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.