Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.
The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?
Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.
The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.
So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.
4 Comments »
Well, that might be overstating things, but yesterday at lunch, my co-worker relayed the story of his friend who will be engaged soon, and the fact that her sister spilled the beans after shopping with the fiance, and then told the not-quite-yet-bride-to-be that the ring choice would “grow on her.” Because the sister is a royal fucking cuntbitch (CB), as I was quick to point out, and the sister has been jealous and sabotage-y of NQYBTB throughout the relationship because she wanted a boyfriend and SHE wants to get married first and SHE never obviously grew up listening to Marlo Thomas and Friends singing “Free To Be, You and Me” in which we learn that bitches who insist on “Ladies FIRST” and behaving really selfishly will ultimately get you eaten by tigers. or Lions. Or something, but it would be a horrible, mauling death. With the exception of Queen Latifah and her awesome song “Ladies First,” because nobody fucks with Queen Latifah.
So after hearing this story, I ripped into the CBSister, because that is some lame shit, putting your own insecurities and problems with the world onto someone else’s joy, and how lucky she is that I’m not CBSister’s sister, and he could only respond with the fact that NQYBTB is just hoping she can grow onto this ring whenever it happens and she’s not mad at her sister. To which I responded, “NQYBTB is a HELLUVA lot nicer than I am,” and was met with vigorous nodding.
I’ll own it. I will say, in my defense, I do not like hurting people and I work hard to be diplomatic and empathetic. But the flip side is that I’m blunt as hell and unafraid to call people on their shit, if they’re being extra shitty. Guess that just means it takes a strong, secure person to be my friend and stay in my life! I think Queen Latifah and I could kick it for sure. AND Monie Love. Where did she go? I loved her.
Not that kind of prepper, by the way; I don’t believe the US is going to descend into madness and all the utilities will be shut off while we have a new zombie-esque revolution. I’m talking about meal prepping for the week, and holy hell, it does take a chunk of work & here’s hoping it pays off!
Between yesterday & today, I’ve made a double batch of meat sauce (using frozen home-grown tomatoes and home-canned tomato sauce), chopped vegetables and ham for split pea soup (Crock Pot Monday!), assembled lasagna (tonight’s dinner), made 2 batches of pate fermente for sourdough French bread, two loaves to be baked tonight, one batch of pate fermente into the fridge to have with spaghetti later in the week; taco meat made/seasoned/stored, fresh spinach picked for the lasagna and the hot & sour soup with pork dumplings we had for lunch today, made a baked strawberry-cream cheese French toast for breakfast, and a cream o’ goodness chicken dish we served over spaghetti squash last night. I’ve run the dishwasher like a maniac and I prefer to clean as I go, so the kitchen isn’t too bad, just the mixer bowl to hand-wash and unload the dishwasher yet again.
Whew! I also prepped for the work week ahead, typing up all my notes on an evaluation for one project, and all my summaries for a presentation tomorrow afternoon.
Now, to wait for the cake to finish and to bake the bread. Oh, yeah. There will be cake. Followed by collapse. Prepping is serious bidness! I can’t imagine how much work it would take to prep for the apocalypse!
This is week 2 with a grocery store story. Last week, a woman walked up while I was unloading my cart and inappropriately squeezed the 10-lb. tube of hamburger I’d purchased, commenting, “Nice package!” I was a bit dumbfounded, but I cheerfully informed her it was on sale, and wondered how on earth I attract crazy, interesting people. I assume it’s because I also am a boundary pusher/crosser and I will easily talk to strangers myself.
So now we’re on to this week’s shopping adventure. I have taken to meal planning out the week, including Crock Pot Mondays, since I detest cooking on Monday nights, and coming home to a meal that’s made itself all day? Magical! The weather today is bleary, dreary and blah (the rejected dwarves of Disney) and as I exited my car, sleet came down in droves. I had even paused before leaving, thinking I should wear my Kangol hat, but -I actually thought these very words- ah, nah, I’m not going to run into anyone I know, so it doesn’t matter what I look like. OMINOUS FORESHADOWING!
When I got in the first set of doors & went for my cart, I realized my hair was full of these tiny ice pellets, so as I’m brushing all this stuff off my head, I feel someone approaching me and by god, if it’s not my client. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, UNIVERSE? We chit-chatted briefly, and off we went, he with his son, me with my list and completely no-makeup face not even lipstick what the HELLLLL and then continued to “bump” into each other as I got a bit discombobulated and just sailed by several aisles, eventually having to circle back to finish my shopping. While not as funny as the previous week’s meat-pinching incident, it certainly has me wondering what in the hell will happen next week!
Someone posted one of those pictures everyone likes and shares – a stack of cell phones, sitting on a restaurant table. The type over the picture said something to the effect of, “First one to check their phone picks up the tab.” A funny, if not completely enforceable, reminder that the whole point of connecting, staying connected, and building connections has everything to do with being present, in the moment.
I first encountered the Horrid SmartPhone User in a former boss, who would look away from every conversation to check his phone whenever it beeped or buzzed. Not an actual incoming phone call, mind you, but an email notification or a text message alert. Entire meetings could pass while he kept his nose pointed at his phone’s screen, and while one can argue in every meeting there are times your contributions aren’t required, it’s different when you’re in a one-on-one meeting, and you continually send the unspoken message, “Something else might be more important than you, right now, and I’m going to disrupt what we’re saying by allowing this device to interrupt us.”
So in those days, and because I have a tendency to wander forward in my brain, anticipating the next steps, or the next 20 steps, or what might happen, I would mentally stop myself and say aloud, “Be here now.” It doesn’t mean I don’t also fall victim to my phone’s siren song of buzzing and chirps, but I try to be acutely aware of the fact that if I’m sitting at lunch, or dinner, or in a meeting, or having a one-on-one conversation with someone, I want to put them first. Just as I want them to put me first. Just the act of glancing at one’s phone’s screen is an interruption, a distraction, it is the equivalent of the pause button. Don’t even get me started on the people who are talking or texting at the movies, good grief. Seriously? Rent a movie and stay home. Nobody wants your inability to sit still, your need to multi-task encroaching on their enjoyment of being completely engrossed in the sights and sounds of a good story.
I’ve chided people who give their attention to their phone in my presence. “Are there three of us here right now? You, me, and all the people in your phone?” Because I just want to make sure it’s clear that our time is being shared by an inanimate object. If it is, maybe I’ll get out my phone, start giving semi-distracted responses, too. It’s fine, if the stage is set beforehand (I’m waiting to hear from the client, I am waiting for their response to an email, I need to make sure they got XYZ.) I suppose it’s technically fine if everyone’s on their phone, though I fail to see the point of being together if you’re going to all be absorbed by your 3″ screens. And again – I’m guilty of it myself, but I’m working on reviving that mantra, Be Here Now, because if we’re not Here? We’re slowly forgetting how to converse, how to engage, how to be polite and respectful, how to immerse ourselves in the world around us.
Your friends will thank you. Your employees will appreciate you. Your brain, which doesn’t need to do 20 things at once, might actually breathe a sigh of relief. And you will not miss anything. You might actually get even more than you expected.
2 Comments »
I say those words, and instantly hear Bono crooning the U2 song…. I … will be with you again…. It was a nice day, spent with the hubby, then after he went off to play backgammon, with more episodes of Deadwood and knitting. We talked about 2012, and what’s important, and how it was overall, a pretty darned good year. We’re each others’ rocks, our dogs are good and provide us with loads of entertainment, work is good, the house is good, the garden is good, and our hobbies delight and fulfill us. I still obsess and scramble with my thoughts and am far, far, far too hard on myself. If I really were the center of the universe, it would make sense. After all, I would need to be excellent all the time, just to keep order in the universe! But I am not, yet I never fail to find fault or construct my failings as the cause of everything that isn’t precisely perfect. I just got a couple poisoned apples along the way and they excel at creeping in and dismissing all that is good or true or kind to my soul. The irony is that there’s no way I would let someone else speak to me the way I speak to myself. Ball peen hammer, I have it. I hope this is the year I put it down, because I’m really going to try. It’s the only resolution I’m making, frankly. Find more self-compassion. Be as kind to myself as I am to those I love.
The other thing to remember? Most people are doing the best they can, with what they have, right now.* It usually has nothing to do with you, or me, or the universe or the moon. And that’s ok. (that’s directed at the voice that comes up and says, “You could do better.”)
*”If he coulda done better, he woulda. (hat-tip to my wonderful Auntie, because I had already written most of this before our chat tonight!)
1 Comment »
As this year creeps towards its end, I am ready to face the new year with renewed faith and hope.
For the people who have fallen by the wayside, I say goodbye, and wish you well, along with the random pebble in your shoe to remind you of me.
For those joining me as we march into 2013? Let us raise a glass and toast a year filled with more laughter than tears, more money than expenses, and more joy than sorrow.
To only wish for good things is foolish; the challenges are where we learn and grow, and our character is built in how we face them.
Peace and Love,
The 13th full moon of the year, in the last week of the year, only comes along every 27 years. When you reach middle age, and numbers like that are tossed around – you wonder, will I be here when the next one rolls around? Hopefully. Paging through my alumni magazine, I saw a classmate had died – last year. I can still see him, in his food service uniform – just like mine – and now he’s gone. It makes you pause and remember that nothing is guaranteed.
These nights have been reminiscent of the cold winters of my childhood, where snow covered the landscape, developing a hard crunchy crust and glistening in the moonlight. One night, a large full moon rose, shining the brightest light through the trees. My mother thought there were poachers on the property, and it forever became known as a “Poacher’s Moon”, light so bright that in tandem with the snow, you could read a newspaper at midnight.
Late, late at night, I would put on my coat and boots and go out to sit in my dog Oscar’s kennel, and cry. He would lean against me, licking away tears. Sometimes I just walked, under that poacher’s moon, each step breaking through the surface into the powder below. I push those memories down, leave them in the past. We all have our own rows and baggage.
But it is not unfamiliar. This time of year is always challenging. Sunlight is fleeting, the nights are long and cold, and the memories of holidays and the people we love come rushing back. For years, we only celebrated Christmas in a festive way every other year – my father hated the month of December, as he grappled with the pain of losing his mother. I would decorate the ficus benjamina with paper garland and strung popcorn in his years. No tree allowed. In my mother’s years, boy howdy, we had magnificent trees, trees that had been planted and grown over the years on the farm, acres of ribbon, twinkly white lights, everything coordinated. There was the same routine every Christmas Eve – no presents until every dish was washed, order restored, and then my father would still say, “Aw hell, let’s just celebrate Christmas tomorrow!” just to hear me wail my dissent.
Then came the contentious years, and more often reasons found to stay away, and then one last Christmas where we had a battle of Epic Proportions. That was the final Christmas we were all together. They divorced a couple years after that, and I just learned to deplete my expectations. Of course, we never really do that, fully – we still hope, we wish, we want to believe that people won’t disappoint us, that they’ll follow through, they’ll treat you with kindness, they will have the wherewithal to set aside their own demons to give you what you believe you need. We give lip service to the words, “no, it’s ok, I understand, not a problem,” while inside we hope it might be different. But each year, I find myself in a situation or a memory and the tears fall with no restraint. Always relegated to the outside looking in. It’s ok, really, it’s where I’ve always been. And as I pointed out to someone online, who voiced a similar pain, if you’re outside, and I’m outside, well, that means we’re together. So I know I’m not alone. Rarely is one unique in one’s woes, pains or fears.
Oh dad. I’m living your legacy, it seems. Every December winds down with sadness and missing you. It is, indeed, a cold cold moon. I look forward to January, and the proverbial fresh start. Each year I try to invest less in people who don’t reciprocate the effort, and I believe in the tenet “Go where you are celebrated.” Each year I recognize what I do have, what is good and healthy and positive in my life. But in the moonlight, December’s darkness, sharp air entering my lungs, I still feel every winter’s heartache.
1 Comment »
The older I get, the more my palate changes, widens, deepens. This past summer, the Wo and I went to Plaza III for happy hour (he had gift cards, woo!) and I decided to try a Manhattan. I’ve never been much of a bourbon drinker, but I determined I liked it, and this past weekend, decided to make one at home. It’s very simple, a classic beverage – 2 parts bourbon, 1 part sweet vermouth, dash of bitters and a maraschino cherry. Stir, serve over ice, enjoy. I dug through our liquor cabinet, because I knew we had vermouth (but it turned out to be dry vermouth) and I discovered a bottle of bitters. My only association with them was that at some point in time, 10+ years ago, I used them in something and HATED them. I unscrewed the top, sniffed, and determined they smelled rather appealing. I used Makers Mark 46, and it was a nice adult beverage, the kind you sip and savor.
What I want to write about isn’t so much about booze, or beverages, or even palates, but how we evolve and change and sometimes completely reverse our thinking on things. And the fact that what I want to say is going to be read by some as that of a bitter, uncharitable person. Truly not how I would describe myself, but I know that whenever you run perpendicular to people who are committed to doing SOMETHING or believing SOMETHING, those who don’t agree become easier to dismiss when we put negative labels on them.
In the wake of the shootings in CT, the knitting community sprang into action. Groups were formed, for knitted (and crocheted!) items must be sent to the children. The families. Hell, let’s send things to the whole town, everyone who was touched by the tragedy. And the former YES LET US KNIT FOR THEM in me showed up absent. No. I don’t want to knit a toy for the child who shut their eyes as they were led past the bodies of their classmates. That will not fix this, and no matter how much love and tears I pour into a project like that, in the end, that process is for me. Not them. And we all are trying to find our way, I get it, and what happened was horrible, mind-boggling, devastating. We seek answers and comfort in the familiar and in service. But I kept finding my brain wandering back to something I’d learned about the Jewish faith years ago, the notion that the highest form of tzedakah (charity) is a gift that is given with no knowledge of the donor, in such a way that does not denigrate the recipient. In other words, anonymous.
And that led me to another branch on the thought tree, and that is the concept of anonymity and its ever-dwindling presence. In the days of social media and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are encouraged to share the most mundane of thoughts, rewarded in our Skinner-box with the clicks of “Likes” and comments, how many people will like my picture? And I don’t think there’s anything categorically wrong with it, we are human beings who desire connection, no matter how many electronic devices we own, we still crave the most basic togetherness, to be monkeys in the tree tops, grooming and petting each other, looking for fleas. The internet lets us have something parallel, in a non-touching cyberspace, where we can find more like-minded folk, hobbies and politics and interests uniting faces that would have lived entire lives without knowing each other fifty years ago.
So what do all these random thoughts mean? I’m not sure. I don’t mean to tear down the well-intended, because 15 years ago, that would have been me in spades, leaping into some sort of action that would soothe my raw heart. But in my head and heart, I now find myself uncomfortable, unwilling to participate. And certainly, what is a blog if not an indulgence in one’s own narcissism, the idea that the words I string together are worth someone else’s time to read? That somehow I might change someone or improve their world with my humor or musings? If anything, this is more of a self-observation, that over time we can change how we express ourselves, how we choose to process things. And our experiences, too. I participated in a big afghan donation project several years back, only to learn later that the blankets were received more with a shrug and a “hm, ok,” than an outpouring of appreciation for the effort that had gone into every stitch. We project our love of our craft onto others, and expect (or at least hope) they will cry with delight and admiration that we took the time to make this for them, because we know how much went into the item. The love in every loop, the skills honed over the years to create something beautiful and unique. Some people? Really just drive around the parking lot, with the windows down and the system up & just don’t give a fuck, to paraphrase Eminem.
In the end, I return to the tzedakah, and ask you to consider what charity means to you. What it means to you in the middle of the night, when you are alone in your head, there’s nobody watching, there’s no internet access, no “like” or “agree” buttons. And then do what you need to do, because some of these nights have been very cold and dark of late.
1 Comment »
A couple weeks ago, the handle apparatus inside the toilet broke. Snapped right in two, it was a plastic lever that had been there since we moved in 9-some years ago. James procured a replacement, made of metal, and after some internet consulting and installation, everything was fixed. (Apparently, you have to bend the metal ones to make it fit your tank, which wasn’t immediately clear on the package.) So, after being teased all evening about using brute force and tearing things up when he’s off hunting, I decide I can razz him right back! He had gotten into bed, and I was in the bathroom, and I flushed the toilet, immediately exclaiming, “Holy SHIT, I can’t believe it, the handle broke again!” I hear, “You’re KIDDING ME!” from the bedroom, and just as I say, “Yes, I am!”, the last consonant is leaving my lips and he appears in the doorway, indignant and ready to Battle Royale the toilet. I hadn’t meant for him to get back up, but I burst out laughing, and he scowled at me, having gotten him, and I was told to “watch out”, because he was going to get me back.
A day later, he calls to me from the kitchen, asking what’s wrong with the refrigerator. I say, “What do you mean?” He says, “The light won’t come on. I thought the milk was a little warm.”
Me: “Are you trying to get me? Because it’s not working. I just got milk half an hour ago.”
Him: WHARRRGARRRRBLLLLLEEEEE “Dammit, Jen!”
The toilet handle has issues with not stopping the water from running, so, fancying myself an apprentice plumber, I try things. At one point, I’m certain I’ve fixed it, only to discover a while later, the running issue continues. So this past weekend, I took the whole thing back apart, and adjusted where the bar went into the handle, and while it returns now to a more upright position (aesthetically annoying to me), it works. I told James this on Sunday.
This morning. I attempt to flush the toilet, to be greeted by silence. By now, I’m a motherfucking pro at whipping that tank lid off. I see there’s barely any water in the tank. Hrmph. How can this be? I stare at it. I lift the flapper. I touch ALL THE PARTS. Now, it’s still pretty early, but I’ve had a cup of coffee, and clearly, the issue at-hand is water. I think to myself, “Is there an issue with the water line?” I reach down and feel the shutoff valve knob. It seems solidly in place, no leaks… so I stare into the tank again. Brain tells me “Righty-tighty, Lefty-loosey!” and I reach back down to the valve.
:Somebody: got up in the middle of the night & turned the water off. And the last time I checked, the dogs don’t have the requisite opposable thumbs. I restore balance to the universe, turning the water back on, and decide to leave the tank lid off as a message. “Message Received,” as it were. Two seconds later, I grin. Nope. Better to put the lid BACK ON and leave everything in a working state, and say :nothing:. Because I learned about jokes, practical and otherwise, at the knee of the master, my father. Slicing open a package of M&Ms to fill it with one color, as a joke on his best friend after a hunting trip – left in the car for the friend’s ride home. The best moments can be had when you don’t even witness them, that filament in the brain, rapidly burning with realization as the person processes they’ve been had.
I stepped out of the bathroom this morning as James got up, and stood outside the door, toweling my hair, waiting to hear the water rush. Clink. Whoosh. Everything works. He turns, still stumbling with sleep, and I stand in front of him, leaning in to kiss him and whisper, “You’ve got to get up earlier if you want to outfox the fox….”
1 Comment »