Thursday, April 17, 2014

At our age...

This is one of those topics that I have been tossing around in my head for a while now, and it's something that becomes a more pressing issue it seems with each passing day.

By definition, in fact.

The wonder about us humans is that we generally aren't very good at anticipating things. In our society especially, we tend to hang on to youth with a death grip. We don't want to accept that time is marching us forward. We pluck the gray hairs in defiance. We plunk down huge amounts of money on expensive creams. We make bizarre faces at ourselves in the mirror until the lines start to disappear, then somehow convince ourselves that these contorted expressions are good enough.

Good enough to satiate our denial for now, anyway.

We are getting older. We all are. It's part of that whole time/space continuum thing. Until and unless someone actually figures out how to manipulate it all, we're stuck here, getting a little bit older every day.

For a long time, we celebrate it. We still do with our kids, though the celebrations of their birthdays usually comes with a bittersweet taste to it because we've already figured out what they haven't yet - that you don't ever get to go backwards and someday you're going to get to the point where you'd give anything for a few moments of naive youth back.

Kids don't care yet. To them, another year older means milestones and achievements. It means more candles on a cake, more privileges, more freedom.

To us, it usually just means that we'll forget how old we are for a few months, that we'll have that blank lost expression when someone asks our age and we have to try and do math to figure it out. As if that isn't bad enough, some of those years that tick by mean that it's now officially time to make some appointment we've been dreading. The appointments that used to seem like they were so far off in the distant future, back when we were young and we thought that where we are now was old.

Except that we don't feel that way, not usually anyway. We still feel like we're in our 20s most of the time, at least most of us do. In some ways, we've actually improved as we've gained a few more years. With those years, at least for me, has come eye opening self awareness, a better understanding of what clothes, makeup, hairstyles look best on me. I've stopped trying to follow trends and fads, I do what suits my personality these days. I've embraced my nerd more, I've embraced the maxi dress, I've long ago conceded that I have to dye the gray hairs I used to pluck and now use my hair as another accessory, another way to express myself.

I'm more me now than I ever have been in my life.

This getting older thing isn't all bad, because it brings wisdom with it. We accept things about ourselves far easier than we used to.

We tolerate less, we become more outspoken. We hone our bullshit detectors and learn to start cutting toxic people out of our lives. We become more deliberate with our friendships. We stand up for ourselves. We're more confident, and we take no prisoners.

We're particular. We know what we like. We don't bother wasting our time or energy on cheap imitations anymore. Our tastes have evolved.

C'mon, seriously...all one needs to do is analyze their personal wine evolution. Mine went a little bit like this.

- Strawberry Hill
- Wine coolers
- White Zinfandel
- Chardonnay
- Reds. Only the reds.
....and now I've become allergic to the sulfites and can't even drink wine....

But it isn't all personal growth and epiphanies, this aging business.

We don't all ease into it gracefully. Some of us are actively in denial. Some of us don't just feel like we're still in our 20s, we act like it. We push our bodies to do things that they just aren't so good at anymore....and then we end up sitting in some orthopedist's office getting the at your age speech. If you've been in that chair nursing an injury, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

There are tremendous downsides to getting older, this much is true, and I won't even for one second pretend that they aren't real.

By the time you're our age, chances are that some of those fairytale weddings you attended have ended in nasty divorces. Maybe some are clinging to each other for dear life, but refusing to really fix the problems that led them to the end, and so they're just going through the motions now. We could have been one of those couples. We almost were.

By the time you're our age, you likely have friends who've lost a parent. Maybe you have friends who've already lost them both. Maybe you are the one wandering around the universe without your parents, as I am, often wondering when you ever got to be old enough that you should have to be in this place already. You don't feel like you're old enough to be parent-less, yet here you are, and in some ways you never really felt entirely grown up until now.

By the time you're our age, you probably already know people who've been diagnosed with cancer, with diabetes, with heart disease. We don't seem old enough to be in a place where we are visiting friends in the hospital (or are there ourselves), and yet here we are. We have to become more conscious of our health for the simple reason that it isn't optional anymore. The days of being clueless and irresponsible have to remain in the past if we want to keep going forward. It's a perspective changer, for sure.

By the time you're our age, perhaps you've already lost a friend. Maybe you found yourself gathered and teary and reminscent about someone that you shared parts of your life with who wasn't in the generation ahead of us or ahead of them anymore, but someone who was one of us. Maybe you've had to say goodbye to someone who was a cohort, a partner in crime, a buddy, a friend. There's little in this world that can shift your view on life more than seeing it end before we deem it should. Death truly is the great equalizer.

At our age, we have learned that time is as much an enemy as it is an ally. We know that nothing lasts forever. We know that things inevitably change, they always change. Perhaps this is why we get better at living in the moment, enjoying the little things in life, as we get a bit older. We learn to value the beauty of everyday more, we need the big moments less.

We start to tolerate the wrinkles more because they're part of a skin we're more comfortable in. We make the appointments we'd rather avoid because we've learned that we have to, that it's better to know than live obliviously. We slow down, but not too much, just enough to take the edge off in the hopes of avoiding injuries because we've learned the hard way that everything hurts more and longer now. We re-embrace naps and books and lazy afternoons.

Occasionally we dread getting older, but mostly we welcome it.

We start to understand what it means to live like we're dying, because we are. We all are.

It just took us this long to learn it.

...because you our age...everything takes longer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why We All Need To Care About Thigh, really....

At least three or four times a day, I see some story float by my news feed about thigh gaps. There is usually some extreme close-up shot of some young woman connected to a story about how their thighs are to be celebrated as an achievement in thinness, are supposedly desired by women of all ages, are this goal that we are all striving for, starving for.

I shake my head every single time.

I shake my head because I have daughters rapidly approaching the age where social media is going to impact their lives. The last thing I want to have them see floating by on their news feeds someday is a false proclamation that their beauty, their desirability, their worth, their value can be measured in the space between their thighs.

In all likelihood, this thigh gap thing will have faded by then and we'll be on to the next false measure of beauty being thrown at us from all angles.

As an adult, even as one who has struggled with anorexia in the past and whose mind can still drift that way when things spin out of control in my life, I am mostly able to ignore all the noise. I can see this movement for what it is, a fad, a trend, another way to attempt to demoralize young women by making their appearance more important than anything else.

I've never had a thigh gap, not even when I was starving myself and spending hours a day exercising to the point where I was fainting. Not even then.

You know why I didn't?

Because my body isn't designed that way. God knows I tried. My thighs in particular are not thin and even when I was literally killing myself to try and get thinner, I couldn't.

My body isn't designed that way, and neither are the bodies of my girls.

Even when they are thin, they don't have thigh gaps. They likely never will, because they are my children and there is something about our bone and muscle structure that prohibits such a gap even in the absence of fat.

And then there's the matter of fat.

I know, it's the F-word.

I saw another picture float by yesterday, and it said something to the effect of this:

I may have fist pumped the air for a hot second.

I did, but then within mere moments another post about thigh gaps appeared and I realized immediately that the ratio of body positive messages to body shaming ones is so skewed that it's no wonder that young girls in particular get sucked into believing them.

This is why we all have to care about thigh gaps.

Not because they are fact most people I know (and most studies I've ever seen on the subject tell us) like women in all shapes and sizes. Even the ones whose thighs touch. Honest.

Not because they are even attainable...because many, many girls and women don't have body types that would ever create thigh gaps, no matter how thin they are. Other girls and women naturally have thigh gaps. People come in different shapes and sizes, and that's okay.

Not because they are any indication of beauty...because we are all beautiful in our own ways and because our uniqueness is the most beautiful thing about us. If we all looked the same, what a tragic and dull world we would inhabit.

Not because they are any indication of worth...because women have been fighting this fight to be valued for more than their physical attributes since the dawn of time and we aren't about to lose this war over the size of our thighs, especially when photoshop is so frequently involved (sometimes painfully obviously) in the twisted messages in the media.

Not because any of us really care if our thighs touch...because most of us don't. Even those of us who have struggled with eating disorders in the past. Most of us are more worried about whether we are strong and healthy and centered and fulfilled than measuring the circumference of one body part.

Not because we as women should even be giving this movement a moment of attention...because honestly we shouldn't. The more people talk about it, the more traction it gets. However, just because we feel like we shouldn't be paying attention to it, doesn't mean we can ignore it. We absolutely must talk about it...

...and we must because right now there are millions of little girls seeing the same messages we are seeing. We must work to undo the damage the media is doing to them. We must teach them to find their value internally, to push away this notion that they are supposed to seek approval from a society that will readily tell them if they are "hot or not". We need to build them up and teach them to be strong and healthy and centered and fulfilled.

We need to teach them that no one gets to define who they are or how worthy they are, regardless of the size of their thighs.

Then we need to teach ours sons the same thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the hate crimes and dead babies edition

Normally I spend the entire week leading up to Tuesdays squirreling away stories to write about for TTPMOT. It isn't usually hard to find several things in the news or in my personal life to rant about. This week, though, there are two stories that I want to focus on. As a result, I'm probably missing a whole bunch of other stories worthy of mention, but that's the nature of the beast. Besides, I'm not CNN.

Off we go. I hope you are sitting down for this one.

A Hate Crime is a Hate Crime is a Hate Crime
On Sunday, a man with a long history of affiliation with white supremacy groups, a man who once ran a chapter of the KKK, a man who has a past filled with hatred and violence, took guns he bought through a straw man and his rage to a Jewish community center and a Jewish assisted living facility and opened fire.

He killed three people including a 14 year old boy. When taken into custody at a nearby elementary school, he yelled, "Heil Hitler!" from the backseat of the police car.

It took over 24 hours for the case to be declared a hate crime.

When the shooter is Muslim (or looks like they might be, whatever that means), the media tends to make that call immediately. Often, so do the authorities.

This man, Frasier Glenn Cross, is one of the most hate filled, toxic human beings to ever inhabit our Earth. A simple look at his history tells you as much. He is one of the most notorious white supremacists in the US, even going so far as to issue kill lists with varying point levels depending on the target.

He served time for plotting the assassination and robbery of Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. His sentence was shortened because he testified against other white supremacists involved in the unsuccessful plot.

This man perpetrated hate crimes Sunday, without doubt.

Our society needs to stop laboring under the assumption that hate crimes are only perpetrated by religious, racial and ethnic minorities. White Christians can be even scarier, even more violent, even more hate filled. Cross is a prime example of it, and yet he wasn't considered a hate crime perpetrator or a domestic home grown terrorist by anyone in the mainstream media right away. The reason?


He's white.

It does not matter, as some have claimed today, that all three of the victims killed were actually Christian. He targeted them because of their presence at Jewish facilities and presumed affiliation.

This man is no less a monster than any other terrorist. This man is no less a threat than a person who hijacks a plane or straps a bomb to their body and rides a bus or subway train. This man is even more dangerous, many would argue, because we've been conditioned to believe he is not dangerous. We've been told that the enemies are over there, in these categories, look like this, are motivated by that.

Nope. Terror is everywhere. Hate is everywhere. Evil is everywhere.

...and it can look exactly like your average 73 year old white man.

How Do 7 Babies Die and No One Notices?
This is one of the most disturbing stories I've read in a long time, and if you aren't sitting down yet, I would encourage you to do so. Also...this is horrendous, so if you can't handle the details of an unimaginable crime, please stop reading now.

I'm serious.

On Saturday, Darren West was cleaning out the garage of the home he used to share with his wife and children. His wife who he had been estranged from for years, Megan Hunstman, had not lived in the home for several years either.

What they discovered has shocked the conscience of a nation and brought seasoned law enforcement officers and television reporters to tears.

In cardboard boxes stored in the garage, the bodies of seven dead newborn babies. The suspect? Their mother. 

After she was arrested, there were many questions that arose almost immediately. How had no one noticed that she was pregnant, particularly that many times? The babies were all full term, yet no one knew that she had been pregnant. Neighbors have stated that her weight fluctuated and she often wore baggy clothing, but none of them knew she had been pregnant. No one knew of the births or deaths of the babies, no one but her.

She confessed to having given birth to at least seven babies and killing six of them. She claims that one was stillborn. The remaining babies were strangled or suffocated immediately after birth, wrapped in towels or t-shirts, placed in bags and stored in boxes in the garage.

The identity of the father or fathers of the babies is unknown, and DNA testing is being conducted to confirm that she is in fact that mother. Her estranged husband and older children claim not to have had any idea that she was ever pregnant during the time period of 1996-2006 when the babies were born and killed, though they were all living in the home at the time.

West has served time for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Their other children, including one born during the time frame of the murders but allowed to survive, appear well adjusted and normal.

There is no indication of what her motive was. Her mental status is being evaluated as well as whether she ever sought out abortions. Mothers who conceal their pregnancies and kill their newborns are usually teenagers afraid to tell their parents, not married women in their 30s who already have children, and the case has baffled everyone.

What could drive a woman to repeatedly become pregnant and murder her own children?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In this place

In this place I am in now, things are strange more often than they seem normal.

Whatever normal is, anyway.

I feel like I'm completely distracted almost all the time about almost everything. Mostly because I am. I normally struggle when it comes to my ability to focus as it is, but right now it's as if all the things are shiny and all the things are shaking keys to get me to look at them and all the things are jumping up and down and waving their jazz hands at me in some desperate attempt to divert my attention from whatever it is that I am supposed to be doing.

It is seriously that bad.

I forget everything unless I write it down or put it on the calendar in my phone. And even then, I still find myself forgetting things or pushing them off not because I intentionally do so but because I am so distracted by the shiny key shaking jazz hands.

I've gone to the store to buy potatoes three times. I still don't have potatoes.

It's not just that, though.

I mean, I know that I'm distracted because I'm hormonal and because I'm trying my best not to think about and worry about the things that come along with being pregnant in my world.

But it isn't just that.

I am in a strange place emotionally. At some point early on in this whole incubation process, I had this moment of profound sadness upon realizing that my parents were both gone this time. I've never done this without them. I don't have anyone to call and give appointment updates to. I don't have any visits to look forward to, there won't be any more first introductions, there won't be any more stolen glimpses of them holding this one.

There are pieces of it that will be made simpler now in this world without them. Sometimes the truth sucks like that. Negotiating holidays doesn't exist anymore. I don't have to worry about duplicate gifts or anyone's toes being stepped on about who gets to get what. I don't have to have the conversation with my mom about how she can't just decide to stay here for six weeks without asking me first. I don't have to tell her she doesn't get to plan their birthdays or that I'm their mother and that it's my turn to do these things. I don't have to listen to the constant comparisons and the chastising of my choices as a parent. I don't have to nod along with the empty promises to really stop smoking this time.

I don't have to worry about whether I can trust her to be with my children anymore, whether they are in another place or just the next room. I don't have to worry about all the things I worried about before.

But, goddammit it still hurts.

It hurts because as messed up and twisted as our relationship was, as many issues as she had, she was the only mother I ever knew. And as much as it made my life painfully complicated and anxiety ridden at times, I wanted her to have a good relationship with my kids. I did my best to shield them from the negative things that happened, to insulate them from all the chaos. She never understood that, and she never understood that no matter how much happened and how much she hurt me and used them, they always still just loved her.

They still do.

But now she is gone. With her, she took whatever relationships I had with several other people, irretrievably damaged by whatever stories she spun. I know what really happened, I know that I did the best I could, I know that ultimately I had to do what I had to do. I know that they will never understand me. I know that they will never forgive me for the wrongs they've decided I perpetrated upon them. I know that things will probably never change.

And it hurts. I pretend all the time that it doesn't bother me, but my guard isn't as high as it normally is right now and reality is harder to hide. I'm emotional, I'm exhausted and I'm sad.

And I'm having another baby, a baby who will never know my parents and in all likelihood will never know an entire side of my family.

Some doors are just harder to close, especially when we aren't the ones choosing to close them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I must not be an #AmericanBlogger

Apparently some documentary filmmaker is releasing a movie about what he has deemed and titled, the American Blogger. The very pretentious trailer shows several magnificently beautiful people in magnificently beautiful places and spaces talking about how they communicate their love of all things (mostly fashion, their equally beautiful children and throw pillows from what I can tell) to the masses through this platform of blogging.

American Blogger Official Trailer from Chris Wiegand on Vimeo.

He claims that they, these women he profiled who almost all look almost identical, are supposed to represent this universe of bloggers, that the film is giving insight into this platform that will change the world. While I'm absolutely certain that he is right for a small percentage of the bloggers out there, namely the ones like his wife, he is missing so much more.

Like men, for instance. I'll get to that in a minute.

First, I must tell you that any trailer that talks about how gorgeous the cinematography of a film is makes me a little nauseous. It could just be the fact that I actually took classes in the USC Cinema School back when I was in college. Statements like that one could literally launch a thousand lectures about the intractable egos of directors.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what being a blogger really is, at least from this world that I dwell in now, one that happens to include a fairly large circle of other bloggers.

P.S. not all of us refer to ourselves as bloggers.

Some of us, myself included, consider ourselves to be writers that happen to utilize the blogging platform as one type of media. I am published in actual books. I am working on writing more actual books. I've been published in scholarly journals before, back when I lived in the world of academia. I've had posts picked up by several other websites as well, and I have been a contributing writer to two collaborative sites. My writing exists in far more places than this blog you are reading here.

Over the years I have developed relationships, friendships, kinships and in some cases deep spiritual connections with these people like me, these bloggers. He seeks to categorize us, seeming to want to proclaim that most of the bloggers are just like the ones he films, but I can honestly tell you that I don't know too many out there who are like the women profiled.

Are there some? Women who lounge in hammocks with fedoras and write about fashion and crafts and how connected they are to their children? I'm sure there must be for the simple fact that he found several of them.

When I first started blogging, I followed a few of those blogs. The ones beautifully photographed with fancy recipes and DIY projects and scarves. Lots of scarves these blogs have.

Which is fine, honestly. Truly, I don't mean to diminish the contributions of those blogs in the least. They see a need, fill a need.

The advent of Pinterest has transformed this social media universe into one that is far more visual and highly conducive to lifestyle and fashion blogs. My Pinterest page, on the other hand, is full of wildly inappropriate jokes, pictures of Norman Reedus and geeky things.

I don't do niches. Honestly, most of the writers I know don't either.

I have formed these relationships I speak of with almost as many male writers as female ones. They are somehow missing from the documentary entirely, as though men don't write at all. Men do write, they write a lot, and they lend a different voice, a different perspective, a different experience to almost every topic out there. I'd definitely make the argument that some of their most important contributions of the blogging world are in the areas of relationships, marriage and family for the exact reason that our world needs to hear their voices in these areas more than any other. In this film, they don't even exist.

I have come to know writers who focus on social justice issues almost entirely. They are some of the most intelligent writers I've had the pleasure of knowing. They don't write about scarves and hammocks, they write about food stamps and privilege.

I know writers who have documented the journey of their child through cancer. Their photographic essays are a bit different than the ones in this trailer.

I know writers who focus on health and spirituality, others who have carved out a comedic voice, still others who explore grief and loss. I know motivational writers, I know musicians, I know artists. I know natural birth advocates and crafters, I know gamers and fiction writers.

None of them is very much like any of the rest, so how could we ever be grouped together at all?

Some bloggers focus almost exclusively on writing about parenting or their children or the specific challenges that their family faces. My blog started out that way, as a chronicle of the things that happened around here in a format that family and friends far away could keep up with.

It didn't stay that way for very long, though.

I hardly ever write about my kids these days and the posts I write about parenting are just different now.

As my writing has evolved and my children have aged, I have realized that my responsibility to protect them has to be paramount to whatever else I do. I have to be a mother first, a writer second. It's a moral imperative. I have to be conscious of the effect that the words I write might have on them someday. I have to honor their individuality, their privacy, their personal space.

I'm not going to sacrifice any of that for a few views. I never will.

I write about mental health, specifically about the fact that I endured post partum depression, PTSD and live with anxiety every single day. I have written about ADHD, allergies, asthma and diabetes as they pertain to my family. I was writing through my father's entire journey with cancer, from before he was diagnosed until the aftermath of his death. I have written about losing my mother, not just to the diseases that took her, but I've written a little bit about how I lost her long before she died.

I've written about losing my own child, about how much cancer changes everything, about infertility, about what happens when your marriage falls apart and you will do anything in the world to put it back together. I write about politics and news and international stories. I write about crime and the Constitution and equal rights and poverty and the law. I write about science and medicine and ethics and morality and addiction. I write about empathy and compassion, both how they are lacking in our world and how to foster their development in children and adults.

I stare at blank screens a lot. I stare out windows a lot. I sit by the river a lot. I don't write the words I want to more often than I write them. I write on napkins in my car. I send myself text messages when I run out of napkins. I do my best thinking in the shower and run an almost constant dialogue while I'm in there. I think about blog posts at 2am, then find myself moderating comments at 3am. There are times that I cannot focus on anything else in the world until I let the words out of my head. I write because I have to.

Sometimes that means I don't clean the house. Sometimes that means that the kids eat cereal. Sometimes it means that my hands cramp up. Sometimes that means that I sit in front of this screen and cry until there are no more tears left.

Sometimes it means that the words that I write are never put out there into the world for you to see.

One of the things that bothered me the very most about the trailer is the part where one of the women interviewed says something to the effect that if we don't put our writing out there, what are we doing it for? As if to say that the only value inherent in writing is that someone else reads it.

I challenge this statement on its face, and I question if she's actually figured out what it means to be a writer yet. I don't think she has, and it makes me sad for her a little.

A person who is just a blogger writes for an audience, particularly if they are doing it in some attempt to make a living which necessitates a loyal audience.

A writer just writes.

I write for myself more than anyone else. I do this because my brain and my fingers require it of me. I do it because it keeps me sane, it helps me put things into words that my mouth could never manipulate properly. I do it because I can't not write. It is a part of who I am. I am more articulate and can get my point across here than I ever can in conversations. I am socially awkward, but here the awkwardness fades away into the lines between the words.

I write for me.

What am I doing it for?

I'll tell you what I'm not doing it for....

I'm not doing it to fit in. I'm not doing it just to get views. I'm not doing it to hang with the popular kids. I'm not doing it because I'm following some formula. I'm not doing it because everyone else is doing it.

I'm doing it for me, and I've been doing it a very long time.

You all, my readers, are a beautiful bonus.

I'm not the #americanblogger.

I'm Kelly.

I'm a writer, a mom, a superhero. I'm a nerd, an intellectual, an over analyzer of all things. I'm a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter who lost both of her parents. I'm a doula, a photographer, a hater of pants. I'm funny, I'm serious, and then I'm everything in between.

I'm more than all that, even. And a bag of chips.

So are all the other writers I know.

Don't let some movie tell you otherwise.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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