All the Choir Ladies…

1997 wasn’t a good year for me.  I had too-short hair, glasses.  I was all hormones, and looking back now, I realize a good dose of depression and anxiety.  I couldn’t fit inside my skin.  I think most 12 year old’s understand that feeling.  That feeling of being out of place, uncomfortable, awkward.  1997 isn’t a year I look back on fondly.

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Me, at 12.

But one good  thing happened in 1997.  In 1997 I went to a choir.  A little group rehearsing in an old church in White Rock.  And there I met Sarona.

I think we all have those people if we are lucky.  Those few people who come into our lives and leave a mark. Leave us better than they found us.

Sarona was one of those people for me.

Sarona took us from being kids.  From being geeks, or loners, or losers, or invisible.  She took us and she made us into singers.

She taught us to work hard.  To do what we said we were going to do.  She taught us to stand up in a room full of people and sing our hearts out.

From Sarona I learned a work ethic.

From Sarona I learned how to fit into my  skin better – she always seemed to fit so well into hers.  

Several months ago I got an email that Sarona, my choir director,  was moving away and would no longer be directing the choir that I spent so much time in from about 1997-2003.  This woman who had taught me so so much was having a final concert and they were looking for alumni to sing.  I joined immediately.

And I found myself in a room with women I hadn’t seen since we were girls, teenagers.  Women who had been there at a critical moment in my life.  I found myself in a room with the women I had grown up with.  Women who were some of the first I told when I kissed a boy.  When I… more than kissed a boy.

And so we sang.  We sang for Sarona because we love her.  Each and every one of us talked about how this woman, this one woman, had taken us and given us a place to belong at an age when so few have that and so many need it.  She had given us a safe place.  Those words, “safe place”, came up again and again as we talked about her.

I sat in a coffee shop with two of these women on the afternoon of the concert.  Between us we had 3 marriages, 2 divorces, 6 children.  Our lives had taken us in directions that we could not have predicted.  And the mark that Sarona left hadn’t faded for any of us.  We all recognized the critical impact she had had on our lives.

So I sang.  I got up on a stage and I sang.  And we sang the old songs, songs I hadn’t sung in over a decade.  The songs came back as if there’d been no time.

It was like I was seventeen again.  Standing in my blue velvet dress, matching scrunchy in my hair, a single strand of pearls around my neck.  It was like I was on an adventure.  Like we’d just rushed out of some tour bus onto stage.  I thought about all of those moments and all of those children.  Young women, young men who had been given a safe place.  Who’d gotten to sing.

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Me, (and the blue dress), at 16.

Singing, music, is a powerful thing.  It bridges our differences.  It connects us.  It’s a beauty that is desperately needed in the world right now.

So I sang.

When the women’s choir said they were accepting new members I knew that that was the place for me.  I’ve been rehearsing with this group for a few months now.  Sarona’s mark is there even though she is gone.  It’s in some of the old songs people pick up.  It’s in the warm ups and the movement.  I’ve sung with other choirs in the past decade but none that have felt so much like home.

I look back and I see that 12 year old girl with the too-short hair and glasses.  The girl who couldn’t fit inside her skin.  A  girl whose hormones were spilling over.  A girl who was anxious, about everything and nothing.  A girl who felt so so alone, all day, everyday, at school.

I look back on that girl and I wonder who she would have become if she hadn’t found her spot.  If she hadn’t found her safe space to be, to exist.  To be seen and to be loved for who she was.  To be told that it was okay to be a little bit different.

That 12 year old girl has been trained away.  She has found a space and a voice and a way to fit in her skin.

But she’s always going to be under there.  And she’s always going to be grateful for Sarona.  Grateful that she came in and changed her life.

My Brand of Crazy…

Yesterday A and I were out and about.  It started with a lazy morning (for me: he went grocery shopping and to the gym before I’d even crawled out of bed…).  I drank too much tea, talked to my sister, read a book.  Stayed in my jammies until noon.  Was made a breakfast of bacon, kale fried in bacon (yay, we had veggies!), and pancakes.

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Early afternoon we headed to White Rock.  We were going to a cafe, for a walk.  A lazy day in the sun.

It devolved into a shopping trip.  I needed sunglasses.  And a new outfit.  Poor A.  He was a total trooper.

(Particularly when I decided to change into my new clothing in the car and I was wearing just a t-shirt and thong in the passenger seat.  He maneuvered through traffic as I struggled to pull up, and do up, a pair of tight new blue jeans without jostling the stick shift.)

(… giggles…)

The plan was to go to the beach for a walk in the beautiful sunshine.

Turns out we had different ideas of what that plan would look like.

See, A thought that we would park at the top of White Rock and walk down.

I thought that that sounded like the worst idea in the history of the world and I was wearing a new outfit and did he think that I wanted to get all sweaty and gross and if he saw how out of shape I was he would definitely stop loving me.  And I would really prefer it if he didn’t stop loving me Thank You Very Much.  

The result was that we went to the beach.  In a car.  On the first really beautiful day of the year.

Oh, did I mention that yesterday was a holiday in BC?

30 minutes later we were still crawling along the waterfront, no parking spots in sight, no way out.  A was feeling grumpy.  I was doing the nervous babbling that I do when men get grumpy.

(I should pause here and mention that A’s version of grumpy is almost unrecognizable unless you know him.  He just gets quiet.  He continues to be his usual patient and kind self.  Just quieter with occasional proclamations about all the things he’d rather be doing than driving at that very moment.)

We finally made it off the strip, parked up by my apartment building and wandered the neighbourhood.  We found a new brewery bar that we got pretty excited about and chatted with the owner.  We wandered around until his grumpiness, and my nervousness, had faded.

I explained how anxious I was about having to walk up a giant hill with him.  About the extent to which it filled me with dread.  Even trying to explain I could feel the tears just under the surface, the humiliation and shame about my body.  The panic that that humiliation and shame leads to.

Yesterday I revealed a few things about myself:

  • If I say I hate my outfit when we leave the house in the morning there’s a good chance that I’ll suggest a quick stop at the sales racks…
  • When I know someone is grumpy I get nervous and giggly and rambly – no matter how much I trust that that person is going to remain kind and good.  I’m working on it.  (Pretty sure he’s known this one for a long time actually.)
  • My issues with my body go far beyond just not liking the way that it looks.  I have a dread of the way that it functions.  It’s an issue that is going to take a long time to work through.

I learned a lot about him through this experience too.  But that’s mine to keep.

We went to dinner at a friends, met some new people.  Had interesting conversation with great food and wine.  Stopped on the way home to buy a bag of candy to go with a final beer.

Yesterday was a good day.  A day of learning and a day of laughter and a day of fun.   The type of day that leaves one smiling and hopeful, whatever the struggles you may have.

I hope your family day was as well spent my friends.

 

I Really Like Natural Boobs… And Personality.

One of my goals for 2017 is to start a more consistent exercise program… of some sort.  I don’t really care if it’s ensuring that I get 10,000 steps in a day or if I swim laps for 45 minutes.  I just want to know that, most days of the week, I’ve used my body.  Done something good for it.

And so I’ve been finding myself at the pool lately.

I find the pool intimidating.  How does one know which lane to swim in?  How does one ensure that one doesn’t crash into that person flying by oh-so-close?  How does one wander about in their bathing suit while running into colleagues and such?  How does one get over their fear of running into Aggressive Guy whilst in a bathing suit?

I was at the pool last week.  I’d been swimming laps and was feeling really good as I opened the door to the sauna and saw three men in their early 30s look up as I entered.  I hesitated for a moment in the way that most women do when confronted with a room of only men.  But I went in.  Because it’s the public pool, it’s a safe place, and there’s nothing to worry about.  Silly me for my hesitation.

Let’s call these three gentlemen: Guy 1, Guy 2, and Guy 3.

Guy 3 leaves the sauna within a few moments of my entering.

Guy 2: “Did you see his new girlfriend?”

Guy 1: “Yeah, she’s totally a downgrade from the last chick.”

Guy 2: “Totally.  She’s still pretty hot though.”

Guy 1: “Nah.  I don’t go for the fake boobs.  So many of the chicks in the hot tub tonight have fakes.”

Guy 2: “I hate fakes.  She really is a downgrade.”

Guy 1, apparently realizing that this conversation might be inappropriate, glances over at me, assesses my situation, and says: “I really like natural boobs.”

Guy 2, realizes that they have been less than gentlemanly with their conversation, glances at me, assesses my situation, and says: “And personality.  Really I just want a good personality.”

(Throughout this conversation I had my head down and my eyes half shut in an attempt to block them out.  Politely.)

They then proceeded to discuss the girls in the hot tub and which of them they figured had fake boobs.  They rated their bodies and hotness.

At another iteration of “Fake boobs are so gross” I lifted my head, looked the offender in the eye, and said: “I guess it just depends on how good the surgeon is.”

(I’m not sure why this is what I chose to say.  It was like my Santa Claus moment of a couple years ago.  That’s what slipped out.)

Both guys turned bright red at the confirmation that I wasn’t in fact deaf and one stuttered out a: “Sorry, we weren’t trying to be rude.”

I shrugged, smiled, and replied that it was all good.

I hate myself a little bit for that smile.

But I was in a small contained space with two unknown men and I really did not want to lose my proud post-workout buzz by having to have that conversation.

You know the conversation.  The conversation that asks them if they would be okay with their mothers, daughters, sisters, wives or girlfriends being spoken about in the way that they were talking about the ‘downgrade girlfriend’.  (And can we just think about this for a moment… )

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The conversation that asks them if they wanted me to dissect their bodies as I sat in the sauna with a friend.  Should I speculate that they probably have small dicks?  ED?  (What is the equivalent on a man of fake breasts on a woman?)

The conversation that asks them why the fuck I need to ask them these fucking questions.

So I smiled at them.  And I made nice.  Because I didn’t have the energy for that conversation on this particular day.  Because I’m good at backing down.  Because men kind of scare me and life seems to reinforce that that’s smart.

And I shut down that little voice inside that wondered how lacking they found my body, encased as it was in a one piece swimsuit with far too much cleavage.  What did they think about the dimples on my thighs, the very visible dent in my ass from a fall last year?  What did they have to say about my lack of makeup, about my too-high BMI?  About the stretch marks littering the undersides of my upper arms?

I’ve fought so hard to be okay in my body.  It had been a fight to get myself to the pool that night.  To expose myself in such a way.

And to find that all my fears were true?  That the men I passed in on the deck really were staring, make assessments, and certainly finding me lacking?

Suddenly I remembered this…

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(I can’t find a source for this beautiful image…)

Yeah.  I still need to remind myself of that once in awhile.

I don’t care to excuse guys who talk like this anymore.  The men in my world don’t.  Boys won’t be boys.  Boys need to Find Something Else to Talk About.  Fuck off.  Realize that my body, and the bodies of all those women in the hot tub, are not fodder for your amusement.

Seriously boys.  It’s time to grow the fuck up.

It Scares Me a Little…

The past few weeks of my “Reset” have gone really well.  I’ve been getting enough sleep, working out, eating well.  I haven’t been perfect but perfect isn’t my aim.  I’ve been looking after myself and I feel good about that.

Problem is… My pain is bad lately.

It’s everywhere.  In my head, neck, face, shoulders, arms, elbows, hands.  And it seems that every second day or so it flares up to unbearable.  It makes me grumpy and frustrated.

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It doesn’t help that a loud person recently bought the apartment above me.  She seems to like coming home inebriated at 12, 1, or 2 am and staying up for hours, wandering from room to room.

 

On nights when I don’t get enough sleep my pain is always high the following day.  And that creates a mild panic when I know I’m being kept up.  Which loops around and keeps me from falling asleep.

My doctor has never really come up with a good explanation for my issues with pain.  (My doctor is also completely useless so coming up with a good explanation is probably way beyond his abilities).  It isn’t just migraines.  It is pain in the tissues of my entire upper body.

It’s been a couple of years since I was having frequent bouts of pain that are centered in the tissues and not in the head.  I’m not sure why it is happening now?  I know that stress sets it off and that has been a major problem during the most stressful times in my life.  But.  I’m in a good place.  So.  Why?

It scares me if I’m honest.  It makes me feel trapped within my body.  There is something about pain that makes one feel panicked… Because you cannot escape it.  It’s something inside of you that you cannot claw out.  You have no option but to go through it.

This pain isn’t the end of the world.  It is so much less than the pain that so many people deal with every single day.  But it is a problem and it does have a significant impact on the things that I am able to do.  I know that I need to get lots of sleep, especially when the pain is flaring.  Sometimes I need to be lazy, like: really really lazy.

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The worst part about this is that it’s so difficult to talk about.  I hesitate to post about it because I think it sounds like I’m looking for sympathy or throwing myself a pity party.  I’m not.  This is what it is and in the big picture my pain isn’t the end of the world.  It is something that I need to get better about, something that I need to deal with.

I think we all have these things that we carry around with us.  We get frustrated with that friend who is always late for drinks, or the person who has stopped returning our calls.  We frown over that colleague who never joins in when we go for after work drinks.  It’s important to stop and wonder why.

Sure, some people are simply flaky and we need to love that about them (or cut them from our life).

But I suspect that more often people drop away because they are dealing with something.  Something that maybe they don’t want to talk about.  Or don’t know how to talk about.

I think we all need to cut one another a little slack.  Stop judging and start wondering.  Offer support where we can.  Lean when we need. Assume that most people really are doing the best that they can with what they have to offer the world.

The Raw Parts of Me…

I have been having a really difficult few months.  I am doing everything I can to get out of my funk (medication, exercise, meditation, spending time with friends, laughing, art, writing) but nothing has been really working.  This was going on before things ended with J, it isn’t simply a reaction to the break up.

Don’t get me wrong, there has been so much good lately, so many laughs, so much joy.

The problem is how easily I can sink low again.  How little it takes to trigger me.

I just sink back into it again and again.

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My mind can be a rather dark place at times.

This weekend was tough.  I’m not sure why.  It was sunny and warm and full of laughter and friends and adventure.  Yet I felt this weight, this physical weight, settle over me.  I wanted to curl up in bed and sleep for a month.

I wanted to shed my skin, tear off my fat, find myself underneath those rolls that feel like a placard screaming “mentally unwell” to the world, be somehow happy and whole.  I didn’t even know anymore if a person existed under all this flesh.

I am so bright all the time.  Though they are genuine I keep up my smiles like a shield until I cannot hold them for another moment.  And then I am left raw and bare and vulnerable.

I don’t think this piece of me is loveable.  I think it is scary and unappealing.  I would give anything to leave it behind, never to see it again.

But it is woven into the tapestry of who I am and pulling its threads would pull apart the rest.

So I will take medication.

Exercise.

Meditate.

Laugh.

Create.

I will forgive this dark little creature who sits at the back of my mind and I will accept it.  I will give it a day, or two, every now and then.

If it wants more I will fight.

Enough.

When I was in Grade 7 a boy in my class looked at my legs, skinny and scabbed and bruised by the outdoors, exposed by a pair of shorts in the heat of early summer.

He asked me why I didn’t shave them.

I turned bright red, felt shame.

I went home that night and shaved off the blonde fuzz that was so humiliating.

When I was in Grade 9 I bought a crop top and wandered the neighbourhood, perfectly flat belly exposed, testing the value that being sexy would add to my worth.

I grew out my hair, popped in some contacts.

I learned to put on a show, my actions monitored constantly by the director in my subconscious – how do I look to them?

Add a swing to the hips, a smile to the lips, a downward cast eye when your head should be held high.

(Beauty must suffer, after all).

Where did this come from, this knowledge that to be “enough” you must be pleasing?

Why was I convinced that my worth came from my lips, and my hips?  My hair.  My eyes.

I wasn’t very good at being that girl, I wasn’t raised to minimize myself.  I was raised by women who shouted from rooftops, who demanded respect.

And yet I knew that my worth was from how pleasing I could be.  Pleasing to look at, pleasing to speak to.

One day I wasn’t pretty anymore.  My body shifted, morphed, dissolved.

And then I had no worth left at all.

I could never be enough.

I am enough.

(Tell me I am beautiful, go ahead.

I won’t hear it).