SoCo

I am not a good traveler.

As much as my heart may desire to explore other places, I am a creature that thrives on routines.  My sanity is held together by very specific sleep habits (a fan for white noise, complete silence and no lights or electronics), access to soft, furry mammals, and my beloved tea kettle.  With the requisite conditions mentioned above and a good 8-9 hours of sleep, I am Mary Poppins in the morning.  Anything less and I become an awful human, disinterested in the world at large and feared by my husband.

Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant when we embarked on our first vacation in years.  I brought everything necessary for comfort (including my four year old poodle, Bobbi) and we set out for Bluffton, South Carolina.

Bluffton, South Carolina is a small town west of Hilton Head.  Bluffton is home to many retirees, including my in-laws.  It is a perfect combination of old and new, with a charming historic district and new construction communities filled with cookie-cutter homes.  Geographically speaking, it is a 30 minute drive from Savannah and Beaufort, and about two hours away from Charleston.  Mark and I always feel like we have entered a bucolic daydream, happily escaping the frenzied and abrasive lifestyle of South Florida.

Highlights of our fall sojourn included:

Binge listening to Serial podcasts in the car.

Enjoying Pepper Chicken Stew, which my mother-in-law prepared for our tummies

Exploring Beaufort on a horse drawn carriage tour,which included learning more about its history, architectural wonders, and relevance in pop culture. Movies such as Forrest Gump, The Big Chill and Prince of Tides have been filmed in Beaufort.  Beautiful homes in historically accurate colors line the streets, with porch roofs painted in haint blue, a Gullah tradition said to ward off evil spirits. Mark and I visited the grave of Robert Smalls. We ended our day by exploring the graveyard at St. Helena’s, a parish established in 1712.

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Idyllic

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Grave at St. Helena’s in Beaufort, SC

Sunday was devoted to my favorite southern city, Savannah.  Savannah is eclectic.  Bull Street is where you will find Oglethorpe’s squares and quaint storefronts.  Savannah is great for artists, history buffs, foodies, and city dwellers.  I dream of one day owning a Victorian jewel, complete with a porch for reading and sweet tea sipping.

My husband’s desire was to tour the Mercer Williams House, made infamous in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  I was tickled by the fact that the house is still inhabited by Dr. Kingery and her cat.  In fact, I spotted a cat toy underneath one of the antique furniture pieces.

Besides our tour, we enjoyed lunch at one of our favorite Savannah spots, Goose Feathers Cafe.  I had the Bird’s Nest, which is grits topped with two poached eggs, salsa, and surrounded with a “nest” of cheddar.  After lunch, we made a stop at The Book Lady Bookstore (which is quite possibly the most charming used bookstore ever).  Mark picked up a signed copy of Mike Doughty’s book, while I stumbled across a Savannah local’s work, The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself.

We stood in line for ice cream at Leopold’s.  I had a scoop of honey-almond and Mark ordered a banana split.  We wrapped up  our day at the marketplace, where my husband bought way too many pralines.

writers

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We stink at selfies.

On Halloween, we joined Mark’s parents in Charleston.  It was a bad day to be in downtown Charleston due to the start of a well-known trial.  Instead, we opted to head west, eating lunch at The Glass Onion.  It is a very, very good thing that this restaurant is far away from me.  I would eat there everyday and that would be unfortunate for my waistline.  The menu changes daily.  I ordered the shrimp po’boy, which was buttery and flavorful; Mark dined on the clam po’boy.  The iced tea was crisp and refreshing.  The mashed potatoes were rich and lumpy.  It was the yummiest.

After lunch, Mark and I traveled to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I wanted to see a plantation, specifically from the slave’s perspective.  Magnolia is one of the first plantations to offer tours of the slave quarters.  Our tour guide, Joseph McGill, was extremely knowledgable.  He is an advocate, working with The Slave Dwelling Project.  It was humbling to see the small cabins which families shared and inhabited until 1990.  (That’s not a typo….descendants really lived there until 1990).  Magnolia’s main crop was Carolina gold rice.  Flooding rice fields meant pestilence and hard, manual labor.

As we were leaving, we saw the plantation’s cat, Sylvester.  He is 21 years old and very friendly.  The plantation was both beautiful and eerie.

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If you are still with me, I am impressed with your dedication.  Our vacation was the perfect blend of southern comfort, and it left me with the slightest feeling of wanderlust.  I am already pestering Mark about where our next road trip will take us.  In the meantime, I have good books to take me to faraway places.

Keep Your Head Up

When inspiration strikes, it is rarely a wise choice to question its origins.  The motivation for this post arrived at the gym, while I was lifting and listening to rap on Pandora.  2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”* played, and these lyrics jumped out at me:

“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but you gotta keep your head up..”

*Let me just go on the defense: Yes, I am fully aware of the complicated history of hip-hop culture and the objectification of women.  That’s not what this post is about.  I felt empowered by the lyrics and wanted to used them today.  If you would like to break down hip-hop culture, watch Byron Hurt’s Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.

I have been keyed up ever since this election cycle started.  From the beginning, I argued that Trump would win the nomination.  The country’s atmosphere has felt toxic for quite some time.  Institutionalized racism, misogyny and corruption has reached a boiling point.  It is my contention that the events that are unfolding are in direct response to the leadership of a black man and the potential nomination of a woman.  And if we listen to “Keep Ya Head Up” within the context of our current culture, being a black woman is a double strike.  Between 1993 and now (23 years!), the same concerns are still relevant.

Generally speaking, I am really scared about the direction our country is heading.  Specifically, I am really fucking concerned for women.  All women.  All day.  Everyday.

In his essay “Men, Masculinity, and the Rape Culture”, Michael Kimmel writes:

“What is it about groups that seem to bring out the worst in men?  I think is is because the animating condition for most American men is a deeply rooted fear of other men – a fear that other men will see us as weak, feminine, not manly.  The fear of humiliation, of losing in the competitive ranking among men, of being dominated by other men – these are the fears that keep men in line and that reinforce traditional notions of masculinity as a false sense of safety.”

Let me not mince words:  Donald J. Trump’s trumped up masculinity reinforces misogynistic attitudes and threatens the progress of feminists (both men and women) who have been working to unravel the dangerous construct of masculinity which Kimmel has written about extensively.  Trump uses rhetoric, fear mongering, and a pack mentality to keep men (and by extension, any of his supporters) in line.

The video leaked this week illuminates the pack mentality which Kimmel describes.  Bush and Trump’s banter demonstrate a type of masculinity where powerful, rich men are free to take their spoils (women), and arguably, less powerful men, either non-celebrities or non-conformists, are the pussies without pussy.

We have tons of footage depicting Trump’s attitudes towards women.  What concerns me most is how other men are responding.  I need not look very far to find examples:

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Never mind the harassment over the past eight months that I have rocked Hillary’s logo as my Facebook profile pic, but I see these comments EVERYWHERE on social media.  Women that support Hillary are labeled stupid, “slovenly”, and their femininity is questioned, while their male counterparts are mocked as weak, feminized men.

Can we look past the rhetoric, gimmicks, and buffoonery of Donald Trump?  Can we look within ourselves and truly evaluate our own attitudes toward sexuality, gender, and the patriarchy?  Kimmel writes toward the end of his essay these words:

“Part of transforming a rape culture means transforming masculinity, encouraging and enabling men to make other choices about that we do with our bodies, insisting that men utilize their own agency to make different sorts of choices.  To ignore men, to believe that women alone will transform a rape culture, freezes men in a posture of defensiveness, defiance, and immobility.”

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the status quo – a place where men must conform to stereotypical masculine norms and women are objects to grab and eyeball.  During this contentious time, do we have the strength to keep our heads up and speak out?  If not with our words, with our vote.  It is one of the most powerful tools we have right now.

Noble Pursuits

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.

John Keating in Dead Poets Society

My husband and I were flipping through channels this weekend and stopped on a movie channel showing Dead Poets Society.  We both hadn’t watched this movie in a few years.  I snuggled into the couch with my fuzzy blue blankie and quickly became engrossed.

I needed to hear the aforementioned quote.  Honestly, being artistically inclined can  be thankless and demoralizing.  In a society which is shaped by achievements and monetary incentives, it is difficult to exist as a human powered by something more.  I have never been particularly interest in the typical carrots which people spend their lives striving to achieve.  My life force comes from words: taking them in and putting them together.

Words which have recently inspired me are contained within Rupi Kaur‘s milk and honey.

trying to convince myself

i am allowed

to take up space

is like writing with

my left hand

when i was born

to use my right

the idea of shrinking is hereditary

Eight lines.  Succinct and impactful.  How many women can see themselves in this poem?  I relate to this not only as a woman, but as a writer.  There have been so many moments where I wanted to not exist or take up space as both a woman and writer.  If only I were someone or something else….

Yet, I have learned that I can’t shrink away from what I am called to do.  This is what I have been given.  I can embrace it and continue to look for encouragement on this path which I pursue.

 

The Dieting Generation

All opinions expressed are solely my own and not that of my employer.

This morning, I attended a lecture on balanced eating.  Disclosure: it was held at my place of employment, which happens to be awesome. The lecture was focused on the facts and fiction of balanced eating.  With so many fad diets and supplements posing as nutrition, it can be tricky identifying balanced eating.

As the presenter outlined her talking points, my writer’s mind activated.  As a writer and introvert, my default setting is observer. I started by taking in the audience, noting mannerisms and body language.  Some attendees were open-minded, while others were skeptical of the information being shared.

As the concept of intuitive eating was being presented, it became evident that there was a generational divide.   Intuitive eating doesn’t rely on diets, calorie counting, fads, or detoxes.  Intuitive eating encourages individuals to listen to their bodies, honoring their hunger signals and nourishing their bodies in balanced and satisfying ways. NO DIETING.  I believe that  younger generations are more receptive to this philosophy, but many older women have been dieting their whole lives.  Their mothers and grandmothers dieted.  Simply put, eating without dieting is radical.

Naturally, my third wave feminist inclinations jump for joy at the notion of radical and life changing ideas.  Imagine all of the wonderful things women could accomplish if they weren’t busy dieting and/or exercising compulsively.  Here’s my short list:

  • Focus on my writing craft
  • Read amazing stories
  • Watch hilarious cat videos on Youtube
  • Find cool animals to follow on Instagram
  • Create tie-dye clothing
  • Cook delicious meals for my partner & I to enjoy
  • Rock the dog park with my toy poodle

And the list goes on.  The point is simple:

When we say goodbye to diets, we are able to shift our focus to fulfilling activities which enrich our lives.  

It saddened me to see the skepticism which these older women harbored, but it totally makes sense.  Almost everyone woman I love has struggled and spent a lifetime dieting.  A new generation follows in their footsteps, lured by the promises of new fad diets.  Yet, all it takes is for one seed to bloom, honoring the intuition that lies within.

Diets Suck

Body Wars

“The danger of falling into the habit of demanding that our bodies-fat bodies, or otherwise “ugly” bodies-be pretty too is that by doing so we are reinforcing the cultural importance of prettiness.  We are acknowledging a longing for social acceptance, a willingness to indulge prettiness pressures so long as we are allowed to play too.  It is a classically liberal stance: all we want is our fair share.

I’d prefer to occupy a space outside the pretty/ugly paradigm, a space where the parameters are self-determined.”

Lesley Kinzel, Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body

Sometime before my double digit birthday, my mom fell ill.  Limbs swollen and the skin on her legs so taut, I worried that a mere pinprick might deflate my mom. It was the mid-nineties and there was very little information about this mysterious illness.  My mom bounced from doctor to doctor, searching for answers.  Her body continued to balloon.  Was it fat?  Yes, my mom had always been heavy.  I inherited her body type.  She wore a size 16 (same as me).  My mom was active, going for long bike rides, gardening, and playing.  From my childhood perspective, she ate normally.  I don’t ever recall extreme diets or unusual eating patterns.

My mom’s new body, so distorted and large, became a source of shame.  Despite rapid and disproportional weight gain throughout her body, doctors insisted that she was fat.  Instead of answers, she was prescribed diets.  It wasn’t until much later that she received her diagnosis: primary lymphedema.  Her lymph nodes, which had so dutifully drained fluid from her body for over 40 years, stopped working.  Fluid accumulated in her body, creating physical and emotional pain which few people understood.  In pursuit of physical healing, my mom was destroyed emotionally.  The physical symptoms of her disease were treated with diuretics, manual lymph drainage, and wrapping.  Everywhere she went, she was judged by strangers.  To cope, she treated her emotional pain with opioids.  And that was the beginning of the end.

Eyes wide open, I observed (and absorbed) it all.  I internalized the shame.  It spread like a disease in my own body.  I felt unworthy, unloveable, and flawed.  In hindsight, I look at school pictures and see a beautiful child.  Emerald green eyes and blonde hair – a walking cherub.

Lindy West writes about the evolution of fat acceptance in Shrill, saying, “Vicious was normal.  It was perfectly acceptable to mock fat bodies, flatten fat humanity, scold fat people for their own deaths.  You only have to look back five years to see a different world, and by extension, tangible proof that culture is ours to shape, if we try.”

The body wars that my mom fought depleted her – dimmed the luminous being which so many people recall.  Those wars are no longer mine.  I have declared a truce with my body.  I no longer internalize that shame.  This wellspring of peace comes from a variety of sources: a thriving body positive movement, strong feminist inclinations, and a fierce determination to love myself.

Sharing this deeply personal experience is my attempt at shaping culture.  For all I know, I may have some genetic abnormality waiting to destroy my own lymph nodes.  One day, my own limbs my swell.  My mobility may become impaired and I might live with chronic pain.  Each of my toes will struggle to fit uncomfortably into tight shoes. I’ll be robbed of the ability to wear cute jeans or sit cross-legged on the floor.  People will stare and there will always be those who will think I am an out-of-control slob.

I will greet each of their stares with a smile.

I’ll rock purple hair.

My fingers will dance on my keyboard uninhibited.

My life will be luminous.

Sink or Swim

For the most part, I am  a capable, high functioning person despite my increased levels of anxiety.  Unless you are close to me, you probably wouldn’t know that I am an anxious mess.  I have always been anxious.  Everyone experiences anxiety, but when it persists in your daily life and causes interference, then it is labeled a disorder.

Everyday, I have a constant battle with my anxiety disorder.  There are times when I am incredibly resilient.  These moments appear utterly unremarkable, but mean everything to me.  During these lulls, I do not experience panic.  My inner chatter is turned down.  I am able to focus, relax, and have some fun.  While I have the backbone, I schedule dental cleanings, regular exams, and bloodwork.  It is a state of being which I pray lasts forever, but acknowledge probably won’t.  The anxious questions that haunt me are: “When the next anxious episode will present itself?  How long will it last?  What will be the severity?  Can I cope?  Will the people I love still continue to love me in this state?”

I have had long periods of time where my anxiety is manageable.  Predictably, life changes cause upheaval.  This is where frustration comes in.  The only constant in life is change.  Moreover, change means growth.  I know I am capable and I do have aspirations.  Yet, I find myself in situations where I am  dropping out of grad school after one month (even though I was awarded a fellowship) or accepting jobs below my abilities.  Eventually, I get frustrated by routine and unchallenging tasks.  I have ideas and am unable to implement them.  I am stuck.

The world, from my myopic soapbox, is either full immersion or stunted growth.  In all of my experiences, I face a choice.  I can either do very little and manage my anxiety.  Conversely, I can try to endure the shell shock of new challenges.  When I do, my anxious mind inevitably gets in the way.  I have not found a place where there is a continuum.  Even though I have pleaded for more responsibilites and opportunities at work, I find that most places are unwilling to take the time to mentor individuals.  I really could not afford to do grad school one class at a time.  The whole point of the fellowship was to go full time, work 20 hours a week, and receive a stipend and free tuition.  All or nothing.

I feel like an anachronism in today’s world.  I may be wrong, but it is my perception that a person like myself was better able to succeed in years long ago.  I imagine a world where people valued relationships and sharing knowledge with others.  Older generations mentored younger generations.  The world was softer, quieter.  A thoughtful person who observed others was able to succeed.

Today, it feels like you need to have everything in place before you can “market” yourself.  (Yes, today is all about marketing and self-image.)  Vulnerabilities are unacceptable.  Anxiety should be hidden.  You can either sink or swim.  I guess when it is presented in this way, I choose to “swim” by making decisions which manage my anxiety but leave me in a constant state of disappointment.  I have not found a balance where I can gradually take on new challenges.

I know I need to be more present.  I have made the best decisions for myself and I cannot go back.  I also cannot be so concerned with the future.  I know these truths are evident, but I still have this inescapable drive which makes me want to give more.  I am still searching for a safe outlet.

 

 

All Things Muppets

Anyone who knows me knows that I love all things Muppets, especially Kermit the Frog.  Of course when I saw Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography, I had to take the leap (a little frog humor) and start reading.  Admittedly, biographies are not my favorite genre.  I have a few reasons why.  I find some biographies to be too detailed.  Sometimes a wikipedia page is all I really need to know about a person.  Despite how fascinating a person’s life may have been, some authors make their lives stale on the pages.  Finally, I am very emotional and I become invested in the person.  Jim Henson’s life definitely made me emotional.

I breezed through this 500 page book and throughout my reading, I experienced the whole spectrum of emotion.  I loved learning about Jim Henson and seeing him depicted not just as Muppet creator, but flawed human being.  Reading this book was a lot like reading the bios of some of my favorite Muppet characters.  I giggled, pondered, and finally cried at how tragic and preventable Jim Henson’s death was.  As Jones wrote on multiple occasions, Jim was Kermit, and Kermit was Jim.  They both were leaders of a wacky group, and they both were calm in the chaos.  Jim and Kermit are idealists.  Jim was a creator (not puppeteer!) who had visions light years ahead of other people.  I really, really recommend reading the book!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

” ‘Something that [Jim] had been observing a lot in life is that we all live within our world, but there are other worlds going on at the same time,’ said Jane Henson.  ‘We really don’t know how the ants feel…but we know our world and we kind of think that that’s it…So he felt that he would like to do a show [Fraggle Rock] where there were three worlds and the struggle was to know how to keep each world strong, but also cooperate within the worlds…He liked that, using different worlds.’ ”

” ‘In broad strokes,’ explained Jim, ‘the message I try to bring across is the positives of life and positive attitude toward the goodness of mankind.’ ”

“As part of my prayers, I thank whoever is helping me – I’m sure somebody or something is – I express gratitude for all my blessings and I try to forgive the people that I’m feeling negative toward.  I try hard not to judge anyone, and I try to bless everyone who is part of my life, particularly anyone with whom I am having any problems.”

“Jerry Juhl warmly recalled how ‘Jim taught us many things: to save the planet, be kind to each other, praise God, and be silly.  That’s how I’ll remember him – as a man who was balanced effortlessly and gracefully between the sacred and the silly.’ ”

And finally:

“Jim Henson’s physical body was gone, and yet that powerful presence – that undefinable something that compelled men to seek his appreciation and approval, and that women somehow found irresistable-would always remain.  Anyone who had ever smiled as Ernie tried to play a rhyming game with Bert, or laughed as Kermit had chased Fozzie off the stage, arms flailing, had felt it.  Anyone who had ever wished they could explore a Fraggle hole, save the world with a crystal shard, or dance with a charismatic goblin king had been touched by it.”

J and K