Friday, December 23, 2011

I saw this poster on Dearborn and Congress. I took a lousy picture of it with my camera phone, so it's hard to see.

It says, The Gentleman Shaver. Member, the Brotherhood of Shaving. "'He-time' is hard to come by."

Later I discovered a film that matches.

The Gentleman Shaver (Dir Cut) from Ben Briand on Vimeo.

Isn't it charming, with the man his bowtie rakish and handsomely slack, his trim body bending like rubber, and his lady friend, scantily clad and blissfully unaware, so caught up is she in her own grooming. With the black and white, and the French music, ooh la la.

There's a comment here, in all the work I've been doing about what it means to be a woman who cares about the way she looks in a world who demands that women look a certain way. It's percolating.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


When I was sixteen I rear ended someone. I was on Kemper Road headed west back toward Springdale, where I lived. My friend Angela and I had come back from taking the SATs (I think) and I'd taken my eyes off the road for a second and the guy in front of me stopped short and I didn't see it. There wasn't much damage to my car, and I don't remember much damage to his. An ambulance on its way elsewhere stopped and checked out Angela. She was black, straight hair, braces and a voice like a Disney fairy. In my memory she was always frail, underweight. I remember the police came, and I spent some time sobbing in the back of the cruiser while he wrote me a ticket. I remember Angela going to see a doctor for some physical therapy, and my parents being miffed that she'd done so and hadn't told me, hadn't at least warned me that she'd been through some series of PT and hadn't communicated with me about it. We weren't really friends after that.
When I was 24 I was in a hit-and-run. I was on Western Avenue turning east onto North Avenue when a woman turned into me headlong. I looked at her and she looked at me. Then she continued her turn onto Western and I never saw her again. This time the car was full of people. I remember shouting out her license plate number to my friend in the passenger seat so he could write it down. Then, once I turned onto North, I flagged down a squad of Chicago's finest and told them I'd just been in a hit-and-run. They told me that it wasn't their beat, and if I wanted police help, I'd have to call the police and ask for it. Never mind that I'm a citizen who pays taxes and lives in (and loves) Chicago. I ran up to a cop on the street asking for help and he/she (they) denied it. We were on our way to a party; I didn't want to ruin my friends' good time by waiting at this enormously busy intersection for someone to show up who might be as much (read: little) help as the previous officers had been. So we went on to the party.

In 2008 I rear ended a Jeep. Same scenario as the first, only we were at Wilson Ave getting onto Lake Shore Drive. I'd recently moved in with the man I married, and we'd just had a fight about something, I don't know what. I was on my way downtown to meet a publisher who liked my work on Chicago Public Radio and wanted to talk to me about a long-form project. She hasn't responded to my emails since then. The Jeep driver was very nice. He said I'd just hit his frame, and since I drive a roller skate and he drove a solid vehicle designed to haul, he said it was probably fine; we traded info just the same. My front was pretty jacked up: the hood was dented up and the bumper was really struggling. I limped home, back to my apartment in Lincoln Square and buried my face in my honey's shoulder.

Two days ago I was sitting at a stoplight on LaSalle at Clark Street. I hate that intersection. There's so much going on over there, so many streets, it seems, headed in strange curving directions, so many lanes merging or creating, and with the construction it's just worse. It was 4:40. All Things Considered was on the radio. I'd just bought some things for the Christmas table I'm setting this weekend, and I was on my way to the North Side--a few presents to buy and then therapy. The green arrow flashed, signaling a left turn onto Clark, and seconds later I heard a loud BAM and I and the car were rocked forward. Hard. I shouted something into my empty vehicle. I put on my hazard lights. The guy behind me got out of his car, and I slowly got out of mine. I was afraid of another hit-and-run, but he was polite and concerned for me. Behind us someone honked their horn, then traffic started snaking around us. We pulled into the BP on that corner and had a conversation, he in broken English because Spanish was his primary language, me in broken English because I was terrified. The cars were okay: he'd knocked his license plate off one screw, and that missing screw had gouged a hole in my back bumper, about an inch long. He gave me his name and phone number, and an approximation of where his car insurance office is located. It seemed to me that he would rather keep the insurance out of it, but it was hard to tell because he spoke in phrases, not full sentences. "If you need anything, call me, just... let me know, don't... If I can help... Please call me..." I can remember him waving his hands at me, his palms facing me, in a kind of surrendered gesture. At some point I wanted him to stop talking and kept saying, "Okay, I understand. Thank you." I got in my car. My best friend, my husband, was away in Ohio, visiting his family. I had two choices: go somewhere and get help, get checked out, or continue with my day. I am my mother's daughter: when we have to get shit done, we get shit done. So, after a failed attempt at filing a police report over the phone, I got back on LaSalle and made my way onto Lake Shore Drive, like I'd been trying to do all along.

PTSD, no nightmares (that last more than a week), no head trauma or lasting damage. But I wonder what it does to you to have things constantly ramming themselves into you. After this last accident, I felt antagonistic: I wanted to fight, I wanted to ram something or someone back, to somehow expel whatever had just been pushed into me without my permission. My body hurt; I had twinges of pain in my neck and shoulders, and when, 40 minutes later, I got out of my car and walked into Target, my hips were complaining, too. I wasn't mad at the driver. He mad a stupid mistake. I've made plenty of stupid mistakes, as evidenced by accidents 1 and 3. But I was mad at somebody, and I wanted to smash something, to be violent in order to get rid of whatever I was carrying around in my body as a result of the accident.

My husband used to know a woman, a kind of freaky-deaky, polyamorous, dominatrix sex kitten; and to use language like this demeans and judges her, and I don't mean to do that. I only mean to highlight the contrast between her and I, who think when we do it with the lights on we're being freaky. Anyway, this woman, he said, often had a longing for the physical activity, not of sex, but of like, Greco-Roman wrestling, or something. She wanted to throw her body against another's, to pull and twist and snap and yank on another human being, and to have someone do the same to her. I don't know what that communicates about her. That's also not how I feel. I feel like something has radiated through my muscles and tissues, and rather than let it pass through me, I need to transmit it or transfer it. I don't have an outlet for a lot of that feeling. I can take my husband with me to the gym and we can play racquetball, but slamming a ball around a wood-and-glass room isn't the thing. I feel like I'm walking around with an earthquake inside me and I need to release it in order to feel whole again. I'm short-tempered, I'm distracted-- but those could be the really strong muscle relaxant I got from the doctor at the urgent care across the street from my building.

(Sidebar: I was so scared after the last wreck because for months I've been trying--and failing--to get health insurance. After the way I was feeling, I thought something might really be wrong with me, and I'd lack the resources to deal with the problem. When I walked into the clinic yesterday morning and asked to see a doctor, the admin asked for insurance and I told her I didn't have any. "Oh, it's going to be awfully expensive," she said to me, a look of smug disapproval and pity on her face.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the visit is 169 before any of the x-rays or blood work or anything--"
"Well do I need an x-ray?"
"I don't know, I don't know the extent of your injury."
It could have just been me, but this woman seemed to take some delight in my situation. There was a kind of self-satisfied smile on her face. Small, but still it was there. It hurt me.
"Well, maybe I can talk to the doctor before--"
"They don't really like to do that, consultations can get sticky--"
"I'm not talking about a consultation. I want to talk to the doctor before they perform a battery of tests on me."
"Oh, of course."
"I mean, she can't perform an x-ray without my consent, right?"
"That's right."
I filled out the rest of her paperwork and sat down. This did not help the violent tremor-feeling I'm carrying in my body. I wanted to tell her, Look Lady, it's not my fault I don't have health insurance. As much as I love where I work, they don't value me enough to provide me with health insurance to help me take care of myself, and the THREE companies where I've applied have all either dropped me or declined me because I have a "feminine problem" that I can live with but that makes me generally uncomfortable and may compromise my ability to conceive, but all the health insurance companies can think about is incurring the cost of another "female surgery" a surgery which, by the way, I don't even want, but it's the only way doctors in this country have figured out how to deal with this condition. But I'm trying. So why don't you wipe that smirk off your face and help me? I can pay your $169 or whatever, one way or another, but what I CAN'T do is feel like a valuable human being because I can't get any help from this totally fucked up system.
It's not nice that on top of feeling the need to break something I also felt humiliated for my lack of ability to play by the system's rules, because they deny me a spot at the table.)

As I was saying, the drugs I got ($4 generics from Target) are really strong, so all of my distraction and short temper could be from how groggy and incapacitated they make me. But I can't shake this feeling, that when that guy in the Honda rear-ended me, he put something in me, and it's something that I'm struggling to get out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Late Blooming

Last time I wrote here, I was writing about makeup, right? I was astonished by the change that's become a part of me, the idea that, like a Kate Chopin short story in Cosmo, I've undergone some cosmetic awakening that's freed me from bonds under which I was previously burdened. I've been thinking about this a lot--how it could be that a change like this takes place in me, what circumstances allow me to feel good about doing a complete 180, and what makeup is in the world today, how it relates to beauty, etc. I've discovered a lot of haters, but that's mostly on the internet, and let's be real, the internet is crawling with haters, right?

This morning I was checking out TheRumpus and saw this video.

Okay. I am not going to spend my energy hating on this girl. I am not going to turn this blog into a feminist (or even biological) commentary about the relationship between makeup and mate selection. I want to point out that this girl is exactly the kind of girl I was talking about in my last blog: a girl who thinks about boys and how to snag them, and who thinks about what she does with her body (examples from the video include showering, brushing your hair, and you guessed it, wearing makeup) in order to attract a boy.

This attitude is so pervasive when it comes to makeup. Lots of women, and many men, suspect that the only reason a woman would wear makeup is to snag a man--there's little to no discussion of men wearing makeup in the small amount of online "research" I'm doing (almost exclusively YouTube video at this point, and some nominal book research), so we're working with a pretty heterosexual paradigm here. Men are bitching about what women do to themselves to be found attractive and heralding the wisdom and beauty of the natural look, and saying some really mean (ahem, misogyny?) things in the process. On top of which, some women are saying, "gee I wished this feature of my body was different so I looked better" or they're also saying hateful, hurtful things about women who like wearing makeup. But so many of these people are positing that the reason women wear makeup is to attract the attention, affection and provision potential of men.

So I said that this wasn't a biological treatise and it's not. But I do want to point out that for many of the other species on our planet, when choosing a mate, it's the males who adorn themselves, who go through battles of strength and supremacy, who preen and parade and primp, in order to win the affections of the females. Lions, babboons, rams, deer, peacocks--and those are the only ones I can remember from 9th grade science and Wild Kingdom videos. I'm no scientist.

I can remember my mother encouraging me to wear shorter skirts, to wear my hair down, in high school and college, in order to look more attractive. "You have great legs," she'd say, "you should show them off more." I always wondered why she never said that about my studies-- "You should take a creative writing class; you have such an aptitude for language." The more I reflect on my mother's influence on my upbringing it's clear to me that she thought she'd be doing the best for me if she encouraged me to have the life that she wanted as a youg person: if she prevented the pain and mistakes she encountered in her own life and helped me attain the things she wanted, and maybe never got in her own. I can't fault her for that--every parent wants that for her kid--except for in the places where she pursued her own agenda for me and sacrificed my agenda for me. But being cute, attracting boys, it was just not a part of my world.

It bums me out that so many people perceive makeup this way, as a tool in the box of feminine wiles that women use to trap men. It simply does not exist in that space for me. I can dig that I sound ludicrously naive, but so what? It's a shame to me that for so many, makeup exists in the space of a necessity in order to alter the perceptions of others--and I get the irony of this statement, given the reality of things like concealer, which are supposed to reduce appearances of qualities of your face, and foundation, which is designed to even out skin tone that may be several shades to begin with. But what if it's not about trapping a man? What if it's not about making others thinking you have perfect skin? There's a lot that we do for other people, whether they know it or not, but maybe makeup can live in the space of something that we do for ourselves. We choose how we want to look based on how we feel and what we want. If a woman has the right to her safety despite wearing a miniskirt, she should have the right to her intellect and wisdom despite wearing eyeliner.

I'm obviously still figuring this out. But the vitriol, the defensiveness (including my own) around this subject is both interesting and puzzling.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I'm awake at 6 am this morning because an hour ago I was lying in bed and I turned funny and my neck put a giant stop sign in my way. I've been trying a lot of RICE-- rest, ice compression, elevation--in the last hour, along with as many anti-inflammatories I can find, so that I can show up at my last class today. (I've been taking a class with one of my favorite writers and learning from her about writing and teaching and all kinds of good stuff.) But class isn't for two more hours, so while I breathe deeply and hope for healing, thought I'd return to this space and see what I have to say.

So on a different note, something new and wonderful and really interesting has happened to me: I've discovered makeup.
You're thinking, duh, Jess, now get yourself a smart phone (which I don't have) and a Facebook account (which I do have, see mixed feelings here) and we might be able to welcome you to the 21st century. But somehow I made it into my 30s knowing little and caring even less about makeup. On the contrary, I'd say my relationship to makeup was an actively antagonistic one. What little I knew about makeup was that my mother used it occasionally (but never showed me how to) and lots of girls at school used it. But I wasn't friends with those girls. They were the ones who knew boys and when boys talked to them, they could say things that didn't make them sound too smart or too bitchy, a skill I hadn't mastered when I was in high school. They were the ones who thought for more than 30 seconds about what they were wearing out of the house that day, and who wanted everyone to like them and to think they were cool. They were cool. They were effortlessly, perfectly cool, and I was a giant nerd, and wearing makeup just made me look like I was trying too hard and so I would have none of the feminine wiles they were offering like nectar to the gods of Varsity High. Of my closest girl friends who did use makeup, well, we didn't talk about that stuff. We talked about band and orchestra and what part we were hoping for in the school play and our I.B. exams.

I must have been worrying about my GPA and practicing my clarinet (yes!) and trying to graduate with a latin degree while every other girl was learning about blush and eyeshadow. That's one of the only ways I can account for the fact that I didn't start wearing makeup until after I graduated from college.

But now. something has happened. The stars have lined up a different way. I've given myself the permission to want to look pretty, and to feel good about it. That's never happened before. I always thought that if I looked too pretty, no one would take me seriously. Oddly enough, I've also always thought that those women who were so pretty were the ones who had all the advantages, all the charm and grace of social interaction that I just didn't understand. But I think the thing that's dawned on me is that I don't care what other people think of me anymore. I mean, I care that my boss thinks I'm good at my job, and that my students believe I'm dedicated to their growth; I care that my fellow writers think that I'm the kind of artist who is open and absorbing to many things and that I'm a professional joy to work with. But if I put on red lipstick and they think that makes me look all girly, they want to call me Princess, well they can stuff it. I'm no longer a woman threatened by the idea of looking feminine or attractive as a part of my self.

This feels a little rambly, and maybe it's the early morning hour or the fact that I'm in a lot of pain. Or maybe it's the newness of this idea. But I'll try to keep thinking and talking about it here. Don't worry--no beuaty tips or tricks. But I'm compelled by this journey that each woman chooses to make or not to make as she forms and discovers how she'll become a woman.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

love langauge

I love shopping. But I hate Christmas shopping.

I was talking with someone the other day and we agreed that Christmas shopping is easiest when you're buying for yourself because you know what you want. Buying for others is impossible. I'm taking a quick break in the middle of some shopping to vent/reflect on what the anxiety I'm feeling about plunking down money to buy things for people I don't know well in the hopes that they'll like what I get.

I want to buy good gifts for my loved ones--gifts that they'll like or appreciate that they'll use sometime in the calendar year before the next occasion comes around to buy again. In our house, this is not what defines a good gift. My husband's study is full of "good gifts" that he hasn't touched since opening them, months or even years ago. He swears that there still good gifts, that they show thoughtfulness and care and love. I have a hard time believing him. The shrink wrap is still on some, for crying out loud.If it was a good gift, wouldn't it be doing something in our home other than taking up space and collecting dust? Wouldn't it be read or used or loved in some way?

I realize this morning that I don't want to waste my money in buying gifts for people. I want to give something that they'll use because I want to know that however much time or energy or money I gave up to get the thing that it's getting used. If I buy a hundred-and-fifty-dollar sweater for my sister-in-law (to be? maybe?) I want to know she's going to wear it, not that it'll sit in the back of her closet because it's the wrong color or fabric. If I buy my father a moleskin pocket journal because I see him using an off-brand one and he doesn't use it, it will hurt my feelings. (It did.)

Maybe once I give a thing I have to let go of its gift destiny. I have to allow for the fact that once I give a thing away that it becomes whatever the owner can use it for: a sweater, a pillow, a water balloon slingshot, an item on a shelf, an item to be donated to someone else. Maybe it's about the gesture of the gift, and not the item itself.

But gift-giving has never really been the thing for me, the best way for someone to show me they love and care for me. I'm the person who will feel loved because you've spent the afternoon talking with me, not because you've bought me something expensive, or rare, or even exactly what I asked for. I get that you love me when you pony up, but it's not the best way to show me love.

So there's some kind of academic response in this about Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages, but this morning I've got other things on my mind that I want to deconstruct. Today I just wanted to take a little time and think about why gift giving is so challenging.

This is the place where I talk about giving gifts while growing up--my mother is crazy for gifts, giving and receiving them. She loves it--loves to spend her money on folks, to be generous in her giving, and she loves to receive things that are classy, pretty, feminine and expensive. She gave gifts that were either really great (ie. How to Make Everything Vegetarian) or that completely missed the mark (I won't enumerate them here, but some that are more in the pursuit of me being someone other than I am). So the fact that gifts weren't the thing I really wanted from my parents escaped them--hell, I didn't even know it until recently. But it always made gift giving a loaded activity.

I'm not looking forward to finishing the buying. But I guess I just have to remember to try for a sincere representation of my affection, and to let go of any expectations of how the gifts get used.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Ripped from a blog on, who ripped from Charles Schultz or some authorized Peanuts website.
Ubiquitous but valuable, here is the list of things for which I am grateful this Thanksgiving:
  • gluten-free soy sauce
  • my yoga practice
  • clean, running water and indoor plumbing
  • women in my life who are thoughtful, supportive and sensitive in their dealings with me
  • Japanese scientists who whisper sweet words to water droplets (more on this as it develops)
  • an ever-deepening knowledge of my body, my self, and my place in the world
  • my job
  • access to healthy food
  • the ability to read
  • writing
  • the view out the window beside my writing desk
  • a computer that still works
  • gravity
  • a life--lungs that breathe, a heart that beats, a conscious mind, an able body
  • sunshine
  • bearing witness to the transformative art of others
  • the ability to continue learning
  • the pursuit of an ever-softening heart
  • Charlie Brown comics
  • an attentive, generous, playful, honest, brave, delightful, deeply willing partner
  • stories
  • tears
  • down comforters
  • classical music stations
  • french fries with truffle oil, or with lemon zest and chopped parsley and herb aioli
  • revelatory dreams
  • restful sleep
This morning I woke before dawn and did some yoga that was inspired by the season; "An Attitude of Gratitude" was the theme in the Ashtanga-influenced practice. Right now it feels like there's a lot dragging on my system, a lot to be angry about, a lot of pain to distract. In the midst of all that reality, I want to take time to acknowledge and appreciate what is also lovely and sweet in my life, and to be grateful for all the lessons I can learn, even if they hurt.

Probably lots of people doing this right now, but the people I noticed are here and here. If you'd like to sound off about what you're grateful for, please share, here or on another blog.

Eat what you are hungry for, rest easy and rejoice in the company of loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011


The 1913 Armory Show, University of Virginia.
Goldfish and Sculpture, Henri Matisse. 1911

There's a hole in my torso.

A hole, about the size of a long watermelon. It starts right where my heart would be and slopes down, arcing through each breast, and widens at the bottom, scooping out along the contours of my pelvis. It's shaped like an egg, and as perfectly ovoid as one, too. My ribs are like spiny white knobs in the hole, and I can't figure out how I manage to hold up my body with this much of my spine gone. No heart, no lungs, no stomach, no kidneys, no fibroids (plus!), no uterus (minus!); just a great hole in my torso like someone attached a hose to the center of me and turned on an enormous vaccum cleaner and sucked out my very center.

Someone did.

I don't know what to do with this hole. I could keep it hidden beneath pullovers and t-shirts, and so far, that's what I've been doing. But it hasn't gone away--what if it's going to be here for a while? Maybe I can begin wearing clothes that show off my midriff, jeans that would fit twelve-year-olds and tiny pink crop tops, and make the hole work to my advantage. What if I line it with Christmas lights, so that it looks less grotesque? I've been toying with the idea of putting a potted plant in there, something small but pretty, an African Violet, or maybe an orchid. That way when people look through me they won't just see what's on the other side, there'll be something beautiful at the core of me for them to enjoy. Or maybe I should buy a great fishtank at setlle it in the hole. Wouldn't that be something--for three or four sweet little orange fish to be swimming around in the center of my body. It would take this hole, this gaping maw that feels regularly like it might destroy me, and make it lovely. It may be that the center of me has been carved out, neatly but certainly; but now that the hole is here, is real, I can take care of it, I can enjoy it, I can ornament it.

Maybe if it's lovely enough, it won't bother me that someone cut a hole in the center of me and now I'm left with nothing. Maybe if it's lovely enough I can learn to live with it, and not feel so incomplete.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I am the 26%

Today the blond at the gym told me that I have twenty-six percent body fat.
It wasn't my idea. I joined a gym recently because there's one near my house, and because for months I've been dancing with the idea of something to supplement my yoga practice. I like yoga. I like that the names of poses are in strange Sanskrit words I often misspell, and that they're often named after animals; I like that in a good class the poses the teacher invites us to do feel intuitive, and despite being not always easy, somehow still accessible, and like there is a lesson for life stored in each one; I like that my body feels like a guide, a temple, a playground and a teacher; I like that on a good day in class, I don't spend a lot of energy comparing myself to others, or to some imaginary standard; I like that yoga was a spiritual home for me when other, more traditional worship centers became threatening.

The gym is not like that. The gym is full of people in man made fabrics and full faces of makeup who tangle with complicated-looking machines; the gym has acres of bicycles that you can't ride anywhere; the gym plays loud music with hard beats and heavy bass at levels damaging to your hearing; and the staff considers "pushing to your limit" and "giving 110%" and even that old classic, "feel the burn" to be good things.

Yoga is church. The gym...the gym is like having junior high gym class in a steel factory.

A free trainer session came with my membership, and because I didn't say Thanks but No Thanks, and partly because I was curious, I took it. It was fine, I guess. She gave me some exercises to do that required minimal equipment. I was willing to do them because I'm not afraid to look stupid anymore. I felt them working while we were at it, and now almost two hours later, I know that I will have to return to my mat this evening and stretch in order not to wake up sore tomorrow. The exercises I can do on my own; I can return to the gym, after swallowing the bile of terror that grips me whenever I walk in the door, and hop around and sweat and gasp rather like an asthmatic steam engine, and know I'm getting my heart rate up, building strength and working my lungs.

But the body fat thing. That part. That part felt like my mother saying, "Jessica, you know if you lost five more pounds, you'd have a perfect body."

I'm the kind of person who, if you measure something about me and tell me it's lacking, then whether I care or not, I'll do what I can to correct it. The actual process of measuring my body fat wasn't nearly as humiliating as I expected. I had to stand up, extend what looked like an old game controller for N64 out into the air from my shoulders, and squeeze the handles until the machine beeped back a reading at me. No biggie. But then her words of how 26 isn't so bad, but 30 is obese, and you're obviously not obese, but I can help you work on that if you want and 18-21 is what's considered ideal and yadda yadda. This is when the voices took over and it became hard to listen. One said, Jess, this is bullshit, you know you're healthy, it doesn't matter what your body fat percentage is. Don't be freaked about this. And the other voice said, Shit, Jess, you knew you weren't in great health, and now you have proof, you need to have your ass in this gym daily until you can tighten up and tone in and slim down and feel like a better human being. That five pounds my mother oh so delicately suggested that I lose (repeatedly between 9th grade and um, 2009) has dogged me all my life. Keeping or losing the weight is something that I now know would not have made my mother love me any more authentically for who I am, instead of for what I make her think of herself. I've had enough therapy to recognize the voice of the part of me that says lose the weight is the same voice that told me to get good grades, dress a certain way, go out for these activities and be this good a girl, young woman, student and professional--all in pursuit of a relationship that was never possible.

So the CNN article says it's important for me to know my body fat percentage and to pay some attention to it, in order to make healthy choices and prevent myself from becoming one of the 2/3 of Americans who are overweight or obese. The calculator, which asked me to measure my (gulp) neck, waist, hips and height, puts the number even higher. But what does this mean? Does it mean that the lifestyle choices that I make to stay (emotionally and mentally, as well as physically) healthy aren't enough, and I need to be making more commitments? Does it mean that the impossible ideal of women's bodies that's plastered all over every ad I see, isn't that far off from what we "should be" in order to be healthy?

Or does it mean that some young woman who's just trying to do her job stepped on the place where my body issues cross my mommy issues?

If I am truly at risk for diabetes and heart disease, and this number bears it out, then I want to make some choices that will be good for me. But if this is just a tool by which gym personnel can quantify their clients in order to create goals and make strides, then I'd rather not keep an eye on the body fat percentage machine. I'd rather just do what will someday help me do an unsupported headstand, or help me jump back into chaturanga dandasana, or help me really feel like I'm surrendering in a seated forward fold, and not just like I'm mostly sitting up and barely moving from my pelvis at all. Another thing I love about yoga is that being goal-oriented is not the point. The point is to notice and reflect without judgment: something I'd love to teach the body fat percentage-machine. And my mother.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

tell the truth, shame the devil

I remember, when I was in college I took a class with Mary Zimmerman--she taught Performance of Poetry and Presentational Aesthetics, and probably a few others in my major, Performance Studies. This is all B.T.--before Tony--so I don't know if she has the time or inclination to teach anymore.

In class there was this girl, a redhead with freckles and a fierce, strong, feminist personality. Lampshade Norton. Lampshade was no one to fuck around with, I knew that from the start. There was also a guy whom I could never really get a read on: Notebook Reilly. The class was full of Theatre majors who wanted to take a class with "Mary Zimmerman", and there were a few people like me, for whom Mary was great, but also faculty in their department, so the class was kind of required for graduation. But Notebook, I think he might not have been either. He reminded me of an athlete. He was taller than practically everyone else by a foot, and broad-chested and blond--there was something about him that read offensive lineman, you know? He and I were friendly to each other, but never really connected.

One day in class it was Lampshade's turn to perform, as often happened in my classes--no tests, but performances, and occasionally papers. She stood up in front of the room, in typical dancer rehearsal ware--tights, a leotard, and ballet shoes--and took the barre in front of the mirror. She had a tape recorder somewhere that played her voice, saying things I couldn't really make out. It was clear that they were difficult things, judgemental, harsh, antagonizing, anti-woman, maybe even violent. Her voice on the tape was sharp, deep and guttural. But I don't remember what she said, and I remember not being able to hear what she was saying.

Sometime that same class period after Lampshade's performance, it was Notebook's turn to perform. He sat on the floor in front of the class, bent over, with his head in his hands, and said in a loud, shaking voice, "A year ago... I raped Lampshade."

Nobody moved.

Then Lampshade moved. She got up and ran out of the class, opening the door so hard that it slammed against the cinder block wall of the room.

The room was silent. You could hear Notebook sobbing, sniffling. Then Mary went to him, also sobbing and knelt beside him, and put her arms around him. After a few seconds, she turned around and said tearfully to the rest of us, "I think we should end for today."

The rest of us, in quiet shock, collected our coats and bookbags, and crept out of the room.

I still, after more than ten years, only sort of understand what happened that day. I don't remember if Notebook came back to class. I remember Lampshade did. She didn't look resilient, but she looked like a survivor. Shit, I guess she was, is. I think about that day a lot, when I think about honesty, what it means to confess, what it means to forgive, or to hurt, or to try to understand trauma. I think about it a lot lately.

I am glad that Mary Zimmerman hugged Notebook. I don't know what she whispered to him after the class left. Hours later, back in the building for a rehearsal, I peeked through the doors of that room, expecting to see scorch marks on the wall, a hole in the floor, the mirror broken, and bits of people left behind. But it looked normal there. Like nothing had even happened.

Monday, October 17, 2011

omg, FINALLY: my second movie

UPDATE: The link to this video was broken. Now, I do believe it's fixed.

So I've been so quiet here because I've been trying to figure out how to put movies on this blog. You'd think it wouldn't be that complicated, but I'm really slow on the uptake when it comes to all this stuff.
BUT, I finally figured out a way to do it, and then an incredibly powerful thing happened.
I woke up on Friday morning from a nightmare. And I made a movie about it.

A Dream (And Its Interpretation)

Thursday, September 29, 2011


You guys.
I recorded an interesting video journal this week with no way to document it. I've tried three times to download it here, and it hasn't worked.
Back to the drawing board.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ceci n'est pas un film.

It's just a test to see if I can put stuff I've filmed on my bog. I don't know if it'll work. I have to go slow, you know?
I shot this at an Independence Day party at a friend's house. Those are his fireworks. I'm standing in his driveway. Every time the camera jolts, it's because ash was falling on my arms.

drawing journal, week 2

I was thinking of integrity this week. I thought a tree must have all kinds of integrity. It knows what it is, and all it tries to do is keep growing in the best process it has.
That sounds either zen or just utterly ridiculous. But somehow in the week of teaching, writing, sorting in and sorting out, it made sense.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Defense of Compassion on Facebook:

Or, Why Social Media Is No Substitute for Good Therapy

So I don't really love Facebook. Yes, it's been helpful in connecting me to people I've fallen out of touch with. I've given away tickets to shows on Facebook. I've been a part of thriving artistic communities. I'm trying to network--which is going slowly, and which is part of the reason I decided to connect up in the first place. But still, it makes me feel exposed in a way that makes me nervous and I find myself acting as voyeur, peeping at the kinds of lives others portray, wondering how real that life is. There are people that love it and use it as a resource, and although I'm not one of them, I may well be soon. But right now I don't have a lot of affection or understanding for it.

Which makes it hard for me to understand the way I sometimes see it used. I know this guy; he's smart and talented and quite skilled, and I respect and admire him, hope I can call him Friend. Recently my Friend posted a status update about being in a cafe and witnessing a break-up between two people. To hear my Friend tell it, she was the dumpee, an attractive woman in a pantsuit who flipped her hair too much. He was the dumper, a professional-looking dude in a suit. It was a bad break-up--she was shouting at him, evidently she hit him at one point--all of it was ugly and uncomfortable, and presumably my Friend was annoyed and made to feel so icky by witnessing such public relational carnage.

So he posted about it on Facebook. He told all of his Facebook Friends--of which I am one--about what he was witnessing. This opened up a thread of comments (35? at the point I'd read them) from people who were responding to what was happening. These were comments about how thoughtless it was for these two to break up in a public place, and suggestions for my Friend to diffuse the situation that included asking the dumpee out and trying to set her up with my Friend's single male acquaintences. The pervasive attitude seemed to me to be one of witty and careless shadenfreude.

I was confused, and a little disappointed, by what I saw. I know it sounds naive, but I wondered reading the thread, Is this what's become of us? I thought Facebook was a tool of self-marketing and networking. I mean, I've heard some of the stories--I know people have arguments and take shots at each other via their blogs, FB, etc. I know about that young woman in Colorado who was so shamed and humiliated via social media from girls and their mothers that she was driven to suicide. But Facebook is also useful, isn't it? I mean, it's a tool for outing fashion conglomerates who steal designs from working artists, and it's a place to amass awareness and raise money for Katrina victims and tsunami-ravaged Japan. But has it allowed us to become so disconnected from our common link to each other as humans that we can post about someone's misfortune and lose sight of their (and our) humanity? How do we locate the same compassion for equal marriage rights and victims of natural disaster and give it to two real people, two strangers who are sitting right in front of us?

Dig this: I'm not defending the choice to publicly end a relationship. I think I'm asking us to consider that these two people need compassion. What this guy was going through--trying to end a relationship--even in the best of circumstances isn't easy. Has it been so long that any of us got dumped or had to dump, that we forget, in our partnered privilege, how much it sucks? And the woman: I don't know her, but if my Friend's account of her behavior is any indication, she has some problems. I don't mean she's crazy like, "Aw man, I split that chick, that bitch is crazy." I mean there's some serious heavy shit that she hasn't dealt with but she lives with every day, and unless she can get it figured out, she's gonna walk through the rest of her life a damaged, incomplete human being. Who grows, who is healed, who is made better by our snickering at what happens to people like these two, even in a space like Facebook where we can't get caught? 

'Cause here's the thing: we can blog about people who do dumb shit on the train, who piss in public like carriage horses, who are rude or loud or violent. But as hard as this is for us to remember, we are just like them. We are as sad, scared and broken as that woman in the pantsuit who was shrieking at her (ex)boyfriend, demanding that he love her. We are capable of that same level of fear and loneliness, and we're capable of reacting out of it, too. If your brother or sister, if your best friend since 7th grade or your new work bff were hurting to the point of humiliating themselves and others, to the point of physical violence, you'd want to get them some help. You wouldn't want me posting their public acting out to all my friends on Facebook.

I sound so fucking self-righteous, don't I? I don't mean to. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've used Facebook as a message board when I'm pissed off or annoyed. I publicly lamented witnessing an act of prostitution in the basement of my building. After being nearly hit by a car on my bike, I urged motorists to keep an eye out for cyclists. But that sentiment was borne out of anger and frustration, not a desire for common safety and goodwill. God knows I have a tough enough time showing compassion to people I know, my friends and family, much less to strangers. I fail at being compassionate on a daily basis. Maybe that failure doesn't give me the right to consider how social media cultivates a lack of compassion. Maybe instead of writing this post on my blog I should be on my yoga mat, dedicating my practice to myself, my Friend, and to those two who were breaking up, that we all might learn self-compassion and compassion for one another.

Maybe I will.

But right now I'm in this space.

The thing about social media is that, for all of the connecting and access and information and voice-giving it does, it turns us all into pundits. Political, social, artistic, culutral: suddenly we all have opinions and now we all have a platform to be heard. We compete and hustle for hits and eyeballs and whatnot, and hey, that's great, right? But it's only great if we know what we're doing, if we take the choice we've made to comment on our lives and the lives of others with some reflection and some compassion. In such a tech-savvy world it's easy for us, for me, to feel like everything around is good material, is fodder for my writing or shooting or commenting. And yes, it is. You better believe it.

But what's around me is also real. The woman squatting on the Morse el platform pissing like an animal is a mother, and she has a kid she's trying to raise. The woman in the pantsuit screaming at her ex just wants to be loved. How human are these qualities? These people are just like me. They're just like my Friend. And they're just like you.

We can't let technology foster so much autonomy and independent expression of thought that it robs us of our humanity. If we do, all that connectedness is worthless.

om mani padme hum

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Full Disclosure

So since I finished the photo journal, I've been trying to keep a sketchbook journal.
It's not going so well.
I'm finding that for one thing, I'm not drawing every day the way I was shooting every day. My paper journal tends to be a space I go to when I want to go, when I want to write or work or just figure out what's on my mind. So I haven't chained myself to a kind of regularity in the journaling practice like I did when I was shooting photos every day.
I'm also not very good, as far as drawing is concerned. But I know that's not the point, so it's no biggie.
I've been looking to the journal of Frida Kahlo for inspiration of how to approach this part of the process. Even her journal is raw, unflinching and stunning in its imagery. What chance do I have, right?
But I'm doing what I can do. So here's an example of what I've got so far.

Friday, September 16, 2011

photo journal--day 14... er, belatedly

no self portrait today. I think I got tired of myself. The day itself was so busy, and a lot's happened since then. This is my first chance to post these photos.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

photo journal--day 13

A busy day today, and not a lot of time to shoot. BUT, a celebration of my husband's birthday, after which I feel vaguely like a python in the grass who doesn't need to eat for a week...

self-portrait 9/10/2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

photo journal--day 11

self-portrait 9/8/2011
Went to see this movie tonight--see it. Please God, see it--and left feeling frustrated and thoughtful and vulnerable.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

photo journal--day 10

I'm exhausted. First day of class. Still trying to figre out how to document my class experience without violating my students' privacy.
The light in my morning yoga practice was so warm and strong, my shadows were really striking. Hard to capture...

I don't know how to shoot strangers on the train without drawing attention to myself--but this woman's toenail polish was such a great color!

For contrast, this photo I took with my finger over the flash--it didn't mask the light, it just turned it red. Bloody.

self-portrait 9/7/2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

photo journal--day 9

this is a Starbucks in a part of the city that I frequent that is literally around the corner from a Starbucks. It's happening, people.

Self-portrait 9/6/2011--In my mother's white sweater

Monday, September 5, 2011

photo journal--day 8

This painting, at a First Watch in Worthington, Ohio, was a beautiful pear and he and I just couldn't take our eyes off it. Got me thinking about the abstract still life work I started this summer...

self-portrait 9/5/2011--you'd never know she used to be a vegetarian...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

photo journal--day 7

Not many pictures today. Traveled to the Buckeye state for a family wedding. It was the first time I'd seen my parents in more than a year. We didn't speak to each other. I saw them from far away, and I don't know that they saw me; there was no eye contact.
This was the best I could do today. I was present for someone who invited me, from the sidelines to avoid drawing attention to the black cloud that hangs between my family and me. It was exhausting.
But I'm here.

self-portrait 9/4/11
That's not smugness you see on my face, it's surprise that I'm not dead. Two nights before I dreamt that two versions of myself went head-first off a skyscraper.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

photo journal--day 6

All day long--ALL. Day. Long.--preparing for something I'm supposed to be looking forward to, but really don't want to do.
packing. all i wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide and never have to come out.

self-portrait 9/3/2011

at the in-laws. beads that remind me of my grandmothers house, that look like they are, but aren't, made of glass.