The Words

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll It’s all about the words, I guess. I’d estimate, based on an average of 500 per day, that I’ve posted about fifteen thousand words in the last thirty days. It has been both a pleasure and a struggle. Pleasure because I simply love words and since I can remember, reading them and writing them is the most consistent joy in my life. Yes, more than cooking or eating, more than playing with babies or kittens, more than napping. It is all about the words for me, because it is about connection. When I read, I am privy to the thoughts and dreams of someone who lives (or lived) a life that is not mine, and yet I discover myself in those pages.

When I write, I get to share, to tell my story, both the moments I witness the world outside and the moments that only I experience, inside. I get to play with words, like building sandcastles or cultivating a garden, ephemeral arts. Somehow, through the medium of sound, stories are also tactile. The act of writing is “like a physical need… Someone waiting for your words – even [a single reader is] what matter[s], because then you [have] a reason to be, to bear witness, which is what a… writer does.” (from A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith)

The struggle with words, with posting daily on this blog, is to believe that I can capture even a suggestion of what I want to say. Words are so frequently misused, so violently, so ignorantly thrown about. I cannot bear the thought that I might be a wastrel, unable to strike the smallest spark of light worth sharing.

I spent some time this morning with one of my favorite books: Roget’s Thesaurus. If you haven’t played with this juicy tome, I say try it. Although, I understand that it is not everyone’s cup of tea. Because it is a source of wordplay that I love, I got caught up in a frenzy of cross-referencing, seeking the many meanings of LARGE.

Due to my size, I have frequently been slapped by the word FAT and its many insulting variations. I try to remain cognizant of the irony, that in so many ways LARGE is considered a good thing. Just not regarding the body of a woman in this place and time. So, take a look at this partial list of the positive synonyms for LARGE, by way of closing out this month of NaBloPoMo.

ABUNDANT: copious, abounding, rich, overflowing.  AMPLE: enough, sufficient, plentiful, spacious, large.  BIG: huge, great.  BROAD: wide, expansive, capacious, full.  BOUNTIFUL: generous.  COPIOUS: lavish, profuse.  ENORMOUS: gigantic, immense, colossal, mammoth.  EXTRA: more, extraordinary, additional.  GRAND: sumptuous, splendid, magnificent, monumental, stupendous, mighty.  GREAT: numerous, big, imposing, conspicuous, grand, august, Olympic.  HUGE: tremendous, enormous.  LARGE: massive, substantial, sizable, gigantic, goodly, commodious.  PLUS: surplus, positive.  SUBSTANTIAL: considerable, solid, sturdy.

Food for thought?

In closing, here are some words from the essay In Praise of a Teacher, taken from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni:

“I always loved [the subject] English because whatever human beings are, we are storytellers. It is our stories that give a light to the future. …History is a wonderful story of who we think we are; English is much more a story of who we really are.”

Here’s to telling the stories of who we really are.

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Lego Me

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollConstruction.

De-construction.

Connection.

 

I think:           I am happier if I have been tending to my physical self…

I think:           I am happier if I have been tending to my spiritual self

I think:           I am happier if I have been tending to my creative self…

I wonder:            Do I really come apart like a Lego creation?

I wonder:            How do I put my self together?

I wonder:            Are these pieces of my self really so separate?

Visual.

My parts:

singles

 

 

 

Sometimes I feel like a jumbled pile:

jumblesorted

Sometimes I feel like I’ve sorted myself:

 

 

Striving:

reachSpilling:  chestStepping Through:  stepping

Lego artwork by Nathan Sawaya.  Check it out.

Travel

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollI am reminded of two poems. The first is called My Grandma as been a winter tree for years, and begins:

 I have been watching

changing autumn leaves

closely this year

seeking a metaphor.

I wrote that one many years ago.

The other is quite famous, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, which begins:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

If you know the poem (if not, take a look now) you know that in a few short stanzas the poet chooses a path to take and walks on, thinking:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

He concludes, ‘with a sigh’ that the choice he made ‘has made all the difference’.

This is a classic poem, which beautifully captures the moment of and ramifications of choices we make. But, to return to the reason I’ve included my little snippet, audaciously sharing space with one of the finest American poets…

I found myself, after our annual Thanksgiving Day road trip, thinking about the metaphor of that travel fiasco. Our car joins tens of thousands of others on a three-lane, modern highway, heading west. Obviously, using the speedy, wide, direct (cutting through mountains and valleys) route is the smart way to go. Newer is better, bigger is better, direct is better… it just makes sense. Even though we know that there will be too many vehicles and the road will become clogged, we take the on ramp and join the surge. And crawl for an hour and a half, covering perhaps 30 miles.

When it becomes obvious and inevitable that we will be late for the Thanksgiving meal, we choose to bail and try back roads, to make the trip a little ‘adventure’. Small towns, traffic lights (but not too many) and long stretches of road through beautiful snowy woods. Most of all we are moving and that is satisfying. There is more to the tale, concluding with our arrival just as grace was being said. But I am going back, once again to the search for metaphor.

When I was young, ‘just starting out’, as they say, I imagined that I would follow that straight clear highway into my future. I thought perhaps a career in journalism or a scholarly profession was my goal, just ahead, out of sight. But the direct, high-speed route seemed to be the obvious choice. Carry on, forward, full speed ahead.

Like Frost’s seemingly random choice of path, I don’t really know what factors led me to take side roads, but soon I lost sight of the highway. I could still hear the steady roar of passing vehicles, and that was often distracting. Constant, droning voices telling me to get back on the big road. Now. Take this turn and go back. Head for: career, success, achievement.

I didn’t take the turn. I never did go back to the high-speed road, with its promise of getting somewhere important. I wandered from one side road to another, having adventures, certainly hitting some rough patches, but never trapped in heavy traffic. There was always another side road, off of the side road, some of them without signposts. The slow-paced journey of my life does not require an arrival to satisfy me. I guess I’ll just keep seeking metaphors.

 

 

 

Gratitude

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollA partial list:

I am grateful to be female. Given the oppressiveness of patriarchy as I have experienced it personally and the persistent ugliness of its presence in the world, that may be surprising, but I am very grateful to be a woman.

I am grateful that I was a child in the 1950’s and early 1960’s; again, somewhat surprising, due to the difficulties in my personal story and the limiting social structure of the times. But I am grateful for the relative innocence of the era: when media was not ever-present and was somewhat more benign; when we children moved more freely within our small world, without the burden of fear and stranger danger; when playing, exploring and making things up was what children did. When our country was ‘between wars’.

I am also grateful to have lived into the 21st century and be experiencing the positive elements of electronic innovation, dizzying, utilitarian, seemingly endless; and the relative progress that has been made in the lives of girls and women.

I am grateful to all of the souls, living and dead, who have influenced me, through their presence in my life and the books they have written; particularly the spiritual teachers whose insights have and do sustain my faith and understanding of the universe.  I’m choosing to name, via initials, a few individuals whose perhaps unwitting guidance, at certain moments in my life, helped me to step onto entirely new paths.

Gratitude to MHB: who opened my eyes to a social political understanding of the world, birthing within me feminist, humanist and progressive values that remain central in my life.

Gratitude to PP: who opened my eyes to the power inside the world of dreams.

Gratitude to PL: who dragged me into recovery from addiction and forced my eyes open to the messages of hope and self esteem.

Gratitude to JC: who has listened to me and by that gift enabled me to speak, who understands me and by that gift has helped me to learn from myself, as well as others.

I am ever grateful to many others.  Although I’ve not named you specifically, you have been stalwart guides, supporters and fellow seekers in my life to date. I hope that you know not only who you are, but also what you and your love mean to me.

Yes, I am grateful for my friends and family, for my health, for the babies and young people that I am privileged to know and love, for my extraordinary daughter and her generosity, for my spouse and her willingness to build our lives together, for my parents who are gone and my siblings who remain, for my comfortable home and the limitless wonder and beauty of the planet and it’s life force.

Like I said, a partial list.

The Day After

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollThe announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer who killed Mike Brown, coming on the heels of reading about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the frightening reality of how many of the U.S. soldiers come to be there (joining the National Guard for the chance to go to college, then being deployed to fill the ranks of a ‘volunteer’ army) was too much for me yesterday.

Thus the title of my post: Too much wrong.

In reaction to these shameful manifestations of injustice, I began thinking about and investigating the research on privilege. There are apparently eight or nine agreed upon forms of privilege. I added one. I found the illuminating statements below on the website of Media Smarts, a Canadian organization. They helped me to frame my thoughts.

“… privilege is not merely about race or gender… it is a series of interrelated hierarchies and power dynamics that touch all facets of social life: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, gender identity, age, physical ability, [and body size.]”

“… privilege, discrimination, and social groups all operate within interrelated hierarchies of power, dominance, and exclusion. Just because someone is privileged in one way doesn’t mean they may not be underprivileged in another (and vice-versa). It is therefore important to be aware of the various groups to which one belongs in order to be able to question our own participation in a system of discrimination and privilege.”

“… the privileged group is the one that is commonly treated as the baseline against which the others are judged or compared – it is seen as ‘ordinary’ [or the ‘norm’.]”

So here is one list of the forms of privilege and who has it, as they are generally present in western culture. The information is mostly taken from the Media Smarts website, with some modifications added by me.

  1. Gender (male authority, stories and perspectives)
  2. Gender Identity (how one identifies and express oneself in gendered terms)
  3. Racial (institutionalized racism: system structured to privilege one group over others)
  4. Sexuality (heterosexuality assumed)
  5. Religious (WASP: religious practices and observances recognized as the norm)
  6. Education (access to higher education)
  7. Class (economic status & social class)
  8. Ability (able bodied, w/o mental disability or addiction)
  9. Body size (“In terms of media, it is extremely rare to find representations of individuals whose [body] does not conform to cultural expectations. In the rare instances that such characters are portrayed, their nonconformity is typically used to elicit… laughter, or may be portrayed as a kind of mental [disability].”)
  10. Age (youth)

This gives me a lot to think about.  I have a renewed awareness of the groups to which I belong.  At the very least, I want to remain more conscious of the ways that my privilege makes things easier for me in my daily life. I do not expect that it will be comfortable, but it seems critical to focus on my “own participation in a system of discrimination and privilege…”

The work I am attempting to do here, addressing issues of fat stigma, sexism, corporate greed and so on, feels like a privileged indulgence, unless I also honor these realities.  These seem like the right thoughts to carry with me into Thanksgiving Day 2014.

PS:  How to be a White Ally by Janee Woods

Bonding

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollI’ve been thinking about friendships forged in the workplace.  More specifically, I found myself thinking about my job history and my feelings about revisiting places where I have worked. I’ve had quite a few jobs in 45 years; many of them short term, leaving few memories. For instance, I can’t remember a single person I worked with in the drive-in movie theater in San Diego 40 years ago; not even a dimly recalled face. Then there are a number of jobs where I was the only employee, without colleagues to recall, only employers. Then there are the places where I actually did not like the people I worked with, which includes a couple of restaurants.

Not surprisingly, I made the strongest connections at the workplaces where I stayed the longest and stayed the longest at the workplaces where I enjoyed the best work relationships. Time is a huge factor in the building of these friendships; shared experiences form a bond that lays down neural pathways. That sounds wacky, but the more I read, here and there, about the brain, habits and behavior, the more it seems to me that our daily activities are always shaping and reshaping our brains. Be that as it may, I will not pretend to understand the rapidly expanding field of brain research; just sharing my gut response to what I read.

There are work friendships that rise beyond the shared experience bond. Sometimes there is just recognition of a kindred spirit. This awareness can be immediate, like a dazzling little burst of light. A few minutes chatting with someone makes the day go better or they are the one I turn to when there is ‘an issue’ on the job. Perhaps there is an occasional meeting for a meal outside of work, where personal lives are shared. Other times the camaraderie is revealed after leaving the job, when I find myself continuing to think of the individual and seek them out. In any case, those connections are a gift.

I’ve been reading a book called Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe.  The subtitle is: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War. As described by Doris Kearns Goodwin, an author whose work I admire tremendously, Soldier Girls “weaves together the stories of three very different but equally compelling women soldiers… [whose] stories provide an intimate window on life in the military, the impact of war and the difficult transition to home.”  I wanted to read the book in order to gain some insight into the experiences of women serving in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, something about which I feel woefully ignorant. My knowledge of those countries, their histories and the long-standing wars to which the U.S. continues to send troops is embarrassingly minute.

I have protested wars since the Vietnam era, while attempting to show support for ‘our troops’ when they are serving and thereafter as veterans. But really, I am shamefully out of touch and like most Americans, literally forget that these horrific conflicts are ongoing, with daily impact on tens of thousands of soldiers and their families. I am not proud of my ignorance. I am impressed that these women were willing to be so open and honest about their lives, thoughts and feelings, sharing their experiences with Thorpe. I am extremely grateful for their courage, as soldiers and as women.

The link with the topic of today’s post is that the friendships these women develop while in training and on active duty powerfully illustrate the bonding that arises from shared experience. These relationships sustain them in dramatic, stressful situations and in the humdrum of everyday activities. Their growth as individuals is shaped by the profound impact of helping each other survive. The caring and affection they display toward each other is enormous and inspiring. Their commitment to each other is deep, real and lasting and it’s also true that they suffer disconnection from each other when they return to the U.S. and struggle to re-enter their civilian lives. It’s a case of Both/And.

There is so much to learn; so much to think about. I encourage you to read this book. I hope you will and that perhaps you will share some of your thoughts on workplace friendships or any other aspect of friendships.

Why

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Yes, I have reached the point in the month of November when I am asking myself, frequently, ‘Why am I participating in NaBloPoMo?’ One answer is the choice to challenge myself; with an external motivator (accountability) I find that I become more stubborn and committed. Twice a year for the last seven or eight years, I have participated in a two week Ayurdevic cleanse (see explanation here) which is challenging on many levels. I always contemplate ‘bailing’ from the cleanse midway and I’m always glad that I have done it, at the end. The same thing was true with doing NaBloPoMo last year.

But that’s another, ‘Why?’ isn’t it? What is it about choosing to take and then meeting a challenge that feels good? Speaking for myself as an individual, I know that truly feeling a sense of accomplishment is rare and difficult. Other people can tell me that I have accomplished something significant (small or large, brief or long lasting), but I am not able to take that in, to feel the sense of accomplishment. Don’t know why, always been that way.

Speaking as a sample member of humanity, I wonder if some accomplishments just seem too ephemeral? Have we (perhaps I need to qualify ‘we’ as western culture…) become trapped by our concrete thinking? Does this explain, in part, the avarice, the drive to acquire money and possessions to establish achievement?

So many ‘Whys’ that I can ask myself. And then there is the other option, ‘Why not?’

Not

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Guess what?             I am not a victim.

What do I mean? Why is it a big piece of news for me?

I woke up at 5 AM this morning, obsessing about a brief article in the Globe yesterday and a careless comment made by someone who I know loves me and I was all bent out of shape. Got out of bed, came to this desk and began digging around on the internet to see if the N.Y. Times had also printed the item, from the Associated Press. As far as I can tell, they had not.  I got more and more outraged and worked up.  Maybe part of feeling ill was induced by lack of sleep, but the rest of it was from drinking poison.

Poison, you say?  What? Well, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this quote previously.  It is attributed to the Buddah.  If I have, sorry, it deserves repeating.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

It hit me hard the first time I heard it.  I’ve found it tremendously helpful in situations with other people, where I needed to let go of anger that wasn’t bothering them, only affecting me.   So clear, so simple, so true.

Well, this morning  I understood it differently. For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing and processing my hurt and anger re: a lifetime of fat shaming and stigma and the evils of the Processed Food Industrial Complex in all its parts.   This has been a cleansing and healing journey for me. But I have remained stuck in the anger more than I want to be. In a funny (not hah-hah) way, it became comfortable to be swaddled in outrage, which is only one small step removed from the longtime familiarity (comfort) of living in shame.     Not.

Each time I respond with visceral rage to the ugliness and ignorance (and in the case of this Globe/AP piece, sensationalizing spin of the media) of others, I dig myself in deeper. Ranting and railing against their behavior perpetuates my experience of feeling trapped and abused. ‘They’ may have been or may be victimizing me, but I’m the one who takes on the label of victim. I believe that articulating and expressing my anger was/is liberating.  It was/is an important step toward freedom from being locked in self-blame. But now I need to step out of that anger box and stop wasting my energy.

The PFIC is the enemy and exposing, for myself, the links between its various elements is really important. But it is not a battle, a war that I can win. Not an enemy that I can conquer, no matter how many facts I uncover, allies I discover, insightful connections that I make or words I write. That’s just how it is. I can still ‘fight the good fight’, as so many other, inspiring people have done and continue to do, confronting both local and global issues.  But as an individual, I cannot move forward in my life if I keep drinking the poison.

So, it’s a new day. Yes, I’m disappointed that the Globe editors chose to print an article, dramatically (and somewhat misleadingly) headlined: Global Obesity costs hits $2 trillion. They chose to emphasize the serious weight of the economic impact, rather than the sociological aspect of the issue.  I am so sick of that bias.

I went to the source, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, wanting to understand how the $2 trillion figure was calculated.  Can’t say I was able to decipher that information, but what I did find was an extensive and nuanced study, entitled How the World Could Better Fight Obesity. It is available for download, if you are interested.  The PFIC is in there, on the list of things that need to change. I wish the media would not choose to inflame bias and stigma with crappy headlines and lifting phrases like ‘a stark prediction’, when the report is, in fact, an honest look at what is and what could be done.   Grr.   Breathe.

As for the person who loves me, who for some reason chose to describe a group of people as including ‘…two really fat people’ and in response to my reaction, stated: ‘That was the most obvious thing about them.’; well, I’m stymied.  I’ll try to accept simply being puzzled by the choice and logic.  As I toss away the poison potion, I’ll hope to release the hurt. That is my intention.  I don’t want to hold onto any more hurt and anger. No more. Not swallowing it, not carrying it, not wasting time and energy on the victim life any more.  Let the anger fuel forward motion.

Pie

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollNo, this is not an essay about the iconic dessert for the upcoming family holiday (which is unfortunately, but unquestionably based upon a brutal, genocidal piece of ‘American’ history.) After all, the website where this blog finds it’s home, is named Eating Art Work, with the subtitle: A Food Life Story conversation. So it is logical to talk about food, or at least use food as an image or metaphor, right?

Actually, I was wondering which sort of pie you pictured when I wrote about pie charts a few days ago: dessert pie or pizza pie? I grew up in northern New Jersey (and as previously stated: ‘you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you cannot take the Jersey out of the girl’ – and that is so true, but why? Tangent.) In my hometown, pizza was definitively called pizza pie. In fact my parents would talk about ‘getting a pie for supper’, never mentioning the word pizza. Now I have spent my adult life here in New England, where ‘pie’ refers to a rolled crust with sweet, preferably fruit based filling.

Be that as it may… before I get totally lost in that lovely digression about food pies, savory and sweet, let me return to the pie chart, which is, of course, merely a circle, drawn on paper and divided geometrically into sections. In my post entitled Alone, I was reflecting on the desire (need) for more private time. The pie slices which I discussed were arbitrarily defined and so I’ve been thinking about what I said, what I want my life to look like and how, in fact, things are currently configured.

In a delicious bite of irony, the ostensible topic of my NaBloPoMo posts, Friendship (or Relationships) has been the area of my life that has taken the greatest ‘hit’ in the past 21 days. Writing daily blog posts takes a chunk of time out of my days and that has to come from somewhere, right? Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the writing exercise, but as a ‘former English teacher’ (like being a Jersey girl, you never stop being an English teacher) I’m unable to just type and post. Grammar, flow, word choice, logic, structure and certainly correcting typographical errors are all essential parts of the process and that takes time. The other day I realized that I am essentially writing an ‘in-class essay’ everyday.

So, I have slipped further behind than ever in my ‘responsibilities’ to friends and family. Promises to get together, unfulfilled. Personal emails, unanswered. Inquiries about health and babies, elderly parents and art shows, unspoken. I don’t like it. When I picture that pie chart and get agitated, I soothe myself with this reminder…   When I first became a mom, my older sister gave me some advice, which I have since passed on to countless other parents, when they obsess about what their child is – or is not – eating. She said words to this effect: “Do not obsess about what your child eats at each meal. Over the course of ten days, a child will eat a balanced diet.”

Honestly, I don’t know if this is precisely true, but there is a common-sense logic to the advice. First of all, stressing and obsessing does not help any situation, especially where children are involved. They pick up on the stress and things inevitably get messier, not better. Secondly, it makes sense to learn to trust the body, our own and our child’s, to express it’s needs and find balance. We are certainly subject to influences that teach us to ignore signals from our body. Letting children make choices about what they eat and when, empowers them and encourages them to practice ‘listening’ to their bodies.

Point being? I can practice trusting that things will balance out for me in terms of time spent on work (this writing) and time spent catching up with friends. And, that berating myself for being a ‘lousy friend’ is certainly not going to help me in any way.