Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Remember When I Wasn't This Big

On Self-Esteem, Selfies, and the Culture of Thinness

About a year ago, I woke up one day and realized that I had spent the last few years hating myself. Specifically, I hated my body. I dressed poorly, without any care for my appearance. It was a miracle if I put on anything other than poorly fitting yoga pants unless it was for work. If it was for work, I put in as little effort as I could get away with.

This wasn’t a case of me rebelling against a patriarchal society’s expectations of my appearance or a refusal to give in to the incessant demand of the male gaze. I wish I could say that it was. I wish I could say the whole thing had been an intense intentional act of rebellion towards an objectifying world, or a subconscious need to express that I consistently feel like an outsider, like the way I have worn a pair of doc martens for every single one of my graduations without intentionally every remembering I’d done it before or making a proactive choice to do so.

The truth was that I was revolted…by myself. I hated everything about my appearance – including and especially my size. I had done everything to try to get it under control, to get back to the weight of my early 20s. I’d done weird crash diets and gone through periods of extreme disordered eating, trying to keep my caloric intake under 500 calories a day. I’d done gym memberships and paid hundreds a month for a personal trainer, all for not. I’d tried every type of workout under the sun, from trendy things like yoga to Pilates, to retro things like step aerobics and jazzercise, to fad things like hip-hop abs. When I could no longer face the internalized shame of going to a gym because I was too self-conscious about my size, I bought expensive gym equipment for my house, so that I could hide both my shameful body and my attempts to regain some semblance of control over my fitness.

It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, I was a serious dancer. I danced sometimes four to five hours a day. Despite the ominous warning from my mom and grandmother at the tender age of eleven or twelve that I was fat, and if I wasn’t that I would be soon if I didn’t start watching my weight immediately, I’d never worried too much about it. I was never a petite girl. I was always broadly shouldered and thick-thighed, and I was never very muscular, but I was also limber, with powerful calves and a comfortable kind of grace. Clothes in stores fit me, and I tended toward feminine clothes, veering away from jeans and t-shirts, and toward dresses and skirts.

When I turned twenty-five, everything changed overnight. I started gaining weight at an astonishing rate. I put on fifty, then sixty, then seventy pounds in a year. I had terrible stretch marks, and none of my clothes – which, as a working, full-time student putting myself through school I couldn’t afford to replace – fit me. And the thing was – I hadn’t changed anything. Not the way I ate. Not my level of exercise (which, if anything, increased). In desperation, I went to my doctor and asked her to test my thyroid. Women in my family have struggled with thyroid problems for years, and I strongly suspected I was the latest genetic victim.

My doctor gave me a dim look. “You’re getting older,” she explained with a kind of bored patience, “your body is changing. It happens to women. You have to start watching what you eat and exercising more.”

“Please,” I begged. “Just run the test anyway.”

Turns out, my doctor owed me an apology. My thyroid levels were so low as to be “dangerously low.” The secret to my weight gain, and the decade of self-loathing that followed, was genetic.

Since then, nothing has helped. Through medication I have gotten my weigh to stabilize somewhat, but no amount of effort has helped take it off. Add to that a scary pregnancy-turned-emergency surgery that left me alive but with an ugly scar across the entirety of my abdomen, and I couldn’t stand the way I looked.

I didn’t care if my clothes didn’t fit, as long as they hid my hideous body. I didn’t do much with my hair; I wore no makeup. I didn’t even care all that much if things matched. If I walked past a mirror, I avoided looking at myself, and if someone took a picture, I would go through great pains to avoid being in it.

Me, as an Angel, at the live performance
of Welcome to Nightvale, February 2014
During the time this was going on, which spanned entire years of my life, I genuinely hated myself. I didn’t even want to shower because it meant seeing myself without clothes on. Eventually it affected everything. The insecurity bled into other aspects of my life. I thought I was entirely unattractive. I lost confidence in my marriage. Even my professional confidence suffered. When I didn’t get a job, I was convinced it was, at least in part, because I wasn’t attractive enough.

Then sometime last year, it occurred to me that most of the disgust I felt was entirely in my head. The specific impetus for that revelation isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is the sudden revelation that the biggest problem with my body was how I saw myself.

Right about that time, I saw an essay from a woman about body image and selfie culture. FN1. Amidst a sea of essays about selfies were absolutely the worst thing to ever happen to women and/or culture, here was a woman talking about how selfies were helping her. She talked about how she hid from photos because she was ashamed of her body until she had a life threatening illness. After she recovered, she realized that there were no photos of her for years prior to her illness, and that had she died, her friends and family – who loved her and had come swiftly to her with support when she became ill – would have had nothing to remember her by. So she decided then to stop hating her body – her plus sized but otherwise healthy body – and accept that she was loved for who she was, a fully-abled, capable, beautiful woman. She even went on to see, in the photos she no longer avoided, things she liked about her appearance.

At the beach, Christmas 2013
This was a strange kind of revelation for me. It doesn’t take me than fifteen seconds online to find photos of women who don’t fit the current slim beauty standard being berated for showing their bodies in the public sphere, digital or otherwise. Any woman over a size six who has the audacity to demonstrate any kind of pride in her appearance will be immediately raked over the coals. Youtubers like Cora at VintageorTacky and Loey Lane take unbelievable amounts of criticism over their size positivity pieces. FN2. I actually expect I’m going to get some similar comments just for posting this piece. I occasionally get them now, without writing about body positivity. FN3.

So I started taking photos…of myself. I no longer took empty landscapes. On my frequent solo road trips, I held out the camera and put myself in the photo. When a friend wanted to take a photo of us together, I leaned in, instead of away. And yes, I succumbed to that self-congratulatory trend of the moment – the selfie. I take selfies all the time now, sometimes several times a week. And I don’t just take them – I post them. I put them on my Instagram and my Facebook page. I make David lean in with me at weddings or on vacation; I take them with my cats when I am happy to be home.

And I am here to tell you something, dear reader. Every day that I take a photo of myself and think, “wow, I like this; I am posting it,” I gain back a little bit of love for myself. Because, yes, there is something about selfies that is both self-congratulatory and narcissistic.

But let’s look at the real meaning of those words. As a woman who does not conform to stereotypical beauty standards, it turns out that celebrating myself, congratulating myself on my own inner and outer beauty, establishing my voice and my style and my self-expression as something I feel comfortable putting out into the world because I can find something everyday – even something small – to love and appreciate about myself? That’s a radical act. That’s an act of rebellion. And, perhaps most importantly, that’s an act of love.

I am not going to spend the rest of my life hating myself because I don’t look the way the world tells women we should look. I am going to take better care of myself – of my body, of my appearance, of my being. Because what my disheveled appearance of my past days was reflecting was an inner feeling that I wasn’t even worth my own time, much less anyone else’s. And I refuse to live like that anymore, to be embarrassed or ashamed or afraid. Because that is not who I am when I am being my best self.

As Ani DiFranco once eloquently wrote: “I wanted to take up lots of room. I wanted to loom.” Women who take up space in the world take a lot of flack for it. We’re culturally trained not to be too loud, too assertive, too physically or spiritually large. Where men are culturally trained to assume that any and all available space is absolutely their purview, women get literally and symbolically squeezed out and shunted to the side.  But some of us were not meant to make ourselves smaller. Some of us were just made that to take up space; we talk loud, we laugh loud, we speak up, we challenge authority, we make our own way. We even make love loud.

I am one of those women.  I am never going to be smaller than my shadow on the wall. And I don’t want to be.

El Hubs and I, getting pretty
for a wedding, August 2013
I’m not one to promote empty vanity, but I’m here to tell you that self-loathing can be equally, if not more, destructive. So my selfie indulgence and my Sephora VIB Rouge status doesn’t mean that the world should revolve around me, that my self-worth is equivalent to the size and cost of my make-up collection, or that I am only as good as that tilted angle selfie I took today. It doesn’t mean that I mistake surface for depth, or that I will trade substance for shallowness. It doesn’t mean that I will determine my own worth by my exterior.

But It does mean that I will no longer let my exterior define my value. I will no longer neglect myself because I think the world doesn’t value my appearance and I have no right to be seen. And I will no longer kill myself to fit into a box that was never big enough for me anyway.

I am a fully-abled, educated, assertive, smart, attractive woman. And it is about time I started acting like it. And one of the things that made me realize all these things about myself was taking self-portraits. Was forcing myself not to look away. Was confronting who I was, and learning to love it, piece by piece, one dreamily filtered digital Polaroid at a time.

When I leave this world, I will leave behind me a stream of bits and bites that show that I was here, and that reflect who I am: someone who lives big and loves big, who likes good food and good friends and a good show on a Friday night. Someone who enjoys music and art and travel. Someone who was generous and kind and had a full life. Someone who was worth seeing, worth knowing about, worth the space I took up.

New Orleans for my
birthday March 2014
And yes, I will also be someone with a massive collection of perfume and make-up, someone who enjoyed the occasional manicure, and someone who learned a little something about skin care. Someone who learned to love and protect and appreciate herself enough to take the time to appreciate the body she was in and the life that came with it.

As a student of history, this is part of my way of telling others, “I was here.” As a feminist, it’s my way of saying, “I am here, and I am proud, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.” And as someone who loves and is loved by others, it is a way of letting the people who can’t be with me every day see a little bit of my life.

And the craziest thing is that –when I began to allow myself to love and appreciate and even celebrate my appearance a little – how happy it made the people who loved me. How celebrated my confidence was by the people who wanted me to be kinder to myself. How glad they all seemed that finally I could see a little of what they see in me all the time.

I’m not saying that this doesn’t make the beauty industry less opportunistic or exploitative. I’m not saying it alleviates the psychological or emotional perils of the problematized self in a digitally curated age. I’m saying that – as with all things – the answer is often in the implementation. For me, loving myself enough to be willing to face myself, and to let others see me? That’s progress. And I appreciate the selfie as a tool in the ceaseless war of self-doubt.

So here’s three cheers for the selfie, and for the small role it can play in the struggle for self-acceptance in an often critical world that can force one to internalize a lot of unrealistic expectations. I appreciate that, in a year of selfies, I can see that most of what I disliked was all in my head, and I can now focus less on unrealistic and, given my medical restraints, impossible goals about my weight and focus instead on having a healthy, active lifestyle in the body I have, no matter what size it is.

“I remember when I wasn't this big,
and now ya'll wanna act like you helped me get here, yeah.
Oh, now everybody wanna love me?
Try to knock me down but I'm strong,
did all this on my own.
Ain't got no time for no new friends,
so for now just leave me alone.
I don't need y'all anyway…

And if you wasn't here when I was down,
then you won't be here when I'm up.
Now the same one you looked over will be the same one that blew up.
Ain't it funny how this life thing works?
Just when you think it's finished is when it all begins.
Go from doubts to having the thought it might work.
It goes up and down and then it starts again…”

~ “Don’t Need Y’all,” Iggy Azalea


FN1. I tried very hard to find this essay. If anyone sees it or knows the one I’m talking about, please let me know.

FN2. I think Loey’s piece, “Why Men Hate Fat Women”, is particular poignant.

FN3. Not that you will see them, because I filter like a mo fo, and if you don’t like that, well, I don’t give a flip, because this is my corner of the internet, troll.

And for that one special ex who likes to call me names specifically targeted at my size whenever he gets the opportunity, let me tell you something – I may be large, but you’re cruel, and if I had to choose, I’d rather be me any day of the week. So you? You can suck it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Top Ten Things I Learned from Freedom Day 2014

10. The Fourth of July is more fun when you call it Freedom Day.

Being able to yell, “Freedom!” and having people yell, “Freedom!” in return makes for a great party rallying cry. Frankly, it’s just really fun to do any kind of call and answer, holiday or no.

In all seriousness, though, it also makes you think about the difference between patriotism, nationalism, and jingoism, about performative patriotism in all forms, from say joining the armed services to attending protest rallies to wearing items sporting the flag. We’re a very performatively patriotic citizenry here in the U.S., and it’s good to stop and consider what that says and means about us as individuals and as a people, both internally and within the international community.

9. The best kind of birthday cake is one made for America.

I dunno why birthday cake tastes better when you keep shouting, “Happy Birthday America!” but it does. Just trust me.

8. Most of these best films for Fourth of July viewing are missing one of the very best options imaginable…as we discovered yesterday.

I looked at tons of recommended viewing/marathon lists and not one of them had the movie we finally settled on, Varsity Blues. The film actually starts with red white and blue and the first line is literally, “America has a lot of rules.” This film bleeds ‘Merica through and through, and I appreciate that – in the context of the film – this also means a kind of skepticism about following trends or people blindly, an independent spirit, and a willingness to stand up for others and/or what you believe in, even if it means losing something important to you personally. Also, Texas! And football. On the whole, a perfect Freedom Day choice.

7. YouTube has a kind of hilariously good ability to make mix tapes for your Freedom Day partying/aimless driving.

Seriously, you turn on the YouTube and BAM! Here’s a list of weird, strangely patriotic music….kind of? Putting David Byrne’s “America” next to 2LiveCrew “Banned in the U.S.A.,” Lana Del Rey’s “National Anthem,” and Cimorelli’s “Made in America,” you definitely get Americana with an edge. And if your car stereo is swank like mine, you can stream that playlist right through your speakers. Awwww, yeah.

6. There are a lot of Freedom-related smells I enjoy.

I like the smell of gunpowder. I like the smell of bonfires. I like the smell of smoking meat. I like the smell of sweat and salt and sunscreen, the perennial scents of summer. I like the smell of summer fruits – strawberries, watermelons, blackberries. And then there’s the leathers – they smell like new boots and worn saddle – and incenses and desert flowers.

Which is to say that, yes, to me Freedom Day smells a lot like home. I guess you can take the girl of Texas, but you’ll never take the Texas out of the girl. I wish I had Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories, but since I didn’t, I opted Tauer Perfumes L'Air du desert marocain, which is meant to capture the experience of “finding peace in a room, lying on the bed, exhausted from the heat of the day, with the window open, letting the cool air in which still is very dry and filled with the scents from the near desert and overlayed with the spicy scents of the streets below.” Portland may not be Houston hot, but hot is hot, and this is what I always think of in the high heat of summer, wherever I am.

5. I have become slightly more baller at fancy eye make-up than I realized.

I saw this awesome #MUA video of a blue gradient eye makeup and decided I really wanted to try it. I think I did a pretty good job (see the photo) annnnnd I got randomly complimented specifically on my eye makeup, so I am calling that a Freedom Day success story.

4. El Hubs has discovered his summer Glühwein beverage creation equivalent – Sangria!

For years now, David has been rocking the glühwein for our winter holiday gatherings. Summers, however, have been less party beverage defined. Thanks to our housemate coming home with five bottles of free white wine and some season fruit inspiration of David’s part, I think we’ve settled on our wine+booze+fruit drink for warmer days. The beverage was delicious, there was plenty of it, and we all enjoyed it, so I think the white wine sangria is definitely a hit!

3. I really like white wine sangria, but like it a lot less when I am wearing it.

I managed to dump a lot of sangria on me during a typical Diana-is-a-klutz disaster, but the nicest thing about a white sangria is that at least it didn’t stain my clothes. Was I sticky? Yes. But that was the extent of my unhappiness, and when it comes to me and my klutziness, that’s a success story. Again, we’re calling that a Freedom Day win.

2. We’ve created a new holiday game!
On Saturday, El Hubs and I created a new 4th of July weekend competition/event/form of entertainment.

You and your friends select the non-alcoholic Americana beverage of your choice (we had unnameable custom-called giant Starbucks beverages, but would also accept things like a giant drink from Sonic, a 72oz Slurpee, etc.). Then you drive around various neighborhoods in your city, comparing their relative 'Freedom' and 'Merica' scores.

For every house/vehicle you pass with tasteful, moderate Independence Day decorations (a tasteful bit of bunting, tiny row of sidewalk flags), said neighborhood gets a 'Freedom' point. For every house/vehicle you pass that either looks like it had been hosed down in American regalia OR has some sort of obvious over the top spirit going on (I'm looking at you, guy with a giant American flag attached hastily to a 2x4 that is tied to the gate of your truck), said neighborhood earns one 'Merica' point. Bonus points are awarded for 'Permanent' installations in either category (e.g. someone with an obviously permanent flag pole and flag set up in their yard; something with a patriotic paint job on their vehicle).

This leads to both amazing conversations and photos. Why is wealthy neighborhood A so much freer than wealthy neighborhood B? Why did small municipality X feel so 'Merica-inspired they covered their street construction in flags? What demographics lead to overt expressions of various forms of patriotism? What do these expressions represent and how they differ? Why do some people with lots of money still have such terrible taste?

So many questions! Plus you get to drive around listening to patriotic music (Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Sr., etc.) while yelling "Freedom!" or "'Merica!" and pointing or taking the occasional photo.

1. I sort of love all this patrio-nationalistic nonsense all the same.

The thing is, I genuinely enjoyed the decorations. Like I was kind of sad I hadn't decorated our house by the time I got home. Hell, I even tear up whenever I hear "Proud to be an American," and I'm fine with that.  So I think the key is to recognize there's a little ingrained overt patrio-nationalistic in all of us and to smile and wish people a happy fourth if they look at you funny if you're playing our little as-yet-unnamed-game. 

And with that – I’ll take my leave. I hope you all had a great weekend, and I wish my American readers a happy Freedom Day to all.

"He says to 'be cool' but I don't know how yet.
Wind in my hair, hand on the back of my neck.
I said, "Can we party later on?"
He said, 'Yes, yes.' (Yes.)

Tell me I'm your National Anthem.
(Ooh, yeah, baby, bow down, making me so wow, wow.)
Tell me I'm your National Anthem.
(Sugar, sugar, how now, take your body down town.)
Red, white, blue is in the skies.

Summer's in the air and baby, heaven's in your eyes.
I'm your National Anthem."

~ "National Anthem," Lana Del Rey

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Being John Wesley: A Few Words On Art, Life, and the Unknown Impact of Others

This weekend marked the anniversary of my ten-year college reunion.  I was on my class committee, but unfortunately ended up extremely sick on Friday.  Consequently, I was stuck in bed most of the weekend and only rallied to make it to the retirement party of a beloved campus icon and staff member today because there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to celebrate a staff member who meant so much to me.

Unfortunately, being sick meant missing the opportunity to spend time with the one person I really wanted to see at reunion: my sweet friend Bonnie. Bonnie was a tremendously talented woman I had the good fortune, not only to meet in college, but to work closely with during our individual and joint quests to top each other as the bigger overachiever in the Lewis & Clark College History Department.  Bonnie was every bit as passionate as I was about studying history, learning the research and analytical skills to be a good historian in her own right, and ensuring the stories of those who were likely to be overlooked or lost to the sands of time be captured and retold, so that we might learn from all those who went before, not only those who were privileged in moment of their lives.

Bonnie made me a better student.  She was my partner when I faced the rare and dreaded group project (something I have never been a fan of); she was my reciprocal support system and study buddy when the nights of research went long; and she was someone I respected enough to want to compete with, to want to earn the respect of, and whom I desired to share my work with, so that it might be improved in the sharing.  When it came to history, Bonnie was my cheerleader, champion, critique partner, and friend. 

But Bonnie helped me grow in a different and arguably more important way.  When I met Bonnie, she was far further along in her feminism than I was.  While I was trying to figure out what feminism meant to me and the kind of feminist I wanted to be, Bonnie was helping found the Womyn’s Center, organizing The Vagina Monologues, and single-handedly putting together a week of Take Back the Night events.  Most of the truly feminist programming that happened while I was a student at Lewis & Clark was run, in large part, by Bonnie.  I spent most of my time in college being a feminist academic, learning to parse thick texts and integrate my radical feminism into my already established philosophical framework and life experiences; meanwhile, Bonnie was busy being the hands-on activist and advocate it would take me years to become. 

When I met Bonnie, we both had the same dream: to become American historians and professors of history like our shared academic mentors. However, as way led to way, Bonnie stayed on the path to academia, while I stumbled into other interests and opportunities.  I don’t regret my choices, but I will say that my own inability to maintain the kind of passion and dedication we once shared deepened my respect and admiration for Bonnie as I watched her press on in the face of adversity where I would have turned back.

I discovered today, upon receiving a copy of Bonnie’s now completed doctoral dissertation, that my name appears in the acknowledgements.  Bonnie calls me her “first friend to love history.”  But if I am her first friend to love history, then Bonnie was my first true feminist friend.  Without her, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today; I am also fairly certain this blog would not exist. 

What stunned me about finding my name in Bonnie’s dissertation acknowledgements most was that  I had no idea I’d made such an impact on her life.  Similarly, I suspect she has no idea she had such a significant impact on mine.  At the time, we were just two young women who shared a passion for history, story-telling, and the secret untold stories of women and children.  We ate together, studied together, grew together, and never once did it occur to us at the time that we were shaping each other into the adults we’d later become.

The last thing shared by our outgoing Vice President of Campus Living at his retirement party today was this charge to all in attendance, borrowed from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”  I’ve been thinking about those words a lot, and about Bonnie’s dissertation note, and about those two girls pouring through the books in the reference section of the library over a decade ago.

You never know who is going to happen into your life and, though you don’t know it in the moment, change you in a subtle but fundamental way, like a rock thrown into the pond of your being, rippling out and out forever.  It may be the girl with the stripped stockings and spiky blonde hair with pink bangs who is willing to match you late night minute-for-sleep-deprived-minute on a research project, and in turn teaches you not just about history or feminism, but also of how much you are actually capable of when you are pushed to do your best.  It may be the lovely woman with the vintage dresses and classic sense of style who introduces you to your first beautiful perfumes, sparking a passion for olfactory art that changes forever the way you interact with the world.  It may be the kindly old vice president who encourages you to stand up for yourself when you’re fighting with the entire theatre department to bring new works of art and new collaboration to a college; it may by the young, passionate sound designing roommate whose work on a beautiful play inspires you to think about what art is and what it means to create something, then to pick up a pen and start writing again for the first time in weeks.

You never know who will change your life; you never know when you might change someone else’s. And since you don’t know, since you may never know, whose life you are changing in the moment, then perhaps that makes Wesley’s charge even more timely, and therefore appropriate:

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.

You just never know when you might be the person who makes all the difference.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a copy of The Student Body: A History of the Stewart Indian School, 1890-1940 to read.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

There is no home like the one you've got...

Updates from Rwanda, Part 3

You know that scene in Almost Famous, where William Miller is getting further and further into life with the band and farther away from his home and life before he got the gig with Rolling Stone Magazine?

 He's on the bus, and he's freaking out because he is sort of feeling the last of his normalcy slipping away, and he turns to Penny Lane and says, “I need to go home!”

 And then Penny smiles, slow and wide, holds up her empty palm and pretends to blow something out of it into his face, waggles her fingers, and says, “You are home!”

That is what the last few days have felt like.

The ex-pats here keep trying to get me to stay longer...or permanently. They keep proposing options, both ridiculous and realistic. They have offered to pass me around as a live-in counselor and cook. They have suggested I teach at one of the local tech schools, and even offered to get me a tour. One particularly alcohol-soaked night, it was suggested I learn to distill vodka from potatoes on the internet, and then start Kigali's first distillery. I even have a backing offer.

I've only been here about twelve days, but strangely, I could see it. Of all the things I thought I could imagine when I not only left home for the first time, but of all places, went to Africa, I did not imagine liking it enough to be able to imagine myself living here.

And yet...I could see it. I could imagine taking in generation after generation of Peace Corps. volunteers who wanted a safe place to live with hot running water. I could imagine working here, living here, even driving here, which has to be one of the scariest endeavors available. Kigali, for all its problems, is beautiful. It's decently well-organized. It's relatively safe.

There are things I would miss: easily accessible and wide varieties of cheese, for one. Any hope of decent internet. Western healthcare. American television. Obviously I would need to find a way to get my perfume collection here in one piece.

But there are so many things here I can already see myself missing when I go back: fresh and plentiful fruit juices, glass after glass. The beautiful countryside with its lakes and mountains, which I am only just starting to explore. The art, the music, the dancing, the textiles. The flowers that grow everywhere, in more kinds than I have seen outside botanical gardens, all fragrant and bright. And I'll tell you this: I eat a helluva lot better in Africa than I ever do in the U.S.

I knew that coming here was going to be an adventure. And that was good. I needed a little adventure in my life. A smidgen of upheaval. Some mild shakubuku. 2014, the year of doing things I never imagined I'd do.  It seemed like a theme worth embracing.

I did not expect to come here, look around, and think, “Yes, I could live here. I could be okay with getting my own electricity and water. I could adjust to the less than reliable internet. I could be happy here. I could learn French, and even a some Ikinyarwanda. I could live this life.”

I realize a huge part of my feelings about this have to do with the relative safety of Kigali, my high amounts of contact with other Americans, and the general high quality of life I'm experiencing here. Nonetheless, I did not expect to find myself thinking, “Yes, I could like and even love living in Africa.”

I miss my friends back home, but I don't miss home itself in the way I expected. It's an interesting, discovering new things about myself.  It's nice to know that even well into my thirties, I am not done growing, changing, becoming who I am supposed to be.  Any reports of my death have been exaggerated, even in my own mind;  I am still, very much, alive.

And this feeling of fitting, of being bigger than I thought I was, more capable of embracing newness, chaos, change -- it's wonderful. It reminds me again how often we live our lives small, thinking we are only capable of navigating a thimble worth of experience, when inside we are vast oceans of being. At the end of the day, our boundaries are defined more often by our fear than by our own capacity.

I would like, very much, to be less afraid.

Today I am wearing Lavanila Laboratories Vanilla Grapefruit. Available at Sephora, Vanilla Grapefruit is described as follows:
An uplifting citrus, this addictive blend of juicy pink grapefruit, fresh lime, crisp cedarwood, and warm Madagascar vanilla is fresh and inviting. Kissed by sunshine, this unique scent lifts the spirits.

Each fragrance starts with a warm base of Madagascar vanilla and layers on a unique blend of pure essential oils for an exquisite expression of nature that captures a mood, a memory, or a moment in time. Hailed as the world’s first healthy fragrance, natural technology infuses organic sugar cane alcohol with skin-saving botanicals and antioxidants for a modern twist on the classic art of perfumery.

Notes: Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Bergamot, Orange, Cedarwood, Madagascar Vanilla.
Sephora describes Vanilla Grapefruit's style as “Exotic. Sensual. Addictive.” Maybe that's why I keep respraying it. On application, the grapefruit note is strong, but fades quickly into a mixture of grapefruit, vanilla, and lime that smells more like those chewable fruit candies than actual fruit to me. That isn't a knock, by the way. I love those things. I just wouldn't reach for this one looking for a realistic fruit scent.

After about an hour, a lot of that candied smell burns off and Vanilla Grapefruit settles into a scent that is more woody and powdery than foodie or floral. The bergamot is very faint on me, but I get a nice balance of cedar and a vanilla that reminds me of the big tins of puff powder with giant pink powder puffs I used to get as holiday gifts when I was a little girl. Those things only ever smelled like one of two things: roses or vanilla. (Honestly, it's a wonder I love both notes so much. I guess I figure I'm spicy enough on my own that adding a little sweet certainly can't hurt.)

Vanilla Grapefruit is decently long lasting. I can still smell it faintly over six hours along. In terms of sillage? Moderate. I wouldn't take a bath in it, but if you're a careful sprayer, you can wear it without giving anyone around you a toothache.

I'm sure all this sugar is going to make everyone who sniff this feel like Vanilla Grapefruit is the province of fifteen year old girls.  Well let me tell you, I am no teenager, and I get a lot of compliments on it, so don't right off it's light, fizzy fun as too youthful for you without trying it out first.

Vanilla Grapefruit is available from Sephora in a 75ml spray for $58. I feel like this is a pretty good price for what you're getting. As always, I recommend trying before you buy.

I could only find one other review from Musing of a Muse.  Too bad for you fumies out there.  Vanilla Grapefruit is a nice little scent and I will always remember it as part of my trip to Rwanda.

I have got so much to give.
I swear, I do.
I may not have nine lives,
but this one feels brand new.
Yes I've lived a good one.
I have tried to be true.
There are some things I never realized
'til I met you.
How the wind feels on my cheeks
When I'm barkin' at the moon!
There is no home like the one you've got
'cause that home belongs to you!

~ “Barking at the Moon,” Jenny Lewis

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fools Like Me.

Dear reader:

I've been working on a new book lately, and it's been interesting to think about what it means to have the power to destroy someone else's life. In my current work-in-progress, one of my characters has a significant advantage over the other, and has all the necessary information and evidence to put an end to the other, rather permanently. Some would even argue, in the context of the situation, that she should.

So I've been thinking a lot about love, and about trust, and about vulnerability. Because I feel like it must take either great trust or great stupidity to put yourself in that position. Some people would probably call it idiocy or naivety, but to me, it seems like something else.

Are you sure you've got the right number?
Is it me you wanna talk to tonight?
Everyone in town's got your number.
Everbody's got you pegged right.
Is that why you got in touch with me?
Oh I guess you must be, running out of fools.

It's a vulnerability and that, in itself, when the person is completely aware of what they're doing, of the kind of power they're handing the other person, requires a kind of faith. It's a form of trust. And to give someone everything they would ever need to turn your world upside and leave you with nothing more than the wasted, smoking ashy ruins of what you had before has to require a special kind of belief in that other person, a willingness to believe they won't simply nuke you from orbit just because they can.

Marni and I talk about this a lot, both in terms of our work and in terms of our lives. We debate whether it is worth it to take that chance. We both tend to be big-hearted people who are quick to embrace newcomers and make a home for them in our lives, in our hearts. We've both been pretty deeply screwed over in the past as a consequence.

One could presume that, as writers and therefore necessarily also students of human nature, we'd both be a little more cynical. Both personal experience and media would tend to teach us that this is, frankly, a stupid way to live a life. That we could be the kind of cool, level-headed, disaffected heroines we tend to like if we could just take a step back and see people for who they are, not for whom we hope they will be.

You left me there without a warning.
Your goodbye was even colder than ice.
Didn't bother you I was crying.
Now you wanna break my heart twice?
Is that why you got in touch with me?
Oh I guess you must be, running out of fools.

Instead, I think we are true romantics. We both, regardless of previous pain, are willing to remain open to the possibility of love, friendship, kinship, and closeness with new people as they come along. We both believe that it is simply better to take that risk than be closed off to any possibility whatsoever.

Sure, we can mentally play just about storyline all the way through to the end, arranging and rearranging the pieces of a person's life and their relationships like so many chess pieces on board.  You put enough pieces in play, and you can see what the ending will look like -- take you opponent's queen off the board and they're vulnerable, move a knight to intercept an unwanted encounter and shore up your player's current position, leaving them better off than before.

But just because you can see a potential ending coming doesn't mean you can avoid it. It doesn't even mean you shouldn't try playing out the line just to see, even if it reads very clearly, right there in your crisp new edition of Modern Relationship Opens, "slight advantage to opponent."  Sometimes the point of playing is the pain; sometimes that is how a person has to learn and grow.

You got back to my name in your little black book.
Tell you what – I bet you forgot how I even look.
Yes you did.

People are not like a national park.  You can't pack in and pack out of someone's life, changing little, doing no harm on your way.  Your life ends up scattered with the debris of someone else's passing regardless of their intent.  Nobody comes into your life and manages to avoid stepping on the moth; time is linear, and when they step on those details in your lives, it's like stepping on the butterfly -- it changes your future inexorable, permanently, and forever.

To quote the ever popular John Green, "You don't get to decide whether or not you get hurt in this life. But you do get to decide who hurts you."

If I have to choose between being trusting and taking a little pain in exchange, I'll do it. I'd rather have the good things you get in exchange than nothing at all.

So go ahead with all your sweet talking,
go ahead for all the good it can do.
Have yourself a dime for the talking,
then I'm gonna hang right up on you,
'cause this time, you're not getting through to me.
Oh I guess you must be, running out of fools,
even fools like me.
~ “Fools Like Me,” Neko Case