Tag Archive for self acceptance

A Little Bit On Dating.

Living in New York was a rough stretch for me. Which is to say, that town chewed me right up and spit me out. I found myself underemployed as a sex educator in an optically unnerving dildo emporium, doing the work of the goddess for about $13/hr. I wore a path into the linoleum escorting nervous cis women to the bookshelf, plucking Betty Dodson’s genius Sex For One off of it over and over, turning to the double page spread featuring beautiful line drawings of like a hundred different vaginas.  I’d watch women blush, cry, and chew their nails as they looked at the pictures, labia twisting and rolling and even unfurling like manta rays right their under their fingertips. I’d point to the clitoris, that bundle of 8000 nerve endings crammed into the famous pink pearl, a hoodie stylishly draped over its head letting women of the world focus from time to time on life rather than intense sensation that lies beneath. I’d say, “That’s where you look, girl. Get yourself a compact and that Missy Elliot Supa Dupa Fly record and block out some time on a Tuesday evening. Just you. Because it’s always good to know where the pot of gold is buried.”

Those were my days. Clits and butt plugs and floggers and vibrators. Playing some part in women’s sexual empowerment felt amazing, but to be so broke and desperate from doing so in the most expensive town in the country was exhausting physically and disenchanting politically and spiritually. Add to that being turned down for a slew of editing jobs cited for being both over AND under-qualified plus not one, but two breakups BAM and then BAM, and I gotta tell you, I felt low like a bass drum. Imagine ushering sexually adventurous couples around all day in the wake of TWO break-ups possibly to never get laid again.

But look. Just because a lady loves a city, doesn’t mean the city is ready to love her back. Obviously, the same can be said of some of the women I’ve dated. And come to think of it, if I stretch way the hell back, the men as well.

The office was rife with break-ups, bad dating stories and shockingly bad dating behavior this week. Because my clients ARE THE GREATEST, it inspired me to make a tiny list of things we all talked about. Let’s make this short and sweet.

A little dating REAL TALK:

1. Don’t date people that don’t want to date you or they torture you endlessly with their ambivalence. I used to think it was such a challenge and a test to change someone’s mind and really show them how I was the best love they’d ever find and how I was laid back and so whipsmart and… ahem… WHATEVER, MAN. Let them work through their shit over there and when they know they are honored that you are willing to spend your precious time with them, either you’ll decide to or not. Because the time you spend with this person is keeping you from your friends, your art, your self, and the plethora of people who are completely stoked about you, just like you are.

2. The most loathsome song lyric in history: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. That lyric gets the mighty middle finger from me. It can really fuck right off. If you can’t be with the one you love, BE ALONE for Pete’s sake. Do not drag people who truly want to be with you through your pining away for someone else. It’s irritating, harmful, disrespectful and beneath you. And if this is happening to you, see #1.

3. Try and have enough communication to know that you are both on the same page. Are you pals who do it sometimes? Are you taking on a second lover but staying with your partner? Are you in it for a monogamous long haul? Whatever it is, let the date know. And if your page turns, don’t play it off like you’re not changing. Things change. It’s cool. Honesty is hot.

4. Rejection is protection. We live in an interesting world packed with so many kinds of experiences to be had. There are different kinds of people, there’s travel and painting and cooking and baseball season and car engines and science and vintage ceramics and SO MANY BOOKS TO READ and dogs and 5ks to run and swimming and salads and laundry and work and fresh flowers. So even though it hurts bad when someone you feel for chooses to break things off, they have given you freedom of time and inclination to follow paths that will bear fruit. Between going to work and sleeping, our free time is valuable and we get to treat it as such. Having someone take themselves off our agenda saves us from spending intimate time with a person who doesn’t ultimately want what we want. We can take all the great things we got from that time and roll that shit over into an account with BETTER INTEREST.

5. And finally I just want to say to you, if someone doesn’t respect you, leave them. Just leave. Break up with them. Make it quick and final. “Don’t call me. Don’t text me. Don’t email me. I don’t even want to hear rumors about you. It’s over.” You deserve someone who feels honored to have your company and shows you that.

These last few years for me have been peppered with some truly terrifying moments. People got sick. People died. Long relationships came apart and my dog is staggering around the house like a rickety drunk canine Burroughs. There is the 24 hour news cycle to contend with as well, showcasing an array of societal ills like festering pustules. The things we have here in the world that are TRULY our own are few. We have our stories, and we have a little bit of time here. It’s a beautiful life, even when brutal, and maybe especially so. But because the world’s job is to inherently rise and fall, we do not need to help it along in the heartbreak department.

Pick someone who picks you back.
Period.

This is Gramma Eva and Grampa Sasha in Kiev in 1917.

 

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.

 

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.

Ida Acton

Vintage Pillowcase Tapestry by Ida Acton

I am just this

and this is enough

Ida Acton is a writer, artist, and school teacher in the Bay Area. She kicks ass.