May you feel grateful for being alive today.
Today is Valentine’s Day. Last Valentine’s Day I was sitting in front of the fire in my Orange Avenue home, butt warm on a sheepskin. I was feeling lonely. I didn’t really care about Valentine’s Day per se, but the day was cultivating a mindset of wanting to be with someone, on the sheepskin, in front of the fire.
I don’t feel lonely today. My life is incredibly full, no time to reflect on feelings of loneliness.
However, I have been reflecting on love. Several years ago, a man named Johnny wrote to Cheryl Strayed when she was still doing Dear Sugar on The Rumpus. He asked what the definition of love was. This was her response:
“It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.
The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”
Love…imbued by sorrow, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity. May we all experience all the forms of love and enjoy the ways that life colors our loves. May we learn to listen to our tender, tender hearts. May we remember that we all seek love, deeply.
Quote from Pasteur.
This made him understand, he said, that we cannot hope to capture anything in life. It is best just to let go and see what comes to you instead.
From The Sun magazine, although I can’t remember which story or which month. It’s written on a card that sits in my office that I just remembered was there.
Put another way:
Your job is just to observe, and let Dhamma (The Truth, The Path) do the rest.
Since coming home after my most recent 10-day, this idea of letting go, unclenching the fists, dialing down the effort, nurturing faith that life will present to you what exactly you need has been on my mind. Many experiences have been presented to me already in the past two weeks, to hold and turn over and examine and wonder over. Imagine an active passivity, where you are intently interested in life yet you do not direct its flow. The world is too vast to continually pick over. You can succeed and find fulfillment in simple observation of experience.
I don’t want this to read as just another woman’s experience with body image. It’s been done already, by myself and many, many others. I want this account to be different. I want this to be a vulnerable, personal portrait of what my journey with body fat has been and how I’m working to free myself and others from that prison.
It’s clear that our American culture has unrealistic ideas of what a woman’s body should look like, especially in terms of where it is appropriate for fat to deposit. Breasts, for instance, are obvious places. Finger pads, maybe selective deposits on the butt and hips. Ear lobes. But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of women walking the streets of our country are trying to get rid of fat somewhere or the other.
Think about that: millions of women going through life hating their bodies. Nearly every woman you see, unhappy with her form in one way or another. Unhappy women, everywhere.
Fat is a type of loose connective tissue called adipose tissue comprised of specialized cells. Adipose cells contain large vacuoles, or little cellular compartments, that are full of fat. If you look at an adipose cell under the microscope, you can see a tiny nucleus and a large, fat-containing vacuole comprising the rest of the space. Adipose cells are simply storage sites of reserve energy, used after our body has burned available glucose. Looking at fat on a larger scale, adipose tissue is used to insulate and protect organs, to insulate our bodies against heat loss, and to protect the nervous system. Our brains are mostly fat.
Fat is energy and fat is protection.
Where our body deposits fat is, I believe, mostly due to genetics. Where our body naturally deposits fat is largely beyond our control. Humans like to be in control. The world is so large and complex and chaotic that we consistently, to varying degrees and under varying levels of consciousness, work to maintain order. This can be exhausting and is fairly useless. We can’t control the world around us, what happens and how others perceive us. Cultural expectations regarding female fat, in a way, are providing women with exactly what they crave: something to control. If I can control my fat, then I’m in control of my life. I can navigate through my life if I can just manage the deposits. So we (many of us) do just this. We smoothie, cardio, and obsess our way to bodies that are five pounds lighter, ten pounds, twenty pounds, something that’s always less than what we are now. And if we ever get there, we expend more precious energy on keeping ourselves there, staying there forever, until we die and our perfect bodies are laid to rest for eternity.
I believe that shame is responsible for fat accumulation on our bodies. Shame of what and how much we eat, shame if we can’t get our run in, the special shame that comes when we are ashamed that we are ashamed of body fat. Since I was 18, I have weighed between 119 and 167 pounds. Nearly fifty pounds of difference. The 119 was during the height of control, the 167 during the height of shame. The journey I’ve been on with numbers and food and exercise and clothes and boyfriends and how they have all influenced my weight and body image over the past ten years is too complex and personal to go into here. However, what I’ve discovered along the way is to stop pretending that this isn’t and hasn’t been a personal struggle for me. That almost every woman alive has stressed about her body’s shape. And the cycle of weight loss celebration and weight gain dejection can be broken. It can be broken by airing out shame, observing our judgements, and altering our means of complimenting the women in our lives.
Notice the shame you feel around your body. Notice how it feels in your body when you’ve realized you’ve gained weight, or when you lose weight. You may feel flushed and your chest may tighten when you realize you’re heavier, and you may feel tingly and energetic when you realize you’re lighter. Talk about it with trusted friends. If a friend talks to you about her struggle with weight, and you’ve had a similar experience, try these two magic words: me too.
Notice how you judge others. Notice the assumptions you make about other women based on their body shape, about their level of physical activity, what they eat, if they have a boyfriend/husband, if they are or should be embarrassed about their fat. Notice how those judgements are likely the same judgements you heap upon yourself.
Notice when you compliment the women in your life. Have you ever told a friend or relative, “you look great since you’ve put on twenty pounds!” Likely not. Have you ever told a friend or relative, “you look great since you’ve lost twenty pounds!” More likely. Think about the messages you’re sending. Nothing against complimenting, just a recommendation to notice. If we are consistently receiving compliments when fat leaves and not when fat comes, what are we to think?
It is healthy to be strong, it is healthy to eat enough nourishing food, it is healthy to know when to stop, and it is healthy to physically exert yourself. With He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (hint: not Voldemort) entering the White House on Saturday, consider resolving to be an advocate for body shame resilience, resolving to become more aware of your judgements, and resolving to support the women in your life regardless of their size, instead of resolving to finally lose those ten pounds.
I now weigh 142 pounds. Who cares?
The heart wants what it wants –
Or else it does not care –
– Emily Dickinson, 1862
Such a simple quote from a letter to a friend, yet it rings true, doesn’t it? A deep, heavy ring. The heart can be so passionate and fervent in its wanting, but to everything else it is silent. These are the words I feel as I go into my sit today. I’m certain my mind will be buzzing throughout the next ten days with ideas I want to share here. Until then! May all beings be happy.
I was driving northeast in the beginnings of a blizzard to my brother’s wedding. It was 3:30 pm, so the outside was darkening already, and I was alone in the car, save for June Bug. And save for Regina Spektor, and her new album, Remember Us to Life. Everything felt significant, that night, that weekend.
The ninth song on the album is called Obsolete. It’s slow, sad, soft:
This is how I feel right now
No one reads and no one needs
Pages lost, incomplete
No one knows what it means
I listened to this song over and over, swirls of snow obscuring my vision, Junie curled up to my right, a warm cabin beckoning with two of my favorite people cozied up by the wood stove, hidden from the world in a dark spruce forest, burnt up several summers ago, now blanketed in thick, thick snow.
This song became the constant mind hum of my weekend. Its melody and velvety, pulsing piano rode the waves of my mind as I soaked in the hot springs with my girlfriends, as I witnessed the marriage of my brother and Lilly, as I slept outside in the blowing snow, as I skiied in the empty burnt snowy forest, as I ate Alaskan blueberry pie over a card game right before midnight on New Years Eve.
Minds grow dark, so suddenly
I was lost on your street
Hey I’m talking to myself
I can hear you listening in
To my thoughts, to my dreams
What I want, can’t compete
It’s difficult to say why this song felt so important this weekend, why I was so struck by it. I’ve been turning the lyrics over and over in my mind, searching for connections with what I was experiencing at the cabin.
Take me to the water’s edge
Let me stand in the sand
Let me hear the waves crash-land
This useless heart
What am I? why am I
Although I’m still searching for the meaning, I’d like to share my best guess with you. We go through each year with a myriad of yearnings, fears, celebrations, tiny challenges, significant accomplishments, adventures, disappointments. We strive so ardently for happiness and fulfillment. We connect with some and lose touch with others. Endless experience. Yet, in the end, the year ends. The entirety of what we’re left with over the first breath of the new year is exactly where we are at that moment. The old year, in effect, is obsolete.
Standing by the bonfire at midnight, I felt a budding desire to examination myself anew, to look at this idea of “What am I? Why am I incomplete?”, questions that so many of us ponder. This dichotomy of feeling a genuine self-significance while at the same time knowing that our lives are due to end, our time in this body and mind is finite, and that one day, far in the future, we will be completely obsolete.
This is how it feels right now
No one reads, no one needs
This useless heart
What am I? why am I
All I want
All I want
Is a sleep
All I want
All I want
It may have been the dark and stormy night that I was hurtling through, it may have been the wedding of my baby brother, it may have been the stark beautiful loneliness of that burnt up spruce forest, but I believe all the deep emotions I felt while listening were inspired directly from Regina’s magic. Happy New Year.
In drear nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity—
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.
In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.
Ah! would ‘twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy—
But were there ever any
Writh’d not of passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.