Friday, May 29, 2009

[Beloved] "...we have some of them inside us"

From Sweet Machine's blogpost "Queering my mirror":
Seeing the world through a queer eye makes me look at other women without the pathological measuring up/judging/comparing that I have been trained to perform since girlhood. Especially when I am actively dating a woman, I look at women and don’t think about how they differ from me and whether that puts us higher or lower on the hierarchy of acceptability. I look at women and think, How lovely you are. And there is a point, for me, when that can become How lovely I am.

When I was in college, I had a serious (but fun!) relationship with a woman who was also white, tall, and brunette. Our friends joked that we had Identical Lesbian Syndrome because we were roughly the same height and weight and had dark curly hair. The truth is, we really didn’t look alike in either our figures or our faces, but hearing that other people thought we did astonished me, because she was the most adorable, desirable person I could imagine. People told me all the time that I looked like her—even though, to myself, for years I had looked like a clearly undesireable person with a flabby body, bad skin, and way too much hair, who would never ever be pretty. When I was dating my non-identical-gf, we could trade clothes with each other… so that implied my body wasn’t as grotesque as I had imagined. Our bodies were differently proportioned… but when we were naked we looked more alike than different.

It would be difficult to overstate how simultaneously liberating and confusing this was for me. Here was someone whose body I adored for the same reasons I had always hated mine: its softness, its roundness, its abundance. Her body was dramatic and singular, yet every time I looked at her and praised her, there was some part of my mind thinking, “And that is also true of me.” Having a strong relationship and good sex was positive for me in the way it often is, but this particular relationship made me look at myself differently; it was like having a different mirror.
One of my initial reactions to this was: I totally look at women (people, really) I'm interested in/attracted to and think about how much more awesome they are than I am (including physically) and thus why of course they wouldn't be interested in me.

But I also thought about how the people I've been attracted to haven't been people I would objectively say are particularly hot but THAT DOESN'T MATTER -- I mean, I love these people deeply (and not just in a gen way), and I don't love them in spite of or because of their bodies, I just love (and want) them inclusive of their bodies, and it's a really good reminder to me that, oh yeah, it works the other way, too.

do less (mental inventory)

Another Magpie Girl post:
Over at The DO LESS Revolution, we are getting ready to get rid of a bunch of stuff on our To-Do list.

Sometimes, I think we take the idea of Doing Less too literally, restricting ourselves to reducing only our external tasks and chores. But our internal tasks demand our time and energy as well. By internal tasks I mean the activities of our monkey mind - mental and emotional busyness. So here’s a little warm-up exercise for Friday’s DO LESS post. What *8Things do you need less of– from the internal or external list? Here’s mine, share yours!
Her list included:
* Worry
* Regrets
* Second Guessing
* Self Criticism

I feel like what I need right now is more in my life -- more abundance . . . more physical touch, more conversations and interactions and time with people I love, more delicious food, more sleep. But I do appreciate the spirit of this exercise.

Friday, May 22, 2009

[Beloved] "and the mercy of the fallen"

At my Thursday young adult church small group, we've been reading portions of Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. He talks about how we are the Body of Christ, and he uses the Communion liturgy -- taken/chosen, blessed, broken, given -- as a framing device.

Excerpts from Blessed:
For me, personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing.  I have read and written much about prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realize that, although I have a tendency to say many things to God, the real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.  This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline.  [...]  To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing --- that demands real effort.  [...]  It is not easy to enter the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: "You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests."  [...]  Often you will feel that nothing happens in your prayer.  You say: "I am just sitting there and getting distracted."  But if you develop the discipline of spending one half-hour a day listening to the voice of love, you will gradually discover that something is happening of which you were not even conscious.  It might be only in retrospect that you discover the voice that blesses you.
I was really struck by the idea of silent prayer as listening to the voice of love.  I'm familiar with the idea of listening to/for God during silent prayer, but I usually think of that as listening for God to tell you something, but of course just being in the Presence is valuable, and sometimes what God most wants to tell us is that we are Beloved.  (One could argue that what God always most wants to tell us is that we are Beloved.)
    My second suggestion for claiming your blessedness is the cultivation of presence.  By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year.  The problem of modern living is that we are too busy --- looking for affirmation in the wrong places? --- to notice that we are blessed.  Often, people say good things about us, but we brush them aside with remarks such as, "Oh, don't mention it, forget about it, it's nothing . . ." and so on.  These remarks may seem to be expressions of humility, but they are, in fact, signs that we are not truly present to receive the blessings that are given.  It is not easy for us busy people, to truly receive a blessing.  Perhaps the fact that few people offer a real blessing is the sad result of the absence of people who are willing and able to receive such a blessing.  It has become extremely difficult for us to stop, listen, pay attention, and receive gracefully what is offered to us.
I'd been thinking recently about how when people are really grateful to me and I respond by saying that what I did wasn't a big deal, that I diminish their experience, that I implicitly say that the thing I helped them with wasn't a big deal (even though that's not what I mean) and also that in refusing to accept their gratitude I was denying them the ability to give me a gift.
    Before concluding these thoughts about our being blessed, I must tell you that claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others.  The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing.  It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness.  The blessed one always blesses.  And people want to be blessed!  This is so apparent wherever you go.  No one is brought to life through curse, gossip, accusations, or blaming.  There is so much of that taking place around us all the time.  And it calls forth only darkness, destruction, and death.  As the "blessed" ones, we can walk through this world and offer blessings.  It doesn't require much effort.  It flows naturally from our hearts.  When we hear within ourselves the voice calling us by name and blessing us, the darkness no longer distracts us.  The voice that calls us the Beloved will give us the words to bless others and reveal to them that they are no less blessed than we.

Excerpt from Broken:
Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, "I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me." There is always something in us searching for an explanation for what takes place in our lives and, if we have already yielded to the temptation to self-reflection, then every form of misfortune only deepens it. [...] It is so arduous to live without an answer to this "Why?" that we are easily seduced into connecting the events over which we have no control with our conscious or unconscious evaluation. When we have cursed ourselves or have allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse. Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves: "You see, I always thought I was no good.... Now I know for sure. The facts of life prove it."

It's been a particularly dominant theme recently that people I love reach out to me first when they're in crisis. No matter what I do or fail to do in my "real job" (either now or any job I have in the future), this is reason enough for my being on this earth.

I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came,
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

-from "What I Learned from My Mother" by Julia Kasdorf


This morning I happened upon a Magpie Girl blog post, Quiten Down: How to Shut Up your Gremlins. Excerpt:
“Gremlin” is the term coined in Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. It’s a way of describing the little voices in your head that tell you untrue things. This American Life did a great piece on Gremlins called The Devil In Me. In the second act Nancy Updike asks people what the little voice inside their heads is telling them. The answers are at turns tragic, stunning, and most of all, utterly familiar. Go ahead and have a listen. We’ll wait…

Are you back? Did you hear your own Gremlins in there? I know I did.

When my life coach, Jena Strong, first suggested that I started working with my Gremlins, I wanted to throw the book at her head. I couldn’t pin my Gremlins down long enough to find out if they had girl parts or boy parts; I couldn’t read their name tags; and doggonit, they were LEGION! My Gremlins? They were very, VERY noisy.

Then Jen suggested that I take all the voices in my head and make hash marks. In any given day how many times did my Gremlins say something nice to me, and how many times did they say something negative? I tried this. After 48 hours I did not have one single hash mark in the positive column. The negative column on the other hand was quite lively.

Jen said that since my Gremlins were so very busy, maybe I should build them somewhere to go after work. After all, they did have my best intentions at heart. They were trying to protect me – to keep me from doing anything scary, or potentially painful, or too awfully adventuresome. So maybe I should give them a nice shag carpet and, in the words of Jena “sit them down and pour them a stiff drink already.”

So I did. I made them a crash pad in the charming urban-decay style. Wall paper, gilt mirrors, and battery operated twinkly lights…I spared no expense. As I worked on this mansion for the little demons, my un-namable Gremlins began to take dimension and shape. They became less ethereal, and more manageable. Soon the legion was happily ensconced in a pretty little Gremlin dollhouse.

Now that I was a full five feet taller than they were, I felt empowered. I could totally kick their butts. Like Jen says, if they misbehave I could just send them to paperdoll Gitmo.

I rapidly discovered I was not at all pleased that Gremlin Blythe had allowed the other Gremlins to propagate, so I made her put everybody on a neat little leash. The next step was to let the Gremlins take ownership of their own messages, so they didn’t rattle around in my busy little mind. I’ve always adored those little slips of paper that come in fortune cookies, so I cut a whole stack of them and put them next to a tin in the Gremlin dollhouse. Here are just some of the messages that filled that tin up in the first few hours:

“Where you are is not good enough.”
“You never get enough done.”
“Your passions aren’t strong enough.”
“You can’t climb out of this confusion.”
“You never finish anything.”

Now, keep in mind that I have been writing, reading, and carrying around affirmations to counter these messages for weeks. But something about writing them down in their negative, shitty versions was totally empowering. Now they belonged not to me, but to this third person – the Gremlins. They weren’t mine to have and to hold, and they weren’t mine to carry. Now Blythe and her crew could tuck them away on their bookshelf and keep them dusted and alphabetized. Not. My. Problem.

I cannot tell you strongly enough how much of a breakthrough this has been for me. My noisy Gremlins are much quieter these days, and when they do start getting chatty I act like a staff writer from the Evening Post—I just make the report. The quote gets shorthaneded onto a slip of paper and tucked into their dollhouse. End of story.

Other posts from my browsing of the Magpie Girl blog:
* The Do Less Revolution - The Have-Done List.
* Sacred Commerce: on finding a new way to serve and sustain.
* Lessons from an Artist: On speaking with authority about what you do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'cause taxi drivers are always funny (eyeroll)

I have read ... not nearly enough, of the posts around RaceFail, PseudonymGate, AmazonFail, and MammothFail -- though I can do a not wholly incompetent job of summarizing them.

Someone recently commented, "I also can't work out why the song ["Everyone's A Little Bit Racist"] was so referenced in RaceFail rounds one and two, given that what is said in the song was patently *not* what was being said by those same people, but anyway."

I had a total "Bzuh?" moment. I had heard the song title batted around for years, and the first time I actually read the lyrics of the song was like, "What? I am not okay with some of this. This is not actually helpful toward understanding the pervasiveness of racism." (Though I suppose I do have to give the song credit for pointing out that being racist does not consist solely of committing hate crimes. But the song seems to basically be about racial prejudice, which it's calling "racism," which I find problematic, since I find the definition of racism as prejudice+power to be really useful. Plus, "don't be so PC" as a moral is WAY problematic.)

The only time I saw it in connection with RaceFail was a post by nojojojo about the problematics of the song.

I was just rereading the lyrics to "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," and I must have only skimmed them the first time, 'cause I kind of wanted to vomit this time.


I think I'm going to have to boycott Mars candy.

I have SUCH a hate on for stupid stereotyped marketing to women -- which I manage to mostly avoid by virtue of barely watching any tv, but I did get to get all cranky at a CNN(?) feature on this phenomenon some weeks ago while I was at the gym -- but this is so much worse than anything I've seen.

Cara on Feminste writes:
I don’t even know what to do with this one.

Fling is a new chocolate bar that’s aimed at women. You can tell, because the packaging is pink. Also because the damn thing is called “fling,” indicating that there’s something thrilling and “naughty” about the chocolate bar — and no one considers it “naughty” when a dude eats a Snickers. But a Fling only a little naughty — it just has 85 calories! (Which is also how you know it’s for women!) That’s why they didn’t call it Affair.
I remember this stuff from, I think, Jean Kilbourne's books and documentaries -- about how food gets coded as a stand-in for romance/sex/emotional fulfillment (by advertisers) and how we talk about being "bad" (like sinful) when we eat, for example, chocolate.

I started to phrase it as "how our choices about things like food consumption get framed as ethical choices, in both advertising and society," and it occurred to me after I wrote that that our consumption choices are ethical choices in a lot of ways -- did your food have to get trucked in from halfway around the world, thereby adding to carbon emissions? were the workers who helped produced this item compensated fairly? etc. -- but I mean the ways in which we talk about food as being "sinfully good," for example, wherein food and sex and pleasure get all entangled in this dysfunctional thing we blame on our Puritan heritage.

My father commented:
I wonder how much the "Puritan heritage" is the problem and how much is the loss of "religions of sin." Most respectable religion nowadays is relatively sinless. Maybe we have some inherent need to feel we have sinned in various ways, or at least that there is sin out there that needs to be turned around. Thus, the multiplication of more secular sins and guilt: I ate a peach from half-way around the world, "we are raping the earth," etc.

Self-loathing and guilt is exploited by corporations for sales, and by governments for money and power. One small recent example: the report that "Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and other sugary drinks ..."
After all, those who drink them should feel ashamed and should have to pay extra for the bad thing they are doing.
[Sidebar: I recently saw a chart showing that, "The cost of many unhealthful foods, like soda, butter and beer, has fallen in the last three decades, while the cost of fruits and vegetables has risen substantially." This would trigger an entire sidebar discussion about how processed foods are cheaper than less-processed foods and how this plays into the choices that economically disadvantaged people have and so on.]

I hear the same "good"/"bad" talk from people about going to the gym, and it similarly makes me wince.

NBC's TODAY recently had Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser on, and I tuned in partway through the segment while I was at the gym. She was talking about "fat talk" and how it's harmful to women. She said that we're socialized to be modest, to not seem too full of ourselves, but at what cost. I think that is true to a degree, but I think there are other reasons why "fat talk" is such a part of female socializing, and I felt like it was almost this elephant in the room. I mean, she's a trainer on a show called The Biggest Loser. Yes, these people are doing intense physical training, but my impression (from listening to my coworkers who do watch the show talking about it -- I've never actually seen the show since the whole premise makes me uncomfortable on multiple levels) is that the deciding factor for who moves on to the next round is a "weigh-in," not how many miles they can jog or how much weight they can bench press or what their resting heart rate is or anything.

When I hear people say, "Oh I really should get back to the gym," it's usually in the context of, "I need to lose weight," and I think that's generally true in our society (especially, though not exclusively, for women). One of my coworkers does talk about how she's so much happier when she's going to the gym regularly -- that she just feels better when she has a regular routine of physical activity -- but mostly the conversations stay on the superficial level of "I need to lose weight."

I was always boggled when coworkers whom I knew went to the gym wanted to take the elevator ("I go to the gym so I don't have to take the elevator"). I want to be able to hoof it up the four flights of stairs from entry level to my office and beat someone who's taking the elevator and not be out of breath. Yeah I'd like to have tighter abs as a purely aesthetic thing, but I am going to the gym because I want my legs and arms and cardiovascular system to be stronger and healthier. It is so much more satisfying to push up the numbers on the speed and incline on the treadmill or on the weights in the strength training room (machines and free weights) than it is to push down the numbers on the scale (and yes, I admit that I've gotten sucked into weighing myself at the gym on average once a week [not that I tell anyone the numbers, but the scale is right there, and numbers are seductive] and I when I hit the upper end of what I think of as my regular range, I get nervous and start paying more attention to my junk food consumption for the next few days*).

*General note on food: I think consuming lots of processed food probably isn't the happiest thing for my body, and I'm trying to train myself to be attentive to what it is that I really want to eat rather than just eating whatever happens to be convenient (and also having more healthy stuff be what is convenient -- fruit, yogurt, Fig Newtons, whatever, instead of Hershey's Kisses or Peanut M&M's), but I'm not gonna feel guilty for downing a whole package of Ferrero Rocher from time to time.

Sweet Machine at Shapely Prose quotes Jane from Casual Blasphemies as saying (re: common mentalities around dieting):
Self-loathing is not a fucking character-builder. It doesn’t make you stronger. It doesn’t make you better. It’s just an ever-deepening, creepy-ass trap; a trap that is a huge moneymaker for corporations that do not have and never will have good intentions. You’re not disgusting. You’re not freakish. You’re not ugly. And you’re never going to be perfect. And holy shit, that is so okay.