Of Trees, My Body, and Joy

I was just at the podiatrist, and while I waited in the exam room, sitting high up on a table, I had a view out the window of a stand of trees. The wind was blowing something—not fierce so much as persistent. In the forefront of this stand of trees, were the group with all their new leaves on them, and the wind was tossing them about and it made me think of two things in rapid succession: First, of the exuberance of young girls wearing flowing skirts for the first time and how they twirl and bend and thrill at the feel of the fabric making them feel bigger and lighter and full of joy.

The second thought was of young women, joining in a circle dance for the benefit of the much taller trees that stood in the middle, but further back. All I could see from the narrow window were the leafless trunks of those trees in the middle. All phallic symbols aside, in my little reverie, they were the men and the young women were dancing for them, full of joy and desire.

And then, as I watched the leaves like skirts, blowing about in the breeze, I began to think back to my own childhood, and being that young girl, infatuated with breezy movement, when the wind would tickle my legs with long grass or the hem of my own skirt. How my body was my own and every day I was kind of excited about what new thing I found it could do. Bend over backwards, yes. Run fast, like the wind, perhaps in my own mind. Skate? Throw a basketball? Twist and bend? yes, yes, yes and yes. All these things. When I finally figured out how to swing my leg up to the crook of the small tree in the side yard, and pull myself up into the tree, I marveled at myself, up there with the big kids who each had a tree of their own, calling to each other like monkeys in the jungle.

And then, I grew up. At what point did I stop marveling at the abilities of my limbs to work in conjunction with each other to propel me up, over and forward. Or even backward. At what point did I lose joy in my body because it wasn’t “her” body. How old was I when self consciousness took over and I lost the ability to even dance like the leaves of the trees.

When I looked at those dancing limbs on the trees, I felt the newness of them. They had only recently unfurled themselves and they had the bright green color of youth about them. Untamed and delighted, they reached for each other as if across a trapeze and I felt myself new again in the watching.

I felt myself engaged in a joy I projected on them and I began to wonder … is it possible to not just project it on them, but feel it for myself? Is it possible, in these days when everything is so … ugly … to reclaim the beauty of a young leaf’s dance and sway in the wind, with the music, under the stars?

I want you to read this book

I inhaled Hunger by Roxane (one n) Gay. I don’t mean it in the food metaphor way, I mean it in the breath-way, you know, the normal way we think of inhaling. I took it all in in three long breaths, filling not only my lungs with it, but my heart, my brain, and my body.

I want you to read this book if you are a parent, or a child. I want you to read this book if you have been in a family and that family dynamic has left you unable to tell the truth about you, about your body, about what you do with or has been done to your body. I want you to read this book if fat* makes you feel ashamed, or if you feel like fat is who you are. More, though, I want you to read this book if you think fat is a character flaw, a moral outrage, or a thing that only slovenly, lazy people become.

In a nutshell, I want YOU to read this book.

It’s an easy read, offered in 88 chapters, which may sound like a lot, but she serves it up in pieces that range from a paragraph or two to five to seven pages.

It’s an easy read more so because Gay is a gifted writer who tells the story as she needs to—going in and out and around an issue as she would if she were sitting next to you telling you the story.

It’s an easy read because the words are chosen carefully and provide you the exact words you need to understand her life.

And it is a hard read because the truth is never easy.

This truth, this memoir of her body, is both personal and universal and when I tell you I want you to read it it is not because I think you are fat, but because I think you are as afraid of fat as I am, even as I am swaddled in the protection it provides, keeping me from doing things that thin me would have done easily, recklessly, harmfully.

I want you to read this if you are thin and especially if you are parenting a fat child. I want you to read it because maybe you will see that what looks like laziness is actually fear, or horror, or a protective body response. I want you to stop trying to fix your kid’s “fat” and find out who they are and what they are hiding and how your family dynamic might be creating a distance that may, one day, be hard to draw back.

I was particularly moved by Gay talking about her family dynamic, about how her parents were persistent in changing her body, but not entering into a conversation about the why of it. Maybe her parents thought they were doing that but it isn’t how it was registered for Gay. How horrible to carry trauma around for decades—and how many of us do that?

I came away from this book wondering all the ways I used shame as my children were growing up—shaming them, shaming myself, amplifying the “bad” behavior. It’s only recently, as my children have become women, that I recognize all the signs of ignoring the why while focusing on how that why manifests. I remember a very hard conversation with one of my daughters that switched on a dime when I said “what’s really going on? This is not about a five dollar hamburger?”

Translate “fat” into drug or alcohol abuse, or self-harm, or perfectionism and ask yourself how am I really parenting this kid? What am I doing or not doing to find out the root of the behavior rather than responding only to the behavior.

I want you to read this if you are afraid of your body—of owning it, of expressing it, of loving it (just as you are), of being it.

People sometimes say that we are not our bodies or that our bodies are just a container for who we are. Hunger may make you rethink this. Who I am is shaped, in large measure by my body and while I could change my body and work harder to make it lean and then maybe fly more comfortably to a foreign land, my body is also shaped by who I am.

I want you to read this book.

I want you to read it for it’s lyrical nature and for the insights it might give you into your own body, but mostly, mostly, I want you to read this book because it will change you from the inside out.

I want you, too, to inhale it, deeply, and then exhale love and understanding to the people you know, but more so to those you don’t: the woman on the train, the homeless warrior, the mother who yells at her kids in Target, the people whose lives don’t fit your mold. I want you to wonder why you are the way you are and others are the way they are. I want you to consider that our culture offers only a limited number of “acceptable” or “normal” standards and how much you miss when you limit yourself to those few options, too.

I want you to read this book.

Really.

*I use fat here as a descriptor, not to denigrate. I use the word fat because it is the correct word. What you bring to that word may be your work to do.

The bad foot and the good fight

The sky is threatening a storm. Earlier, as I woke, the thunder rumbled and rumbled like a cranky old person who isn’t quite sure if they want to get up out of their chair or not. No, that wasn’t the thunder; it was me.

I’m waiting to go to a doctor’s appointment about this bone spur on my foot, one I must have had from years of walking up and down hallways, standing in doors as I watched the real action going on “inside” the room I was watching; from years of walking on Michigan Avenue while wishing I could blink my eyes and be transported home, where my feet could be up and my eyes could be closed. A bone spur aggravated when I thought I could march and march and march some more with a million of my closest friends, joining together to be seen and heard before the impending rollback of what rights we thought we had.

I just looked at my phone from that day: 9.2 miles on a body that hadn’t walked further than from the couch to the kitchen in many months leading up to that march. I remember standing on the Metro because there were so many of us, jamming ourselves in, and welcoming the next group with hurrahs and groans, and standing up straight because there was no other way in that crowd.

I winced with every jerk and buckle of the train because my foot hurt so godd@mn bad and my eldest daughter looked at me and said “you don’t have to look at me like that every time I look at you” because she didn’t know I was holding on to that strap with every ounce of my body shrieking from a pain that emanated from the ground up.

But it was worth it, to march when we felt there was nothing else we could do in that moment. And now, finally, all these months later, I’m getting my foot looked at (again) while that man travels abroad, embarrassing me, my country, and enraging the world with his dreams of a resurgence of the 1950s policies without the tax rates that fueled that economic stability and dog whistling a brand of white nationalism that is so regressive and hateful that it has ripped apart the dream we thought we had of America. I remind myself as I type that that perhaps that is not all bad. Perhaps shredding a dream that left out more than it let in is the first step.

Alas. The sky lightens a bit and it appears it may not rain on my head as I hobble nobly to the car, back straight and hopes realigned with the truth that good will not win on its own, as this foot will not heal on its own.

Watermelon Days

It was a chilly day for summer, but still I sat on the deck as the wind ruffled the pages of the book I was reading and tried (and failed) to keep the watermelon juice off the pages.

I had cut the watermelon the way my mother always did: in half, then halving the half, then halving the fourth, so I had a wedge that contained a part of the sweet heart of the fruit. That’s why she cut it that way, she used to tell me–so that everyone could have part of the very heart of the melon. Though “everyone” in our family turned out to be my mom, me, and an eldest sister who left the house when I was 12.

She taught me to start from the point of the wedge, to use both fork and spoon: one to scoop and one to flick the seeds onto the plate. Start at the back, she said, and then lift the heart and eat it last.

Sitting on the deck yesterday afternoon while my youngest daughter napped and my husband worked, with those pages doing everything but laying flat while I tried to eat that watermelon, I remembered afternoons doing the same with my mom. Now, there are no seeds, though, so no reason to use a fork and no scary tales of how if you swallow the seeds, fruit will grow out of your mouth and nose and even your armpits (among other places).

I savored the sweet and juicy slice of memory that crept up on me like the big orange cat. It was a small memory, but one that stood in for much more:

  • A flash of the table we gathered at when I was quite little and my father was still a minister and the story of the seeds and how they would grow became an even bigger tale when relayed by older siblings.
  • As a long, lean teen, stretched out on my belly on a towel, with the plate of watermelon and a book splayed out in front of me–still a challenge to manage both fruit and page at once.
  • As a mom, sitting on the deck and spitting seeds out into the lawn as my daughters clamored on the swingset, only one of the three even remotely interested in anything but the spitting.

Here’s maybe what’s best about lazy summer days: you go where the memories take you. Or, maybe, you start with a familiar and simple thing and find yourself following the memory the familiar brings. Then the wind and the sun and the lazy orange cat who nudges at your hand and prods you into putting down the book or the phone to pet him allows you to remember the details that may or may not have been true: the table you gathered at and the yard out the sliding door that was really just the parking lot of the church where your dad worked. The tricycle your brother always stole from you and then whipped around that parking lot, his foot on the back step of it, his hands on the handlebars with the long white streamers that flew back as the peddles spun rapidly round, footless, because he was using his other foot to push himself with all his might and speed, because he didn’t care for watermelon, only for constant movement, as fast as he could go. And your other sister, the one closest to you in age, wearing the matching, though slightly bigger, romper your mother sewed for you in the 1960s when sewing was less expensive than buying and every town had a fabric store that became the place you went to most with your mother, second to the grocery store, and how you know, now, how hard that must have been for her, and still she went.

I think summer is the time we invent ritual, both in time and in memory. The days without structure that seemed endless and full of hula hoops and skip rope and forts made in empty lots of dirt clods, tumbleweeds and forgotten brick, or in living rooms made of blankets and pillows. And reading. Lots of reading and watching television shows over and over and over again.

Summer is a lazy and relentless opening for creativity and possibility.

And watermelon. Always watermelon.

 

What to Learn from a Murder of Crows?

Photo courtesy of free downloads from Pixabay.com.

The crows woke me up this morning, yelling at each other from trees in my yard to those skimming the branches in the next door neighbor’s yard. It came to me, in that moment while I was waking, that this must be why a group of them is called “a murder.” I was certain they were in the midst of committing such an atrocity and for a fleeting moment, I worried that the victim was the big orange cat.

My husband was away golfing, having left very early on a lovely Father’s Day to enjoy time with other men. With two daughters in the house, both sleeping, I got up to investigate both the noise outside the house and the quiet within and then started the ritual of streaming through Facebook to see what I have missed.

The name Philando Castile came up in my feed, as it had through the last two very busy days, and murder came up in my face for the second time on this very lazy morning.

Murder isn’t always noisy, like those crows. Sometimes murder is loud like the bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang of shots being fired into a young black body. But sometimes, sometimes murder is quiet, the low tones of a cat, sluicing through the tall grass, capturing the mole or the vole or the tiny baby rabbit. Or the quiet of the single voice saying “not guilty.”

I don’t know murder. I’m a middle-aged white lady who was zipping down the Interstate last night and saw a white Trooper with his gun drawn on a car, stopped, with one black arm stretching out of the driver’s window, fingers splayed. It didn’t register what we were seeing until we were beyond the blue car with the black arm. The white arms steady, with a squared off rod at the end of it.

I don’t know what happened there, but I assume there was no murder because when I search the interwebs, there’s still nothing there. And yet, there was something there. And perhaps the man in the blue car attached to that black arm was a bad man who did something beyond driving fast while black. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But the murder of crows called me out of my sleep this morning, wondering what’s all the fuss, while the Baptists gather in the church behind my house, and a food truck waves a blue lives matter flag and I work in a place where there are signs that tell people how to dress for respect (read: white) and a white man walks in with a t-shirt with the confederate flag and the words “it’s heritage not hate” and it is okay because it has sleeves but I think you can’t have heritage without knowing history, and the history may not be hate, but it sure isn’t about respecting black lives.

Crows are symbols of prophecy, I read on the google. What prophecy did they bring me this morning in their insistent call to wake up?

Frogs, Train Whistles and the Heart that Prays in sleep

So hot today. Sticky hot today. Hair not working hot today. Went outdoors and sweat so quick and then back inside where the air nearly froze my skin to my clothes. And back outside. Home again, to dry clothes and a blanket against the air conditioning.

And then that rain. No wait. First there was hail. Hail like wobbly marbles, all elliptical and such. Maybe as round as a nickel, maybe a dime. And then the hail became the rain we needed, rain we’ve been asking for, rain we look for when the grass goes brown.

And then the pastel sunset, all pinks, purples and blues and that fireball red in the center of it all, shaking it’s light all out against the clouds white and gray, making them sing like they, too, were the light.

And darkness. Time for bed and the realization it is cool enough now to open the window and feel neither too cold nor too hot. And listen to the night sounds as I lay me down to sleep. Teenagers just going out for the night because it’s summer, duh. The train five blocks–or is it six–down the way, running west to east, using its night horn–low and long–at every. single. crossing.

And now the frogs call out to each other. I’ll fall asleep to their trill and wake in the morning to the early birds who are fat with night worms, drunk from the rain, forgetting to dive deep before the light.

For now, I practice my writing and say my prayers and offer blessings to the train engineer for safe crossings and a light touch on that horn. Pray for things to change in ways I can’t understand and for the opening to learn new ways to meet the day. And try not to scratch the mosquito bites that adorn my body like nubby lace after using the late evening as my canopy against the heat to plant flowers in pots so I can see the beauty of a midwest summer, when my heart still aches for the desert.

My prayers are like the frog song, ongoing until interrupted by the whiz of a moped zipping toward that late-night meet up, and the horn, again, sounding off with the rumble of the wheels on track, clickity clack, wheels on track. And I start my prayers all over again.

Blessings to you, my friends. May you get what you don’t yet know that you need and may you lose what you don’t yet know that you don’t. And may you find the way to be useful where you are, in bringing peace, love and justice to you and yours and mine and ours while remembering we are all each others.

And now the sirens start from down the road and the calico cat snuggles deeper into my covers and tells me, with a flick of her tail, it’s time to turn the light out and the prayers off and move the computer so she can stretch out on my belly.

But even in my sleep, the frogs still sings and the prayers collect in my heart.

And goodnight says the guy with the busted muffler and I still will keep the window open all night.


Thanks to Sarah Bousquet at One Blue Sail, who wrote a beautiful post with a writing prompt in it that led to this bedtime meditation.

Not one picture

The bonfire was huge, lighting up our corner of the universe and the faces of the friends who gathered. But I didn’t take one picture.

Earlier, when the sun was still up, but definitely at least at a 30 degree angle, there were more people than chairs, huddled around tables and make-shift conversation areas, laid out in sets of fours that morphed into one large amoeba shaped grouping and a few smaller ones. It was a beautiful evening, no rain though some was predicted and the sky was a perfect backdrop for a selfie or several with friends from near and far. But I didn’t take a single one.

Even earlier, as my daughters gathered in the kitchen, making food and drinks for the party to celebrate my birth and life (and privately, in some small region of my heart, that I am still here), I didn’t take a single picture of them, singing Disney songs from nearly one score ago and dancing while they chopped and whipped and stirred and danced, and, because they are sisters three, fought a bit, as well.

And even still earlier, no pictures of my spouse, taking control of a party I wished for, out loud. Inviting, planning, shopping and asking all the right questions and pulling together an event, simply because I asked.

And not one picture was taken, at least not by me.

And not one picture is needed, as the night, the evening, the afternoon and the weeks leading up to this party well up within, and now, I can call up those feelings and those faces and the taste and feel of that champagne butter cream frosting and feel all the feels again–of love and kinship and a knowledge that the world is good (even when it is bad) because these people are in it and have shared themselves with me.

So here is a picture of the outline of trees taken from inside the house, illuminated by the light shining from the church behind our house. It can stand in for all the photos not taken–the light that shines from light bulbs, flames, and the love in each other’s eyes.

What’s Beautiful Here

What’s beautiful here is a house whose furniture belongs in a house of old, old things and old, old people. Broken or nearly-so. Fragile fabrics, like thin skin, bruising at every brush of a knuckle or seemingly kind word.

What’s beautiful here, where everything seems to be lightly stitched and held by twines and tufts of cat hair and dust.

What’s beautiful here. This is not a question. Because the answer is obvious, however much we like to hide it behind table cloth curtains and a ceiling of curses that fall on us with a laugh.

What’s beautiful here is … here.

Here where we gather. Here where we hurt full-throatedly and heal incrementally.

Here where we hang our art and tend to forget it until that day each quarter or so, when we take the dusting wand and swipe it lightly over the tops of frames and stop, if only briefly, to say “ah, I remember you.” Here where we relive the day we picked it out together and said “I do” all over again. I do love this. I do love you.

Here is what’s beautiful so we remember. As we look about, beyond the shoes and the books and the dishes that stack up on side tables and couter tops. Here is what’s beautiful.

What’s beautiful here is you. The you beyond your skin and hair and pants growing too saggy in your bottom even as mine grow tighter around my belly.

What’s beautiful here is your steadfastness, your loyalty, and your strength. Many men can benchpress the weight of me, but you, you carry me even when I am nothing but dead weight as you usher me forward, even while I draw you down and back.

What’s beautiful here, where the carpet and the couch are stained from a life of living with kids and kittens and a bevy of friends is not what is visibly here. Though some of that  is beautiful, too.

What’s beautiful here is the thing unspoken, the thing unseen, but often felt. It’s the thing that has broken us down and broken us open and the thing we rest our hearts on when we sleep.

What’s beautiful here is … us.

 

Buoyancy

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m sinking. Not bobbing up and down like I’m treading life, nor even my own weird little breast stroke toward a known shore. Just sinking, a teensy bit here and a teensy bit there.

I can feel the tug on my ankles, on my spine, and even, sometimes, at the base of my neck.

Of course, my initial reaction to this feeling is to think of it as negative: I’m drowning! Something is wrong! I must have a foot tumor! (I don’t. I have the fairly common and treatable plantar fasciitis–maybe, I see the doctor next week.)

This is me. “I’m sinking!” waving my arms toward a shore I can’t see and certain that no one is paying attention as the water covers my heart, my ears, my eyes.

Instead, I could rid myself of the water metaphor and simply tell myself: “I’m landing! I’m getting grounded! I’m finding my footing–even with a foot tumor!” and then rest in the damp grass while smelling the newly blooming flowers.

It is a choice, isn’t it? To decide if what I am feeling is a good thing or a thing of dread. Though most days it takes the form of dread and anger, until I look around me and see that I am cared for by someone who deserves so much more from a partner who isn’t partnering much these days–like he threw me the lifeline and instead of helping him to pull me back into the boat, I’m either floating, fully buoyant, or resisting with dead weight because that’s what I feel like right now. Dead weight.

You know, I sat down to write about underpants. Yup. Underpants. He hates when I write about such things. But I was remembering how I opened the underpants drawer the other day as I got dressed and there was a fire of joy lit when I saw that the ones on top were The Big Underpants–the cotton, stretched out but still functioning, REALLY big underpants. It was like, oh, THIS is going to be a comfortable day.

And then, boom, the realization that all my days are “comfortable” right now. None of my days require anything but the big underpants–or at least very few of them. This is when I feel the tug that feels like drowning.

Like when I am enjoying eating an orange as I sit on the steps of the back deck, sun shining on my face and the orange cat stretched out behind me in the shade of my body. And then, BOOM: I don’t deserve this. I have not worked for this moment of joy. And there isn’t enough grace in the universe to cover my not working, not deserving.

I am floating gracelessly these days–even floating between being fully buoyant and easy to move to being the full dead weight of myself. I’ve been floating from one thing until I land at the next, pretending I am laying the groundwork for economic recovery down the road. Except I’m not really pretending, because I believe it. I believe that I am planting seeds even when it feels like I’m just sitting on the wet turf, my bottom sinking deeper and deeper.

But it doesn’t buy bread or wine, this seed-planting.

And maybe I’m a fool for believing in myself when there is no evidence to point toward that ever working before. But this is me, putting one sore foot in front of another. Trying to find my ground again. Trying to remember that gravity is my friend and being pulled down is not always a bad thing.

Oh, and all days should be big underpants days. Just sayin’.

 

#UULent: Peace

I came to my blog not to write about UULent, but to give voice to the panic that is arising within me as world leaders play chicken with the threat of nuclear annihilation.

And then I peeked at the calendar where I wrote the topics that I have been ignoring for way too long. (Did I mention that I’m not real good at this Lent thing?)

Peace.

For Good Friday, talk about peace. Picture peace. Put peace in a picture.

Peace.

The church bells just went off so I know it is noon and I’m thinking about drinking or taking a few anxiety pills because … annihilation. Because some people think that war is good and our President just made a bunch of money when he sent all those Tomahawk missiles into Syria. And then the Mother of All Bombs. Parenthetically: Can we talk a bit about how we name things here? Don’t include mothers in your killing and why are you appropriating words from the culture you tried to annihilate without nuclear weapons.

But I digress.

Peace.

It was just last week when I posted the following to Facebook after the first airstrikes–a post uncommonly full of expletives for me. Sort of.

So, in the middle of writing this post, I just went upstairs to eat a f*cking orange. Because the advice and the oranges are still good.

But it doesn’t bring me to peace.

Nor can it. Because the peace I’m seeking isn’t out there so much as in here–in this swirling brain and body who take too much in sometimes for it to be healthy. And I’m not just talking about carbs. Though … carbs.

What’s really got me mad at this moment is the realization that I’m am on the verge of being more mentally sound than I have been in ages. Color is coming back into the world–which is not a metaphor. I’ve been rereading Crossing to Avalon, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, and she talks about the grayness of depression that I hadn’t yet recognized was part of the problem.

I’ve been acting like a toddler lately: look, there’s yellow. Look at those blues. And it isn’t just because it’s April in the midwest where it is always gray, but it is because I have been living in my own gray cave for much too long.

And I just started poking my head and toes out into the world beyond (sort of a hokey-pokey for the soul) when all thus f*ckery and gamesmenship started between the man in our whitehouse (or his gold hotel, wherever he is right now) and this crazy man in North Korea. (And what is it about authoritarians and bad hair? I don’t mean to be superficial here, but you’d think by now we would have spotted the trend.)

So … peace.

I know I won’t get it by chasing it or by eating an orange in one fell swoop because I want it to make me feel better.

Don’t tell me I’ll find it in God’s love right now. Or the love of Jesus. Because for the love of Jesus, we need to stand up for decency right now. We need to say that Black, Brown and Indigenous lives matter. We need to say that women are owed primacy in the decisions affecting their bodies. We need to say that we could pay for the lunches of all children for one year with one presidential trip to Florida. And what would Jesus think about our president making money off of bombing people?

So here’s the thing, before all the Christians come getting up in my grill for blaspheming during Holy Week: I believe in God. I believe in goodness and I believe that people who hate others for whatever reason have been wounded and are fearful. And I believe that God lives in the divide between fear and hate. And more than anything, I believe that there are many paths to God because not everyone will come to Jesus through a book written by many men long after Jesus died.

So on this day that is holy for many and this time that is fraught for many more, I’m still going to hold out that orange and say: eat this and remember what is good. Especially to myself.

Peace is in that divide, with God. And I’m doing my best to get there, too. Even with a foul mouth and a cranky attitude.

So I will sit with my fear and the hatred I’ve felt and recognize my own wounds even as I try to love my neighbor as my self.

So, if the world does end today in a fiery ball of fission, let these be my last words: I love you. Even when I’m cranky. Even when the oranges are gone. Even when I am gone. You just can’t nuke that out of a body.

Peace out.