Bellies

This weekend I saw a woman’s belly. She was showing me how the waistband of her leggings cuts into her stomach, especially when eating a lot, as we had been doing that day. I barely know this woman. Her pale belly was a surprise to me, a curiosity. I wondered: How is your belly different than mine? Are you shy about your belly?

Another woman, one who I know very well and whose belly I have used as a pillow on a least one occasion, came to me recently and talked to me about her belly. How she has seen changes in her middle, how it seems to be growing, becoming softer, a sign of aging and perhaps self-consciousness.

I’ve pondered my own belly countless times. I’ve checked it out in profile, felt it with my hands, wished it smaller. I’ve absorbed comments from men in my life about my belly, about how they like it or how they wished it was different. I’ve had my belly touched and rubbed and cradled and raspberried. I’ve most certainly had my belly tickled. I’ve also offered it as a pillow myself.

Yesterday I was taught how to breathe with my diaphragm. I was gently chastised for “not knowing how to breathe,” for breathing with my upper chest only and leaving the belly out. I was told to put my hands on my stomach and breath in, pushing my belly out. It felt challenging, like my diaphragm was weak from the years of wimpy chest breaths. This kind of deep belly breathing was supposed to message my brain that I was safe. Just imagine, the breath in my belly, a safe haven.

 

 

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Simple pleasures.

I was driving around yesterday while listening to Fred Child on Performance Today. PT has been one of my favorite shows since high school, and Angela and I still sigh with pleasure when we hear Fred’s soothingly, reassuringly confident voice pipe out of the stereo.

A piece came on that featured the cello. Glorious, rich, voice-like tones filled the Forester. However, it quickly dawned on me that I was not listening to a cellist perform but to a classical guitarist. The first notes were so low and slow that I had been duped!

This is a small pleasure of mine: hearing an instrument and being mentally tricked into thinking it’s another. When a trombone sounds like a French horn, when a viola sounds like a tenor, when a flute sounds like a violin.

Small pleasures are little, quite personal delights that can bring a little magic into an everyday experience. Here are some other small pleasures:

When a writer uses a semicolon perfectly.

Tasting chocolate chip cookie dough.

Gently petting my dog’s soft ears.

When a chickadee visits the bird feeder.

Precise, unhurried pipet work.

Sweeping.

Pulling on brand new wool socks.

Receiving surprise mail from a friend (is this a universal small pleasure?).

While on a walk, stopping to feel the sun on my face, eyes closed and chin slightly up.

When I come home and realize that someone else has cleaned the house.

A shared beer on a sunny chairlift.

At risk of sounding cliché, I think it’s important to recognize the small pleasures. Little bright spots in an ordinary day; unique, treasured moments.

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Being thirty.

I almost never have problems falling asleep initially. The tricky part is if I wake up in the middle of the night. My brain’s usual defenses fall away and I can get easily overwhelmed with anxieties, worries, and illogical patterns of thought, trying to solve the challenges of yesterday.

I now have a routine when this happens. I leave our room. I go downstairs, take a relaxing herbal tincture, and snuggle into my own bed, breathing deeply and preparing myself to ride it out for an hour or so. Although the intense anxiety can last for some time, it inevitably ebbs away and I can drift into a more-or-less restful sleep.

I awoke this morning to Jason coming into my room with Happy Birthday wishes. We had already planned a slow morning, with lots of coffee, carrot cake from the night before, and quiche; a complete luxury on a Tuesday before work. The midnight mind state was gone. Yes, the challenges still awaited me at school, but they seemed completely manageable and unalarming. A literal night-and-day experience of how I move through my work anxieties.

I started graduate school almost two years ago with almost two years left in my twenties. I don’t really remember turning twenty. While the birthday itself was unmemorable, I don’t think I’ll ever forget many of the experiences of the past decade.

Growing pains. There is a not a better phrase that could describe my twenties. Lots of growth, and lots of pain. Lots of joy as well, but unfortunately, when looking back, painful memories surface before the happy.

The end of my college chapter was the beginning of my wandering chapter. I floated to Juneau, then to California, then to Oregon. I experienced two very affecting and challenging relationships. I joined a bakery and a band. I was deeply struck by body shame. Fortunately, there were many bright stars that came into my life during this period: Geri, Elizabeth, Dani, Ian, Eowyn, Eric, Dan, Jacqui, and so many other people from Mount Shasta, Ashland, and our band family around the country…too innumerable to name here. They were my little stepping stones through the unknown, and I cherish the memories we made together. I am grateful for all of the times I was vulnerable with all of these people and was caught and listened to. Who I am today is a direct representation of the intimate connections I created in and maintained throughout my twenties.

And yet, alongside the incredible gift of sharing music across the country and creating my nest in southern Oregon, I felt almost continuous emotional pain. I now see that this pain was derived from leaving Alaska and from going through a very normal period of twenty-something self-discovery.

I have now been in graduate school for a year and a half. Through this period, I have settled back into Alaska, adopted a dog, lived by myself, and met my partner. This time has also certainly been full of challenges, most of which can be traced back to anxieties concerning failure in my thesis work. However, it is different than the pain I experienced in California and Oregon. That amorphous, ambiguous pain naturally alleviated once I arrived home. My body relaxed. I just fit here, in my weird and wonderful Fairbanks community.

Additionally, there exists a simple recognition that I’m just older now. I’ve had more experiences that I’ve survived. I’ve been through many, many episodes that have left me feeling wounded, but they’re all simple scars now. The essential ingredients to a meaningful life, including trusting, intimate relationships; spending time outside in beautiful places; cooking and eating lots of good food; drinking delicious beer; and playing music with my community have become all the more precious to me. There are many more nights now where I fall asleep completely convinced that I have everything I could ever want and more.

So, what does turning thirty mean for my poor nights of sleep? Is there anything that can be said about the mental switch that accompanies the rather arbitrary ceremony of turning one year older and launching into the next decade?

To put it in the most poetic way I can, I believe one can choose thirty as a means to just not give a shit. Rest assured I will give lots of shits for the aforementioned essential ingredients to a meaningful life. But for the experiences that threaten to make me feel small, for the experiences that fill my heart with doubt, and for the experiences that disrupt a night of sleep here and there but in the end come down to a piece of paper and a line on a resumé, I choose not to give a shit. The fear will come, the fear will pass. But the snow is beautiful on the spruce, and a big downy woodpecker came to our house today, and there are pooch trails to be walked this afternoon.

I am overjoyed to be thirty and truly delighted to be growing older. I don’t know how life could get any better than it is now, but I’m also certain that it will.

Side note: neat French website here about turning 30 around the world. Also where I found the featured photograph.

Some small thoughts, like droplets in my mind.

Certainly, the emotion that most impedes progress in any endeavor is the emotion of fear. When I feel fear, it is a quickening in my heart, a sharpness in my in breath, a closing in of my mind. The world becomes smaller as my fears expand. Lately, I’ve been turning to the trees, looking up to the highest leaves and beyond to the clouds and sky. The world starts to expand again, and my breath slows, and my heart stills.

Certainty is what we seek. The feeling of uncertainty is most, most uncomfortable. When I’m uncertain, it can be incredibly difficult to elucidate 1) what I’m uncertain about, specifically; 2) how to handle myself in my uncertainty; and 3) how to feel certain once more. Maybe it’s impossible to ever really feel certain, but it’s important to attempt.

A realization from last night’s walk: when my dog runs up to me with her tail circling wildly, her eyes bright and wide, and her tongue launching wet gobs of happy saliva, it is briefly impossible to feel uncertain.

Next year I will be thirty. My friend Claire calls it “the magic of turning thirty.” I think I know what she means. There seems to be a noticeable difference between those women still meandering about in their twenties and those regal thirty-something ladies lounging on self-confident sofas. Six more months of aimless wandering before the beautifully consistent straight-and-narrow. Am I being too optimistic?

“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” – Pema Chödrön

Photo credit here.

Be Seen

Today is a wonderful day: International Women’s Day. Women all over the world are speaking up, speaking out about where work still needs to be done to foster equal representation and to encourage courage in the face of those who wish to make us small.

The idea that to change the world we must change ourselves rings very true to me. How can we bring peace into the world if we ourselves are not peaceful? How can we encourage loving relations in the world if we are not loving toward ourselves? Initially, this idea of changing ourselves can seem more manageable than changing the world. Physically, of course, the world is enormous, and it is indescribably complex. Yet, as we are with ourselves continuously, there is always an opportunity to change ourselves, any moment. However, women’s inner worlds are also complex. If you are like me, it can be difficult to look inside. It can feel overwhelming to unearth all the emotions, fears, preconceived notions, and anger. I believe that’s why we can spend quite a bit of energy trying to change other people, other situations, other modes of thought. Yet if we have hatred, how can we expect others to release their hatred? If we judge and discriminate against some others, how can we demand others to not judge and discriminate against some other others? It takes courage to change the world, but it might take more courage to change ourselves.

This year’s IWD theme: Be Bold for Change. Be bold for change in the world, be bold for change in yourself.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time this semester feeling small, not wanting to be noticed. I believe this is because I am in a new relationship, and I’m being noticed, and there is an excellent chance this person will notice aspects of my personality or habit patterns that I am not proud of, or that are holding me back, or that are contradictory, or maybe even harmful to myself or others. This is ironic, because I spent a good deal of time last semester desiring that someone would notice me, that someone would see me. What I realize now is that I wanted someone to see my good, but not my not-so-good. So I’ve been slowly shrinking myself in hopes that I just won’t be noticed.

But what an opportunity. There is someone who sees me, who is seeing me more and more deeply. I can show someone who I am, I can share with someone how I think, I can tell someone my fears, I can mess up and be afraid and trip over myself and that person can be a witness to all of that living. Someone seeing me so closely is really, really scary for me. But what can I do but to keep showing up, keep refusing to get small, keep encouraging the courage in myself? It hurts to be seen, it hurts not to be seen. Which do you choose?

Happy International Women’s Day. Remember not to focus only on how far we have yet to go, but also on how far we’ve come. Remember the freedoms that you experience every day in addition to where your freedom is restricted. Remember that you are not alone, and women all over the world experience heartache, jealousy, self-criticism, rage, and fear. Remember that we all want to be seen, we all want to be loved, we all want to feel safe, we all want to feel justified.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

What I really want to say is this…

It’s been over a month since I last wrote. I’ve been experimenting with some drafts…they’re patiently waiting to be completed. One is about being “likable”, another about coping with ignorance, and a third about the difficulty of change.

However, inspired by the writing advice of Natalie Goldberg, what I really want to say is this.

The greatest challenge of my life is living with integrity, honesty, openness, and love. However, there is no other way to live. Who do we think is going to do our living for us? What is keeping us from living the most beautiful life we can envision?

No matter how much self-criticism arises, I can consistently find pride in my efforts to live a good life. Effort is the key. Results are not keys.

What is it going to take for me to change? What am I waiting for? No one will save me.

Mind, show me your worst. Show me your scariest. Show me alone, unwanted, destitute, and broken; a total failure. I have seen your imaginings. They are childhood fears distorted in an adult reality. They are empty.

In two weeks exactly I’m driving away from this southern Oregon nest. Ashland has cradled me through my early to mid-twenties. She has brought unbelievably empowered and inspired young women as role models and friends. She has brought me the opportunity to grow with an outrageously amazing band. She has brought me joy unimagined, sorrows deep and black. She has held me in her arms and allowed me to struggle and strive. And now I uproot and grow towards the midnight sun, land of my babyhood and youth.

Playing at the farmers market dressed as a fairy angel.

Walking a path in Lithia Park and running into Elizabeth.

Picking blackberries with Henry; finding the herd of bucks.

Riding bikes home with Elliot in the warm summer evening.

Practicing in the hot teepee on Mountain, baby Eowyn naked.

Sitting out on the Caldera deck, my leg up on Frankie’s lap.

Late night talks with Ian in the Orange Avenue kitchen.

Smelling the wisteria in the morning at Squawking Hawk Acres.

Soon the memory of driving away will be added to this list, my car full of all the possessions I lay claim to in this world. It’s already all falling away: the bakery, the band, the Orange Avenue house, Ian, the last symphony concert. And yet, this is only the beginning of my one wild and precious life.

Image from pixdaus.com.