Bitch, moan and shutup

I am beginning to experience a deeper acceptance of my body as I am getting older. I am seeing a new improved model… for aging.

What changed?

I don’t know, but I feel more relaxed about how aging is changing my physical appearance.

 

Just so you know: It was a lot different before this shift. I was despairing about my body and the last third of this life. I felt this thickening in my middle that didn’t seem to have to do with how much I exercised or what I ate. My breasts had gotten larger, my belly seemed fuller. I didn’t like how I looked. I felt poochy and saggy.  The hair on my head was thinning, growing in odd places on my face.  My eyesight was getting worse. (There is an advantage in that. You don’t see all these wrinkles and the growing crone hairs.) But, that’s just some of the fun stuff. My handwriting has suffered. I have a benign tremor in my hands, and I am beginning to get arthritis in my thumbs. I have a mild case of tinnitus, and warts and growths in places that  seem unlikely, but there they are.

 

I couldn’t see how to shift my perspective of being over the hill. I felt under the hill. I started to be overly conscious of everything (food-wise) that I put in my body. I skipped meals (not a good idea.)  All of this for vanity, or to imagine myself the way I thought I should look, instead of how I was in the moment.

I reminded myself of the good health and longevity genes I got from my family of origin. But I was grieving no longer being an attractive woman to the outside world. I was buying into the American model of youthful, hot looks. I wasn’t in the running or even the walking. I have cute older woman, lukewarm looks. Maybe I could be a poster adult for AARP magazine. Maybe.

 

Vanity plus aging equals suffering. My husband, a Buddhist practitioner, reminds me that all of our life is change. I can accept some changes better than others. But my “looks” cut close to the core.

 

Let me be honest. I have a history of being critical of how I look.

So, it is not a brand new thing to not be satisfied with my looks/image. But the aging thing adds another twist.

Here is me, inside, feeling about 20 and me on the outside, sagging and coming closer to seventy.

 

It is funny to be called ma’am. In the beginning, you think it’s cute. But when you realize that the person calling you that is serious, it’s different.

I am too young to be called ma’am.

 

We went down to Mexico in October. A lot of American retirees live in San Miguel de Allende. I saw old people– vital, alive, older people.

Then I realized, I am one of them. I am older. Not ancient. Not old old. Maybe cronish-ness has eras like Early Jurassic, Late Jurassic, Late Cretaceous etc.

Maybe they could be called:

  • 3.00+ Eyeglassic
  • Early Canuthreadtheneedlesic period
  • Late Nocoffeeorpeeallnightic
  • Don’tbendoverorunevergetupic

 

 

Six months ago I called up my best friend on Skype. I wanted to talk on Skype because I had complained about my looks. She wanted to see what I was referring to.  We got on-line. I took off my clothes. I pointed to all the areas of unloved flesh, the sagging, handful of flabbiness in my tummy and breasts. She kept saying, “You look great, you’re beautiful. You are fine.”  I showed everything to her that felt undesirable, unacceptable, unloved. Everything I didn’t want to expose to anyone.

Then she took off her top. Ten years ago she had had a double mastectomy. She opted to not to do reconstruction. Her body is slender to begin with. She doesn’t have a spare inch of flab. And she has no breasts. You can see the delicacy of her body, the gracefulness, the vulnerability. She pointed to all the unloveable parts in her eyes. I saw her. It was my friend’s body, the body that I love and adore. I saw the wounds of her operation, and I saw the beauty that she is.

God forbid that Homeland Security should be spying in at that moment. How could they understand that we need to be seen, for our scars, imperfections, limitations real and imagined? We need to be witnessed. In that cyber connection we were exposing our bodies, souls, and fear about our lack of beauty, attractiveness, imagined lovability.

 

I realized very recently that there is a history of Fat Phobia in our family. My sister in-law pointed out the critical bias that my brother and I have about overweight people.

It’s true. I fear gaining weight.

I work at staying in shape.

I am in the same clothes size for the last fifteen or so years… with a few pounds up and a few under.

However, I deeply believe that I could be thinner. And then, I would be happy and beautiful and loved and accept myself totally even with my aging. What a myth.

 

And, I do notice little changes now and then, that show that something in my habit of mind has begun to shift.  I began to go sleeveless to the yoga class, unafraid of the wrinkles and dimples. I purged my closet and got rid of anything that didn’t fit well, or that I didn’t feel right in. I bought a skirt to show my legs.

I started to feel my body, admire my strength and flexibility, joy of free movement, feeling  deep gratitude for my health. To catch myself out of the corner of my eye, liking how I look. I balance on one foot while brushing my teeth. I talk to myself, coach myself.

Maybe it was that Skype call. Maybe it was the act of exposing the thinking that limits my view. Maybe it is also realizing that although there may be a lot more life left in this go round, that the inevitable end is closer. Like they say, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” Let’s include “until the beautiful, aging woman sings.”

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The Ending of a Friendship

My girlfriend doesn’t want to be friends anymore.   Despite the loss I feel, ending this relationship is a relief.

My friend is a complex woman. She is intelligent, bright, attractive, creative, multi-talented, soulful. I have found her advice and support valuable.  Her creative life has inspired me and delighted me.

And she is particular. Very particular. Princess and the pea particular. She is an introvert who weighs and measures the time she spends outside of her work. She won’t try something unless she is sure she will receive the greatest reward for the time she puts into it.  Even if you travel  to see her,  she is still brutally honest about what she wants to do and when she wants to do it . She might be in the mood. She might be tired and need to take a nap. She might not feel like going out right then. She is being true to herself in the moment.

If you love her, you accept that.

I thought I did. I know I tried to.

The quality of her insight and her limited calendar had made my friend more attractive and important to me.

Maybe she is more authentic than many,  and honest enough to say what she thinks. Or maybe she is manipulative. I don’t know what the truth is.  But I do know I spent time, waiting and wanting her to be available. I told myself that she was worth it.

In the last few years, this on-again off-again availability became frustrating.  Her unpredictability and my desire for her time conflicted.  I felt resentful that she didn’t venture out to visit me.  I spent more time talking to her husband than I did to her.  That ended up being a problem, too.

When my husband griped about her specialness, I saw a new viewpoint.  I noticed that I was not okay with her unavailability.  I pulled back.

Still, I still considered her a good and worthy friend. I still sought her support, and missed her if too much time went by.  I should have known that something was wrong, but I didn’t.  In my world we (I) just had to work harder to understand each other (her). Or just live with it the way it was.

Then, her father died.

I didn’t show up the way she wanted me to.  She was disappointed and angry. And punishing. In response to her feelings, and for my sense of honesty and authenticity,  I soul-searched. I noticed my emotional sloppiness. I questioned myself. I know I was guilty of some lapses of awareness. I agonized about losing her as a friend. I was abjectly disappointed in myself. How could I have not been less than 100% truthful? I compared myself to her and came up short.

I wanted things to heal between us.  I tried to make amends.  Even though there were wounds, I felt that we were “getting real” with one another, “working things out.” In reality,  it was the beginning of the end of the friendship.

Her point of view had some truth in it. But I magnified that truth until there was no truth… there  was only the unforgivable fact that I was a “bad “ person. I had been unconscious. I was filled with self-loathing and shame. I lost sight of myself and went deep into the hole with no cheese.

As long as I focussed on my inadequacies, ( imagined through her eyes,) I was in a hell-realm of my own making. I was bad, bad to the bone, and deserved to be punished. If I could have had eagles eating out my liver, it would not have been enough. Once the mechanics of unconscious self-flagellation went into play there was no longer a witness to say what was fair or not.  I crawled around on my belly and took my medicine like a woman.

Over time, we seemed to make-up.

And more important,  I was done punishing myself. Regardless of what I did, my actions were forgivable.  I made a mistake.  That’s all.

Not in the eyes of my friend. Things were damaged. She said she couldn’t trust me any longer.

I couldn’t change what she thought. I had no control over whether she would accept my humanness, my inadequacies, or want to move forward.

But I did have choice about how I treat myself. Right now my well-being is more important than my friend’s opinion of me. I have to live with myself.

It is possible to forgive my errors without having to pay penance for several lifetimes. Enough is enough.

I made a mistake thinking my friend as a different person than she is– that she was my champion. A bad choice, because that is not her job. It’s my responsibility to keep my positive opinion of myself, not to expect it or need it from her. If you get strokes it’s nice, but don’t get addicted to them.

It’s important to abandon the illusion that there is a perfect way to be, where no one will ever get pissed off at you; that you will never again make an unconscious and messy mistake. Or that everyone will love you all the time. Forget about it.

At the end of this difficult time I got a great reward: rediscovering, remembering this vital connection to myself.

So here’s what I learned:

It  isn’t about whether you are right or wrong, although it feels that way.

Apologize for your-less-than-perfect-ass.  Forgive her less-than-perfect ass.

Move to the center of your chest…that tender, soft, gooey place.

Say ‘thank you’, say ‘I love you’ to yourself.  Thank her for having been your friend. Send her love. Say goodbye.

And move on.

I am not the center of the universe and it sucks.

When I entered this incarnation I was supposed to be celebrated. That’s what they told me would happen. I would be seen for my gifts and talents and encouraged to become a whole being. Instead, I found that if I wanted something, I had to work to make it happen. Including getting fed. No one else did it for me!?  I just want to say: I am angry and resentful that I arrived here unrecognized and unwelcome…sad, too. Disappointed in fact.

 

Yet I blame myself for expecting so much.

 

But…no one in my family ever mentioned their  welcome on the planet. It just wasn’t discussed. Maybe if their arrival sucked, they were a little bitter or cynical. Maybe they were  just as disappointed too.  Did they have to work for love and appreciation?

 

As I got older everything became more confusing. Not only wasn’t there celebration, but I was teased, and ”jokingly” criticized. Everyone thought it was funny. I didn’t. Should I?  Erroneously, I concluded that there was something wrong with me. Look, they had love and regard! They seemed to know the answers. They thought teasing was funny! They said I was oversensitive and a drama queen.
Maybe I needed to do something special to win their approval. If love and acknowledgment didn’t come with the package, maybe I was being too impatient, too selfish.

It’s hard to understand what you feel when you don’t know how to identify it. There is no language for “knowing” a feeling until there is. Sometimes you have to blow it up really big to know what an emotion ‘means’.

 

By the way, I didn’t “figure out” any of this as a child–it was simply the background reality. A fish doesn’t inquire about the water it swims in.

I wasn’t beaten or molested. I felt insecure and anxious, but what of it? Get over yourself!

I didn’t know in the beginning of my journey on earth that there is a source of love and approval within. All I did know is that I wanted attention, and that feeling was accompanied by a fear of loss. My inner critic was telling me how selfish and whiney I was.

 

What I do know is a habit of mind formed around this want: ‘I need attention. I will turn myself inside out to be acceptable.’  That didn’t work either. I was panicky trying to understand how to fit in!

 

I lost sight of the most precious object that I have—my own true heart. In fact, I really didn’t focus on myself at all. I over-focused on myself–but not the real me, the awkward child, me.  My senses turned outwardly  for love, I hadn’t yet discovered that there is love within, inherent.  How would I know that love was anywhere other than through my parents, siblings, and schoolmates approval?

When I began to sense that there was another way to feel, I tried to find a road map, a magic trick, to locate this place inside, the love within. It seemed elusive, like words from a self-help book. They point to something that rings true, but how to finding the path is confusing. The GPS gives bad directions. No such address exists.

 

Over time if you hit yourself in the hard enough with a claw hammer, you begin to see the light. The same spot hurts the same way each time. Nothing changed just because I blamed others or myself for not getting the love I want. It was subtler than that.

 

When I stop listening to the kvetching, sadness, the blaming, and the numbing, I quiet down. Somewhere inside me there is a strong, deep, thrumming, vibrating sound and a warm feeling. Somewhere inside, there is a big celebration that I was born, that I grew up the fucked up way that I did, and that I still feel neurotic and connected to my ‘stories’. There is awareness that all the tsuris was designed simply to bring me to this moment, right here and now.

 

Welcome to my life!

 

When Is enough enough? Or not enough good enough?

This post tackles the conundrum: can a creative being–say, just for example, me–express themself–say, just for example, myself–without the super-ego (commonly known as the boogie-man critic)–say, just for example, mine–interfering?

What is the deal with my super-ego? Is there a part of my personality so starved for work that the minute I start on something new it feels that it’s job is to tear the hell out of it?
Even as I write these words my boogie-man is busy reminding me that this is a dumb subject, and no one will read it anyway. What a bummer even before I’m two paragraphs in.

OK, boogie man, three.

Lately I have been “producing” re-cycled art with polyform clay. See photo.

A friend who owns an Etsy store turned me onto this. So first, the boogie-man points out, it is not a form that I invented. I “borrowed” it.  Second, it adds, my lines are not even and I run out colors before I finish, therefore the pieces are artistically unbalanced. My critic could go on and on….

And does.

This is a lightweight version of the critic. When she really gets going she wakes me in the middle of the night and broadcasts, in my brain only, a documentary that reviews everything I said or did wrong in my project, featuring how I forgot this and that or I said that and should have said this. It wouldn’t be so bad if the criticism was the least bit constructive, or was broadcast at an hour when I could distract myself with something useful. It isn’t and it isn’t. Whatever I did was not good enough; will never be enough; and that’s because I’m not good enough. And I will never be.

You could call it a habit of mind. Time and time again I remember that it is my responsibility to curb this meanie, and sometimes I do a good job. But I have to be vigilant. Sometimes she changes her voice, or hacks into the mainframe with a new set of passwords. And sometimes she runs a documentary about what a shit job I do handling her.

In my early 40’s I was a young mother.  I was working through mothering issues with my child, and mothering issues with my mother. I was having powerful dreams. I started painting my dreams to understand them better. I painted big canvases for a couple of years–producing about twenty of them. They were non-painterly, meaning I didn’t care about brush control or medium manipulation but just about getting my images onto the canvas.  I thought they were brilliant.  I managed to capture the feeling of the dreams, unafraid and directly.

But then–I am an extrovert, after all–I wanted others to see them too.  I wanted others to think they were amazing, too; and I wanted them to want get to know me because I created the art. So my “art” was not only an opportunity for me to work through my confusing relationship to mothering; it was an opportunity to be seen by others.

It  is one thing to create your work and it is another thing to share it. Sharing it puts you into the world of Art. Capital A, Art.

In the world of Capital A Art, the fact that the shade of green you chose is the perfect color to convey the feeling in a dream does not matter. The world of Capital A Art cares about media, skills, techniques, perspective, line, practice–based on standards that have evolved during the whole history of Capital A Art.

Years ago, my brothers and I went to the Museum of Modern Art–MOMA–in New York. A man named Cy Twombley (Dave Barry, I am not making this up) was one of the featured artists. Here is one of his pieces.

At the time I couldn’t, and even today I can’t, find anything that makes the smallest amount of sense to me. But…oooh, ahhh, there it is in the MOMA so he’s gotta be good, right? There must be something I didn’t understand.

But I wonder: did Cy Twombley wake up in the middle of the night and say, “oops, I did one curlique too many?”  Did his evaluation make his creativity a double-edged sword-  one where he enjoyed the process of creating, but hated the process of evaluating?

So is a painting a painting if no one is there to see it?

I recently lead a two-and-a-half day music workshop. It’s one of the things  I do for a living. The workshop, something called TaKeTiNa, demands many skills–among them an understanding of rhythmic structures, competence in playing an instrument–the berimbau, a difficult-to-play single stringed instrument from Brazil–and most  important, the ability to gauge the group and move them through the material at the right pace, and with the right rhythmic calls.

I was happy with the workshop except for one part. That one part wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t up to a standard that I held. This one part influenced my feeling about the entire workshop. The participants reported meaningful, transformational experiences. I saw the progress that they had made. Yet, I was left with the sour feeling of having failed to deliver what I had wanted to deliver. And even if I had been 100 percent spot-on in every moment, and felt good about what I’d done, I’m sure that I would have been criticizing myself for feeling better about my work than I had the right to feel. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t .

How do I live with this super-critic? I’m not against criticism. In every art there are reasonable criteria, whether fully articulated or not, that reflect standards of competence. But then there is my super-critic who ignores or dismisses everything that turns out well and who turns anything that might be constructive into punishing annihilation. That is not playing fair!

And then, there is also the drive to create, and through the creation, to exist. There is the ego who like a small child says, “Mom! Hey Mom! Look at me! Look at what I did!” Beneath my occasional childish desires for adulation, fame, and riches, is a deep yearning to create something of lasting value for it’s own sake. And here is the gift: in my most brilliant moments of creation, while teaching or performing, the ”I”  disappears and only the teaching is left in the room, instructing me as well as everyone else.

I will continue to balance on this tightrope between creativity and criticism.
No matter how much Monday morning quarterbacking might ensue, and no matter how much I want to be seen and witnessed, the moments of grace/presence allow for the possibility of something beyond praise or blame. The moment is the moment is the moment. It is enough.

Friendship and faux pas

I hurt a friend’s feelings the other day.I was surprised, given the wonderful, enlightened, I-am-conscious-and aware-being that I imagine myself to be, that I could hurt someone so callously and unthinkingly as I did. But I did. I did it by not telling the truth. And they busted me on it.I value closeness. You would know that if you know me, or if you read my personal blog.  I value deep sharing. I value truth-telling. And yet, in every relationship–even when am deeply connected–I reach a point where I exit being fully in a relationship and enter judgement about the relationship. And if it goes on long enough, the relationship becomes stale and inauthentic.While I am in judgement I tell myself that the other person will not able to hear what I have to say.  I censor myself, and think of dozens of reasons why it is inappropriate to bring up what I am thinking. If any of those reasons are true, they are only partly true. Underneath them, I think I am a little chicken.

The split that prompted this blog post was preceded by dozens of small moments when I never conveyed my discomfort or dislike of what was happening between us. Little signals for me to speak up, say difficult things. At the moment that I exit relationship and enter judgment, my feelings have reached full boil. That’s when I split. I go to a more superficial level of communication and stay there wearing a mask on that says “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”–or to the girl behind the mask.

I am right in one sense to not dump my shit on someone else and not have a full-scale rant when I am at my most angry or distressed.  But there are times when this plan goes awry: I fester.

I think I enjoy this program called festering– going into the soupy morass of emotionality that is been part of my psyche since I was old enough to realize that I was feeling. Inside this soup are sharp, pointy sticks, handy tools I can use to poke myself or others in the heart and head. I remember every embarrassing, inappropriate thing ever done or said, every faux pas, every unjust action, every negative remark, every cruel action.

There are also stones in that soup.  Some stones sit on my thinking function and keep me from looking at the facts ma’am, just the facts. Some stones sit on my heart and deaden my feeling of connection, remove me from the humanness that connects us both. Some stones are meant for throwing and some for hiding behind.

Each situation that warrants my exit strategy fits into an ugly rationale bordered with sticks and stones. If I let the heat of the moment cool off and do not move forward to re-engage, these emotions can freeze in place. The icy feeling lets me feel righteous. So righteous, that I remain RIGHT and the other is WRONG. Yay!

Looks good, right? I mean it looks good if being right is more important than being real. Little Zorina, age 2-6, might be right to feel that way. She might not be able to handle complex feelings, or have the language skills to be able to hold up her end of a conversation about what wasn’t right in her emotional world. But, I am not Little Zorina anymore, even though parts of me now are as sensitive as me then.

Festering is a lazy habit.  Lazy and self-indulgent, self-protective and safe. A misguided sense of rightness, bolstered by the sound of repeated pre-recorded self-talk and unaffected by the accompanying smell of old garbage.

When my friend busted me for not showing up in our relationship, I had to look the festering mechanism in the eye and see how much I rely on it.

Years ago I read this: “Would you rather be right or happy? “ What’s the big deal? Of course I would rather be right! I shared this insight with a friend who cracked. “You are so funny!”, she said.  “What?” I asked. “What’s so funny? “

Yes, dear readers, that is the tip of the filtering iceberg.

I would rather be right than anything.  Rather right than happy is only part of the equation. I’d rather be right than logical; or rather be right than pretty; or rather be right than–what else ?? What is the purpose of my rathering to be right?

Being right protects me. It might even make me invulnerable. I can duck behind rightness and lob icy snowballs of brilliant, emotional congruence at you. Aren’t you lucky that I am so right?

Until something happens like my friend busting me. Then I see the paper walls, houses of cards I’ve built. The jig is up! It’s an illusion!

So, what can I do? Apologizing is an option. Oh, it is an appropriate response, but doesn’t cover the reality of what needs to be done. Neither does sackcloth and ashes.

Instead, I have to sit and witness myself.  And damn– it’s uncomfortable. It’s a balancing act–I must neither defend nor blame anyone or anything. Just sit still. Nothing happens, yet it can be excruciating to see that I don’t always know how to do this thing call relationship; to see the good things I bring to the table; to see the large elephants that I walk around; to see the areas that I don’t know how to navigate through.

How do you know that my relationships can hold up to scrutiny?
How do I know when to speak and when to shut up?
How do I know that the other can hear what I say?

I don’t . That’s just a messy stuff that is part of life.

But if I don’t try to bring all of myself to the table with the people who matter, relationship won’t happen. I have to keep reminding myself “Those that matter won’t mind; and those that mind don’t matter.”  It give me solace as I hold myself in the moment.