Tag Archives: bodies

Summer Solace

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“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.” –Bern Williams

I am not a summer girl.  I loved school and hated to see it end.  Yes, a little rest and freedom from homework was welcome, and the night owl in me embraced the late nights and sleeping through the morning, but in general, I do not love summer.  I hate the heat.  I miss school.  I get lonely and bored.  I get antsy.  I am not a swimmer, not a sunbather, not a traveler.  The months creep past with slow, oppressive heat and the stale smell of sweat and lethargy invades the house.

But my disdain for the sunny months does not dim the nostalgic ache I feel for childhood summers.  I hated them in the moment, but look back with longing for those small town heat waves.

Summers were hot.  I remember lying still on the living room carpet, fighting my brothers for position in front of the big metal fan that stood on our hearth.  At night, after darkness crept through the valley, we opened windows and amped up fans to blow what little cool air existed through the house.   I remember the little brown fan, oscillating on my dresser, and the welcome touch of its breeze as it swayed side to side in the darkness.  Mornings started with a welcome chill, clean bright sun stretching across the neighborhood.  The moments were brief before the sun began its cruel work.  We bathed in sunscreen before swimming, hid in the house during midday.  Summer nights came slow, late, and never as strong as we hoped.  The heat never left, but there is something magical about a starry night, barefoot on the warm cement and cool grass.

I remember splashing in our wading pool out on the cement.  My brothers and I would fill it with cold water from the hose, sliding through the cool stream that penetrated the heated water from the day before.  We wore swim masks and snorkels and would lay on our stomachs and “swim” circles around the pool, dragging our half-submerged bodies in circles to create a small current, and then let it push us as we sat still.  I played dress up in old bridesmaid dresses with my friend, pretending we were brides and princesses, and we picked questionable berries from the shrubs to use for “real” food to play house.  I watched Stick Stickley in my bedroom as I moved furniture and cleaned out drawers until I could no longer stand the afternoon sun baking my windows.  We painted pictures and wrote poems and tried new recipes for the fair.  It was frightening and thrilling to walk the halls and find our entries, some with ribbons, and find other names we recognized.  I can smell the 4H livestock and feel the straw beneath my feet as cotton candy melted on my tongue.

As I grew older, summers changed.  It meant summer school to get ahead and to get my driver’s permit.  It was my first regular job, working at the city’s summer camp.  That was when I got my first honest to goodness tan, spending afternoons watching kids swim in the public pool.  We were mobile and employed, so we spent the summer free.  We had barbecues and parties, spent late nights at the lake and in back yards.  We walked the empty streets and played running charades at the elementary school.

Then, just like Harry Potter’s owl, letters came each August containing our school supply lists.  I loved shopping for notebooks and pens, but secretly feared that first day back.  It was so scary to see everyone for the first time, see new faces, see how everyone had changed.  There was so much at stake when we returned, frantic phone calls comparing class lists and finding someone, anyone that was in our classes.  There were new uniforms to iron and new outfits to assemble.  There was so much anticipation in the end, such a far cry from the endless, lazy days before.

I remember shorts and swimsuits, popsicles and fireworks.  When I think of summer my skin grows feverish and the heat hugs its way around my body.  I can see my mom’s beautifully browned legs as I sat between them while she covered me in cool, creamy sun screen.  I can smell the metallic water, dribbling from the hose, as we made a “safe” path of wet cement, between our chalk artwork, to walk barefoot on.  The crickets and bicycle tires echo through the dark streets in the cool of late night, as the neighborhood comes to life.  I hate the sweat and the loneliness and stagnation.  I hate summer.  And as I remember those moments, the summers of childhood, tears fill my tired eyes and I know without a doubt that I would give anything to return to those blistering days.

“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”  –Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

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Mirror, Mirror…

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“It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy/ ‘Cause every now and then I kick the living sh!t out of me…”  –Lit, “My Own Worst Enemy”

There is a trend in music that has caught my attention lately.  I didn’t think much of it at first, but now I am struck, saddened, uplifted and fascinated by it when I listen to the radio. 

Artists are pleading, challenging, and encouraging their listeners to see themselves as worthy, as beautiful, as lovable.

I noticed it first in Bruno Mars’ sweet “Just the Way You Are.”  While the love song has been in heavy rotation and is tottering on the edge of overplayed, it still brings a smile to my face.  But flattering love songs are nothing new.  Every crooner and songbird has lauded their adored, extolled their beauty and charisma.  The part of this song that stopped me, that was sweet in such a tragic way, was the first time I heard him sing “Yeah I know, I know/ When I compliment her/ She won’t believe me/ And, it’s so, it’s so/ Sad to think she don’t see what I see…”

The next time my ears pricked up was when Katy Perry’s “Firework” picked up air time.  I am disinclined to listen to her songs, not really wanting to hear about how hot “California Girls” are or think about “Teenage Dream” intimacy, but this one was different.  The first lines caught my dissatisfied attention in that eerie, unexpected way that  feels invasive, like someone has dug too deep and knows too much.  She sings, “You don’t have to feel like a waste of space/ You’re original, cannot be replaced/ If you only knew what the future holds… Cause baby you’re a firework/ Come on show ’em what you’re worth.”  The same reassurance, same words of wisdom echo: you’re worth more than you know.  You don’t see what everyone else does.  You are special.

And then Pink hit the airwaves.  Her cleaned up lyrics hit home the same painful, imploring message in “Pretty Pretty Please (F*ckin’ Perfect).”  “You’re so mean/ When you talk/ About yourself/ You are wrong/ Change the voices/ In your head/ Make them like you/ Instead/ So complicated/ Look how big you’ll make it/ Filled with so much hatred/ Such a tired game/ It’s enough/ I’ve done all I can think of/ Chased down all my demons/ See you do same/ Pretty, pretty please/ Don’t you ever, ever feel/ Like you’re less than/ [Less than] perfect/ Pretty, pretty please/ If you ever, ever feel/ Like you’re nothing/ You [are] perfect to me.” 

These singles top the charts surrounding a heartbreaking, albeit unsurprising, poll that Glamour conducted.  Women are mean, catty, cruel and judgemental.  They are critical and superficial.  They know how to hit where it hurts and they are relentless.  And all of this brutality is aimed at themselves.  We berate and tear down daily, telling ourselves over and over again that we are not enough, we are not okay.  It’s the scene from Mean Girls when Cady watches her new friends stand in front of the mirror after school and dissect what they see.  She says, ” I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body.”  From early on, everything and everyone around us tells us to take a close look at our appearances.  A harsh look.

This is why, I think, the songs are so poignant to me.  I am one of the 97% of women who are self-haters.  I know what it is to think that I am not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not tan enough, not short enough, not blond enough, not everything enough.  Not enough to be beautiful, to be liked, to be loved, to be popular, to be noticed, to be acceptable.  I know those thoughts, the ones that trickle down, seep in, and become a part of my being, pulsing through my vein.  Those thoughts that we call “realistic,” we accept as normal, and apparently are, are stifling.  They are heavy, a darkness that weighs down the light and confidence that we try to project.

The irony is that, while I may snip or gossip, my hatred is mainly turned inward.  I don’t pick at the size of a stranger’s pores or their hair frizzing or their thighs or chipped nails or crooked teeth.  They are just fine, pretty, acceptable.  They don’t live under the microscope that I do.  This is why Bruno Mars’ lyrics pierce so deep: my girl friends are gorgeous.  They are funny and smart, compassionate and interesting.  They are objectively beautiful.  And the odds are against them.  They criticize too.  It breaks my heart to think that these women I love don’t see how wonderful they are, see what I see.  And like Pink sings, it is an old game; self-deprecation is overrated.  We’ve survived the brutality of adolescence and have come to know who we are.  While that is always changing, we should be comfortable now, embrace these people we have discovered and become.  We should rest easy in these bodies that have grown out of their awkward stages.  And yet, at 26, I am just as self-conscious and insecure about my body as I was at 12.  I am not the only one.

These songs are everywhere because they are needed.  Needed by the artists who write and perform them.  Needed by the young girls and boys who idolize the stars and loathe themselves.  They are a small reminder that there are people who see us better than we see ourselves.  There are people who want to remind us that there is beauty where we don’t see it, worth where we can’t find it.  There are voices from outside our own heads, voices that do more than criticize and tear down.  Sometimes we are wrong when we hate.  We are myopic, but someone sees the big picture.  And if you, if I, still refuse to believe these assurances, then the songs do something else.  They remind us that other people feel this way too.  We aren’t alone.

“Sometimes it seems like we’re all living in some kind of prison. And the crime is how much we hate ourselves. It’s good to get really dressed up once in a while. And admit the truth: that when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they’re actually…beautiful. Possibly even me.”My So-Called Life

You gotta fight for your right to… what?

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Though violence tends to make me a bit squeamish, I devoured Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club this past week.  The vivid images he creates of fights, of the wounds inflicted, are easier to digest in words than they will be in images.  I am one of the few who has not seen the blockbuster based on the novel, though the big “shocking” revelation was ruined for me.  Despite knowing the secret of Tyler Durden, I fell into the world and lost myself in the violent freedom that is Fight Club.

The narrator drew me in with his utter restlessness.  There is nothing wrong with his life and, yet, there is nothing not wrong with it.  When he meets Tyler, his “life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.”  There is a stagnation, albeit in a comfortable home and job, that can lead to insanity.  The apathy somehow is intricately tied to rage.  I say this not as some refined literary critic, but as someone who knows this. 

Typically a “guy’s book,” this one is so familiar to me.  Not in the blood filled basements and mayhem, but in the restlessness.  There is a deep need to release all that builds up in the ordinary life.  I have a gratitude for my life, appreciation for my fortune and blessings, but also a desire to break things down.  I don’t know if it is about power, or anger, or just a need to release energy, but somewhere in the most animalistic recesses of my brain, I can identify with that need to hit, to break, to destroy.  He explains, “If you’ve never been in a fight, you wonder.  About getting hurt, about what you’re capable of doing… Tyler explained it all, about not wanting to die without any scars…”  Now, I have perhaps the lowest pain threshold on earth and absolutely no desire to get into a physical altercation, but I understand the desire to know.  I understand what he means about wanting to feel it, to experience this moment in life, to see how you hold up.  I don’t know what my correlating experience might be, if not a fight, but I do know that this made as much sense to me as one plus one equalling two.

While there are so many brilliant things that Palahniuk wrote about, the other thing that has stuck in my mind is Tyler’s justification for Project Mayhem.  He explains, “You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something.  Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need.  Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.  We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit.  We have a great revolution against the culture.  The great depression is our lives.  We have a spiritual depression.”  I know these words ring a little less true since the War on Terror began and the economy took a dive, but they still resonate.  The war is divisive, not something the nation rallies behind like they did in our history.  The economy seems to breaking spirits, but not building character.  They are not drawing us together.  They are not mobilizing us.  They simply hurt, making life harder.  We want to feel passion, feel something is worth fighting for, or against.  We want to move, to be strong, to defend and protect.  We just need something to call us. 

So we fight.  Life is easy and comfy, even when it’s hard.  We move in slow motion and need anything to pull us into real-time, to be uncomfortable.  We fight the haze that covers our day-to-day life and want nothing more to see the sun, in its blazing, burning, blinding glory.  It’s a fight to live, instead of just exist.  I get that.  I understand the desire to be pulled into the moment, out of the past and future.  I want to know how it feels to stand when I think I can’t, to bear the marks of my battles for others to admire.  I want scars to prove that I went through it, I fought and took blows, but I came out the other side; I am stronger than anything they threw at me. 

“What I’m gonna live for/ What I’m gonna die for/ What you gonna fight for/ I can’t answer that…” –Bryn Christopher, “The Question”

For All the World to See

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“Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” –Jack London

For quite a few years now, I have been fascinated with tattoos.  It started with a love of the TLC reality show Miami Ink and the slightly less engaging Inked on A&E.  For someone who does not pretend to know anything at all about art, it is simply astounding what can be done on a person’s skin.  The details, the beautiful pictures created with ink and needle will never fail to amaze me.  And while all of the artwork was incredible to see, the stories behind the tattoos were even more interesting.  People choose to alter their bodies permanently for so many different reasons!  Some do it for the sake of the art, others for shock, to belong, to stand out, to remember, to celebrate, to mourn and display.  It is so interesting to listen to what it is that each person is choosing to record for the rest of the world to see. 

For close to five years I have seriously considered getting a tattoo.  I had an image, small and simple, that was incredibly meaningful to me.  When I look back through the notes I took in college, the little cross is drawn on almost every margin in my notebooks.  There are plenty of other things that I have seen or thought about that I think would be cool or pretty or unique to get, but this one stuck with me over the years.  After this long, one would think that I would feel confident enough to actually get it, to commit to it.  One would be wrong.

A friend of mine has been talking about changing one’s name lately.  We talked about whether it would be disrespectful to your parents, who named you before anyone knew you, to decide to put aside the identity they chose.  It’s an interesting thought.  A name is just a name, and a person is who they are no matter what you call them.  Still, somehow, it seems like a name can change you.  You are so many things, but one of them is your name.  I mention this because the same idea crosses my mind with respect to tattoos.  Especially in a religious community, there is an aspect of it that feels like changing what God created.  It’s saying that the beauty of being formed in His image is not enough, that I am not enough just as I am.  I know not everyone thinks this far into body art, but it’s something that I’ve heard before.  This is aside from the Levitical prohibition against tattoos, which many people have opinions about in today’s society.

I don’t really think that God sees me getting some ink as an affront to Him.  I don’t think that what I want, an image of my faith, defiles the body He gave me.  I don’t even really worry about reactions and judgement from others, especially with the prevalence of tattoos today.  I do worry about regrets.  Constantly.  No matter how much I think about my tattoo, that little voice that always seems to whisper, “What if…?” speaks up.  What if it doesn’t look like I would expect?  What if I wish later in life that I hadn’t done it?  What if, as I age, it looks worse and worse?  What if it hurts a LOT worse than I think?  What if I don’t get one and really regret it later? 

I analyze everything so much, running over and over every possibility, dwelling mostly on the worst, that I tend to be overly cautious.  I talk myself out of things, and rarely into things, much too easily and stubbornly.  I want to take a risk and be rash.  I want to be young and make a quick decision.  I want a good story to tell.  Sometimes, I just want to not be me.  I want to know what it’s like to not think things through, to forget about consequences.  I don’t want to be responsible and reserved and just do.  I sincerely doubt that I will get up the courage and bravado to get my tattoo.  I hope that I’m wrong, but I know me and know that I’m right.  A leopard can’t change its spots.  But maybe this girl will work up the courage to slip into the skin of a braver person, leaving a scar that lasts forever.

Until I give up my love of the body art, I have come to really enjoy looking at the masterpieces that others’ proudly wear.  The nerd in me is obsessed with this site, www.contrariewise.org, devoted to literary-themed tattoos!

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  –Elbert Hubbard

“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred”

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“I stand in awe of my body” –Henry David Thoreau

From time to time I become very aware of my body.  I am constantly self-conscious about it, but sometimes it catches me by surprise.  I don’t consider myself a tactile learner, but I am a much more physical person than I realize.  I touch and feel things as I walk past.  For example, when I drive, I prefer to be barefoot.  I like the feel of the pedals under my foot.  I know the resistance of the gas, the give of the break.  I drive better when I feel.   

Walking through the store a couple of weeks back, I was struck by the act and feel of walking.  It was a quiet moment with nothing in particular drawing my attention.  In that moment, the feel of my legs moving overwhelmed me.  The bend of my knees, the stretch of my muscles.  The momentum of my body as I propelled myself through space was the only thing I could concentrate on.  It boggles my mind how we walk every single day with no second thought.  I watch my cousin struggle to find his balance as he learns to stand and walk.  What is so intuitive to me is such a labor for him.  Beyond our toddler years, we walk on instinct.  We balance, move, coordinate our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones while doing a hundred other things.  We don’t need to think about the act of walking.

Then I hurt my knee.  For no real reason, it simple betrayed me.  While it is nearly back to normal, it is still stiff.  I still can’t straighten it.  I feel weak.  A small sprain changed my body.  My back ached because my stride was off.  My calf cramped and hurt because it was stretched and used differently.  My hips didn’t align.  Something so small threw my whole body off.  It’s been said for ages that you don’t know what you have until it is gone.  I think we don’t appreciate our bodies until they malfunction, the routine and mundane until they are interrupted.

I think one of the most amazing sensations I’ve had recently is the first drink of cold water.  I guess it’s a similar feeling when you take a drink of something hot on a cold day, but for just a moment, that chill runs down my throat and I can feel it moving into my stomach.  Eating comes as naturally as walking.  While we eat we talk and watch movies and do so many other things.  We may savor flavors and enjoy the feeling of fullness, but how often do I stop and feel eating?  It’s incredibly rare that I appreciate the act of nourishing my body.  However, there are still those cold drinks that wake me up, pull me into this body that carries me around, that I ignore much of the time. 

The body is simply amazing.  I’ve been especially aware of it lately with my minor injury.  That’s not to say that I ignore it most of the time, because I’m a hypochondriac and notice every bump, itch or tenderness.  It just never fails to amaze me when I learn something new about me.  The mere fact that I have been breathing this entire entry is amazing.  I recently talked with a friend about the sense of smell.  It is so closely tied to memory recall, to attraction, to a mother knowing her baby (in under an hour, 90% of mothers can identify their babies by smell alone!).  However, if asked to give up a sense, so many people choose smell.  It goes unnoticed and, thus, unappreciated.  I was blown away when I started learning about the hormone oxytocin.  In part, it  is released in a woman’s body when she breastfeeds and has intercourse.  It is a bonding agent.  We are designed, in a chemical way, to love our babies that we nurture and our partners.  It’s old news that our pupils dilate when we look at something (or someone) pleasing.  There are millions of these crazy little facts that seem so trivial, but they add up to something huge: the human body.

All of this simply serves as proof to me, personally, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  There is so much that has to work perfectly, work together, so much in place to sustain us, that all of this isn’t chance.  I’m sure some will argue that it’s million of years of evolution and adaptation, but I tend to believe that it’s simply the mysterious beauty of creation.  We are so intricate and ornate, still so mysterious, that a Creator far beyond our understanding is seen whenever I learn more about me.  That’s really not where I mean for all of this to go, but it simply did. 

This is a little disjointed and random, no where near as complete as I would like to be, and not the real writing that I had hoped to be working on, but it’s been a constant thought for me lately.  I’m just amazed that I don’t think about it more.

“Your body is a wonderland” –John Mayer