Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Taking action

One of the blogs I subscribe to had a post yesterday about taking action. That it's all well and good to set intentions and speak your desires into the universe but that you still have to get moving and do something. In AA, this taking action is called "doing the footwork." You do your part in getting things done, in making things happen.

The blog post made me think about where I'm not taking action and they are all things that scare me, that seem risky. Can I give up the fruit popsicles and granola bars that are seeming a little too close to dessert now? Can I acknowledge that I'm using them to stave off feelings rather than hunger? Can I send off the draft of my novel, finished for over a year, to an agent or publisher or three dozen of them and see if I can publish it? Can I raise my rates with my clients and keep their business? Can I make a foray into a different kind of social life, one with more men in it, so that I might meet somebody I'd like to get to know? Can I actually change my work schedule around even more so that I have two days a week to write or paint and more fully step into the life of the artist that I dream about?

I'm finding it scary just to write these things down. But I know that it's with taking action that things happen. And while there's a nice fantasy about having things drop into our laps or show up at the door, there's also a lot of satisfaction in getting what we want from our own efforts.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Loving yourself is counter-cultural

My monthly women and food group met this afternoon, and I shared part of the Lighten Up CD with them. We got into a wonderful discussion about the magic of love and the powerful nature of loving ourselves and the difficulty of doing that in a culture that is based on hatred of the body (both from our Puritanical origins and from over 50 years of constant advertising messages that teach us, or rather brainwash us, into dissatisfaction with what we have and who we are so that we will buy stuff and keep the economy going).

Women are, I think, drawn to the food group, because they are looking for yet another way to lose weight, to somehow avoid the deterioration of aging and regain that slim, youthful body that they still expect to see in the mirror. I reminded them that the group's goal is peace, peace with food, peace with ourselves and that there's nowhere to get to except there.

I have felt more of that in the week that I've been doing the simple Lighten Up exercise. I am able to look at myself in the huge mirror that stretches across one whole wall of my rather large bathroom and be okay with what I see, something I didn't think would ever happen. Going against the grain is not easy, turning off the discouraging, dissatisfaction-producing messages is also not easy, but maybe it's time more of us were revolutionary in this sense. Maybe it's time to say "enough" to our culture's obsession with only a certain kind
of beauty, only a certain look. I'd love to see Oprah with her own skin and hair on the cover of her magazine one of these days.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Low energy, low spirits

I didn’t know Evangelista Torricelli from Adam
Until five minutes ago
Didn’t know he’d invented the barometer
Or that he had his own law
About the speed of a fluid
Flowing out of an opening
I just knew that we’d had 30 days of
Measurable rain and what’s worse for me
30 days of low barometric pressure
Which translates not into a useful invention
Or a property of matter but a matter of
Low energy and low spirits
As if I’m dragging along the bottom
Of my own particular ocean towing the
Water-logged carcass of my dreams

Evangelista called Galileo friend
And birthed the modern wind
Not blown by gods or angels but born
When hot sky meets cold or cool meets warm
He believed the sun was at the center
Of things although he clearly never spent a
Winter in Portland where the sun is so far
Out on the fringes of imagining
If he had, he would have forsaken Copernicus
And forgotten, as we do, that the sky is ever blue

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Loving your body

My good friend Judy Todd dropped off a CD last Thursday that she thought I might like. I'm not much of an aural learning so I don't listen to books on tape or talking CDs very often but Sunday when I took my day of ease, I popped it in and sat down with a cup of tea. The CD is by Carol Hansen and is an audio version of a workshop she does called "Lighten Up." It's Hansen's contention that one way we can learn to love ourselves better is to love our bodies. It's certainly true that in the US at least, most of us have lost whatever love we had for our selves. This is a consequence of living in a culture that has as a dominant theme, perpetual dissatisfaction so that we will continue to buy things in the hopes that that purchase will make us feel better.

And it's not news that the images we are bombarded with us, especially with the advent of airbrushing, means that we aren't thin enough, or shaped right, or pale enough, or tan enough, or blonde enough, or young enough. Whatever we are, it isn't what should be. Hansen's idea is to daily express gratitude to our bodies for all they do for us and to love them out loud. It's a simple two-step process that takes about 5 minutes a day. So I'm going to give it a try.

Hansen makes some pretty amazing claims about people who've done her program and I'm always skeptical about miracle cures, but if this can bring me into a better emotional alignment with my physical self, I'm willing and don't need promises of major weight loss or supreme health to convince me.

I'll keep you posted.

And to check out Carol's work:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Taking a Sabbath

"Work when there is work to do. Rest when you are tired. One thing done in peace will most likely be better than ten things done in panic...I am not a hero if I deny rest; I am only tired. --Susan McHenry

Yesterday I ran out of steam. I had a busy early part of the day. I had breakfast with a good friend; then we went to a wonderful workshop on creativity and aging. I left there, hurried home so I could get to the bank and make a deposit before a friend arrived to do a Feng Shui consultation. Usually things aren't so hurried for me but I'd gotten it stuck in my head that I needed to get all these things done yesterday. Christina left at 3:45 and I was just all of a sudden done, even though it was only the middle of the afternoon.
I watched a movie, called my gym buddy and used a Get-out-of-the-gym Free card, made some dinner, watched another movie. Then I slept nearly 11 hours, 3 beyond my normal. I've been flirting with a virus so that may have been some of my fatigue but mostly I was just tired of doing and needed a rest. I needed a Sunday with nothing on my calendar: NOTHING. And sometimes I can't seem to just take that as a natural part of living; instead, I often wait until my body says NO MORE.
Today has been wonderful. I've had what I call a do-whatever's-next day. I just do whatever I think of next. I wrote in my journal, did a little personal email, made some breakfast, took down my outside porch lights from the winter dark time, finished the novel I'd been reading, did some collage, did the exercises for next month's creativity class, had something to eat, listened to a CD a friend loaned me, did a little more collage, did the dishes, wrote my two blogs. I know that's a lot but it was so restful to have all the time I wanted for each activity that it didn't feel like a lot at all. I'd had so much sleep I didn't need a nap but I would have taken one if it had occurred to me. I feel re-energized and reconnected. Hurray!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Glorification of bad behavior

Lat night, I watched the movie Social Network. I almost turned it off after the first few minutes, as the main character, Mark Zuckerberg, is portrayed as such a callous narcissist that I could barely watch him. I hung in there, fascinated and horrified at the story unfolding before me, barely a likeable character among them, except the girl who bookends the story. And when I'd finished and learned that Facebook is a 25-billion-dollar company (for what?) and thought about the fact that this was a Best Picture nominee (for what?) and thought about the glorification of insensitivity and callousness and narcissicism, I just felt so discouraged.

It's a sad story to me that the "hero" of the film, whose life is worthy of a big-budget bio-pic, is someone who is brilliant and who cheats others and doesn't care whom he hurts. Are integrity and kindness and some amount of decorum so old-fashioned? And I wonder if this is how my parents felt about my generation, though as I remember us in our youth, we had social ideals of improving life for the poor and it wasn't all about making piles of money, disrespectful of tradition as we may have been. I want very much to blame this on the Reagan years, when rugged individualism became about "me" getting rich.

The party scenes didn't disturb me. I partied like that some and I find that kind of thing rather boring now. It may be more excessive and less personal today, the drugs harder, the sex more public, but lust is lust and addiction is well what fuels most of that and I have my own stories there.

The one really interesting character for me was the ethical brother of the twins, the guy who believed in being a gentleman, who believed that going to Harvard was an important privilege and that you play by the rules. He's made out to be a ninny by his brother and their friend and his ethics are scoffed at even by the president of the university, one of the most discouraging characters of all. 

I don't often feel morally righteous, and I sure don't like that feeling, but that's what I was left with.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The capacity to witness suffering

I was struck over the weekend by our fascination with disaster, our ability to watch the same few seconds or minutes of video footage of horror and trauma again and again. I'm not sure what fuels that fascination, whether it's relief that it isn't us, the vicarious thrill of experiencing from the safety of a warm living room, or just the innate human curiosity to see what happens to others.

I stopped attending to the news in any systematic way in 1986 when the Challenger exploded and we became riveted onto the fiery deaths of those individuals. I had already become disenchanted with the focus on violence and negativity that fueled both newspapers and TV news programs as if no one ever did anything nice for anybody anywhere. But that replay and replay and replay of those seconds of immolation unnerved me in a way I hadn't expected, and I stopped paying attention to what was wrong and began to focus on what was right in the world.

Although my opinion is in no way scientific, I don't think we are programmed/wired/geared to handle the knowledge of mass suffering. In our early times, we would have known of only the suffering of our village or tribe and perhaps a neighboring village or tribe if the plague or famine or flood reached that far. On that scale, we could explain it, according to our beliefs, and what's more important we could cope and help out. We could integrate it into our worldview and into our beings.

But when disaster is so large, as with the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactors, and so pervasive (Katrina, Haiti, New Zealand, AIDS, genocide in Africa, child sex trafficking, drug wars, etc.), we cannot absorb this into our understandings and so we live in fear and anxiety and impotence and we run the risk of turning away in protective indifference from any suffering and turning a blind eye to where we can help.

I'm not sure how we best protect our psyches so that we can be of service. I just know that after an hour in front of the TV on Friday morning, I've stayed away from the news and tried to be as kind to the others I encounter as I can be.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I slept through the knocking of the kindly man canvassing the neighborhood at 2:30 to warn us of the earthquake in Japan. I didn't hear the hurried conference between two housemates here at the beach about when they should wake us. I didn't hear the first round of sirens in the distance. But I did hear the voices at my door telling us to get up, get packed, load the cars, and hurry on to higher ground.

Every March, six of us old friends come to Arch Cape on the Oregon Coast to the house of the recliners. The old house has four bedrooms that sleep us comfortably and a long row of plate glass windows out onto the ocean below. In front of the windows are five royal blue recliners, where we assume the reading, napping, dozing, reflecting, dreaming position for 3 days. We also play a lot of canasta, do art together, read a lot, eat, and talk. Some years we get great weather and some of the group hikes; some years we get rain, rain, rain. This year so far we've had sun, rain, wind, cool, warmer, and early this morning our own version of the devastating tsunami that hit Japan last night.

We got online right away, saw that we had about 40 minutes to pack and go but we all went into adrenaline alert, making a quick cup of tea to take with, putting everything unloaded last night into our cars, heading up the hill to the church. At 60 feet above sea level, it's considered a safe zone though I argued for going further south and up to Nehalem. But we agreed to stick together and the church got opened up and heat on and lights on and about 50 of us waited for information.

About an hour later, we got word that the big waves were coming. My car was parked facing west out onto the ocean through a slice of trees so I went out and sat in it and watched the Pacific do its dance. The waves looked big but no more than a winter storm. We waited another hour, playing canasta, then cold, tired, we headed back to the house. Unpacked the cars again. Made some breakfast. The bigger effect on the water has been a series of very low tides and I suspect tide is not the word for it, where the water is sucked out, leaving the beach exposed, and then after a minute or so, it all rushes back in. This has been happening over and over since we got back.

We're all tired, not only from getting up early but from the adrenaline rush, the worry, the not knowing. Two people have been napping for several hours. I can feel my own fatigue and an interesting relentless kind of hunger that may well have to do with survival and certainly has something to do with needing to soothe myself. I think I'm going to go take a shower and see if that helps. There have to be more options in my life than food. :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

On bosoms

The TV at my gym is always on
Bret Maverick and John Wayne
And sometimes Mickey Rooney
And I always watch for the old matriarchs,
All of 50 or 60 years old
In their shapeless dresses, each bosom
A pillow any street corner Santa would have coveted
And I wonder if they didn’t have decent bras
Or if in their youth they’d been corseted to the point
Of collapse and wanted just to breathe free
Modern bras were invented in France, of course,
And widely sold by the 20s
But maybe they only came in small sizes
In the 30s and 40s, or maybe costumers or directors
Couldn’t handle the sexuality of these women
And needed to de-sex them into bosomy pillars
Of the community
Who never ran the bank or became mayor,
Their power sidelined into clubs and meetings about books
And pseudo-charlatans like Mesmer and Houdini
While their railroad-owning husbands chased showgirls
Whose tits needed no support
And I wonder where those cinematic stereotypes came from
The sexless Ma Kettle, the shapeless banker’s wife
Who never had much say in anything
And why women, who went to many more movies than men did,
Put up with it

Friday, March 4, 2011

The care and feeding of grandmothers

My grandmothers fed me, Cynthia said
A glass of water, honey? A piece of pie?
And I thought of Mabel Brainard
And her parceled-out sweetness
Of Vicks cherry cough drops, one for each of us
As she read Anne of Green Gables aloud
In her bed early on those summer mornings
My mother took us each August to visit her family
But I don’t remember a single thing
Grandma B ever cooked for us
I can’t remember a meal or snack or treat in all those
Years of one-week vacations after the burgers and milkshakes
We got in Pasco at the drive-in as we headed up to Kellogg.
And I thought of Violet Kelly
And her brown-sugar fruit cocktail cake
Coming out of that iron beast of a wood stove
In the kitchen at St Cloud Ranch
Me kneeling on a rough wooden chair
To spin the beaters and whip the cream
She’d urge me to take a second big piece
And finish the cream
Violet whose blood sugar had kept sweets
From her own lips all my life
Her thin legs roughly scarred from the daily insulin injection
I caught her at once
Made us sugar cookies in the deep winter
Of my 9-year-old unhappiness
Bought me caramels and movie magazines
When I was a sullen 13
Made huckleberry cobbler with her sister Edythe
And hand cranked the ice cream when we stayed
On the dairy in Cloverdale
And I thought about how I still miss Violet
Who died when I was 16
And how I hadn’t seen Mabel
In 20 years when she died at 101.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Joy in relationship

I had a powerful session with my spiritual director Anna today around my relationship with food. What's missing, she said, among other wise things, is joy. And I thought back to my childhood and the tensions at mealtimes and how food seemed a necessary evil to my mother, who'd grown up in a conservative religious home and battled her weight for decades, doing Weight Watchers and stashing Mr. Goodbars all over the house. I was stick thin in those years, running on nervous energy, stuffing myself with my own hidden candy bars, guiltily stopping at the Rexall Drug for cherry cokes and Milk Duds.

My mother fixed good food for us. There was pride in her work; staunch Puritans always have pride in their work. But there was no joy in it. Over my own decades I've taken a lot of sensual pleasure in eating and even for a while in cooking, but there was little joy, always a big tinge of guilt, both in the pleasure and in the calories.

When I got sober, I went back to food but always with guilt, always with that not-so-little voice telling me I was harming my body or harming my soul by enjoying the brownies I'd bake after dinner or the ice cream I'd bring home. I ate a lot in secret, just like my mom, I see now. Ashamed, guilty, embarrassed, and defiant.

Add to that the cultural guilt that gets lobbed at us by the media. That being overweight is a failure, that we lack discipline or will power. Many of us have plenty of both. But we are reluctant to give up this pleasure in an insecure world.

I no longer want to feel those emotions around food. I've got some big unlearning ahead of me.

My good friend Cynthia, after reading my last post, said that she heard a tug of war in my words, a struggle. What would happen she said, if you put down the rope, and found another way to be? What would happen?
I'm now ready to wonder.