I Haven’t Written Lately Because Listicles

Celebrity Affair CollageIt’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. My paying work picked up its pace over the past several months and the kids are out of school. Something had to give, so I intentionally put blogging on the back burner, as much as it pained me to do it.

I love writing here, because I can write whatever I want, in whatever format I want and with whatever whimsical made-up words I favor. The only problem is, no one pays me to write my weird personal stuff.

I recently started writing for a parenting website that is committed to listicles (an article in list format – Jason says “listicle” sounds like male genitalia). The website has very specific requirements for word count, amongst other rules for achieving ideal SEO (search engine optimization.)

When I started, I found the restrictions…well, restricting, but now, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of creating an engaging list within the site’s parameters. And I like that I can create these articles with internet research alone and don’t have to talk to any real people or rely on them to send me information. (Introverts unite!…separately, in our own homes)

The real challenge, though, is choosing a topic. I get paid based on the number of times my listicles get clicked on, so it’s in my best interest to pick popular topics. Some of the most-read ones involve shaming celebrities and ideas that have no other value than to shock the reader and allow them to judge people. They’re the train wrecks of the internet. You know the type: Ten Shocking Celebrity Parents Who Don’t Raise Their Kids Right. Yeah, Homey don’t play that. And by “Homey,” I mean me. But…

I found I can dress up the meatloaf – meatloaf being my own preferred topics: women’s reproductive rights, body and fat positivity, and judge not, lest ye be judged. (Yes, the atheist just quoted the Bible.) I can take a topic like Eight Times Celebrities Messed Up Their Marriages – a potential train-wreck article – and give it value. I can turn it into a lesson on not judging others, even celebrities who are always, always in the public eye. I can use the shocking title to grab you and, now that I’ve got your attention, give you something that does more than entertain. I can feed you something that really makes you think and reflect. Example: I wrote this article, 12 Shocking Stories of Women Who Performed Their Own Abortions, and made it into an analysis of why they did it and how restrictive abortion laws can force a woman’s hand. (One of the things I love about the site is they don’t mind if I get political.)

So, in the vein of not judging, I have stopped judging listicle-type articles for their titles. I’m not the only writer out there trying to make people think instead of just gawking at disasters. Some listicles actually have substance. But, once I’ve read the content, make no mistake; I will be judging.

A 2am Conversation with Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison
Me, at Jim Morrison’s grave, Pére-Lachaise Cemetery, 1997

I am awake. Suddenly, two hours into a night’s sleep. I was sleeping soundly, and then I am just awake. And can’t go back to sleep. Perhaps it’s that subtle yet persistent ache in my right shoulder that comes and goes at random – the mark of being 40. Maybe it’s too much coffee or too little dinner.

My brain starts its usual buzz. It used to frustrate me the way it would tune up with all manner of thoughts at inopportune times like this. Now, I just let it do its thing and find myself amused and occasionally enlightened by its antics.

My brain is full of movie quotes and song lyrics, prompted by remembered bits of conversation or thoughts of my own. One train of thought leads me to think, “people are so strange…” which, in turn, leads into the old Doors song, which will now pop up in my head at random for the next 48 hours, peppered in with thoughts of grocery lists and Donald Trump. “You know, Jim, people are strange even when you’re not a stranger.”

I start to make up stories in my head – one about two people stranded on a deserted island. I imagine the perilous relationship they’ll have, how they’ll survive, what will happen between them. They’ll have a child, maybe two, but they don’t really like each other. In fact, there is hate. He is cruel. In the end, she kills him, but I can’t figure out how. Then, I realize this is a cobbled together idea based on Swiss Family Robinson, Big Little Lies, and Dolores Claiborne – not at all original. I sigh and scrap it.

A thought comes through, unbidden (as if any of these musings are bidden.) What are you distracting yourself from? I attempt to clear my head. I breathe in and out slowly, feeling my chest and abdomen expand, counting the breaths. There is an anxiety I feel in my heart and when I notice it, my heartbeat begin to quicken and intensify. I am worried. Life is so complex. There is money that needs to be made, health to be attended to, passions to respect, other people to consider. How does this all work together?

People are strange. I am strange. (Funny, I just accidentally typed “strange” as “strong.”) Why is this all so complicated? Maybe you are missing the big picture. What do you mean? With all your frustrations with how media and choices and other people make your life complicated, have you ever stopped to consider how YOU make your life complicated? Oh.

I read articles, I listen to other people, I take everything so seriously. What if I just decided not to? What if I just spent all day on the internet if I felt like it and lost the guilt that I’m ruining my eyes and my attention span? What if I spent all day walking the dog and not working or spent all day working and ignoring my children? What if I spent all day playing with my children and ignoring work and my phone? If I REALLY tapped into my intuition, not what everything else is telling me, would I actually end up doing any of those things all day?

So, I am sitting on the couch at 2am on a Wednesday morning. I am not frustrated, because I am supposed to get eight hours of sleep to be my most productive. I am grateful for this quiet time, when everyone else is asleep, to write and think. I am happy that I have time to nap later. I am chucking my silly schedules out the window, at least for now, until I feel I need them again, and I am going with my gut. Even though it scares me, makes that anxiety start my heart fluttering again. Not everything that scares you is worth doing, but this feels right. I’m going to post this most random and intimate of posts from the randomness that is my brain and not worry (too much) if people will like it. Yes, my heart is hammering at the thought.

Thanks, Jim. You’ve been a big help.

LGBTQ – Get Comfortable

30358074 - happy gay couple watching sunset on the beachI’ve got something to say, and I’m kind of angry about it, so, warning: this is a bit of a rant. Recently, I have had several interactions with folks who are somewhere between uncomfortable and blatantly judgmental about people who are LGBTQ, and I’m about all done being nice about it. One person told me they were “not ready” to talk to their children about gay marriage, though their children had asked about it. Well, honey, you better get ready, because LGBTQ people aren’t going anywhere, and they and I are sick as hell of them being denied basic rights because of whom they have romantic relationships with or their gender identity – sick of being treated as less than, as something you have to “have a talk about” with your kids.

I know a lot of people in my community are not so much prejudiced (though there are those) but simply uncomfortable with people who are gay or trans, and there is nothing wrong with that. If it’s not something you’ve been exposed to in your life, discomfort is understandable; I was once a little uncomfortable myself. But, your job is to work at getting comfortable: read, learn, talk to people who are LGBTQ.

Our neighborhood consists mostly of cisgender, white, straight people in two-parent families with kids. Most people in our community chose to live out here to be by the lake, to have access to hiking trails and to send our kids to quality schools. We didn’t move out here (or at least I HOPE no one did) to avoid diversity. In fact, I moved out here despite the lack of it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find more variety in people than I initially thought I would. There are people here of many different nationalities, abilities, ages, cultures, religions and yes, sexual orientations.

Statistically speaking, some of you have children who are gay, though you may not yet know it. If you ignore the fact that gay and transgender people exist, how is your child going to feel? Even if you never say anything blatantly prejudiced, they will know it makes you uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you rather your child know that, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity, you love and accept them and think they’re great? Wouldn’t you rather them be exposed to same sex couples in the community, so they can see that as a normal, valid path? So, when your child asks, “are they married?” of a same sex couple (assuming you know they are) say, “yes they are.” And that’s it. No long-winded explanation needed. Your kids may or may not ask questions at this point. If so, answer them as honestly and simply as you can. Trust me, they’re more open-minded than us adults. And it’s okay if you bungle it up a bit. The fact that you’re trying is the point.

Perhaps you have some guilt, as I have, over your privileged position in society. I long felt queasy about how easy my life was, being white and straight, until I listened to an interviewer ask a person in a social minority group, “What can we, as people of privilege, do to help?” And the response was, “use it.” Use your privilege. Advocate for those who need it – in this case, the LGBTQ community. Don’t feel guilty; feel empowered. You don’t necessarily have to march on the Capitol; just talk with your friends about it when the subject comes up. Or maybe just stop ignoring the lesbian couple at the pool or the girl in your child’s class with two dads. All of that takes steps towards normalizing homosexuality, which is a good thing, because, duh, it IS normal. Use your privileged power for good.

Look, if you’ll just take the time to admit you’re uncomfortable, and then go about fixing that, you’ll find out that people who are gay or trans are not that different from you. They worry about their kids, they take care of their families, they work, play, laugh and cry, same as you do. A funny thing happens when you get comfortable with other people; you also feel better and more accepting about yourself. Do it for you and for your kids. It’s high time we people of the world rise up together and discover we are better than all of this discrimination nonsense.

You’ll notice several terms in this post are clickable, so you can discover their definitions. Even if they are words you already know, reading the definitions can be enlightening. Knowing the terminology that pertains to LGBTQ people and other minority groups is one tiny positive step towards understanding. What will your next one be?

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_epicstockmedia’>epicstockmedia / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

My Take on New Year’s Resolutions

fireworks_in_san_jose_california_2007_07_04_by_ian_kluft_img_9618

For years (okay, my entire life), I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions. I’d vaguely entertain the idea, maybe write something down, but it was always half-hearted – something I did because I was supposed to and not with any real conviction. Over time, I developed an aversion to resolutions. Coming up with them and sharing them felt like a setup for failure, and often when I thought about what I truly wanted to achieve in the new year, I couldn’t come up with anything I felt excited about.

 

It does, though, feel natural to take stock of my life this time of year – to review how things are going and think about what I’d like to work on. I know – semantics, but the word “resolution” has pressure-y connotations to me. Plus, resolutions are usually things people want to DO: exercise three days a week, eat more kale, work on that business plan. I always felt at a loss starting with, “What do you want to do?” So, this year, I took a step back and looked at the big picture. I asked myself, “What do I want to feel?” My answer was, “calmer, more focused and more confident in my decisions.” From there, I came up with three principles that would help: simplicity, intuition and freedom. Let me break it down:

Simplicity

This is a hard thing to achieve in the modern world. With all of the input we get each day from other people, our phones and media, it’s difficult to filter out what is useful. I am in the habit of considering everything. This is a good trait, in that I am open to new ideas, but being open to EVERY idea leads to feeling scattered. So, I will immediately ignore the stuff I don’t need right now, without feeling compelled to explore. And, I will expose myself to less stuff by unsubscribing, turning off notifications and generally spending less time on social media. This actually means not reading so much, too, or at least not so many personal growth books. These are useful, but like they say….everything in moderation.

Intuition

We have gotten away from respecting our intuition, as people and parents. How DID people parent without all those expert opinions foisted on them? How did we make decisions before there were warning signs about not running and not diving? Yes, advice and warning signs can be useful, but they’ve become so ubiquitous, we’ve stopped trusting our intuition and instead rely on the experts to tell us what to do. We don’t even eat intuitively; we go find a prescribed diet that we think works for us. By avoiding being overrun by social media and by committing to doing regular, self-care things like meditating and getting outside, I can cultivate the centeredness I need to hear my intuition (distinguish it from irrational, reactionary thoughts) and respect it.

Freedom

“Do you want to be safe, or do you want to be free?” Louis Sachar, author of The Wayside School series, asks a character in one of his books this – a child who has wandered down into the basement of the school and is lost. The child says he wants to be free, so he is allowed to find his own way out of the basement. From then on, he doesn’t have to participate in any school activity he doesn’t want to. This means he gets to sit on the floor and chew gum if he wants, but it also means he misses a really fun day in P.E. when he decides not to go. Freedom can feel, well, freeing, but it can also be scary. When you step outside the norm – go into business for yourself, for example – you are responsible for much more. Freedom can be stressful, but it can also be completely worth it. And, by mindfully attending to simplicity and intuition, freedom can be less stressful and scary and work out wonderfully.

This is a very different approach for “resolutions” than I’ve been exposed to for most of my life. Instead of starting with action, I started with the big picture, because it’s more stable and enduring; the actions that support it may change over the year. What I need to do to promote simplicity, intuition and freedom will grow and change from January to December.

The Buddha says, of his own teachings no less, “Only a fool would carry the raft around after he had already reached the other shore of liberation.” In the same way, while my three principles may guide me through the year, I will not cling to the individual actions that support them past when they are useful to me. The actions are only tools to get where I want to go.

My Body – Positively

When I was about fourteen, I read Seventeen Magazine on a regular basis. This was the late eighties, so the pages were covered in tall, lithe, gorgeously-dressed models who had legs that went on for miles. I liked the bright-colored fashion and reading the articles, but one day I noticed every time I finished flipping through the magazine, I felt bad about myself. I felt unselfconscious beforehand, but after, I felt like I didn’t measure up. My body didn’t look like those girls’ bodies, and I’d feel depressed, unattractive and “less than.” It was then I made what I see now was an incredibly mature decision: I quit reading the magazine and told my mom to cancel my subscription. Problem solved; self-esteem restored. That was the beginning of my body positivity journey, though the term “body positivity” hadn’t been invented yet.

Unfortunately, eschewing Seventeen didn’t protect my teenage self from media influences that insinuated or outright told me my body wasn’t good enough. All the successful people on TV shows, in music videos (back when MTV showed them), and in commercials were not just not fat, they were REALLY thin. It didn’t matter whether an actor was playing a bikini model, a vampire slayer or a lawyer, she always fit the stereotypical idea of beauty: thin with big boobs. The rare fat woman on TV was almost always doing comedy and often the butt of the joke. It was also about this time I started seeing ads for weight-loss products: SlimFast, Dexatrim, Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig. There was actually a product targeted at little girls (not boys) called “Get in Shape, Girl,” which included a jump rope and some pink dumbbells. The ubiquity of weight-loss talk and uber-thin models told me, as a woman, being thin was the most important thing. Enter fat phobia.

My senior year in high school, I gained 25 pounds. I’m not sure why, because I wasn’t really paying attention, but I had broken up with a boyfriend who never ate and started hanging out with my skinny friends who devoured pizza and chocolate muffins at midnight. Or maybe my adult metabolism just kicked in early. But, here’s the thing: I freaked out. One day, I couldn’t get my jeans over my hips and I fell apart, as if I had a terminal illness. I then threw out all my candy and embarked on a series of misguided attempts to lose weight, which mostly amounted to fasting all day, then bingeing because I was hungry and couldn’t stand it anymore. I was focused on the weight instead of my lack of confidence.

Eventually, I lost that weight. And I kept it off, but the question is WHY? What motivated me to restrict my diet and keep that weight off? Fear. I was afraid… no, mortified I’d gain weight, like that was the worst of all possible scenarios. I was very strict about what I ate, and if I caved and had a few pieces of pizza, I berated myself for days. Everyone said, “you look great!” and I fed on that (no pun intended), but my attitude was anything but healthy.

Years later, I had another  couple of body-positive experiences. After fearing weight gain for over a decade, I got pregnant. I didn’t worry one bit about gaining weight with the pregnancy; that’s what was supposed to happen. When my doctor, seeing my scale numbers, suggested I watch what I ate, I smiled and mentally told him to go fuck himself (because I am too non-confrontational to actually say it.) Then, I went home and ate a cupcake, guilt-free.

Six weeks after Jack was born, I set about “losing the baby weight.” I put that in quotes, because it’s trite. It’s on the cover of every pregnancy magazine in the doctor’s office. People have an awful lot of concern about new mothers losing weight, but fewer seem interested in her actual healing from birthing a whole human. Anyway, I started running, put a chart on the wall, and weighed myself once a week. I made progress fairly quickly, but with five pounds to go, I got stuck. The scale wouldn’t budge, and I was frustrated. I didn’t want to exercise more often or harder; I didn’t have the time or energy for that, so I made peace with it. My beautiful Jack was certainly worth five pounds, so to celebrate, I ordered myself an expensive pair of black corduroy pants in my new size.

Since then, I’ve had my moments. I pitched a fit several years ago when I gained ten pounds. Then, I worked my ass off to take those pounds off. I’ve discovered new ways of eating and tried many, many different kinds of exercise. I’ve posted before and after photos and even had something close to six-pack abs for about a minute.  By the way, I apologize to anyone who had to endure my before/after photo phase; that was totally obnoxious. I learned a lot from all the food experimentation, and I enjoy having knowledge of weight-lifing, HIIT and yoga at my disposal, so I can keep it interesting, but I’ve let go of the number on the scale.

Several weeks ago, I went to the doctor and got weighed. I was up about ten pounds over what I’ve weighed most of my adult life. And for the first time, that didn’t send me running for the treadmill. That number has nothing to do with how healthy I am or how happy I am. Bottom line, I have to work way too hard and restrict myself from eating and drinking way too many wonderful things to have six-pack abs. I feel much more secure now than I ever have, because I finally don’t give a shit what the scale says or what I look like compared to society’s ideal. I try to listen to my body about what it needs and exercise and eat what and when I feel I need to. I say, “try,” because I am a human being who still wrestles with her habits and still struggles with body image sometimes, but I have made decided progress as of late. And, I have way more to offer, and you do too, than outside appearances.

 

Scattered

There is all manner of crap sitting on my desk right now – notes about my new freelance business, school picture forms, interview notes that need transcribing and a pair of yoga capris I need to return, not to mention the big box of book fair planning materials staring at me from the floor. All of this stuff needs to be done, so what have I done so far today? I went running and decided to write a blog post.

It may look like avoidance, but it was intentional. I felt scattered this morning. My mind flitted like butterflies with ADHD – “let’s go through that book fair stuff, oh go mail that package, make that form, do that research, call those people. When I feel scattered, it leads to feeling grumpy and unproductive and not actually getting much done, because I can’t focus. So, instead of running around doing partial tasks haphazardly, I decided to do some things that might help center me – running and writing. These are things that always start my day off right, and if I wait until later to do them, after I’ve finished a bunch of tasks halfway, I’ll be too tired to do them well, if at all.

So now, I’m sitting here, sweaty and typing, occasionally pausing to look around and take in all the clutter on my desk – the piles of to-do’s – none of it seeming more important or pressing than the other, and I think my best strategy here is to line it up in random order and knock it down.

If I can keep myself from “just checking in for a minute” on Facebook or email, I should be able to get some stuff done. Part of the problem is, this is mostly stuff I WANT to do – things I chose because I like doing them or they’re important. I guess having too many good things to do isn’t the worst problem to have.

Behind the Fat & Muscle

Neghar Fonooni is a coach, a speaker and a writer, but she got my attention, because she is also a fitness model who decided to stop counting calories and obsessing about the scale. The result: she gained about 15 pounds and felt a lot happier:
In 2009 I was 120 pounds and 12 percent body fat. I was ripped out of my mind and also ACTUALLY out of my mind. I counted every last calorie and worked out about two hours per day. I was in an abusive relationship, lacked confidence, and only felt good about myself when I was lean. I weighed myself every single day and allowed that number to dictate how I felt about myself. – Neghar Fonooni
Today, Neghar exercises less and enjoys red wine and local cuisine when she travels. She describes herself as active and strong but no longer “ripped,” and she couldn’t care less. She now coaches other women towards self-love and authenticity. To paraphrase one of my favorite things she’s written: ‘Know how you get a bikini body? Take your body, and put a bikini on it. No diet necessary.
Neghar has been criticized for shaming the uber-fit by publicly describing how miserable she was back in 2009, but in response, she says she in no way means that every person with rippling muscles is unhappy; her point is 12 percent body fat does not necessarily equal happiness, and when she was in pursuit of ultimate lean-ness, she came at it from an unhealthy angle. Life must be balanced with physical, mental and emotional health all considered, and neither body type – the super-hard nor the softer – is better than the other.
I’m going to take this a step further and say you can’t look at someone and know whether or not they are happy (as in, happy with life in general. If you come upon a stranger screaming at a grocery store clerk, you can safely assume that, in the moment, that person is not happy.)
As soon as we can stop looking at people’s appearances and assuming they are healthy or unhealthy, happy or unhappy, we can begin to see people for what they are – whole, complex, dynamic systems. While generalizations and statistics can be useful when thinking about large groups, dealing with individuals requires the realization that no person fits neatly into one, limited category.
We all do it – make those assumptions based on looks the instant we meet a new person. The trick is not necessarily to berate yourself for those assumptions, but to check yourself. When you see a larger person and assume they don’t eat healthily or see a muscly person and assume they’re stupid or unhappy, give yourself some grace, and then gently remind yourself to suspend that judgment. And, if the opportunity and inclination arises, get to know that person better. You never know what hidden gems you’ll find under whatever their exterior happens to be.
I get weekly emails from Fonooni, and they always make me smile. You can visit her website  to read more about what she does and sign up.