the printed thoughts of a woman on a journey towards awareness, truth, acceptance, clarity, and forgiveness...with some fun and fearlessness thrown in

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the year in review

The first snow-related school delays were announced Monday morning, I've had to turn on the heat in the house, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special came on tonight. The end of the year is quickly approaching, with the promise of new beginnings just around the corner, and I can't help but to reflect upon all that's happened this year. It's been a year of highs and lows, loss and gain, trying new things and returning to some old activities--overall, a year of some really hard lessons learned. I've made friends, lost friends, and found out a whole lot about myself along the way.

I entered the year as a college graduate, having finally graduated over 21 years since I entered college for the first time. It seems ridiculous now that it took me that long to do it, but I know all of the reasons why, even if no one else does, and I refuse to judge myself harshly for what I've been through or for the choices I have made. I'm right where I want to be right now, and I have a drive and a passion going forward, and that's all that matters.

If my finishing my degree didn't seem unlikely or impossible enough, this year saw a truly incredible event when the New Orleans Saints not only made it into the Super Bowl for the first time, but also won the game. I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans for the weekend, where I got to go to Mardi Gras parades for the first time since my family moved away from the city when I was 12. I also got to see a childhood friend whom I hadn't seen in as long. I realized that no matter how much time has passed, New Orleans still feels like home.

I have family members who decided not to speak with me this year. I also had a friend decide that she no longer wanted me in her life. On the surface, it sounds like I must be a horrible person, but I don't feel bad at all about their decisions. I have chosen, quite consciously, to live an honest life and to strive toward sincere relationships with others. My choice has made some others uncomfortable. I'm sorry for their discomfort, because I know how that feels, but I will not change who I am or what I will allow into my life to make them feel better.

My animal family experienced a lot of changes this year. The New Year started with a newly adopted Alla reminding us all what it was like to have a kitten in the house, and in May, we welcomed a full-size puppy into the mix when Iko came to live with us. I saw her shelter picture on Facebook on an early Wednesday morning, and a week later I was in North Carolina picking her up from her foster mom. It was love at first sight for me, but my happiness was short-lived when just a month later a fatal illness was showing itself in Alla, and my once playful kitty was on a quick downward decline. I said goodbye to her in August, before she ever had a chance to grow to adulthood. My heart was broken, but still open, and I soon found another young cat in need of rescue. Hazel traveled from a shelter in Georgia and landed firmly on my lap. Brandi, Eli, and Bennie are all elderly now and are experiencing their own infirmities and limitations, but I am grateful for each and every day I have with them, and I am committed to doing all I can to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible.

I haven't had a chance to travel as much as I would have liked to this year. A trip to Indiana was scrapped in May, and a trip to Tennessee was canceled in November. I did, however, get to spend some time in Florida in April for what I hope will be my annual skydiving trip. I got much closer to a few friends and found out that another relationship had changed. I floated in the Gulf of Mexico, dug my toes into the sand, ate too much, drank a little, got a tattoo, played video games, and jumped out of a plane. It was a great trip!

Staying home more meant doing some travel around New England and crossing off the last remaining things on my "To See & Do List" for the region. I finally got to Salem, Massachusetts, one of the few places in the area that I had wanted to see even before moving here. We managed to create the perfect mix of history and haunting, and I learned about American chop suey. October was dedicated to pumpkins, and we went to Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island to see them. We saw giant pumpkins, painted pumpkins, carved pumpkins, and lit pumpkins. We watched pumpkinboat races, pumpkin pie eating contests, and pumpkin chunking done by catapult and by air cannon. And the pumpkin whoopie pie I had was amazing!

I turned 40 in November, which seems really weird to me. I really wanted to do something fun for my birthday, but we found out a week prior that we were being relocated to Louisiana in a few months, so I decided to be practical and to spend the week painting, packing, and staging our house in preparation for its sale. The week has grown into three now, since we obviously underestimated the sheer volume of "stuff" that we own and the time needed to prep and paint walls, trim, cabinets, doors, and fixtures, but if the hard work pays off with a quick sale it will be worth it. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations have also fallen victim to practical needs, but I am looking forward to many years and many celebrations in our new home.

As this year ends, I am happy about what lies ahead in the next. I am looking forward to living in Louisiana again and to being closer to family and friends. I am excited about exploring a new area and about having new adventures. I have personal and professional goals that I am anxious to start working towards. More than anything, I am pleased with an opportunity to lay down roots, to establish myself in an area, and to create a sense of home. I have felt like a gypsy for a while now, moving every few years, and never quite feeling settled. I am grateful for the perspective that I have gained from living in the Midwest, the Northeast, the Tennessee Valley, the Blue Ridge mountains, and New England. I am proud that I've been able to adapt to a variety of settings and that I've been able to work with people from different backgrounds. I know that the future will bring great things, but mostly I feel that the future will bring me full circle into myself.

This blog was born from the ending of another blog, and it has been an affirming experience for me. My first entry was inspired by a trail of footprints in the snow, and I can now see more clearly where those footprints lead. I know that the path will not always be smooth or clear, but I trust that it is heading always in the right direction. I know, too, who I want with me as a travel the path, and I know that together we can face whatever lies ahead. I hope that I will remember to enjoy the view along the path, realizing that it's often not about what lies ahead (or even behind), but more about what surrounds us, what is unseen, and what waits down this fork or that. I hope that those whom I have met and will meet along the way will be better for the experience, even when our interaction is less than positive. I even hope that the owner of the dead blog will someday learn the lessons that she needs to in order to live an authentically happy life, because that really is what it's all about....really.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ode on a big apple

"It couldn't have happened anywhere but in little old New York." --O. Henry

A few weeks ago, I spent a day in New York City, walking around a large portion of lower Manhattan, eating pizza in Little Italy, entering the bizarre underground world of designer handbag sales in Chinatown (knock-off or stolen, I don't know), exploring local neighborhoods of NoHo, SoHo and NoLita--the streets lined with merchants' booths and the air filled with the aroma of meats smoking on grills, having dinner and drinks in the Flatiron District, and even shopping at a church rummage sale. It was a long, rich, and rewarding day, and I went home exhausted, my love of the City firmly in place.

Oddly, some of my most amazing memories and experiences have taken place in New York. At 18, I drove there from Cornell with a car-full of close friends, saw the City for the first time, and fell in love. I spent my 30th birthday there, which marked a turning point in my life, causing me to question all that I had known to that point and setting my future off on a distinctly different path. Mitchell and I spent a couple of days there about a year after we moved to Connecticut, and I was finally able to wake up in the "city that never sleeps." And now, on this trip, New York played the perfect host to a reunion 28 years in the making.

My oldest and dearest childhood friend had told me that she would be coming to New York from Houston in the fall of this year. We hadn't seen each other since my family had left New Orleans in 1982, except for a brief visit some time during our early high school years that neither of us could remember much about. We had stayed in touch over the years mostly thanks to her persistence through annual Christmas cards and family photos. (My terrible history with correspondence should be explored in a future entry.) I was extremely excited to see her after so many years apart. I had "penciled it in" a few months in advance and wondered how our meeting would go--would we know each other, what would we talk about, would it be awkward?

As the weeks ticked by and her visit neared, I began to feel nervous about the reunion. Since I had a medical procedure done in June, I had been dealing with physical symptoms that made it difficult to exercise, or had at least given me an excuse not to. I think the real problem was a depression that I had sunk into when I learned about Alla's fatal illness in July. I hadn't felt much like doing anything since then, and I had gained back a lot of the weight that I lost last year. How could I let her see me like this? I had been a tall and skinny kid. Now I was tall and very far from skinny. I was nervous about being judged, uncomfortable in my own skin, and afraid of "messing up" the whole get-together with my negative mood. I almost hoped for something to come up that would make it impossible to meet up.

The day that my friend arrived in New York, she called me. She had already been to the top of the Empire State Building, and her excitement was audible. When she asked about me coming to the City to see her, I began my reply with something like, "We're gonna try." She snapped back at me, "Try?!" I instantly remembered her incredible tenacity and knew that I would be seeing her come Hell or high water. I also knew that it didn't matter what I looked like or how much I weighed. Something in her voice relaxed and reassured me. I was once again excited about spending time with an old friend.

The day in New York taught me something that I had forgotten, a lesson I had taken for granted in all of my years spent wondering where I fit in, where home was, where I belonged...a symptom, I believe, of moving too many times. I realized that there is a purity about friendships formed when you are very young...before you know what it means to be cool, before the cruel judgments of the outside world tell you who you should be and how you should act, and certainly before it matters how much money you have, how thin your are, or what you do for a living. She had known me during the years that I was most authentically myself, so she knew me on a level that others who had only known me as an adult may never know me. She already knew that I was a good person, goofy-yes, but sincere. And, she carried with her the ultimate token of our enduring friendship in the form of the handmade construction paper card that I made for her just before my family moved away. (Seriously! It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen!)

I had at one point thought about spending my 40th birthday in New York. I now realize that she's already given me a gift that I can carry into the next year of my life. I've made a conscious decision to end the depression that I've been in. I've begun exercising and following my diet again. I'm looking forward to redefining the word "home" and to continuing to create a home for myself with those who mean the most to me, regardless of geography. I remember who I was as a child and no longer feel alien from her. I am still that little girl. I will always be that little girl.

Thanks, New York. I owe you one!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nine lives? Please.

Just three weeks after Alla's death, I started looking in earnest for a cat to adopt. I didn't know if I was ready, but I couldn't get the thought out of my head, so I pressed on. I looked at picture after picture and struggled with all the unknowns, like whether the cat would get along with the dogs, how Eli would adjust to a new companion, what type of hair the cat would have and whether it would affect Mitchell's allergies, and, of course, the huge paranoia that comes from having lost a cat to the dreaded disease FIP. After several days of searching and thanks to an online rescue friend, I found a beautiful, long-haired Siamese (otherwise known as a Balinese) in the Savannah, GA animal control shelter. By that weekend, Hazel was in Connecticut, making herself comfortable with the dogs and trying to decide what to think about Eli, since on the outside he looked a lot like a cat and she far prefers dogs to cats. It's been three weeks now, and it feels like Hazel has always been a part of our family.

I constantly wonder, though, how Eli feels about the stream of cats he has seen come and go in his 14 years with me. He was always "the baby" of the house, since he grew up with his older brothers BoBo and Otis. They were my kitty crew for a full 10 years--BoBo as the patriarch and my lap warmer and the other two a silly Mutt & Jeff sort of pair. I don't think that I realized how much the group had aged until BoBo succumbed to the mounting effects of his failing kidneys at the age of 16. Otis was 11 already and Eli 10. It seemed fitting, then, when 8-year old Manny came to live with us five months later. Little did I know then that Otis would become sick just a year after we lost BoBo and gone in under 3 months. Twelve-years old seemed too young and intestinal cancer so random, but just 2 1/2 years later, Manny fell victim to the same tormentor at the age of 11. And, then, of course, Alla was taken a year later, a mere 7 months after we adopted her and at the tender young age of 14 months.

In case you've lost track, since January 2006, Eli has experienced the loss of four of his feline friends. And, now, my "baby" suddenly seems old and tired, jaded and suspicious, aloof and cautious, maybe even sad and worried. And his emotions are rubbing off on me. I worry about him day and night. His meow is off. Could he have a tumor in his throat? He's lost weight. Could it be intestinal cancer yet again? He seems a bit dehydrated. Is it his kidneys? He isn't eating a lot. It could be any number of things. I'm trying not be too doom and gloomy. I am struggling with the decision to take him to the vet to do bloodwork or to just watch and see. I am wondering if this is just a natural slowdown for a nearly 15-year old cat. In any case, I am still not OK seeing Eli as anything other than the strong, independent, wise, young cat that he has always been. To this point, he has been ageless, and I don't know how to (or want to) treat him like an elderly pet. He's not the type to submit to medical treatments without much complaining. He would much rather be outside enjoying the fresh air and rolling in the dirt than to be babied or tended to. He has a routine, and he has trained us all to follow his schedule and to meet his demands. I can't imagine him approving any changes or amendments. He's the boss. He will always be the boss. As long as I keep things on his terms, I am sure I will be making the right choice. I just don't want to have to make any choices...not for a long, long time. Please.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

getting outside myself

A good friend gave me some great advice yesterday. Knowing that I was trying to come up with the answers to some difficult questions, she told me to take the afternoon off and just go be with nature. Though I couldn't take the time yesterday, I did get outside a bit today. First, I took three of the dogs to the dog park. I don't usually take Bennie since she's older and doesn't really like playing rough like they do there, but she wanted to go for a ride, so I figured the ride would compensate for the destination. Anyway, the dog park was the perfect destination for me. It's a great park, the best one I've ever been to, with lots of big shade trees, park benches, and picnic tables. It backs up to a brook with a small, dammed off section which creates a pool perfect for dogs to swim in. Since none of mine are swimmers, though Labrador blood runs through half of them, we didn't visit the water today, but some of the other dogs there did and they happily shared the water left on their coats and feet with the rest of us.

The dog park is a great place to just get dirty and have fun. I mean, the dogs have no pretenses about their objectives, so why not drop your defenses and do the same? I, for one, can think of nothing better than being kissed by a 100-pound pit bull who climbs up onto your lap or having a shy Rhodesian nudge your hand for a clandestine stroke while the rest of the canine crowd is engaged in something akin to a rugby scrum in the far corner of the park. The dog park puts all humans on an even playing field. There are no occupations or titles there. You're Gator's mom or Happy's dad. (Yes, there was a dog named Happy there today!) No one asks you about your political views or where your kids go to school. They talk about how old their dog is and how they came to have a dog. They talk about surgeries for knee injuries, baby teeth, the dog at home who doesn't like the park, and the funny things their dogs do. They smile, they laugh, they live in the moment...just like their dogs. The dog park is kind of like a playground for grown-ups.

So, since it's in the 90's right now, we didn't stay at the park for too long, but after everyone had their nap in the A/C, I felt the need to go back outside again. I haven't felt like doing much in the gardens around the house all year. Truth be told, I haven't felt much passion for gardening since we moved here. Maybe it's because the other houses are so close, and I prefer a more secluded outdoor space. Maybe it's just my lack of joy over living in Connecticut in the first place. But, hostas still need to be trimmed back after their blooms are gone, and I still hadn't done this, so outside I went. Armed with a new pair of shears that I found tucked away in my old, rusty gardening cabinet, I started cutting, and cutting, and cutting.

I soon remembered what I loved about being in the garden, about doing a mundane task like weeding or pruning. It's the quiet that I find inside my head. Gone are the voices of worry and doubt. There is no such thing as gossip or judgment. No deadlines, no bills, no boss, no nothing and nobody. Watched over by my dogs, who somehow protect me from the outside world, I am able to just dig into the task at hand. Today, I reacquainted myself with the daddy longlegs spider and thanked him for the great job he does in my garden. I walked barefoot through the fallen leaves of last autumn that line the beds of the side yard, where our characteristically au naturel approach to gardening is more "naturel" than the front, and I could feel the warmth of decay through my soles. I had dirt under my nails and sweat on my brow, and I felt truly accomplished and peaceful, all at once.

I had cut and cut away at the things that were no longer needed and had thrown them in a heap onto the compost pile. Like pushing aside the nonsense that clutters my mind from time to time, I cleared space for new growth as well as tidying up what's left behind when an something dies. There's still work to do, as I never made it to the hosta bed outside the kitchen window, but I guess I know where my next opportunity lies.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

24 hours

We have an appointment tomorrow morning at 10:30...just 24 hours from now. I didn't want to make an appointment. It felt like I would be sealing your fate and giving up on you. I didn't want to plan for your death, but I didn't want you to have to wait when your time had come. I called other vets and made contingency plans if you told me that you were ready and your regular vet couldn't see you right away. I even made arrangements with my boss to take time off without notice when the time came. I did all that I could think to do, all that made sense in a completely insane situation, all that my heart told me was right to do. When I noticed on Saturday that your good moments were growing more infrequent, I called and made the appointment. It made me sad to do it, but I felt like we would be taken care of if that was what we needed come Monday morning.

I was so happy on Saturday when you ate so readily and so often throughout the day, but this morning you are not interested in eating and my mind is beginning to reason with my heart. I've taken a hundred or more pictures of you already this morning. I know you're getting annoyed with me, but please be patient while I try to take in every last minute we have together. I know you don't understand what's going on, that you only know that you don't feel well. I want to explain to you how it's supposed to be, all that I imagined for you, and how angry I am that we are both being robbed by this disease. I want you to understand how much I love you, that I have done all that I can for you, and that I believe with all my soul that we will be together once again. I want you to know how much you were wanted, how we chose you from all the cats we looked at and met, and how we would choose you all over again...even knowing what we know now.

I don't know how long it will take me to be able to walk by the dining room and not look for you. I still sometimes look for Otis to be hiding in the back of Bennie's crate, and he has been gone for three years now. I still glance at the front window as I leave for work in the morning, expecting to see Manny watching me go, and he has been gone for a year. I can't imagine that as long as I live in this house I will be able to look into the dining room and not look for you. I can't even bring myself to clean the floor where your wet paws left little, clay-colored prints after a trip to the litterbox. I don't want to vacuum your hair off the chair where you used to sleep. I will look for you there. I will expect to see you come to the dish every time I walk through the doorway. I will miss seeing you lying on the window sill. The room will be empty and lifeless without you in it.

Today you are here with me. Tomorrow, you probably will not. I don't know how to deal with that. I guess I'll figure it out in 24 hours.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

some kinda bad voodoo

When I lost Manny to cancer on June 21, 2009, I found myself in a single-cat household for the first time in 14 years. Eli, who had been the baby of my original clan, was now 13-years old and alone for the first time in his life. I wondered if he would enjoy some time as the sole kitty or whether he would rather have a feline compatriot. I watched for signs of a change in his behavior or attitude. I listened carefully for whatever message he had for me. We settled into a routine where he spent nearly every night in our bed, sleeping between our pillows with one paw wrapped snugly around my arm and purring loudly in my face.

I eventually realized that Eli would be content with any decision that I made. Eli just loves being Eli, and he loves that we allow him to be himself. As long as he is secure in that, I think that he will accept any addition to our household. It was not Eli who had to make the decision about adopting another cat. It was I who needed to determine if I were ready to open my heart to loving another. I was, and so I decided that I would.

After looking for at least three weeks, we found a beautiful, little, 7-month old kitten named Heather, and we adopted her on December 26, 2009. We hadn't been looking for a kitten. In fact, we had actually thought that we would adopt an adult cat, but we made our decision based on personality (had to get along with dogs) and type of hair (with a highly allergic person in the house, we have learned what kinds of hair are less troublesome), and all signs pointed to her. So, after some negotiation, Heather became Alla (he wanted to name her Marie Laveau, but that seemed unwise to me) and turned our house into a multi-cat home once again.

Now, just seven months later, I am once again facing the very real fact that I will soon be living in a one-cat household once again. Only 14-months old, Alla has been diagnosed as having FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). A fatal condition, FIP has no cure and no treatment. Theories vary on how effective both traditional and holistic approaches are, but what seems clear to me is that Alla is going to die much, much, much sooner than I ever would have imagined. It is nearly impossible that she will be with us this Christmas, which would have been her first with us. It would be considered quite lucky is she is with us more than a couple of months. Each day, I simply pray that it will not be her last.

I do believe deep down that all things happen for a reason, but I am struggling to find a good enough reason for a cat to be doomed to live only a year and a half--or less. I am equally full of anger and sorrow, and my outward expression of emotion teeters tenuously between the two. I have heard others say that when one encounters a pet with special needs, he has been chosen to be the animal's earthly caretaker not only to provide the love, care, and support needed during the animal's life, but also to have the strength, bravery, and selflessness needed to help the animal during its transition out of this life. I do respect this idea, but I wonder how much I am capable of. I am merely human, after all, and heartbreak takes its toll on a person. I have lost pets before, and each loss is with me daily.

I don't know what the future holds for Alla. I don't know how long she will be here with us. All I know is that I love her. I love her, and I will do all that I can to give her as much quality of life for as long as possible. If there is any lesson for me in this tragedy, I guess it is that life is never guaranteed and that we should make the most of the time that we are given.

So, to you, my reader, I suggest the following: Hug your kids a little longer tonight. Kiss your significant other when it's unexpected. Give your pets more of your attention. Look up at the sky. Watch the clouds. Let the rain touch your skin. Squint at the sun. Sleep in. Indulge a little. Laugh at the little stuff. And when you feel stressed, breathe deeply and fully.

Now, if only I can follow my own advice....

Monday, July 12, 2010

ghosts of girlfriends past

I started this blog when I inadvertently killed someone else's blog. She had abruptly exited my life after three drama-filled years, then I told her off on her blog and she deleted it. She wasn't a friend, and I know that I (and everyone else involved) am better off without her, yet I still find myself thinking about her several months later. She was featured in a newspaper article a couple months ago, and I've read it more than once. I even found a picture that accompanied the article, and I'm pissed to see that she's lost weight!

And it's not just her! I do the same thing with another female who is no longer in my life. In that case, she was a best friend, in fact. After a BIG blowout and legal intervention, we went our separate ways over 9 years ago. I am glad not to have the drama and the worry anymore, but still I wonder about her. I feel like an online stalker! I've Googled her, looked for her on Facebook, even researched people who know her. I want to know where she lives, not so that I can contact her or have anything to do with her, but more just to feel informed, prepared, whatever.

What bothers me is that these people who negatively impacted me and my life (including others that I care about) continue to have a hold on me! I'm mad at these people for hurting me, but I'm even more mad at myself for obsessing on them! I hate that I have allowed them to rent space inside my head!

Maybe it's because I rarely have people react so negatively towards me. I mean, I know that not everyone likes me, but usually once people decide that they do, they don't suddenly change their minds. Maybe it's because I like directness and honesty. If you don't like me, I'd rather have you tell me than not. Maybe it's just that I hope that karma exists, and I want to witness her handiwork. Or maybe it's because the situation of being rejected by another female unconsciously triggers feelings of being rejected by my mother. I'm sure that Freud would have a field day with that one!

Anyway, I have nothing eloquent to say. This is just what's on my mind today. Maybe like speaking at an AA meeting or going to confession, writing about this will help me release some it from my mind. In the words of Ashley Holmes, as heard on tonight's episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey, "Love and light, bitch!"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

none of the above

I had a medical procedure done last week that required me to be semi-sedated, so I needed someone to be there with me to drive me home. Although I am unmarried, and this is clearly indicated in my medical records, I was told that I should make sure my husband could be there and was assured that he (my imaginary husband) would be in the room with me during the procedure. Now, I have been in a heterosexual partnership for almost ten years, so I am used to people referring to my partner as my husband, but I still think it's strange that people even assume that I am heterosexual, much less married. And don't even get me started on the reproduction issue! Apparently, it is everyone's business when you decide not to have children, and they will remind you almost constantly with stupid questions like, "Who's going to take care of you when you get old?" and with idiotic statements like, "You'll change your mind someday." Oops, I guess I got started.

Because I am unmarried and have no children, I seem to be less important than many others. While we celebrate the longevity of marriages through anniversaries, there is no such recognition for unmarried couples. Many are quick to point out that without a legal commitment, it is easier for unmarried couples to "just walk away" from the relationship. Perhaps, but if this is true, isn't it more of an accomplishment to stay together for 10 years without a legal bond than with one? And isn't a couple without children more likely to be together because they actually love one another than one with children who are "staying together for the kids?" I won't hold my breath waiting for Hallmark to publish the list of traditional gifts for the anniversaries of unmarrieds, and I really don't need external validation. I just don't want to be demeaned and undervalued.

Our culture even devalues those choices that fall outside the accepted norm through our language. There's not even a word to describe my relationship. Instead of being able to say that I am married to a husband, I must explain that I am in a long-term, committed, co-habitating relationship with a male partner. I like to use the word "partner" when I refer to Mitchell, since it most closely recognizes the role he plays in my life, but this often leads to confusion about my sexuality. The word "boyfriend" doesn't differentiate him from some guy that I'm just dating and is the same word that a seventh grader would use. There's always "fiance," but, of course, that word implies that a wedding is imminent.

While my experiences are annoying, I know that they only scratch the surface of what so many others are subjected to. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, asexual, transgendered, transsexual, intersexed, and genderqueer. I also have friends who have no idea what at least half of those words mean. In any case, I know that I am lucky to have the external genitalia, internal organs, and chromosomes to match my internal sexual identity. I guess you could say that I'm lucky to be white, to be straight, and to be in a long-term relationship. I realize that I am not far from the mean on the societal bell curve, but I'm not ignorant enough to believe that everyone else thinks, lives, loves, and votes like I do. I thought this country was founded on individual differences and personal freedoms. (I know it really wasn't, but that IS what they taught us in school, right?) Call me old-fashioned, but I think we risk alienating others when we assume that we know who they are and what they believe or when we force them to identify themselves with a label.

What would it be like to fall outside of society's check-the-box mentality? Imagine having to refer to your spouse as your "roommate." Imagine worrying that someone will ask you about your relationship status and you will feel forced to either "come out" or lie to hide the truth. Imagine being called ugly names like "faggot," "homo," or "he-she." Imagine being afraid of being attacked in a public restroom, because either your "parts" or your outward appearance doesn't match the label on the door. Imagine binding your breasts tightly against your chest. Imagine tucking (maybe even taping) your penis and testicles back toward your buttocks. Imagine being stared at while people try to figure out what gender you are. Imagine waking up everyday and seeing a body that doesn't match how you feel on the inside. Imagine. Open your mind (and your heart) & just imagine.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

rescuing me

For four years, I ran an animal rescue. I named it after my dog, D.J. A rescued dog herself, D.J. came to live with me after my first dog, Trapper, died suddenly after ingesting rat poison. She filled an empty place in my heart and was my rock through some difficult times. D.J. was sweet, funny, and gentle, and she loved playing nanny to the newcomers in the house. She suffered from a degenerative disease which affected the discs in her spine, but she never let it slow her down, particularly when it came to providing leadership and guidance to the animals in the house. At one point, she was paralyzed in her front legs for almost 2 weeks, but even that couldn't dim her spirit. Sadly, though, in the end, her spirit was unable to overcome the limitations of her body, and D.J. died very suddenly at the too young age of 11 to kidney failure.

Though I am no longer actively involved in rescue, I still get a lot of emails and postings about animals in shelters who need rescue and about animals who have been rescued and need transportation. Whenever I can, I send some money to help those in the trenches, and I have driven a bunch of dogs up and down the highways. I've even provided overnight accommodations as needed. But, until very recently, the idea of adopting another pet hasn't been on my mind. I have a full house--3 dogs & 2 cats--oh yeah, and an allergic human partner.

I think about D.J. a lot and even have her picture as the background on my laptop, but for about a week starting in the middle of May, she was heavy on my mind. I couldn't stop thinking about her. It wasn't until Tuesday, May 19th, that I figured out why. She was trying to tell me something--to tell me about a dog that she wanted to save. In the midst of those tons of emails and postings, I had found one dog, a young, female, yellow Labrador retriever, who grabbed my heart and wouldn't let it go. She was in a shelter in North Carolina. I am in Connecticut. It was impractical. It made no sense. It would be difficult, but I still wanted to do it. I wanted to rescue and adopt her.

I woke up before 5:00 am and started sending emails. I made phone calls all morning. I called Mitchell and broke down. He kindly reassured me that he would support my decision. When I said, "But, it's so impractical," he responded with a quick, "So what. Nothing about us is practical." Before I knew it, I was trying to arrange for the dog to be saved. The phone at the shelter was busy. I redialed and redialed. Finally, someone answered. I gave him the dog's ID number. He told me that she had already been adopted. My heart sank. I feared that she had actually been killed. I was disappointed that she wouldn't be with me. I considered adopting another dog, but my heart wasn't in it, so I donated some money to the veterinary care of the many who were saved that day.

I went through the rest of the day with an empty feeling. I had already fallen in love with this dog, and now I would never know her. I assumed that that was the end of the story until I got home and found a posting by the group who had rescued "my" dog. Apparently, a group of people who loves Labs had rallied around her and, through their online community, arranged to have her pulled from the shelter, checked by a veterinarian, and fostered until transport could be arranged. Multiple people donated money for her care, and a woman in Maine committed to take her. I posted a comment about how I had attempted to adopt her and was happy to know that she was safe. I sent in some money for her care. Once again, I assumed that was the end of it.

Later that evening, I received a message from the adoption sponsor in Maine. She wanted to know if I was still interested in adopting the dog. What?!?! Of course, I was! She said that there were others interested in adopting her, but that she felt that I might be the right choice. My hopes soared once more. I couldn't sleep that night. I looked at pictures and videos of her posted by her rescuer. I imagined what it would be like to have her join my family. I couldn't focus on much else. I was scheduled to leave in just a day and a half for a week-long trip to Indiana for a friend's wedding and visiting my sister and my friends, but I hadn't even started to pack. Instead of mapping my route and planning my lunch dates with friends, I was trying to figure out how to get the dog from eastern NC, where she was being fostered, to the western part of the state, where Mitchell would be attending his annual business meeting the next week.

After another long day of worrying and wondering, I got the call I had been hoping for. The dog was mine! I was so excited! Right away, my trip to Indiana was canceled, and I started planning how I would get the dog from her foster mom and brainstorming names for my new addition. I eventually settled on "Iko," a name that I had wanted to use for a while, but hadn't yet met the right dog for. And, as luck (or fate) would have it, I was able to coordinate with her foster mom to meet up for her exchange. Our long drive to North Carolina was made a little easier knowing that I would soon be meeting Iko for the first time. The hardest part was waiting out the next day and a half in a hotel room in Wilkesboro, NC, and even the series finale of "Lost" couldn't hold my interest or attention for long.

Iko was rescued from the Robeson County Animal Shelter in St. Pauls, NC on May 19, 2010, and I saw her for the first time in a McDonald's parking lot in Zebulon, NC on May 25, 2010. Since, then she's secured her place in my home, my family, and my heart. She is goofy, smart, loving, playful, and pretty.

But, once again, the story doesn't end there. As much as Iko's adoption came as a bit of a surprise, I have also been pleasantly surprised to have many of the people involved in her rescue become dear friends of mine. Though we've never met in person (except one), I feel as if I've known them forever. They get me in the same way my best friends do, fulfilling my first and most important criteria for friendship. I respect their passion and am in awe of their ability to achieve tasks which would seem impossible to most. I believe that there was something very special about the way that I was led to Iko and the series of events which unfolded to make her adoption possible. I believe that this something special has also brought these new friends into my life. They've reminded me of the need for boundaries and of the value in humor. They love dogs, and they dislike drama. They're "good people," as the old saying goes, and I have no doubt that D.J. would approve!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

who am i not to be?

I made my now annual trek to Florida over the last weekend of April to participate in Operation Freefall and to spend time with some of my closest & dearest friends, including a friend who drove from Chattanooga to watch me skydive and spent the entire day at the drop zone. I had an amazing time and wish we had more time together. We stayed up late talking and drinking wine. We ate Jamaican food and sinfully delicious garlic butter rolls. We spent the afternoon at the beach, floating in the gentle waves of the Gulf and digging our toes into the warm, white sand. We danced in an elevator, set high scores on a video game, skydived, and got tattoos (or a piercing). We laughed, hugged, and attempted to literally breathe in every moment that we had together, knowing that our memories would have to carry us until we could be together again.

During the weekend, despite all the good times and good vibes, I had the opportunity to confront several of my insecurities. Happily, though, what would have limited my ability to socialize and to enjoy myself in the past was mostly just an annoyance that I was able to quickly brush off. I have never felt as pretty as other girls/women, and, even when I was thin, I have always been self-conscious about my body. Most of my friends on this weekend are significantly younger that me, and they are all much prettier (in my opinion). My old, familiar, self-deprecating thoughts came to visit a time or two. "She's so beautiful. You look really ugly compared to her." "She has such a great figure. You look so fat next to her." Like buzzing pests, though, I noticed them, but them shooed them away. I put on a bathing suit and went to the beach! Hell, it was a big deal that I even packed the bathing suit and the outfit I wore as a cover-up. The whole look was way out of my comfort zone, but I actually felt good in it. And when one of my friends said that I looked like a tennis player, I felt complimented. I mean, when was the last time you saw a fat, ugly tennis player? Even if she meant it as a crack, I decided to accept it as something positive.

My negative thoughts and feelings about myself sometimes run very deep. A recurring sentiment is that for whatever reason people don't really like me--they're just putting up with me. I once heard someone say that every group of friends has that one girl that no one really likes, but they just deal with it, because it would be too hard to "break up" with her. She then said that if you don't know who that person is in your group of friends, then it's probably you. I am often convinced that I am that person, and that thought entered my mind once during the weekend. I mean, all of my friends are so interesting, dynamic, funny, intelligent, and attractive. Clearly, I am the wannabe of the group, right? No! I decided not to let my suspicions and self-doubt carry more weight than what my friends said about me. If they said that I was funny, that I looked younger than my age, that they wished they could see me more, that they loved me, then why couldn't those things be true?

I used to attend a women's personal growth group. I really credit that group, its members, and its facilitator, Lynne Forrest, with helping me to recognize and to challenge my core beliefs, particularly those which were hindering my growth and limiting my experiences. One of the group members once gave everyone a small, plastic card with a quotation on it. It took a while for the real meaning of the words to impact me, but they now resonate with me. They help me to realize that when I am doubting myself, my looks, my abilities, my worthiness, when I am comparing myself to others, when I am projecting judgmental attitudes onto others, that I am assigning myself the label of "victim." I might as well be throwing myself a pity party, wallowing in a self-proscribed state of powerlessness, woundedness, and incompetency. No thanks! Been there, done that!

I keep the card on a mirror above the table where I get ready everyday. The quotation is from Marianne Williamson, and it reads:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Thank you to all of my friends, who remind me of my shining light and so beautifully shine themselves.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

dying to live

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.

“You must want to fly so much you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean die?”

“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will still live

–from Hope For The Flower

I will jump out of an airplane for the fifth time this Saturday. Just over five years ago, I never would have imagined that I could (or would) ever skydive, much less that I would do it again and again. I have several friends who also take part in Operation Freefall each year. Some of them dedicate their jump to someone or something each time. I've never done this. I've never felt the need. Oddly enough, I've never even taken much time to consider why I am skydiving year after year or what it means to me. I didn't even really enjoy skydiving until my third jump. Reading something that a friend wrote in regards to her upcoming jump, though, I started to wonder about my own.

Why do I skydive? At first, I did it to face one of my biggest and most powerful fears--the fear of heights. Then, it was more about facing fear in general. I was raised by a mother who had (and still has) many fears. In turn, she instilled fear in us kids. I allowed fear to keep me from trying a lot of activities that I may have wanted to try. I was afraid of getting hurt, of looking stupid, of failing, of ridicule, of everything. I made lots of excuses, but the truth was that I was afraid.

With my first skydive, I made a conscious decision to start dealing with my fears directly and honestly. My third skydive reaffirmed this decision. During my second jump, I experienced what is known as a hard parachute opening. I was jerked very hard by the chute and was in a great deal of pain all the way to the ground. In retrospect, I realize how lucky I was not to be hurt more than I was. I took a year off at the advice of my chiropractor, but felt compelled to "get back on the horse" the following year, when I finally had fun jumping. I credit my tandem instructor, Mike Hennesy for being gentle, kind, and funny and myself for asking for what I needed.

Last year, I decided to once again have fun. I vowed to smile all day. I promised not to let fear enter my mind or my heart. I knew what I was doing, this was nothing new, and I wanted to make it the best jump yet. I did. Fear was no longer the target of my attention and my action. To borrow terminology from behavioral psychology, I was switching from an avoidance goal (avoiding fear) to an approach goal (approaching fun). I was amazed at how a simple change could have such a huge impact. After completing my skydive last year, I felt joy--pure, uncomplicated, unfettered joy--for the first time in my life. I felt a happiness that I never knew was possible for me, a person who has suffered from dysthymia for most of my life. When I see pictures and video of myself from that day, I see a lightness in my face, an easing of tension, a genuine peace.

So, again, why do I skydive? Simply said, I skydive to feel alive. Before skydiving, I could easily access painful and negative emotions, but I wasn't able to reach and hold onto the positive ones. Now, I can feel joy and wonder and love and amazement and bliss--and not just when I skydive, but even in the midst of the mundane and in the simple, everyday happenings of life. Sometimes, I feel like a kid experiencing things for the first time. I can laugh at the most inappropriate times, and I can entertain myself for hours with just my thoughts. I can watch my cat chase a bottle cap around the house and think it's the cutest thing in the world or get down on all fours on the floor with my dog and growl and play with her like I'm a dog.

I skydive to experience my strength and my vulnerability at once. To trust someone else with my life requires both bravery and the ability to let go of control. One could argue that it also requires stupidity, but I would say that it's hardly stupid to want to squeeze every bit of living out of your life. I skydive to prove that I am capable of doing something that most other people won't ever try. I skydive to prove to myself that there are people who won't hurt me, who will protect me, and who will support me. I skydive to remind myself that I can let them.

I skydive for me! Though I do it as a fundraiser and an opportunity to raise awareness of sexual violence, it could be one of the most selfish things that I allow myself to do. My skydive has become a time when I take time off from work, I travel to a sunny spot, and I spend a few days with friends from all over the country (and the world). It's a strange sort of girls' weekend, but that's exactly what it is. Of course, we're a strange bunch of girls, so it's quite fitting. I could say that I can't afford to go, that I shouldn't take the time off from work, that my pets need me at home, that I should just skydive closer to home. It's illogical, impractical, and totally unnecessary. But, I want to do it, so I do. Skydiving gives me an excuse to indulge my desires, to forget (even if only for a little while) what I should, ought, and must do.

I skydive so that I can live.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

grateful for the path

"I'm grateful that the path I have traveled, however twisted it may have seemed, brought me to where I am: right here, right now."

The above quotation was borrowed from a Facebook status posted by The Attitude of Gratitude Project some time back. I absolutely love the status messages that the page's creator posts. They remind me of the many things that I have to be grateful for, even (and especially) the little, seemingly unimportant things.

As a Reiki Master, I recite the Reiki Gokai, or principles, daily:

Just for today, I will live the attitude of gratitude.
Just for today, I will not worry.

Just for today, I will not anger.

Just for today, I will do my work honestly.

Just for today, I will show love and respect for every living being.

My practice keeps me grounded and in the moment. It allows me to approach each day as a new opportunity to do my best, regardless of the past day's happenings or what lies in the future. It helps me to remember that I can only control what is at hand and that it is, therefore, unproductive to get upset or angry about what I cannot control. And it aids me in my seemingly constant struggle against worry and fear.

Back to gratitude, now. It's not always easy to be grateful, especially for things that are unpleasant, sad, or painful. In my life, though, these are the very things that teach the most poignant lessons, bring the most fulfilling experiences, and supply the contrast needed to feel the positive emotions. Without them, the ups wouldn't be as high, I wouldn't know my true strength, and my friendships would be more shallow. Because of them, I am who I am and I am where I am.

I will be going to Florida at the end of this week for my Operation Freefall skydive and my now annual reunion with as many as my SOAR friends as possible. In preparation for the trip, I've spent hours on the phone and online with several of them, trying to figure out where we will be staying and what we will be doing. These friends are friends who know, accept, and love me in a special way. I feel alive when we are together. We don't speak enough. (Who really does?) I wish we lived closer. I wish we had more time together. I am truly grateful for these friends, and I realize that I wouldn't know them if it weren't for each of our negative past experiences.

It's a strange thing for some people to hear me say that I am grateful for the experience of being a sexual assault survivor. But, I am. The healing process was a difficult one, with many dark and scary times along the way. I didn't always think that I would make it through the darkness to the other side. In fact, I usually didn't. I wasn't even sure that I deserved to. I wallowed for a long time in self-abuse and neglect. I existed from day to day, seeing each not as an opportunity, but as an obstacle. I felt excruciating alone. I had no idea that this very "alone-ness" would someday be replaced by an equally intense feeling of belonging.

Because of what I survived, I now have a career that I am passionate about. I advocate for victims of sexual violence. I am their voice in the treatment and supervision of their offenders. I answer their questions and make sure that their concerns are addressed. I will not allow them to be forgotten, ignored, or dismissed. I understand their feelings and know their struggles. I accept their anger and disappointment without judgment. I believe in their potential and encourage their growth. I learn from them everyday.

Because of what I survived, I have exercised a lot of self-reflection. I have had therapy. I have participated in groups. I have attended healing retreats. I know more about myself and what makes me tick than I ever would have otherwise. I'm more self-aware than the average person and, arguably, more intuitive. I can read other people well, and I have a deep capacity for empathy. My knowledge and skills have helped me in my work and personal life.

Because of what I survived, I have an appreciation for what makes a man a "real" man. I know that "macho" has no value, that the traditionally "feminine" qualities take on a deeply attractive nature when displayed by a man, that love is more about mutual respect than about sexual tension, and that a healthy relationship isn't all that much work. I dated my fair share of "bad boys" and jerks. I tried to be married to a "nice guy." I had given up hope of finding "the one" when I left Ft. Wayne and moved to Chattanooga. Life once again surprised me when that very move brought me exactly what I thought was impossible. He had to patiently wade through the flotsam and jetsam of my past, but he must have seem something that I didn't even know existed. I am inexplicably grateful that he did.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

spring awakening

I am certain that people and events come into our lives for a reason, but it never ceases to amaze me when someone manages to say just the thing that I need to hear at the moment that I need to hear it. That happened yesterday. Feedback from some friends on Facebook and a silly Snoopy calendar gave me the insight and the inspiration that I have needed for a while now.

You see, I've been beating myself up a bit lately, because I've been in a depressive state for most of the last three months. I've been sick, sluggish, and stagnant. I've been avoidant, isolating, and reclusive. I haven't been eating right, sleeping well, or exercising regularly. I've just been down on myself in general. It's partially a seasonal thing--both the lack of sun during the winter months and the anniversary of difficult events--and partially my chronic depression rearing its ugly head. I don't
know why I get so judgmental about it, but I do. I think that I'm so afraid of it progressing to a clinical point that I treat it with disdain, instead of allowing myself to explore whatever it might be telling me.

Of course, I didn't even consider that there was a message to hear or a lesson to learn until yesterday when I posted on my Facebook page that I was contemplating the difference between daydreaming and dissociation. Both are symptoms of my depression, though true, maladaptive dissociation is less frequent than mere daydreaming. As you can probably tell by my rambling words, I've been having problems focusing and staying present lately. I even dissociated while driving last week and was literally jolted back into reality when I saw a police car quickly make a U-turn as I drove past. (Luckily, he was just exiting the highw
ay, but it certainly scared me!) My lack of focus and occasional incidents of dissociation had bothered me, but I hadn't considered their cause. I had somehow not seen the obvious--that they were connected to and indicative of my depression. They were like a warning signal, an alarm, a red flag.

Many of my friends responded to my question about dissociation with very thoughtful and empathetic responses. (I'm fortunate and grateful to have a lot of friends who understand me and can relate to me on many levels.) One friend in particular pointed out that daydreaming can be simply caused by boredom or fatigue and can be assuaged by either finding a more stimulating activity or by getting some good rest. Dissociation, she pointed out, required a deeper form of relaxation, a more intense period of recovery.

I swear that as I read her words, a light bulb literally went off in my head. I suddenly connected all the dots. I saw my depression, my dissociation, my inactivity, my daydreaming, my isolation as a means to an end. I realized that I had needed that period of time to rebuild, recharge, refocus, and redefine myself. All of the judgment and criticism that I had been bestowing upon myself were gone. I knew that there was something that I could learn from my depression. I felt so much lighter, so much more hopeful. And, at that very moment, I looked at my desk calendar and read the following words:

"If I have inside me the stuff to make a cocoon, maybe the stuff of butterflies is there, too." -Trina Paulus

I can't put into words how stunned I was. I felt as though I had been struck by lightning. Every
cell in my body seemed to be teeming with energy. I was humming at a higher vibrational level. I was alive and awake for the first time in months. This was a moment of clarity after a journey through a dark tunnel. It was truly and absolutely amazing.

I had been cocooning myself up since January. I had been drawing back into myself, wrapping myself up in layers, lying dormant. I had done a great job of it. I had eaten junk, put on weight, and conserved plenty of energy. I had done it, and I could get myself through it to emerge as something, and someone, else on the other side. As the quotation pointed out, I had used the tools that I had at my disposal to build my cocoon. From within that cocoon, I could draw out of myself the traits that I would like to see emerge from the darkness. I could choose how I would redefine myself. I could control how I would rebuild myself. I could focus my intention wherever I wanted to. It was all in my hands. I had already made a conscious decision to pull myself out of my inactivity. I had already rededicated myself to eating well, to exercising, and to taking care of myself. These messages were the reinforcement that I needed to know that I was on the right track. They were the voices of encouragement that I would listen to when things got tough. They were the light pointing me toward the end of the tunnel.

So, it's only been two days, but I feel like I have no choice but to do well. I must take advantage of this new found clarity and insight. I have to see the gifts that depression presents to me--the time for recovery, the safety for regrowth, the space for renewal, and the chance for rebirth. Even though it's scary and lonely and dark and cold, my cocoon protects me when I am weak and vulnerable. It shields me from the harshness of the outside world. It holds me in a sacred place, where my soul can grow and change, where I can be stripped down and taken apart before emerging again, where I can take care of myself. Just as the caterpillar needs the cocoon in order to transform into the butterfly (or moth, which is equally as beautiful in my eyes!), I need my seasons of depression to transform myself. They're nothing to be ashamed of or to punish myself over. Depression doesn't mean that I'm weak or dysfunctional. It isn't a character flaw. Depression is a coping mechanism for me. It's a tool, an opportunity, a gift, a prize!

Thank you, real life and Facebook friends. Thank you, Snoopy. Thank you, caterpillars, moths, and butterflies. Thank you, daydreams and dissociative episodes. Thank you, depression. Hell, thank you, anxiety, because I'm sure you're helping me, too! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'll see you all when I bust out of this cocoon!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

donations needed for a rescued pregnant Rottweiler

Ariel, a pregnant Rottweiler, was rescued from a high-kill shelter in Georgia. She was transported to Connecticut and was hospitalized with pneumonia as she waited for the birth of her 9 puppies. She gave birth to 11 puppies, 8 of which had initially survived. Sadly, having been born to a sick & neglected momma, all of the puppies had an uphill battle from birth and only 5 have survived. They are currently being treated for pneumonia.

Ariel is still trying to get well enough to have her serious heartworm infestation treated. The treatment can be fatal, so she needs to be as strong as possible before facing it. (My beagle, Bennie, was treated for heartworms after I rescued her and nearly died from the treatment even after waiting several months for her to be strong enough for the treatment.)

Ariel's total vet bills to date are $4,685.45. The volunteer-run rescue group has raised $620 from donations so far, but needs help in raising the remaining funds.

Please consider helping if you can. This momma and her babies were rescued from sure death. They all deserve the best shot at a long, happy, healthy life. Please give if you can!

Read more about Ariel & track the fundraising progress at

You can also read the news coverage of Ariel's story here: Animal groups come to aid of pregnant Rottweiler

Sunday, March 21, 2010

the potter and his clay

"The circumstances of our pasts needn't dictate the quality of our present or the promise of our future. We're not products; we're creations!" --Jeri Elster

My friend in recovery and survival, Jeri Elster, posted the above on her Facebook page a month or so ago. I told her how much I loved it and warned her that I would be stealing it. I wasn't sure what I would be inspired to write about it until today. People and situations pop into my head at weird times, and this morning while cleaning the litterbox, I thought about a friend whose relationship had ended fairly recently. I'll avoid the obvious insult that the kitty litter somehow reminded me of his ex and instead choose to believe that I become meditative while performing mundane tasks, leaving me open to receive inspiration.

So, while scooping away, I remembered this friend once telling me about how unhappy he had been in relationships with women and about how he believed that if only he could have another chance with an ex-girlfriend, he could finally be content. I understood his feelings, having once believed that an ex-boyfriend had been "the one who got away" and being caught up in the myth of him for a long time. Knowing how things had turned out in my fantasy and having some knowledge of his past relationship, I was skeptical, but I truly wished for him that he could find happiness.

I remembered also the night that he called me to tell me that his ex-girlfriend was coming back into his life. He told me that they had been talking for a while, that she was moving back to the area, and that they were going to give the relationship another try. I was happy for him, but still felt some doubt since the circumstances of their reunion and her recent past remained shrouded in mystery.

Long story short, they dated for about 3 1/2 years before breaking up abruptly, amidst quite a bit of drama. The girlfriend and I never really got along. She started off on the wrong foot with me and never overcame that negative first impression. In fact, she never even attempted to. I tried to get to know her, but she always had a wall up with me. She never asked me one thing about myself and didn't seem to be at all interested in me as a person. I wanted desperately for us to get along, but always felt that she viewed me as competition.

In any case, now that they've broken up, I'm worried that my friend is having a hard time moving past the relationship, past his belief that she was "the one" for him, past the way he had defined himself in relation to her, past what he had hoped would be, and past how he judges his ability to trust another person. He is a tremendously talented guy, with an artistic, creative, and unique personality, but I don't know if he's able to see in himself all of his wonderful traits. I worry that for so many years he saw her as the path to his happiness and that now he isn't able to recognize that he can create that path for himself. I know that he's been hurt by at least the last two women that he's dated, and I wonder whether he is willing to open himself up to a woman enough to have an honest and intimate relationship.

I sense that my friend feels stuck right now, that he feels that he has failed somehow. I know what depression feels like, and I know how lonely it can be. I also know that it is temporary. I know that it's possible to move through the darkness, and I know that even greater light exists on the other side. I hope that he will trust in himself and others enough to find the lessons that he can in his present pain that will help him attain happiness, contentment, love, acceptance, and fulfillment in his future. I want him to know how much I care about him, how scared I have been for him, and how deeply I believe in him. I also wish that I could tell him that that sometimes you have to shatter all of your preconceived notions about what you thought you knew, who are were, and what you wanted in order to truly find yourself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the price of beauty

After making a decision to stop coloring my gray hairs, undergoing the primping process for filming in high def twice in 5 weeks, and reading a friend's blog on her decision not to color her hair, I have been thinking about my own relationship with the world of beauty. I've always kind of marched to the beat of my own drummer when it comes to my appearance, but I've still suffered from insecurities about both my appearance and my inability to "fit in" with other women. I've wavered between being comfortable just being me and wishing that I could look more like .... (fill in the blank). I'm alternately repulsed by the extremes to which so many will go to achieve a certain look and jealous that I don't belong to their secret society. I have recently found an unexpected ally in my journey--Jessica Simpson.

Jessica Simpson has a new TV venture, a reality show airing on VH1 called "The Price of Beauty." The premise behind the show is that she, along with her friends CaCee Cobb and Ken Paves (celebrity hairstylist), travels the world to examine how various cultures perceive beauty and what the women of that culture undergo in the pursuit of ideal beauty. Apparently, Jessica became interested in the subject after her well-publicized and greatly exaggerated weight gain over the past year. While Jessica says that she is currently a size 6/8 (up from her previous size 4), she has been called "fat," "tubby," and "disgusting." She has been nicknamed "Chestica" and has been the target of repeated barbs after performing in what many described as "Mom jeans," a simultaneous insult to Jessica's fashion sense and a slap in the face to mothers (an all women over a certain age) worldwide. An undeniably beautiful woman at any weight, Jessica has been quoted as saying that she felt like a "public embarrassment" when her weight became the subject of ridicule and scrutiny. “I had to get up on stage every night and know people were looking to see whether I was fat,” she told the UK's Daily Star.

So, I saw the first episode last week. Jessica et al. traveled to Thailand where Jessica insisted on wearing the most impractical platform heels everywhere she went. (I guess she's insecure about her height or attempting to look thinner by way of looking taller.) While in Bangkok, the crew learned that the Thai standard of beauty favors light skin over dark skin. They met a woman named Panya whose use of bleaching cremes had led to a permanent blotchy, disfiguring appearance to the skin on her face and neck. She described how her husband left her due to her appearance and how she could no longer participate in social activities, like singing, because of her embarrassment, shame, and self-loathing. Later, they visit the Karen Hill tribe, where girls begin wrapping their necks with coils of brass as early as 4 or 5 year old, increasing the length of the brass over time, weighing their shoulders down and giving their necks an elongated appearance. Each visitor tries on a mock set of neck rings to experience the weight and feel of the metal on their necks and shoulders.

Future episodes have Jessica and friends learning about the fashionable world of Paris and the pursuit of extreme thinness by models as well as the fattening huts of Uganda, where young women spend weeks putting on weight prior to their weddings in order to be a more beautiful (and, yes, more fat) bride. Of course, the show glosses over each lesson pretty quickly and intersperses scenes of Jessica acting goofy (this is the "is this chicken or fish?" Jessica, after all), but at least it exposes the VH1 viewer to something a bit more though-provoking than the exploits of "The Entertainer" or "New York."

I hope that the show is successful in finding an audience, and that it sparks conversation about the cultural pressure on women to look (and act) a certain way in order to be accepted, loved, hired, promoted, etc. I hope it will make others question why they are waxing, dyeing, bleaching, injecting, scrubbing, slathering, douching, powdering, perfuming, plucking, polishing, and primping themselves away from their natural beauty and into a false standard of beauty as it's currently defined by a society that values women less for their internal qualities than for their looks. I hope that it will cause people to pause before insulting someone who isn't as pretty, or thin, or tall, or fashionable as they. I hope that it will expand people's ideas of what is beautiful and what is "normal." I hope that it will remind us all that true beauty comes from within and that we are all more alike than we are different. And, lastly, I hope that it helps Jessica Simpson feel secure in her beauty--no matter what her weight, her age, or her hair color--and even when she wears "Mom jeans."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

diving into the deep end

I'm hardly known as particularly outdoorsy or athletic, but deep in my heart I dream of a life full of nature and adventure. I imagine myself being skilled at rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, fly fishing, canoeing, snow shoeing, camping, and other such activities. I fantasize about being one of those women who can pull her hair back into a loose ponytail, throw on a tank top, river pants, and a pair of sandals, and look beautiful and confident in her own skin. I want the freckles and tiny lines that come from summers spent playing in the sun and water. I long to experience the wonders of the earth, the sea, and the sky. I dream of traveling to exotic and remote locales where I can commune with nature and the locals. In short, I want to live my life more fully, with less fear and doubt and with more of a sense of wonderment and awe.

To this end, I have decided to challenge myself to experience more, to face my fears, and to expand my ideas of what I can do. In August, I am hoping to attend a women's wilderness retreat in Colorado. If my financial situation will allow, I will spend four days in the outdoors, connecting with others, hiking, journaling, climbing and rappelling, taking in the vistas and enjoying a little quiet introspection. I may even decide to spend a night alone in the wilderness to assure myself that I can stand on my own when needed.

I am also going to pursue a SCUBA certification. Three years ago, I won an introductory class in scuba from a silent auction. I never redeemed it. Of course, I intend to find out if the dive center will still honor the certificate, but even if they won't, I am going to take the classes. I have always wanted to scuba, but have allowed my claustrophobia, poor self-image, and doubt to get in the way. A snorkeling excursion in the Bahamas in the mid-1990's reignited my wonder at the world below the water, and my experiences in Tahiti in 1999 solidified it. I've scratched the surface, so to speak, and I'm ready to go deeper.

While scuba diving in a quarry in Connecticut has its draws, I have bigger hopes for myself. I want to dive the wrecks off the coast of the Carolinas. I want to go far below the surface of the Great Lakes. I want to dive in the warm waters of the Florida Keys. I want to swim in the Blue Hole of Belize, visit the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and explore the waters of Thailand, Fiji, Micronesia, Vanuatu, Indonesia, and the Maldives.

I don't know if I'll ever have the money to experience the world in the way that I want to, but I'm hoping that it won't be too much of an obstacle. For now, though, I've submitted an entry into a contest that would make a trip to one dream diving destination a reality. I'm hoping like hell that I'll be chosen, but even if I'm not, I'll do what I can to visit that destination as soon as possible. Step one on that journey comes without financial cost. It involves simply opening my mind to possibilities and changing my perspective on myself.

From now on, I will allow myself to be the adventurer that I dream of being. I will learn what I need to (what I want to) and I will seek out opportunities to put my learning into practice. I will re-frame how I see myself. I will no longer define myself by what I cannot do. I will not allow fears, excuses, or uncertainty to get in my way of doing what I want to do. I will appreciate the beauty that is around me every day. I will play as much as possible. I will laugh more, smile more, see more, taste more, climb, jump, run, and skip more. I will live my life more.