This Is 36

Last night, I erased the past week from our dry erase five-week family calendar and filled in the dates for five weeks from now. I gasped when I wrote October 1 on the board. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the last couple of months of being 36, with a birthday in November.

I am amazed and comforted and excited about how my sense of self has continued to grow so much stronger and deeper in the past year.

During #thisis36, I left a job and waited for the just-right next job to come along. I broke up with a bad therapist. For the first time ever, I pulled off my shirt in the middle of hot yoga class to move in just my sports bra, something I thought I could never do five years and twenty pounds ago. That is, when I weighed twenty pounds less but wasn’t as fully at home in my body. The image in the mirror has grown older, but I’ve grown kinder towards her. Not that the process has been seamless. There were about two weeks over Christmas when I was aghast and ashamed of a large new wrinkle that seemed to appear overnight. I was thinking about all the ways I could fix it, then suddenly, like a ribbon above my head, appeared “Or…” Or, I could accept it. It is hard to adequately convey in words how that Or shocked my body. The power of acceptance rippled through me and propelled me through a doorway, set me free in a place that I hadn’t been before.

To feel my increasing sense of agency and power makes me happy to be alive. This is 36.

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“I’m so comfortable now.”

“I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don’t wear them anymore. You just can’t walk in them, and I’m so comfortable now.”
~ Emma Thompson, accepting the National Board of Review’s Best Actress Award in 2013

I grew up in the South and in church, which meant I grew up wearing high heels. When I went to college, I even wore full make-up and heels to classes. The first time I eschewed heels was after college when I was living in London, and I had places to go. I needed to walk long flights of escalators (real city folks WALK the escalators) and jump on Tube cars before the doors closed, and heels slowed me down and got caught on things. I still wore stilettos for nice occasions and to go dancing.

In recent years, I’ve begun to feel that there isn’t any occasion that necessitates wearing things that hurt me. Not that are simply less comfortable, like the difference between trousers and yoga pants, but are painful and proven to hurt my body for Pete’s sake, which high heels are.

The flats I wore to work today with my LBD, power suit jacket, and pearls.

I am thus thankful to Emma Thompson for her permission to forego heels. Even more importantly, though, her words have needled out the essence of feminism for me: I’m so comfortable now.

Years I’ve spent dismantling patriarchy in my heart and life. I’ve cried. I’ve prayed. I’ve voted. I’ve marched. I’ve talked to my therapist. I’ve created rituals with friends, to honor our sisterhood. I’ve read Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde and Roberta Bondi and Sue Monk Kidd and many others. It has been good and hard work, and it all comes down to this simple intention, this simple four-word North Star: I’m so comfortable now.

Everything that makes that true, stays. Everything else goes.

Earlier this year, I was getting Maggie, my toddler, ready for preschool. I had brushed her hair and was trying to convince her to wear a small bow clip to keep her hair to the side and out of her eyes. And, let’s be honest, because I think it’s cute. Because I let her wear her hair as she pleased in our family photos last autumn and her wispy blonde bangs going every which way made me afraid that people would think I hadn’t combed her hair. I was afraid of what other people thought.

Finally, I asked Maggie why she wouldn’t wear the bow, and she replied with gusto, “It’s not comfortable!”

There are few prouder moments I’ve had as a mother. I am so grateful to have two daughters as my reminders of the person I want to be. I try to teach them to be true to their selves, and they reflect back to me that law in moments when I forget it.

I hope one day my girls have the opportunity to live in a big city and run to catch buses. Wherever they are, I hope they choose the shoes – and all the things – that make them say to themselves, “I’m so comfortable now.”

*****

PS I am sensitive to the fact that saying that feminism comes down to, “I’m so comfortable now,” could come across like an egregious exercise in privileged white feminism.

I am not comfortable with the threat to their physical safety that women and people of color and members of the LGBTQIA community and nonconformists experience every day.
I am not comfortable with the gender wage gap.
I am not comfortable with harassment and discrimination.
I am not comfortable with a lot of things.
I am not comfortable with, yes, the privilege that I experience, in all my white feminism. I am working to be more aware of it and to destroy it.

What “am I comfortable” does for me is challenge me to continue the work of feminism that asks me every day to be radically accepting of my self and others. In that space of grace and acceptance, I am comfortable.

“If this isn’t nice, what is!”

What I’ve learned, from my earth-loving Unitarian Universalist church in San Diego (“this is our blue boat home”) and my own pantheistic leanings and from Kurt Vonnegut’s Uncle Alex: to wonder to my self, when I experience beautiful things, “If this isn’t nice, what is!

And that’s exactly what I was thinking when I took this picture.

The OR Principle

I discovered the OR Principle last year while standing in a fitting room, and it changed my life.

My wardrobe includes what is essentially a dozen variations on the same loose, soft material, you-can-breathe-in-it Loft blouse. One can never have too many of these blouses, and I was trying on a new one for summer. I looked in the mirror at my bare arms and thought, “I really HAVE to work on toning my arms.”

The words floated in my brain, and each letter was tipped with the same stones that line a flagellant’s whip. This is always how such thoughts appear to me. A whip that was handed to me in a fitting room many, many years ago when I was just a child, when someone pointed to my stomach and told me I needed to “lose that belly.” The whip was given to me as if it were my birthright as a woman. I was to carry it with me for life. It was to be used as necessary to force both body and soul to submit.

As women, whenever something doesn’t fit – whether it’s a blouse or a job or a relationship – our first instinct is to think of how we can change our selves. That is the default solution. That is the norm. Our realities and our bodies are the aberrations to be controlled. Squished, contorted, fit into the appropriate space.

But this time, as soon as I began to calculate how many gym classes I needed to take and how many calories I need to not take in order to get my arms in shape, a new thought formed and even escaped through my mouth: “OR.”

That’s exactly how I said it. It was a bold, 20-point font OR.

“OR, designers could start making shirts with some damn sleeves on them,” I said.

And everything changed.

In the year since, every time the whip appears above my head, there is an OR right behind it, gently placing its hand over the one holding the whip.

When I am feeling trapped by a problem at work or home, OR opens a door: “This situation is hopeless. I’ll never get it right. I’ll never be good enough. OR…… there may be a different way that I just haven’t thought of yet.”

OR is an invitation to a bigger life. OR opens up space.

OR has a great sense of humor. OR is the wise woman I’ve always wanted to be. The one who has seen it all. Who knows that the energy of her wild spirit should not be used up in keeping a running mental log of calories. OR knows that the way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on her body. OR knows that it is also perfectly fine to want sleeves on her shirt. OR’s body is soft and strong and sturdy. It exists outside the purview of others to judge. She is soft and strong and sturdy. She exists outside the purview of others to judge.

I am soft and strong and sturdy. I exist outside the purview of others to judge.

You do, too.

 

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Praise report

Some days are hard. You feel a little directionless and like you’re falling behind on EVERYTHING. Some days you come down with a stomach bug and will yourself to pull it together for your kid’s talent show at school. You don’t even have the energy to wash your hair, even though you realize {whisper} you haven’t washed it in several days.

And some days are great. Some days you wake up having had enough sleep and the sun is shining and you work all day uninterrupted and you GET SO DANG MUCH ACCOMPLISHED. #praisereport

Praise report

I’m a big believer in Praise Reports, as we used to call them in Sunday School. Not because I want to make my life look like it’s perfect – you know I’m also a big believer in #keepingitreal.

I believe in Praise Reports because gratitude and contentment are practices, and I have found the more I practice, the more natural they feel. I believe in Praise Reports because I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for a long, long time, and one of the most powerful antidotes is having a full cup emotionally. So when I experience goodness, I try to let it all in, drink it up, get full.

So. Praise Report: I love having returned to my job as a freelance fundraiser/grantwriter/social media guru. I’m currently focused on the last bit, and I love that I get paid to use social media to communicate. I find it engaging and exciting and meaningful. And fun. Did I mention fun?

And I love that I have more afternoons to pick this girl up from the bus stop. Just look at her. Those ridiculous dimples. Those eyes through which her smart and funny and creative soul shines. The upturned cuffs of her jeans with her Chuck Taylors, which I know she planned just so, because she loves putting outfits together, and I could see her being some sort of designer one day.

Praise Report. And all God’s children said, Amen.

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