Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My body and the messages it's trying to tell me!

My body, in apparent consideration of the work I'm doing around women's bodies, has been kindly offering me many opportunities to give it careful thought lately.

Several weeks ago, as avid readers of my blog know, I was suffering from horrendous headaches then was afflicted with an insane rash under my arms and between my legs.  The doctor rashly (pun intended) diagnosed Lyme's disease (I'd also been feasted upon by four ticks in the previous 2 weeks) and put me on antibiotics.  The Lyme's titer came back negative, so that ended up being a dead end.  Thankfully the rash cleared up, but the headaches continued unabated.

I'd been doing some body work with the amazing Karen Morris, massage therapist, and it had led me deep, deep, deep into my psyche.  My gut feeling was that the physical symptoms were a manifestation of the emotional work I was doing.  The headaches began after our first session.  The rash sprang up two days after our second one. 

I went back to Karen to see if we needed to go deeper or if we could clear out whatever it was that was causing such pain.

We had an incredible session.  She bore into the areas which were painful, eventually heading to between my shoulder blades.  I asked her to pull on my right shoulder blade to the point where it felt like it might dislocate.  It pulled tremendous grief out of me.  I had an injury there when I was a child - my shoulder had gotten pulled out of joint  - and apparently my body was still holding tension, pain, and grief there.  Through Karen's ministrations, I was able to release that pain and grief. In addition to the tension, I also released the message I'd gotten along with the injury- to be a good girl and not express myself.  That message gone, I felt enormous empowerment and determination to do the work I'm meant to be doing in the world - empowering women to LOVE our bodies!

I think I've been holding back with my art and my writing for fear of offending people or saying or doing the wrong thing.  This is challenging work because people sometimes get triggered, and I sometimes get the fallout from their distress.  It takes conscious effort to decide to put myself out there fully.  And it's important for me to be centered and clear about my intention when I do it, to know I'm acting from a loving, compassionate, clean place.

That session with Karen led me to realize that the headaches were giving me the opportunity to stop doing my work.  The pain was stultifying.  It was very difficult to work through them.  I could have, with impunity, stopped there and taken to my bed.  Thankfully, though, I was able to realize that the pain was a gift.  It was an opportunity to look at my options and to choose the higher path.  I choose to create.  I choose to share my understanding.  I choose to share my art and my writing.  I choose to do this work even if it bothers others.  I choose to do it because I believe it will help others heal.  I believe it will help women see themselves and others with more compassion and kindness and love.  And I believe that I can help make the world a kinder place through my work.  I must continue it.

With those realizations, my headaches all but ceased.  A couple of times I started to get another one.  I realized quickly that they were tied to feelings of rage.  When I started getting angry, my head would get tight and I would start to hurt.  If I could release the anger, the headache would dissipate.  I am learning to find other ways to work with the information I have other than rage.  Settling into rage isn't helpful - it's actually a very helpless place to be - that's probably why it hurts.

And now I've got poison ivy.  I'm a terrible scratcher.  I have difficult stopping myself from scratching when something itches.

This morning I awoke with insight into that - it's kind of like what I do with emotional issues - if they scratch, I itch.  Deep.  And perhaps too roughly sometimes.  Perhaps I cause myself pain when I scratch too hard.  Just like I have with the poison ivy.  I am contemplating today whether I could perhaps turn my attention elsewhere when the urge to scratch arises - not deny the sensation and desire but rather
notice it and choose to do something else because the scratching is painful and destructive.  It's a new thought.  I don't know what'll come of it, but I'm curious about the possibility it presents.

The upshot of it is that I'm noticing that my body is giving me many opportunities these days to take a look at my feelings, my  beliefs, my past, and plenty of other things.  These messages from my body at times feel like a rather corrosive hag working extremely hard to get my attention with the extreme pain.  Maybe though, it's more like a very, very concerned parent trying to let me know I need to change my behavior and be kinder to myself in order to have a better life.  I'm hoping to begin to take time to focus gently on the messages my body is giving me and to listen more attentively so it doesn't have to go to such extreme lengths to get my attention from here on out.  Ticks, headaches, rashes, poison ivy - very creative, but not so welcome!  I promise to listen better now!  And I'm grateful for the lessons I'm gleaning from these opportunities.  Truly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Memoriam and Illumined from Within

Today I had a lot of stuff going on with deliveries of artwork for an upcoming student art show, but thankfully I also got some painting done.  Last night I had a chance to draw 2 pictures onto their canvases.  Today I finished the third then began painting right away.  I was accompanied by Julie Child's book on tape, My Life in France.  That was a fun accompaniment.

In Memoriam was the first piece I worked on.  It's very small, just 8"x12".  This is the underpainting/first layer.  The model has a tattoo on the back of her neck which I will put on there once I've made the skin a bit more refined looking. I'm looking forward to playing with her hair too.  There is some very beautiful light on individual strands, making her neck look even more elegant.  That'll be fun to work with.   It feels like a good start so far.

The second piece is quite complex and dramatic and is proving a lot of fun to work on.  It's of a woman out in the woods leaning over her knees.  The light struck her in such a way that it appears she is shining from within.  I'm very excited about the image. 

Looking at the first stage on the left, it's hard for me to see that it'll ever turn into anything I'll like.  I can say that now, but as I worked on it, I felt like it was wonderful, going beautifully, looked great.  It's only in hindsight that I can see that my vision of what it will be is sometimes stronger than the reality in the moment.  That's a good thing!  Otherwise I might never finish anything!

The right hand side is much more complete, but still only has a couple of layers of paint on it, and I haven't done the far right side at all yet.  The model has amazing cascading red/maroon/orange hair falling over her arm and knees - those are shadows from the hair on her knees looking confusingly like flames or something odd.  It's going to be so much fun to refine this piece and make it glow.  The final touch will be to draw her tattoo on the whole length of her arm.  Yikes!  I haven't really painted many tattoos yet, so this will be a real challenge - to represent the beautiful art of the tattoo artists on the models' bodies and do it well.  The tattoos my models have are quite complex and detailed, so it will take a great deal of work to represent them well.  Part of me would like to ignore the fact of them, but I am pretty sure that wouldn't be an accurate representation of these women if I did that!  So onward ho!  Can't wait to see how they turn out!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bathed in Light

I just finished my first piece in a while other than commissions, and it feels great!  I'm calling it Bathed in Light.  It's oil on canvas and is 24"x36", very close to life size, but a little bit larger.


Tomorrow I'll get to start on a couple more that I've been excited to work on.  This is a very good life I'm living!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Are my insides really ugly? (Don't answer that!)

In the spirit of continuing to explore my insides and share it with others, I'm sharing what I wrote in class the other day.  I was hesitant to read this in class, but I noticed when I did that, no one was unkind.  I don't know how they felt hearing it, but they listened with acute attention which made me think they wanted to hear it.  It was strange for me to share so deeply with virtual strangers.  And now I'm sharing with you.  Where will this lead????

The prompt in class was "What I want to write about".  The answer that spurted out was the following:

the ugly stuff that shoves my cranium into tightness and makes me suffer because letting it out might set it free.

So afraid, almost always, to release the ugly, to let it into thin air because I know with deep abiding uncertainty that it's simply too much for anyone to deal with.

Who will they think I am if they know all the pain and suffering and doubt and attempts for perfection I've been through?

Who will they think I am if they see my canvases torn and shredded and warped with heavy paint, brutally applied?  Instead of gently, beautifully, dutifully caressed into being?

Which one is me?  Why do I try to be so perfect?  Why so good?  What if what's underneath is bad and ugly and, gasp, evil?  I don't really think it could be evil.  I actually believe I'm good through to my core - so why the fear of what wants to come out?

Some of it is perhaps ugly.  It is certainly intense.  I've had plenty of feedback that people want me to shut up and stop or clean it up or lessen the intensity or back off or change what I say and how I say it.

Why do you have to paint naked women?  Some of them are so fat.  Do you really think they're beautiful?  Come on.  Really?  I don't believe you.  If you think they're beautiful, if you can accept them, maybe you could accept me and that would be too much to handle.  I can't take complete acceptance.  It's actually painful to have the right to exist exactly how I am.  Who am I kidding?  The pain is intolerable.  Full being?  Full explosion of self? Full undenied expression?

What would it look like?

Hopefully not like the horrific gesticulations of Picasso's women - how could he have such disdain and so little respect?   Is that what unbridled looks like?  Or does it look like me?  Does it look beautiful?  I want to prove it is beautiful, but I'm afraid it's ugly as sin so that's why I'm afraid to go there.

Maybe what's inside of me is so wretchedly ugly and horrific I won't be able to stand it.

But I've been there before - I've been all the way inside and no, it wasn't ugly, it was just painful.  Not ugly.  It hurt.  I cried.  I wept.  I felt the agony.  But even that wasn't ugly - except to people who are more afraid that I was to go there - those are the people I fear - the ones with less courage than I have because they have the words, the powerful enough defenses to down me in a single breath.  One volley and I die.

No.  Not true.  No.  My insides are not evil or ugly or harmful.

Not real writing, that last bit - that's the fake stuff I want it to say.  I don't know what's real at this point - this is where I haven't gone before, or that's how it feels - past the fear and the depths - what's all the way inside?

Joy?  Tears?  ME?  God?  I hope.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Speaking of being real!  One of my models sent me an email the other day telling me about an experience she had at work.  I love how bold she was!  This work sends ripples into the world in the most amazing ways.  I feel so blessed.

Here's her story:

A coworker mentioned he had seen your blog entry about me. At first I was nervous, my first thought was "Oh shit, you know what I look like naked!", but then the rational part of my brain kicked in, and I said, "Yeah, it was an awesome experience, totally empowering and freeing". My co worker thought it was totally cool that I had the guts to do that. :) Seriously, I never thought I'd have the confidence to smile and say, "Yep, that's me, in all my pride and glory!". Thanks for helping me find that in myself.
This underscores for me my feeling that our naked bodies really aren't all that scary, but that most of us are very afraid to be seen naked.  Yet when we are seen naked, like my model was, if we simply celebrate that experience rather than cower and believe others have something they can hold against us, we are free.  My model was free.

Perhaps this parallels what I've been writing about the last couple of days - I sometimes fear being "seen" naked in my writing and in my personal interactions, for fear others will have something they can hold against me.  Perhaps all I have to do is say, like my model did, "Yep, that's me, in all my pride and glory!"

Thanks, my friend, for giving me that new possibility.  I like it!  It feels very freeing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Being real: the headache

Yesterday I wrote about being real.  In that blog post, I mentioned the class I'm taking and what I wrote in it and how hesitant I was to read it out loud.  Well, here is the first piece I wrote now for the world to read.  Me being real.  Yeehaw!

Right now I am feeling nauseated with pain.  My head feels in a vise.  The muscles running down my neck are cords of steel, gripping my trachea, blocking the wind from running smooth and free through my throat into my body, allowing for the burst of fresh air I need to feel well in my body.  My stomach and intestines are craving something, what, I dont know, perhaps for me to stop the antibiotic that took away my rash - dried it right up and left me with scaly skin under my arms and between my legs.

My arms think to tremble from the effort of concentrating to write through the pressure in my temples, under my eyes, in my sinus cavities.

I want someone to grab my shoulders with their loving skillful hands and squeeze until the pain knows it has met its master and must leave once and for all.  It has been vanquished and I will return to my life.

I do not enjoy low grade pain moving occasionally into high grade debilitation each and every day.  The one or two days the last two months I haven't been in pain have made me feel like a fawn loping through the woods unafraid, unencumbered and free to do whatever moves through me, energized and joyful.

I have so much to do.  I hate this pain.

What does it want to tell me?  What do you want to tell me, Pain?

SLOW DOWN.  You're pushing too hard.  I am here to slow you down, to make you chill out, to stop you in your tracks if you refuse to do it without me.  I will accompnay you until you no longer need me - I am here to teach you to be gentle and loving and precious to yourself.  I am your teacher and your guide.  If you medicate me away, I will return again with a vengeance.  My intent is not cruelty.  It is gentleness.  My intent is to offer you great compassion and love and tenderness.  Can you feel me cradling your head now?  You who are here to perform and perfect and create and do more?  I am holding you in my hands, a bit firmly perhaps, but I want you to know I'm here.  Holding you.  Loving you.  You need the firmness and the clarity of pain to make you listen.

No, actually, I don't.
That is all bullshit.  What I need, actually, is gentleness and compassion, a soft bed, a loving massage, tender listening. Not cruel pain.  That is a lie.  So back off, and let me be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How real is too real??

How real is too real?  That's a question I've been dealing with at some level for my whole life.

I was born sensitive and learned early on that others around me weren't comfortable with my sensitivity.  I learned to contain my sadness and worry and anxiety.  I learned to self-soothe as a three year old.  My dad's highest compliment to me was that I was two going on twenty-one, i.e. I was mature beyond my years.  I took that to mean that I could/should take care of myself and others and not be an immature child.  I took the message to heart and was always "good" and "well-behaved". 

But not anymore.  Don't get me wrong - I'm a "good person", but I no longer feel any compunction to "be good" so I don't upset others.  If I'm having feelings, I express them - appropriately, but I let them out. 

For example,  one day when Chris and I were fairly newly-married, I was having some feelings about who-knows-what - I was crying good and loud.  He tried to shush me.  As a knee-jerk reaction, based on my life's training up to that point, I pulled myself together and tried to stop crying, tried to "be good", didn't want to upset him.  Then my more conscious awakened self came to the fore and asked him why I should be quiet?  He said it was morning and time for the kids to start waking up, and he was afraid they would be upset if they heard me cry.  That did it!  I told him in no uncertain terms that the children had heard me cry before and would hear me cry again and could handle hearing me cry and I wasn't going to stop crying if I needed to cry. If he couldn't handle it, he could leave, but I needed to cry and I was going to cry.  I cried.  Good and loud and long.  Chris, fabulous caring man that he is, stayed with me as I cried.  I cried myself out and got on with my day. The kids did hear me cry and asked me at breakfast what was wrong.  I told them I had needed to cry and a bit about what it was about (I have no idea now what I was so upset about).  They nodded, smiled when I told them what I'd told Chris about them having heard me cry before, then went on eating their cereal. 

I want my kids to be able to be with emotions!  Theirs and others.  It's so healthy!

These days I seem to be working with this topic a lot.  I've been doing a lot of deep emotional work - I think that's the cause of these damn headaches I've been having.  It comes out in my writing.  I keep wanting it to come out in my painting, but I feel so verklemmt about that.  Ever since I started painting, I've been trying to pull together the two dichotomous sides of myself:  the rational, perfectionistic side and the emotional side which wants to yell and scream from the mountaintops (and whom I'm afraid is a bit nuts, if truth be told).  I want my pictures to be photorealistically perfect, AND I want to throw paint at the canvas with abandon.  Sometimes I do throw paint at the canvas and let my feelings out there.  The process is glorious, and I love it while I'm in it.  I have lots of insights and breakthroughs and am completely absorbed in what I'm doing.  The product, however, is nothing I am willing to show others.  Its power is in the process.  The product just isn't aesthetically pleasing or something I think others could understand/would like.

I know I'm afraid people won't like what I've done when I really let loose.  That's true for my writing when it's process writing too.  I'm taking a writing class from Valley Haggard right now.  The process we use is basically free writing for 10 minutes then we read what we've written out loud.  Last Thursday I let the words flow without pause.  I wrote about my headache and how I really felt in that moment.  It was the first time I'd actually allowed myself to feel and be in the pain.  I was afraid to let others hear how I really felt.

But magic happened.  As I read the piece, I could feel the other students become absolutely still.  They were riveted by my words.  I read slowly and let myself stay in the feelings they evoked.  I allowed myself to be present to my own experience and to honor it. 

When I finished I felt empowered.  Fear rushed in to gobble up some of that, but I tried to stay in the power of saying my truth.

I am choosing to walk through my days staying in the power of my truth, uncomfortable and prickly though it may be.  Perhaps it is also beautiful and compelling for others - and for me.  Perhaps my insides are not the ugliest thing on the planet.  Perhaps they deserve to live and breathe and have their breathing.  It's a revolutionary concept, but in my core, I believe it's true.  Now all(!) I have to do is trust that and allow myself my authenticity, fully and completely, trusting that I and others can handle who I really am.

Am I alone in this, or do you know this feeling also?  Do you fear sharing your full self?  How do you work with it?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Progress being made...

I just found this link from Britain's Daily Mail.  Apparently the magazine Grazia published a picture of Kate Middleton from her wedding which has caused a bit of an uproar.  The photo was created from one where she was actually holding William's arm but was photoshopped to make it look as if she were alone.  In the process of photoshopping it, Kate became much skinnier than she already was.  People are expressing outrage that the already (unhealthily?) slender princess was made even skinner, showing how voracious the press is for  unrealistically painfully skinny women.

In one of the comments about the article, a reader explained how the photo was probably manipulated.  Apparently, the photoshop magician copied the right side of her gown, flipped it, and pasted it to the left to make the image symmetrical and so she would be standing by herself.  In the process of doing so, the left side became a lot thinner, due to the angle at which she was standing in the original photo.  That appears to be the correct explanation.

What I like about this uproar is that people are paying attention!  They are noticing that photos are being manipulated to make women look thinner, and they are complaining.  They are no longer accepting that women should be impossibly skinny. 

Here's the picture which may have caused the shift and gotten people  noticing.  In 2009, Filippa Hamilton appeared in this ad.  It had been photoshopped so grotesquely that her waist appears to be smaller than her head - an anatomical impossibility unless there is a major physical defect.  The link I included above has an excellent article about big photoshopping gaffes.

So here's what I suggest we can do - if you notice in any media a photo of a woman (or man, for that matter) which appears to have been manipulated to make him or her impossibly unrealistic, contact the publisher and inform him or her that you don't like it and don't want to see it happen again, that you prefer real people in the photos.  If enough of us complain, things will change.  The excuse now is that this is how people want to see models, it's what we expect, it's what we think is beautiful.  That argument will be difficult to sustain if we continuously insist that it is not, in fact, what we want. 

If you write any publishers, let me know and I'll post it here.  Let's keep track of what sort of a ruckus we can cause, and see if we can begin to make a difference!  It wouldn't take long for things to shift if this went viral!  Can we do it??!!

News Flash!!! 
Just today I saw an article that Hillary Clinton was edited out of the Situation Room photo when they were all watching Osama bin Laden being killed.  The Hasidic newspaper apparently couldn't handle having a woman (2 actually, Counterterrorism Director Audrey Tomason was in the photo too) in the picture because it might turn on all the men reading their paper.  Could it be that now women are being made SO skinny that they're disappearing altogether??

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Celebration of Women is in the works!

Yesterday I spent some time working on bringing into reality an idea that had been creeping around the corners of my brain for a couple of months...

I'll be having a huge show from September 16 - November 8 at Crossroads Art Center here in Richmond.  I'm working on finding a title for it.  The following have crossed my mind as possibilities:

The Woman Show (sorta like The Daily Show, The Truman Show)
Women B(e)aring it All
Baring it All: Women!
A Celebration of Women
Celebrating Women
Empowered Estrogen
It's a tricky thing, naming a show.  It needs to be interesting, intriguing and informative. 

I want this show to be empowering for women and men and a celebration of women as we are in the world today as well as a vision of who we're becoming.  There is such a paradigm shift happening these days.  People seem to be realizing that we can't go on raping the Earth as we have been, that the agressive, male-dominated model simply isn't viable much longer.  And it appears that we're turning (once again, after a millenia's absence) towards the more compassionate, consensus-driven female mode of being where cooperation rather than competition is the standard .

My show will celebrate, highlight and give voice to this shift.

The paintings show empowered women celebrating their very being: aware, alive, present to the world around them.

The interactive portion of the show will give viewers opportunities to explore their own feelings about their bodies and how those feelings may be supporting or hindering their own empowerment.

Then, the newest addition to the show, and the one I was working on yesterday, is a lecture/performance series which will be held on Thursday evenings while the show is up.  Many of my models are performers themselves, so I want to give them the opportunity to strut their stuff and to let us all see their magnificence!  I also am hoping to have some folks come in and talk about issues pertinent to women.  I think it's going to be a very exciting line-up.  I'm enjoying putting it together!  If you think you might have something to offer for these events, please get in touch and we'll see what we can figure out together!  It's going to be fun!

In any case, I hope you will be able to make it to Crossroads to see the show while it's up.  I'll be sending out invitations as time draws near and will be delighted to welcome you when you come!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Taking care of myself

As I've been doing this work about women's body image, of course I've had to take a good long look inward as well to see how I feel about my own body.  It's also led me to look at what I do to take care of myself.  I tend to push myself hard to accomplish whatever it is I have on my plate, and now that I'm doing the art full time, that's much more than it's ever been before.  My body has been protesting vociferously the last month or so especially.  I'm trying to listen, but I get anxious about "not getting enough done."  The list below contains the things I do to take care of myself and to treat myself well, especially when I've gotten or am getting out of balance.

My self-care regimen consists of the following:

* getting enough sleep
* talking with friends
* meditating
* seeing a therapist when needed
* doing Reevaluation Co-counseling
* doing Authentic Movement
* journaling
* going to a movie
* having a quiet evening with Chris
* taking an Artist's Date
* going on a quick walk in the middle of intense work
* going to Quaker Meeting
* getting massages for relaxation
* getting personal attention like haircuts with lovely scalp massages
* acting with loving kindness
* feeling compassion for myself and others
* seeing challenges as an opportunity for growth
* smiling whenever possible
* releasing negative beliefs
* feeling my feelings and letting them move on through me
* pampering myself occasionally with a good meal, excellent food
* looking at great art, reading great books
* doing things which make me happy
* exercising sufficiently to stay healthy and to feel present in my body. This includes yoga and walking and occasionally weight lifting and other modalities.
* dancing
* not putting myself down - replacing negative beliefs with life-affirming ones
* praying/conversing with God
* taking care of myself so jealousy and resentment don't fester
* seeing a health care practitioner when necessary, usually an acupuncturist
* buying new clothes occasionally so I can enjoy new looks
* wearing comfortable shoes so I can walk confidently
* appreciating my body as a vessel which allows me to live life on this planet right here right now.

What is your self-care regimen?  What do you to do increase or maintain your vitality?  How do you take excellent care of yourself and let your Self  know you love your Self completely?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Negative Lyme's disease titer leaves me feeling very confused!

Well this is very confusing!
I called the doctor's office today and was told the Lyme's disease titer came back negative.  That means, according to the doctor, that I do NOT have Lyme's disease.  He told me to stay on the antibiotics though because maybe I have some other nasty tick-caused disease and they would wipe it out.  I do not feel confident about this process.  (In my research on the internet, I've learned that the titer will come back negative frequently if the tick bite was too recent for the antibodies to have built up, so I don't know what to think about this negative result.)

Today my headache is still gone.  I'm incredibly thankful for that.  But my rash is getting very, very bizarre.  If you want details, read on.  If not, skip!  Under my right arm, where it was a widespread red patch, there is now the patch plus two other features:  a dark purple splotch where it looks like blood has pooled under the skin, like a bruise but very dark (close to the skin?), plus the weirdest thing - a jagged line, like lightning, that is dark maroon.  That appeared this morning.  I have no clue what it's about.  I told the nurse, but I didn't get a response from the doctor other than I could come back in 10 days if it hasn't cleared up from the antibiotics and get him to look at it again.  I am (again) unimpressed.

Instead I made an appointment with a different doctor today.  I'll see her next Wed.  I used to tutor her kids, so I'm thinking that the personal connection may cause her to take a closer look.  Plus I sense she might be a more thorough doctor anyway.  I wish she had an appointment available sooner, but hopefully things will stay on course.  I'll keep taking the antibiotics and probiotics and see what happens.

This is a very bizarre situation.  Wish I had some clue what was going on!

The up side to all this is that it's giving me the incentive to take time to listen to my body to try to find out what it needs.  That led me to do yoga yesterday evening and to take a nice long walk with Chris this evening.  I also got a very restorative massage this afternoon from Karen Morris.  She is an impressively excellent massage therapist.  I recommend her highly if you're looking for someone who is skilled in many  modalities and who is intuitive and compassionate.  She's doing very good things for my body.  Thanks, Karen! : )

In addition to all those good things, I'm also journaling and taking time to sit quietly and listen to my body.  I had planned to go to Williamsburg yesterday to spend the day with my son but decided after sitting with it for a bit that it would be too much, so I didn't go.  That is highly unusual behavior for me.  I was totally looking forward to the day with Dylan and normally would have pushed it and gone, but the day I had that god-awful headache taught me a thing or two - DO NOT PUSH IT OR YOU WILL PAY FOR IT!  OK, OK, I get it!  I'm listening!

I am such a type-A personality and am used to having tons of energy and drive.  It is daunting to me to not feel like I usually do.  I guess the Universe has figured it's time for me to learn a different way of being.  I'm sure it's all for the good ultimately, but it may take some getting used to!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Are the Gods of Fashion able to determine right and wrong?

I keep thinking about judgment - what is it exactly?

I know it when I feel it coming towards me - a sense of disapproval, of being "less than", of not measuring up, a sense that I've failed someone somehow.  I don't like being judged.

Unless it's in a competition like an art show or in school because there I'm setting myself up to be judged, I've done my best to prepare, and I'm fairly confident I'll be judged favorably.  Those sorts of judgments have been familiar to me and mostly comfortable since I learned about how school works.

Then there's judgment associated with religion.  Thank God (pun intended) I didn't have to deal with that - my father, an Episcopal minister, taught us that God is LOVE and that's all that we need to know.  The rest is just nice stories and man-made structures.  So I didn't get any of the harsh judgmental fundamentalist Biblical training which teaches that God would punish me harshly if I did anything the Church Fathers perceived of as wrong.  How does the phrase go?  He's an all-forgiving, loving God, but he will damn me to eternal hell if I do anything wrong.  Uh, yeah, right.  No thanks.

Societal judgment - the courts have judges who are meant to impartially decide whether we have done something illegal/wrong or not and what our punishment should be.  The judges sit up high behind an imposing desk.  We are told to stand when they enter, to give them respect.  Quite literally, their Word is Law.  Period.

The court system is not always fair.  There's a huge discrepancy between how rich and poor are treated.  If you have a very good lawyer who knows the system, you will not be judged as harshly as if you have a poor one.  Black men are virtually presumed guilty until found innocent.

It's an imperfect system, but at least it is an attempt at providing impartial judgment based on the facts and compared to a Code of Law which has been developed and tempered over the course of centuries.  In our society, a person has a sense of the rules, and can learn them quite precisely with a bit of research and can know the scope of possible punishments for breaking them.  In that sense, it's not too hard to stay ont he right side of the law.

On the other hand, the Laws of Beauty are quite fickle. There is no one Code of Beauty which a woman can read up on and follow to stay on the right side of the Law.  Instead, it is ever-changing, set by a fashion and beauty industry whose raison d'etre is to make money.  And they make more money when people buy their products (i.e. buy into their version of right and wrong).  It's good for them if the version of right and wrong changes frequently so women have to keep up by buying more - following fickle fashion trends to the letter.  Their other tactic is fear - if you don't follow our rules, you'll...
be a pariah
be ugly
be judged
be fat
be unsuccessful
lose friends
never attract a sexy mate
The punishments are harsh, unforgiving and horrible.  They're also capricious and biased towards wealth.

Wealthy women have a better chance of fitting into the system because they can hire people to help them - personal trainers, beauticians, make-up artists, interior designers, etc., etc., etc.  They have the money to buy the "right" clothes each season, to get their hair done weekly, to buy all the beauty products.   If they were born "ugly", they can get surgery to correct the unflattering aspects of themselves.

Poor people, on the other hand, can't live up to the Code of Beauty without great sacrifice.  Chris Rock's movie Good Hair shows the economic insanity that black women put themselves through to achieve their ideal of Good Hair.  Some spend upwards of $500/month to have their hair done, but they have trouble keeping food on their table.  They will have their daughter's hair done starting at age 2 or 3 - horrible chemicals to straighten or soften their hair.  Harsh judgments against "black hair" cause these women to undertake these Herculean efforts to tame nature.

The problem with judgments about beauty is that they are arbitrary and capricious and ever-changing.  And not everyone can measure up to them.  "Good judgment" I believe would be more like our legal system which virtually all but the criminally insane can live within.

In the Chinese culture, women had to bind their feet to the point of becoming crippled to meet exacting standards to beauty.  Choosing not to follow those rules condemned a woman to a lifetime of harsh condemantion, judgment, and being a social outcast who simply could not live in good society.

In our world in the United States, white skin, good well-coifed hair, expensive fashionable clothes, and thinness allow a woman entree into society in the same way severely bound feet did in earlier Chinese society.
The rules are harsh for the initiated:

get a manicure and pedicure frequently
go to the hair salon every 4 weeks
wax/shave your legs
wave/shave your underarms
wax/clean up your pubic hair by shaving, plucking, cutting, waxing
get rid of "ugly" hair anywhere on the body
apply make-up "just so"
pluck your eyebrows - what's the right shape?  How does one know?
apply creams for
         lighter skin
         a "natural-looking" tan
avoid dryness in skin and hair
don't wear glasses (get lasik surgery)
straighten your teeth (get braces)
whiten your teeth
wear deodorant so no body odor is every evident
wear perfume to create the correct smell (one that will attract the sexy hunk)
wear high heels to give a certain allure to your calf muscles and in order to create the look of helplessness which apparently attracts sexy hunks)
be thin (get a personal trainer, join a gym, diet, go to a nutritionist)
have the right size breasts -
         older women seem to want them smaller
         younger women seem to be enhancing theirs
labia must be beautiful and just so (get plastic surgery if they hang low or are otherwise "disgusting")
thighs must not touch
stomachs must be flat (get a tummy tuck if not)
butts now must be rounded yet firm (since J Lo has come on the scene.  They used to have to be flat and firm.  Thankfully, Victoria's Secret has begun selling panties with pads to help women out.)
lips should be full (get a botox treatment if they aren't)
do not wrinkle
do not age
white is right (use skin-lightening creams and chemicals if you're brown or black, a la Michael Jackson)
wear the latest fashions - but not too slavishly - make sure you have your own, slightly eclectic style

There are a LOT of people who can make a LOT of money from all the treatments necessary to make a woman fit these rigid standards of beauty.

And there's no way to attain perfection.  42 plastic surgeries, and a woman in Argentina is still ready for more. (If I read the Portuguese correctly, now she wants to have a surgery to make her a virgin again.)

There is always someone who will judge what's right or not right about a person.  If a woman doesn't have a strong sense of what is right for her, she can drown in societal expectations.

When I asked one of my heavier models how she managed to love and be comfortable with her body, she told me she was never "in the game" so she simply didn't have to worry about it.  I feel the same way.  I choose not to play.  I don't want to spend the hours upon hours it would take to "groom" myself "just so" in order to fit someone else's version of how I should look.  That's not to say I don't enjoy dressing up and looking nice.  That makes me feel good too.  It's just I don't want to wear high heels, for example, simply because that's a societal expectation for "dressing up".  They cause my feet enormous pain.  It would be unwise for me to wear the heels to satisfy society and hurt myself thereby.

Who decides that eyebrows of a certain shape are beautiful?  How do these "rules" help the species evolve more successfully?  How does following them make me a healthier, more fulfilled, richer human being?  Does it enrich my spiritual health?  My viability as a breeder?  Will it help continue the species?  Or keep the planet healthier?

Some would argue that more beautiful women are chosen more often as partners and thereby beauty products do help us do what we're here for - reproduce.  Perhaps that is true to a certain extent, but since the standards of beauty change constantly, how does that work?

Couldn't we use our time and energy more effectively and in better ways than by obsessing over our bodies and clothes?

Fashion and Beauty are industries.  The point of their existence is to make money.  To keep corporations viable.  It is NOT about right  or wrong.  Or good or bad.  A person is not good or bad based on his/her appearance.  A person's goodness or badness is based on behavior which isn't predicated upon appearance unless a person is so maligned for his/her looks that he/she does heinous acts to relieve the pressure from the shame.

Judgment about looks, then, is arbitrary, changeable, determined by the "Gods of fashion", not by some infallable standard of right and wrong.  The standards have changed over the years and will continue to change.  What else in human history is as fickle as fashion?  How do you choose to life your life?  Trying to hit an ever-moving target?  or focusing on your inner beauty which can be enhanced forever?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lyme's Disease = Body Wisdom

The last few weeks I've been coping with severe headaches almost every day.  A few days ago I got an amazing massage which I thought might have knocked out the pain once and for all, but unfortunately it came back this morning with a vengeance.  Steel nails through each of my eyes as well as the back of my neck. 

Three days ago I noticed I was feeling an urge to itch where "nice girls" aren't supposed to touch in public.  Then I noticed it was looking particularly red.  My underarms both had impressive crescent rashes too.  Then I noticed the hives under my breasts and across my stomach. 

When I got the massage, I did some particularly powerful emotional release work, so I thought that perhaps the rashes were toxins releasing from my body in annoying ways - how interesting. 

Then this morning the stupid headache came back so strongly, I decided I should go to the doctor to see what's up.  I had found two ticks on my body the last three weeks so I was anxious I might have Lyme's disease or some other horror those diabolical creatures can impart.

I go to a doctor's practice where there are some doctors I like and one who is the fastest talker I've ever come across.  Unfortunately the luck of the draw had me get him this morning.  He walked in, asked where I had the tick bites.  I showed him behind my knee and on my back.  He said, "You have a rash?"  I said yes, and pulled off my jacket to show him under my arms.  I started to pull up my shirt and said I'd need to pull off my pants to show him the other rash.  He waved me away impatiently and told me I had Lyme's disease.  Headaches, rashes, ticks = Lyme's disease.  I told him I'd had the headaches longer than the ticks.  No matter.  I told him I've having hot flashes which are waking me up nightly.  He waved me off.  Amusing.  Middle aged woman = hot flashes = ignore.  I've been exhausted and low energy for longer than the ticks.  So what? 

He led me to the room where they draw blood and spoke to the nurse.  I peppered him with questions which he answered while filling in paperwork and talking to the nurse.  What's the rate of false positives on the test?  False negatives?  No answer.  Could you please do a Whole blood count too to check the levels of my minerals and so on.  "You don't need that.  I wouldn't do anything if they were low anyway."  "Well, I would, and I'd like to know."  Condescending request to the nurse to do one for me.  Walking away as I try to ask more questions.  "How long until I get some relief from the rashes and headaches?"  "72 hours."  "And if there's no relief?"  "Maybe it's fungal and I'll prescribe a topical cream."  "Wouldn't it be better to start there?"  "It's Lyme's disease."  "How often do you see it?"  "One other time on a woman travelling through from FL to NY."  "So it isn't common.  Why do you think that's what I have when I have so many other symptoms?"  Walking away while making notes.


The pharmacist was more helpful in answering questions, though she had the same answers.  At least I felt listened to and like she responded to me.  It's so frustrating to see a doctor and not feel heard.  He didn't even give my rashes a careful look, nor did he ask about the headaches, their duration, where they hurt, how long I'd been having them, what I'd tried to do to alleviate them.  Perhaps he would have come to the exact same conclusion, but I would be feeling better now if he had asked.  I want a doctor who isn't squeamish about looking at my body!

Guess I'll be looking for a new doctor.

And hopefully the 30 day course of antibiotics will take care of these symptoms and I won't get any others.  It's scary to think about having an illness like this which has such debilitating consequences if not treated early.  Here's what Wikipedia says about the early and later symptoms:

Early disseminated infection
Within days to weeks after the onset of local infection, the Borrelia bacteria may begin to spread through the bloodstream. EM may develop at sites across the body that bear no relation to the original tick bite.[16] Another skin condition, which is apparently absent in North American patients, but occurs in Europe, is borrelial lymphocytoma, a purplish lump that develops on the ear lobe, nipple, or scrotum.[17] Other discrete symptoms include migrating pain in muscles, joint, and tendons, and heart palpitations and dizziness caused by changes in heartbeat.

Various acute neurological problems, termed neuroborreliosis, appear in 10–15% of untreated patients.[14][18] These include facial palsy, which is the loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face, as well as meningitis, which involves severe headaches, neck stiffness, and sensitivity to light. Radiculoneuritis causes shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, as well as abnormal skin sensations. Mild encephalitis may lead to memory loss, sleep disturbances, or mood changes. In addition, some case reports have described altered mental status as the only symptom seen in a few cases of early neuroborreliosis.[19]

Late persistent infection

Deer tick life cycleAfter several months, untreated or inadequately treated patients may go on to develop severe and chronic symptoms that affect many parts of the body, including the brain, nerves, eyes, joints and heart. Myriad disabling symptoms can occur, including permanent paraplegia in the most extreme cases.[20]

Chronic neurologic symptoms occur in up to 5% of untreated patients.[14] A polyneuropathy that involves shooting pains, numbness, and tingling in the hands or feet may develop. A neurologic syndrome called Lyme encephalopathy is associated with subtle cognitive problems, such as difficulties with concentration and short-term memory. These patients may also experience profound fatigue.[21] However, other problems, such as depression and fibromyalgia, are no more common in people who have been infected with Lyme than in the general population.[21][22] Chronic encephalomyelitis, which may be progressive, can involve cognitive impairment, weakness in the legs, awkward gait, facial palsy, bladder problems, vertigo, and back pain. In rare cases untreated Lyme disease may cause frank psychosis, which has been mis-diagnosed as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Panic attack and anxiety can occur, also delusional behavior, including somatoform delusions, sometimes accompanied by a depersonalization or derealization syndrome, where the patients begin to feel detached from themselves or from reality.[23][24]

Diffuse white matter pathology can disrupt grey matter connections, and could account for deficits in attention, memory, visuospatial ability, complex cognition, and emotional status. White matter disease may have a greater potential for recovery than gray matter disease, perhaps because neuronal loss is less common. Resolution of MRI white matter hyperintensities after antibiotic treatment has been observed.[25]

Lyme arthritis usually affects the knees.[26] In a minority of patients, arthritis can occur in other joints, including the ankles, elbows, wrist, hips, and shoulders. Pain is often mild or moderate, usually with swelling at the involved joint. Baker's cysts may form and rupture. In some cases, joint erosion occurs.

Acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans (ACA) is a chronic skin disorder observed primarily in Europe among the elderly.[17] ACA begins as a reddish-blue patch of discolored skin, often on the backs of the hands or feet. The lesion slowly atrophies over several weeks or months, with the skin becoming first thin and wrinkled and then, if untreated, completely dry and hairless.[27]

I'm not happy about this possibility and would like to deny it.  I notice I don't like being sick.  I like having energy and being able to accomplish a lot each day.  This lethargy and pain is discouraging and frustrating, and I'd most like to ignore it, but it doesn't really work that way.  I'm finding I have to be gentle with myself and rest and be nice to myself and listen to what my body needs.

A friend suggested that perhaps this is the Universe's way of teaching me yet another beautiful lesson about my body - it deserves to and needs to be listened to.  Its wisdom is powerful and important.  Instead of being mad at my body and wishing it were different, perhaps the thing to do is to listen gently to it and thank it for its wisdom and teaching.

So thank you, Dear Body.  Thank you for the headache and rash which were bizarre and painful enough to get me to listen and to go to the doctor.  I've listened.  I will be gentle.  I will rest.  Please, now, let me heal so I can get back to work!  Oops - uh, I mean, so I can continue to listen respectfully to your wisdom.  Next time you won't have to speak so forcefully.  I promise to listen sooner!