Loving Fall

There is a very distinct feeling that comes over me as the weather grows colder and the days get shorter. That feeling is – bundly. Ok, that’s not a feeling—or a real word. But I think it fits, and I’d like to introduce it into our modern vocabulary. If LOL can be a word, why can’t bundly?

Bundly (noun): a feeling one gets during the colder months, especially October as fall settles in an sets up camp. It is a feeling of nostalgia for falls past—for persimmons, cloves, and sweaters. It is the feeling one gets when one smells that unique heater smell once more (dust particles heating up? Who knows what causes that smell?) It is the feeling of wearing two pairs of socks, gloves, and a scarf to go out.

Sometimes I don’t bundle up enough at first in the fall, and I feel like I’ve let myself down. It happened today—I have on 3 long-sleeve shirts and 2 pairs of socks, but I wore my pinkn converse (fashion statement) and ought to have gone for some thicker materialed-shoes—the cold seeps in so easily. And yet, it’s not winter, it’s fall—so I can find the sun easy enough still and bask in it like a cat, and warm right up. In the winter, mistakes like these will be more painful. Fall is a chance to practice again bundling up against the cold.

I say all this as a native Californian, someone who has never spent a winter in the snow. I have no idea what real seasons are like, according to everyone I’ve ever met who’s lived in colder climates. So, I can only speak to my experience of fall, and I fucking love it. I love how people get stupid for pumpkin right now—because I get stupid for pumpkin, too. I love pumpkin and pumpkin spice and all things pumpkin-ified. And when we lose an hour, I gripe, but the next day when the sun is out at 6 am, I rejoice in the beauty of falling back!

One of my favorite things about this season is The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes. I’ve missed a few of the more recent seasons, but I’ve seen the older ones over and over—5, 6, 10 times. I love some of the episodes so much. I used to watch these episodes with my Dad, and as an adult it’s always been a way for me to remember and honor these memories in the fall, rewatching the episodes. It feels like he’s there with me, laughing aloong at all the Simpsons’ antics.

It feels so beautiful to experience all of the seasons each year, each year creating a new layer of memories onto all the memories of that season past. Each season has its special goodness-es and aspects I look forward to—right now, I stand in fall’s glory.


Me and My Stretch Marks

I remember vividly the day I found the first stretch mark on my stomach. I was in high school, and I had been steadily gaining weight for months. I was going to go on a bike ride with my mom and my uncle (if I recall correctly, and I know I could be called an unreliable witness in court for my tendency to have a fuzzy memory). I pulled on my stretchy, too-tight bike shorts and gasped at myself—at what I saw on my stomach. I took a double and triple look, just to be sure that I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. I even checked my reflection in the bathroom mirror—there was no mistaking it. I had seen it right. Where the last time I’d looked there’d been none, a stretch mark now ran just to the left of my belly button and up a couple of inches past it, moving towards my ribs. I tried to flick it, rub it, and push it off my skin with my hands—no luck, it was there to stay. One of my first thoughts was “How will I wear a two-piece swimsuit now?” …I had never once in my life worn a 2-piece, so it was a quite outlandish thought. It wasn’t that I had a suit in the closet, ready to wear—I just hated that this stretch mark was taking away my option of wearing one in the future.

So, it had turned out that my secret eating wasn’t calorie-free after all. I wasn’t immune to impact from eating far more calories than my five-foot-five inch frame could handle. I was used to stretch marks on my thighs—those I had first discovered when I was 12 (I remember that day, too! That was a swimming day, and I was appalled in front of my skinny friend who’d come over to swim.) I had come to some terms with those scars already when my stomach broke out in stretch marks.

Each scar was created as a result of me having an unhealthy relationship with eating and with my body, and reacting to the stresses of life by leaning on food. Food had become my sanctuary, my lifeline. Bad day? Ice cream. Wicked hard homework? A bag of chips. The habits were built in from a very young age, and I repeated them with ease and regularity, right up through high school. When I got my driver’s license and my first car, it was like a one-way ticket to an all-I-could-eat buffet. I would drive around and ponder where to stop—which craving to fill first. I tried not to go to any store, cafe, or restaurant more often than once every couple of weeks, so I could avoid running into the same cashier too often as I bought junk food item after junk food item. That just meant more time joy-riding to get to a different part of town, and more time to contemplate which items I would be buying next. I was a wreck, but I was heavily self-medicated on the good stuff—the white powder (no, not that powder—sugar!). I would get my fix and think that no one would notice, because I could still do everything I usually did. Except it didn’t really work, because everything became harder and harder to do as I became more and more lethargic and overweight.

So there I was, a miserable teenage girl who had just discovered stretch marks on my belly. What did I do? I went to the store and bought shea butter for the stretch marks and peanut butter M&M’s for my heartbreak. It would be quite a few more years before I would get my weight under control. I topped out at well over 200 pounds, and as of today have lost more than 70 pounds total. That took years—I would lose 10, gain it back, lose 30, gain back 20, and so on. The control over the reckless eating took a lot longer to get managed. There were years where I exercised in order to keep my weight steady, sometimes working out like a fiend and not losing weight because I continued to binge eat whenever life got stressful.

Do I know that I won’t ever binge again? No. But I don’t live under the debilitating, painful shame of my food obsession anymore. And I have a lot more tools and tricks to handle my life and keep from turning to food when my emotions show up and want to have a go with me. I am thankful for all the tools I’ve learned over the years, from friends and family, Dr. Phil, Brene Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability, and my latest guru, Susan Peirce Thompson, founder of the Bright Line Eating program I am a big fan of these days. I am headed down to my goal weight and I never thought that would happen, but it did because of her program. I finally feel like I have the ability to manage my eating and not eat as a result of tough situations, which helps me keep everything in my life a little more shiny.

I still have stretch marks on my stomach—they won’t ever go away. I’ve thought about drawing on them in facepaint and then taking pictures of it, creating stretchmark art that can help me learn to love these scars…a project I haven’t gotten to yet. I know that these scars are a part of my journey, a reminder of how far I’ve come. I can’t say that I love the little buggers, but seeing as they’re a part of me, literally etched into my skin, I’d like to learn to love them. I hope to love them, someday.

Is Bridget Jones the female version of the James Bond movie series?

I saw a trailer for the new Bridget Jones movie this past week, as it ran before a Youtube video I wanted to see, and it was like seeing a dead animal in the street: you don’t want to look, but you just have to (or is that just me?).  First off, I was a total Bridget Jones fan in my youth—I watched the first two movies (more than once each!) and even read the book.  I found it annoying that they called Renee Zellweger fat, when she was so much skinnier than I had ever been, but I still got sucked into its gravitational pull.  I loved Colin Firth’s character—the quiet, understated love interest who is mysterious and turns out, totally into the protagonist.  Loved it. Loved the cheesy guy fight over her—it seemed to capture all my hidden dreams and spill them all over the screen.

I used to watch mostly 80’s and 90’s rom-coms, because I didn’t have a DVD player and would score rom-com finds in the 50 cent VHS aisles of the local record shops.  Bridget Jones reminds me of that era of rom-coms, which means there hasn’t been a whole lot of progress in 30 years in terms of the way mainstream media portrays its leading ladies.

I’ve become more critical of romantic comedies (or rom-coms, as I like to call them) in the past few years.  Bridget no longer speaks for me—she’s not a well-rounded person, really, is what it comes down to—she drinks and smokes far too much and she’s totally preoccupied with her looks. Who gives a flip about your looks, Bridget?  What are you doing to make this world a better place, Bridget?  I used to view watching rom-coms like a version of eating junk food—I know it’s not good for me, but I figure if it helps me get through my life, I can allow myself to have it sometimes.  But now I compare these kinds of movies to poison—just like junk food.  These movies are the equivalent of GMO, preservative, and chemical-filled junk food, which your body wouldn’t naturally eat and which it can’t process.  It leads to disease of the soul, not of the body, watching shows where the main character wants male attention and her world won’t be full until that happens.  It’s a damn shame that there aren’t some redeeming female characters in today’s rom-coms—and I deplore the film industry to step up their game. And I wish they’d stop marketing rom-coms as portraying typical life—these movies, in my humble experience, are portraying anything but the typical.

The biggest issue I have with Bridget’s character is that she LIVES for male attention.  If she were a monster, she would feed off the flirtation and desires of all men everywhere.  Cue the 3rd movie plot: newly-single Bridget Jones has a one-night stand, winds up pregnant, and the man she’d hooked up with falls in love with her.  The trailer I watched was one scene, where the man (that guy from that horrible-looking movie called Made of Honor [even as devoted of a rom-com-watcher as I was, I didn’t waste time on that one!]) is giving her gifts and telling her about how their love affair should have gone, if only she hadn’t gone and gotten herself knocked up, thereby ruining all the romance and turning their relationship too-real, too-fast.  She swoons over the big bouquet of flowers and stuffed animal and it’s the most contrived, clichéd thing I’ve watched in a good long while.  Which made me think: is Bridget Jones the female version of the James Bond movies?  Let’s do a quick comparison:

Bridget Jones:

-gets a new lover in this new movie, keeping things spicy

-is a clichéd, worn-out rom-com flick that’s been re-done coming up on 3 times just to bring in new audiences

James Bond:

-gets  a new lover in most new movies

-is a clichéd, worn-out action flick that’s been re-done a million times just to bring in new audiences

I’d imagine that there are more similarities, but truth be told, I’ve only seen snippets of various Bond movies, so I’m not an expert in them.  I’d love to see them swap out the female lead after every couple of movies and keep calling her Bridget Jones, but she stays young and fresh enough to be relatable as a rom-com lead–it would be more realistic of the big film studios. Bridget can keep her dimension-less character and her anxiety-prone activities, get a new boyfriend/husband every few years, and just keep churning out new box-office hits. Because women just want to watch a woman snag a man, right?  Oh, and maybe get lucky enough to snag that man while at the same time having a baby, ammiright, ladies?


Can You Control the Cells in your Body?

Henrietta Lacks' cells

I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and if you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s about a woman in the 1950’s whose cells are used to propel science’s progress—without her consent. She was a black woman and she couldn’t walk into the general entrance to the building—that was a white people only entrance at that time. Her cancer ended up killing her, and the doctors never informed her family that her cells had been taken, nor that they had been kept alive. The family found out more than twenty years later. It’s hard to know whether they were treated this way because of their race, or because of the times—the author mentions that even today there are no hard and fast rules about getting informed consent when you have tissue samples taken at a doctor’s office. Which basically means that the same thing that happened to Henrietta could happen to anyone, even today. The reviews on the book included one that said it read like a novel—which I took to mean that it was hard to believe that it could be true that a patient and her family could really be treated in such a disgraceful way.

Second in my recent reading list is a book that Wayne Dyer recommended, and said was one of Elvis’ favorites. He didn’t need to say another word about the book—I love Wayne Dyer, and my dad loved Elvis. So on my nightstand currently is a little book called The Impersonal Life, and in one of its chapters, the one on consciousness, intelligence, and will, it talks about the cells that make up a body. It says one cell inside you is to your whole being as your consciousness is to the divine source (using whatever name you prefer) that runs this show. This book packs a punch—it’s hard to take in all that it’s saying, but it’s comparing the cellular level of your body to our ability to take in and understand what’s going on in a cosmic, universal kind of way. I’ve always felt kind of like a cell, maybe in the eye—I can’t see everything, just a bit of the action, and I don’t know what the cells in the liver are up to, but I want to understand everything that’s happening more than I do. “The Impersonal Life” argues that we are all one in consciousness—the cell, you, and the divine source. The book also posits that the cells in your body are following the divine source’s intelligence and will—doing what they do because they’re being directed to do that by the cosmos.

So on the one hand, we have a woman who lived in a time where the doctors took her cancerous cells, kept them alive, and multiplied them over and over again, running tests on them to this very day. Tests that include combining her cells with cells of rats and other species, injecting them with all kinds of diseases, and generally torturing these cells. And then on the other hand, we have the idea that our cells are doing what they’re doing because the universe’s director made them that way intentionally and planned it all out to happen just this way. Is everything predestined? And does that include the painful, subjectively terrible stuff including when your dead relative’s cells are being manipulated in petri dishes in labs all over the world? Henrietta’s cells have helped doctors cure tuberculosis and other diseases—and her family is noted in the book as saying that they are glad that her cells have helped so many people. Still, I wouldn’t begrudge them wishing it had been anyone else’s cells who had been used.

There’s the idea that if you go with the flow of the universe, if you tap into the universe’s intelligence, and will, and consciousness, you will be directing yourself and your cells in the exact manner that the universe wants you to—controlling yourself down to the cellular level. Is it possible? Or is it out of our control?

I have a hard time reconciling all of these ideas—they still feel like a bit of a mishmash in my brain and spilling out onto this blog. Perhaps because I’m just a cell in the body of the universe.

Human Fragility, Emotionally and Literally

Fragile—that’s how my heart feels. Fragile heart syndrome is not a condition that’s listed in the DSM…but I know it’s real—I can feel it. This weekend I will be a Big Cabin Buddy volunteer at Camp Erin, a camp for kids who are grieving the loss of someone they love. My father died when I was a teenager; this camp is a way for me to feel like I am helping others through something that was one of the hardest times in my life. But going into it, I always feel like I am packing up to go to war. I don’t know what the terrain will be like, and the enemy—grief—I can’t spy on in advance and know what kind of guns it’s toting into this battle. I know how camp was in years past, but it’s different every year—for me, and for the kids. I learn more every year about grief, about resiliency, and about myself. Some years it almost feels normal most of the time, just another summer camp full of squirrely kids who want to swim and run and hang out with their fellow campers. It feels that way until we get to the first evening’s memorial service, where each child holds a picture of their loved one who has died, carries it up to the front of the group and tacks it onto the group’s memorial board. Luckily, that service is done in a magical outdoor space, surrounded by giant trees that have seen it every year, and help to hold all the emotions of the kids.

I wish I had had a camp like that to go to when I was a kid. No one in my 9th grade class had a clue what it was like to lose a parent. Some of them tried to empathize: one group even made me a card with a beautiful butterfly drawing on the front of it that I have to this day. But what it would have been like to talk to other kids who were going through it—I can only imagine. Now that I have been able to sit with some of the kids over the years at this camp, I can see just how much it would have helped me to not feel so alone, such an outcast, in a time of life—teeangehood—when it was already so easy for me to feel like an outsider.

So why am I feeling fragile right now? Camp’s not new to me—I know exactly what to expect: rough sleep on hard mats, camp food, and a bunch of kids, some more fun than others, some in more pain than others, all of them immensely real and loveable. I’m feeling especially fragile this year because I’ve been trying to face lots of my childhood dragons and ghosts, and it’s been a hard fight. I don’t have a lot of energy to give out, and I’m anticipating needing to be “on” a fair amount of the time. It’s not more than I can handle, I know that—but it’s asking me to pull out all the stops.

The other night I dreamed of a little girl who was eating swords. She didn’t understand the magic trick—instead of pulling the swords back out, she ate the swords whole. I tried to get her to stop, but she was so proud of herself and excited to show off her magic skills—she kept eating swords. I finally asked her—“How are you going to get those out of your stomach now? Are you going to poop those out?” She looked at me with annoyance written all over her face, and ignored my question. I am that little girl—she is me. We have been trying to put on a good illusion, a good show, and instead of learning the trick the right way, we’ve gone and filled up our stomach with swords. That’ll make us sick, probably killing us, but we don’t want to look at that.

I don’t want to put on a show anymore. I just want to be real, and feel fragile, and still pull out all the stops, everyday. And maybe fragile is exactly how I’m supposed to be feeling right now—to remind myself that I can live through that feeling. I used to fall apart when I felt fragile, and sometimes I still do—but I’ve learned how to handle stresses and grief in much better, non-sword-eating ways over the years. My feelings can be scary, but I know that feeling them is better than squashing them down and trying to ignore them—that never ends well. So now I know that that fragile feeling is a sign that I have feelings to mull over and to let out.

The kids who are packing their backpacks and preparing for camp are most likely feeling more fragile than I am. I hope that this is a healing weekend for them—and I hope they learn this weekend that they can feel fragile and keep going, too. And be all the stronger for it.

How To Live Without A Car

This year, I sold my car. Flackback to five years ago, when my last car was totalled: I was in a panic at the thought of being carless for even one weekend, let alone the rest of my life. My insurance didn’t cover me getting a rental, so I spent that weekend searching relentlessly for a car, finally settling on my latest, and possibly last, car—which I promptly named Petunia (after Petunia Pig, the cartoon character that Porky the Pig dates). The name I chose might have been a foreshadowing of my car’s future with me, considering what a sideline cartoon character Petunia turned out to be! Unlike my last car, Petunia didn’t get into a wreck, and she didn’t break down either. I sold her because I’m trying to save money to travel, or to buy my own house, and I knew that she was standing in the way of my dreams. And–with regret that this wasn’t my first reason for selling her–I don’t want to try to offset my car’s pollution by buying trees, and I don’t want to try to pretend I’m filling my car with candy and licorice when I fill up at the pump. I don’t want to be part of the system that sends troops to war to fight for oil. I worry about the future of our planet, and now, standing on the sidelines, it seems like there are even more cars than people sometimes. Top that all off with the fact that I am now, again, living in a major city with ample methods of public transportation, and a car just seemed like an excuse to indulge in convenience.

Living without a car gets me outside—most days. But better than that: it makes me feel like a traveler. I almost never rent a car when I’m traveling, and I end up a pedestrian in every strange, new place I go—so being carless in my hometown holds a lingering feeling of being a world traveler, which I adore. And really, that feeling of being a traveler—it’s true, even when you’re deeply rooted in one place, a space you call home—you’re just a temporary visitor here on earth. No one gets to stick around forever—might as well take some good long walks and get to know where you are more intimately.

So, how can you live without a car? I’m a walking (literally!) example of how:

  • you make up your mind to get rid of it, and you just–sell it. Or donate it to a charity that accepts cars, if you’re feeling especially generous (or you have a real clunker of a car). It helped me to make the decision by making a list of all the expenses my car included—gas money, upkeep, DMV registrations and smog checks, and car insurance. I figured that as long as I spend less than $5.50 per day on public transportation, I will be saving money over the long-haul. And many days, I don’t spend a dime.
  • Make good friends with google maps—you’re going to need it! There’s a public transportation mode right there, ready to give you sometimes-accurate information about the timing of the next bus heading your way. Better yet, download Nextbus, a superb app that I almost always forget that I have installed on my phone.
  • Buy a good pair—or three—of walking shoes.
  • Give yourself ample time to get from place to place. It might slow your life down—but in this fast-paced world, is that really a bad thing? I find that I either don’t plan so many events in one day, or make sure I have lots of podcasts loaded onto my ipod so I don’t get bored during the commute.
  • Get ready to see more varied people on your commute. I especially enjoy the fellows on the BART who breakdance for spare change. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and I miss the comfort of sitting inside my very own box, traveling down the road as fast as can be—usually singing my heart out along to my radio. But that seems to me to be a way of thinking independently. By being out in the world more on public transport, you get a chance to build community. Yesterday, an older couple fell on the BART—they didn’t take their seats before the BART started moving, and down they toppled. Luckily, they weren’t hurt. What shocked me almost as much as seeing them falling was the immediate reaction from my fellow commuters—no less than five people rushed to help them stand up and get to their seats. Sure, there’s the flipside—you might feel more vulnerable, and you might actually be more vulnerable, being around so many people all the time. But you can’t see the good in people from the freeway.
  • Buy a bike—or, like me, tune up the one you had but weren’t using.
  • Be prepared to give up some options for places to visit—unless you’re more willing than me to spend money on Uber or Lyft. Just today, I found an advertisement for a grocery store I’ve never visited, but when I looked them up—they’re an hour walk from me. But there are so many ways around this, if you really care to investigate, such as instacart. There are solutions to every problem that come up when you find yourself living without a car. I’ve been surprised to find people who are willing and interested in carpooling to events, even when I tell them I don’t have a car and we’ll have to use theirs. Sharing a ride means another chance to connect with another person. Just yesterday I carpooled with a woman to a meeting, and along the way, we shared some of our highs and lows in life. I wouldn’t have gotten to know her so well if we hadn’t spent that time commuting together.

I have shifted my view about cars, but I haven’t divorced myself from them altogether. I’ve been using Lyft and Uber like it’s going out of style for the past month, mostly because of: convenience. It’s inconvenient to have to walk in the 100 degree heat a half-mile to the grocery store—but it’s the most sensical thing to do, really (unless you have a bike, or don’t mind waiting for the local bus.) I also take public transportation, which still uses fossil fuels a large percent of the time. So I am definitely not saying “look at how I’m not using any fossil fuels!” I don’t pretend to think that I’m better at living in this crazy mixed-up world than anyone else. I just know that if I can go from being so dependent on my car, to not having one, then anyone can. It seems to me that it’s a very viable option, especially in the big cities—and as more people get rid of their cars, there will be more demand to get better public transportation to all those hard-to-reach (on public transport!) areas.

I haven’t committed to living without a car forever, but I would like to see how long I can hold out. Perhaps by the time I’m ready to buy another car, there will be an option that won’t run on fossil fuels at all, with an app that lets me co-own my car with several people. Or maybe, those hoverboards from Back to the Future will finally be invented, and I won’t ever need a car again.

Ode to the Oregon Blueberry

OH! You – in a cluster on the bush. You sweet, tart little thing, you.

You look so unassuming – blend into the greenery, even. But you POP on my tongue!

Some of you are sweeter than others, but you’re all Magic.

Without the rain, and maybe the overcastness – would you exist? would you persist?

But there you are – and I, with my big hands and opposable thumbs, can hold five of you in my palm and still pluck more off the stems and into my hand. Gently – to not rip your delicate skin. Dip you into water and you lose your ashy covering – turning dark, rich blue. Almost purple – you underripe ones are purplish.

I adore you! Don’t ever leave me to face the world without your delicious addition.