Archive for Coaching

The Doctor Says No Wheat, No Dairy, No Booze: Restrictive Health Protocols and Despair

You finally found a health care professional who has an idea that may help you feel better after months and sometimes years of feeling like absolute dogshit. You’re blotchy, bloated, your joints ache. You feel depressed and fatigued. Maybe your skin condition is out of control or if things are really really awful, maybe all of this and MORE.

Then comes the suggestion of an Elimination Diet. Or the GAPS Diet. Or an Anti-inflammatory Diet. Whether these suggestions are for the benefit of detective work to suss out what the culprit might be (eliminating all the usual suspects and then slowly bringing them back in to test reactions to substances) or perhaps the food suggestions/prescriptions are in response to allergy tests that pointedly spike in the face of certain foods, you’re not psyched. Regardless of which protocol is suggested or the root of why it is suggested, the news of cutting out EVERYTHING FUN IN THE WORLD can feel pretty crushing. For some, our health has deteriorated to such an extent that trying anything feels like a relief. Some people have been so ill for so long that a steady diet of goat milk, buffalo and steamed carrots might be just the ticket to heaven, that sweet relief someone has been waiting for. Food allergies and sensitivities can really wreck a functional life to an astonishing extent. It is my sincere hope that true misery and illness are not the only reasons a person might be brought to the place of willingness and compliance with various protocols.

So what can you do with this when the news comes in? When you think. “Holy shit. My friends won’t want to hang out with me. I’m going to be the irritating special food needs person at the table asking a billion questions of the waitress. Or I won’t be able to go out to eat at all. I don’t know how to cook. I don’t have time for this shit. I don’t have energy for this shit. I don’t have energy at all. Also, this isn’t sexy. Plus I have spent years recovering from diets and the negative effects of them on my body and my true soul. Why me?”

Well. I mean.
WHY NOT YOU?

The first thing I want you to know is you can do this. Because doing it might actually work. And not doing it has landed you exactly where you are, and following that path isn’t your desired life. So fuck that path. You deserve to feel good, heal your body, and enjoy your food along the way. What will it take?

1. Time to mourn: Being sick sucks. It sucks. Especially in a culture that wants clear answers for illness and then a nice pill to clear everything up. So I bet even if you are one of the lucky people who has suffered through mysterious symptoms that no one can figure out and you’ve actually LET yourself complain, I want to say that wallowing and mourning are not the same. Mourning requires a true kind of compassion for the suffering you’ve been doing. Really look at how hard this has been. If you need to look at a photograph of yourself to externalize your own image in order to have feelings for the human you are looking at, do that. Write about it. Ask someone who has been supportive and kind to reflect their experience of watching you weather the storm so you can adopt those kind feelings for yourself as well. Once you are to a place where you have some room free of blaming yourself, get willing to try something new.

2. Gather your people: Before you worry about the kitchen, the shopping, the cooking, the time suck, the impossibility of it all, look around you and see if you can find some people who are willing to help. And by help I mean everything from listening to cooking to a meal companion. Find a trusted group from 1-4 people to rely on for the first couple of weeks of your trial here. Let everyone know the specifics of your protocol, how long it might take, what you are afraid of, what you are actually great at,  and how they can help. At the center of this reliable core is, well, you. Be reliable. Be supportive. Be nice. Try your best to be your own ally.

3. Toot your own horn: This process means you have to ask yourself these questions as well. What are your strengths? Are you a great cook? Do you like to shop? Are you fucking hilarious? Are you good with recipe research? How can your skills be the things you commit to in this process and where can you use support? This will not only inform you about how to ask your people for help, but it’ll help you rediscover how you do have skills and you are competent and every little piece of you matters. Because when we feel sick, we forget.

4. Look for what you get: When you begin to find yourself wandering toward the Land of Wallow, remember this: even if you can’t have these things: beer, cheese, weed, soy, wheat, tomatoes, citrus, nuts, bacon, corn, peppers, potatoes, a burger, milk, eggs, half and half, bourbon, sugar, honey, cigarettes, pizza ,and COFFEE, for fuck’s sake, there are still over 4 billion combinations of food you CAN have, many of which are incredibly delicious. March your brain to a different tune. What are the things you do get to have. Who are the bloggers that work with those things?  Are there cookbooks to support you in the library?

5. Avoid minefields: Sometimes, in an effort to not feel left out socially or to diminish our feelings of freakishness too early on in our efforts to recover from food related illness, we may find ourselves saying “Fuck it” and go to a bar with friends to watch the Super Bowl. We are then surrounded by beer, tipsiness, the entire nation of everything fried (which smells so good), bowls of pretzels and salted nuts, and popcorn. Our football journey may serve to alienate us even further or tip us over the edge into a chicken wing bonanza with jalapeno poppers. Doesn’t help with healing the gut. Instead, throw a small party yourself, invite your crew over, make snacks and request friendly ones to your protocol.

6. Find rewards outside the realm of food: Bring your salad and steamed sesame broccoli with shiitakes and rice to a baseball game. (In April-October) Treat yourself to a long walk you keep meaning to take. Take a sick day and go see a matinee. Let yourself turn the phone off. Get a new cookbook that supports your challenges. Go on retreat. Get a foot massage. Knit. Listen to music on headphones while you lie on the floor in the dark. Pick anything. I usually pick Yo Yo Ma when I’m in this place, but just as easily pick Tribe Called Quest. Go look at art. Pet the dog. Get a dog. GET A DOG!

7. There’s no wagon to fall off of. I know a lot of practitioners get all, “Well just one slip up and you have to start all over.” It sounds very infantilizing and scolding. In my humble opinion, it’s a very damaging way to talk to a patient who is struggling. The last thing you need is a fear driven voice in your mind. Even if this direction is based in science or whatever, you can only be where you are. If you veer off your protocol, so be it. Don’t blow it all up. Just begin again. It’s what life is, after all. We all just start over all the time. Everything you are doing in service to your health is bigger than not doing it. Just do your best. Imagine if you gave yourself as much of a pat on the back for things you’re doing well as the bullshit flogging your give yourself for all the things that don’t go as planned. No, really. Imagine it.

And you know what?
Write to me.
Especially with specific hurdles. I love to get an email. I read tons of blogs on cooking and health, know about a slew of resources for various diagnoses, and I coach people on these things all the time.
Look,
you can do this.

It’s not forever and it’s in service to a future version of yourself who experiences less pain, more joy, and more fun. If you can’t tolerate being sick, you can certainly learn to roast vegetables. It’s the same skill set as a friggin’ Pop Tart.

YOU GOT THIS.

GET A DOG!!!

August Book Group Launch

Happy Birthday to me!
I mean soon.
Not yet.
But you’ll know because I’m a LEO
and that’s how we roll.

I’m turning 44 in August. I like to spend some time leading up to my birthday thinking about the past year and seeing where I’ve been. Because I don’t keep a daily journal (I just never have for longer than a couple months at a time) I take a look back at photographs, I look through emails and I talk to my friends and family about what they’ve seen as well. Bearing witness is an enormous part of my life and I am truly grateful that I have trusted and beloved people I can look to who also do the same for me. Maybe it was growing up Jewish. I’m not sure exactly, but something about seeing and being seen is a lynchpin of my spiritual practice and ritual. I have come to believe that consciously witnessing and also letting myself be seen deepens my practice of true solitude.

So this year a ton happened for me, not the least of which was an enormous relocation geographically and also in terms of pace. I moved from San Francisco to a tiny town of 711 people in western Massachusetts. The next town over, you know like when you say, “I’m going into town”, has a population of 18,168. I changed major things in my personal movement practice. Plus there’s a garden out in the yard now that spits up salad like a champ. Thanks, Ginger!

One of the things I have loved getting back in touch with is reading a book. On paper. And I’ve been re-reading some heavy hitters that have absolutely changed the fabric of my life. For my birthday year, I decided to start a book group. Each month I’ll facilitate a small group of people and we have a virtual meet-up to discuss the book.

The book for August will be Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. I love this book so much and return to it in pieces often. What I’m looking forward to is reading it again, cover to cover, in this hammock.

Because I really want to chew the fat on this thing, please be committed to spirited participation and discussion before claiming a spot. Also I am going to try and make each month’s group full of new people if there are a lot of people wanting to participate. These groups are my year long present to myself and they are free for all of us. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you, in advance, for making my year.

 

I’m Done with CLEANSING

Cleanse.
It has never sounded right for my practice.
From the very start it struck me sideways on a few different levels:

1. It smacks of moral superiority. One must get rid of impurities: bad foods, bad habits, bad weight, a kind of soul scrubbing through a culturally sanctioned and nutritionally hip process that celebrated doctors and gurus have repurposed from traditional eating ideas practiced for generations. It’s the boutiqueing and upscaling of something that is at its core absolutely regular and daily. It becomes not about relating to one’s own body, the food the earth offers, and the ways we change as the great world spins. The term’s undercurrent of guilt and shame is diametrically opposed to what the experience is about and it’s been scraping at my brain this whole time.

That’s me in the pink bandana. See? Still not skinny.

2. The word brings up a reaction of deprivation in people. The vision of a “cleanse” often strikes readers as a lonely and painful three weeks of sucking cider vinegar and cayenne out of a cocktail napkin and peeing fire out one’s butthole as a kind of rite of passage to purity. The Cleanse experience is about doing without, enduring, will power and perseverance through punishment. That’s like cramming every bad feeling from high school into three weeks and snorting all the cocaine you can get your hands on just to fit into a prom dress.  I mean, can I get a “Fuck That” from the choir here?

3. “Cleansing” is a secret diet. Let me clear my throat. CLEANSING IS A SECRET DIET. And I don’t believe in diets. They don’t work in an inside job kind of way, which is what matters to me as a health coach. Diets are cruel, shaming, restricting reactions to a culture that would have people of all genders living under the confinement of a body that’s Just. Not. Good. Enough. Sure you can lose weight on a diet, but so what. The big thing that happens with diets, as we know, is that not only are you tasked with gaining the weight back, your are also tasked with carrying the true weight of shame, exhaustion, disappointment, and self-loathing as well. While carrying physical weight can have consequences, I have come to understand through this work that the physical weight is only a manifestation of ways in which we cannot show ourselves true care born of, well, true love. You can be anyone you want and still practice loving oneself. A punk, a goth queen, an anarchist or a pudgy middle aged lesbian Jewess Holistic Health Coach with a cute dog. The word “cleanse” has come to be about losing 21 pounds in 21 days. Whatever.

I know many people find toes creepy, and to you, I offer my apologies here.

For two years now I’ve been leading these seasonal journeys with groups so people can take stock of where they’re at nutritionally, creatively, physically, and hopefully have some transcendental insight after a group journey. Because the practices contained in this facilitated experience are culled from so many different places: from various traditional, science-based food studies, fitness expert’s advice, client feedback, creative practice and habit forming coaching experience, it’s been a challenge for me to settle on what to name these journeys. For the duration of the series, I’ve been calling them “Cleanses” while sustaining this pronounced but hard to grasp unease with the title. As time has marched on, the unease grew to a point where I had to find the words to do it differently.

The work has moved from being named for the seasons to incorporating a notion that feels central to both an experience and goal I have as a health coach and in life. It’s been big enough that the words were tattooed on my toes in 1997 in Olympia, Washington when I set out on an adventure called Sister Spit that fundamentally changed the course of my life as a creative person. The enormity of the gratitude I experienced, and have continued to experience around this path can, in many ways, be traced back to this lineage of writers that continues to evolve each year. That gratitude and creative writer impulse is at the root of how I came to be a Holistic Health Coach and it continues to guide my work with group experiences and individual clients.

Hence, Lucky Devil.

And here’s the new word I finally came to for these seasonal expeditions:
RESTORATION.

These experiences are designed to help people restore the conversations they have with their bodies, to bring back honesty, gratitude, FUN, and forgiveness.  They are designed to restore people’s confidence that they can get in the kitchen, that busy lives can also be lives that provide space for what truly feeds the bottom line of each individual life experience and they are designed to be about taste and pleasure. These experiences bring people together for support, laughs, creative practice and exercise. Together we gather to restore our senses that we are capable of caring for ourselves, we can enjoy it, and we are not sentenced to a life of tasteless lentil loaf and soul starving notions that a steady stream of diarrhea is a sign of success. These experiences are not about exorcizing demons, but rather rubbing elbows with them as we bring in new friendly companions of walking, of writing, of meandering through the halls of art museums and leaving our desks for lunch so we can remember to chew.

The next round is scheduled for July 11, The Lucky Devil Summer Restoration.

Fuck Cleansing.
You’re not impure and never have been,
You Lucky Devil, you.

 

On Creative Worth, Self-Respect, Scarcity and Deep Fear

I got a pretty nice letter this morning from a founder of a wellness website. She said she’d found my writing, liked my work and would love to have me guest post on their site. It’s pretty much like the other website I used to write for where wellness writers are crowd-sourced or they submit work with promises of having traffic driven to their personal business sites and getting more exposure. And, well, it’s true.

In that case, I wrote for a site that had close to a million likes at the time and on the days my articles appeared, lots of people throughout the globe clicked on them. I’d get a thrill, obsessively checking as the numbers grew and grew that day. But they were clicking on work that had been edited within an inch of its life, all of my personality, my love of the profane and my penchant for run on sentences: POOF, vanished. So when people came to find me, I wasn’t what they had looked for. Here was a woman less polished, less traditionally professional, and certainly without the coiffed headshot or yoga pose that goes with many wellness practitioners. WHICH IS GREAT if that’s how you actually are. But I’m just not. I’m pudgy, I still can’t do my hair right at 43 and my expression of femininity is decidedly tomboy for mainstream readers.

After maybe a little less than a year of sporadically sending articles to this site, I read this article in the New York Times about how many writers are being solicited to GIVE their work away in exchange for, well, Nothing.

Traffic. Likes. Exposure.

The writer, Tim Kreider, talks about how most of the people who ask him to write for free, besides The Huffington Post, aren’t the man but still, these people, these strangers, have the balls to just ask you for shit for free. A THOUSAND WORDS, and in this case, they want it copy-edited and with IMAGES to boot PLUS, they wanna OWN the shit. They won’t even let you post your own work on your own site once they have it. FOR FREE. So after I read his article I made a promise that I just wasn’t going to do it anymore except in ways that made true meaning for me either in my work, in my community/ies, or in my gut.

I wrote to the editor of the enormous site, rife with cash-generating ads and links, built on the backs of unpaid writers and expressed my concerns. The editor, once so chatty and friendly, never wrote me back. No thank-you. No conversation. Nothing. Over the next week, I felt overcome by fear, like his silence was a sentence. Like: How Am I Going to Get My Name Out There? I tossed the “free advertising” argument around in my head over and over, panicked and sweaty, but every time I felt ready to cave, or particularly mired in economic fears around my plans to move, or just awash in your garden variety self-doubt or loathing, I’d write an article and as I edited it to send in to the big fancy site and have my name up in lights next to famous featured practitioners, my heart would sink. I’d try to imagine someone calling up my contractor friend and just ask them to replace a window real quick for free. Or I’d think about the oncology nurse I’ve known since she was 19 and picture her leaving her family, getting child care and going to the hospital for a few hours with no compensation but the good feeling in her heart. Would she do it? You know, she might. But would anyone have the audacity to ask her to? No. This is why I pay for music. This is why work in trades with people that have meaning. This is why I sit in front of painters’ works and let my heart beat loud and fancy at witnessing those things I love and cannot accomplish.

Since then, I’ve gotten no less than 10 letters from web editors asking me for free content. All come with the promise of exposure and all come with the stranglehold that says once I do this work, FOR FREE, I give it to them and forfeit my rights to my own words. I feel thrilled to say I really have developed enough self-respect over the years to stick to this. And I bet you have to. 

Your creative work, no matter what medium, is sacred. You get to set the terms that work for you. And so when you get to that place as a sculptor or a tattooer or a dancer or a pianist that feels like you gotta get on your knees and be at the mercy of a big organism using your work in a way that feels shitty, just know that people believe in you. People out here believe that your skills are worth better than crappy editorial headlines pulled out of someone’s ass with an algorithm and a “success” formula. Be yourself, make deals that feel fair to you and don’t leave your chest tight when your head hits the pillow. Your creative voice is truly one of the only things you will ever own in a world that is past privacy and awash a viral culture. A culture that values a virus as something to strive for, when we all know that naturally occurring viruses are built to take their hosts down.

So here’s a template in case you feel like crafting a nice letter to the next editor who wants you to surrender your creative magic to their administrative skills.

“Hi Person…

Thanks so much for getting in contact. I appreciate your reaching out. I went to your site and read the guidelines you have posted for submissions. After doing many guest blogs for sites that feature unique content from wellness writers, I came to a place where I’ve decided not to do this kind of work anymore. One of the things I really have going for my work is that I’ve been a writer for years and I have a very distinct voice. I’ve found that when I send my work to people, it gets edited to fit the voice of that place and that doesn’t serve me in the long run.
In addition, the idea that a site would own my work and reserve it so I couldn’t even republish it on my own site with no fiscal compensation feels unfair to me. I support people making a living for their work and I generally pick and choose doing unpaid guest posts on sites that foster a sense of community or collaboration with other practitioners, artists, writers, or communities I have longstanding relationships with. The promise of “hopefully getting some traffic and more exposure” to my site is not enough for me to give away rights to my creative work.
I’m hoping that as holistic workers we can find ways to really participate in each others worlds more, rather than pointing and clicking, and that creative work that takes such care and time will be valued in a way that has true meaning and participation. So for me, if I am not being paid for being a long time professional writer, I look for a connection of exchange and true support that is about more than traffic and likes.
Again, I thank you so much for getting in touch and wish you well in your endeavor.
Warmly,
Sara”

 

**** UPDATE: After I sent this response yesterday and wrote this post about it, I actually got my very first letter back from an editor. It surprised me in the best possible way and left a door open for productive conversation.

Here’s a piece of it: “…after your feedback I completely agree with you a few of the guidelines are unfair. I have removed the line about re-publishing from the guidelines, authors need the right to re-publish their own work. As for editing, we never edit any of our pieces – in fact seeing as we don’t I have removed this stance from our guidelines also…. Thanks for the feedback, you have definitely opened my eyes ”

Here’s to speaking up. And I’m looking forward to sending her an article in which I own the work and we work together in the spirit of collaboration.

The Walking Dread

I used to make lists of things to do for the day. I’d find them all over the place: crunched into dehydrated balls at the bottom of the dryer, in coat pockets from last season, and at the bottom of my purse with stray hair clips, pennies and the odd sugarless gum wrapper. I’d jot things down on scraps and stuff them down into my pockets and then forget to look at them. Later, if they weren’t annihilated in the laundry, I’d find the lists with shorthand on them standing in for some lighting bolt idea I had at the time, and I’d have no clue what the hell it meant. Little stray pieces of would-be genius littering corners of my life, physical refuse of what could have been and the loss of each idea that might have brought me a nice essay or a great client or a recipe to thrill people with. Detritus of what never was.

And the thing about these lists is that conveniently losing them or forgetting them let me see  that I tend to carry bullet points around in my mind, pinballs of things I should be accomplishing or mastering. This luggage brings with it a sensation of dense dread like a Pig Pen cloud following me. I watch people bob and weave around my anxiety as if they’ll get sucked into the fray like a smoothie in a blender.

DREAD.

It is almost always so much worse than whatever the thing is we are dreading. Since here we are in April, let’s take taxes, for example. I can put off doing taxes as well as the next guy. Something about all those rules, all those numbers, all those facts that tell me things about my abilities, or lack, as a new businesswoman. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to watch the little calculator at the top of Turbo Tax telling me that after all that toil, I still have to send the government MORE MONEY. I don’t want to face the hours of sitting. The resentment of spending time doing taxes while I could be LIVING MY LIFE.

And there’s the rub. Dread is about tricking ourselves into believing that we are not CURRENTLY living our lives. We think that if we put off doing our taxes (or breaking things off with our date, or going out for a run, or quitting smoking, or, or, or…) that we are staving off the discomfort of the bane of this event.

The reality is that putting it off keeps us in the dread itself, torturing us with our own worst fears about the impending unwanted event. It keeps us in the cycle of loathing a fiction of a thing that has NOT EVEN HAPPENED YET. In addition to the experience of that dread, it also does the work of withholding the possibility that the thing we are dreading might, in all actuality, turn out ok. Or might be an experience that we can bear or grow from or laugh at or tolerate. Or it might suck even more than we think it will but at least it only has to suck while it is actually happening rather than the hours of dread leading up to it PLUS its attending real-time suckage.

Dread is a thief. It robs of of our peace in the moment of the life we are actually living to rake us over the coals of a future that may be nothing like what we are living through in our imagination. That’s two problems at once. The present is given over, and the creative power we possess is being used to hurt ourselves.

So. What to do?

Take the object of this dread and break it down. Splinter it. Do your taxes for ten minutes. Set a timer. Maybe the first ten minutes isn’t so bad. Do another ten. Put them away. Now you have 20 minutes of taxes under your belt with the added victory bonus of having spent 20 minutes of doing your taxes and not having anything be uncomfortable yet. You are now armed with a triumph going into day two. And since taxes, in this example, are something we’ll do again and again (if you believe in that kind of thing, but feel free to substitute a dread you relate to) we are also rewriting the story of how they actually feel. Turns out, the first 20 minutes feel fine. Maybe the first hour does. Maybe then it gets horrible and it feels clearly worth it to hire someone to do it next time or to start 4 days earlier or WHATEVER.

This experience of eradicating dread isn’t about curing our lives of discomfort, but it is about alleviating pain and struggle we create for ourselves around fictions that we create to haunt ourselves. The world is going to serve up plenty of real struggle for us. We don’t have to help it. And so when the real discomfort comes, we can show up for it in our lives and experience it as an honest and actual kind of difficulty. And the other thing is, we might just be wrong. I spent my whole adult life dreading the eventual truth that I would have to live in a body I wasn’t that psyched about.

Turns out, I was wrong and I now have the great pleasure of making amends to my body each and every day for the rest of my life. Even on days like today when it really didn’t do what I wanted it to. Maybe especially on days like today.

It’s like Mr. Whitman says,

“There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

So be here now and not with dread.
And good luck on your taxes, everyone.

 

Compare and Despair: Keeping Our Eyes on Our Own Papers

I went to five different high schools. With so much of my energy being shuttled to alleviation of social discomfort and trying to assimilate to puberty, cliques, smoking weed and soccer, I did my best to limit the time I spent studying so I could get away with the best possible grades for the least amount of work. That often meant straining my little eyeballs trying to see what Kevin Phillips came up with on his chemistry paper.

Which is to say, I cheated.

I’m not proud of it, but frankly, I don’t feel too bad about it either. I wish people would have told us all what I suspected, and WE ALL SUSPECTED, to be true: most of what we learn in high school, we will never use again. School is for training our brains, teaching them to stretch and think and bend and open. Unfortunately, some of the schooling I had also trained my mind to close but I suppose that’s a whole other post entirely. Have I ever, really, needed anything I learned in high school chemistry? Not really. And even though I was good at it, did memorizing all those state capitols help my life? No. No it did not. But the ACT of memorizing has helped me. The ideas behind chemistry, the cause and effect of things has really shaped me. The ways in which seeing that putting two things together in one way can be an act of genius and one small difference can blow shit up. Chemistry is ripe with metaphor and THAT has been a deep benefit for me. Chemistry has been the undercurrent of the alchemy that happens in the kitchen. What has happened over time with love, with age, with atrophy and stretching.

What about the cheating, though?
Well. I liked getting away with things. I liked the velocity of getting over, the feeling of rebelling and subverting authority. I liked the thrill of wondering what the outcome might be with what I could manage to get by on with my wits and what I’d have to explain away to my parents who were Very Busy doing everything they could to make my future solid while I listened to The Cure and tried to figure out how to keep my head above water in the many predominantly white suburban John Hughes high schools of my life. I picked up some cigarettes, Marlboro reds, and learned to pack them into 4 inch bullets. I picked up little metal pipes full of shitty weed and snuck out of school dances. I picked up the tool of a Malleable Truth and carried it in my backpack from school to school, sanding down my edges to fit in anyplace I could. And while all this happened, I missed out on the offer of learning in school. My brain could have been doing all kinds of gymnastics and honing itself to be a ninja in the universe of interesting information but instead,  I treated it like a stoner on a stinky couch outside a frat party in Santa Barbara.

The kicker is, I find myself doing it today in still more insidious ways that are much more costly. An old friend was talking about how she was going to stop looking at fashion magazines because it was making her feel so bad. The way advertising somehow manipulates us in comparing ourselves with images on a page. There’s a few ways to wrap our minds around how this NEVER serves anyone too well.

This photo was taken in 2011. I don’t really look like this. I didn’t look like this then, really, and I sure as hell don’t look like this now. Since this was taken life took a lot of difficult turns and I added some pounds, hacked off a foot of my hair and grew all the gray out, plus I shot it of myself from the most “flattering” angle above. And it has at least two different romantic filters on it. But I like this photograph so I use it in press and print. I’ll use a new one with the gray hair soon or I’ll mix it up.

1. The “I’ll Never Look Like That” Edition: Thankfully, this one can be pulled apart in all manner of directions. First of all, she/they/he doesn’t look like that either. We all look so many different ways at different times of day, in light, with digital manipulation, angles of a shot. We are people of full dimension, not just two, so the reality is, we don’t even look the way the image says. I know this because I am a photographer. So there’s that fiction. The second thing is, let’s say for argument’s sake that the model really DOES look like that all the time from every angle, no matter how much sleep they got or who recently broke their heart or whether or not they actually have the flu. If that person ALREADY looks like that, then you’re off the hook. Somebody already has the job of looking like that and you can get busy doing the job of looking how you already look. No one else is doing that important job. So we need you. Not even your identical twin looks like you exactly so get to the business of living in your face and your thighs and your ass just the way they are. This is the body you have. It’s fucking great no matter how it looks because it is the vessel of your life. Without it, you join the ether. Without it you do not get to write, to do a tarot reading for your best friend. You don’t get to roller skate or swim or watch your kids learn to read. No singing. No listening. No plump cherries to bite into and no getting laid. So this Edition of Compare and Despair isn’t going to work in your favor.

This is what I looked like yesterday. Size 8 billion overalls, hat on bad hair, no make-up, and I still kinda like it.

2. The “They Think I’m Fat/Crazy/Nerdy/A Loser/Fill in Your Nightmare” Edition: One time I went to a beginner’s hip-hop class in Brooklyn. I had just been through back to back breakups with not one, but TWO women who felt ambivalent about their feelings for me. What the fuck, right? (Side note, Don’t date people who don’t think you’re fantastic. Getting your self-worth from trying to convince an ambivalent lover that you’re the one is a sure way to misery. You are already the one for someone or several people who are wholeheartedly stoked to hang out with you.) So I’m already feeling less-than and I head to this class to have fun! To exercise! (Which at the time I did not do so trying something fun was key). To be with great women! I get there and it’s in this gorgeous old studio, vaulted ceilings and original red looking wood with swirly accents way up high and the front of the room entirely covered in mirrors. Before the music even started I could feel my throat tighten down looking at the room reflected back to me. Scads of easily stylish beauties greeting each other and limbering up like a Fame outtake. Me? Jesus. I’m the pudgy girl at the back, sweats and an ill-fitting t-shirt to go with my bruised ego. The music starts and I can’t get my body to do anything the other bodies in the mirror are doing. This is the warm up. I start to feel humiliated by what people must think of me, oozing my incompetence into their fun place. It barely takes any time at all. So little, in fact, it’s like a sad miracle of a thing how quickly the imagined judgment moves me to sobbing. I bolt from the class, a bad after school special moment in real life. God, it’s so horrible just to type this out. More judgement so many years later like, “Poor you and your luxury dance class problem. Inept Pudgy Lesbian is so sad and alone.”

BUT THAT’S HOW COMPARE AND DESPAIR WORKS! It’s actually none of my business what anyone thinks of me. Whether they think I’m pretty or ugly or loud or selfish or fake or funny or devious or dim. My business is to keep my eyes on my own paper and either learn the dance or don’t. This was about giving my body movement and treating my battered little heart to some levity. I cheated myself out of that and left with quite a little internal gash.

I am not a minimalist.

3. The “Why Don’t I have That Couch” Edition: There is nothing like an issue of Dwell Magazine to help this one hit home. In some ways this one is harder for me than the fashion magazine one. This one is all about What I Don’t Have. And there are a million versions of the ways I don’t have the things I don’t have. There are the modern boho versions of it featuring interesting globetrotters who select the perfect items to bring home and place Just So in their incredibly homey and chic living rooms with giant dangly light fixtures and bold patterns and colors you can sink into on oversized cushions and guzzle micro aged bourbon and talk about film together after the retractable screen disappears. There’s the sleek, minimal modern version of Things I Don’t Have because I have no fucking restraint and don’t know how to make minimal work no matter how many times I study it. I don’t understand negative space in writing, in paintings, in design or in conversation, really. But I love it and it defines what I am not. And in this case, what I cannot afford.

And isn’t it always the couch?
It is.

I have always wanted to buy a new couch for myself, somehow exclaiming my independence as a woman. A real, live, adult woman. All these people in the magazines with all their beautiful houses and their stuff and their COUCHES, they count, and so therefor I do not. Because I have never gotten myself a new couch. And that is how Compare and Despair works. I look at a photograph of a couch in an image and I let it define my life, if only for a moment, into nothing at all. Which really pisses the old dog off, who would like me to give him dinner now, thank you very much.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t go back. I don’t believe in regret. I made the choices I made and so did you and here we are. But I think when I go to my new ceramics class next Monday, which I have always wanted to do, I will bring curiosity with me, wondering what it is I’ll learn to do. I’ll keep my eyes on my own paper and only look to the other clay in the room to admire it, wonder at all the possibilities, and watch myself be a beginner in a world that would only value a master. Maybe I should write Kevin Phillips and say something. But I don’t know what.

Anyhow, I hope I get super dirty in messy clay.

Fearlessness, Cereal, and Courage.

Fearlessness is bullshit.
There.
I said it.

What might happen if we spent time getting to know fear rather than trying to banish it? What if we sidled up next to it at the campfire and checked out the curve of its cheekbones in the light of the flames? What if we let it be real, a hungry visitor, instead of letting it lead us around by the nose?

If we do something we’re afraid of, let’s even say terrified, we come out the other side a changed person. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens between fear and courage. I say, LIGHT IT UP, BITCHES, because without fear, how do we know where an edge is? And if we’re not afraid to try something, if there’s no risk or growth potential, who gives a shit? What’s moving about witnessing someone pour their Cheerios in the morning? I’ll tell you what’s moving:

Jenny’s been in physical therapy for over a year after being stabbed on street in a back alley someplace in Minnesota. She felt his breath on her neck before she ever saw him. So quiet. She remembers thinking, “I wonder if that’s why they call them creeps…” as the blood soaked the arm of her flannel. She didn’t have time to get out the way before turning and lifting her arm into the blade. She barely felt it at all. It slid right in, across the muscles like a tailgate party steak. Then she couldn’t feel anything but the rush and the heat. She can’t tell you exactly what happened, just squared off images come to her. Even the smells and sounds feel like squares. The beer in her collar. The dull metallic smell of that much blood all at once. The way his voice left his throat when her knee came up. And then her boot in his teeth. But she didn’t feel afraid then. No time.

She felt afraid after she woke up though. She felt afraid every second of every day with her arm strapped to her side. She couldn’t go out after dark anymore. A grown woman imprisoned for all evenings. Then there was the shame of that too. The rage. That high crimson screech of rage caught in her ribs, laying in wait. It’d come out in physical therapy when she tried to move the arm. She went four times a week, and she’d meet Peter at the door. She felt like Eeyore, glum and blue and sluggish.  He’d coax her to move through it. And it wasn’t just the pain, Oh, HELL no. On top of that, there’s the FEAR of the pain. The fear of no results. The fear of the depression of so many months of the things taken by the pain, and her bad hair done with a clumsy left hand. Buttoning jeans took on a new set of challenges.

One time she saw Peter wince when she tried to move the arm to the right. It’s the only slip he ever had, mirroring her sorrow. And that was the exact moment her courage took root. She saw him feel her pain and she let herself be touched by it. She stayed with it then, not just the pain, but even before that. The bus ride to the office, knowing it was coming. The searing. The failure. The exhaustion of it all. For hours. And days. And months.

So when you see Jenny in the kitchen one day about to grab the cereal with her left hand and pour, and then stop. You see her fix her eyes at an angle, her chin follows. You watch her lungs open up and fill and watch her wide hips pivot to the right. You watch her move the right hand toward the box and clutch it, sweat beading along her hairline. And then just as she begins to raise the box, her mouth opens and all that rage, the shame, the hours of agony and the smell of beer in an alley come tumbling out of her mouth and she manages to get half her cereal into that bowl while the dog eats the rest off the floor and, well,

That’s what’s moving about watching someone pour their Cheerio’s in the morning.

So when you think that fearlessness is the point of doing something, when you imagine yourself strapped to a parachute and about to hop out the floor of a plane and even the thought brings the twitch to the back of your throat and up from your belly, when you aren’t quite sure if you can face the rejection of telling the beloved the truth of your heart, remember it is the alchemy that takes you from terror to courage that awaits.

So I say,

Be afraid.
Be very afraid.
But don’t let that be the
Only
Reason you stop.

I May Never Be a Gazelle

I keep trying yoga. I’ve tried Vinyasa, Bikram, Kundalini, Anusara and Hatha.  I’ve tried new teachers, both incredibly peppy and those that brought quiet and calm. I’ve had men teachers, women, and some delightful people somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Done it outside. In ashrams. Tried it with video. And I’ve done it simply to prepare for meditation.
Everything about it is an obvious match for me. I like a practice that keeps us in the present. I am a devout believer in tending to our bodies with physical care and reverence. I enjoy a group endeavor that can bring together a diverse gathering of people. I am fantastically inflexible with hamstrings chiseled from granite. I got a nice mat. Obviously, yoga could be just the nourishing practice I fit into my life. All manner of people have tried to help with introducing me to teachers, styles, and giving me support.
But still, I kind of hate it.
For me.
Not for you.
Making my way through a packed city to a packed class to spend a ton of money on a series doesn’t feel inviting. Rushing to serenity doesn’t make sense. And when I let people know I have not yet found a yoga that works for me, there’s a certain way the face looks back to mine. I know the face. The eyes soften at the corners, and the mouth drags across the teeth into a quarter smile. It borders on pity, pulls up just short of it. People are sad that I have not found the joy they’ve found. Or they feel sorry for me that my enlightenment is so off track. Or they remember their own yoga story of being where I am now, adrift from the mat, body gnarled up with muscles begging to be unfurled. So I go again. But I’ll shift around some old stuck spots and get nauseous. Starting feels terrible. I know it will pass, but do I care? My yoga friends see a way that I could.
I see it too, and sometimes I agree. That’s why I keep going. Every few months or years, I’ll try again. A friend will convince me they found just the class for me. And so far, they haven’t.
Now here’s the thing: when’s the point what I just let myself agree it’s not my jam? I don’t like the culty vibe of some studios or the cool, popular vibe of others. I don’t like doing it alone because I can’t tell what the fuck I’m doing. Plus I am also prone to a compare and despair problem where it’s difficult sometimes to be the platypus in the room of gazelles. No offense to the platypus. Of course I understand that no one in the room really cares what I am doing. I also understand that there is a path to when one finds a gazelle in the mirror eventually.
What feels like the tough part is to tell when it’s time to just maybe accept that my path isn’t this one. I do not have that gazelle reflection waiting for me. AND THAT IS FINE! It will save me many hundreds of dollars in Lululemon wear, and I can continue my humble stretching in the corner of the gym. I will be the awkward running lady. I never got good at that and I still like it. I can do that. I like lifting small weights. I like walking and I enjoy the feel of a good badminton game in the summer. I do balance exercises and I think often about boxing. Doing what I’m drawn to seems to serve me and it definitely kicks the ass of making exercise a chore that feels like a torturous Game of Thrones undertaking.
Still, the last time someone described Yin Yoga to me I thought, “Maybe I’ll try that one.”

What if it wasn’t a problem?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself a whole bunch this past month. It’s a simple question I’ve been toting along in the spiritual back pocket of my Jordache jeans like we used to have those combs in the 80s. I can’t believe what a difference it has made for me.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean.

Me passing a reflection of myself on my way to the gym: “I can’t believe I work out this often and I still have days when I cringe at my own reflection.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Oh. I can just be grateful that my body works. That I am loved. That I just got to move my body and feel exhilarated. Maybe how I look isn’t today’s big PROBLEM.”

Or how about this:

Me at the end of a long day of not feeling productive: “I sat at this desk for 8 hours, didn’t finish my article, left emails on my desktop, didn’t make soup, and now it’s far too blustery to go running.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Holy crap. What if productivity wasn’t the yardstick I chose to judge myself with today. What if I coached five clients really well, I took some time to pet the dog, and I read a ton of articles that inform my life? What if I let that be enough today?”
Pocket: “What if you are enough?”
Me: “Now you’re testing me, Pocket.”
Pocket: “Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

It’s just a tiny question that can get us out of a malaise or a self-imposed despair that we are not required to carry. You can turn around in your own prison cell and just walk right the hell out. Try it. You got nothing to lose but some sorrow.

 

The Great Courtship of Inspiration

I’m a passionate person. A Leo. A Jewess. The youngest and the only girl in the family. I have good lungs and spent a great deal of time using them for volume to get what I needed from a crowd. I wanted ATTENTION. I wanted to fit in. I remember thinking that as a writer, I didn’t NEED to edit anything because editing connotated the notion that the purest of inspiration was going to be squashed by a system of shaving the rough edges off oozy and sharp words. Editing might somehow dilute the original bolt of lightning that birthed a paragraph, a poem, or a good old fashioned rant. As time marched on, I began to find that inspiration was a bit of a fickle beast. Some years it took its leave for months at a time. I’d hang around smoking weed and drinking tons of coffee while I left the door open for Inspiration to wander in, club me over the head and ravish me like a brand new lesbian looking for a hot butch top to show her the ropes of Sapphic surrender. Sometimes she showed up. But mostly, Inspiration, like any other grown up, is a creature that works more fully with support.

A bath is a perfect tool for Inspiration courtship. It relaxes the body, draws out toxins, and can help shut down the constant chatter and let the light(ning) in.

Now, you may be thinking that support means inviting others in. And it CAN. But it can also mean developing patterns for ourselves, quiet patterns that we can employ solitude for. But either way, one of the strongest supports for Inspiration is practice. A consistent practice builds a fertile ground for Inspiration to flourish in. It’s like setting out the fine china for ourselves instead of just leaving it in a dark box, gathering dust. Our inspiration gathers dust too, like forgotten knick knacks we only remember when we get ready to move again and wonder what was in those boxes in the basement anyhow. Then we open them and the light hits something and we remember, Oh Right, I totally forgot that Incredibly Exquisite thing I have sitting in a Box in the Dark. That happens to our ideas as well. Once in awhile we take the time to dust them off and parade them around, but if we practice setting the table, it’s more likely we’ll see them on a more regular basis.

Get some nature up in your grill. Whether it’s a walk in the woods, a rowboat on the lake, a beach bonfire or a desert stroll, taking a regular quiet period with the wind and the birdsong always sets a nice stage for Inspiration

The thing is, a habit is more reliable than Inspiration. I mean, sure, being alive will eventually bring inspiration. But habit will do more than just allow you to happen upon it. Habit breeds a fertile ground for inspiration. Habit creates a constant and inviting space for inspiration to land in. Our consistent agreement with ourselves to Show Up, willing and open to receive, lets us meet Inspiration halfway, not asking her to trudge through enormous swaths of desolate landscape alone. Sometimes life is like that. It’s like that right now for my favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. In fact, athletics are a great place to look at how a solid habit can work. Pick any athlete who stuck to their career for decades. You don’t even have to pick someone famous. But you know, the people who practice, the ones who just show up and do the work? Those are the ones whose bodies last. Those are the ones who feel the best, who learn from the path and who stay for the next chapter. It’s the same with writers. If I just waited for inspiration (which I have done for years and not come up with anything good) I might never write again. But if I sit down every day and just write a few pages, that’s when the magic happens. Sure, I write a ton of CRAP. But I also assure myself by the act of facing the page that I am willing to keep it going. I write through the crap to the sentence that sparks something. I stare at the page and see all the old demons and, fuck it, I write about them too. Because no matter what, they are also my companions here. Practice, habit, consistency: these are the pillars of a life. Not just a sparkly cameo appearance on Three’s Company or Cheers. This is the whole hog. Where the rubber meets the road. Getting through the empty to where the squeaky wheel gets the grease and it all begins to move right again. This is how we learn to love the edits. We run the extra miles when they feel painful and sluggish because we know they will turn into the ones that feel sponsored by the wind herself. We have the excruciating conversations with our loved ones because they ultimately let us practice who we are, rather than practice hiding.

For the past few months I’ve been practicing writing each morning with a group of friends. Each of us alone but together. The words show up this way.

I like to think of Inspiration as a lover worthy of creative and dynamic courtship. Of steadfast devotion. Building habits goes a long way to romancing Inspiration, which to me feels 100% great every time I find her in my life.