Monday, November 18, 2013

Living with an eating disorder.

Every day becomes a choice.

Each day rests on a series of pivot points; I find the first one sitting on my chest when I wake up in the morning. That’s when it starts and I pass through one after another after another after another. When I blearily blink the room into focus and slap around for the deactivated iPhone I use for a bedside clock. When I peer at the digital numbers, then look away to stare off somewhere around the window to ponder when I really, really have to get up. Repeat this last step several times. Looking at the time again helps, because sometimes it feels like my body and the objects around me aren’t quite real.

That’s when the first choice happens. The “what kind of day is this going to be?” sort of choice; except for me, it’s “what kind of life do I want to live?” And I’m surprised by how complicated the answer is. Not every time. But sometimes.

A friend reminded me of the balance: the balance between falling in love with the journey and not losing sight of the goal. It’s like there’s some goal out there leaving a trail of note pages for me. Every day I pick up another one and flip it over twice, trying to find a clue or hint. But there isn’t one. There never is. So what I write on that page becomes my choice. I can write as much or as little as I want to, but I have to remember that someday I’ll end up with this pile of pages and that’ll be it. That’ll be how I chose to represent my potential.

That’s staggering. You know? That’s completely staggering.

Some days I write thousands of words and hate every single one. But other days I fill up a whole journal and recognize its importance and its beauty. Some days I care less about the product and just enjoy the process; who gives a shit if the quality falls short? It’s quality to me. Then there are those days I write less than a paragraph and I’m convinced those are the best goddamn words I’ve ever strung together. The next day I’ll write three times more then cut out half of it.

Every day I write and look at what I’ve compiled so far. And I realize I need to write more. A lot more.

Because this is the choice. It’s the choice in creating substance or stopping before the story is finished. And the story may never be finished. Or it may be cut short before I make my next choice. But each one I do make will be mine, they will be precious, and they will be lovely. Even the ones I am most disappointed by. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Little thoughts: Bedroom door.

I closed the bedroom door, listening for the muffled click of the latch. Over time the wood had warped enough to not quite fit its frame; often a careful little thrust was required to shut it. On those evenings when I watched the digital clock betray my trust, the time leaping over my body hunched in the recliner, I rarely crept in to bed before 4am. Mom slept in the room next to mine; I didn’t want to wake her. The floor itself had declared war upon anyone who dared to walk brazenly upon its face. It croaked, yowled, and brayed, practicing its barn yard battle cries even when we tiptoed along the edges of the hallway.

It’s all about knowing what you can and can’t control. I can’t control the floor, god knows I tried, but the bedroom door, that’s my domain. I remembered judging peoples’ moods by the way they shut a door. Did they slam it just a bit? They slammed it just a bit. What’s wrong? Are they mad at something? Someone? Are they mad at me? And here, when I said “I remembered” I really meant: “I still do that.”

I heard the voice in my head and wondered how old it was. If it was a fixed age, imprinted or woven into a tapestry that I hung around my neck as a representation of who I am inside. Or was it a shifting system spanning decades or centuries of life experience both lived and imagined? If I lived to be 150 years old, would I still talk about closing doors quietly and would I care if someone heard it? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Female Sexuality and Empowerment (Your ass is showing.)

I got all inspired to write a blog on self-esteem, power, and female sexuality (and its expression) back when the whole Miley Cyrus thing happened at the VMAs. Not to talk about the event itself, but to talk about the conversations that happened after Sinead O’Conner’s barrage of open letters and then Amanda Palmer’s blog in response to Sinead’s first letter.

I wanted to talk about the comments people made in response to those responses.
I wanted to talk about the atrocious blog from a guy who likes, prefers, women with low self-esteem (because strong women are just so not vulnerable and don’t make him feel like a man).
I wanted to talk about power, and what it means to own it or to take it back.
I wanted to talk about what women taking back sexual power means and what it means for men to be in their own power.
I wanted to talk about what being “female” means and what being “male” means and how that’s not so easy, is it?
I wanted to talk about what seems to be a broken dialogue because I look at all this and just see scared people lashing out against other scared people.
I see big, influential people wielding more influence than they are willing to take responsibility for.
I see puppet strings and I see strings cut.
I see myself, at 13 years old, and I wonder what words like “self-esteem,” phrases like “your body is a temple” would mean to her.
I see myself, now, as a woman in her 20s, and I don’t have an answer to: “what’s the right way for a woman to express her sexuality?” (I know there isn't a “right” way, but the fact it’s still such a highly talked about and DEBATED subject indicates that this isn't over even if the answer is there.)
I don’t have answers to: “When is nudity exploitation, when is it not?” and “When is sexuality exploitation and when is it not?”

Discerning is hard, arguing is easy; I wonder if this debate is messy because we have to continue putting female sexuality in a box in this discussion (what is it/how is it and how should it be expressed/what does it mean), when by its nature, female sexuality (and sexuality in general) is extremely fluid and hard to pin down.

Two questions about sexuality and power keep coming back to me. If women try and take back their personal power by owning their sexuality rather than letting it be owned, what does that look like? And how do we tell the difference?

But when I ask those questions, more keep coming. What does male sexual power mean in this day and age? And whether it’s just women, just men, or some combination of both, is there a way to respect the human beings represented by such a powerful force?

I think this goes beyond slut-shaming because that argument, at its surface, is easy. “Look, she has no self-respect,” “Look, she is comfortable with her body.” Where’s the line? Is there one? Who holds the power? Who’s being exploited? Is anyone being exploited? What is appropriate? What lessons will my 13 year old learn if she sees this? My question is: what lessons will any of us learn if we don’t talk about what we see, read, watch, think, feel or do?

If we ask individual women: “What does ‘my body is a temple’ mean to you?” what answer will we find? I’m betting we’ll find a huge spectrum, but I don’t know what that spectrum is.

The big reason why I took so long to write this should be obvious. There are so many question that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s overwhelming, and while I could sit here, pick a place to start, and start dissecting all the information, I would never post the blog because I would be writing it for the rest of my life. And right now I don’t want to debate or argue; I want to share and listen. So I’m going to change the conversation.

I don’t want this one to be just me talking at you; I want this to be a dialogue. Not just from women or those typified as women, but anybody, however they choose to describe themselves, their gender, their sexuality.

Can people be strong and vulnerable at the same time? If no, why? If yes, can you give a story, an example, experience, or even some thoughts on what that looks like?

What does that look like for women to take back their personal power by owning their sexuality? And how do we tell the difference between empowerment and dis-empowerment?

(If something else provoked a thought, go with that!)

If you are comfortable enough to post a response on the blog I would love for you to share. If someone posts a comment you want to respond to, respond away (but please be respectful and considerate). Feel free to post anonymously or if you prefer to share privately and have other ways of contacting me directly, go for it. I will not post anything without permission.

Be honest and be bold. Much love, and we’ll pick this up again soon!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fingertips and Steel Strings

I judge how often I play guitar by two details: how long the fingernails on my left hand are, and how callused my left fingertips are. Last night I picked up the black painted body of the steel stringed instrument, running my fingers along the only case decoration: an old name tag. The name tag reads “Fredrick the 3rd” and it’s secured by four pieces of worn duct tape.

I haven’t pulled the guitar from its case in a long time. I've trimmed my fingernails and the skin on the tips of my index, middle, ring finger and pinkie are smooth and soft. No trace of calluses. To which I say, “This shit’s gonna hurt.” Because, you know, digging a bundle of nerve endings into the side of a steel string? No pain, no gain or something like that. I think about learning guitar as a kid. Not only do we get to suffer through shaky chord changes, figuring out which finger goes where, but we have to build up the hand and fingers strength to play anything properly and, well, prettily.

Coming back to the instrument now, I can play all the basic chords, and change between them, with reasonable aptitude. But those first few practice sessions are agony on the fingers. I know what I want to play and I know how it’s supposed to sound. But as the minutes tick by the sharp, stinging pain radiating through my hand and into my arm is difficult to ignore. To compensate, I don’t press as hard for every chord.
Point being, everything sounds like different levels of shit. There’s: “Oh that’s good. Really solid,” as the rarely reached goal. Then: “Eeeh, it’s a bit fuzzy. And what was that buzzing twang? Damn B string, damn you.” Then: “Hnnnng. Fuckfuck OW. Okay, that was a chord, right?” *strums again* “Well, I can hear all the strings I’m NOT pressing on, so that’s good?” Then: “…Well in my head I know what it’s supposed to sound like.” Then: “Fuck, I give up. We’ll do this a cappella.”

So why the sudden break-out-the-guitar inspiration? Funny you should ask. I first learned to play church hymns and folk songs. The latter speaks to a longer, deeper love of folk. Traditional tunes can be such a beautiful vehicle for expression. English, Irish, American, folk music holds a grounded space that I inevitably come home to again and again. Kate Rusby is one of those spaces.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon her, but I began listening to Kate Rusby’s albums several years ago. Frankly, discovering her at all was a bit of a miracle given my spotty music knowledge and the fact that Kate isn’t that well known in the US (to my knowledge, anyway). She’s a contemporary English folk singer-songwriter armed with a skill on strings and an understated, melancholy voice that effortlessly slips under my skin. A fluid combination of old English songs carried on by her own tunes, folk tunes from the mid to late twentieth century, and her own tunes, her delivery is simple and stripped down. She offers a vehicle easily accessed and easily felt. The first album I listened to, “Little Lights,” was not one I instantly fell in love with. One track caught my interest and for some reason I decided to just buy the whole damn album. That album has been a long, slow love story. Similar to my experience with Patty Griffin’s “Living with Ghosts” album, it took time and patience for me to dig into the subtleties that ultimately became the reasons why I love it so much.

That is art to me. Vehicles of feeling offered by one and accessed by another. There is no greater honor than when something I produce impacts someone else so deeply that they spend their time digging in, exploring, and making their own experience. That’s a sort of soul sharing that can transcend time, distance, even culture. It can be a convoluted plot based film with complicated action shots and intense character development, a brutally honest self-portrait by a painter suffering from crippling old injuries and pain, an old English folk tune, or a new English folk tune.

They all remind us that the stories are the same, repeating in time and across space. Not that the differences don’t matter. My God, they matter so much. Those differences make our version unique; no one can tell our story for us. Those variations enrich us if nothing else. The ability to look into the soul of another and say “I love our sameness and value our differences,” that’s a precious wisdom.