Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Schoolyard reminders

I was walking by a schoolyard last Thursday on my way to visit a friend, and was struck by all these life’s little reminders, right there in their schoolyard.

Kindness:

Let your reach exceed your grasp:

Be present-minded:

Play nicely with others:

Smile.  You could be someone’s– maybe even your own– rainbow.

Don’t forget it has to start someplace, so be brave:

You’re only as alone as you let yourself be.

And the most important of all, because without it, you can’t do the rest full-heartedly:

 

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Fine lines

There’s a fine line between long-needed solitude & escapist reading– and catatonic denial & avoidance.  I’ve been trying to avoid crossing over, engaging in little small ways with the world the last couple of days even as all of me wants to just curl up in a ball and do nothing for a very long time.  (Nothing defined by read nothing too emotionally challenging, eat, sleep, spend a little time in the garden, repeat…)  So I’ve made calls to the plumbers & HVAC contractors to enquire about furnace service, something my dad hasn’t gotten around to doing as yet.  And I put in my short term disability claim over the phone, though that made me short of breath & panicked at the idea of scrutiny.   I went out of the house to get groceries, even if it was just to the corner meat market, & today I didn’t buy junk food, even if I did space out & leave my wallet at home.  (Thank goodness they know me & would take my check, because of course I carry my checkbook.)

Tomorrow, I’ve got therapy first thing in the morning, and that will provide me with papers to fax in for my leave, and I will do that.   (Functioning!  See!) Continue reading

La Lupa

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I am frequently asked if I have children– I don’t ask people why they ask me that question.  Is it because I am a woman of a certain age and it’s a “natural” assumption to believe that women over 25 should have children?  Is it because I’m not obviously a hyper-masculine bull-dyke and I wear Mary-Janes with quirky socks that coordinate with my clothes that are straight out of an L.L. Bean catalogue?  Is it because my behavior codes as maternal, in my brusque & busybody kind of way?  Is it because I work in a “helping” job and am usually the one with the common sense and resources/information to untangle people’s messes for them?  How do these qualities come to be associated with maternal/”do you have kids?” rather than just “oh my God, you people are idiots, step aside and let me fix this,” which is sometimes what my inner narrator feels like a lot of the time?  I try not to let that uncharitable & condescending sentiment show outside my head if I can.  Is it just that we live in a society where asking about children is part of trying to get to know who someone is?  (Why is that?) Continue reading

Gentle reminders

I joined the 21st century late last year and got a smartphone.  I mostly use it for reading tumblr, instagramming things I photograph with my cameraphone, reading email and things on AO3 and for the Poetry Magazine app, because nothing freaks people’s shit out on the bus like you reading POETRY on your phone, instead of oh, say, silly or steamy AO3 fic, in which case we exchange the tumblr handshake and admire one anothers’ shoelaces.  (It’s a thing.)  Needless to say, I’m having trouble managing to keep within my data plan, urgh.

One thing it’s been unexpectedly good for besides timewasting, however, is this– I use it for gentle reminders, notes to self, if you like.  Aside from being an alarm clock to wake up, I can set the calendar with daily reminders as it sits to charge on my desk.

10AM– eat breakfast.
1130AM– go walk around the sales floor & say hi to folks or get out of the building– 10 mins.
1 PM– eat lunch.
2 PM– use the bathroom.
4PM– have tea & visit someone.
7PM– go home, it’ll be here tomorrow.

(these are the actual calendar messages)

I forget to eat, or get caught up, or get interrupted.  Then it’s three hours later and I can’t figure out why I’m in such a foul mood, why my head hurts, etc., etc.  The employee bathroom is always crowded, and again, I am always getting interrupted, so yes– it seems silly, but a reminder to stop & use the bathroom is a good thing if I haven’t had time or have been stymied before then.  Time in the bathroom, alone, to take care of your body, wash your hands, wash your face, smile at whatever coworker is in there?  How is that silly?

I have other reminders relevant to work that are in my work calendar, set up in Outlook as recurring appointments (and now I’ve got to add them to my backup’s Outlook even if she’s a little alarmed at the number of them, I think she’ll see the wisdom)– to review my (myriad paper & computer ) to do lists at the start, middle & end of the week, to send out updates & request them, blocks of time in the week set aside when no, really, don’t interrupt me, unless you’re bleeding and there really is no one else in the building to help you, other productivity-oriented things I built in because I need the reminders against the constant onslaught of people, but these gentle reminders have been helping me feel a little more sane, as silly as they might seem.

I also have a sign taped to the inside of my bedroom door that asks:

Wallet?  Phone? Planner?  Keys?  Nook/Something to read?  Mail?  Food & water?  Silly, perhaps, but less frustrating then getting to work and not having the things that I need.

I used to think when I was younger that it was a sign of weakness to forget, to be absentminded, to be so distracted by other things that you couldn’t keep it all straight in your head.  Now, I don’t know if I’d say I know better, because better implies that there isn’t some optimal plane of work/life balance where it would, in fact, be possible to keep all those things straight.  Between my meds & side effects, my crazy, my family, and all the stuff at work, though, I’m not going to try– I’m just going to shoot for alternate mechanisms that allow me to be care-full of myself– and therefore for others.

If I remember to eat, I’ll be more attentive and in better blood sugar/mood, and therefore more patient.  If I’m not distracted by the fact that I haven’t been able to get into the damned employee bathroom for 5 goddamned hours, I’ll be more likely to give the problem its needed time.  And if I’ve been out of my office & around the store for a walk, taking the air & incidentally just saying hi, I’m not only socializing and not getting trapped in my office by one damned walk-in problem after another, but I’m meeting the problems somewhere where at least I’m not cornered and then I can walk on to the next one.

I’m considering adding more to this list for when I get home & for my before bedtime routine, but that’s a different post.

What are the reminders you could stand telling yourself?

 

Button-pushing, compliments, feeling heard, body shaming & how to ask– how are you?

Trigger, kneejerk, hot-button– whatever you call it, we all have them, mental health diagnosis & crappy life experiences or not.  It’s our choice, once we become conscious of those hot topics, to decide how we react when other people start mashing those buttons, on purpose or not.

Sometimes it’s easier to control your reaction.  Sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes you can have a conversation with the person who’s pushing your buttons and ask them to stop, take another approach, whatever– fill them in, ask them to be mindful.  And sometimes your hot-button “do not want mentioned around me” topic is their “I have to talk about this all the time” issue, because for them, it’s a life-or-death issue they need to be active around.  And sometimes, they’re objectively reasonable, or just subjectively trying to keep their head above water.  In either case, if you’ve said your piece and they aren’t going to mute themselves, it’s time to start tuning them out.

It all comes down to making sure you feel heard, feel seen– and if you’re feeling ignored, you need to do what you can to protect yourself from feeling unworthy of being heard, of being seen.  You are visible.  You should be as loud as you want.  And you should distance yourself from whomever won’t let you be yourself on your terms.

Either the person you’ve talked to about respecting your own buttons is going to notice & back off, or they’ll get hurt, get angry, or leave you alone.  Maybe they’ll even be enraged that you don’t care about them.  But wait– didn’t you already have that conversation about how for you, the mention of their “have to mention it all the time” issue is hurtful to you?

Right.  That.

I give myself permission to walk away once I’ve had the conversation and the person continues in the problem behavior.  I’m not going to fight with them, but I am also not going to waste time trying to make people understand further.   If they’re someone I mostly deal with online, well, thank goodness for filters– I can interact with them about things other than the hot button where possible.  If they’re someone I work with or live with, well, I just walk away from that conversation. Excuse myself, every time.

Food & weight are something I have kneejerk reactions around.  Both my parents are emotional, unhealthy, really overweight eaters who eat whatever’s in front of them and directly contrary to their explicit medical diagnoses, even to the point of it landing them in the hospital, and their pathological “eat everything on your plate” and “eat your feelings” attitudes have made me really fucked up when it comes to not feeling like I have to finish everything, and making healthy eating choices.  At 39, they still criticize me for not finishing everything on my plate, or serving a meal that doesn’t have meat in it even if 7/8 of the other meals in the week have animal protein.

Add to that the fact that I was bulimic in junior high so that I could find a way to stop being the fat kid no one wanted to be friends with, and that none of my family or “friends” noticed except to say I looked “great” and that it took getting sick from Lyme disease and then uncontrollably losing weight as a result (and still being told I looked “great”), and I not only have a lifelong aversion to chef’s salad (my food of choice at the time, and it now tastes like vomit) but have a distrust of anyone who compliments my appearance, because it reads to me as only a surface read.

When I got fat again after law school and then lost weight through a combination of low-carb/PCOS diagnosis and then having no control over further weight loss because my anticonvulsant bipolar med made me anorexic and have active revulsions to most foods, a lot of people told me that I looked “great!”

I felt pretty shitty about it, to tell you the truth.  None of my clothes fit, and people who’d never paid me any attention were flirting with me as if I was some new magic person.  I wasn’t.  Just thinner. There was only one person who asked during all of that time if the weight loss was something I had intended, and listened sympathetically– thank goodness for her.

My sister-in-law, who was an objectively physically attractive lady no matter her weight & couldn’t hear that,  had her own self-identified weight problems and had never been sympathetic (or maybe willing to acknowledge the reality of) to my mental health issues.  She even joked that she was going to get antidepressants if getting skinny was the result.  Since at the time I was seeing a nutritionist to try to put weight back on, the comment wasn’t appreciated, but arguing with her was like bashing my head on a brick wall.  My husband was mostly non-committal along the lines of “mm-hmm, if you think it’s important,” when I tried to talk about it with him, though toward the end, when I’d moved out of the bedroom and into the back bedroom, almost a YEAR after I’d started having weight issues, he caught me wearing a towel coming out of the bathroom and said, offhand, distracted– “oh, you have lost a lot of weight, I guess.”

Talk about being invisible.

Living with my dad now is its own struggle because he’ll eat everything in the house, and if I bake a treat he will eat anything I don’t hide.  He is dismissive of anything that wasn’t a real thing when he was in college (food allergies, medical diagnoses, etc.) and we’ve had a few screaming matches, but at the end of the day he knows, at least, not to poke me because I will poke back even harder, and he at least knows that my tongue is sharp, because I learned it from him.

“Are you putting on weight?”
“I don’t know, I still fit my clothes, so I don’t really care.  What’s it to you?”

“You should finish everything on your plate.”
“I’m 39, I’ll leave leftovers if I fucking want, the refrigerator works and we still have tupperware unless you have something to tell me.” (Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t swear but sometimes I will.)

“Why isn’t there meat in this?”
“Because dozens of human societies manage to thrive without it.”

At work now, in my health-oriented (obsessed) natural foods & organics oriented grocery store, there tends to be an, ahem, bias, toward healthy eating and fitness among the leadership, even as we sell cookies, chips, cakes, desserts, all kinds of healthy junk food.  It’s a contradiction I find not funny at all.  There are certainly less than Olympic-level fit members of leadership at all levels of the company, but there is a definite thread of anti-fat, anti-meat, pro-veganism, anti-dairy, pro-youth, almost fat-shaming in peoples’ private hearts in the company, and at the store level, it’s a dangerous thing in one-on-one conversations– something I’ve tried to correct when I hear it, one “you know, I’m a fat kid on the inside” conversation at a time.  It usually works, and people are usually shocked to find out I’ve been fat, because at 5’6″ and 170 lbs for age 39, I look “normal” or “good,” or “hot” and they “never would have guessed” I was my age, much less had ever been “fat,” but that’s the point, it’s all that external judgment again.  I point out that it’s none of their goddamned business what I look like as long as I am 1) in dress code and 2) able to perform my job, and that they need to get out of the game of deciding whether or not someone looks “good,” because not only is it a violation of our harassment policy and going to get their asses sued one day or another when they can’t keep their traps shut, but it’s also just straight out psychologically scarring and hurtful.

Dear world.  No one else needs your validation.  Ever.  And if you feel compelled to give it, compulsively, I suggest you seek professional counseling because there is something wrong with you that makes you feel the need to go around handing out gold stars.  (Let your counselor give you yours, and stop assessing the goodness of others.  The world has enough problems getting through the day.  Leave everyone to their own messes, okay?)  None of my less than skinny colleagues need validation of their looks, either, because they come in and do awesome jobs, and to be judged for anything other than that is just crap.  Starting in on “but they’d be happier if…” and “they aren’t healthy when…” is infantilizing.  DID THEY ASK YOU FOR HELP?  No.  Did you offer it once and they said no?  Ok, then.  The conversation’s over.  Forever.  The end.

I have lots of curvy-and-proud ladies of non-white backgrounds and heavyset dudes from all over who love their mom’s/spouse’s/their own damn cooking, and one of these days one of my skinny (to me, malnourished-looking) vegans or musclehead Latino bois is going to put his or her foot in it because no matter what they might think, there is no one dietary right way.  There’s a lot of science out there.  The minute you start getting religious about it in the face of someone else’s disagreement, it’s time to shut up and reassess why you’re so angry about someone else’s disagreement.

When it comes to diets and “healthy” eating, there is what works for you and makes you feel happy.

“Good” is so laden a word– not just physical attractiveness but value as a person– stay wide of it. Be specific if you feel the need to make compliments as small talk.  “You did a great job today.”  “It’s nice to see you!”  “Have a great weekend!”  “Hey, I like the new t-shirt!”  Focus on the things people do, that come from their hearts and their brains– not from their shapes.

Bodies and the food we put in it should be about love and pleasure, not substitution for the love & pleasure you don’t get elsewhere.   Food should be an opportunity for creative expression and fun, for sharing and an outlet at the end of a day of paper pushing– it should be whatever you mindfully want it to be.  And your body should do all the things you want it to do.  If you don’t want it to run a marathon, then no one else should judge you for that.

On any given day you have NO IDEA why someone is the weight that they are, heavy or thin.  Maybe they’re heavy because they’re happy that way.  Or struggling with a medical condition.  Maybe they’re thin because they’re having a medical side effect and working hard to gain back the weight, and are feeling pretty out of control about their appearance & body.  Maybe they do NOT feel like they look good at all.  Offering your unsolicited opinion on their physical attractiveness is not the way to validate their existence as a human, and in fact may be a pretty shitty thing to do to that person because you’re just mashing their buttons about how they feel about their out-of-control body.

Do you really want to be helpful?

Say hello.  Smile.  Ask someone how they are, and mean it, and stop long enough to actually listen if they don’t just tell you they’re “fine.” Maybe they’ll even tell you.

And if you ask them to participate in something and they say no, please respect the fact that people don’t owe you their whole medical or personal history just because you have a cause you’re interested in that has some good reasons behind it.  Their no isn’t a rejection of you.  It’s an affirmation of them.

Wild and precious

It’s not summer yet– we’re barely broken from winter
but the days are starting to hold that verge of wet
of mud, of emergent green, and the breeze may still bite down to the bone
but the sun is just that smidge brighter, the light a little more gold.
It’s enough of a promise to make the tangle of brush littered under the
thornhedge, the long brambles themselves in dire need hacking
a challenge, not something so daunting to send me back under cold covers.
The just now full moon is low in the still twilight sky–
not day, not night,
but that inbetween state when everything waits,
everything’s poised.

I am finally ready to leap even though last week, or was it last night,
I was ready to fall, or was it to crash?
Still, each day is different, I’m learning,
and today I heard a poet reading her verse about whelks.
I remembered that time toward the end
when we took a walk and collected our own– beautiful, broken,
all hollowed out.  I left them in the bowl your brother’s wife gave us when I left,
along with so much else of our life.  In abandoning most of our things,
it wasn’t so much a clean break as the fact that you can’t take it with you,
and it’ll just break your heart if you try.
Those whelks, though– it’s strange, the things your memory holds on to.
I know there were good times enough to make me stay so long,
not just my own fear or yours that kept me hanging around,
but all those times are blurred versus those last few trips
all tinged with the last light of summer, that and the things
that still make me burn with rage.
In hindsight, I should have leapt in the spring, but I’d hoped
you would be able to make the leap with me, to try to hold on,
so I won’t fault myself for trying.  Someone had to.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
You, unable to help yourself, much less me, and me,
asking for help you couldn’t admit I was always going to need?
It wasn’t so simple a matter as clearing out the winter’s detritus
or waiting for spring.   It wasn’t as clean as admitting
that things had changed, like the way sand and tide
whittled those whelks.
I still don’t know what a partnership is,
but I do know to walk away
from those who cannot choose joy simply
because they will lose it some day– that knowing, at least
is a prayer that I be my own best companion.

People and things are evanescent, it’s true.
I don’t know what you were expecting
in a world where we’re all born to die.
It is all wild and precious and, for the moment,
part of our life.  I know how to pay attention to that,
even if the attention is caressing the brittle shells of late winter,
rather than admiring the slime trail the snail leaves in June.
The snail doesn’t know how long he is here.
He just takes his time, and enjoys each blade of grass
during his slow, messy, mucous progress.
Perhaps that’s the first kind of prayer, the steady snail crawl.
Slow, onward, with your home on your back.

(With apologies to Mary Oliver & The Summer Day)

When you were younger

I have a tumblr that’s fannish and full of pop culture nerdery.  It is not connected to this blog, for various reasons.  But one of the things I do blog about there is the idea that we each get to choose ourselves, even if it runs against what convention would tell us is “right.”

Recently, I reblogged someone’s tweet that said “be the person you needed when you were younger,” then added the comment “and tell your friends and family to fuck off if they don’t like it.”

I meant that and mean it still, though defining the contours of what I needed (someone to say yes, to listen, to tell me that I was great, to not criticize, someone who didn’t expect me to mediate their adult woes, those are all just starters) is an ongoing journey.  Continue reading