difficult to spot. It is not always dressed in floppy hat and galoshes, asking to jump in your sprinklers. Sometimes it is obstructed by a dark depressing cloud. Sometimes it sits in its own pee and cowers in the corner. And yet, it creeps into your heart and warms you just the same.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Know I Am, But What Are You?

I’d follow my passion if only I knew what that passion was. I hear people say this. Some people say follow your bliss, follow your passion. They say it in a wispy, romantic sort of way as if they are speaking for angels. Then others look at them and respond with how do I find that passion, how do I know that bliss? Then the follow-your-bliss people say look for it, wait for it, you will just know, again in that breathless tone that makes one believe. Others, who aren’t speaking for angels, sometimes suggest a series of career, interest, or strengths assessments. They’re not as fun to listen to, but just as clever. Your passion, it turns out, is that thing you can’t imagine not doing, that thing you do even when you’re not being paid to do it, that thing that energizes you and, in turn, energizes those around you. I’m thinking that would be a good thing to follow.

Well, I feel as if I am cheating a bit, but still am not without dilemma of my own. You see, I know my passion. Granted, it took forty-eight years to find it. And, yes, the angel speakers were right--I just felt it, I just knew (insert breathless romantic tone). The problem in the beginning was that I was trying too hard to look for it. I was using my head. Passion (who would have known) is born of the gut, born of the heart. My head told me that one’s bliss must have a title---teacher, engineer, physician, writer. My head told me that a passion led to money and position and status. My head mostly has good ideas, but it’s bossy and not very good at listening. So, when my head backed off and let my heart speak, my passion jumped right out at me. So, yes, I know my passion. What I don’t know is how to follow it.

Seems I am not interested so much in teaching or writing in the broad sense of either term as my head once believed. I would do either every day, and have done both for my entire life, but not for the content, for the……well, we can talk about that later. There aren’t many places I haven’t gone with my words. I have taught nursing mothers proper latch-on techniques in the hopes of avoiding sore nipples in them and failure to thrive in their babies. I have taught them the concept of supply and demand as it relates to breastfeeding, the benefits of colostrum, and the tricks to relieving engorgement. I have taught third-graders how to be a good friend, how to make a killer sit-upon, and how to sell Thin Mints like there’s no tomorrow. I have taught middle-aged women how to run their own businesses, how to focus on what they do well and how to improve customer satisfaction. I have taught four-year-olds where to look for Jesus, or maybe those four-year-olds taught me.

I’ve written in journals, in diaries, in newsletters, in promotional literature, and eventually, in magazines. I’ve created, written, and had published recipes for muffins and breads and chili and brownies and Italian Vegetable Soup. I’ve provided bullet points, how-tos, and tips on enriching your vegetarian life, transitioning to a vegetarian life, and being okay with your vegetarian life. I’ve suggested ten things to do with a bean. I have encouraged new mothers to find their own voice and to trust their instincts. I’ve waxed philosophical on the trials of parenting, helped wannabe organizers clear the clutter from their pantries, and told fledgling parents what exactly they could do with that cloth diaper. I will write until I die.

But here’s the thing. I’ve found that I don’t really care about Freud or Piaget or tempeh or tofu or which shade of lipstick to wear if you’re fair. It’s not for assigning students a grade or getting Erikson into their heads that I stand up and lecture. Likewise, I could give a shit if women ever change their eye colors according to the seasons. Two colors forever are all you really need. And those Girl Scouts? How many of them will ever really tie that kind of knot again?

But I thought this was my passion? If not writing and teaching, then what?

Seems what I truly enjoy is not imparting specific knowledge, but empowering, instilling the belief in oneself, the information and the motivation to make a desired change, to get from eh-yeah-it’s-alright point A to this-is-unbelievably-freaking-great point B. Turns out, I live to transition. Who knew! I love to help others move to a more positive place in their lives, whatever that place may be. I’m like a cheerleader only without the tiny little skirts and pom poms. If I have done nothing else with my day but move, motivate, encourage, inspire, I’m good. So where’s the job for that? I can’t find that in the classifieds.

I say to those angel-speakers I would follow my passion, you wise guys, if only I knew how. Does it count if I don’t get paid? Is there a single job that fulfills my passion-following requirements? And what in God’s name would that be? Could I do it while I’m just walking down the street or does it have to be dressed up in suit and tie? What does that even mean, Empowering Others, and why did I get such a difficult passion? Couldn’t I just have been assigned Creating Works of Pottery? And here I thought the finding of the bliss was the tough part.

It took me forty-eight years to find my passion. I’m hoping it doesn’t take another forty-eight to figure out what to do with it. I’m thinking, though, that if one’s passion is that which one cannot not do my gut and my heart have already addressed this dilemma. My head just needs to be quiet for a second and give them their turns to speak.