Sunday, November 13, 2016

Goodbye for Now

My three-part philosophy of life, which I have written about at length on this blog, is simple:

1. Fear and shame are terrible motivators.  
2. Honesty is the antidote to fear and shame.
3. Love conquers all.

We have a problem with fear and shame in this country.  We have a problem with honesty.  Nothing I can write on this blog is going to fix that.  

For seven years, I have tried to model a belief in abundance rather than a fear of scarcity.  I have shared some of my deepest vulnerabilities and fears in an effort to demonstrate that looking inward to confront our fear won't kill us and is, in fact, the only thing that can save us.  Over and over again, I have reminded myself and my readers that love is an infinite resource.  That there is enough of it to go around and that each and every one of us, by virtue of our basic humanity, deserves a fair share of it.

Or at least that's what I was trying to say.  Probably it mostly just sounded like I spent a lot of time worrying about sports and boys and whether or not I was skinny enough.

Bertolt Brecht, a poet who was forced to flee Nazi Germany, wrote these lines:

What kind of times are they, when
A talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?

I don't think I can write about fitness anymore.  

This is not to say I'm giving up on my fitness goals.  On Wednesday morning, one of my friends wrote on Facebook, "I'm going running.  If I'm going to super blast my Care Bear rainbow-heart-flowing-hate-combating powers, I better be in the best shape I can be."  The game has changed.

I know words matter now more than ever.  Art matters.  I hope I can find a way to write about things that matter.  I hope I'll have an opportunity to share some of that writing with you at some point in the future.  Until then, my friends, take care of yourselves and love everyone you can.

Thank you for reading.  I love you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What I Learned in Rural America

Reyes was my first patient on my first day as a translator on a medical van providing health care to migrant workers.  I reported for duty with a Spanish-English dictionary under my arm and ten summers of agricultural labor with people just like him under my belt.

I was dispatched to follow him and his friends, four of them squished together into a pickup truck, each of them missing a day’s work, first to a nearby health clinic and then to the hospital.  At the clinic, I tried to explain to the nurse that Reyes means kings in Spanish.  I wanted her to know that he was somebody special, somebody worthy of care and attention and kindness.  Maybe even Jesus in disguise, like the parable says.

I had just returned from a semester in Spain, where I had gone to learn Spanish for the sole purpose of talking to the migrant workers who came through my tiny town each summer.  I knew intimately what it felt like to arrive in a country knowing only a handful of words in the local language, to rely on the kindness of strangers to count your change at the grocery store and not cheat you, to be lost in a strange city without knowing how to ask for directions or even how to say the word lost.  I held Reyes’ hand in the hospital room.  I wanted him to know he wasn’t lost.

When I was a teenager raking blueberries, my parents used to tell me, “If you don’t go to college you will be doing this for the rest of your life.”   It didn’t take a college degree to understand that the options available to me were not available to everyone, not to people like Reyes and not to many of the people in my hometown.

I learned a lot about hard work those summers on the blueberry fields.  I learned that there is pride and dignity to be found in doing an honest day’s labor, but I also learned that the American dream is not conferred automatically to people who work hard.  That’s a lie the privileged perpetuate to justify their own entitlement.  Some of the hardest working people I know are poor.  

Every time someone screams about building a wall, I think of Reyes, whose friends took up a collection to send him back to Veracruz because he was no longer fit to work after his heart attack.  I’m glad he didn't die on a blueberry field or in a hospital bed.

In that time and place, nobody worried about the migrant workers taking anyone’s job.  There were plenty of jobs that nobody wanted, the kind of jobs that will never put you in reach of the American dream.  People complained about government resources like the medical van, though.  I never understood that way of thinking.  Especially when the going rate for blueberries has been $4 a bushel for as long as I can remember, and I pay $4 a pound for those same blueberries at my grocery store in Washington, DC.  Doesn’t it ever occur to anyone to ask why the blueberry company can’t pay its fair share in this equation?

I was a terrible blueberry raker.  People felt sorry for me.   One day while I was sitting on my bucket being pathetic, one of the migrant workers bought me a can of soda from the little lunch truck that used to drive out to the fields.  I didn’t speak Spanish, so all I could do was smile and say thank you.  I’ve never forgotten how it felt to take a simple gift like that from someone whose life, I knew, was far more difficult than my own.  Whenever I hear someone complain about immigrants threatening our livelihood, I think of that man.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Little Help From My Friends

This morning a video of me deadlifting my body weight for the first time on this day three years ago popped up on Facebook.  There I was...a couple shades blonder, ten pounds lighter, and so much fitter than I am right now.  It was a bad body image moment, and not the first I've had recently.  It is frustrating to know yet another damn birthday is approaching, and I'm not happy with what my body is able to do or how it looks.  I'm also not happy with the speed of my comeback.  Back in August when I was making my plan for the fall, I was perhaps overly optimistic.  Even so, I am making progress.

On Saturday, I hiked Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park with some friends.  It's a nine mile hike (although my friend's GPS watch registered twelve miles at the end) and I'd heard it was quite challenging, so I was a little worried.  It turned out to be a great hike, not as hard as I'd anticipated, and a lot of fun on a beautiful fall day.  I finished feeling like maybe my fitness level is not quite as bad as I think it is.

Then today, I went to boot camp at the gym with my friend Nellie.  A couple weeks ago when Nellie and I were having drinks, I told her how much I was dreading walking into a boot camp class with all the fit, skinny people.  Nellie said she'd go with me, and I was so relieved.  Last week when we were making our plan to go tonight, I noted that I did not feel ready for it but had come to realize if I waited until I felt ready I would probably never go.  And, honestly, if I'd had to go alone, I know that it would have taken me a lot longer to work up the courage.  

So we went.  It was not as horrible as I'd imagined.  First of all, nobody was paying any attention at all to me.  Which is pretty much always the case at the gym even though, like, 90% of my gym anxiety consists of worrying that people are going to judge me.  I don't know why I keep forgetting that everyone is too busy worrying about themselves to worry about me.  Second of all, like Old Rag, it was not as hard as I'd imagined it would be.  (Which is not to say that it was easy.  Hello, burpees.)  So, once again I am reminded that even though my fitness level is not where I want it to be, it is definitely still better than at some other times in my life, and I can work with that.

And I am also reminded that fitness is a hell of a lot more fun when you're doing it with friends.  Lucky for me, it just so happens that most of my friends are also kick-ass athletes.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dating My Friends

Since returning to DC but not (yet) returning to skating or lifting, I have had to figure out what to do with my time.  I've had plenty of introvert time--reading, going to cultural events and now starting to work on my writing.  But I also realized that I need to direct some of my focus to maintaining my friendships.

Remember last fall when I was sad about my broken heart?  My friends were there.  And this summer when I needed emotional support in Maine?  My friends were there.  Including my DC friends who were there from afar.  I am lucky to have people in this city who care about me.  But I realized a couple of things while I was away.  First, I haven't always shown up for my friends (in good times and bad) as consistently as I could have.  Second, because I don't live that close to most of my friends and because we are all awesome people with busy lives (especially my friends who are still playing derby), fun does not usually happen spontaneously.  I don't think I realized the latter while I was skating.  I thought fun didn't happen because we were all too tired and busy to do things that weren't organized around derby.  (Which was also partly true, at least for me.)

So I've decided to start dating my friends.  I mean, let's face it.  What's better?  Another horrific OKCupid date, or a nice, enjoyable cocktail with someone whose company I actually enjoy?  Right.  I did realize, though, that part of why I haven't made an effort to reach out like this before has to do with fear.  This came up when I was talking to one of my friends about how people flake out on things at the last minute.  It's a thing.  But when it happens to me, it makes me feel like people don't like me.  (And Lord knows, I already have enough insecurities!)  But what is ironic about this is that I know, as an introvert, I flake frequently.  Especially at the end of the day or the end of the week when I lack the energy to deal with people.  I flake on people I really care about, and I know it's not about them at all.  It's about me and my own energy level.

So I've been making an effort to remind myself that just because someone might be busy when I ask them to do something, or they might end up working late at the last minute or something, it doesn't mean that they don't like me.  And now I'm just going to admit that writing that sentence made me feel like an idiot because it seems like a thing that an adult woman should not have to remind herself. But I do.  And I honestly think I'm not the only one who feels this way sometimes, which is why I'm writing this.  And also why I'm making a conscious effort to be less of a flake myself.  So if you're reading this, and we're friends in real life, and we haven't had a friend date in awhile, let's meet up.  I promise I won't flake.  Unless I really do have to work late.  I mean, it is DC after all.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Spinach and Sweet Potato Frittata

In my never-ending quest to make vegetables enjoyable, I give you this sweet potato spinach frittata!

It's full of protein and two of the most nutritious vegetables around!  Also, you can reheat it in the microwave and it is still delicious!  Perfect for any breakfast, lunch or dinner on the go!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Artist's Way

My friend Amy recently put out a call to see if anyone was interested in working through the Artist’s Way with her.  I had heard about this book over the years.  People often recommended it to me when I told them I had seemingly lost the ability to write poems.  I ignored the recommendations.  Although I knew absolutely nothing about it, the painting of Mount Fuji on the cover made it seem a little too new age for my liking.  I really like hanging out with Amy, though, and I have been wanting to start trying to write again.  In my new post-Maine mindset, I thought why not give it a shot?  The worst that could happen is that I finish it and I’m still not writing.

Around the same time this was happening, another friend suggested I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, which is about cultivating creativity.  The last time I read an Elizabeth Gilbert book, I got a divorce.  What could go wrong?

The Artist’s Way is basically a twelve-step program for artists.  The premise is that everyone possesses creative power, and that creative power is directly connected to the creative energy of God or the universe or whatever you happen to believe in.  The exercises in the book are designed to facilitate reflection and introspection.  The author, Julia Cameron, calls it withdrawal.  She writes, "Ordinarily, when we speak of withdrawal, we think of having a substance removed from us.  We give up alcohol, drugs, sugar, fats, caffeine, nicotine—and we suffer a withdrawal.  It’s useful to view creative withdrawal a little differently.  We ourselves are the substance we withdraw to, not from, as we pull our overextended and misplaced creative energy back into our own core."

The program has several foundational elements that Cameron calls “basic tools.” 
  • Morning pages are stream of consciousness writing you are supposed to do when you first wake up.  (I’ve done this before in writing workshops.  Maybe my old writing teachers read this book.)  They are supposed to help clear out mental clutter. 
  • Artist’s dates are weekly solo excursions to nurture creativity.  They can pretty much take any form you like—a walk, a museum visit, a reading, anything as long as you do it alone. 
  • There’s a contract you sign committing yourself to the program.  I thought this was dumb, but then one of the members of our group told us there’s research to suggest that signing a contract actually does help change behavior.  So I signed the contract.
  • Lastly, there are weekly writing exercises.  They’re sort of therapy-like.  Questions and writing prompts that help you investigate the negative emotions and limiting beliefs that might be blocking creativity.

Our group had its first meeting last week.  We’re not going to meet every week.  Instead we have a facebook group where we can support each other, and we’ll get together periodically.  One of the things we talked about was how we saw ourselves doing with the basic tools.  Most of the other group members have young children, and they worried about finding time for their artist dates.  I, on the other hand, realized that with the exception of the roller derby years when I didn’t have time for anything but skating and cross training, I have been doing artist dates for basically my entire life.  They are my primary form of entertainment, actually.

Still, as I prepared to start the program, my inner pessimist kept taunting me with the obvious questions.  What if I fail?  What if I do all this and it doesn’t work?  What if I’m just really not a poet?  What if I am really just not good enough?

But the insight about the artist dates, as well as insight from Gilbert’s book helped me shift my thinking.  Big Magic isn’t just about being a writer, it’s about living a creative life, which Gilbert defines as “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”  Thinking about creativity as the triumph of curiosity over fear helped me think about all the ways in which I do live creatively, even when I’m not writing.

I have spent a lot of time berating myself for all the hours wasted in the last twenty years not writing.  All that wasted creativity!  But now I can imagine my creative power as a tiny flame deep in the hollow of my heart, and I begin to understand that all these years I thought I was not being creative because I wasn’t writing, I was still doing things to keep that flame alive.  All the journaling, the books, the art museums, the book talks and poetry readings, the hikes in the country and the walks in the city.  Maybe even my fitness journey (and this blog) which are, after all, about creating the version of myself I want to be.  And certainly my job, even though it may look bureaucratic to an outsider.  For instance, a colleague and I spent a lot of time this summer developing a new training, and the process of pulling those training ideas out of the air and bringing them to life in a hotel conference room didn’t feel that different from the process of writing a poem.

So maybe instead of feeling bad about all the wasted time, I can congratulate myself for feeding that flame so faithfully during all the years I wasn’t writing.  And maybe I can trust that the flame is bright enough to light the way as I turn my attention back to putting stanzas on paper.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Invisibility and Politics

In the wake of the infamous Donald Trump tape, women have been sharing their stories of sexual assault on the internet.  I didn’t think I was going to do it, even though I, like pretty much every other woman I know, have stories.  There’s the old man, impeccably dressed and seemingly harmless until he felt me up and kissed me on a walking trail in Spain.  The stranger who groped me on the corner of 12th and New York here in DC.  The high school boyfriend who hit me while we were having sex.  Although I think I consented to the sex before he started hitting me, so maybe that just makes it regular assault, not sexual assault.  I don’t know.  I’m not a lawyer and, more importantly, I shouldn’t have to weigh questions about what type of assault my boyfriend perpetrated upon me.

But these are not the stories I set out to tell tonight.  Tonight I just wanted to talk about what happened to me in a bar in my neighborhood, where I met one of my friends for a drink. 

The friend got up to go to the bathroom, and a guy immediately came over and took his seat.  There was something aggressive about his manner so I had that fleeting moment where I had to think about what I was going to say that wouldn’t make him angry.  This is a thing that women have to worry about because an angry man, we have learned, might be a dangerous man.

The man said, “What’s your name?”

I said, “My friend is actually sitting in that seat.”

The man stayed in the seat and said, “I won’t be long.”  He then proceeded to try, again, to chat me up.  The bartender saw what was happening and came over to tell him to move just as my friend came back and asked for his seat back.  The guy got up and said, “Sorry, man” to my friend.

Sorry, man.

Sorry for hitting on this girl who is here with you.  But not, apparently, sorry for ignoring the actual words that came out of my actual mouth when I told him the seat next to me was taken.

When I was overweight, I was invisible to most men, which meant that I was used to being treated as if I did not exist.  When I started to lose weight, I thought that would mean I wouldn’t be so invisible anymore.  However, what I have come to understand is that even when you attract the male gaze, to be the object of that gaze is, in fact, to be invisible.  I am somebody’s daughter, somebody’s date, somebody’s aunt, somebody’s sexual conquest.  What I really want to ask, in a tone that would probably be characterized as “bitchy” or "hysterical" or "angry" is when do I actually get to just be me? 

This is not just about politics although my politics are a surprise to no one.  It’s about more than just Donald or Hillary.  It’s about every fucking man who thinks he knows better than I do what is good for me, my body, my life.

And, yeah, the personal is political.  So when you look at those maps that show how Trump would fare in the election if only women voted, if you do not understand why women are so angry, I need you to please, please, please go and ask a handful of women to tell you their stories of assault, misogyny, sexism.  Vote for whoever you want, but after you’re done voting, please try to understand why those comments hit such a raw nerve.  Because that rawness, those feelings of fear and shame and helplessness and frustration are a part of our everyday lives, and that won’t change on November 8th regardless of who wins this election.

I told my friend what had happened.  I said, “It’s like the words that came out of my mouth had no meaning whatsoever.”

My friend said, “You should have grabbed him by the balls.”