Photo courtesy of http://www.whitneydafoe.com/projects/americanmap/
Fortunately, most of my graduate coursework is uncomfortable. Growth is happening. It's less the skills gained and more the introspection that causes the most resistance, and thus reward.
This week, my class got up from their desks, cleared out the middle of the classroom and stood in a line. (Our professor asked us to do this; no anarchy here.) We were prompted to hold hands which caused eyes to dart and palms to sweat. There wasn't an acoustic guitar around. No danger of kumbaya.
Instead we began down the path of privilege. You may not feel privileged. After all, you have bills to pay, mouths to feed and have to work to get that done. But have you ever considered it a privilege to work? I think this past year has taught us a thing or two about gratitude in that regard. I'm reminded of it everyday watching struggle come in and out of my office. And yes, I still drag my boots into the office some days. . . lamenting and tired. No one is immune. Just recognize.
The instructions from the professor were simple. She read statements based on privilege. You took a step forward or back depending on your truth. Starting with our hands held they were soon much too far to reach.
- If your family owned their home, step forward.
- If your family taught you police were to be feared, step back.
- If your family had more than 50 books in the house, step forward.
- If either of your parents did not graduate from college, step back. (High school too.)
- If you are a man, step forward.
And it goes on.
I stepped forward a lot. So much I was out of the classroom, down the hall and near the stairs. Looking back didn't feel bad; but it felt important. To acknowledge and recognize. Privilege. I am privileged because of how hard my parents worked, yes, and because I have worked hard too. But I'm also white. I'm heterosexual.
You see? I was born with these things. Out of the womb I was already hundreds of steps ahead.
Past that, my parents were teachers. Chicago Public Schools. There's no inheritance or gold bars in our family. Their hard work laid a path, instead of a kind of brambled future, able to be traversed but dangerous, murky. . . obstructed by forces of nature. For me, the point and the purpose is simple acknowledgement to start. Of our privilege. Honest acceptance of that truth, and then, with hope, of our role in helping the others take steps forward. And yes, we have a role. America may be the landscape of individualism but even from my mountain top, where I could otherwise stay and swing in the breeze, it's my responsibility to hike down to sea level and start trimming the thicket.
To be the one who challenge a loved one not to slur ("When you're around me, it's not ok to say that."), or the woman who stands up to a man who is standing in front of another woman's self-respect. . . it's terrifying. I'm just considering, as I write this, what it might mean if we puffed our chests up a bit and gave an ounce. That adds up to tons of oppression removed.
Consider it; as I consider my own journey.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
For most of my adult life, I've been afraid: afraid that I don't have the patience to parent. I'm not sure where it came from. I also don't think it's strange. I mean I'm not eating household cleanser (hat tip to "My Strange Addiction" on TLC).
Even fostering a dog, the thought of it, gave me the jitters. Anxiety. Didn't sleep the first night. Thought I might do it wrong. Things are nice, neat and orderly. Manageable. Safe and routine.
And then Daphne arrived, and part of me thinks, for all the aforementioned thought bubbles, it's just the right time. I told my mom today that even after day four, it's pushing my limits. Testing my abilities, with an animal that has ultimate forgiveness.
Truthfully, no one in this condo was more nervous than her.
So I have to lead and be willing to make mistakes, like I did today. Crossing Wabash, I stepped on her paw. She screamed. Daph has been abused, neglected, left for dead; you get the picture. My heart sank. I stepped on her paw because she walked right in front of me, it's cold, we're moving quick. And I scolded her.
She sulked. I lost my patience; felt sad. Wondered if she would ever enjoy walks again (it took a couple days for her to hold her tail up while we strolled). We'd come so far (in four days). Things got tragic. Quick.
And then I came home and sat with her and thought: this will happen. I will make mistakes and I will evolve with this dog and maybe another in the future. I will learn to forgive myself for those mistakes (I should have kept the leash on a shorter lead; had her next to me). Otherwise, I'll never find patience. And Daphne will always forgive me.
I write this with her, in a puddle of black and a red sweater, by my side on the couch. Just breathing. And loving.
For now, I'll follow her lead.
Monday, January 17, 2011
After I quit my first job in Chicago (did that even happen?) I got quite engaged in the Yelp.com community. It's a perfect site with which to explore the city and share treasures and foibles of what you ate, saw, smelled and touched along the way. I actually met one of my best friends through the user-driven site. Talk about return on investment. But as my life got busier with school and money shriveled away, I stopped writing. After all, I wasn't part of the community to meet people or pass time or make new friends (though I did). I was there to write.
So, this past weekend, I was awarded what many Yelpers covet: The Review of The Day. What? Right. Your review is put on the front page for all to see. I've received it a few times in the past, but found it ironic it was bestowed upon me when I wrote a half dozen reviews last year. I'm no longer Elite (a category reserved for their most dedicated users; there are perks). I'm just a town person, with shoes in need of cobbling and aging teeth.
But I read it, and it transported me back to the experience. It was a wonderful night that neither I or my in-laws will forget. This I'm certain. And therein lies the twang of regret for letting it go. . . wanting to get back in but thinking it's not the medium for archiving those memories. Knowing it isn't.
Regardless, here it is. Cafe Bionda. Total indulgence.
"Guilt, I banish you. Same as anger, it has little use in our lives and yet its a part of our everyday. I shouldn't, I couldn't, I won't. . . and in the name of that our crazy family opened the door to Cafe Bionda and plunged into cozy comfort. It's interior induces a similar experience to the heft of a down comforter on a dreary day. Warm, dark, incapacitating. Because you will be so full, not just with food but experience too, that moving is a touch slow when you finally. . .FINALLY, leave.
The five of us were situated next to a massive wine rack, tucked away out of the traffic. And believe me, if you're in the main thoroughfare I suspect you might get some restaurant rage. It's jammed on Saturday nights so I recommend earlier than later and not being shy about asking for a table you spot and like. It's close quarters mos def, but if you focus on the food (and you will) the periphery melts away.
We started with a special roasted seafood salad, fried zucchini and fried calamari. I've had calamari up, down and sideways like a long-term relationship and this was top tier ovals. No rubberbands, as so many restaurants are guilty of. Bionda does seafood right as was evidenced by my sister-in-law ordering the grouper and the rest of us lamenting our (totally delicious) choices for the rest of the night. Bitch took those leftovers back to Kalamazoo too. *resentful*
In true family style, we passed and ooh'd and aah'd with each fork full. Rigatoni ala Vodka, Aunt Mimi's Stuffed Shells, Rigatoni Genovese and just straight up Spaghetti and Meatballs. The hot sausage was hippity hoppity hot and delicious. There was heat rising from the dishes and from the conversation ("Mom, we think you might be an alcoholic") but in concert with chianti it was all dim and delightful.
Our waiter (what a) Guy, encouraged us to go tiramisu, but we went cannoli and weren't disappointed. It's just such a damn rarity that food is solid throughout the entire episode. The endings of movies and books and long-running TV series (we just finished "The Wire") can be disappointing but Bionda did it up with fireworks.
We left without guilt. I mean you simply can't feel anything but bliss when you emerge from this place. That feeling cancels out calories. It's scientifically proven, I swear. And if you must, walk your fine self back up to Roosevelt to get on the Green, Red or Orange and call it good. Good and guilt free."
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
What do you think of when you ponder vulnerability? It always made me feel squeamish, antsy. . . ready to turn on my heels. I am a child of a feminist, strong and mighty; I am an only, out on my own and blazing trails for future generations. Hear me roar.
There's not a lot of room to be vulnerable when your sole purpose is to hide weakness. If you haven't noticed, I'm working on that. It's why I share. . . so maybe you will too.
I had a powerful experience at school this week. New semester and, thankfully, new faces (with such a small cohort it's nice to meet a fresh perspective). I'm enrolled in a Group Counseling course and thanks to the workings of a genius professor, it began with an opportunity to share prefaced with the idea that, in any group environment, there are sweet and bitter things about the setting. Sometimes it's having a loudmouth next to you, hoarding the time allotted; working with others who are closed off causing you to lose interest that the experience can be healing. It's complicated, but it can be oh-so-good depending on your willingness to relent.
And that's just it. The first go 'round of introductions had most folks using caution when addressing what made THEM bitter and sweet. Christ, who wouldn't have hesitation?! Being authentic in such a setting is so hard, after all "What will people think of me?" or "Am I worthy of being listened to?" I've been working on my own authenticity for months, maybe even a year, thanks to a wonderful therapist who has had me, in the words of the great Brene Brown, "lean into the discomfort." For so long, I've been afraid that if I am anything but agreeable, amiable, friendly and inclusive, people will leave me.
It's true. Do you struggle too?
And so, when it was my turn, I threw myself into the discomfort (which isn't so hard anymore). I told this group of folks whom I know only from a safe classroom/textbook environment, that I binge, I'm hard on myself (and therefore hard on others, mostly internally), and I'm taking medication to help me cope with depression. Oh, and I feel great about it. Really great. What's sweet about me is that I am growing into my courage. Again, quoting Brown, I am increasingly able to "tell the story of who [I am} with my own heart."
What's bitter? Please, I still have high expectations. But as I go easier on myself, it expands into allowing me to have really close relationships that make me really happy. And good grief, this is a process. I don't know if I'll ever be fully evolved, but I know the relief that is sharing, like getting used to the cold water you've just jumped into, gets better over time. Especially if the pool is already peppered with folks doing the same.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
I've got an addiction that I wear, in the open, for all to see. Funny thing is, rare is the person who whispers or yells to me that I need help. Interventions only take place when needles and highballs are involved, it would seem. But, from my vantage point, being fat is a cry for help too. It's just so damn sensitive to talk about. Even now, my fingers aren't moving as fast down the home row.
Many of us have just made resolutions; there are a dearth of fat shows on TV now, not the least of which is MTV's "I Used To Be Fat" which has coincidentally come on twice at the gym while I'm pounding away on the elliptical; and worst of all every woman I know and love seems to feel ashamed or guilty in some regard when looking in the mirror or staring down at the scale.
I'm sick of feeling that way myself.
Marc asked me awhile ago, "Why do you binge?" (As much as I fooled myself thinking it a secret, there's really only one way to get fat.) (Sidenote: I am totally ok with the word fat; I can also use obese if you prefer. . . either way, I own it just fine.)
The answer to that question is a canvas painted exclusively with shame, and remarkably simple. I grew up with food as comfort; food as a way I bonded with my dad, as a treat or a rush and, now that I'm more conscious, as a salve. A salve really for any emotion: stress, boredom, loneliness, happiness, sadness. Sitting in emotions, after all, can seem interminable.
I've lost weight before, though not for the best reasons: boyfriend break-up, death, identity crisis. So it's like a whole new skill to do it now, when I'm happy and focused. Foreign territory and harder to do because you love yourself and know you'll be a better counselor if you're healthy; you'll have the courage to ski if you're healthy.
It's an education, pursuing it because you want to. . . not to lose weight. After all, my ideal body is Queen Latifah. Beautiful Queen Latifah. Meaning tall (though that's everpresent) and strong. Capable.
And wearing J. Crew would be nice too.
I've lost 10 pounds in the past month with that ever-so-simple formula: eat less, move more. It's not simple at all. Each day is speckled with fighting urges, and changing habits. On the block where I work, there is a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Chipotle, Jimmy Johns and Garrett Popcorn. Some days, just walking by those doors is the ultimate feat. Most days.
And on those days I resist because I love myself, I get a step closer to making the journey one propelled by my own motivation and not the need to please. The self-respect I mentioned in a previous post. Some days I'm hiking sand dunes in the Middle East, and others I'm gliding around on a lazy river, able to close my eyes and savor the warmth and health.
It's hard to write about, hard to talk about, but every journey is better when shared.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
. . .Whatcha got cookin? How's about cooking something up for me?" - Hank Williams
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine in D.C. made pizza. No big deal, except she made the dough from scratch, used only the freshest ingredients (think arugula, buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto) and proceeded to grill the goodness on her Weber Smokey Joe. As she cooked, her fingers flipped through the splattered pages of Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food". It's not a flashy cookbook. In fact it's about as daring and provoking as a manila folder and, well, that's likely the point. We have gifted this organic gospel to many a loved one and yet I never had one of my own.
I made vinaigrette tonight. So what, I know. But the 1:4 ratio was never something I considered or read in the many magnetic cookbooks on the shelves. Juicy cookbooks, with celebrities and splashy graphics. They don't have recipes for vinaigrette. Certainly not the basic one, to which you may add shallot, pureed garlic (as I did), a dash of cream instead of that fourth tablespoon of olive oil. Don't you just love the simplicity?
I hate to wax philosophical on a cliche, but I want to cook my way through this book (hat tip to Julie Powell). Which means salsa verde is next, and I can't wait. I also can't wait until the pots on our deck bloom some fresh herby greenery to snip and sprinkle. Ms. Waters' dogma has opened my eyes to the possibilities of Community Supported Agriculture. So 2010 for many, but for me it's new and makes me giddy. Shit if I know what to do with daikon, but isn't that the absolute adventure of it? Scouring Waters or elsewhere for the recipe that will crack the secret.
I'm nowhere near confident in my skills, but I am so genuinely stoked to make our condo smell of things fresh and clean; sweet and savory, happy to cook something up for you.
Monday, January 3, 2011
The letter ended with "P.S. If I can't get a dog, I'll settle for a cat." Date stamp: 1986, scrawled on loose leaf, with "Dear Mom and Dad" as its salutation. . . and slid ever so tenderly under their bedroom door while they slept. I made several attempts at this sort of coercion. After all, my happiness was on the line. Nevermind my allergies, I wanted to cuddle with something furry (therefore my parents' suggestion of guppies had me appalled). I am an only child and though friends sprang up on my block like dandelions, I wanted a real companion.
I've often romanticized walking a dog. It may have something to do with a certain Whisperer, but there is a power in a partnership that spans the centuries. The earnest and genuine doting a dog does for its owner, the impossible happiness they feel every day. . . it's simultaneously perplexing and magnetic.
We are thinking about becoming foster parents for an amazing local shelter. Up until now, we've only arrived with leashes, dog treats and poop bags to take a couple bumbling breeds out on the streets of West Loop. Some have caused blisters from tugging and pulling along the way. But the ones who connect with an upward gaze, respond to your tempo and tone. . . those are the ones I want to dognap and nestle in our home. Gertie comes to mind. Nick too.
Fostering seems low risk, and by risk I mean the risk of me getting annoyed and regretting the decision to invite fur, chewing and spontaneous bowel movements to the crib. A way to sample the litter, so to speak. We want to be the transitional parents while the dogs go through quarantine before heading to the shelter.
I did get a cat, by the way. It caused me great pain, as in sinus pain. Wound up having to get surgery after inhaling his dander for years. He was cute and furry, but Marc and I both agree. . . he's the cat, I'm the dog. And so it goes. After a childhood of pining and poking, a job as a zookeeper and every intention to major in pre-vet upon entering undergrad it might just be time to relax and reap the benefits of being around a funny pup in the name of not settling this time.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I love reflecting, though careful to cast the mirror toward me to be in the present as well. What in a day seems like a slogging year, sprinkled with ambition, really is beautiful when surrounded by 364 of its friends. Waking up is beautiful, but it's silly to make it romantic. Life is really hard and 2010 was no exception. I feel more confused and inspired by my evolution than ever, and yet also able to stop and enjoy one single raisin for what it is: a wrinkly piece of fruit once picked from a bundle and now finding mastication. You swallow, and that's it.
I guess I'm saying I can snap back to reality faster than before. What kept me awake at night this year now wakes me and quickly turns to embers so I can go back to sleep. And I've learned the power of being honest, first with me and then with others. The power of being authentic even when people ask, "Are you ok? You seem quiet. Distant." I am learning how to respect myself. As Joan Didion says in the eponymous essay on the subject, ". . . people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. . . people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character -- the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life. . . the source from which self-respect springs."
She goes on to write that the singular power of self-respect is to "free us from the expectations of others, to give back to ourselves." The circle of giving for me shrunk this year in order to make room for giving to myself. It's still barely a tide pool, a narrow berth. . . but I look to 2011 for a swell causing expansion. Now firmly planted in my third decade I am nibbling at the heels of courage. I think that's what getting older is about; maturity in the least condescending sense.
Maturity to express my anger, my solace, my quiet. It is what it is. No need to suppress. No need to smile because it's "easier." I've always viewed suppression as a means to protect the one I love, in the crosshairs. But it doesn't. Truth is it. And it hurts. I understand with this self-respect I may hurt people, though I hope to lean on my gift of language and connection to only make it pinch, not bruise.
I had a dear friend tell me that she misses me. Wondered where my confidence went. In some sense, I think I had to go back to the lab and deconstruct a few things. My schoolwork brought this out; my marriage too. The rules of the past 31 years don't work anymore so I had to mix and match a new recipe; cause a new explosion.
Though it's still in a trial run, the building blocks have slid into place. I appreciate that the mirror I hold is also held for me by my most treasured relationships. Not letting me skirt or shirk; calling me out and confronting me. With that perspective, the year becomes full of ingredients and possibilities for an evolved formula. A recipe for self-respect.