Thursday, May 30, 2013

may 30, 2013

happy anniversary.

this day, this choice, goes right at the top of the list of best decisions I ever made.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


In my dream last night, I needed help from three people who all had blue skin. I was in pain, and I needed them to help me with my pain. Their skin color was something they could control, and I needed them to have blue skin. Like Shiva the Destroyer.
he cuts quite a form, eh?
I woke wondering if I should wrap myself in blue today, if I should change the sheets on the bed so they match.

I am in pain. I've been avoiding writing about it here, because frankly I'm not sure if this is as safe a space for me as it used to be. While I'm not afraid to put myself out here, I think that there are one or two people skulking about here who shouldn't be. (hence the post about online privacy.) Still ex-boyfriends or former friends or estranged relatives aside, it takes time to be vulnerable, right? So right, I'm in pain. After the blue-skinned-people dream evaporated, I was left thinking of Shiva, and of healing. Impossible to think of the god of destruction as a healing force, right? And still, this is where I am: when a thing is destroyed (think a storm-ravaged region, a meaningful relationship), we often feel great sadness. What about all the good times, what about all the memories and talismans and loved things? We can never have that again!

But this impermanence is the nature of life, right? We can't actually have these things for all our lives. Our homes, our towns, our relationships, even our bodies, are aging, transient; they wear out, they change, they atrophy. All we can do is care for them and hope that the care we provide is helpful.

a sculpture wing is under construction at the Art Institute. When we were there, the sculptures looked huddled and strained underneath plastic tarps. Strange draping.
So what I've been thinking this morning is that healing is quite painful work. I've surrounded myself with all the resources I need to heal--good nutrition, a mighty and amazing (!) network of loved ones to support me, lots of time, and good care from the medical community (that includes decent painkillers)--but still, there is a fair amount of hurting to do as my body knits itself back together. I have lots of limitations:

  • I can't kick down on my mat and sun salute myself into a better mood, or vinyasa my way into a writing solution, or even sit cross-legged for meditation. I feel the sting of this limitation quite a lot. My practice has changed, for the foreseeable future, in a big way.
  • I can't move as fast as I sometimes want to.
  • I can't work for very long. I can't do anything--but rest--for very long.
But what I can do is witness. Because I am grounded, forced to be slow and quiet and take my time, I can really tune in to what's happening in my body. This is perhaps a gift of destruction: when you break a thing into pieces, you can either move on to another place and time and start fresh, or you can start fresh there. You can wait for ashes to nourish the soil, and see what wants to grow next.

Maybe two years ago, I began a break-up of two of the most formative relationships I've ever known. I didn't know at the time that I would be breaking up with my parents; I only thought I wanted to change the dynamic of how we relate to one another. But that's the way relationships go, right? One person says, this isn't good for me anymore, and the other person says this isn't my fault, what's wrong with you, and despite everyone's best efforts (or not) to avoid blame or defensiveness or name-calling or ugliness, the whole thing gets very ugly and then it's over, blown to smithereens. That's how I felt: like my relationship with the two people who were most responsible for making me the citizen I am was suddenly and thoroughly blown to shit.

For a while that injury really hurt. For a while it defined me. I was Girl Estranged From Her Parents: it was the lens through which I saw the world, and it colored absolutely everything I did, said and saw. That healing was so difficult--lots of people didn't understand, and I was aching, just aching inside. You know, after you get hurt, you try to set yourself right, so that when your body heals, everything still works--my bones were set pretty well, but man was I hurting. The healing was painful, but I had to feel the pain in order to heal. There were painkillers for the soul that I could have taken, and I probably did sometimes, but not enough to stop the hurting. 

But no more: I'm healed now. It doesn't hurt anymore. I'm no longer defined by this break-up; now it's just a thing that happened to me. college-grad, first tattoo at 25, broke up with parents, started yoga at 19, got married, went to Hawai'i, stopped eating animals, painted nails purple, had a dream about people with blue skin.

So today I'm in a new kind of pain, with a new kind of healing. And it hurts, because healing is bloody, complicated work. It takes all of your energy. This is my point: you have to feel the pain in order to heal. Things can only grow after the healing happens, and the healing only happens when you let it hurt. If you're trying to avoid or skirt around or deny or downplay the pain, then you aren't healing, you're lying. Healing is painful because it has to be. Once the pain is done, it's done, but you aren't healed until you feel it. 

The good news about destruction is that after Shiva has blown a thing to shit, then a new and wonderful thing can be made. This doesn't give me hope for restoration of what was, but it does give me joy for what may be.Destruction allows for new beginnings (writing that just makes me want to put my Ganesha t-shirt on. Yogis, does Ganesha have his own pose?)

I believe in the pain of healing as integral to recovery from any injury--physical, psychic, emotional, relational. I believe that destruction can make way for beauty and power and goodness--but you can't avoid feeling the pain. 

Also, Emily Dickinson. I was thinking on this, and she kept echoing in my head.

After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?
The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

ah, yes. I see.

"When ignorance is destroyed by knowledge of the self, then, like the sun, knowledge illumines ultimate reality."
--The Bhagavad Gita

Sunday, May 12, 2013


(yes, it is a cliche to write about your mom on Mothers Day. What can I say?)

When I was a little girl (third grade? maybe fourth?) I remember I had to get a shot--we all remember this, right? The scary needle, the tears, the Dum-Dum sucker afterward: that's all part of my memory, but what I remember most is my mother. She'd told me that I had to get a shot in order to go to my new school. I was scared, and we'd been prepping for the occasion for days. In the beige, unremarkable doctor's office, she held both of my little hands tightly. "Look at me," she commanded, "don't look at the needle." Together we chanted, "It's not gonna hurt. It's not gonna hurt. It's not gonna hurt," over and over, our hands bobbing up and down in my lap in time to the words. She was looking at me, and I think I was trying to look at her, or maybe looking at my hands in my lap, watching them move with hers. I remember, as I felt the needle enter my arm, flinching. My voice wavered, "It's no-oot gonna hurt!"

I don't think of this memory that much. It's not the memory that I cling fondly to of my mother, a time when her strength and no-nonsense attitude got me through something that I was really frightened of as a girl. In the flash-back lens, it looks kind of sweet: this strong, brave black woman determined to teach her daughter that the power of her words are more effective than her fear. Two women with the same eyes and the same cheekbones, chanting and encouraging each other. But she got one small but important detail wrong:

The shot did hurt.

When I look back at this moment, I think about how often my mom did this very thing, denied what she (or I) was feeling. There were plenty of times, like the shot, when she just wanted me not to be ruled by my emotions, which is a good thing. On a certain level, there are lots of traditions that connect to this idea of detaching from your emotions. On the other hand, it can be (and was for me) quite damaging for someone to have their feelings and experiences denied or ignored. When my mother would tell me that she "couldn't talk to me when I was like this" (meaning emotional, weepy or sad) and that I should leave to compose myself and only come back when I had my emotions in check, I felt awful. No part of that instruction was about comfort, or even acknowledging that I was having feelings. It was all about hiding my experience from her to make her more comfortable. My hurt was real but she denied it and rather than making me feel strong or brave or able to deal with my emotions, I just felt distanced from the one person I needed to comfort me.

Our culture tells us that we have to deny our emotions. Never let 'em see you sweat. Hide in the toilets if you must cry, and don't let anyone catch you doing it. Always look on the bright side. But I don't know about this advice of controlling your emotions. I think instead we should feel our emotions. We don't have to be ruled or governed by them. We don't have to be so mired in depression that we sleep our nights and weekends away, ignoring our loved ones and watching episodes of Arthur or Criminal Minds. We don't have to drink our anger away, or allow our frustration to exit our bodies via our fists. Feeling our feelings--the unpleasant ones--allows us to release them. If I get angry, and say I'm angry, and feel that feeling, just being with it, rather than raining it all over my roommate or my spouse or the barista who screwed up my drink, then I can let it go. I don't have to sublimate it with food, or shove it down inside myself where it lines my arteries and eats away at the inside of my stomach.

I don't know what would have happened to me if my mother had told me that the shot was going to hurt, if she'd chanted with me, "It'll hurt but it's okay. It'll hurt but its okay." Maybe I'd be writing about her lack of support, instead of a lesson in squelching pain that I'm reconsidering. I don't know.
I had a cut in my hand when I cut this lemon. It hurt like a bitch.

Here's what I'm thinking: the universe has put a lot in my path that's painful--disappointment, rejection, abandonment and loneliness, and I'm in good company, I know. There's a lot we have in our world to avoid feeling pain: we have narcotics, we have Hollywood, we have sex, we have social media; there's a lot out there we can input in order to acknowledge and confront what's going on inside us that hurts. But to avoid feeling pain means to avoid feeling anything. I don't mean to say, "Pain is how you know you're alive!" or anything trite like that. I just mean that in order to feel the good all the way through, you also make yourself available to the bad feelings too.

So, bring on the pain, I guess.

Friday, May 10, 2013

On Being Private in Public

I used to have this friend, Lacey*. She was funny and irreverent, and even though we were close, sometimes she was capable of great cruelty. She wrote a blog, and one time she posted a picture of herself—to be precise, her butt—in long underwear. I think she thought it was riotously funny. (I didn't get the joke, but then I didn't get most of her jokes, though I laughed at all of them.) She was trying to make some self-effacing point that I've forgotten, but I remember the photo: her rear end, thighs and torso in a green-and-navy striped shirt and long johns, which were holey, baggy, all torn up. Lacey put a picture of her ass on the Internet.
This is not a photo of Lacey's butt. Nor of mine. This is a photo of a statue I took
 at an art museum outside San Francisco.

The idea of putting a picture of my ass wrapped in saggy waffle cotton onto the Internet seems inconceivable. You couldn't pay me enough to post a picture of my butt on the web! Lacey didn't feel this way. She was brash and balls to the wall, and anyone who didn't understand her or agree was just a conservative, uptight jerk trying to control her. It’s her body; she has the right to put herself out there any way she wants, even if others don’t understand.

A mutual friend of ours confided in me that he was worried about her after he saw this picture on her blog. Despite how uninterested I was in her picture or her blog, it was hard for me to take his concern seriously. Still, to put a picture of her butt in the internet--I just didn't get it. I don’t know if she was out of control, or if she was just owning her body and making a joke at her own expense, but I’m sure that she’d only want certain friends looking at a picture of her butt; she wouldn't want to be judged by people she thought were her friends. Maybe she would have asked him to stop, told him that it’s none of his business.

So here’s my question: what expectation of privacy does Lacey have on her blog? She’s put this photo onto the Internet, that Wild West, a new, lawless frontier. Lacey can’t control the Internet; she can only control what she puts on it. Can she tell her students not to read her blog, or her boss or her pastor or her in-laws? Does Lacey have the right to tell someone, “Don’t read this; I’m okay with millions of strangers all over the world seeing my ass, but not with you seeing it”?

What if Lacey gets an acrimonious divorce? Her loving husband is now angry and hurting. They split, but Lacey can’t keep him from reading her blog and laughing at that picture of her longjohn’ed butt late at night when he’s drunk and miserable. That restraining order doesn't mean he can’t follow her Twitter feed and keep some kind of tab on her, unless she blocks him. Can Lacey say to him, “This message—1400 words or 140 characters—that I’m broadcasting to the world is for everyone but you”? I mean it’s the Internet, democracy in all its bloody, common-denominator glory. Does she ask him to back off, does she block him, or does she curtail her own online activity?

Whatever you think about Lacey posting a picture of her tuchas on the web, what kind of privacy can she expect? Hell, maybe I've violated her privacy by telling you about her butt-shot.

Let’s put it another way: you have an ex. She was maybe a little controlling at times, unpredictably moody, but never violent. Still, when you broke up with her after six months, she did show up at your grandmother’s 80th birthday picnic playing the guitar, crying and singing “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. When you ended it, you told her not to call you. You needed time, distance. You figured after a year she’d have chilled out and maybe you two could be friends. Maybe.

You work in P.R., which means you’re blogging or tweeting or Facebook’ing, and though it’s mostly for work, there’s a place where your personal and your professional selves overlap. Your ex’s name starts popping up on your online landscape. She’s liking your photos all the time, and commenting inappropriately: “I love the way that margarita brings out your eyes,” “Remember that time we went to this boutique and bought matching bracelets. I still have mine…”

So you’re creeped out. Not only do you feel disrespected, but the two of you agreed to give each other some time and distance. This isn’t just some one-off, this is a person that you respected, liked, even loved; but she can’t seem to respect your request for space. You’re hurt and disappointed; now you have to either block her from all your social media access points—which just feels so bitchy, eighth grade girl to you—or you have to curtail your online presence, causing you professional problems.

Some of you reading this are thinking, what’s the problem, Jess. I’d DTMFA, click “Block” and call it a day. You’re right; and with an ex I’d only known six months, I’d agree with you. But what if it was your ex-partner? Or a close relative, or a parent? Is it that easy to unfriend a loved one, or is it appropriate? Hear me: if you’re in a situation where your physical, sexual or emotional health is being violated or threatened, then yes, Dump The Mother Fucker Already and do what you need to protect yourself. But what if it’s not that serious? You can change your number, your locks, your email address: but how do you enforce online privacy? Do you even have the right to expect online privacy?

Some of you are thinking, Jess, it’s the internet, and privacy is for shy kids. If you want privacy, delete your shit and stay home watching Friends on Nick at Nite. Maybe you’re right. If the web can tell us what shoes we want to buy while we’re reading the New York Times, or send coupons to our smartphones while we’re shopping in certain stores, maybe all bets are off. Maybe privacy doesn't exist online, and in order to have some privacy, we have to opt out of online communities.

That same woman, Lacey, used to troll her old boyfriends’ new girlfriends. She’d drop in on their blogs and scope out what she might be able to find out about herself there. Seems that even though she thought she was bold or in control of herself by putting a photo of her butt on her blog, maybe she was also insecure about what other people may be posting online about her, and who was reading it (or writing it). Maybe she did want some privacy.

I can’t figure this out. I want to believe that the people I've moved away from or cut ties with can respect the distance between us, rather than using the Internet as some kind of substitute communication, or way of keeping ties. But it doesn't seem to work that way; there's no such thing as the Honor System when it comes to broken relationships. I think the Internet might be a giant, never-ending day of junior high, a place where we show how cool we are, or where we whisper about others, or where we try as hard as we can to get closer to the "it" people. We can pretend that we’re in control of our online content, what we show people and what we hide, but we can’t control who reads it or what they say about us. In order to maintain our online privacy, either we block users we want gone, or we censor ourselves. If the bitchy, eighth-grade shoe fits, we better buy a pair in every color.

*Lacey’s not her real name. But there's a chance that she's reading this, and she knows who she is.