Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In Which I Hang Up My Hangups And Let It All Hang Out

Nakedness. Not a comfortable state for me. Never has been. Even with my husband of twenty years, I feel vulnerable when I'm naked. Cloak me in darkness and I'm a tigress. But turn on the lights and I'm sent scurrying for the security of sheets and blankets. For me, illumination is the harbinger of inhibition. I don't want to see anybody seeing me. And I don't want to see myself.

You might think, having lost 75 lbs, that I would be pleased with my body. And I am. I am very pleased with the way my body performs. My heart and lungs and muscles are strong. I can do things I never thought I would be able to do. I can say with confidence that I am fit and healthy. But I do not find my body aesthetically pleasing...unless it is clothed. Then I can push up, suck in, and smooth out anything that bothers me. I can create the illusion of perfection when I am covered.

And perhaps that's the problem with nakedness. I'm very much a perfectionist you see, which affects every aspect of my life. Though this is not something I have chosen for myself, I am able to see that  in some ways, it's a good thing. When I write, when I work, when I exercise, when I set goals...perfectionism serves me very well. But it can also lead to feelings of chronic failure when I cannot live up to my own expectations and ideals. And my poor body is destined to ever disappoint me because it will never be perfect. Rationally of course, I know that nobody's body is perfect. And I have looked at many imperfect bodies and found them perfectly lovely anyway. I just have a hard time seeing the beauty in my own imperfection.

Such was the case today.

A friend from high school is visiting Atlanta and wanted to meet up, which is a novel thing for me. Living 900 miles away from my home town, I rarely get an opportunity to connect with childhood chums. Even when I'm home, I never see anybody. Or maybe, more accurately, I never recognize anybody. So I was thrilled, naturally. This gal was someone I didn't appreciate enough in high school for all her wonderful uniqueness. She didn't fit the mold. Neither did I, but that certainly didn't prevent me from trying, because I didn't appreciate my own uniqueness either. If I hadn't been trying so hard to jam myself into that stupid, douchey, teenaged mold, I might have realized that she was the kind of person I should have been cultivating a relationship with.

How sad that we don't figure these things out until adulthood.

Anyway, having reconnected on Facebook and realized that our lives had been interestingly, even eerily similar, and having been reminded just how awesomely intelligent and genuine she is, I jumped at the chance to reconnect in person. She is staying with another friend here in Atlanta, someone I had not met before today. The two of them decided they wanted to visit a local spa and invited me to join them, and even, graciously, offered to foot the bill, since our funds are so tight at the moment.

We met at the spa, checked in, and entered the ladies locker room where I was immediately confronted by lots and lots of nakedness in all shapes, colors, and sizes. I couldn't look, I couldn't not look. The two gals I was with blithely disrobed while I stood there, paralyzed. All I could think about were the stretchmarks, the sags and bags, the cellulite, the mudflaps, the batwings.....I began to hyperventilate just a little.

But then I realized I had a decision to make. I could obsess over my imperfections and let it ruin what promised to be a perfectly lovely experience, or....just let it go. I was free to choose. And I chose to let it go.

Was it easy? No. I cannot even tell you how exposed and vulnerable I felt walking around with nothing to cover up my imperfections and the tales they told. But I did it. And though I won't say it ever became exactly comfortable, I will say that I did manage to push the discomfort to the back of my mind and focus on the experiences. Once, this would have been impossible for me. So the whole thing left me feeling strangely empowered.

I can choose to let my hangups get the better of me, or I can choose to divorce myself from them long enough to do and see and experience some really awesome things. I'm aware that we may reconcile at some point in the future. I think it would take something much more...clinical, than a trip to the spa to cure me of all my neuroses. But it's a step. And a big one. I felt kind of smug about it, truth be told.

So now I must tell you about the highlight of this visit: A Korean specialty that is called a "hip bath" but does not involve hips or baths. It is meant to promote fertility, prevent diseases of the female organs, both internal and external, detoxify and....tighten. Yes, tighten.

We entered a small and incredibly aromatic little chamber where a row of stools lined one wall. The stools each had a hole in the center and a large bowl of herbs tucked beneath. We sat naked upon the stools, giggling self-consciously, and adjusting ourselves so that the proper parts were in alignment with the opening in the stool. The technician placed our feet on wooden blocks, further um...opening the desired areas. I sort of felt like I should prepare myself to bear down, so weirdly primal was it, sitting like that. Then we were fitted with large rubber capes, which the technician draped across our knees while she lit the herbs beneath us.

Yes, that's right. She set them on fire. Beneath my vagina.

Then she pulled the cape down, creating a tent clearly intended to smoke our lady parts like herring.

It wasn't long before I began to feel very, very warm down there. And moist. But tight? Eh. I clenched periodically, testing, but was unable to discern any tightening effect. But who knows? The conversation was lively and varied. Before long, an older lady joined us and commented occasionally on our banter. Soon the conversation turned to the nakedness issue, prompted by the sight of two nubile young girls, easily the most firm, smooth, and umblemished bodies in evidence....covered by bathing suits.

I had seen bodies of many shapes, sizes and colors throughout the day. All of them had something of value to offer the eyes. One lady I saw was quite portly. She was a classic "apple", with a round belly and a small, compact little behind. And she had the most amazingly beautiful skin I had ever seen. Not a blemish, pore or stretchmark in sight. Just a smooth, silky expanse of skin that glowed like hand rubbed mahogany. I saw many older women with a bit of sag in the bottom, the belly, the breast; some wrinkling at knee and elbow. And yet the feminine curves and planes were still very much in evidence and still visually pleasing. Beautiful. And

With her eyes upon those young girls, the older woman remarked, "Isn't it a shame that it takes so long for women realize that all of us are so very beautiful?" 

It is. It really, really is.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Just An Atheist

Last night we had dinner and drinks with some new friends. As we got to know one another, the discussion was lively and interesting. It took many twists, turns, and tangents; meandering one moment and galloping the next, the way good conversation does. At one point, I found myself recalling an experience I hadn't thought about in a very long time.

Let me preface this by saying that people often ask me how I became Atheist when I was raised in a Christian home. I've wondered this often myself. Why didn't I just accept what was taught and modeled as so many children do? What caused my deep dissatisfaction and abject skepticism? What was it about the Christian doctrine that felt so conspicuously wrong to me? I don't know.

I just know that at some point I realized I wasn't buying it. Any of it.

But there are moments that have stayed with me, moments that caused the slowly burgeoning bud of wrongness to open just a little wider on the way to full bloom.

It was one of those moments that came to mind last night.

I don't remember how old I was, but I'm guessing around 11 or 12. I was young enough to be completely and totally mortified by the events that unfolded in church that day, but old enough that I eventually understood what was going on.

By that age, we were expected to sit through the hour long church service after having already spent an hour in Sunday School. Naturally, my mind wandered as did my sister's. We bickered and poked one another, we jiggled and wiggled and played rock paper scissors. We did pretty much anything but listen to the sermon. The point of having us in church at that age escapes me.

But that day, my attention was captured by the sound of sobs coming from the pulpit.

I looked up from whatever mischief we were using to pass the time to see two couples up at the front of the church.

One couple was young and had a new baby. I loved babies and I often snuck off to the nursery to hold the littlest ones. Their baby was round and pink and I loved the milk powder smell of him. I liked the young mother too. Her name was Joy and it suited her sunny personality. She, like her baby, was round and pink. Her cheeks were permanently flushed and even her hair seemed happy, as it flipped up naturally at the ends, creating a smile on each shoulder. Her husband was dark and tidy, with an impressively lush mustache and square glasses like my Dad.

The other couple was older. Their youngest son was in my Sunday school class, but their oldest was already a grown up. She was tall and pinched, with short, tightly permed hair that was black at the roots and straw colored at the ends. She had a large nose and a small mouth, which made her look very crabby most of the time. Her husband was a large, beefy man with a deep, booming voice who should have been a scary because of his size, but somehow wasn't.

I noticed first that they were all crying. Three of them had quiet tears streaming down their faces, but happy little Joy was sobbing softly. Her normally pink cheeks were pallid and gray. I noticed second that Joy's husband was standing with the straw haired lady, as if they were a couple. I noticed third that they both appeared completely dejected and shamefaced. This look was so entirely out of character for both of them, that it actually alarmed me.

I sat up and paid close attention. And pretty soon it became clear that Mr. Mustache and Mrs. Straw Hair  had done something very, very bad together. It took me a while to figure it out, because I didn't understand words like "carnal knowledge" and "fornication" and "adultery". I had memorized the ten commandments for Sunday school and gotten a unicorn bookmark for it, so I did know that whatever "adultery" was, God didn't want you to do it.

Eventually I put the pieces together and understood that Mr. Mustache and Mrs. Straw Hair had done things with each other that only husbands and wives were supposed to do together. I remember feeling both horrified and strangely titillated to realize that they had probably kissed each other.

But I also remember being horrified by the fact that they were standing up in front of the entire congregation talking about kissing each other. WHY??? Why would they do that?

They wanted forgiveness. With clogged and quavering voices they asked for the forgiveness of their spouses and their brothers and sisters in Christ. At one point, Mrs. Straw Hair even went down on her knees, hands clasped in front of her, fingers clenched and bloodless and begged for absolution.

Now, Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists are two very different breeds. So there were no comments from the congregation. There were tears and snuffles, but otherwise, there was nothing but stony silence. No "Amen", no "Yes Jesus", no "Praise the Lord!". And that, I think, was probably worse than any imprecation or accusation. It was the worst kind of judgment, so profound that it allowed no commentary to soften it's weighty blow.

They left the pulpit single file and returned to their seats, where they sat stiffly. Joy still sobbed quietly, and even her hair drooped with sadness. No smiles sat on her shoulders that day.

There was of course, a sermon about adultery and deceit. Jesus knows, Pastor said, when your heart and your actions are not pure. I didn't really understand why kissing was such a big deal. I felt angry at the Pastor for making those people cry, especially Joy, who had a baby and should be happy. And I felt angry at the people in the congregation, whose judgement was so palpable despite the silence. If Jesus knows, then why did they have to stand up in church and talk about it?  I wondered why it was anybody's business but theirs and Jesus'.

And I clearly remember thinking that I wanted no part of that kind of business at all.

Was that moment to blame for my Atheism? No. It was just one little seed of doubt and dissatisfaction that was planted that day. But enough of those seeds will eventually grow into a garden of discontent that gets harvested as a bounty of rejection.

The wrongness I felt that day led to a more profound and encompassing sense of wrongness later on in life and eventually to realization that a belief system based on punishment, fear and shame was not one that I could embrace.

Which I find sad now, all these years later. Why? Well...I'm no Bible Scholar. But I did read my Bible cover to cover and got a nice faux leather King James Version with my initials stamped in gold letters on the front to show for my efforts. And I think that Jesus would have forgiven Mr. Mustache and Mrs. Straw Hair and loved them anyway. I don't think he would have humiliated or shamed them. I don't think he would have made them beg for anything. I think he would have asked the congregation to love and support them regardless of their mistake.

I think Jesus, the guy, was about love.

But I'm just an Atheist. So what do I know?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Perspective Within

I hadn't been to the little Mom and Pop produce market in several years, though I drive by it nearly everyday. And every day I admire the convincingly scarlet tomatoes and the peaches that are actually peach colored and the watermelons with their deep emerald armour and marvel that these are not colors I normally see in the pallid grocery store produce. And every day I think to myself..."I should really stop and get a few things."

But the traffic on that road is terrible and it's right in the middle of a long stretch of commercial property, so there is no intersection to make getting in and out easier. And often, I'm in a hurry; to get to work, to get home, to pick up a kid, to hit the gym, the drycleaner, the bank. So I sit in my car and admire the vibrant fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I even get that peculiar little zing at the back of my jaw. But I don't stop.

But yesterday, I did. I don't know why. Traffic was no less troublesome and no intersection had appeared magically overnight. Perhaps it was because I had no particular place to go and no particular time at which I had to be there.

The tomatoes outside were warm from the sun, smooth to the touch and firm with just a bit of give to them  when I squeezed gently. Perfect. I carried them inside to pay for them and browse through anything else that might tempt me. The proprietress was in a sunny corner to one side of the cash counter. She was bent over with her back to me.  She offered a cheerful "Hello" and assured me she would be with me in a moment, but she did not look up from her task.

I told her I was in no hurry and would like to look around for a moment anyway.

The summer squash were breathtaking; plump, golden yellow and unblemished. It was almost impossible to believe that they were of the same genus as the pale, sickly, scarred little things I had brought home from the grocery store last week. The same was true of the zucchini;  a particular favorite of mine. I selected several containers of each, as well as a few avocados and a cantaloupe that looked absolutely perfect; neither too soft nor too hard. And it was.

I carried them all the the counter and then I saw what the had so fully commanded the attention of the slight, tidy woman who ran the place. It was a child in a large chair, with pillows and blankets tucked all around, despite the oppressive heat outside. There was a hose snaking from beneath the blankets, which fell away slightly, disturbed by the spastic motions of barely visible limbs; pale and tender like little dandelion stems. Brilliant green eyes rolled sightlessly in her head, which was topped by a shock of remarkably abundant and enviously glossy blonde hair. Her cheeks were full and furiously pink. Over to the side a machine hissed rhythmically.

Then I remembered my last visit. Could it have been so long ago??

The woman noticed me notice the child. She stiffened slightly. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it. It was pre-anger, and it made me sad. I searched desperately for something to say. Something not stupid, not trite, not offensive, not dismissive...oh god what am I supposed to say??????

"I see someone has gotten the best seat in the house. What a lovely spot for a lovely young lady."


A slight lift of the eyebrows told me she was surprised, but I didn't know exactly why.

Then she smiled. "She loves the sunshine. It makes her happy."

"How old is she now? I haven't been in here since she was just a baby."

"She's six. Growin' like a weed. And spoled rotten!" (not a typo, that's how she pronounced it.)

"Well, it's a Grandma's right to spoil, isn't it?"

"Yes, it shore is. And she don't lack for it neither."

"Well, good for you. I don't have grandchildren yet...."

She interjected here, "Lord I hope not honey, you're just a young thang yet!"

I laughed. "I'm older than you think. I could be a Grandma!"

She raised her eyes heavenward in an expression that I took to mean, "God forbid!".

"Anyway, I'm sure when that day comes....far, far, far in the future (she laughed)....I'll spoil my grandchildren terribly too."

"Oh honey, you just don't know how much your gonna love them younguns".

She looked over at the girl, who was making a tuneless little humming noise. Her face went soft and she sighed ever so slightly. Then she shook her head and turned back to me.

"That'll be fourteen dollars even."

I paid her and thanked her. She said, "Come visit us again soon." I promised I would.

I thought about that woman and her granddaughter the rest of the day. She made me feel ashamed in a way I didn't really want to think about, but couldn't seem to not. I have boys who can walk and talk and go to the toilet and dress themselves. They can run and jump and think and create and question and reason and argue. I complain that they don't appreciate me, but the truth is, I don't appreciate them either. Just because they're mine and they're whole and they're healthy.

I got more for more my money than some lovely squash and juicy melon. There's a sign at the road that says "Boiled Peanuts Inside". I think she should change it to say...."Perspective Within."