January 30, 2014

Eating Alone

Last night I went to a Catholic seminary, and a priest gave a lecture, and he said a lot of semi-interesting things, but the one I still remember is this:

"We are not meant to eat alone."

In the celibate life, he said, this is one of the most difficult things (maybe I'm exaggerating this paraphrase? I'm not sure). As a parish priest, he calls his congregants and tells them he will be coming over (often) for meals. He promises to arrive at 5:30 and leave by 7pm. Only once, he said, he has been turned down.

"We're not meant to eat alone! You know what happens when we eat alone? We eat standing up, over the counter. It's not good for our eating habits. And it's not good for our souls."

Amen, I say. Amen and Amen.

There are a lot of things I enjoy about being solo, and there are a lot of times I like to be by myself; mealtime is rarely one of them.

January 28, 2014

Bodies Are Amazing, and I Kind of Love Mine (part 1)

I am 29 years old. A year away from thirty.
My joints seem prone to injuries.
I have stretch marks and rolls and wrinkles and stray hairs and white hairs. 
I haven't had a child yet, and I may never.
I have a slight curve in my spine - one that may result in more and more hunching as I age.
From what I understand of science, my body “peaked” at 23 or 24.
I hear it's all downhill from here. 
In Montreal, smiling because I'm happy.
Sometimes this produces immense anxiety and fear. But you know what? The days of loathing my body are relatively few and far between. And they come with much less intensity than they did a decade ago.

In this lifelong and sometimes turbulent relationship with my body, I feel like I'm making progress. In particular, I've noted three recent changes that help me to love myself more:
  1. I actually look at bodies – including my own. 
  2. I choose to believe what others say. 
  3. I am figuring out a theology of the body. 

Allow me to elaborate: (as with many of my big-conversation-posts, this has turned into quite a few more thoughts than I expected, so it will be a little bit of a series...each post expanding on one of these points) 

1. I look at bodies.

Years ago, I heard someone say that a strong antidote for poor self-esteem was to look at yourself naked in the mirror, and laugh. Keep doing this, and eventually, you find the laughter is loving.

I did not do it. But it occurred to me that I rarely, if ever, looked at my clothes-less body. And that maybe I ought to be less afraid to change near the mirror. I also realized I had no context for this body of mine. The female bodies I was most familiar with were not the normative ones. Like most of us, they were celebrities and models and airbrushed print ads. So I started actually looking at the people I saw every day. I started noticing how, even with the benefit of flaw-hiding clothing, the most beautiful people were normal and imperfect. And the most normal people were beautiful.

Last year, I came across a photo project that showcases women in their homes. In the nude (to be clear, if you click on that link, you will be taken to a page with images of nude women). It is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. In a Reddit thread discussing the project, much was said about the fact that for heterosexual women, it is rare that they would have exposure to other, non-media unclothed bodies, and how seeing other women's bodies can give a much broader sense of beauty. This was true for me. As I looked at portrait after portrait of these sisters of mine, laughing and alive, I felt tenderly toward them. I wanted to befriend them, hear their stories and tell them mine. And I wondered, If I can feel kindly towards these strangers, these unknown and utterly vulnerable beings, why should I feel any less lovingly about my very own skin?

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, in her book An Altar in this World,
I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something.... This can only go on so long, especially for someone who officially believes that God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, "Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul's address." After you have taken a good look around, you may decide that there is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. Bodies take real beatings. That they heal from most things is an underrated miracle. That they give birth is beyond reckoning.

When I do this, I generally decide that it is time to do a better job of wearing my skin with gratitude instead of loathing. No matter what I think of my body, I can still offer it to God to go on being useful to the world in ways both sublime and ridiculous. At the very least, I can practice a little reverence right there in front of the mirror taking some small credit for standing there unguarded for once. This is no small thing. 

I do not do this. Yet. (related thoughts to come under point #3). And I don't laugh at my naked reflection either. But you know what I do do? I see my body these days.* I don't turn away from the site of my little tummy rolls or unshaven calves. And when I see other bodies out and about in the world, I see them. As bodies with specific shapes and colours and sizes. I see that none of us are perfect, and that is okay.

That is okay.

In fact, it is more than okay. 
We're beautiful, world.
Because we're real.
Real bodies with real stories and real histories.
Real victories and real defeats.
Real futures.
Real lives to live.
So let's live them with a whole lot of love for the bodies that make it all possible.

*seeing my body has come to include caring for it with doctor's visits and physio (so much physio!) and eating a lot of fruits and veggies, and being active - not because all this makes me skinnier, which once-upon-a-time was the goal, but because all of this is motivated by love for this self-house, the skin I wear and the systems that sustain my life.

January 22, 2014

Romulus: A 19th Century Haitian Novella

On Tuesday, mail arrived for me. A small package with a book inside.

And inside the book was this page.

How utterly thrilling!!

I played a teensy-tiny hardly-more-than-nothing part in the translation of this Haitian novella into English, and it is an unexpected honour to be recognized for it. Doesn't everyone dream of seeing their name in the acknowledgements of a real, live, published book!?

Huge congrats to Matt, who translated the story and found a publishing home for his work! I can't wait to read it; my initial impression of the portion I've already read is that this will be a lyrical and educational read.

I'll keep you all posted. Or you can pick up your own copy! Support the arts! Hooray for small presses and Canadian work!

January 13, 2014

This Is a Post About Death

Here's the thing about death; it's the last taboo topic in our culture. It's the only thing I can think of that we do not talk about. And it is the onlything guaranteed to be a part of our lives.

It's never easy to face death or experience grief over someone else's death. But I am a firm believer that we make it even worse on ourselves by deep-seated denial and avoidance of the reality that death is a part of life

I get it; it's terrifying to think about what might or might not happen when life as we know it ends. And I know (oh, I know) that a lot of people are not gracious in sharing their views on the subject.
But pretending it will never happen to us only makes us more ill-prepared for when it does.

After three years of volunteering and training through a hospice care agency, I have learned tools and language that have taken a layer of anxiety off of this conversation. But even still, as I wrestle with the death of a friend last week, the husband of a delightful decade-long friend, I know how inadequate words are; I understand that theoretics fail to keep us afloat.

What does keep us alive, then? Community and conversation. These are the places I find and re-find hope.

So let's find some friends who are safe*, and let's talk about the things that matter most. Like life and love and happiness, and then the Holy Ghost.**

And if, like me, you find yourself unsettled and uncertain about how, precisely death and grief are to be faced, then let's talk about that.

* I'm reminded that many people may not have this in their life at the moment. This is not how life is meant to be; and I say this, not to discourage you, but to encourage you to keep trying, to reach out and find and cultivate friendships in which we give and take and learn what love is. 
** That's from Audio Adrenaline's The Houseplant Song, and is for anyone who was a church teenager in 1999.

January 3, 2014

Blogging, Brooding, and a Recipe for Life

I've thought about blogging several times this week. I've certainly had plenty of time to blog; I'm back in my quiet Toronto house, classes don't start til Tuesday, and I've largely been eating leftovers and meals fed to me by my roommate's parents, who are visiting.

It's been a lovely little stay-cation.

But something keeps me from here. And so I started brooding about what that is.

Of course, it's January, and that means I'm going to brood about one thing or another. Winter does that to us (me).
To Grandmother's house we went - Boxing Day 2013

I was going to let you all in on some of my brood-ish thought; I started writing them out. But the process took me somewhere unexpected.* I'm not going to gripe or complain or over-analyze myself. I'm going to say this:

On New Year's Eve, I spent some time thinking and talking about this past year. When I look back at 2013, I see two things that are true of my life right now: I am in motion. And I am stopping.

Moving, as I applied for school, quit my job, started school. Took risks like hip-hop karaoke, applying for new jobs, deciding to go to Tanzania this summer (more to come!), and all kinds of other little things.

Stopping, as I've met with my spiritual director to unpack my life, as I recognize and explore my emotional responses, when I unplug from the internet and sit in silence, refuse to live my life at a frenetic pace.

Sometimes (often) I mix the two together in unhealthy ways. I stop - and watch six episodes of TV in a day. This is not actually stopping. Or I am go-go-go, to keep up with other's expectations or hopes for me - this is spinning my wheels, not moving forward. 

At the end of the semester, I had an assignment to create a "Rule of Life"** for myself; to think intentionally about how I order my days and what structure could benefit the way that my character and self are being shaped. Two years ago, this assignment would have filled me with anxiety or legalistic striving; I was surprised that neither of these feelings were particularly strong. Rather, I felt an eagerness to take stock of my current habits and make small, but potentially significant changes.

The first part of our assignment asked us to choose an image that speaks to us of the life-giving potential for our "rule." I wrote:
When baking (a hobby I find highly relaxing), a recipe is always necessary. While I rarely follow it perfectly, adjusting spices or measuring by intuition, I can hardly expect the result to be in keeping with my hopes if I don't have a clear-cut plan to begin with. In the same way, knowing who I would like to become helps me put together a general plan to produce the character (or baked goods!) that I crave.
My mother's very popular pancake recipe. Feel free to use it!

How does this connect to blogging and brooding?

I'm becoming rather aware of the fact that how I structure my days (or don't structure them) has an immense impact on both my mood and productivity. The little steps I laid out in my Recipe for a Well-Ordered Life actually matter, and when I choose not to stick with the plan (which is really quite simple - not an hour-by-hour chart of ALL THE THINGS TO DO), the result is not what I hope for.

It's a lesson I ought to have learned by now, given the miserable failure I always make of muffins, because I never follow the recipes properly. If I want good muffins, I can't skimp or take shortcuts. If I want a restful heart, I can't binge on TV and social media and naps.

2014, I expect, will be my year of stop-motion. Learning to stop so I can know where I'm headed. Learning to move despite the fears. Learning to find the balance between the two that will give my life half the appeal of this stop-motion music video.

*OH YEAH. THAT is why I write. Because the act of writing helps me sort out what it is that I actually think/need to be reminded of.
** If you're interested in more info on creating a "Rule of Life," and/or the history of it since the time of St. Benedict, I'm happy to send links/resources your way!