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Guest Posts, Self Care

Taking Up Space

June 3, 2021
space

by Heidi Barr

Morning means coffee in my house.  I get up, feed the cats who are meowing incessantly, and turn on the drip.  Sometimes I take a tiny sip of water to swallow a vitamin, but that’s it.  Coffee is the very first part of my routine, and it has been for more than a decade. I don’t remember why I started drinking it. I wonder sometimes if I even like coffee.

Identifying what we really want can be hard. It is for me, anyway. Can you be bad at desire? Sometimes I think I am.  l like to blend in, to be in the background, to help out on support staff.  Expressing how I feel and what I want is not my default. I’m not wired to think about what my body craves. It feels easier to stick with the routine, even if it doesn’t always feel quite right.

In my work over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of people who want to lose weight. I’ve wanted to lose weight, too, sometimes, over those years.  Whether the goal is to lose 5 or 75 pounds, it’s a desire for change manifesting in a yearning for edges to surround a smaller space.  It’s a desire for something different than what is.

I want to feel good in my clothes.
I want more confidence.
I want to feel safe.
I want to be more energetic.
I want to feel like I matter.
I want to keep up with my kids, my job, my life.
I want to feel loved.

We humans are sensual beings, and sensuality is tied to the physical.  The body is our gateway to experiencing life and all the pleasures and pains that come with it.  Sensuality is an agreement we make with ourselves, one that defines how we take up space in the world. We have to take up all of the space that we are meant to take up. No more, no less.  Sometimes it is scary.  Sometimes it is exhilarating. Sometimes it is hard to discern what space is ours.

When I was a high school gymnast, the team didn’t have a dedicated practice area. There was a balance beam set up in the empty space at one end of the gymnasium, along with a shorter practice beam, and a few mats stacked on top of each other. Another full size beam with a crash mat underneath filled the rest of the area. To the right of all of this was the netting we set up right after school ended every day— it was also boys basketball season, and they had practice at the same time. This netting was supposed to keep us safe.

Before starting apparatus practice, we warmed up by jogging around the perimeter of the basketball court, the whole team in various hues of leotards and spandex shorts with the waists rolled down.  No one wore T-shirts, even though some of us wanted to. We stretched, did some more warm up drills, and broke into groups; one group went to bars on the far side of the gym, and the other to beam.  I climbed onto the four inch surface and tried to concentrate on my handstand instead of the sound of basketballs bouncing. Instead of the appraising gaze that came from the court now and then. Part of me wished I had a T-shirt on. Part of me wanted to be seen.

In high school and early college, smallness was good. To excel in gymnastics (and long distance running, which I also did), a small body is an asset. So is strength, which I also wanted, but in those days, I wanted the smallness just as much.  Probably more. The uniforms for both sports are tiny and tight. I didn’t want to take up too much space, and I wanted to feel worthy of the space that I did fill.  There was something unnerving about being seen, even when I wanted it. Most of the time I didn’t really know what I wanted.

***

One summer, well before my morning coffee ritual was established but after graduating from high school and college, I worked at a wilderness camp high in the northern Colorado Rockies. Mid-May at nine thousand feet meant there was still plenty of snow on the trails. That year the snow pack held firm above the tree line for weeks after I arrived. Five of us packed some backpacks, grabbed some trekking poles, and set off, glad to be moving and gaining elevation. Crossing snowfield after snowfield, we picked our way higher and higher until we reached Emmaline lake, an alpine oasis nestled at the base of what’s known as the Mummy to the locals. It took a few falls through high drifts and some scratches to arms and legs as we inched along a rocky ledge, but finally we made it to the water’s edge. The lake was perfectly calm and still iced-over in spots.  We walked along the boulder-strewn perimeter, up to a smaller lake that was just off the trail proper. This one was shimmering open water. We sat down to eat lunch and bask in the sun.

After lunch, one of my hiking companions, Katie, stood up. She nonchalantly stripped off her hiking clothes and dipped a toe into the crystal clear, ice cold water.  “What is she doing?” I urgently whispered to Jenn, looking sideways at the two guys who’d come along as well to see if they were paying attention. Katie gave us a coy look over her shoulder, and dove in.

Ever since I’d quit my job as a personal trainer to come work in the mountains, exercise wasn’t something I felt much like doing. I didn’t feel in shape. After a midwestern winter, I felt pale and doughy.

“AAAHHH!” A shirt flew to my right, and Ahmed went in with a yell.  So did Mark.

Skinny dipping—that wasn’t really something I could do, was it? Other people would see me. I felt safe with this group of people, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take up that kind of space. There was actual ice and snow within throwing distance. Wouldn’t everyone just be uncomfortable?

I wondered what it would be like to have some of Katie’s confidence.

Jenn and I, still fully clothed at the water’s edge, exchanged wary glances.  I held my breath as we stripped as quickly as possible without making eye contact.

When I ran into that frigid water, I felt my body waking up as the contrast between the water and the powerful Colorado sun made me gasp in exhilarated alarm.  Later, drying off on the rocks in the warm midday sun, I took up all the space I needed.  I thought to myself that the world may well be created by words and stories, but another part of it is created by gasps.

That afternoon at Emmaline lake, my body wanted to be immersed in cold water and then gradually dried off on warm rocks in the sun, even though my mind wasn’t so sure. I’m glad I gave in to what my body wanted even though it felt hard to do. Jumping into that cold alpine water, feeling the tingling, and enjoying the decadent warmth on the rocks afterwards was an act of ingesting beauty, of becoming the mountain, of becoming myself a little bit more.

Ahmed, always with his camera equipment, snapped a black and white photo of our backs as we sat on the rocks after emerging from the water. I still have that photograph, 17 years later, in a frame on the wall next to my desk. It’s a reminder to give in to desire, to take up the space I need to thrive and feel filled up with goodness.

What does my body want? It wants anything that brings refreshment. It wants strength, and confidence. It wants passion, but it also wants to feel relaxed and supple. It wants to be safe, filled up with nourishment. It wants to be standing in front of the wood stove, warmth seeping deep into bones.  It wants my husband’s hands at the small of my back. It wants to slip into ice cold water on a sun-drenched day high in the mountains. It wants the sensation that comes from a brush being run through my hair by my eight year old daughter. My body wants to exist in partnership with other bodies. It wants to be autonomous. It wants what it wants, and those wants shift. It doesn’t want to apologize for any of these things.

My body wants water, not coffee, first thing in the morning. Room temperature, not ice cold. From a glass canning jar, running down my throat while watching the sun rise, feeling my cells rehydrating as a new day begins.

Heidi Barr is the author of 12 Tiny Things and four other non-fiction books. She is the editor of the Mindful Kitchen, a wellness column in the Wayfarer Magazine and works as a wellness coach at Noom. A commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet provides the foundation for her work. She lives in Minnesota with her family where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. Learn more at heidibarr.com.

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Megan Galbraith is a writer we keep our eye on, in part because she does amazing work with found objects, and in part because she is fearless in her writing. Her debut memoir-in-essays, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book , is everything we hoped from this creative artist. Born in a charity hospital in Hell’s Kitchen four years before Governor Rockefeller legalized abortion in New York. Galbraith’s birth mother was sent away to The Guild of the Infant Saviour––a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Manhattan––to give birth in secret. On the eve of becoming a mother herself, Galbraith began a search for the truth about her past, which led to a realization of her two identities and three mothers.

This is a remarkable book. The writing is steller, the visual art is effective, and the story of  what it means to be human as an adoptee is important.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon and let us know what you think!

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen and on being human

Guest Posts, Life, Self Care

Mel’s Declassified College Survival Guide

May 15, 2021
tip
by E.E. Sneed
Welcome to Mel’s Declassified College Survival Guide! Here you will learn tips and tricks to
surviving college so you won’t be forced to drop out and be shunned by society.
Tip #1: Beware of the Socratic Junkie Wannabe
Congratulations! You made it out of bed to go to your first class! You see a beautiful man and
you are unsure of what to do. Sit next to that beautiful person. Why? Because he won’t sit next
you. You are a freshman and no one “chooses” to sit next to you. It doesn’t matter how hot you
think you are. You are a wide-eyed newbie thrown into the jungle of savages ready to tear you
apart. Don’t worry, that beautiful person will end up talking to you eventually and you two will
become close until you realize he’s a crazed junkie.
Tip #2: Google Maps is Your Friend
It’s time for the second class and you have no idea where that building is. Luckily for you, two
Danish brothers created Google Maps so you can input your walking destination with ease. Just
make sure your volume is off or else everyone will know you’re using a GPS to get around
campus.
Tip #3: Don’t Be A Sheep
Oh no. The sororities are coming around. Will you become radicalized or join Greek life? A
hipster or a sheep? The benefits to being a hipster is that you won’t succumb to the hive mind
mentality. There are plenty of clubs to join that cater to your interests. If you’re feeling spooky,
you can join the Occult Club or if you wish to expand your horizon on a variety of cultures, you
could join a culture club of a region of your interest. But if you do pick a sorority, for initiation,
will you choose cocaine or dildo?
Tip #4: It’s Okay to Be Unsure
Another important choice has entered and it’s whether to change your major or not. Everyone
usually ends up changing their major once or twice during their time at college and if anyone
puts you down for that, then they can suck a dick!
Tip #5: Image is Everything
You have made it to your sophmore year and you’re feeling pretty solid about college, but you
feel like you need to amp up your look. A cool, fake leather jacket will do the trick along with
dying your hair an unnatural color. A cool, fake leather jacket will give off the aura that you’re
tough and no one can stand in your way, even though you still barely know your way around
campus. Dying your hair will make you a landmark of the college campus, especially if you keep
that color for years. But what is the meaning of hair color?
  • Red: Dye your hair red if you want to say, “I want to acquire a stable job when I leave college, but I also want to be expressive and have a good time while plotting the downfall of my enemies”.
  • Dark Blue: Dye your hair dark blue if you want that superheroine comic book vibe, while also giving off the illusion that it might be black to future employers.
  • Forest Green: Dye your hair forest green if you have hazel eyes so you can look like you’re one with nature and you tried being vegan for a week.
  • Pixie Purple/Pink: Dye your hair purple or pink if you want people to think you’re into cosplay and anime while also being down to buy seven vapes.
  • Pastel: Dye your hair pastel colors if you’re too lazy to keep up with bright dye coloring.
  • Black: Dye your hair black if you’re dead inside and you just want it to fade to
  • brown, showing you’re non-committal.
  • Auburn Orange: Dye your hair auburn if you want to match with your skinny pumpkin spice chai latte (no foam!).
  • BBB (Basic Bitch Blonde): Dye your hair BBB if you get frappuccinos from Starbucks every other day while wearing your favorite pair of UGGS.
Just dye your hair.
Tip #6: Show Off Them Titties
Adding to the rule of image being everything, buy clothes that make your tits look even bigger. Everyone loves big titties.
Tip #7: Remember That Every Stable Man is Taken
Now that you’re a junior, your confidence radiates around the room. Now the cute boys choose to sit next to you… Oh… They all have girlfriends…
Tip #8: Acquire An On Campus Job
Next step is to acquire an on campus job. Sure the pay is shit, but employers will like that you’re taking more initiative to help your campus grow and you will meet friends that will last a lifetime. Also be sure to fall for every twiggy man that gets hired. It makes the job fun.
Tip #9: Don’t Fall For The Man In Love With A Married Woman
People say that academics are the hardest. But it isn’t. It’s everything that goes on in the background. How were you supposed to foresee that your first love will leave you for a married woman? You tried so hard to show that you loved him but he couldn’t do the same. It wasn’t enough. Everyone was better. At one of his parties, the man in the corner knew that, but he couldn’t speak without fear of embarrassing himself. Go talk to him. Maybe he’s worth it.
Tip #10: Life Is Full of Plot Twists
He wasn’t worth it. As per usual, you try everything you can to show your love, but the fear of commitment is too great within the male college population.
Tip #11: He’ll Have The Name of Someone You’ll Love
You can’t fall for someone that has a girlfriend. That’s awful. That will automatically make you a “homewrecker”. Don’t let it tempt you no matter how much he looks at you with great admiration and is there for you no matter what. You’re not the one for him.
Just forget about it.
Tip #12: Meet The Younger Version of Yourself
In this midst of feeling more alone than ever before, you meet him. A man more beautiful than he will ever know. He’s the same Zodiac sign as you and your Chinese Zodiacs say you two are soulmates, though some people say that’s bullshit. The only problem is that you’re a senior and he, the “Young Boi”, is a freshman. 4 years isn’t that big of a deal, but social norms have taught us that it’s only socially acceptable for the male to be older, mostly because the male’s maturity level is stunted until they’re 25. Though, that’s because since the dawn of time men have been coddled.
Tip #13: Every Emotion Is Like A Taste In Your Mouth That Will Give You A Sense of Pleasure, Except For Betrayal, That Has The Taste of The Char On A Piece of Burnt Meat
But as you are a senior, people start to grow and some start to shrink. The people you hold close to you will betray you for their own peace of mind and only those close to you will show their loyalty in your most desperate times. Strap on your heeled Timberlands because the tea is boiling.
Tip #14: Smile When He Speaks
It’s funny how you see people try to come back into your life after so much damage, but you have the barriers made to not get hurt again. You made the “Young Boi” promise that no matter how difficult things get, you both will work through it. The time came where you two got into a discourse and you thought it was all over like before. It was devastating. But when your love tells you, “I promised I wouldn’t leave you.” It brings tears to your eyes.
Tip #15: Embrace The Day Like Night
Answers seems simple, but often times they cause more questions. You believed that you will do anything for your career and you still do. You want it all. But the most important thing you want is him. The “Young Boi” with hazel eyes, a Roman nose, and runs like a lanky Gazelle across the street with his tiny scarf wrapped around his pencil neck. Always ready to make you laugh on your saddest days. You want him to not be in pain anymore. You want him. But he doesn’t want you…
Tip #16: Don’t Rely On Him Too Much
Somehow the man in the corner that was at the parties keeps coming back to you, despite things not working out previously. It seems that men find it thrilling to chase after a woman, rather than cherish her once he has her. I mean, you already broke up with him twice. But at least he’s there for you during all the tough times.
Tip #17: Get That Bread
A key to applying to jobs is to remember that not everyone will meet the requirements. As my uncle, who’s a Vice President of Wells Fargo, would say, it’s their job to teach you the ropes to an entry level job.
Tip #18: Listen to Your French European Friend
Your friends worry that you’re going for the “Young Boi” too hard and that you’re setting yourself for disappointment. They question why you feel so strongly for him and you can’t explain the feeling of the universe pulling you closer to him. You feel like you’re on drugs when you speak to him, despite never even doing such things before. But your French European trusts
in you to make the right choice.
Tip #19: Always Sit Next To Him
He is a freshman and he is timid. You know that feeling, remember? Even if he’s hesitant. You have spent years to be as confident as you are now and now you will show him the ropes. After all, you see yourself in that “Young Boi”. Even when the “Young Boi” makes mistakes, you forgive him because of his exquisite beauty.
Tip #20: Don’t Whine About Other People’s Happiness
It’s that time of year where it’s Valentine’s Day. Of course, the “Young Boi”, as young as he is, complains about how dumb this holiday is. You, having been cheated on right before your eyes on your first Valentine’s Day, are not bitter about this holiday. You say to him, “Let people be happy. Happiness is so futile and only lasts so long. So let them have them be happy. It’s not hurting you”. He ponders it. But not for long.
Tip #21: You Can Not Make Him Love You
You thought if you gave him everything his little heart desired he would. Patience. Comfort. Companionship. But none of it moved him.
Tip #22: Ask Questions
What do you want from me? Why do you run from me? Why aren’t you wondering? When will you know? Why are you scared of me? Why don’t you care for me? He will never know when to come around.
Tip #23: It’s Okay To Fall Apart
Life is full of unexpected events. Maybe you will lose a family member or a friend. Or both. It’s normal to not be 100% all the time. It’s okay to cry. You have people that support you, even if it might be one person. Think of that one person. How much they mean to you and hold them close. The “Young Boi” won’t understand.
Tip #24: You Will Be Okay
Now it’s time to graduate. Perhaps you still feel lost that you still don’t have a job lined up, but at least you’re not taking an extra year to change your entire major to focus on your “rap career”. Once you go up on that stage the “Young Boi” will realize, only in that moment of you walking up to receive your diploma, just how much he’ll miss you.
E.E. Snead (Elle Snead) is the author of The Empress of Fay: Mask of Shadows and is also a writer for the app Tales where you can read her interactive drama, Cupid’s Chokehold. She currently lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Indiana University of PA 2019.

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.

Megan Galbraith is a writer we keep our eye on, in part because she does amazing work with found objects, and in part because she is fearless in her writing. Her debut memoir-in-essays, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book , is everything we hoped for from this creative artist. Born in a charity hospital in Hell’s Kitchen four years before Governor Rockefeller legalized abortion in New York. Galbraith’s birth mother was sent away to The Guild of the Infant Saviour––a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Manhattan––to give birth in secret. On the eve of becoming a mother herself, Galbraith began a search for the truth about her past, which led to a realization of her two identities and three mothers.

This is a remarkable book. The writing is steller, the visual art is effective, and the story itself is important.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon and let us know what you think!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Self Care, Self Image

Resistant as F*ck, part 2

January 14, 2021
body

This is part two of a two part essay.  Read the first installment here.

By Melody Greenfield

Drew agrees to come back later in the week. In preparation for his arrival, I light some candles, curl my hair in loose, sexy waves, and down the requisite two glasses of wine, just like I’d done at the bar. Just like always. I’m uptight by nature, and a bit of vino helps me to relax the way that, years later, yoga nidra meditation will.

Greeting Drew at the door, I feel confident and uninhibited. I go to give him a long kiss, then lift up his shirt and run my hands against his strong, warm abdomen. He tenses up instantly.

“I don’t usually do things like this—sex on the first date,” he confesses in his smooth, sexy voice as he takes a seat in the overstuffed chair. “And now, I don’t know if we’re good together anywhere but here,” he motions over to my bed.

I sit on the ottoman facing him and reach up for his face. I try to pull it towards mine in an effort to comfort us both, but he backs away again—resisting my touch, my advances.

“Stop trying to distract me with your eyes and your feminine wiles,” he warns me. “I know what you’re doing. Focus for a minute. I want to talk to you.”

I attempt to seduce him the way I do every man—with a look that will be his undoing—but he sees right through me, even though he’s half blind.

“Sex too soon…” his voice trails off. “It ruins things. I mean it.” He is opening himself up to me, but I want him to open me up, instead. I decide that if I refresh his memory on our compatibility in bed, it will prove, somehow, that we work well everywhere. “Seriously,” Drew says. “You’re so beautiful and way too smart to be doing these kinds of things. Why do you do them?”

I get quiet for a minute. “I don’t know,” I sigh, looking down. I refuse to say out loud what I already half-intuit. That I want to feel powerful, desired, sought after. That I hope his physical yearning for me will translate, miraculously, into love. That at the same time, I am too scared to delve into something real, for fear I’ll get hurt. My childhood babysitter was right: I do have walls up all around me.

I can stand naked before this man, but I can’t expose more than flesh. That would be riskier than the unprotected sex we’ve already had. Here in this moment, I don’t want to face reality. Or my patterns. So, I lift my chin back up and give him a puzzled look like I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I suspect though, that by being inside my body, Drew has somehow gained access to all of these answers; to my psyche; to the stories I hold tight in the core of me; to the secrets I bury between my legs. And, of course, this makes him the exception. He may be the first person since the babysitter, who knew me well, to read me in this way. He is that rare soul—unusually perceptive and sensitive to those around him—who picks up on things that others shrug off, just like I’m doing now in hopes of barring him from the truths of me.

It’s not working though. He wants answers. I make my mouth go all pouty and give him my best distracting, sultry stare. Think Blue Steel from Zoolander, only sexier. Maybe that will do the trick, I think, but it’s no use either.

“I’m not going to sleep with you tonight, you know,” he says, disappointed at my blatant attempts at seduction. “We really have to start over if we’re going to do this right,” he continues, softer.

But I have a different idea. Reliant as ever on my sexuality, I wrap my legs around his body and plead for him to touch me. I convince myself that I can make this man love me without so much as knowing me. (To his credit, I should probably know and love myself, first.) I convince myself that a purely sensory experience can open his heart, as I believe it has mine. I convince myself that I’m good at convincing, but again, Drew is the outlier.

“I should go,” he says brashly, the upset visible on his face, in his eye, even in the candlelight.

“Don’t leave,” I plead, my buzz wearing off quickly. I tell him, as I’ve told so many others before him, that I hate it when you go. I yearn, instead, to feel that release, that human connection and contact that drives me. But I don’t share that. Nor do I share that there is a part of me that goes through the motions of sex for the afterward, when the guy pulls you in close and falls asleep with his nose in your hair. Or that listening as a man’s heartbeat slows to a normal rhythm, your ear to his chest, is the closest thing you can get to a real connection with a veritable stranger. Or that watching my partner close his eyes peacefully in my bed is, for me, the ultimate feeling of security.

I never get the chance.

“You left your jacket here,” I inform his message machine and type to his phone mere moments later. “Do you want to come back to get it?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer. Suddenly nauseous, I realize that he isn’t going to reply, that I have sabotaged another potential relationship, alienated another partner, and I am to blame. His forgotten belonging, his fleecy overcoat, serves as the sole reminder of what we shared: the passion, the intensity, the feel-good endorphins I confused for real emotions; the connection I futilely hoped would extend beyond the physical. Alone in the bed we so recently shared, I breathe him in with a pang of regret. If I can’t have him beside me or inside me, at least I can have his sweet scent. I cling to his sweatshirt pathetically, leaving a trail of salt in its soft hood—a realization which makes me think of his manhood and our lovemaking all over again.

***

“We’ll always have real estate in each other’s important zip codes,” Drew tells me some months later, after I’ve informed him of my impending move, and he’s decided there are no hard feelings. I’m not entirely sure what he means by the real estate comment (he often says things that go over my head, and I chalk it up to a mismatch in intelligence—he’s lightyears ahead of me, despite having no formal education beyond the twelfth grade), but he claims it’s a good thing. Something no one can take away from us. Something as resistant as tear stains on a jacket, or so he jokes, after I sheepishly out myself. We’re both giant (albeit good-looking) nerds, and his smart sense of humor endears me to him even more. Fortunately, Drew remains open to texting and talking occasionally. I even manage to convince him that we should celebrate his thirty-first birthday together. He’s not typically one for celebrating, he says, but I insist. I like making a big deal over people to let them know how much I care.

I bring a personalized cake over to his place, a studio apartment in Burbank. I bring his jacket, too. He’s grateful but doesn’t beg me to stay—that night or in the country—as I’d hoped. Instead, after he blows out his candle and makes a wish, he offers to walk me out to my car. I stall by petting Rowdy. That’s a good girl, I say to her, even though I’m totally clueless when it comes to animals. (My parents gave the dog away when I was a baby, and I haven’t had one since.) I’ve always hated leaving, hated being left. But this goodbye is especially tough—especially poignant—because it’s final. In just a few weeks’ time, I’ll be Canada-bound.

His parting words to me: “I really could have loved you, if only you’d let me.”

 ***

I think of Drew occasionally, even now, three-plus years into a happy marriage. That last sentence specifically—more than the smell of him or his touch or the way he saw into my soul— sticks with me. At the time, it gutted me. During quiet, reflective moments, I’ve been known to mouth a silent “thank you” or two into the ether. I like to think he sparked a resistance inside of me—a revolution of sorts. Though we hardly knew each other, despite a physical connection that felt transcendent, even spiritual, the way he cared for my body, loved my body, made me want to care more, too. By the time I met my now-husband Eric, a few months into my international move, I was ready to believe what I now know to be true—that my body is a fucking masterpiece. And it was Drew who laid the groundwork, the foundation.

Ironically, in older homes, like the ones you’ll often find in less-affluent Canadian suburbs, foundations are built of brick as opposed to concrete. Brick—the very material I envisioned when my childhood babysitter told me I had walls up all around me. Drew strengthened the foundation, but he also began to chip away at those walls, brick by brick. Why do you do it? he’d asked about the way I mistreated my body, the implication being: Why don’t you love yourself the way I could have loved you? Maybe it sounds cruel—how he put the onus all on me. But we’ve kept in touch, very loosely, over the years. A “happy birthday” here; a “you were a beautiful bride,” there; and, most recently, an encouraging nod about my writing: “The vulnerability you write with is a gift. More people should be able to read your beautiful words,” he said after clicking on the link to a published essay I’d posted on social media. I know he had the very best of intentions. That he faulted himself for sleeping with me “too soon” as much as he blamed me. We both met our b’sherts—the life-partners we were destined to be with—after we almost-loved one another. It comforts me to think that we launched each other into loves that are an even better fit.

***

If I rewind back to my childhood, I’m confronted by my own fragility: I had a high resistance to, a low tolerance for, heartbreak—despite the hard façade I presented to the world. I feared that men would leave, like my emotionally-absent father already had, so I gave them my body—my amazing, beautiful body, my chef- d’oeuvre—without having to earn it. I was resistant to change this pattern because it had become comfortable, routine. What’s more, I resisted the truth about my own body—its inherent greatness—because acknowledging it would have required a shift: I’d have to start caring for myself the way it cared for me. The way Drew cared. The way Eric still does.

I never had to pray for Eric’s love—he gave it freely, the way I gave myself to the ninety-three men who preceded him. His gestures, his lightness—they reminded me of Drew. Of what might have been but never was. This is intimacy, I thought on our first night together. This is what people do when they care. This is how bodies care. How they love: gently, with small caresses. I want to respect your body, he told me, and he showed me with his actions too, looking deep into my eyes—blue-to-blue. He saw my body as something sacred. As the foundation to build his love upon. The very foundation that Drew had strengthened and simultaneously dismantled.

But I had to do the inner-work necessary to believe him. To believe them: Eric and Drew and all the bedfellows prior. If talk is cheap, pillow-talk is cheaper. Through my Pilates practice, I learned the importance of opposition. In Pilates, we stretch in two directions at once. We press down to go up. Reach forward but pull back. I was learning to be two things at once, too. I could strengthen my bones and muscles—harden my core—without also hardening my insides. I could be as emotionally pliable outside the studio as I was physically pliable on my mat.

In college, I’d written a children’s story about a turtle named Sammy with a tough exterior but sweet interior. I didn’t even know I was writing about myself. A sixth-grade student aptly pointed it out to me after I read the story aloud. (I dabbled in teaching English before ditching the kids and books for adults and Pilates equipment.) Ms. Greenfield—you’re Sammy. You’re the turtle! Strong center, soft heart-center: of course, I was. It was an opposition as true as the Pilates ones I still preach. How obvious it seems now in hindsight.

To some extent, although my walls are low enough for a wolf—big, bad, or otherwise—or a genuine suitor, like my husband, to get in, I wrestle with my Sammy-like tendencies, even today. But I know there’s been a shift, an easing. What protects me aren’t bricks or a turtle shell anymore so much as the physical body I’ve built for myself. (Think: less plaster, more abs of steel.) But it’s not physical perfection I’m after, either. This pièce de resistance is perfect in its imperfections, the stretch marks and scars proof of where I’ve been and how far we—this body and I—have come.

“MELODY GREENFIELD” has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing (CNF) from Antioch University Los Angeles. The LA-native and Pilates instructor has been published under this pseudonym in The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and forthcoming in HOOT. Her work can also be found under a different name in Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Annotation Nation, and Meow Meow Pow Pow. She enjoys reading CNF, furthering her Pilates practice, and occasionally curling her hair and getting out of stretchy pants to enjoy this pandemic-life with her aforementioned husband. Melody can be found here on Facebook and as @melodygreenfield_writer on Instagram.

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Guest Posts, Self Care, Self Image

Resistant as F*ck, part 1

January 13, 2021

Photo credit: Peak Pilates

This is part one of a two part essay.  Read part two here

By Melody Greenfield

My body is a masterpiece.

Sacred.

A pièce de résistance.  

An amazing doer of all the gerunds: twisting; bending; reaching; rounding; arching; fucking; praying.

But for so long I didn’t regard it as such or even so much as respect it. As a pre-teen and teen, I deprived my body of food. I chided myself for the way I stored fat on my cellulite-ridden thighs. For the way I resembled my pear-shaped, chef-mother. The photos, however, tell a different story: I was thin enough to slide through a fence; I was simply developing faster than other girls my age. What I thought was fat was actually just my new womanly shape (hello, hips!). What I thought was cellulite could only be seen under a microscope if I pinched and squished and otherwise manipulated and contorted my skin. I exercised compulsively (if there was an informercial for it, I owned it), then went through rebellious periods where I was completely sedentary. This pattern continued on into my twenties, when I doubled-down on misusing my body—sleeping with too many men, often unprotected. My type (aside from tall, dark-haired, bespectacled, and Jewish) was whatever was new. Fortunately, my body was resistant…to STIs.

My heart did its fair share of resisting too—always looking to dodge suffering. My childhood babysitter once told me, on a walk around the neighborhood, that I had walls up all around me. I was about seven at the time. Even then, I was suited up in armor to resist hurt and heartbreak. I think she was trying to warn me that, later on, if I continued to keep my guard up, it would be hard to form lasting relationships, which was exactly the point. I pictured a brick structure when she spoke. Think: the indestructible third house in The Three Little Pigs. Impenetrable. Resistant to wolves. I wore those walls proudly for decades because change is hard and scary, hence my resistance to it. The walls kept me safe. If no one could get in, no one could leave, either. Likewise, if my body never changed, I would never become my Jenny Craig- and Weight Watchers-going mother. May Mom never fit into my pants was a secret mantra of mine that I recited even at her thinnest when, on occasion, she tried (and failed) to borrow my jeans.

Judaism teaches that each morning when we wake, we should take the time to appreciate our bodies, aloud. In reciting the Birchot HaShachar blessing, we thank God for the miracle of our bodies—these complex machines that work so hard to keep us alive. If only I could have conjured this prayer to mind all those evenings that I willingly went to bed hungry, ignoring the empty feeling in the pit of my already-flat stomach. If only I could have conjured this prayer to mind all those times that I exercised obsessively—doing jumping jacks on the school yard and then coming home to pop workout videos into my parents’ VCR. Two favorites were The Firm Aerobic Workout with Weights (Volume 3) and Kathy Kaehler’s Strong Legs; she was Michelle Pfeiffer’s personal trainer, and my hope was that she’d make my legs not only strong, but also skinny and cellulite-free. If only I could have conjured this prayer to mind all those nights that I treated my body as so much less than a gift when I gave it away to men who didn’t care, who wouldn’t stay. Your own father doesn’t love you, or so I believed. Why on earth would they?

Since taking up Pilates nearly a decade ago and especially since teaching it for the past six-plus years, I’ve learned to love myself a bit more. To treat this God-given vessel, this container that expertly stores my equally-worthy insides, as something special. To show it a modicum of respect. To celebrate its splendors. Interestingly, in Pilates when we work with the apparatus—complex machines (like our own bodies), designed to stretch and strengthen the limbs—we are often resisting the springs, pushing back against them. Take the Leg Springs series on the Cadillac: We push our legs into the straps, and the attached springs try to bully us—woman versus apparatus—but we don’t let them win. We are the machine. They’re strong, but we’re stronger (especially after years of that Kathy Kaehler routine). Other times, we’re asked to lean into the springs. We allow them to give us feedback. To support us. Take Airplane on the same piece of equipment: We press our feet into the straps and our hands into the metal poles behind us in order to sail through the air. The springs help us levitate. This is how I see my body now—as this magnificent structure that quite literally soars. But what a journey it’s been to get to that place. For far too long, rather than lift myself up, I was the damn bully-spring, fighting myself.

***

December 2013: North Hollywood, California

It isn’t my body but the road I’m focused on as I rush, in my bite-sized electric Chevy, to meet Drew—my date. We’ve been texting for several weeks since both swiping right on Tinder, and tonight we’re meeting face-to-face at a dive bar in North Hollywood, which I’m speeding to straight from a bad day at work. I’m in a new job as an admissions assistant at a small private school, just down the street. This is our busy season with prospective parent tours, so no more leaving the office when there’s still daylight to burn. Stealing a glance in my light-up sun visor, I confirm—to my horror—that my hair, which I’ve deepened for the fall, is having a worse day than I am, even resisting the quick finger-combing I gave it. I also confirm, via the car clock on my dashboard, that I’m seven minutes late for our date. Crap. It always embarrassed me as a kid when my mom ran late, so I try my hardest to value other people’s time.

With the help of street lamps, I can make out a tall, lean Drew—his back against the bar’s entrance—from my parking spot across the street. He’s dressed for the occasion in dark denim and a button-down shirt, which makes me suddenly self-conscious of my own attire: wrinkled corduroys and a sweater that isn’t as figure-hugging as it was when I put it on early this morning. Aware that he’s been waiting for me, I quickly touch up my burgundy lipstick, blot with a tissue from a to-go pack in my purse, check the mirror once more to make sure no tissue bits have stuck on, then dart across Magnolia. The air is brisk in that LA-winter way that feels more like East Coast fall, and I go in straight for the hug (remember those?), hoping to warm up. I’m also convinced that physical contact is the surest way to make my date warm up to me, and it seems to work, too. He pulls me in close, surprising me; so close, in fact, that I can smell the musky cologne on the nape of his neck. When I take a step back, I can see that his pleasant face matches his profile pictures. Delicious, I’m still thinking as we take our seats. I’m drunk on the idea of him—heady and dizzy and floaty-feeling—and this is all before I’ve taken so much as a sip of booze.

Sitting across the table from him, I can finally inspect Drew, close up. He’s thirty to my twenty-nine and six feet tall to my five foot seven. He has even, honey-colored skin and a warm smile. He’s put together, well dressed and groomed. His voice is sexy and soothing, as deep as it is gentle. I find myself admiring his strong, capable hands and the way he effortlessly strings words together. I love an articulate man. What holds my attention most though is not his vocabulary or the timbre of his speaking voice but his eyes. Even in the dimly-lit bar, I can tell there is something off about them—I just can’t quite put my finger on what.

Just then, our waitress whizzes by, creating a brief breeze, and I catch another whiff of that yummy musky man-scent that got my juices flowing and made my head all spinny a few minutes ago. When she swings back around the corner again, I order a glass of Pinot Grigio, then another. Just be normal, I say to myself. Quit staring. I try to distract myself by prattling on nervously about my crappy work day. I’ve had so many of them in this new role, and I’ll have many more before I’m eventually laid off in June, which, I learn, is Drew’s birthday month. Typically, Gemini men and I don’t mix, but I already find myself hoping: Maybe he’ll be the exception. Incidentally, Drew will soon be let go too, only neither of us knows this yet. Nor do we know that sixteen days after his June 9th birthday, I’ll surprise us both by moving in with friends across the globe in Toronto.

In between crisp, fruity sips, I explain that my boss makes me feel incompetent, which, in turn, makes me act incompetently (the ol’ self-fulfilling prophesy at work); I’m worried that too many more days like today—when I was admonished for alphabetizing the touring parents’ nametags in rows instead of columns and slicing the bagels unevenly—and I’ll be sent packing. Of course, I’m right to suspect as much, but Drew does his best to reassure me. Isn’t it possible you’re being too hard on yourself? It’s probably not as bad as you’re making it out to be in your own head (except that it is). I divert his question with humor—“No non-Jewish person should ever correct a Jew when it comes to handling bagels. Am I right?”—then deflect by asking about his job, instead. As it turns out, he’s been a glove designer at the same company for eleven years now.

“Holy shit,” I say. I tell him I admire his ability to stay put and wonder silently if this means he might stick around with me, too.

“I’m blind in one eye,” Drew blurts out. Talk about a non sequitur. “I’m sorry to cut you off. I just needed to say something.”

Crap. He must have noticed me staring. “That’s okay,” I assure him, both about interrupting me and being part-blind. “If you’re willing to share, I’d love to learn more.”

“Well, I wasn’t born blind, but I didn’t get the care I needed, not soon enough anyway. It was too late to save my vision by the time I finally saw a doctor. Please don’t feel bad for me,” he says in response to my doe eyes. “That isn’t why I told you. I just sensed you were wondering about it. It’s no big deal that you were curious. Everyone is.”

I’m ashamed to admit this, but rather than go to a place of empathy or outrage over his negligent upbringing, my mind goes instead to a place of curiosity. To him, I may look concerned, wounded, even horrified, but I’m actually determining where to affix my gaze—that intense look that gets me into exactly the kind of trouble I seek. I’m also worrying that, in staring at his one eye all night, I’ve failed to send out those come-hither signals with my own. I take his hands in mine, tell him I’m sorry about his sucky vision, his suckier parents, and my blatant staring, then invite him back to my apartment to make it up to him.

 ***

Comfortable on my own turf and emboldened by the liquor (which I’m not as resistant to as I like to believe), I begin to kiss Drew. Like my car, the kissing is electric—all tongue and lips. It’s the kind that leaves you lightheaded and that happens when two people either really like each other, have an undeniable physical connection, or both. Hoping for option C, I run my fingers through his hair voraciously. I’m hungry for more of him, greedy for the high that sex brings.

Drew unbuttons my blouse, as I likewise busy myself removing his clothes. This is a man who works with his hands, I think to myself as he expertly undresses me. I am startled, but not revolted, by his many tattoos—a tiger on his chest (my husband has a nearly identical one in the same spot); a symbol of some kind on his left shoulder; a star below his waist; and a quotation written across his ribs—In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king—he tells me later. Gently, Drew licks and breathes on each of my nipples until my entire body warms and responds. He holds me close, and his intoxicating scent—part man, part cologne—fills my nostrils once more. Tenderly, he makes his way down my torso and in between my legs, licking me softly, then sucking on me more aggressively, drawing a figure eight with his tongue.

“Mmmmmmm. You taste so good,” he says, as he reaches his left hand out for my larger breast, and my legs begin to quiver. I pull on his hair, and my body unfolds, submitting to him, wholly. Finally, the build-up becomes too much to bear. I’m cumming!” I shout for the first time that evening but not the last. Before I know it, I am tasting my own sweetness in his mouth and putting his hard condom-less penis inside of me.

“Oh my God,” he says, his hood gently massaging me. “You feel amazing.”

“Yeah?” I ask innocently. I’ve heard this countless times before but never tire of it. Compliments are my crack. I grab onto his firm butt cheeks, moist with perspiration, as he holds onto my face, seeming to see all of me, if only with one eye.

“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever been inside of,” he whispers sensually in my ear like he knows it’s a portal to my soul. “Your body is perfect,” he goes on as he slides himself in and out of me more gently than any one-night stand has before. Men always praise my physical form—my hourglass figure—but I’m still a few years away from believing that what they say is true.

It does occur to me, for an instant, that Drew is being genuine, but the thought is fleeting, my inner-skeptic loud. I force myself to quiet the noise, to stay present. I kiss him hard, and the shock I feel courses through us both. “You feel amazing too, baby” I tell him, and I mean it. In this moment, as I glance up at him, and we move in sync together, we are utterly connected. It’s like he was made just for me.

“I love fucking you,” he tells me as we near climax, but I hear what I want to hear instead, mentally subtracting one word from his sentence. He is making love to me; he can love me. I am sure of it. In fact, touching me in ways no one ever has before—brushing the wispy, chocolate brown tendrils from my too-pale, too-trusting face; cupping my head with his gentle hands; tickling the tops of my ears; looking deep into me, his thumbs against my now-messy brows—he already is loving me, or so I reason.

Drew places one arm under the small of my back and pulls me in close as he hardens and contracts inside of me. Together, we surrender to the building sensations. I feel hazy and clear-headed all at once. In control and out of it. My heart and groin clamp onto him with equal intensity and, magically, our bodies shudder in unison. He moves to pull himself out of me just then, but I reach for his penis and put it back inside of me, as a rush of semen fills me and makes me whole.

I know it’s dangerous, which is part of the allure. It gives me the kind of stomach-dropping thrill that roller coasters used to until I became terrified of them, without warning or reason. I’ve been on birth control since before my seventeenth birthday, so pregnancy isn’t my concern, but there are diseases out there that, HPV aside, I’ve been lucky enough to dodge. (Thank you, resistant body!) But that’s just it. Taking chances—even big ones—is habit at this point, and I am hooked on it the way I’m now hooked on this beautiful man. On the way he strokes the soft spot behind my ears and uses the tips of his fingers to trace a line from my jaw down to my neck. There is no denying that this is different. That he is different.

We fall into a blissful sleep: Drew’s stomach against my back, his hands wrapped around my small waist (a family trait). Some hours later, he turns towards me—our bodies two crescent moons making a full one—and softly kisses me. It’s late, or rather early, and my date has to leave on account of his pit bull Rowdy. I turn to look at my nightstand and see that the green numbers on the alarm clock read 4:03 a.m. That means his dog has been alone for at least nine hours, and now I’ll be alone, too. He kisses me again on the lips, and this time, it means goodbye.

I don’t feel contemplative or regretful about our night. I’m on autopilot. Groggy and still naked, I take out my list of sexual partners, which by now is thirteen years old and several pages long, front to back. Even in the dark, I can see that my lopsided C-cup breasts are also thankfully round and perky (another genetic win). My nipples, quarter-sized and peachy-pink, harden as my bare feet touch the floor. I’m grateful for the faux marble, which I’ll take over ugly apartment carpeting any day. When I stare down at myself, I don’t love how I look, but when I’m standing upright in front of my closet’s (slimming) full-length mirror, I don’t hate the curves I see, either. Yesterday morning I weighed in at 130.5 pounds—half a pound more than I’d like. I’d jotted that down on a Post-it Note. Now, grabbing a pen from the kitchen, I neatly write Drew’s name down beside the number eighty-five on my ever-growing list. (May my body not follow suit!)

85) Drew M.

I like the way this distinct combination of letters and numbers looks on the page—round and clean—and how his initials, DM, like direct messaging, remind me of the way we first communicated: with words instead of bodies. I like the way committing this act to paper feels—the “8” in 85 conjuring to mind the figure eights he drew on me with his tongue a few hours ago (word-play always makes me smirk), and how writing it down solidifies the experience, makes it real. This really happened. He really happened.

As a teenager and young adult, I kept detailed food journals, cataloguing everything I ingested. A page from seventh grade might have looked something like this:

 

Weekday:

Breakfast: Half a plain bagel and 1 pack of Sour Punch Straws (blue raspberry) from the food truck

Snack: 3 Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies from the vending machine – gave the rest away

After-school: Half a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (blue box)

Saturday:

Breakfast: 2 bowls of Life cereal with nonfat milk

Lunch: 1 Yoplait yogurt cup (peach)

Dinner: Half a chicken tender and a Shirley Temple at Michael’s bar mitzvah

Then, with equal precision, I kept track—am still keeping track—of the men I put into my body: 7 Mikes, 6 Adams, 5 Matts, 5 Jon/John/Jonathans, 4 Dans, 3 Jeffs and a Geoff,

3 Joshes, 21 J-names, 15 M-names, 60 Jews, 40 men from the Interwebs. I like that there’s never been another Drew—just two Andrews and a Dru surname. As I play the night’s happenings back in my head, I shiver. I need socks, and another dose of this man.

To Be Continued…

“MELODY GREENFIELD” has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing (CNF) from Antioch University Los Angeles. The LA-native and Pilates instructor has been published under this pseudonym in The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and forthcoming in HOOT. Her work can also be found under a different name in Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Annotation Nation, and Meow Meow Pow Pow. She enjoys reading CNF, furthering her Pilates practice, and occasionally curling her hair and getting out of stretchy pants to enjoy this pandemic-life with her aforementioned husband. Melody can be found here on Facebook and as @melodygreenfield_writer on Instagram.

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Guest Posts, Letting Go, Self Care

QUIETING THAT LITTLE VOICE THAT STRESSES ME OUT

August 20, 2020
stress

By Jen Butler

I’ve spent so much of my life doing things to make other people see me a certain way. I talk about my accomplishments or my wounds, depending on the conversation and the crowd and which topic I intuit will most impress. I’ve observed people, learned their likes and their humor, and then adjusted to fit in.

Perhaps this is part of being human. A desire for connection, for a tribe. A desire to be liked.

But I wondered tonight, while folding super comfy pajama pants I normally wear with mis-matched socks and an old lady sweater (but only alone, in the privacy of my own home), “What if people would have liked me anyway? If I hadn’t have tried to be a certain way. If I didn’t exhaust myself with witty banter or getting the last word. What would be different?”

Perhaps nothing would be different. Maybe the same people would be my friends and colleagues.

Or maybe, just maybe, my life would be a little different.

Maybe if I reallocated my credits of “care” toward being myself, standing up for myself, and saying what I wanted to say rather than what I thought would be most popular… Maybe I’d have smile lines instead of the crinkle in between my eyebrows from a near-perpetual furrowed brow.

I stress myself out. And I say that in the most loving way possible. I stress myself out, recognize that I’m stressing myself out, decide to worry less and relax more, then share this awareness with those close to me, all of whom are like: “Yea duh. You didn’t realize you were a bit high strung and super hard on yourself? Glad you’re learning to take it easy.”

And I’m like: OH. I’M DOING SOMETHING THEY AGREE WITH AND LIKE. I SHOULD DO MORE OF THIS.

And so, naturally, I then dive into a very dedicated and regimented plan on how to be the most relaxed person I can be.

I’ve always been irritated by the people who say, “This is just how I am. I can’t change.”

But I realize I’ve been camping out on the other end of that extreme: “I can change everything about myself until I become the exact person I want to be.”

Spoiler alert: the “exact person I want to be” is a moving target, it’s not at all a quantifiable goal, and the comparison between myself and that dream version of me results in my feeling left behind, left out, and generally like a failure.

But it’s not that I feel I’m failing my parents or friends. I feel I’m failing myself.

I feel a compulsive need to be “good” and think only good thoughts, say only good words, and take only good action. And any time something goes poorly in my life, I tell myself I wasn’t good enough and I must have manifested it with some sort of negative thinking, and I must do better.

While walking my dog today, I marveled at the white fabric peeking out from my shoes and the fact that this was the first time I’d gone in public without no-show socks. I was wearing the “wrong” socks for the shoe choice. This would have been debilitating to me in the past. (+1 point for progress, Jen!) (But -1 for poor style, which could fall under the genre of poor self-care.) (Net zero. Try better next time. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.)

I smiled at the socks, and continued the self-analysis work I’d been doing all day (and most days). I was scanning my brain for limiting beliefs and negative thoughts so I could eradicate them all with my laser beam vision, which stems from perfectionism, which stems from seeing myself negatively rather than lovingly. I was trying to stop negativity with something that is, by its very nature, negative. Trying to fix my thoughts with my thoughts.

I then had the thought pop in my head of “restriction,” and I remembered my relationship with food when I struggled with disordered eating.

I obsessively labeled foods as good and bad, shaming myself if I ate or craved a bad food, and feeling a temporary relief (combined with a bit of elitism) upon consumption of good foods. I knew there was factual evidence backing up certain foods being healthy and others being unhealthy. This was the perfect thing for me to control! I will be the healthiest eater ever!

Until I realized that food itself stressed me out, no matter the type. And consistent stress is far more harmful than occasionally eating a bowl of Life cereal.

I removed the labels of good and bad around food and instead re-learned how to trust my body and its signals.

My relationship with food and my body are both healthier than they’ve ever been. It’s not perfect. I sometimes still stress out over end-of-the-world stuff, like running out of vegetable juice, and then my boyfriend talks me back to earth. Overall, it’s much better and life feels easier.

Today, I realized I’ve been treating my thoughts and self-work the same way. I’ve found a new application for perfectionism and obsessive compulsion: monitoring and judging my thoughts and words.

It’s like a proofreader’s dream: “Your job is to tell me what’s wrong with everything I’m thinking, saying, and doing.”

I’ve rarely ended a day without a needs improvement stamped on my forehead, in the shape of a deepening brow crease. If I feel accomplished on any given day, I feel relief rather than celebration. “No negative points today, Jen. Now just do every day like today except a little bit better and then you’ll be positive and get everything you desire.”

Is anyone else stressed out reading this? I’m stressed out writing it, while also feeling so fucking free for owning how I feel and how I experience life.

Yes, I believe it is true that our thoughts and feelings and actions and words create our reality.

It is also true that we are here to have a human experience, which is imperfect in its very nature, and I personally think it’s far healthier for me to let the fuck go and allow for a natural progression of life than to try and control every word, thought, and step.

Because even if I say everything positively and in alignment with my positive new belief system, I’m still doing it from a place of fear. And stress. And furrowed brow-ness.

What’s in between “This is just how I am; I can’t change” and “I’m gonna’ change everything so I can be perfect.”?

I don’t know. I’m thinking it’ll find me. And I’m thinking it starts with removing the labels of “good” and “bad”.

Did you know I lost the extra fat on my body when I removed labels on food, even though I increased the “bad” foods and decreased the “good” ones? It’s because I stopped giving them so much power. I learned what it felt like to feel actual hunger rather than approaching diet analytically as if I was a research project.

If my brain is ever like, “OH NO YOU SHOULD GO EXERCISE OR YOU’LL GET FAT,” I will march my happy ass into the kitchen and eat a “bad” food and be like, “I refuse to exercise with that mindset or to be held captive by it. So this chocolate is code for FUCK YOU.”

And then I eat it.

And then the thoughts shut up because they don’t know what to do with their hands. And the stress immediately leaves.

And do I get fat? Nope. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. Truly.

I’m not sure what the equivalent will be for the self-help, self-analysis stuff. Maybe it’s as simple as removing the labels and seeing what happens next. Maybe if I find myself being all like, “Oh that thought was bad, -2 points, and now you’ll attract negative things from the Universe” I can respond with something like “Gosh I sure hope my head falls off” or “Fingers crossed for food poisoning!” or “I sure like the word ‘c*nt’ even though it pisses people off.”

It’s the same approach recommended for people to escape other perfectionistic or anxiety-ridden tendencies. For instance, folks who nervously sweat can start being like, “I’m going to sweat more than I ever have today. Gallons of it. GALLONS!” And, in time? The nervous sweats stop.

Yea, seriously. It’s real.

So, while all y’all Love and Light Brigaders are telling your clients that the reason their lives are the way they are is because they need to eat clean and that their thoughts aren’t perfect enough, I’m going to be eating chocolate and exclaiming “CU*NT!” from my basement apartment while wearing a grandma sweater and mis-matched socks.

Maybe it won’t get me out of my apartment. Maybe it won’t bring me abundance. Maybe after a surprising unexplainable beheading you can be like, “I knew Jen before her head fell off.”

But, in the meantime, it’ll be a helluva lot more fun. And maybe, in the process, I’ll gain some smile lines.

Jen Butler is a comedic real-talk writer and artist in recovery from alcoholism, addiction, self-harm, disordered eating, cancer, Breast Implant Illness, and a weird period of time when she only listened to dubstep. Her passion is helping people feel less crazy and alone by openly sharing her own experience, strength, and hope. Her portfolio, books, and one video with a flamingo puppet can be found at www.jenniferannbutler.com.

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Guest Posts, Self Care

Madame Defarge in the age of Corona

March 29, 2020
knitting

By Caroline Leavitt

Years ago, in 2004, while my husband Jeff and I were sitting watching the election returns, I was stress knitting in terror. That evening, I made twelve (I’m not kidding) fingerless mitts that I, always the writer, embroidered with the words Hope on the left hand, Love on the right.

It didn’t help. Bush won. Crying, I wrapped up all those mitts and sent them to the friends I had made them for with a note: Maybe next time will be better.

Next time isn’t better. The next election, a day before I am due to go out on Book Tour, for a new novel, Cruel Beautiful World,  about how the world drastically changed from the late sixties to the early seventies, my world drastically changes as well. Trump wins. I get on a plane and people are crying. I have two events, ticketed, $70 a pop and five people show up for the first, and only three for the second.

I keep writing. I keep hoping. I have a new novel coming out in August and I sold the one after that, too, though on a partial, so I have to write it. And as I hoped, this year is something very different, but not in a good way. Trump terror seeps into everything we hear and see and do. People worry that he might stop the elections, that he might make himself Emperor for life, which given his erratic sociopathic nature, is not implausible or impossible. A second term would be a disaster.

And then in the midst of this, sneaking in on little virus feet, is Corona.

I live in the NYC area, and things are quietly surreal. On the subway, I actually can hear the usually garbled announcement which urges everyone to wash their hands, to cough into their elbows, to not panic. Don’t panic. Don’t Panic. Don’t Panic.

Panic.

Of course we all do. A man coughing in the subway is glared at. More and more people are wearing masks. I try not to touch the poles, to keep my hands away from my face. For the first time in years, I am not biting my nails. Stores are emptying out of goods and people. Things are being cancelled. Concerts and plays we had tickets for. A big event I had for my novel coming out in August. Gone. The Poets & Writers 50th anniversary extravaganza. Gone. Publishing houses are working at home. Even my cognitive therapist tells me we can do sessions by Face Time, since she has just come back from a vacation in Germany.

I’m so anxious I get a refill of Klonopin and my therapist tells me that small motor activity might be a good idea, even if it is just tapping my knees. Is there something I can do, she asks. “I can knit,” I tell her.

I haven’t knit it years, not since my first terrible marriage a million years ago, when I designed a sweater for him with dinosaurs feeding on vegetation, one I scissored up when I found out he was cheating on me. I hadn’t knit since. I was writing all the time, so why would I want to relax by using my fingers again? Didn’t they deserve a rest? But now, everything is bigger and seems more fraught with danger. I tell myself I will just straight knit, just to have something to do, that this is not about actually making anything, but just soothing my nerves.

I make my first sweaters, just two rectangles and two tubes, and when it is done, it has so many mistakes, it makes me wince. But I put it on, like a talisman, like a lucky sweater, and it’s warm, cozy and well, perfect. I did something concrete, I tell myself. That’s something.

I cannot stop knitting. I buy more yarn, more needles. Every night, when my husband Jeff and I sit to watch films, there is the click of knitting. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I tell Jeff and he takes my hand. “I bet you do,” he says. I think about Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities. She was like one of the Fates in Greek myth. She never stopped knitting, stitching in the names of the people she wanted killed, creating her own kind of revolution with yarn.

My second sweater, soft, glossy gray, is absurdly perfect and I am going to wear it to a reading, but the reading gets cancelled. All that day, I write my novel, thinking about the evening when I wouldn’t have to think, when I can just knit and turn off the churning in my mind. I think about how knitting, like a novel, has a structure, a spine that has to hold things together, how every stitch can tell a kind of story—that one there that is twisted is when I heard Trump say on the news not to worry. That one where I dropped a stitch is when I was stress eating. When my niece Hillary, who is supposed to come stay with us, along with her husband and two kids, cancels because of the virus, I go online and order more yarn, a deep dark blue, to knit a pullover for her the one way I can be with her.

The day I start that sweater, and WHO announces we have a pandemic. Italy is in lockdown. The first big event for my novel, The Texas Library Association in Houston, is cancelled. The Virginia Festival of the Book is cancelled. The Poets & Writers 50th Anniversary is cancelled. Colleges are holding virtual classes.

I sit with Jeff watching Sorry Wrong Number with a particularly hysterical Barbara Stanwyck, who begins to have an inkling she’s about to be murdered. I am knitting and knitting and knitting through the night, my eyes on the screen. It isn’t until I am done for the evening, that I look down at my work. To my shock, the garment has lost its structure. It isn’t totally blue the way it is supposed to be. I must have picked up the wrong yarn, because the second half of the back of the sweater is now deep green.

At first, I’m pissed. I wanted to control this. Rip it out like errant pages that aren’t working. The way this is supposed to go is not thinking, just knitting. Plus, the thought of ripping out all that work makes me ill. I’m terrible at taking out stitches and picking them back up and I know if I even try, there will be a stunning number of holes.

So I leave it. And the next day, I keep knitting, picking up other colors, making something that I don’t even think about having control over, that I can’t possibly know how it might resolve. As I knit,  I look down every once in a while, surprised, and sometimes pleased. The steady rhythm is so soothing, so hypnotic. I think about my novel, the characters so real I know what color sweaters I could knit for them, and that makes me think a bit about plot. I think about my mom, who died, two years ago, who I wish I could call to make sure she’s all right. I think about the sweater I’d make for her, deep purple, her favorite color, a sweater she’ll never get to wear. I think about my sister, who is estranged from our family and how I’d like to make her a purple sweater, too. I think about our son Max, who is in Brooklyn, who I get to see and hug. I move closer on the couch to Jeff, the click of my needles like a kind of Morse code. I love you. It’s going to be all right.

And so I keep knitting for other people. Pullovers that will hug them because I can’t anymore, at least not without a mask. Despite myself, I am getting better and better. Knit. Knit. Knit. I’ve come to realize that this is how I give up my desperation to control the narrative and the fear I’m feeling. Knitting a sweater isn’t writing a novel, not in any sense. We can’t know how the world is going to go with the virus, we cannot know what is going to happen with Trump and his cronies or with our planet that is falling apart. We breathe in and we breathe out. We wash our hands and cover our coughs and I keep knitting.

I buy more yarn. It doesn’t matter what color, just that I have enough for four more sweaters. Just so I can see the pile of yarn, provisions against terrible times and anxious thoughts. Despite the fierce intensity of my knitting, I’m no Madame Defarge, purling my way to revenge. This is not A Tale of Two Cities as much as it is a tale of one world in crisis. Instead, every night, this is how I knit connections, this is how I knit away the terror, one stitch at a time.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow. Her new book, With or Without You set for release in August and can be ordered here.  Her essays and stories have appeared in Real Simple, The Millions, and The New York Times. Visit her at @leavittnovelist on Twitter, on Facebook, and at Carolineleavitt.com

 

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