Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hey, remember when i used to write about the Bible?

Yeah. It's been about a month now. And part of that is that i was reading through Kings and Chronicles which, if you didn't know, are basically just lists of names. And then occasionally there's a small story, usually about someone killing someone, and then more names.

The other thing is, God and i have been kind of in a fight lately. I've been trying to figure out the point of this whole religion thing, like, you can still be a good person without being religious, so why take on all the extra guilt? And i have universalist leanings, so i'm not certain that you absolutely have to belong to any specific religion to go to Heaven. And i'm not sure i believe in Hell, or that Hell is eternal, so why the panic? I mean, the whole Jesus thing works really well for me, and i love Him and am glad to be in a relationship with Him, but i struggle to articulate why anyone else should be. And in the midst of all of these questions, four people died in the last thirty days. I mean, a hell of a lot more than four, but these particular four were in my boyfriend's life, and two of them were in my life as well. Obviously he's been through a lot more than i have in the last month, but i've been through the wringer, too. And when he hurts, i hurt, so it's been a really hurty month. And meanwhile in Bible study, we're talking about the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy images and stories of God, like when He fucked up Job's life for no real reason, or all of the many, many, many children that He's killed or injured for no good reason, or the whole question of Hell and Salvation and what's the point of all of it anyway, and what is God getting out of humanity that He cares what we do, anyway?

And i haven't been writing about it, because it's all still too close and fragile, and i need to gain some perspective before i can really see the journey and tell anyone about it. But also, i felt weird writing about it, like i was telling you about a fight with my boyfriend, but bigger than that. Like it was too personal, and the whole internet is already such a weird peephole place and i didn't feel like this was a sideshow that everyone needed to see.


When my boyfriend and i started dating, i would refer a lot to other couples we knew. This drove him INSANE. (I'm pretty sure he still thinks it's weird and inappropriate, but he puts up with it somewhat now.) One time he said, "These couples are not us. Why do you keep talking about everyone else's relationship instead of ours?" And i said, "I like to cite my sources." He gave me this look that was half, "Oh, wow, that makes perfect sense," and half, "Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into?!" The point is, we all live in community, and we all learn from and relate to one another and come to understand ourselves through sharing stories. I know there have been times when someone told me a relationship story and i thought, "That's me and John exactly! It all makes sense now!" And there have even been times when someone told me a relationship story that didn't connect with me at all, but then later on i ran into something similar and it clicked.

And there have been times when i read a Bible story, or religious blog, or talked to a friend about God, and realized, "That is what i'm going through with God. It all makes sense now." Or it didn't connect with me at all, but then later on something came up and it clicked.

I still don't really know how to write about this fight i'm in with God, this lover's quarrel/professional dispute/filial unrest/academic debate/what-have-you. I don't know which parts are relevant, which parts are helpful. I don't know which parts are which, even, because it's still happening to me and it's overwhelming. But i will continue on this journey, and i will write about it.

Here's what i can tell you right now: i still love God. I still know that He loves me. We're still in a relationship and trying to work things out. I'm getting into some of my favorite parts of the Old Testament soon, so normal posting can resume.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

[searching for a synonym for "fat" that doesn't sound like a synonym for "fat"]

So, yeah. I am "full figured". I am "curvy". I am "voluptuous".

I have big breasts and full hips and thick thighs and a little extra belly fat that made my preschool-aged cousin ask if i was having a baby.

For most of my life, i have fought the word "fat".

Because fat is unhealthy. Fat is unattractive. Fat is gross.

Except that it's not. And i'm not sure when or how or why we came to believe that it was, or how this belief has been sustained for so long. What about Melissa McCarthy? What about Queen Latifah? What about Oprah? What about Christina Hendricks? What about the fact that, even among these women (called "plus-size" and "curvy" and "full-figured" every time they are mentioned), there are few who are actually all that above-average in their weight? Christina Hendricks has larger breasts and smaller waist and hips than me. She's also slightly shorter, and almost certainly weighs less. (Also, i'm about as straight as it's possible for a lady to be, but Christina Hendricks makes me awfully tingly. Hubba hubba, is what i'm saying.) Queen Latifah and Oprah fluctuate in their weight all the time (because they're, you know, human beings), but Queen Latifah still got to be a CoverGirl.

For most of my life, i have been "fat".

There was a while there when i was a rail-thin little kid, but as i hit puberty and began to feel awkward and uncomfortable in my skin, and as my shape began to change and shift and expand, i put on some extra weight. And since then, i've been on a roller coaster that is familiar to pretty much every female person in the world, and plenty of male persons too. I've tried dieting. I've tried not eating. I've tried exercising. I've tried cutting out meat. I've tried counting calories. And for a while, everything is going great, and then i feel good and i relax and it all comes back and then i hate myself.

I wore hand-me-downs for a long time. When i was in high school and had my first job, i bought myself a pair of jeans. They were daring: low-slung waist, flared leg openings, and fitted smoothly to my thighs and ass (which i was just brave enough to call "butt" in my head, and nowhere near brave enough to even mention to my mom). They were a size 13.

I'm 23 now, and it should be a point of pride to me that i can still fit into a size 13 pair of jeans, except that once again, my body has changed.

There was one change, near the beginning of college, where the jeans i had owned before still fit flawlessly but the new jeans i tried on in stores were way too snug. And this was partly, i think, because fashions had changed since i'd last bought jeans, and they were designed to be tighter than ever, and also they were new and hadn't been broken in yet. But also, i had changed and hadn't noticed it, and this was the beginning of the end.

Since then, i've lost and gained weight over and over every year. And while i can fit into size 13 jeans, i have had to accept that they give me a muffin-top. Regardless of how thin or fat or straight-figured or curvy you are, no one looks good in a muffin-top.

I started noticing this change when i started buying "professional" clothes. Because "professional" clothes, you know, generally fit higher on the waist than casual ones. So when you're wearing low-rise stretch jeans that are really too small for you, you can scrunch them a little lower and button them under your pregnant-like belly and ignore everything until your little cousin starts asking awkward questions. But when you're wearing tweedy dress pants, or a stylish new pencil skirt, it's a lot harder to ignore the fact that you can't even drag the garment over your oh-so-juicy ass, let alone zip it up.

I've tried Spanx. I've tried Spanx with control-top pantyhose. I've tried Spanx with control-top pantyhose and not eating very much. The conclusion was inescapable, and yet i kept searching for a way out.

Recently, i bought a new pair of jeans. I went to Marshalls and tried on lots and lots of pairs. I finally found one by a brand i hadn't heard of (Denizen, by Levi), and was amazed at the comfort and perfection of their fit. I could easily slide into them! I could easily zip them! They didn't give me a muffin top! "It must be this new brand!" i thought. "They must use a different fabric, a more honest measurement, a more attractive cut!"

It wasn't until i got home that i saw the tag: 18. They had been hung on the wrong hanger, sorted into the wrong section. They were not 13/14. They were not even 15/16. These perfectly fitting jeans were an 18.

I almost cried. And i know how shallow and silly and vain and self-involved that is, but if you're a woman i think you understand my deep and visceral and immediate feeling of shame and disgust and disappointment. I wasn't supposed to be an 18. I'm supposed to be a 14 at the most. Buying those size 18 jeans felt like a disgusting failure, like an alcoholic or drug addict falling off of the wagon. I wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be better than this.

Luckily, this moment came in conjunction with me discovering lots of hilarious and smart and incisive and empowering blogs where all kinds of "women's issues" were discussed. Yes, i've been reading about feminism, and i'm going to start linking to some of these amazing women soon, never fear. And here's the thing: fat is not automatically bad. I know we all think it is, but it's not. You know what is bad? Hating your body. Being disgusted by yourself. Crying because you're ashamed of the size of the jeans that fit you really well and look amazing on you.

Allow me to repeat and elaborate on that point: the jeans i was wearing before made me look five months pregnant. I only had about three shirts i could wear with my old jeans that minimized and hid my protruding belly; all the other ones were too tight and only exacerbated the problem. I was wearing ill-fitting clothes, and they looked bad on me. I found clothes that fit, and nearly cried from the shame of it. It wasn't that i woke up one day and discovered that i had gone up two sizes. I had been an 18 for a few years. I had just continued to buy clothes that were too small. I was crying because i had discovered that, for at least three years now, i had been two sizes larger than i thought. Again: this situation had been going on for a long time! It wasn't sudden and shouldn't have been all that surprising! Also, it was only two sizes, not ten! I'm still pretty healthy, still have a well-defined waist and firm (if meaty) thighs, still feel pretty in jeans and dresses and even naked. I feel exactly the same as i always did. I look different, but mostly because i'm older and i got my hair cut and sometimes i wear eyeliner and i have tattoos and, yeah, my curves are more billowy than they were a few years ago.

I'm fat, basically. I have more fat on my body than i need to have to survive. I mean, i do live in New England, but i'm not a polar bear or a whale or something. I don't need insulation from the frigid temperatures. I have a space heater and a cat. I will survive. But i'm also not a marathon runner or a body builder or something else where i need to trim my body fat down to zero. I'm allowed to have full, rich curves. I'm allowed to jiggle a little when i walk.

I could be healthier than i am, and i'd like to be. I could be less jiggly than i am, and i'd like to be. I could trim myself back down to a size 13, and i'd like to do that, but mostly because i don't want to buy a whole new wardrobe, because i'm lazy and broke. I probably will lose a lot of weight this fall and winter, when i am student teaching and therefore a) can't afford lots of fancy food and snacks and will eat lots of beans and rice and tofu and drink water and tea and b) will spend lots more time walking around and lots less time sitting. I'm losing weight now, as i work out semi-regularly and am more aware of what i eat. But really, truly, in my heart-of-hearts, i don't care that much about being thin. Which is good, because i have a naturally large and full frame and want to have kids some day, so without drastic surgery including things like bone-shaving (is that really a thing? i've always been too afraid to find out), i'll never be what the world calls "thin". 

But i have curves that make women jealous and men drool, and i have to admit that i like them, too. I like the fullness of my breasts, even though they constantly get in my way. I like the curves of my ass, even though it's hard to zip into a pencil skirt. I like my heavy thighs, even though they rub together when i walk, ensuring that my jeans always wear out in the crotch. I like my roundness and fullness and ripeness. I like the way my body looks, naked or clothed. I like the way it feels to be in my skin. I like the way it feels when my boyfriend looks at my body, or runs his hands over it, or talks about how much he loves it. And if looking and feeling the way that i do means that i have to wear a size 18, then that's what i'll do. After all, there are worse things in the world than being incredibly sexy. The only thing i have to get over now is the word "fat". But i'm a writer. I'll find a way to make it work.

Monday, March 18, 2013

vocabulary lesson: mourning

We say some weird shit to people when someone dies.

Like, "I'm sorry." I used to hate this one. I always thought, "Sorry for what? You didn't kill them." Of course, what they mean is, "I feel sad that you are sad," but that's an awkward thing to say. Maybe just don't say anything? Maybe just give them a hug and bake them cookies or something? Because a huge part of caring about another person is being sad that they are sad. Which means that, when someone dies, it's sort of implied in the nature of your relationship that you feel sad that they are sad. So maybe instead of making awkward and incomplete statements about your feelings, just put your feelings on display. Show, don't tell. And if you're not so close that you hurt when they hurt, maybe just say something like, "That's so sad."

Another weird one is when you (the mourner) are crying/distracted/otherwise upset, and you apologize. I was talking about this one with my pastor yesterday, actually. He was saying how messed up it is that when someone you love dies and you express appropriate emotion over that fact, you somehow feel like you have to apologize to the people around you, who presumably didn't have a relationship with the deceased, or they would be crying too and would therefore require no apology? It's so weird! Like, "I'm sad because of something in my life that doesn't really touch you, and I'm sorry that --" What? Sorry that I'm sad? Sorry that i'm expressing my feelings? Sorry that i have feelings that you are not a part of? There is nothing to apologize for. So my pastor has decided that he won't be apologizing for that anymore, and neither will i.

Here's my favorite: the empathetic backdoor . . . It's not really a backdoor brag, i guess, but it's a backdoor something. Like this morning, when i was talking to some people in my office about taking time off of work to go to Bryan's funeral. One of the people i had to talk to outranks me, but isn't my boss exactly, but she runs campus visits and i sit at the front desk, so when i'm out and people visit it's awkward. So we were talking, and she knew Bryan a little, so she was like, "I didn't even know he was sick, it's so sad, blah blah blah." And i'm like, "Yeah, he was diagnosed about a year and a half, two years ago. Colon cancer. It was stage 4 when they found it, so we knew he probably wouldn't make it." And she's like, "Yeah, I have a friend who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, too, about a year and a half ago. And they did all kinds of treatments, and chemo and surgery and everything, and they ended up removing most of her liver. Because the cancer had spread to her liver. But, you know, she made it, and she's doing okay now." Um. Congratulations on your friend being on the other side of the statistic? What the fuck is the point of telling me this story?

Let people have their grief, okay? If you want to let them know that you know what they're going through, just say, "I know what you're going through," and don't elaborate. Especially if your story demonstrates that you DON'T, that you CAN'T, know what they're going through.

Also awkward is all of the euphemisms we use. I know that just saying "He died" is too harsh, too abrupt, but sometimes the euphemisms make you downright incomprehensible. When we got the news about Bryan, i texted one of his friends to let her know. At a loss for words, i said, "Bryan went home." "Home?" she asked. "His forever home," i clarified. On the other side of it, i once wrote a Facebook status update about my brother's progress in the hospital, and i said that he had passed a test, and someone told me that i scared them because they saw "Adam passed" and thought he was dead. Do all of these death euphemisms actually make people feel better? And if so, why? Which one is the best? "Passed, passed on, gone, gone home, passed over, left us, no longer with us, gone on," etc., etc.?

I mean, that's the reality, is that they're dead. And honestly, some of these euphemisms are almost worse. Bryan went home, huh? I know that theologically it's sound, but it's also kind of a shitty sentiment: was he so out of place here that it wasn't a home for him at all? Ever? Not even a little bit? Was there no moment in 27 years when he thought, "I belong here"? Or when we say that someone has passed, i always think of ghost stories where they talk about spirits passing over. It seems creepy and impersonal. Death is so black-and-white, so cut-and-dried, and i find that comforting. There's no room for equivocation, no room for political correctness or white lies or tact or passive-aggression. It simply is what it is. Everything else in life is so fraught and angsty and layered, but death is just death.

In other words, it's been one hell of a month, and i have lost the ability to talk about it "appropriately". The vocabulary i use and the stories i hear or tell don't change my feelings, and it's not my job to protect anyone else's feelings from reality.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

for Bryan

Lately, i've been writing here and there about Bryan. In a little while, i will probably stop. Because in a few days, Bryan will probably not be sick anymore. In a few days, he will likely have passed on to a place where he will never be sick again, where he won't be wasted and in pain, where he can sleep through the night and eat solid food and walk around outside, where no one will care if he likes boys and dresses, where he can sing and dance and strut down a sassy catwalk on glittering gold platform heels.

One of Bryan's friends has set up a Facebook page for people to trade memories. Another friend has recorded and shared a cover of Jimmy Eat World's "Hear You Me", just for Bryan. And i've been listening to Ingrid Michaelson on a loop.

I don't know if this is everyone, or just the people i know and love, but music so often provides us with the vocabulary for our suffering. And Bryan has always been an intensely musical person, always singing and dancing and listening to something, whether Lady Gaga, Handel, Christina Aguilera, Broadway show tunes, Disney songs, or some goofy radio Top 40 hit. He always knew all the words, never missing a note, and never failing to infuse his own personality, his own spark, into the music, whether with his outrageous dance moves or his parodic falsetto.

may angels lead you in
hear you me my friends
on sleepless roads the sleepless go
may angels lead you in

we are so fragile, and our
our cracking bones make noise
and we are just
girls and boys

the storm is coming
but i don't mind
people are dying
i close my blinds
all that i know is i'm breathing now
. . .
i want to believe in more than you and me
but all that i know is i'm breathing
all i can do is keep breathing
all we can do is keep breathing now

i am beautiful
no matter what they say
words can't bring me down
i am beautiful
in every single way
yes, words can't bring me down
so don't you bring me down today

they say there's linings made of silver
folded inside each raining cloud
well we need someone to deliver
our silver lining now
and are we there yet?

i don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
you're living in the past, it's a new generation
a girl can do what she wants to do and that's what i'm gonna do
and i don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation
oh no, not me

and i don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
never said i wanted to improve my station
and i'm only doin' good when i'm havin' fun
and i don't have to please no one
and i don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation
oh no, not me, oh no, not me

i don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
i've never been afraid of any deviation
and i don't really care if you think i'm strange
i ain't gonna change
and i'm never gonna care about my bad reputation

where are we
what the hell is going on
the dust has only just begun
to fall

UPDATE: Bryan passed early this morning.

carry on, my wayward son
there'll be peace when you are done
lay your weary head to rest
don't you cry no more

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lady Problems

So i have a list for this year. I have a list of "responsible adult get my life started" things that i need to do in order to feel like a responsible adult and to start living the life i want to have. They range from the simple and obvious (change my official residence from Maryland to Massachusetts) to the slightly more complex but completely necessary (find some doctors that accept out-of-state insurance and start scheduling check-ups for the first time since 2009) to the specific and expensive (register to take teaching licensure exams).

These items have been on my to-do list since graduating from college in May 2011. Some of them have been postponed because i couldn't afford to do them, some because they were important but not urgent, and some because i forgot. But it's getting more and more important that i figure this shit out. For one thing, i can't do my student teaching until i take and pass my exams, and i can't graduate until i do my student teaching, and i can't get a teaching job and leave my current job until i graduate. So i kinda need to take those exams. And lately i've been having some weird circulation issues that may or may not be indicative of something more serious, so i should probably get some check-ups and whatnot.

Anyway. Tomorrow, i am taking some personal time in the morning to visit the RMV and become a Massachusetts resident. I'm excited -- i like living in Massachusetts, and i've known for about five years now that this day would come eventually, and having that Massachusetts ID will make it a lot easier to get alcohol, but i am NOT enthusiastic about spending time in the RMV (or the DMV, or the MVA, if you live in other parts of the country. Whatever you call it, i think we can all agree that it sucks). But i'll bring a book, and by the time i leave that will be one more thing crossed off of my list. Next item: get my cat fixed. And then get back on birth control.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

tattooed ladies

My workshop group is writing a collaborative short story collection, a frame narrative about a circus, and purgatory, and atonement, and best intentions. So we've all been researching and writing about sideshow freaks and circus performers, and it's been fascinating.

One of my favorite things so far has been researching tattooed ladies. We had talked initially about the tattooed man, but i pointed out that the societal implications of tattoos (especially of full-body tattoos the display of which supported your livelihood) were different for men and women. I wanted us to include both.

I learned that some of the earliest examples of tattoos were actually found on women. Experts believe that the tattoos were meant to protect them during pregnancy and childbirth.

Historically, of course, women have been the property of men. During the Victorian era, as tattoos were becoming more popular, some women tattooed themselves as a way of marking their autonomy. They got to alter their own appearances, their own bodies, forever. It was a way of reclaiming their own skin. Prostitutes were some of the most commonly tattooed women, including one French prostitute who tattooed herself with the names of her lovers and favorite clients.

One of my favorite tattooed ladies was Anna Mae Burlingston Gibbons (Miss Artoria), who worked as a tattooed lady for over fifty years. Most of her tattoos were of religious or patriotic significance, and her husband was her artist. He was a tattooed man working in a carnival, and they decided to supplement their income by tattooing her as well. She worked to support her family, using her own body to do so.

Tattoos are still a way for women to take ownership of their bodies. Julia Gnuse, featured in the Guinness Book of World Records, wanted to reclaim her body from disease. I've said before that tattoos are the scars you choose, the story you decide to tell about yourself. My own tattoos are prime examples of that.

I had a professor who liked to say that we are homo narrans -- story-telling people. What defines us as human beings is the narrative impulse. The stories we tell matter. The stories we tell about ourselves matter.

I have a friend who was raped. On her hip, just above her mons pubis, she has a tattoo of a broken heart that has been patched up and repaired. She took the story of something terrible that happened to her -- being raped -- and turned it into a story of triumph and growth and perseverance. My brother and members of his unit got tattoos to memorialize their dead and wounded brothers. The tattoo that has been most popular on my blog is a tattoo about me owning my choices, whether good or bad, and owning my body.

Tattooed ladies kick ass. Tattooed ladies own themselves. Tattooed ladies are unafraid of public condemnation. Even sorority sisters with tattoos of dolphins and mistranslated Chinese characters are spending money and inflicting pain to say, "This skin is mine. This body is mine. I belong to me, forever."

Monday, March 4, 2013

lenten bucket list

This is the time of year when people use God to guilt themselves into giving up bad habits delve deep into spirituality and self-sacrifice and work on cleansing their daily lives of things that distract them from God and Bible and Prayer and Such. Some people use it as a kick-off for the rest of their lives, like quitting smoking or gluten. They figure that, for 40 days of prayer and meditation and joining in the sufferings of Christ (who actually fasted for 40 days and then was beaten and tortured and horribly killed, so totally the same as you giving up caffeine), they can get a leg up on a better life and look more holy doing it.

In years past, i've given up pizza, sweets, soda, and meat. I actually gave up meat twice; the first time, i mostly just ate lots of bread and cheese. The second time, i worked on finding vegetarian meals that i enjoyed and making more deliberate choices about what i ate, and it was a choice that i carried with me. I now identify as "flexitarian", which means that i often eat vegetarian meals, but have no health/moral objections to eating meat sometimes (one of my favorite meals: veggie burgers wrapped in bacon).

This year, i toyed with giving up meat again, but i just don't eat it often enough for it to be a real sacrifice. I also toyed with adding a positive practice instead of deleting a negative one; i thought about adding another two days to my workout routine. But recent life changes have prompted me to redo the entire routine anyway, and i have no clue how i would fit any extra days in there right now. No need to add religious guilt to my personal health guilt. And then i simultaneously forgot and decided i didn't care this year.

But i do want to make my life better. I do want to take what God has given me (talents, time, resources, etc.) and do good things with them. I do want to live a life to be proud of. I do want to accomplish things. I've already done so many incredible things (spending six months traveling around Europe, graduating from college, a missions trip to Nicaragua, spending a month on a boat in Puerto Rico, moving far away from family and friends, getting tattoos, eating snails and octopus and tofu and weird fried baby fishes and scrapple and cashew fruit, teaching myself different skills, and so on), but there is so much left to do.

This season of loss and lamentation and desperate hope encourages quiet reflection. It also encourages getting off your ass and doing something to improve your life. And this year in particular, when i have been surrounded by so much death and sickness and reminders of mortality, i've been thinking about the things i still want out of life, big and small.

So here goes:

  • i want to finish this damned degree
  • i want to get a full-time job teaching English in a public high school
  • i want to get married
  • i want to go to Greece
  • i want to learn to make a souffle
  • i want to be published
  • i want to have kids
  • i want to attend a same-sex wedding
  • i want to vote for a female candidate for President of the United States
  • i want there to be a female President of the United States
  • i want to buy a house
  • i want to buy an electric/hybrid car
  • i want to plant, tend, and compost my own garden
  • i want to make money from something i've written
  • i want to get a chest freezer
  • i want to learn to make my own preserves
  • i want to take a shooting course
  • i want to take an archery course
  • i want to go to Venice
  • i want to make my own cheese
  • i want to keep bees (NB: this may prove to be an unrealistic goal, in which case i'd like to instead aspire to meet a local bee-keeper and buy all my bee products from him/her)
  • i want to go to Ireland
  • i want to get back to volunteering with a riding therapy group
  • i want to make enough money from writing that i can be a stay-at-home mom/housewife and still contribute significant financial support to my family
Life is fluid. Goals change and move. New desires arise and old ones die out. So this list will likely (hopefully) be continuously updated over the years. But it's a good start.