Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Great Expectations

I was tearing up when I walked in the door. I was starting to cry when I sat down on the couch. I was definitely crying when I started talking. What's the right way to talk about death? I'm not sure. It's never easy, but I'm beginning to believe it's incredibly important.

Twenty minutes before, I had called and asked if I could come over. I imagined in my head that if someone close to me died, I would want to know their life mattered.

"I just thought you might like to know your mom mattered to me," I began. "I wrote a blog about her last year. I printed it out and I'm willing to leave it for you if you'd like, or I can tell you about it."

They asked me to come in. I sat down and started to tell them about a particularly low day when I needed to connect with another human being to know I wasn't crazy and someone else understood. That's where I met her on the road. We talked and we connected. I wanted them to know that I was so sorry she was gone, but that day mattered to me and I won't forget her.

We cried. We talked. Death is not an easy conversation. Never will be. Everybody copes differently. But honesty continues to be one of the best ways I know of to get through life, to connect with people, to heal.

Writing this blog has changed my life. That may sound like a bold statement, but really, what doesn't change our lives in some way, big or minutely miniscule. I think everything matters somehow. Like the fact that it snowed 4 inches last night and I missed my yoga class, that made a difference in me. Or the gluten-free cookbook I leafed through this afternoon, somehow, that mattered. I might not know how, and why, where and when. I don't think that fully understanding our experiences makes them meaningful. Life comes fully loaded. We don't need to assign meaning, it's actually quite difficult for me to imagine how the little things don't matter.

Life is a cumulative test. All the material is fair game. Our experiences build and compound the longer we live. What happened to us ten years ago, may finally make sense tomorrow. Or, perhaps more accurately, we may never understand the little interactions and symbols and songs and decisions that impacted us. But we aren't designed to figure out life, we're only put here to embrace them.

Sure a little understanding makes for the AH-HA! moments in life, when all the pieces come together and we learn something new, something different that changes us. I search for these in my life. I keep my eyes open for the little experiences that change me. I need them in my life. I write about them here. Some are more profound than others, but all are important to me.

If I had never started this blog, I wouldn't know how much I enjoy writing.
If I had never started this blog, I would've suffered even more than I did in Camdodia.
If I had never started this blog I'd still be hiding an eating disorder from the world, I'd still be striving for perfect (and being quite convincingly too), I'd still be stuck in a quite meaningless existance where I couldn't communicate with people and I couldn't admit that I'm human.
If I hadn't started this blog, I wouldn't be as good of friends with Janelle, Kevin, Roger, Jim, Tim, Tyler, Jen, Cherise, Sarah, Katie, Sierra, and many more who have shared who they are with me. We've started conversations that will go on.
If I hadn't started this blog, I highly doubt I'd be dating Jeremy. We disliked each other my freshman year and that wouldn't have changed. We built our relationship on an honesty that continues to change my world.
If I had never started this blog, I wouldn't have written my book that will come out July 2010, entitled, appropriately, Honestly, I'm Struggling.
If I had never started this blog, my life would be very different.

I could trace this to Ben and Ashley for encouraging me to start a blog. But who invented blogs? Who invented the internet? I guess I have Al Gore to thank for the lessons I've learned. It's actually quite dizzying to stop and consider the chain of events that brings us to where we stand. This might be one of my strongest reasons I believe in the existance of a god.

As Charles Dickens writes in Great Expectations, "That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."

Curly Top Crew

It seems that no matter what our age we idolize those who are older than we are. Currently I tend to admire my sister, Ashley, her husband, Ben, my parents, and, as always, Oprah Winfrey. My list is actually quite a bit longer, but it’s interesting how those we look up to changes over time.


When I was 6 years-old, my father could do no wrong. In pre-school as we circled around Nilla wafers and apple juice I argued with Robin (that crazy kid) over the fact that my dad really could lift a house, and no I was not making that up. My dad could lift me onto his shoulders with the greatest of ease and make me feel like a princess.


When I made it to real school, the cool kids were the upper graders. Attending a small Adventist church school with only two classrooms left me few options, but I never seemed to notice. The “upper grades” were the 5-8 graders and they awesome solely for being in 8th grade and being bigger than me. My brother and sister were always a few years ahead of me, but I only took to liking them recently. They teased me enough as I child, so I believe this is only fair. Plus, my brother busted into my room and showed my 2nd grade boyfriend my Barbies, and well, that can never be forgiven.


My cousins Jake and Angie have always been my favorites. I don’t actually have many cousins, but this definitely does not rule them out as awesome. I mean, they were in high school and they drove cars. Could they be any cooler? Sometimes Jake would let me shoot his sling shot at tin cans or push me on the swing over the canal at our grandpa’s farm.


Basically, at every stage in my life, those older than me have always been revered and admired, just for the fact that they were older and seemed so put together. Looking at my 22 year-old self, it hard to imagine that I am that to anyone. I’ve been chasing everyone else’s coat tails for years, and being “all grown up” just doesn’t look like I thought it would.


“I still feel like I’m twelve years-old,” I told my twelve year-old cousin, Destaney, today. “I thought I’d feel a lot cooler at twenty-two. Live it up babe.”


When I am home to Colorado, scarce as it may be, I try to spend some time with three particularly wonderful cousins who are about 10 years younger. Destaney is Jake’s twelve year-old daughter. Oriel (eight) and Cosette (almost four), belong to Angie.


Jake died six years ago of cancer when Destaney was only six years-old. Mom and dad had split shortly after her first birthdays, and so now Destaney lives with her grandma and grandpa, Jake and Angie’s parents. All the girls are awesome and easy to love, much like their rockin’ parents I looked up to as a kid.


I like to believe I can be something to these girls. While Destaney models her skinny jeans, Converse shoes, and new cell phone, I can still remember holding her as a baby and that makes me feel slightly wiser. She says “nifty” at least 15 times a day, she estimates. Apparently it’s the “perfect combination” of words meaning, “cool, neat, and awesome” all at the same time. She and I showed up at Angie’s this morning as she was heading to work. After that it was a girls day and we took full advantage of it. We named ourselves the Curly Top Crew, because they said we all have “ridiculously gorgeous” curly hair. We danced to the “Toast Song” and collapsed on the floor when we grew tired. Destaney and Oriel made breakfast, while Cosette and I read a Strawberry Shortcake book. The girls ate their French toast and drank up the excessive amounts of maple syrup with their spoons. Can you imagine the impact it would have of them if I said, “Now girls, if you want to be pretty and skinny, you can’t drink maple syrup?” How could I ever tell such beautifully perfect little girls that they are reduced to a body? They’re little girls. At exactly what age does it become acceptable to attack ourselves with such brutality? I want to save them from it somehow. So instead I just watched, amazed at their glee over a sugar high and the amount of syrup stuck to their faces.


After I got four year-old Cosette off the toilet, which might as well have been a stage because of the vibrancy of her songs, we walked to the park. As we walked Oriel told us a story about a time when she was left alone in the car and a scary-looking man approached. “What did you do?” I asked.


“Nothing.”


“Here’s what you should do next time, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! Scream as loud as you can. Let’s practice,” and we did. Loud and clear, shrill screams into the winter air of the mostly empty park. The geese sure took notice.


We played in the park as I amazed them with my incredible ability to loop the swings over the bar. We frolicked around the playground, until Cosette’s finger’s were cold, then we walked to the library. As we went to check-out our books, little Cosette had picked up some video game magazine with a half-naked cartoon girl on the front. I swiftly replaced it on the shelf, sadly aware of how early these images are put on kids.


We walked home and chatted about crushes on boys and mean teachers who give too much homework. Cosette slipped her hand into mine as we strolled. My knees buckled under me as I looked down at the little curly haired tot casually navigating the big world in front of her. Incredible.


For lunch we had cereal, Spaghetti-Os, and egg nog. We started cooking up some amazing concoctions that turned into a spa experience. We smeared oatmeal/honey/pear/milk face mask onto our skin, soaked our hands in milk and sugar after scrubbing with our cornmeal/lemon juice concoction. Between bites and applications, we made a wonderful mess. To round out the day we watched a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson video and painted our nails.


“Explain Jeremy to me,” Destaney asked on the drive home.


“Explain him? Do you mean ‘describe’ him?”


“Whatever.”


“Well,” I began, “One of the best things about Jeremy is, I don’t have to try so hard. I don’t have to look a certain way or act a certain way. He loves me for me. That’s how you find a winner.” It felt good to tell her that the most amazing thing I could ask for in a boyfriend is someone who loves me for who I am. I want good things for her too.


We drove through the chaos of Denver at night, weaving in and out of traffic, singing outrageously to Stevie Wonder and “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows, while shoulder-dancing. As I went to drop her off “Landslide” by the Dixie Chicks came on, one of Jake’s favorite songs.


“I don’t know if it makes any difference, but I want you to know, every time I hear this song I think about your dad,” I told her. “In fact, I think about your dad a lot. I miss him. I just want you to know that I haven’t forgotten about him, none of us have. And it’s okay if you miss him too.”


“Thanks. I know,” she said as she stepped out of my car, the twelve year-old wonder that somehow turned into a little adult while I was away at college.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Schlump

"The modern culture of dieting is based on the idea that the personality creates the body. Our size must be in some way voluntary, or else it wouldn't be subject to change. A lot of my misery over my weight wasn't about how I looked at all. I was miserable because I believed that I was bad, not my body. I felt truly reduced then, reduced to being just a body and nothing more.

Fat is perceived as an act rather than a thing. It is antisocial, and curable through the application of social controls . . . Whenever I went on a diet, eating became cheating. One pretzel was cheating. Two apples instead of one was cheating . . . It didn't matter which diet I was; diets have failure built in, failure is the definition. Every substitution--even carrots over broccoli--was a triumph of desire over will. When I dieted, I didn't feel pious for sticking to the rules. I felt condemned for the act of eating itself, as though my hunger was never normal. My penance was to not eat at all."

-Sallie Tisdale

"At one level I understood that the image of my face was merely that, an image, a surface that was not directly related to any true, deep definition of the self. But I also knew that it is only through image that we experience and make decisions about the everyday world, and I was not always able to gather the strength to prefer the deeper world over the shallow one. I looked for ways to relate the two, to find a bridge that would allow me access to both, anything no matter how tenuous, rather than ride out the constant swings between peace and anguish. The only direction I had to go in to achieve this was simply to strive for a state of awareness and self-honesty that sometimes, to this day, rewards me and sometimes exhausts me."

-Lucy Grealy

A few days ago I opened up the book, Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul. The books is a compilation of essays and short stories, by women writers, about anything related to the body. Some are about weight, body image, or infertility, the last one I read was by Lucy Grealy about her battle with jaw cancer at ten years-old, and chemotheraphy that left a large gash in her face. The writing is powerful and raw. I want to write like them.

Somedays I feel a large amount of confidence to say: I'll never be perfect and that's okay. Other days, well . . let me explain.

I walked into the store Forever 21 on Saturday night. I shouldn't have, but I did. I am not a trendy person. My standards for clothing are that they must be comfortable and mostly capable of a Downward Dog or other yoga pose, you know, just in case. My emphasis on clothing, hair, and overall appearance has changed drastically since I went to and returned from Cambodia. For the most part, that's been okay with me. Sure I see skinny, beautiful women, but I've been doing all right at saying: That is not my truth. I'm okay as I am.

I often lose sight of that truth though, especially when I find myself in a store surrounded my racks and racks of beautiful, trendy clothing that make me feel like a complete schlump. This was only furthered when I asked one of the skinny, stylish, over-mascara-ed workers, "I can't find my size in jeans. Where should I look?" She gave me a quick, disinterested look-over, let out a little "Ha" and said, "Yeah, we don't carry sizes that big" and went on folding clothes.

My weight and size seemed to actually grow and multiply in remarkable proportions as I stood looking at myself in the mirror: They don't carry sizes that big. They don't carry sizes for you. You are too big. I didn't need reminding, but her comment sure didn't help. I called Jeremy, "If ever you hear me say I'm going shopping, remind me that I hate it."

I walked into Forever 21 because I felt my wardrobe needed a pick me up.

I've been trimming my hair because I figure that will make me feel better about myself.

I started wearing make-up because I couldn't believe the state of my blotchy skin.

I dwell on food choices and exercise because some part of my believes that's all I'm worth.

I stepped on the scale last week, waiting for it to tell me, "Good" or "Bad." I've been "Bad."

To top it all off, last night I added blond highlights to my hair.

"Why?" Jeremy asked me.

"Well, I'm just tired of my dark hair. I used to be blond. I guess I wanted a change."

"Didn't you stop dying it a couple years ago?" he asked carefully. "Why did you stop?"

Dangit, he remembered. "Umm," I pondered, "I knew I didn't want to keep up with dying it. It was too much work."

"And?"

"And," I admitted, "I wanted to just be who I was and stop fighting it."

I'm not saying that dying your hair is evil. Really, dying my hair isn't evil either. But our actions speak louder than our words. And I've learned that usually when I go about trying to "fix" myself with hair dye, sunless tanner, make-up, nail polish, and new clothes, what really needs attention is my soul.

Why do I feel the strong desire to be good enough? I'm not sure that wanting to feel pretty in-and-of-itself is a bad thing. But when my need to feel good enough, pretty enough, whatever-enough, dominates my thinking and I feel my worth depends on it, I've got problems.

We all want that "good enough" feeling. Women often want to feel attractive, beautiful, desired. Men want to feel strong, powerful, and capable. Jeremy and I have decided that the question, "Am I good enough?" isn't so bad, but the problem is who we are asking.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Going Home

There are few things better than finishing my last final exam, handing it to the teacher, getting in my car and driving away. I'm well acquainted with that stretch of I-80, between Lincoln and Loveland; Nebraska and Colorado; school and home. With 8 hours of driving ahead of me, I'm pretty good at settling in, and enjoying the drive. This drive occurs usually at the beginning and ends of semesters, a good time to reflect, a new years of my own kind.

I have a tradition of looking through my planner of the last semester. I realize this sounds incredibly unsafe, it is. But so is driving and talking on your phone, driving and texting, so back off! (Really I do both of those things as well, so I shouldn't be talking. Either way, I set the cruise control o 82mph, put on the aviators, and just think.

Some planners may be different than mine, but I write nearly everything in my planner: social events with friends, personal affirmation, snippets of a meaningful conversation, little reminders, like, "BREATHE!"

As I sat cross legged behind the wheel, I passed a truck driver who was brushing his teeth. This seemed kind of odd to me, but we both looked at each other and nodded, like, "Long drive, huh?"

It may not be even slightly profound, but the thought occurred to me on my quite philosophical drive: Life is like a shoe store in which you don't choose the shoes, the shoes choose you. (I smiled happily to myself, quite proud of this wonderful metaphor as I cruised past farms, semi-trucks, and towns named, York, Grand Island, Maxwell, and North Platte.

I stopped in North Platte for gas and a drink. I was faced with a dilemma: Starbucks, or this caboose-looking thing with a giant sign reading, "ESPRESSO." I felt quite proud of myself for turning towards the caboose. They had chalk boards and marker boards haphazardly written on and added to. A friendly high-school student talked me through my options. I opted for the Pooh Bear (coffee with vanilla, cinnamon, and real honey). They don't have Pooh Bear's at Starbucks. They don't wear bright yellow shirts at Starbucks. They wear black and too much eye liner. I was feeling pretty high and mighty at this point, until I took a sip of my drink and yelled, "Damn that's hot." I was shaken out of my self-righteousness and continued driving.

The border of Colorado came quicker than I anticipated. I sang Natalie Merchant's rendition of "One Fine Day" and thought of my freshman year at Union. I had a crush on a boy and sang that song through tears. It makes me feel foolish now, but not for long, because I'm in love, and I didn't see that coming freshman year.

Ahead of me the hills of Colorado greeted me along with a bright orangey, pink grapefruity kind of color, which is mostly inescribable, but I hope you've seen something like it. If not, please come to Colorado. These bright canvased skies really do exist. I promise.

There are few things better than seeing, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" scrawled on a sign and sensing even more familiar roads and Colorado people who are just different. The sky had turned mostly black as I talked to Jeremy for awhile, then my friend Polly.

My eyes were slightly burning by the time I rode into Loveland. The roads well-traveled. My neighborhood mostly the same it has been the last 12 years, but I couldn't help slowing down and whispering a prayer as I drove past a particular house in our neighborhood. The same corner I've driven past for several years suddenly felt sacred, but heavy. About 3 blocks away from our house live some family friends. Now there lives one family friend. His wife commit suicide last Tuesday.

This is the same woman I've grown-up knowing. This is the same woman who drove us to school. This is the same woman who paid me to water her plants and mow their lawn while they were on vacation. All the trivial, mundane aspects of life suddenly become so important when someone dies.

A year-ish ago I came home for October break. I was struggling to make sense of the world around me and throwing up seemed to be my only option. So I did. I felt horrible, ashamed, worthless, and about 32 other adjectives for "crummy." I went for a walk and I met her there. We didn't go through the motions. We didn't dwell on shallow leveled exchanges. She exhaustedly shared her battle with depression. I tiredly shared my battle with bulimia. We connected. This mattered to me. We both felt so burdened and hopeless. It meant a lot to me to be able to say that outloud and see someone else struggling too.

I wrote a blog about it. I've re-read it three or four times since my dad called last week to tell me she commit suicide. I've known about her depression. Why didn't I check in with her? Why didn't I stop by to see her when I was home last summer? Why didn't I just send her an email and tell her how important it was to me that day that we met on the road? Why not? What if? And on and on and on...

But I didn't.
And I can't.
Life goes on.

I suppose death teaches us about living. Death has always been in the cards for us. No one gets out of this life alive, yet we always seem so suprised and jolted by it when we ask Why? Why? Why?

I wonder if living teaches us about death. I wonder if there is a way to live at peace with death, at peace with the fact that life will throw curve balls and flying daggers and hurricanes and paper airplanes, and through it all we can learn to die better. I'm not sure what dying better means, but I imagine it's much different than Dylan Thomas's poem, Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night. He wants to fight it. Fighting implies a battle and an enemy. If death is the enemy, I'm bound to lose, every time.

I don't wish for death. I don't look forward to it. But as death teaches about living, living can teach about death. Living can remind me of the life worth living and the life worth dying for.

There are few things better than walking into our candle-lit living room, where good people sit around a table sharing food and stories. The warmth, the smell of Christmas, and my puppy dogs who never forget me. Ashley and my parents sit around the table with our hurting family friend from down the block and his daughter, offering comfort and a warm meal. Sometimes that's enough.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Better Off Dressed

I could not stop staring at her breasts because they stared at me first. When they walked into the room my mouth hung wide open as I beheld the cleavage bouncing toward me, and I’m a straight girl. Flooded with questions and confusion, my head began twirling with Why? Huh? What? Uggghhh…
Where are we—women and men—headed? Popular culture seems to favor lots of skin and tight clothes that make Saran Wrap look comfortable. But what are our options? Keep up with mainstream culture? Or resist it and dress like nuns and monks in contrast? There must be balance. But I think we’ve lost our purpose in why we get dressed in the morning. Both guys and girls need to be aware of how we are affecting each other.
Day to day I see at least two groups of men around me. One man drools over a “hot” woman walking down the street. Another man looks away wishing she respected herself and others enough to put on more clothes.
I also see two groups of women. One woman dresses provocatively because she believes her purpose in life is to be “pretty.” Another woman dresses more “kindly” because she cares about the men around her, realizes that younger woman are watching and imitating her, and, most importantly, knows she is worth more than her reflection in the mirror.
So girls, what is our goal when we open our closets each morning? Functionality? Shock? Double-takes? Compliments? The envy of all other girls on campus? Really, what goes through our heads when we choose what clothes we put on, because what we pull off the hanger says a lot about who we are and what matters to us.
For example, if we wear stiletto heels, thigh-grazing mini-skirts, and tight, low-cut tank tops revealing most of our chest, most people will assume our goal is attention. Some guys will look and keep looking. Congratulations to us! It’s not hard to know what some guys view as “attractive.” There are other guys who feel sorry for us and won’t be interested because they want something more.
Let’s get to the point: we all like pretty people. Always have, always will. It’s okay that we are attracted to each other. That’s kind of how it’s supposed to work. The problem comes in our varied definitions of the word “pretty,” especially as it refers to women. What does pretty mean? Does it mean a size 2 waist and double D bra? Does pretty mean a size 12, confidence to move a mountain, and wrinkles that tell a story? Does pretty mean tube tops and mini skirts? It depends on who you ask, of course
Unfortunately, there is a certain brand of “pretty” that we all know gets the most attention: skinny, big breasts, tight clothes, short skirts, high heels. Some men drool over these images, and women learn very quickly that this is “what men want.” We see this brand of pretty plastered on billboards and saturating porn films. Oh yes, I said it. Can we talk about this?
I’ve heard it said that “ninety-nine percent of guys are struggling or have struggled with porn, and the other one percent are lying.” There are some guys who are perfectly content looking at pornography and wouldn’t call it a “struggle” because they don’t want to stop. Then, there are the stand-up, quality guys who say, “I want something better. I want something real,” even as they live immersed in temptations . They aren’t oblivious, but they are fighting a battle and sometimes, we girls aren’t helping.
As a woman I could say, “I don’t care. I have the right to wear whatever I want to wear,” and I’d be correct. No one can force us to be intentional about the clothes we put on in the morning. We can pick our wardrobes to attract guys who find us “pretty.” But if all they’re looking for are pretty faces and bodies, why do we want their attention anyway? In a few years we will look older, we will have cellulite, and some guys won’t be interested. So is it worth it? Also, by dressing sexy, we’re not only attracting that one guy in chemistry class, we’re now a temptation to the homeless man on the street, our best-friend’s boyfriend, and even our teacher who is married, with kids. The point is this: our clothes and makeup and demeanor tell a story. Are we sure we’re telling the best one?
Of course, this is not only a woman’s issue. This is not only women’s responsibility. Women dress provocatively because they know they’ll get rewarded for it. If men continue gawking over half-naked women and applauding those whose life goal is “pretty,” woman will continue to honor that. When men reduce women to objects—b reasts, butts, and legs instead of brains, personality, and character—women learn that men value appearance alone. We are all contributing to this problem. We are all accountable for it. We all need to do something about it.
“The compulsion to be desired and desirable undermines self-direction, self-confidence, and self-determination,” says Polly Young-Eisendrath, author of Women and Desire: Beyond Wanting to Be Wanted. She suggests that “wanting to be wanted” comes from finding our power in an image rather than in our actions.
Men’s sexual desires are not solely women’s responsibility. The adage that “boys will be boys” has been used for far too long as an excuse for guys to not use their brains. Men are not animals who “just can’t control themselves.” But they have to be just as intentional as anyone else.
Girls, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve heard this before. I’ve been hearing the “modesty speech” since I was 12 years old. Well, I have too, but I’m only just beginning to see truth in it all. What if we women cared enough to create a safer place for men? What if we chose to dress kindly to help guys in the battle some of them face? What if we chose to dress kindly because we wanted to be good examples to the young girls watching and imitating us? What if we chose to dress kindly because we don’t want to contribute to a culture that says we are only valuable if we look like Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox?
Guys, what if you cared enough to create a safer place for women? We feel enormous pressure to be thin and beautiful by magazine and runway standards. If you were intentional about complimenting us for our character, our humor, our intelligence, maybe we would truly believe that we are worth so much more than our appearance. Be different. Choose wisely the movies you watch and the magazines you read that may be contributing to the mindset that women are merely objects and men merely animals. If they are degrading to women, they are degrading to you.
If we’re just treading circles around our portion of the globe without rhyme or reason, what’s the point? There has to be balance and purpose in what we do. I believe it starts with the little things. It starts when you get dressed in the morning.


(The Clocktower, December 2009)

Far From Home

Seven female students sit before me, gabbing happily in the Student Center. They speak of classes, the men in their lives, family. They talk about the weather and what they are looking forward to during the holidays. They act like any other women on campus, except, they aren’t. These women are phenomenal. These women leave me wondering, How do they do it?
These women come from Bulgaria, Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia. They are ESL students at Union college. Overall, the women have enjoyed their experience at Union. They said that what surprised them most about Union was how friendly everyone is. They didn’t realize Americans could be so nice. Also, all of the women mentioned how they thought Americans would dress up a lot more, but that our laid back style has been a relief because they thought they’d have to look perfect to be accepted. According to the Brazilian women, American standards are a breath of fresh air compared to the strict standards for beauty enforced in Brazil.
Many students at Union college have never heard of the ESL program. If a student knows what the ESL program is (English as a Second Language), they don’t much about it and may or may not know an ESL student.
An international student who wishes to learn English can come to Union and take the TOEFL test, or the Test Of English as a Foreign Language. A required minimum score of 400 must be obtained in order to enter. Increasing TOEFL scores advance students forward in the program until they reach a scored of 550. At this point they can enroll in regular classes using the English they’ve learned to excel in school. Union college’s ESL program represents 13 countries. Twenty-one ESL students are taking classes this semester and twenty former ESL students are now taking regular classes, putting their hard-earned English proficiency to work.
The women’s stories are as diverse as their countries, yet a common thread remains: This is hard. They are not complaining. They are not whining. But I wanted to better understand what their lives look like, as they greatly contrast my own.
Many ESL students leave their country, their family, and everything they know, not knowing when they will return. They leave home hoping to learn English and gain a better education. While we go home to our families during the holidays, they spend them alone. While we have cars and jobs and opportunities and friends, they’ve come alone and are continually learning the ropes because learning English is a constant and often exhausting process.
Based on all of these factors, being far from home and frustrated with the learning process, I ask, “Is it worth it?” All of them agree that it is. The experience has opened their eyes to another country and given them the opportunity to grow as people.
“If you could give advice to people at Union about how to help you in your learning here, what would you recommend?” They pondered the opportunity to speak to a large group of people, but all agreed that patience and understanding would go a long way.
“I do not have a limitation in knowledge, only a limitation in the English language,” Sabrina Quadros tells me. Too often this gets confused. All of the other girls can sympathize with feeling stupid and second-rate compared to everyone else around them. She goes on, “We are not stupid. We are smart. But we lack the English skills right now to share our ideas.”
“Americans speak too fast and their accents are difficult to understand,” Inez Petrosari, a student from Indonesia, tells me. And Cam Mai from Vietnam has trouble understanding idioms.
Lucilei Oliveira, a UNL student who spent some time at Union told me that, “It is frustrating to try to understand a language and a culture so different from our own. We have a lot to say and no way to say it.”
The women told me that they feel bad when they can’t say all the right words and they often want to hide in classes to avoid feeling inadequate. Students and teachers who are patient with them help to create a safe place where they want to continue learning. Alina Matheson, a student from Bulgaria, tells me, “We are not hiding because we aren’t smart. After all, most of the students here know only one language, we know several!”
These women have much to contribute to the student body and look forward to the day when they feel that they can.


(The Clocktower, December 2009)

Meeting the Parents

“They made me eat fish eyeballs,” Zach Adams tells me while remembering the time he met his then girlfriend’s family for the first time. “They told me it was part of initiation into the family. Apparently it was all a big joke and she couldn’t believe they did that to me.”
It’s amazing the things we’ll do for the opposite sex. We’ll sing love songs, watch movies we’d never otherwise waste time on, look foolish in public, and even gasp, meet their parents. The thought of doing something so ridiculous may be staring you down this holiday season. Upcoming breaks from school may leave you discussing, “So, where are we going to spend our time over break?” If the answer to that question is your boyfriend or girlfriend’s house, keep reading. If you are not dating anyone, live it up and enjoy the fact that this experience will not be in your near future.
Upon recent interviews with several knowledgeable students at Union college, here follows an incomplete, but humorous list of do’s and don’ts for meeting the parents.
First, find out what you’re getting yourself into. Before even walking in the door, ask your significant other, or SO, what to expect and what you should and should not do.
“The first time you meet them, assume Mr. and Mrs. until told otherwise,” advises Beth Cook. Do not call them by their first name. The first name basis ranks as sacred ground for the select few who earn it after a few more holidays together.
The next critical move involves not assuming where you’ll be sleeping. It will probably be the farthest corner of the house away from your SO’s bedroom. You may sleep on the couch. You may sleep on the floor. Deal with it.
You know how at home you might just walk to the shower in your towel? Don’t do that here. No, no, when you are showering, changing your clothes, using the restroom, doing anything mildly private, prepare ahead of time. Take everything you need to the bathroom with you to avoid getting caught streaking down the hallway, a poor way to start any relationship.
Meal times are an excellent way to get involved and be helpful. Cori Piel recommends, “Get involved. Help out in the kitchen or with tasks around the house.” Show the family that you are willing to get in there and get involved with being a part of the family. No, don’t freak out. Being helpful doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the family, just welcomed.
One person at a cafĂ© table told me, “Just be yourself.” Across the table, a protest came, “That’s the worst advice. Don’t be yourself.” While the verdict is still out, this first trip may not be the ideal time to discuss your political party, your views on abortion, or stance on gay rights. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend you’re something you’re not. It does mean, however, keep your mouth shut. They are totally judging whether you are good enough for their son or daughter. Leave these topics for winter break, at least.
“Have a good sense of humor,” Roddy Bollinger tells me. “When I went to meet Stephanie’s family, I was playing around on the diving board at the pool and my swim trunks ripped wide open in front of her mom and her sister.” You will make mistakes. You will say silly things. You will feel awkward. Laugh it off and move on.
By this point you may be questioning whether your SO is worth it. Better now than half-way through a long and torturous Thanksgiving though right?
Other helpful tips for meeting the parents came from insightful sources, such as Taleah Valles, who said, “If you can, bring a desert item to share, but make sure they are not allergic to it first!”
Kati Britton advises, “Don’t show too much skin.”
“Wait awhile to comment about how hot her mom is until plenty of time has passed,” recommends Zach Adams.
And lastly, according to Justin Beinlich, “If her dad has guns, run.”
This may be a bit obvious, but: be nice, smile, ask friendly questions. Get to know these people that have raised your SO. They are probably—mostly—harmless. They may be curious about you. They may just pretend like you’re another member of the family. Either way, they probably have enough embarrassing stories about your SO to last until New Year’s. Take some deep breaths give thanks, and hopefully you’ll only have to do this once.


(The Clocktower, November 2009)

Start a Revolution: Stop Hating Yourself

I hated myself when I was anorexic. I hated myself when I was bulimic. Now that I’m somewhere in between, I’m waiting to feel the love.
“I hate the way my fat jiggles in the mirror when I jump up and down,” Mary, a 50-something woman, tells me after the fitness class I teach.
“Oh me too,” Holly chimes in. She hunches over and grabs her thighs for emphasis, “If I could just lose these flabby tree trunks I’d be thrilled.” This conversation continues between the three women as I listen interestedly.
I’m used to this conversation. I expect this conversation. We hate ourselves or some part of ourselves and talk about it to feel better. This is what we do.
After awhile I say, “I’ve heard this conversation so many times among older women and younger women alike. College-age girls are saying the same things. They hate their thighs, their hair, their personality.” I ask the older women gathered there, “Am I doomed to a life of self-hatred?”
No one says anything for a few moments. Thoughtfully Connie says, “When I look at pictures of myself at 25, I wish I wouldn’t have been so cruel. I looked good. But somehow, I never felt it was never good enough. Now I wish I had that body back.” If we can look back and appreciate who we were or what we had, why can’t we see that now?
When I stopped eating my senior year in high school, I had a small, withering body of skin and bones. But it wasn’t good enough. I believed I was fat and lazy. I just couldn’t see it. Upon adopting bulimia, I believed I lacked self-control and had to throw up what I ate to compensate. I just couldn’t see the truth.
When someone says, “You are beautiful” or “Wow, you are so smart” why do we immediately say, “No, I’m not.” I dare say we aren’t just being modest. If someone praises me for who I am or what I do, I hesitate to accept the compliment because I just don’t see it. I can’t imagine that I actually have something good or worthwhile in me.
Women hate the way they look. They ask, “Am I pretty enough? Will I ever be beautiful and worth loving?” Men hate who they are. Guys feel inadequate, like they’ll never measure up to what the world expects from them. They wonder, “Do I have the strength that it takes? Will I come through when it counts?”
Women want to feel beautiful and men want to feel strong. It all boils down to wanting to feel good enough. What is this voice inside of us that screams, “YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”?
I am a perfectionist in recovery. I’m learning that I do not have to be what I’ve been. Less than perfect does not equal failure. Being human means accepting who I am and where I’m at even if I have zits on face, cellulite, three late assignments, and a laundry list of other things the world may deem as what is “wrong” with me.
So why is it so hard to see that sometimes? Why is so difficult to slightly tolerate, or even like, who we are? Look at the world around you. What about our culture encourages mistakes, foibles, self-love, or self-forgiveness? Humanity is hard to find in a world that seems to favor perfection and rigid standards for living. But we are humanity. We make up the same culture we often despise for its cruelty and injustices.
While changing our opinion of ourselves may feel overwhelming, consider this: Who (if anyone) do you know who loves them self? They are hard to find. I’ve never met someone who seems to be completely content with who they are. Curious, I asked my sister, Ashley, last week, “Do you love everything about yourself?”
Almost immediately she answered, “No. Of course not.” But I’ve never heard her beat herself up the way that I do. The difference: Perfection is not her goal. Instead of joining in on self-defeating discussions—which she could because she has her own insecurities—she makes a conscious decision to try to accept herself anyway, to consider that maybe she’s okay as she is. It isn’t that my sister believes she is perfect, but contributing to the chorus of self-hate has never helped her feel any better, so she’s choosing another path.
You’re worth is not measured in accomplishments, but in cells. You, from the day you were born, were made perfect in every way. Only as life went on did you start labeling yourself as “good” or “bad.” Stop waiting to lose that weight, to ace that test, to get that girl. Surround yourself with good, nourishing people who encourage you to be who you are; nothing more, nothing less. Avoid the influences in your life that force harsh standards, weights, sizes, and performance.
In this way, our culture, humanity, you, can make small steps toward a more accepting world for others and for yourself.
Start a mind-blowing revolution: Stop hating yourself. Because the truth is, you are good enough. You didn’t ask to be born into this world. You weren’t asked if you wanted to live by such harsh standards. Revolution takes times. Always remember: You are everything you need to be because you are human, and that’s enough.



(The Clocktower, November 2009)

A Vote for a Better World

Who cares about human rights? Sure, we can preach the importance of protecting people and making the world a better place. Every body wants to make a difference. But at the end of a day spent “talking” about how much we want to do, what are we actually doing? Henry Ford said it best, “You cannot build a reputation on what you are going to do.”
We often assume that since we are doing okay, the rest of the world must be too.
I want to help. I want to contribute to solutions for a better world. But from my current seat in another desk, in another classroom, in another school, in the United States, I’m not doing a whole lot. What can I do anyway? I have to finish school. I have to pay the bills.
Service looks different depending on what part of the globe you stand. Service in India may be literally feeding a starving child. Service in Bolivia may mean educating others about basic first aid. But what about service in the United States? What can I really do at this point in my life?
If we are not actively contributing to world peace in some distant land, we can still take huge strides with how we spend our money. “Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in” reads the subtitle of the book The Better World Shopping Guide written by Ellis Jones.
How we spend our dollars has a profound impact in ways most of us never realize. Take for example, your late-night hunger attack. You are hungry. You are seeking food. If you knew which fast food restaurants were seeking to make the world a better place, would you choose to frequent them over the others? According to the Better World Shopping Guide, one of the best restaurants you could choose to eat at is Chipotle. The beans are 30% organic, the meat is natural-raised, and they actively source from family farms. Chipotle gets an A. Possibly the worst place you could choose to eat at is Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC has been linked to rainforest destruction overseas, been involved with plastic toy sweatshops, target of a major consumer boycott, and found guilty of false nutritional claims. With this information, I’d rather eat cardboard at Chipotle than support KFC’s sweatshops and rainforest destruction. Every dollar is a vote.
Author Ellis Jones researched the best and worst corporations giving them a letter grade based on five main factors: human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice. By purchasing basic items every day you may be voting for sweat shops, third-world community exploitation, child labor, toxic waste dumping, race discrimination, and political corruption. With this same dollar you can vote instead for renewable energy, sustainable farming, animal habitat preservation, volunteer efforts, and ethical business dealings around the world.
Let’s look at another example. Energy bars are a common student staple. If you’re going to buy one anyway, why not buy from a company that has been voted the #5 best company on earth? Buy yourself a Clif bar. Clif has won the Buisness Ethics Award and is the EPA Green Power Leader award winner. Close behind in the A and B range are companies such as: Luna, Nature’s Path, Larabar, Nature Valley and Quaker. If you would rather use your money to contribute to global warming and low health standards overseas, pick up a Balance bar, compliments of the #2 worst company on earth: Kraft.
This is not a guilt trip. This is responsible consumerism. We could all do better. If I do not support the exploitation of workers in third-world countries, why would I vote for it with my money?
You can pick up a copy of Ellis Jones’ The Better World Shopping Guide at most bookstores, but why not purchase it from Indigo Bridge bookstore (on P street in the Haymarket) or another local bookstore. Supporting a local bookstore will in turn support Lincoln schools, parks, and charitable organizations.
Money is power. Use it wisely.

(The Clocktower, November 2009)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Currency

"More than 70 percent of normal-weight women over thirty are dissatisfied with their weight. In a large nationwide poll conducted in 1997, an astonishing 39 percent of normal-weight women said they would willingly die three years early if it meant they could reach their desired weight now. Fifteen percent would have traded as much as five years of life for a thinner body. On average, these women stood five feet five inches tall and weight 140 pounds, so they would have cut their lives short to lose just fifteen pounds. Whether or not they had diagnosable eating disorders, these women's level of desperation and self-loathing indicate a serious problem not just individually but societally. A large part of this problem is the double standard that our society applies to beauty and aging.

"While almost every culture treats beauty as a woman's default currency, the tragedy of the Western world is that beauty has been reduced to two narrow standards, youthfulness and thinness, which implicitly exclude women as they age. So while men become distinguished, handsome, elegant, silver haired, and stately--especially if they are wealthy--even the richest, most elegant women are said to 'lose their looks' as soon as their hair starts to gray. Crow's feet, laugh lines, spreading midriffs, and age spots are unisex phenomena, but these phrases are used almost exclusively and negatively by and about women. That's because only women experiences these signals of age as a threat to their social, sexual and professional status. As an actress friend in her early forties said to me, 'I walk down the street and men look past me as if I'm invisible.'"

-from Gaining, by Aimee Liu

Snow Days

I'm not a fan of weekends. Or snowdays. Or vacations.

They mess with my routine. They throw me off. They challenge my schedules and my everything-in-its-placeness. I sound like an old woman. Come step into my world.

I would take deadlines and routine over down time any day. If I'm going to binge and purge, it will happen on a weekend, snowday, vacation, or evening. Maybe all of the above. I feel lost without a schedule, without knowing where I'm supposed to be or what I'm supposed to do next. I'm horrible at relaxing. I don't seem to be capable of this skill.

This week we had a snow day from school. Hallelujah, right? Ick. I was excited at first. Went home Tuesday night, watched some episodes of Better Off Ted with Ben and Ashley, laughed, went to sleep.

Woke up the next morning at 7, instead of my usual 5am, felt off, felt lazy. Beat myself up for sleeping in. Tried to get work done, wasn't too successful. Ash and I talked for awhile, beat myself up for that too. I know I'm in a mess when I put the value of homework over time with my sister. How did I get this way? I went to the gym, felt like I had to. Classes were cancelled, so I missed out on A&P lab time, not happy about it, did some homework at the library, went home, didn't accomplish much, ate too much, got stuck in my head, got mad at myself, apparently unable to enjoy a simple evening with friends. By the end of the snow day, I didn't want another one. Too much time to think. Apparently I'm a fan of avoiding my thoughts. Dangit.

This snow day taught me a lot about what I value. Because as Jeremy called to ask excitedly, "How was your snow day?!!" I replied, "Ehhh." I listed what I did: slept in, talked with Ash, exercised (apparently I was the only moron who even came in...the WHOLE day, they told me), did homework, went to the grocery store, did some reading, had friends over for music. He said, "Oh, sounds like you did a lot." But it felt like I had done nothing all day. We decided that if felt to me like I did nothing, because I don't count relationships and time for myself as important enough to count.

Down time means that suddenly, I don't have to be somewhere, I dont have to do anything, and I freak out. I start eating, then I want to throw-up. This has been a trend for the last few weeks.

I've pretty much stopped taking a Sabbath. I do homework because then I'm doing something instead of just relaxing or reading a book or spending time with friends. If I don't go to church I don't have to deal with the dreaded Sabbath lunch. This is NOT why I've stopped going to church, just a nice perk. I avoid get togethers where there is food involved. If someone invites me to do something fun, I always seem to need a time schedule, a way out, so I can keep plugging along.

I'm not good at relaxing.

This is why I journal.
This is why I blog.
This is why I do yoga.
This is why, "Talk to someone" is on my daily list of things to do.
This is why I try to walk slower.
This is why I do not enjoy eating.

What if I like what I taste? I don't eat food I enjoy because then, I'm less likely to eat more than my designated amount. I eat fruit for breakfast. Vegetables for lunch. Beans. V8. So basically, it makes sense that, when I am around food, good food, you know, the kind that actually tastes good? I freak out. I'm not good at handling pleasure, joy, those feel-good feelings, that many people thrive on. I shut down.

I imagine myself like a teenage boy who has just been handed a crying baby. Flinching, cringing, stiff, rigid, uncomfortable, and scared.

I am a nut case. Geez. It's all so clear to me. I can't control joy so it scares me. I'm back to control. I'm back to perfection. I can't predict where pleasure will take me. I fear that if I enjoy food, people, and experiences, I won't ever return to my responsibilities, to the things that need to get done, to what makes sense to me and I can control.

If I find joy in it, it must be bad. I'll turn into that person who is lazy, who never gets anything done, who is unreliable, who gets poor grades, who never amounts to anything.

As Jeremy pointed out, "Would you ever advise someone you love to live by the standards you do?"

Absolutetly not.

Now that would be crazy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dear Family Friend,

I've known you for my entire life, but I don't really know you. When I don't know what to do, I write. I obviously don't know what to do.

I don't know how to help.
I don't know what to feel.
I feel far away, when I desperately want to be close.
I want to be home though I know it wouldn't help much.
I want to rewind the years.
I want this to make sense.
I'm sorry.

When I called my dad this morning, he cried and quickly got off the phone. I cried too. When I told him, "I'll keep the family in my prayers," I meant it. My usual reply to hardship is, "I'll be thinking about them today," because I want the word "prayer" to mean something. Today it does. But maybe it is the utterly confusing, disoriented times in life when prayer finally makes sense to me, when there's just nothing else I can do.

So I'll pray.

"To whom it concerns(God, the Universe, to whoever is listening):

We're hurting. I'm not feeling half of it, but I'm feeling something and I don't know what to do with it. Do I cry? Do I scream? Do I drive home? Do I throw things? Mostly, I'm shocked and I don't know what to do. That's why I'm praying. That's why I'm petitioning in hope that you can handle this situation better than I can. I don't know what to do about death. There are no easy answers and it hurts when I try to seek them out.

I'm praying because I know helplessness. I know powerlessness. I know grief. Not steady or comfortable traveling companions, but there all I've got right now.

Be close. Be visible. Be near.

That's all I've got.

Amen."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pepper Spray

Bede Jarrett said, " “The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”

Lately, I've been angry with men. I've been scared of men. I've been angry at the world as it is. A world full of rape, murder, crime, and violence. I've spent much of this last semester overwhelmed by reading assignments about rape, or class discussions about violence. I've listened to presentations about sex slavery. Two weeks ago Kirsten Wolcott, a student missionary on Yap was stabbed and left for dead. All around me I've been seeing the world from a dull, hopeless perspective in which it feels like men are causing all the problems. Afterall, it isn't women filling up our jails.

So I sat down--like a good product of therapy--and journaled to sort out my feelings. I started by seeking to define who I was really mad at. Is it all men? Or some men?

I made a list of all the good, wonderful, brave men in my life. People like: my dad, Mr. Blake, Ben Barber, Troy Beans, Doug Tallman, Jim Moon, Roger Walter, Kevin Binder, and many more. Men I trust. They aren't perfect, but they intentionally make decisions to be good men.

Then, I made a list of all the men I have spent a lot of my life fearing. Men? No, more like boys. Boys who, in 5th grade, asked me if I masturbated and if they could watch. Boys who taught me about oral sex and erections, who licked their lips when they looked at me. Boys who undressed me with their eyes and treated me like an object, an item, a pretty face, a nice body. To these boys I was not a soul, I was just something to look at. High school boys who hit on me and made me worthless for anything more than my appearance. In making this list I realized that most of the boys on this list were from my years in 5th grade through high school. Hmmm...interesting.


Two of these so-called "men" were Matt and Casey. Around my freshman year of high school, a friend and I would go to the rec center to work-out and hang-out at the pool. Matt and Casey were funny and friendly guys we met in the hot tub one time. They were in their mid-20s and we were no more than 15. They invited us over to Matt's house one Friday night. I resisted, but she really wanted to go. She would've gone alone I'm sure, but I wanted to protect her even though I was terrified to go.

We lied to our parents. We had friend with a driver's license drop us off at Safeway, where Matt and Casey said they'd pick us up. I felt like a hooker waiting to be picked up that evening. They drove us to Matt's house on a lake outside of town. They talked and joked, they pressured us to go skinny dipping with them. I went along to protect her, but watched uncomfortably from the shore. I remember being left alone with Matt, while she and Casey disappeared.

"Why are you so tense?" he asked. "Just relax. We just want to have a good time." (Is this not the script for every manipulative male you've seen in movies?)

I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. I wanted to cry. I wanted my dad to show up, with a gun, and rescue me. I wanted to strangle my "friend" for pressuring me into this. I remember coming up with some excuse for why I needed to leave and encouraged her to come with me. Matt and Casey were not happy. That night, as I slipped into bed, I thought: Never again. Never will I let myself be put in a situation where men can hurt me.

I've had too many experiences in my life that have taught me to fear men:
-watching the news: crime, child pornography, rape, abuse
-watching movies with violent, agressive men
-being warned in 3rd grade how to protect myself from men who want to "do bad things to me"

-being taught when I was young that if I got lost to seek out a woman, never a man
-being taught to carry my keys jutting between my fingers as brass knuckles
-being taught to watch for men under my car or in vans parked next to me in parking lots
-being warned of pretend cops who rape women and being terrified whenever I saw those blue and red flashing lights in my rear-view mirror at night
-hearing music lyrics by Blink-182, Eminem, and Limp Bizkit
-cat calls from men on the street
-Hugh Hefner
-the Jackass movies
-people who use "rape" or "wife beater" casually in jokes
-female genital mutilation

-molestation
-people who say "boys will be boys" as an excuse for completely unacceptable behavior

-needing pepper spray
-brothels in Cambodia
-men in Cambodia
-assault in Cambodia


What are we teaching little girls about men? I was taught to fear men. I was told to keep looking over my shoulder since I was in kindergarten.

What makes some men attack women and some men protect them?
What makes some men seek war and other men seek peace?
What makes some men choose violence instead of using their strength for good?

Probably the same ugliness inside of me. The temptation to abuse my body versus respect it. The option to lie or tell the truth. The consideration of spreading the gossip about someone I dislike or resist and keep it inside.

What I want to blame on men, I have to consider lies within me too: sin. (I like the wordweb defintion as, "estrangement from god" whatever "god" is.) Our estrangement from "god" or holiness or the Universe or abundant life. According to mine and Jeremy's definition, sin= our inability to see ourselves as God does. I believe God sees me as perfect. Sure, I've got some serious issues, but I'm loved no matter what. And when I forget that, I lose sight of what is good, what is right, what is sacred.

Emotions are not sins. Anger is not a sin. But what I choose to do with that anger can be. I want my anger to propel me to heal, to change, and to be different. To pave a new way. To create a better world one conversation, one interaction, one lesson at a time.








Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hangover

"Do the next right thing," my dietician often tells me.

The "next right thing" epiphany usually comes about 10 hours after I could've actually changed my destiny, but I guess I'll do the next right thing today.

I'm pretty sure I'm either psychic or predictable. Probably the latter. Because indeed, yesterday, I wrote, and I quote: "On a day like today, I can tell you most assuredly that those things (the list of reasons I'm a loser) are not true. Those are lies. . . I might not be able to tell you that tomorrow."

Alas tomorrow has come and as much as I wanted to say in this blog, "See I am a loser" and go on about how lousy I feel, I thought, "Hmm, self, I think we've been here before." Yes, I have. This exact feeling several other times each month. Read my blogs. A nasty, exhausting cycle, but nonetheless, there it is, written for all the world to see: I'm human.

Yesterday I was feeling whole and confident and happy. It's not that I am not those things now, but those feelings have been hidden and pushed aside under a few thousand extra calories my body didn't need and wasn't hungry for as I consumed them, trying to "control, distract, and numb" (my dietician's other mantra).

I keep a food log/journal to be held accountable for taking care of myself. As I tried to remember this morning, what I ate last night, I couldn't. I had to go up to the kitchen and look around, Oh yeah.

I imagine I'm the equivalent of a food-drunk. Hungover and wondering, What happened last night. Auto-pilot happened. I stopped living presently and existed long enough to try and forget. Instead of just dealing with the feelings, I tried to ignore them. It worked temporarily, it always does. Temporarily.

I sought auto-pilot to pretend that she doesn't hate me.
I sought auto-pilot because life was throwing situations beyond my control.
I sought auto-pilot because that sick, foolish-mind inside of me said, "Throwing up would prove a pretty strong point, don't you think?"

I'm doing the next right thing(s).

I slept in.
I'm writing a blog to let the gremlins out.
I'll talk to a friend.
I'm going to yoga.
I will forgive myself.
This is just about the hardest possible thing I can think to do today: move on with forgiveness. But I will because I have to.

I've been here before. These feelings are not new. Being uncomfortable will not kill me. This too shall pass. It always does (I'm noticing a trend. I know. Brilliant.) I'm not handing today over to the perfection that seeks to ruin me. I'm better than that. It's going to be all right.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gremlins

A typical scene at the Barber household:
Me, puttering around the kitchen, pacing between the kitchen, my bedroom, up and down the stairs, huffing and puffing, agitated, removed, lost in thought, and what I would call, "stuck in my head."

Then Ashley, my wonderful sister who says, "All right. Let the gremlins out."

She's good like that. She's good at recognizing when I'm not saying something and when I really need to talk, but don't ask for it. One time she told me that she could tell by the sound of my voice whether I had just thrown up or not. I would call to tell her because I needed to be held accountable and she'd just know before I said anything at all.

I imagine the gremlins in my head look something like this:



They don't look so intimidating when I let them out. Really, those gremlins look pretty pathetic. But when they're caged inside my head, they wreak havoc, plunder open spaces, and create problems the longer they stay inside. These critters need room to run around and hopefully, run away. Containing them hurts too much.

Anne Lamott uses the metaphor of dirty laundry that just stinks the longer it's kept inside. Our stained and pungent clothing needs fresh spring air and room to breathe before we'd dare let it back inside.

At one point I imagined all of my burdens as a humongous rock I could barely carry on my back.



Yeah, something like that. Something like the weight of the world seeming to hold me down. I realized though that each time I shared a bit of the burden it felt lighter. Once my mom gave her final warning saying that if I didn't gain back my lost weight due to anorexia, I would need to see an eating disorder counselor. I had to talk about this. I had to put out my dirty laundry. I had to share my dirt. I had to talk about it. I had to give away pieces of the burden one conversation at a time.

I told my first counselor, Jane, and cried.
I told my friend Sandy and cried.
I told my sister and cried.
I told my friend Tiffany and cried.
I told my friend Rachael and cried.
I told my friend Katelyn and teared up.
I told a new counselor, Teresa, and learned.
I told my friend Tyler and was ashamed.
I told my friend Chris and looked the other way.
I wrote a blog about it and was supported, even half-way around the world.
I wrote emails about it and learned how to support others.
I told Polly and Fay.
I told Jeremy.
I spoke to 1,500 people at Union college and triumphed.
I wrote a book about it and have yet to experience its publication, but if it's anything like the 10,000 other steps that have brought me here, I feel pretty good about it.

I've made a fantastic discovery, something I've never believed as much at any other point in my life: I need people.

Revolutionary, I know. Maybe not your typical life-changing discovery, but incredibly important to me nonetheless.

If I keep this all inside it looks something like this:
I am worthless.
I am useless.
I am ugly.
I am fat.
I am stupid.
I am not trying hard enough.
I am hopeless.
I am beyond help.
I am going crazy.
I am unloveable.
I am not enough.

On a day like today, I can tell you most assuredly that those things are not true. Those are lies. That is unfair. I would never talk to anyone the way I justify talking to myself. I can tell you that today. I couldn't tell you that 3 years ago. I couldn't tell you that 3 weeks ago. I might not be able to tell you that tomorrow. But I'm learning, slowly, that I do not have to be what I've been. I can change. I can create change. That's what I'm trying to do today.

Giant stride.
Crawl.
Hop.
Three tumbles backwards.
One saunter in the right direction.
Confident strides.
Spiral downward.

It's a journey that never ceases to surprise me and humble me. I can talk to people about my fears, my doubts, my worries, my inadequacies, as well as, my joys, my triumphs, my successes, and my proudest moments, because those need to be shared as well.

The gremlins are coming out.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Round-About

Kagna left for college. She's in college now. She and Leeta (eleventh graders I taught in Cambodia) have been at the Adventist University of the Phillipines, or AUP, for several weeks now. I didn't think she'd ever leave Cambodia. Not that I wanted that for her, I just didn't know what to expect of her dreams about the future. I didn't know how realistic it was for my students to have the opportunities that I do. I'm glad for her.

We Skyped a few weeks ago, right before she was going to leave. Terrified, and slightly overwhelmed by VISA issues, tuition, and English proficiency tests, we talked for quite awhile about the future.

I asked her, "Are you excited about going to AUP?"

"I guess."

Suprised by her answer, I said, "Do you want to go? You don't sound very excited about it."

"I'm scared."

She has never left home. She doesn't know if and when she will be able to return to Cambodia. She isn't sure she can afford it. She's never been in an environment that required her to only speak English. I'm so proud of her.

Kagna and Leeta are at AUP. Sophea and Reachany are hoping to go to Mission College in Thailand, but apparently the bitter feud over land at the Cambodian-Thai border has gotten messy and they're not sure they can go. Mony is apparently headed to a University in southern California, which totally blows my mind, because my students exist in a world separate from my life in the States and it is so difficult for me to imagine her here.

My students are growing up and moving on. It's strange.

When I emailed Kagna and told her I was nervous about spending Thanksgiving with Jeremy's family in Delaware, she replied: "I believe in you and you Can do it...sometime you just feel so they don' like you Coz they don't know you yet...but I believe in you that you Can do it...Did you remember when I first meet you I don't like you, but then I get to know you better...and now I can't forget you and love you more cuz I find out that you're sweet and fun to be around...I believe in you. Show them your big smile!"

I melted. Sitting in the chill of Nebraska I felt warmer, lighter. These students are so good to me.

Fay is still trucking along in Cambodia. She amazes me still. She called me a month or so ago when she was in the States visiting her daughter who just had two premature twin babies. We can talk and talk, and yack and yack. She will always be my friend.

Stella, my friend/counselor, moved back to India and has started a private clinic in Pune. She seems happy and still asks about my eating disorder, God, all those issues. We talk. We relate. Even with a half a world between us.

Often, I'll be online and see the little green lights on my Gmail chat screen pop up meaning my students are online. They are exactly 12 hours ahead of me so usually I ask them, "Will tomorrow be a good day?" Sometimes I'll have 6-7 conversations going at once as they are all sitting in computer class, huddled around the computers. I'm definitely distracting them from class, but I'm okay with it.

Apparently Ratanak has been spreading rumors that I am going to Cambodia next year. A few students have asked me, "Is it true? You come back?" I wish. Let me explain, I wish I could afford to visit. VISIT. It'd be surreal and healing to go back I think.

I would want to walk the streets again.
I would want to see the city with new eyes, less calloused, less hurt, less lonely.
I would want to travel with friends, backpack the country perhaps.
I would want to rent a moto and brave the countryside, drive as fast as I could past rice paddies and cattle.
I would want to see the new school, with it's concrete walls and fans, computer lab and real desks.
I would want to sleep in, experience the culture, and learn some more Khmer words.
I would do things differently with 1.5 years of perspective under my belt.
I would want to take my family and Jeremy and show them all the places I've been talking about, the culture I've been describing, the poverty I still dream about at night.

Things have changed. Things continue to change. I wonder what it would be like if I went back.

Cambodia pops into my mind often. I'll be doing my hair and pop: Cambodia. And I'll think to myself, "Well, Cambodia, what are you doing here?" It happens.

Like yesterday, I was walking out of the Dick building after my rhetoric class and I was right back on the round-about near the Tom Poung market where I bought my cucumbers. I was bumbling along on the back of a moto headed for home. I continued walking toward the atrium and continued with my day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jeremy

I rarely blog about my boyfriend, Jeremy. I realized recently that I've not done so because part of me feels guilty for how happy he makes me. Maybe that's my own jealous memories of watching happy couples together that has kept me from talking openly about our relationship. I've been the third wheel for most of my life. I know that feeling. Also, some things just don't need to be blogged. But mostly, we have something good and gosh darnit I want to tell people about it.





Jeremy and I met at Union. I didn't care much for him at all. We didn't interact much. He went to Venezuela second semester and the next year I went to Cambodia. I didn't think about him at all until an email appeared in my inbox part way into my Cambodian experience. As I tell him, at that point, I was desperate for interaction, so I replied. His email mostly said, "Hey, how's Cambodia?" And by now we know how I would've answered that question. I needed a friend. We emailed back and forth throughout the year. Toward the end he said, "We should hang out when you're back at Union." To which I thought, "Yeah right." But he meant it.


When I returned to Union, confused and overwhelmed by what just happened, Jeremy became my friend. It was refreshing to start a relationship knowing each other's dirt. We had talked and he'd read my blog. He knew of my doubts, my eating disorder, everything. When I needed to talk he would listen and say, "I'm sorry. How can I help?" While he could have said, "I don't get it. This is so simple. I'm not sure what the big deal is. Just stop thinking about it." He didn't say that. I wanted to learn more.

His friends adopted me and it was nice to have friends around. More than just nice company though, something intrigued me about this guy. He contradicted much of what I held to be true about myself, about life.


I liked plans, he liked lack-of-plans.
I strove for perfection, he strove for balance.
I was critical and unforgiving of myself, he was accepting and kind.
I wanted to be on-time, he didn't mind being late.
I wanted A's that make the grade, he was okay with C's that get degrees.
I wanted to get up at 5am and work-out, he wanted to sleep in until 9am.
I wanted to eat salads and tofu, he wanted to eat Totino's pizzas and donuts.

I tend to be one extreme, he tends to be the other, but in the end, we balance each other out well.

I help him get work done, he helps me take breaks.
I help him consider other people, he helps me take care of myself.
I encourage him to make a list once in awhile, he encourages me to burn a couple of mine.

We're good for each other.



We started dating right after he graduated from Union with IRR when he left for Southern to get his masters in outdoor education. We've been dating for almost a year now and 80% of that has been long distance. I suppose there are worse times to date someone long distance with cell phones, email, text messages, and Skype, but still, I complain. It's hard. It's not ideal. But he is completely and totally worth it.

In all these differences, we find common ground. We want to help people. We want to travel. We want to live on purpose. We want to have fun. We want to learn. We want to learn to love better. We want to live simple lives. We'd be okay without TV's, cell phones, and the chaos of the city. We want to be intentional. We want to be honest. We want to live well.

He makes me feel beautiful.
He listens.
He hears me.
He doesn't freak out over "girl issues."
He prays.
He welcomes.
He calms my anxious fears.

This is what those love songs are about.
This is what people are talking about.
Ohhhhhhhhhh...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Honesty


Honesty
by Sara Groves

Here in the stillness
where thoughts are born
here in our frailty we're tattered and torn

here in confession
here in our mess
here in the place where we're mostly undressed - mostly

oh honesty, oh honestly, the truth be told for the saving of our soul

here in the corner
where we craft our pain
here in the open we're laying our blame

here in the hallway
here behind doors
here in the places we wage our private wars

oh honesty, oh honestly, the truth be told for the saving of our soul

Only the truth and truthfulness can save us now/ only the truth and truthfulness can save us
Only the truth and truthfulness can save us now/ only the truth and truthfulness can save us
can save us now

Dear God,

I'm restraining myself from blaming you. Why is that always my first reaction? I suppose in a way you are as helpless as anyone else I could write a letter to right now. For some reason, it just makes the most sense to talk to you.

God's will? Ick. What is that? Who decides that? No really. Who? Because it seems to me that who decides God's will is whoever is preaching the loudest. Change happens based on whoever cares enough to speak up the most. I'm not so sure the Bible has much to say about "God's will" besides the fact that God is inherently good and evil is....well, evil. So is God's will that life is always good.

I imagine that if I had kids I would never create scenarios in which bad things happened to them just for the heck of it and if I did, those kids would be taken away from me. It's sick and demented to purposefully inflict pain on someone just so they can learn a lesson and reach for God. When I want to hear from a friend, or when I wish they would meet me half-way because I'm trying to help, I would never, ever wish bad things for them so that in the chaos of trouble they'd turn to me. I don't think you do that either.

I think you started the world and you have to play by your own rules, the rules you put in place. Gravity for example. You are not going to defy gravity so I don't crack my tailbone ice skating. Strapping sharp blades to my feet was my first mistake. I wouldn't expect you to bail me out of that one. Or another rule, like free choice. If I choose to walk that road, lie, steal, cheat; you can't suddenly fix my messes and make it all right. You have to play by your own rules and forcing yourself into my mind and manipulating reality would be going against the free-choice rule, which means you have to sit and watch, half-expecting me to blame you when it's all over.

I don't know that you are really shutting doors and opening windows. I wonder sometimes if you are as amazed and anxious about what's going to come next. Are we all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see how this is going to end? Because if you were playing puppets up there, I have to say I'd be pretty disappointed.

I don't get "God's will". I don't get your will. I feel like people hide behind it when they don't want to make decisions. I feel like people hide behind it when they do want to make decisions. Because either they'll say, "I don't know the answer to that question. I'm waiting for God's will." Or they'll say, "I know God's will and he told me to..." Yeah, either one feel like cop outs to me.

How does anyone really know your will? Can they read your mind and I missed that spiritual gift? How do they really know? I don't think they do. I think they can speculate, but no one could ever know for sure. So, if we can't know, what do we do?

I propose that we keep on living.

I know, revolutionary right? God you aren't calling me on the phone or writing, "Heather, make a right at the next light!" in the clouds. So what's a girl to do? I'm going to keep living. I'm going to keep making the best decisions I can. I'm going to keep seeking advice and encouragement from good people I love and respect. I'm going to be willing to listen. I'm going to try to seek the best options for everyone, avoiding my urge to be selfish. Overall I'm going to seek balance. I'm going to do the best with what I've got and hope, "have faith" if you will, that you want me to use the freedom of choice, the brain that you have given me.

I may be way off. This is where I'm at. I'm not sure there is a "right" or "wrong" answer. So until someone comes along after 2,000+ years and says, "Gadzooks! I've finally figured out God's will!" (which I would doubt them if they did), then I guess I just need to keep on living and seeking balance. Because you are not what I thought you were, and that's okay, because what I thought was not true, and a God of grace and humanity makes much more sense to me.

Heather

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hunger

I hunger for a normal relationship with food.

Just that sentence says a lot.The fact that I have a relationship with food. I'm not sure everyone does. Do people even think about it?

I'm jealous of a lot of guys I know. They eat because they need the energy, it's time, or they feel like it. Food isn't loaded with emotional depth and heaviness. Food is food. Wouldn't that be nice?

I wonder what normal people think when they sit down to a meal. Because I'm thinking, "Ughh, don't make me do it." The nerves rage, the anxiety flares up and I'm left at the table like a stubborn 6 year-old who doesn't want to eat her dinner.

I wonder what it feels like to be full. To eat and stop eating and think nothing of it. I wonder what it feels like to not count the bites that enter my mouth. To not think so hard about each calorie. To let food be food. To eat and move on without thinking continuously about what I ate for the next 2 hours. I wonder what it would be like to not count other people's calories, "Two egg salad sandwiches, Naked juice, pumpkin pie: at least 900 calories." That's not normal.

I know this isn't normal. I know I wish I was different. That point within us that is supposed to be similar in all mammals that says, "I'm full"? Yeah, I don't know where that is. It's like a rackety train, whizzing by, and I'm trying to jump on the "Full" car, the one where I'm supposed to land, but rarely do. Too often, I miss and get crushed underneath the train. Or get tired and watch the train pass on by. Either way it amazes me that for some people the act of eating doesn't involve the risk of jumping on a moving train. They just eat and that's it. No stunts necessary.

I wonder if I even enjoy the taste of food. I wonder what my favorite foods are. I like some things for sure: cereal, pb&j, and mac and cheese. I like kid foods. But often, someone will comment on what I'm eating and ask, "Does that even taste good?" as they turn up their nose. And I've had to say, "I don't know." Food hasn't been a source of enjoyment for me for a long time. Eating is what I do to get through the day.

This morning Liz, my yoga instructor, said, again, yet it still seems to intrigue me, "Trust the earth to hold you." HA! Yeah right. Sure, I can lay on a mat in a warm, safe room and trust the earth to hold me, but I DO NOT trust the universe too much for me outside of that room. I wish I did. It would make a good mantra.

If I trusted the earth to hold me I wouldn't manipulate my body to look how I think it should.
If I trusted the earth to hold me I wouldn't think so hard about food, because well, it's not necessary.
If I trusted the earth to hold me I wouldn't hold the burdens of the world on my shoulders, as if they are mine to fix.
If I trusted the earth to hold me I would relax more, breathe more, laugh more, and sleep more. I would do things just because they are fun.
I would linger a little longer.
I would sleep in.
I would be more present in a life that too often seems to weigh me down and beat me up, the problem is, I'm usually the one doing the beating.

Last night Ben and Ashley helped me sort out my thoughts again. They help me get the gremlins out of my head. If the gremlins stay inside, they do a lot of damage. They need room to run. They need to get out. They need to stay out.

There always seems to be "something" I'm thinking abuot, "something" that is weighing me down, "something" that takes me out of life and into my head, "something" that I can't seem to stop thinking about and can focus on little else. Sometimes it's the eating disorder, sometimes it's my questions about God, lately it's been a lot of anger towards men (a whole 'nother blog), sometimes it's questions about the future. These lingering questions make me uncomfortable and they take me out of living my own life.

Ashley made the preposterous suggestion, like she has before, "What if you didn't have to have the answers to all these questions in order to keep living?"

Why is it so difficult for me to accept that I can't be perfect?
Why can't I say, "I don't know and that's okay"?
Why am I often stuck on "something" that keeps me from living?

I hunger for peace and contentment.

I can make mistakes.
I can do the next right thing.
I can trust my body.
I can enjoy food.
I can ask for help.
I can learn how to eat.
I can learn how to breathe.
I can embrace simplicity.
I can nourish my body, mind, and spirit.
I can pretend I am normal, even when it feels miles away.
I can trust the earth to hold me.

Amen.