Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
If you missed my post on lovin' your belly over at New Approaches, come over to the elephant journal. I'm talking about some unique ways to increase the peace with your body image.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Picture from the Juneau Empire files
For my grandfather, Bill Ray
These are the sounds after a quick death following a long life: The telephone rings are steady, but not constant. Arrangements are made swiftly, with no big decisions, discussions or surprises. Voices are calm. You hear a lot of sighs. Only a thin layer of shock drifts by, like a cirrus cloud.
My grandfather lived to be 91. We loved each other and said so in later years, but we didn’t speak often. He was strong-willed and difficult with those he loved the most. He was a storyteller and a lawmaker. A liquor hawker. A secret-keeper and a gold collector. He was a name caller. A fisherman and a painter and a writer.
He was a child of the universe who was here, and now isn’t.
A constellation of ancestors, long twists and turns of accident or fate. A mother’s eyes, a grandfather’s nose. The birth name, Will, that he grew into, but later changed.
My best memories of him are when he told stories. He sits at a table, one hand on his coffee mug. He is already laughing, his eyes shining with anticipation. “This is a good one,” he says. “Wait until you hear this one.”
It’s the one where his father’s dog, Whitey, fell out of the fishing boat, perilously close to the falls. “‘What’d you do, Dad?’ I asked him.”
‘I said, So long, Whitey!”
‘I said, So long, Whitey!”
He shakes his head and chuckles, his laugh still sturdy among the laughs of his listeners.
I wish I had listened better, had a better memory. I wish I’d written the stories down instead of letting them sing by, all wisps and trails. I wonder where do all those stories go when we die? Do they live on, swirling and hanging in the air where he was? In the cells of his great grandchildren who he never met? In the pages he wrote?
“Reaaad boooook, Mama,” my daughter says, pattering over to me.
She hands me Goodnight Moon. Her eyes are big and blue, her cheeks full and smooth. I start reading, my eyes taking in the flat greens and tomato reds of the book. By the time I get to And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush, I am in tears.
All those goodnights. The words of the book, a childhood favorite, reach back through my mind, unlocking the little girl inside of me. The one whose grandpa was larger than life, full of laughs and stories. He was big and handsome. He slipped her sips of beer in the kitchen. Sent her postcards when he travelled. He appeared on the radio and TV, making jokes and laws.These are the sounds after a good death: Quiet sobs. Voices on the phone, shaky, but not shattered. Patter of small feet, new tales unfolding. Goodnight stars, goodnight air. The rush of memories, of stories, rising and falling, lifting into the sky.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
In a wildly generous move, my cousin offered me a free photo shoot with the photographer she works with. So this Wednesday, I met up with cousin Meghan and Kevin Ouelette, photographer and DJ at Amazing DJ Music, Sound and Photography.
Getting my picture taken is not my favorite thing. Despite the fact that I can air many of my vulnerabilities here, there is something about being photographed that makes me feel so very naked. Not in a good way.
I was that painfully shy kid growing up. I kept my lips pursed and my head down, slouched in a desk at the back of the classroom. I internalized most of my emotions. I thought I was fat and ugly and therefore unlovable, so I hid. The more I hid, the more I became convinced that I wasn’t worthy of being seen.
Add to that a mysterious talent for closing my eyes at exactly the same time as the camera clicks.
Fortunately, Kevin had a way of putting me at ease. After greeting me with a warm hug, he asked, “So tell me what you don’t like about yourself.”
I thought for a moment, trying to figure out where to start. I began listing my physical flaws.
“I have a nose smile,” I confessed, referencing the little slash that blooms beneath my nose when I grin. “And sometimes in pictures I look a little cross-eyed.” I almost started in on my “strong” nose, and hadn’t even gotten to body parts below the neck, but Kevin was ready to get started.
“Okay,” he said. “Cool. Let’s go!”
As Kevin drove, we chatted about my writing so he could get a sense of what to capture in my photographs. I told him I wrote mostly about parenting and grief and spirit, and that— SPOILER ALERT!— I was working on launching a new website. Our conversation flowed easily, and I felt instantly comfortable.
What impressed me most was that Kevin operated purely on instinct. He drove around for awhile, then suddenly said, “I’m feeling like I want to park here and walk around.” So we did. Because he trusted his instinct, I did, too.
He asked me to sit on the front steps of a stranger’s house, which would normally leave me feeling anxious. But I didn’t feel anxious. It felt like we were on a fun little jaunt, instead. “Think about elephant bums,” he said, pointing his camera at me.
As if summoned by a camera-wielding wizard, a big, genuine smile spread across my face.
We continued that way, walking and chatting our way through a neighborhood of lovely old houses. We paused at various stoops, stairs and fences per Kevin’s hunches. I cheerfully envisioned the nether regions of pachyderms while Kevin snapped away. I wasn’t thinking of my nose smile at all.
“So how long have you been doing this?” I asked.
“About three years,” he said.
“Wow. And you have no traditional training?”
I was stunned, having seen some of his gorgeous photos on Facebook.
Kevin shared that capturing the essence of people was his superpower. He grinned, as if thinking of elephant bums, while he expressed how amazing it was to produce images that helped people feel good about themselves. The way he said it was devoid of ego—he sounded almost surprised that he had discovered this ability. It made me feel happy—what a wonderful way to be able to make people feel good.
At one point, he was photographing me from my left side. “You do have a bit of a lazy eye,” he said.
At one point, he was photographing me from my left side. “You do have a bit of a lazy eye,” he said.
Though I died a tiny bit inside, and briefly doubted his claim about making people feel good, he said it with kindness and objectivity, as if proclaiming that I had a strand of grass in my hair.
“You knew that, right?” he said, concerned that he had surprised me.
After about forty-five minutes of walking and shooting, we headed back to his studio. “You know that this whole time, you’ve only talked about your imperfections? Which aren’t really even imperfections—you just perceive them that way.”
“Yeah, I do that,” I admitted.
Back at the studio, Kevin scrolled through the images he’d taken, selecting favorites. We swiftly narrowed it down to our top four favorites, and then he began lightly editing them. “Turn this way,” he said. I did. “Do you have some carrot in your teeth?” he asked, an eyebrow lifted.
“Oh, dear God.” I stared at his computer screen, where a big chunk of carrot was wedged between my back teeth. I watched as he digitally flossed my teeth.
“Hmm. Show me your other side,” he said, again referencing my teeth. I did. He started laughing.
“Maybe you can photoshop a little bunny into the pictures, going after all the carrots,” I suggested.
I silently made a vow that if I ever had my photo taken again, I would floss beforehand. Twice.
As Kevin worked on the photos, I sat there thinking about imperfection. About my Forest Whitaker eye and my carrot teeth and my nose smile. When I zoomed out and focused on the whole picture, the photos looked really, really good. So why was I focusing on the imperfections, which we all have?
“Which one is your favorite?” Kevin asked.
“That one,” I said. I liked the little orbs of light in the background.
“Really? That’s actually my least favorite. I think you look a little inhibited in that one,” he said. “This is my favorite. I feel like it really shows who you are.”
Later, my mom would declare that Kevin had “captured my essence,” in that photo.
It occurred to me afterwards that one of my superpowers is that people often feel really comfortable sharing personal things with me. I frequently hear, “I don’t usually share stuff like that with other people.” Just the other day, I was getting some bodywork done and the practitioner, who is highly professional, ended up sharing some very personal issues her family was facing. As I was leaving, I said, “I’m really sorry you’re going through that.”
She looked a little alarmed. “I don’t usually share stuff like that with my clients.”
“I know you don’t,” I said, with a gentle smile.
“I know you don’t,” I said, with a gentle smile.
In retrospect, during my visit, I’d been vulnerable with her and had talked about my issues with anxiety. Though my focused attention on my own flaws causes me a lot of discomfort, I think that my ability to openly share those flaws might be related to my tendency to make other people feel comfortable. Because I am fairly at ease with removing my social masks, other people feel like they can go ahead and lower theirs a bit, too. It’s not unlike how I trusted Kevin’s instincts because I could tell that he did.
So much of my personal growth work is about accepting the whole deal. The grey area. The AND. The carrot teeth AND the photo that I love. The superpowers AND the vulnerabilities, both of which our world desperately needs. And seeing that sometimes, sometimes, they are actually one and the same.
What’s your superpower?
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Monday, September 2, 2013
When I was pregnant with my son, I asked a friend with an almost two-year-old what parenting was like. I knew it was too broad of a question, but I asked anyways.
My friend thought for a moment. Then she said, “Hard. And amazing.”
One of the great, continuing lessons of my life has to do with the grey area. With understanding and accepting that nothing is just black or white. That we constantly hold a myriad of aches and joys, triumphs and tragedies, struggles and success.
Take, for instance, yesterday. We took the kids up to Freeport to have lunch with friends and to procure preschool supplies for the kids. Towards the end of our trip, none of us were happy. And we still had 45 minutes to wait for our son’s backpack to get monogrammed.
Our two-year-old daughter was about an hour past her naptime and proceeded to screech and weave through the crowd of shoppers unless she had the giant L.L. Bean bag containing her new pink rain pants strapped over her little shoulder. Max was whiny.
I hadn’t imbibed my daily quotient of caffeine, and soon I was whining, too. My husband was done with all three of us. Strangers were giving us that look. The can’t you control your horribly behaved children?!? look.
It was hard. Not in a ‘capital H Hard’ way, like with natural disasters or serious illness. More in a why did we decide to take the little crazy people shopping kind of a way.
Finally, Max’s new shark backpack was emblazoned with his first name and last initial, and he was so delighted that he cuddled it all the way home, where the kids and I all napped.
When we got up, we were mostly refreshed. The Kastaways, the mascot band that plays for the local Portland Sea Dogs baseball team, was scheduled to make their last appearance of the season. Max loves music—it is his thing. And he’s been infatuated with the Kastaways since he first heard them play last summer at his very first baseball game. After which he began talking about them constantly.
The thing is, he has always liked the idea of them more than the reality. Often, when we go to hear them play, he just stands there watching, looking slightly frozen and cowering if any of the mascots approach him. The rest of us usually sway and enjoy the chance to hear some live music. You wouldn’t guess by looking at Max standing there on the crimson bricks outside of Hadlock Field that this would be the moment he would talk about for weeks to come. “Tell me about the time we saw the Kastaways and that boy had a birthday and the Kastaways sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to him,” he would say at bedtime. Every night.
Having been a shy child myself, I find it slightly heartbreaking to see him scared and holding back from one of the things that most brings him alive. The thing he talks about all the time and replays in his head and with his words. Often. It is one of those soft spots from my own life that I have to watch out for—it’s far too tempting to try and parent from my own wounds. I have to just let him, sometimes, be scared and frozen and trust that he, like we all are, is on his own path.
So last night, when we decided to go see the Kastaways, we expected him to be shy and tentative. But I actually did the unthinkable anyways; I woke him up from his nap so we could make it in time to see them play. “Maxie,” I said, lowering myself to his bed. His eyelids fluttered, then dropped. “Do you want to go see the Kastaways play for the last time this season?” I whispered. His eyes grew round, and he sprung up, rubbing his eyes. “YEAH!” he said.
When we arrived at Hadlock Field, the Kastaways were taking a break between sets. We sat and waited, while hundreds of people headed in to watch the actual baseball game. Finally, we heard the telltale sound of the musicians saying, “Check,” into their microphones. Sir Nigel Rathbone the Wharf Rat, Spike the Porcupine, Clarence the Clam, Pete the Puffin and Herman Dean the Power Hog strutted by us. They introduced themselves and began to play. I watched a huge grin slide over Max’s face as they started playing “Centerfield,” Max’s favorite. Within moments, Max was tapping his feet and spinning around.
Then, the lead singer, Sir Nigel Rathbone the Wharf Rat, beckoned for Max and another little girl to come up and dance in front of the area where they were playing. I was stunned when our guy headed right up. As the music started, Max started busting out donkey kicks and rock lunges to “Twist and Shout.” He danced for several songs, the sound of the keyboard and drums propelling him. He was wholly in the moment. In his body. In the music. It was beautiful, and it brought me more into the moment, too. My boy—my sensitive, determined, mercurial boy—let the music pool and swirl inside him as dozens of people streamed by.
I watched him, and I watched my husband, who was videotaping the moment. I watched the faces of the other people in the audience, smiling at my son’s freedom. I felt like the late August sun was shining right down into my chest, soaking my heart.
It was amazing.
Life is hard and amazing. Life with young kids is hard and amazing. Sometimes, like this morning, when my chest was pulsing and expanding with love as my kids were snuggling like kittens, and then with no warning, slapping at each other, it is both hard and amazing within mere moments. Sometimes you just get the hard stuff, and sometimes, like last night, you get just the amazing stuff.
Friday, August 30, 2013
Yesterday afternoon, Scott, Max and I went candlepin bowling. We were all excited about the rare chance to spend some time together doing something that would be challenging with our toddler in tow.
Something that most people don’t know about me is that get very competitive when playing games, which vacuums all the fun right out of it for me and those playing with me.
I managed to hold myself back during bowling. I will admit to smugly thinking I was winning the whole time, only to realize at the end that I was looking at Scott’s score, not mine. The mild deflation I felt was redeemed by knowing that Max had a blast, slamming the small balls down the lane, equally distributing them between the left and right gutters. In between turns, I sipped my ice coffee and looked at Max, trying to figure out once again how he morphed from the tiny, red-faced infant into a small person who could walk and talk, play the drums and bowl. Earlier in the day, Scott had told me I needed to, ‘lighten up.’ I was trying to take his words to heart. Trying to be present.
After we finished the thread of bowling, we migrated to the small arcade behind the lanes. Max wanted to play air hockey. I was delighted, as I love air hockey. And by love, I mean it sends me into a frenzied fight or flight cortisol party, where my pulse ramps up and I slam the puck around as if fighting for my very life.
Which would be okay, except I was playing against my four-year-old. “Too fast, Mama!” he whined.
“Sorry bud! I’ll slow down.”
I couldn’t slow down.
“I want to play with Dada instead!”
I reluctantly handed the paddle to Scott and positioned myself on the sidelines.
Scott and Max gently passed the puck back and forth, back and forth.
Oh, I thought.
Maxie giggled and cheered as he scored on Scott. “Yay, Maxie!” I yelped.
Maxie and I cheer again. Scott made a pretend pouty face.
It was at this point that I realized Scott was letting him score. The thought never would have occurred to me while I was playing.
“Mama, do you think you can chill out a bit and play with Max again?” Scott asked.
“Of course. Sorry, Max. Mommy gets a little excited when she plays air hockey,” I said. “I’ll relax.”
I glance at my sweet, fiery four-year-old. So big, yet still so little. Lighten up, I thought.
But the minute the paddle was in my hand, my wrist flicked, firing the puck off the sides of the table and slap, right into Max’s goal slot.
“MAMA!” he cried, throwing himself onto the carpet.
“Baby!” Scott said. “What the heck?”
With my head down, I silently handed over the paddle to Scott.
Lightening up, relaxing, having fun—these are challenges for me.
Later that night after we picked up Violet from daycare, I had another opportunity.
Max loves music. It is like breath for him, and it has been since he was an infant. We encourage his passion, though it is often very, very loud. For reasons that I can’t quite explain but blame solely on Scott, lately Max has been into “Africa” by Toto, circa 1983. Most nights, he asks to watch it on Scott’s iPad while he slams away on his drum set.
Last night was no different. Scott put the song on.
I hear the drums echoing tonight
We huddled around the drum set while Max crashed about on his drums with abandon, not unlike the way I had become possessed with the air hockey paddle in my hands only hours before. I listened to the song, which somehow sounds better and better each time I hear it. Which is often. The melody washed over me as I watched the musicians on Scott’s screen, and I found myself swaying.
Hurry boy, It’s waiting here for you
I listened and I watched. I didn’t even stop to make any jokes about the curly 1980’s mini-mullet on the lead singer’s head.
Or the keyboard player, who looked like this:
Without really thinking about it, I zoomed upstairs and may have came back looking like this:
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become
I lightened up. I grabbed my son’s keyboard and rocked the hell out. Of course, even as I was lightening up, I was thinking, Hey! I’m lightening up! This is me, lightening up! Hey, do you guys see what’s going on here? I’m all light and stuff! Weeee!
We played the song another time or two, and then the day was done. Without too much ado, the kids were in bed and quiet. I collapsed onto the couch to watch some Netflix. We had bowled and air hockeyed and rocked out. I had possibly found the seed of an idea for my Halloween costume. I settled into a long, deep sleep. Lightening up is hard work for some of us.
How do you lighten up?