"Your life takes place where your feet are." I am in yoga class in an awkward position. My yoga instructor, Melissa, is gently reminding all of us to be present. She is reminding us that our feet can be the key to transforming our pose, and that awareness of our feet can be key to transforming our lives.
That is why I love yoga and this particular yoga teacher. I learn a lot. I mean, heavy shit goes down in that room, and not just the stuff that goes on within my head. Every day I go to yoga, I am transformed in some way. Sometimes it is immediate, but most often, I do not see its effects for months. These are the changes that happen quietly, and almost without notice.
When I take the time to step outside of myself, I see that I have become the very person that my younger self used to laugh at. I have become the mindfulness practicing, yoga-doing, free-love speaking, bike riding, plastic container recycling freak I used to laugh at in my twenties.
If my twenty year old self knew me, she would probably want to kick my ass, or at the very least, laugh mercilessly at me.. But when I think of her now, I am amazed. She made some very hard decisions way back when, decisions that basically threw her whole world out of whack, because she knew no other way to resurrect herself. If she had not made those choices; broken up with her high school sweetheart, moved to Portland and far away from her family, spent five months in Alaska, enrolled in a rigorous and life-changing art program, I would not be this person I have come to be so proud of. While she did not know enough to see me coming, she knew enough to make the choices that would bring me about. I look back and wonder how the fuck she did that.
I have no idea why she trusted herself. She had so little experience being trustworthy. She was so insecure, so afraid. But she went forth. Something drove her to do those things. She did not know what drove her, but she listened when her body screamed. She could feel the pull of her heart as it led her to different places in the world and in her life, and she followed. Most of the time.
So now, when I hear young men and women lament their lives, or hell, even older men and women, I think of my own anxieties and worries over where I would end up, what I feared might become of me. I think of how I sometimes still slip into that worried type of thinking, and I know. I know that if I am quiet, and I listen to my voice, if I stop long enough to feel the pull of my heart, I will not have to worry.
I also know that to a certain extent, I have to block the majority of the voices around me, out. I let the trusted ones in, of course, but most people, most messages, are not for me, and I have to remember that. I am not buying into the messages of what a woman has to be like, what an American has to be like, what a Jewish person has to be like. I don't let other people decide whether or not I am beautiful, sexy, or worthy, because it is not up to them, and even if in some small way, I measured favorably, it would not mean as much as it means when I am able to look back on my day and swell with the pride of a person who has followed her heart.
So yesterday evening, when I drew her lying on the floor, looking out at me, I knew. I was drawing my younger self. She came back to remind me. She came back to say in that adorable smart-ass way, "I fucking told you so." I knew when I had finished that I loved her, as I know I love who she has become. I am in awe of her strength, her beauty, and her ability to still, in the face of it all, be an incredible smart ass.
This is where my feet are now, and I know that wherever it is that I go, no matter who I meet, I will make sure to bring an awareness of my feet along with me, so that I am reminded to stand for me, and I am reminded that even though I have anxiety, even though my thoughts might betray me, my heart knows, and my feet will try to follow it.
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"It looks like about thirty different people made the work on this table." It was the end of the semester critique, and my ceramics instructor, Katherine, was looking at my table, which held about thirty different pieces of widely varying styles, sizes, shapes and colors. "Yeah! Cool, right?" I was super stoked. There was nothing I loved more than spending my afternoons in the studio making whatever came to mind.
"Well, no," she replied, "not if you want a following." I ended up getting an A in the class, but this comment would not be the first or the last of its kind throughout my artistic career.
I have a problem making the same thing over and over again. It starts to feel non-creative. It starts to feel like factory work. It starts to feel like my soul is being crushed. Souls crushing carry with them an awful sound, so I do as many different things as I can; for instance, writing, drawing, found object sculpture and painting in order to keep my mind and body properly engaged.
My need to mix it up is why I am now making a drawing a day instead of taking a photo a day for my body confidence project. I ran out of questions to answer with my photos, and started having questions that my drawings could answer. So that is that, every day I will make a drawing, sell the originals on Instgram, and sell prints on my print website. Until I come up with the next thing...which could be any time at all.
This great need for variety also exists in other areas of my life as well, which is why I am so comfortable with uncomfortability. Staying in any one place, doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results makes my skin crawl. I become deeply depressed if I am not at least attempting to move through something like emotional trauma, fear, or anger.
Fortunately for me, I was born to therapists, and when they split they both chose new therapists to partner up with, so all of my life I have been the subject of analysis to some extent. For a long time, this made me quite crazy, full of self-doubt, and as a bonus I developed an uncanny ability to be hard as stone on myself when it came to my shortcomings.
I was discussing my temperament the other day with a new and exciting friend of mine, as we were discussing the various and complex dynamics of open relationships. The thing about open relationships is there is a lot of jealousy. It is common, I would dare say ubiquitous, but, because open relationships are not yet a widely acceptable way of living one's life, there are few avenues for support or assistance. This puts the people in them at a bit of a loss, because while there are literally millions of books/therapists/support groups out there on how to handle heterosexual conformist relationship dynamics, there are painfully few that discuss open relationships.
Additionally, there is a fear among monogamists, it seems, around couples who are in open relationships, which I can only compare to the fear that straight men have of gay men. That is that because a couple is open, they will automatically want to sleep with every person/couple they come into contact with. As I said, it is much like the straight men who fear that every gay man will automatically want to sleep with them. It is unfounded and ridiculous, but of course, most fears of this nature are.
Which brings me back to what we fear, and how to break through those fears. It is not typical. It is not something you hear people talk about in casual conversation. But I have to tell you, it is a bit like a compulsion with me at this point in my life. Very often, if something is painful, or hard, or I sense that I am afraid, there is also something else. There is this little excited voice in the back of my mind, yelling and cheering because she knows that things are about to change.While I am vividly aware that it could suck for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time, I know for sure that at some point in the not too distant future, (hopefully), shit is gonna be amazing. My life is going to change and improve in ways I have only dreamt of. My world view, most likely, is going to expand. And that is most often, just the beginning, and that is because I have found a way to break through my fears.
A lot of people get close to their fears then they back off. Or, they get close to their fears and they stuff them down. Or, they drink, eat, smoke, or shoot them away. That is because these fears very often come with pain, and pain, well, is pain, and we are not socialized to understand what that type of pain might mean.
When you break a bone, cut open or burn your flesh, or in some other way do serious damage to your physical being, that pain signals damage. It is your body telling you it is in need of healing. Emotional pain is much the same, but because there is no physical evidence, it is challenging to know where to start. The similarity is that emotional pain is also a signal from your body that it is in need of healing, and it is up to you to figure out how to go about that.
For me, it is a matter of pattern recognition. There are certain types of pain that I have become quite familiar with; these are the pains associated with fear of abandonment, fear of neglect, and fear of being crazy. Over time, I have created ways to deal with this pain, and very often, in fact I would say in almost every situation, it involves communicating with the person who is involved in this dynamic. Every time I do, the situation resolves itself, and even before that happens, I feel better.
I can best illustrate why I feel better by comparing my fears/pain to that of a building up of steam in a tea kettle or any kind of energy that has to be released. If it is not, very often, there are disastrous results. But, when it is released, the fear and the pain resulting from it evaporates. This is why, in almost every situation, when I am feeling uncomfortable due to my concern over neglect, abandonment, or the perception that I might be crazy, I voice it as soon as I can. I also do something that has helped me in every area of my life; I ask questions about my behavior and how people perceive me. It helps me to understand why people react to me the way they do, and what I might unknowingly be doing to create the painful situations I sometimes find myself in.
So, get organized about your fear and pain:
Due to this history, I developed a habit of being WILDLY INDEPENDENT. Capitalized because it was almost unreasonable, the extent to which I took my independence. I did not like asking for help, I did not like accepting help, and frankly, I tried to act in almost EVERY SITUATION as if I needed no help. At all.
You know what would happen next? I would become profoundly emotionally wounded when the people I loved wouldn't help me. I told you it was embarrassing. I would set myself up to be in situations that pushed all my buttons and caused me extreme amounts of pain. I did it to myself, but was not aware of it until I had the courage to ask an instructor of mine why she never paid attention to me or helped me during class. She told me it was because I put off the energy that I didn't need or want any help. The answer surprised me, but it did not shock me.
That was not the first time I heard an answer like that, but it was the first time I listened. I was 26. I am now 46 and still need reminders of this painful but incredibly useful lesson.
Now, I ask for help. Sometimes, I even ask strangers. I am not perfect. I don't ask every time, and sometimes I catch myself setting up my boyfriend to disappoint me, but I know that one of my things is that I tend to set people up to disappoint me, so when he points it out to me, there is very little in the way of argument.
How about you? What do you do to hurt yourself? What situations do you find yourself in over and over again, that cause you pain? What can you change about your behavior so that you can move through your pain and get to growth?
All of this is not easy. I know that. Mostly because I do it. But it is so worth it. Life does not have to be about what you are not. Life doesn't have to be about what you don't have. Life can be about surprises, it can be about how much you can be. But it will be hard to get there if you repeat patterns over and over again which only bring you torment and suffering.
So why not give it a shot? Look at what you are doing. Ask your friends and the people who know you best what they see, and really listen to what they say. It can be scary, I know, it can also be painful. But, it can also be the beginning of your big, new life. It can be the start of your new found greatness.
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His heartache had aged him. In his slumping shoulders, his brow. and his timbre he held weight; and not the kind that makes you look heavier, the kind that feels heavier to everyone around you. He had been through the wringer, and he said to me what many men have said about young women for years: "they lie about who they are."
The pain in this statement reverberated throughout my nerves to my fingertips. I knew it well, but my response did not soothe him. "Of course they do." They have to. There is too much shame involved in admitting that they are a mess. There are too many stories, too many false fronts telling us who women should be. There is so much pressure to be together, beautiful, whole, and functional, that when biology, and society, and whatever else keeps us from being what our culture seems to expect, the only thing we can do is pretend, with spectacularly horrible results.
There is no room in our society for anything out of the ordinary. We have not created space for the deviant. We have the illogical and misguided belief that we are supposed to fit into the same boring-ass square box. Women are supoosed to be sweet, beautiful, smart, mysterious and sexy. Men are supposed to be strong, silent, rugged, and entirely self-sufficient. And any efforts we make are those of disguise and deception in order to live up to those unattainable standards.
Yes, of course we lie. We want to be that cool girl. We want to be that beautiful, together, happy woman that is the expectation. But even more, we want love, so we do what we can to twist ourselves into that. We bend and mold ourselves into the latest and most popular version of beauty, and we negate the real part of us that is broken so that when you do happen to fall, we will not be able to bring ourselves to believe you. No amount of attention, adoration or comfort that you try to provide for us will ever suffice, because we have twisted ourselves for you. We know that you have fallen for the lie, and that if we allow you to see the reality, if we provide you a peek behind the heavy velvet curtain, you will draw back. So we cling to the lie for as long as we possibly can. We play the role as if our lives depend on it. Then, at a certain point, we colllapse. Eventually we stop pretending out of sheer exhaustion and you wonder who the hell this person is that you are contractually bound to.
We expect altogether too much of ourselves, and forgive far too little. We are inordinately punishing when we fall short of expectation, and even harder on others when they disappoint us. There is so much fear about who we are and what that might mean, that there is no way to get comfortable with it because we are too ashamed to admit it. Too ashamed to admit that we feel pain at the wrong times, sadness in inconvenient moments, jealousy when we ourselves are guilty.
We are expecting logical behavior in a world that prescribes the insanity of a false paradigm. So the best we can do is find a way to forgive ourselves. Find a way to love what we perceive as our own ugliness. Embrace what is nerve-wrackingly uncomfortable, because there is no guarantee that we can get this from anyone else, and even if you are lucky enough to get love and forgiveness, if you don't believe you are loved, if you are incapable of feeling the love and the forgiveness that you hold for your own soul, you will never feel the love or forgiveness of others, no matter how great. You will never be filled if you cannot first feel the fullness and the greatness of your own appreciation.
So start now. Do not set your mind on fixing others. There is nothing to fix. Not in the way you think there is. The hardest work you ever do will not be in the struggle, it will be in the stillness. Your work will be finding a way to love yourself in the face of all the damning evidence that society presents as an argument against it. Do not believe, work toward or hold as a goal any level of false perfection because you will never, ever attain it, and you will never ever really know yourself.
Imagine being at the end of your life, looking back, and not being able to put a finger on who you are, who you came to be, and who, in the end, you let in your life. Don't look back and find that you could not be vulnerable after that heartbreak. Life is not made to have you move through it via efforts of protection, life is made to be messy, it is available so that we might have our hearts broken, so that we might glimpse our own greatness, so that we might grow past a point we had never dreamed possible.
But none of this is possible, not a bit of it, if we continue to deny our pain. If we continue to let our shame control us. If at some point, we close down entirely because we are afraid of trusting that someone won't lie to us.
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"My arms look like I am a prisoner from Auschwitz." I looked at his arms. They looked like regular arms to me. This was the first in a list of many things a friend of mine was telling me he didn't like about the appearance of his body. I pointed that out to him and asked what he did like about his body. He listed four or five things. Everything he liked had to do with what his body was able to do. His list all related to what he was capable of physically.
I pointed that out to him as well, and asked him if he thought there was any connection. He thought about it for a while, but I knew, and I knew because for me, it is the same, and I would guess that it is the same for many people.
We have been trained to see ourselves as objects. The training is overt, subliminal, and nefariously destructive. We are not objects. We are subjects. Subjects act. Objects are acted upon. This is a simple but profound difference that many people miss.
When I was a kid, I was a bit of a whirlwind. Running around, climbing trees, playing football, baseball, bounce and fly, kick ball, I did a lot of physical stuff and it brought me a lot of joy because I was very coordinated, very fast, and I got a lot of attention for my abilities.
Around the time I turned eleven, when I started looking more like a woman, I started being judged on how I looked. This was a great shock to me, because I had never thought about how I looked. How I looked had never mattered.
The summer before I turned 12, for the first time ever, my mother sent me to summer camp. It was a brutal experience, It was so bad that at one point I actually regressed to a child-like state and peed in my bed. Of course, soon after I returned to pre-teenhood and I moved that mattress to a mean girl's bunk and washed my sleeping bag without anyone noticing, but that summer, I also started bleeding, and I started growing boobs, I was being seen in an entirely different way by my peers at camp; as if my value as a person was derived from how I looked. It was deeply tramatic, and to this day, I still remember the girls at camp who made fun of me and gave me my nickname, DEFF (dull eyes, flat face).
For decades after that, I attempted to balance my life as an object. I tried make-up, I tried wearing very tight clothing. I tried to curl my hair, but the only time I was truly happy with my appearance was when I didn't have to think about it; when I was feeling good about something I accompished, or some new skill I had acquired (I will never forget the day I threw my first tumbler on the potters wheel.)
This is the world. I didn't make it, but I have tried to play by its rules only to find that the rules are fucked and have been created by profoundly unhappy and unreasonable people. So, on this day, the day of new beginnings, I give you permission, and in fact invite you to say to yourself, and everyone else who pushes this objectification upon you, "Fuck those rules. They don't apply to me because I am far too capable to be judged on the basis of an unreasonable beauty standard." I mean, you don't have to use that quote verbatim, you can totally put that in your own way, but I think that if we stop seeing ourselves and each other as objects and train ourselves to be grand and glorious subjects, we will waste a lot less time agonizing over shit we have no control over and crap that in the end, doesn't really matter.
I am not saying that caring about how you look is a waste of time. I am saying that basing your value on it, beating yourself up over it, or feeling inadequate because of it, is. In that moment, if you decided to, you could celebrate yourself. You could cheer yourself on. You could re-train your mind to see yourself in an entirely different way. All it takes is a decision to reject the dominant paradigm that says your value is based on your looks.
You have been given your body and it is your job to love it. Be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up for NOT being something that is unreasonable. Decide to love what you got because it is yours. Defend it in the face of tyranny. Boast its achievements. Write songs of victory and might about its accomplishments.
Do not let other's criticism and judgement sway you against it. They speak only of themselves. They are not the voice of reason you give them credit for.
We live in a highly uncertain, volatile world. There is not a whole lot we can control. Do not let your light go out without having known the feeling of truly loving your body. Do not move through the world carrying the burden of shame, guilt or insecurity over what is a gift. Learn from your body. Develop a good solid relationship with it. Listen to it. Your body holds a wisdom older than its age. It represents millions of years of evolution, and is too spectacular, too complex and dynamic to be judged on looks alone.
So get busy loving your body. Here are some ways I choose to love my body every day.
You see, in order to get better, in order to love your body and all that it implies, you must not only focus on the internal, but shut out a lot of the external as well. Recognizing and creating a strategy for the bullshit that society does in order to control your behavior is a reality of the love-your-body scenario. The good news is that you are not responsible for changing society, only for ignoring it when it becomes unreasonable. Which, granted, is a good chunk of the time.
Let me know how it goes, and let me know if you need help with that. I am good at figuring creative ways to ignore society and stick it to the man.
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"Are you a man or a woman?" This is a question I have been getting a lot lately on my Instagram account. I have also received it from people to whom I send naked pictures. Every time I am asked, it is by a man. It has inspired me to really think about that question, very deeply. All my life, I have identified as a woman/female because for the most part, I have been treated like a female all my life, so I guess I would have to say that this is the way I identify.
But part of me thinks this doesn't really matter. It is not that I want to downplay it, I just don't feel like I use it to make decisions, except for those regarding safety. Of course, I am treated as less than in most professional positions I hold, I am not allowed certain health priveleges in some states, and I might get paid less than a man in certain companies, but other than that, my gender is really not anything I think about.
What I think more about is my great effort to be Sara. Sara is a unique individual who frankly, doesn't like to be put in a box. She knows that she will be perceived differently depending upon her gender, She understands on a deep level that if she is not a man, she will not benefit from certain privileges that group enjoys.
But it is much like the art Sara makes, the articles and books she writes, and the photographs she creates every day. She can only do them as Sara, but then, the viewer, the person who comes to those creations, much like the person questioning her gender, brings their life with them to view it. Every experience, every wonderful and horrible thing, come with the viewer and there is no way for Sara to control that, nor would she want to. That is because Sara needs all of her energy to make sure she is being true to herself. Sara must be loyal to Sara, no matter her gender, her sexual preference, or her religious beliefs. Sara is above all else, devoted to herself.
So, when I am asked if I am a man or a woman, or, when I sit and listen to a man tell me that all women are crazy, I can't help but try and relate to those statements. I can't help but wonder what it might have been to go through this world, in this time, or any other, as a man. If I was a man, life would most likely have been easier for me. I am not sure that is better though, because I would hate to maintain the incorrect assumption that all women are crazy, or be blind to the fact that I am a member of a gender which at best is not aware of its power and privelege in almost every society that has ever existed on earth.
So, yes, in the face of all that is against me, I am Sara, I am a woman, and I am doing that in any way that I choose. I will not make apologies or ask for permission or try to fit into society's twisted vision of what a woman should be. It is a narrow-minded limiting persona that has very little to do with who I am, what I am capable of, and how much I grow and accomplish. In fact, let's just say it, if I were to believe society's version of female, I would most likely be much less than I am.
I have never in my life asked, "how best can I appear to be a woman?" this is something I am just understanding, is in itself, a privilege, and I am grateful for it. The Sara thing? That is an every-day-all-day-long question I pose, because I am interested in who she is. I am interested in what she loves, what she thinks, and what she fears and desires. This is a question I can dig my teeth into. This is a question I love to consider, because it is always changing, always evolving, and always interesting.
I am lucky to have this type of freedom to consider this, who I am, and luckier still to come up with such excellent answers.
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