Tag: Beauty

17Feb

The Things I Forget to Instagram

On Monday mornings, I wake up slowly. I’ve always done a clumsy job shifting between weekday and weekend mindsets, and no matter how straight I aim my Sunday night intentions, I tend to wake up in a dead stall—engine cold, momentum at zero, the week’s potential out of view beyond a right turn. I’m working on showing myself grace this year, so I accept that morning pages will not get written first thing on Mondays. Neither will inspirational reading be absorbed. I will not be jumping up to hit the track, nor will I be performing sun salutations on the yoga mat I keep forgetting to acquire. The only thing I am capable of doing when I wake up on a Monday is settling back into my pillows with a cappuccino and scrolling through Instagram while I wait for the caffeine to loosen my mental gears.

Now, I love Instagram. It feels like the least needy of the social media conduits, rarely snagging at the threads of my attention with links, surveys, or political commentaries. The comment sections can get a little dicey, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone post a Willow-filtered snapshot to illustrate their outrage over the latest hot topic. By and large, Instagram inspires users to curate the beauty in their daily lives. People appreciate and preserve little moments through the act of sharing them, and others appreciate and share in return, and say what you will about our narcissistic culture or the ascent of selfies, but I love the whole construct. I do.

That said, I myself post photos sparingly. Part of the reason is that I want to avoid the habit of detaching from beautiful moments in order to crop and filter and caption them, but the other part is that I simply forget. It doesn’t occur to me to document the majority of my daily circumstances, even as I extract pearls of gratitude from them, even as I notice their unique and lovely hues. My “hey, I could Instagram this!” gene must be recessive.

I spend a kid-free Sunday afternoon wandering medieval streets, fingers woven through my husband’s in the most blissfully unFebruary sunlight, and forget to document a second of it.

I give the girls as a Valentine’s gift a packet of coiled paper streamers that they blow into a giant pile of pink insta-wig, but I forget to capture the hilarity.

I peek in on them as they sleep, my heart catching tight in my throat as it always does to see them so relaxed, so safe in their vulnerability, small elbows cradling beloved stuffed animals.

I look up from my own dregs of sleep to catch Dan bringing in a deluxe Saturday breakfast for me. Still, after eleven years, this.

I hang wet sheets on the balcony and breathe it all in—the Mediterranean sunlight, the quiet symphony of our neighborhood, the cypresses whisking pollen into the air and teaching the world to sneeze, our Italian way of life.

I make us this day our daily pasta. I lift weights (got to burn off all that pasta somehow!). I coach the girls with their piano practice. I dial up my sister’s sweet face on Skype. I discover that if you run out of polenta and try to substitute fine-ground cornmeal, you will end up with a pot of yellow Elmer’s glue. I switch between flip-flops and winter slippers like the uprooted Texan I am. I read Romans and Gabriel García Márquez. I cheer and groan and formulate Thoughts on the Olympics. I kiss friends on both cheeks in greeting. I use the last of the midnight blue nail polish. I kick my feet up next to Dan’s while we discuss whether we’re more in the mood for Firefly or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I water my “poor kid.” I burn the pizza.

Life pulls me straight into its kaleidoscope heart, and I ride the color from second to second, pattern to pattern, and each one is worth memorializing in some way. I forget to Instagram most of it though, and this finds me on Monday morning scrolling through proof of my friends’ beautiful weekends and wondering where mine got off to. It’s not that I think an instant of life has to be posted online to mean something—goodness no—but I still miss undocumented moments as if they were old friends moving out of state. How long until we lose contact? Until they stop coming to mind? Until I forget that they were ever in my life?

I’ve been afraid of forgetting ever since I was a 10-year-old journaling what I’d eaten for dinner and what I’d studied in school that day. Anne Frank’s diary made me wild to record every second of myself for posterity. Years later, I’d write at red lights or in empty parking lots because I couldn’t wait until I got home; I might forget too much.

And I do. I forget too much. Dan will try to reminisce with me about our early years together, and I’ll ask, “That happened?” I can watch the same movie twelve times and be surprised twelve times by the ending. The fingers of my mind hold memory loosely, as casually as if it were a handful of gravel, and pebble-sized bits of my life slip through before I remember that I could be documenting them.

An ongoing lesson in my life, however, is how to let go. I’ve written about it here before, how I struggle with letting good things come to an end even if they no longer have a place in my world, but I’m getting better at it. I’m learning to sink back against my trust that if a tree falls in an empty forest, it still makes a sound, and if a swath of delight cuts through my day undocumented, it still serves its purpose. Sometimes living in the moment means grasping it with both hands, a smartphone, and an armada of hashtags… and sometimes it means quietly enjoying it and then releasing it into the care of the universe. Both ways are valid. Both celebrate the beauty. (Repeat to self daily, twice on Mondays.) And it’s possible that forgetting to Instagram might just be the most Zen choice I [n]ever make.

15Oct

Nostalgia vs. The Substance of Now

We hear fireworks in the night but can’t see them. Though each boom and popcorn-crackle reverberates through our open windows, no light reaches high enough to clear the row of apartment buildings in front of us. I’d be all for shrugging off the disappointment, but my mind has already snuck down the street to our old house with its legend of a balcony. We used to stand there under the stars with the tip of my beloved Van Gogh tree beckoning the moon and watch no less than a dozen firework displays at once, the surrounding region our own personal snow globe. We could communicate with the weather from there—whisper to the first tentacles of fog slipping around church steeples, harness the green-eyed energy of summer storms, rub the golden hours between our fingers. My goodness, but I miss that view.

Once the pages of memory start turning, stoic indifference is almost impossible to keep up, and my nostalgia over fireworks and gold-tipped fog quickly turns into something sadder. The scent of heaven still lingering in my newborn daughters’ skin is a repeat offender at times like this. Could any memory possibly be more heart-wrenching after a day in which I have snapped at those same daughters for fighting over board games when they were supposed to be doing their homework, on a night when their legs seem to have grown longer than their mattresses and their hair forms sweat-tangled updos on their pillows?

Other memories stand at the ready too, each unwrapping its own flavor of longing: Firelight painting gold on the walls of our snowbound house in Delaware. Herds of zebras grazing below the hilltop where I journaled in the South African sunrise. Pecans nestled throughout a Texas-sized backyard like autumn Easter eggs. My heart blinking in delight the first time Dan met me at my front door with a kiss. Our girls (ours!) laughing past the point of motor control on the teacup ride at Disney World.

These sensory treasures are now rooted permanently in the past, and I feel what would be regret if not for the comforting sweetness in the center. I know that I’ve been at least a marginally responsible moment-enjoyer; every one of my fond memories exists because I welcomed it in person. No, regret has no place in nostalgia.

I’m still in the grip of a hollow sadness though, as though a balloon has inflated in the base of my throat, and I’m unwilling to let this be my final reaction to nostalgia either. Sometimes I feel like my truest profession in life is that of a war strategist against sadness. It targets me from so many angles, triggered by things as insignificant as the smell of oatmeal cooking or the sound of fireworks in the night. I can’t predict it and may never be impervious to its sudden charges. I can, however, fight back, so I take on my memories tonight with the biggest force of reality I can muster.

First, I coax my mind back to the present. The sum of my former lives is too much to take on at once. This is about now—this new house, still startling me with ways it is unlike our old; these precious family members sheltered inside, still startling me with ways they are unlike my impressions of them. This is about change, how I so readily dive into it without remembering how hard it always is in the end. I did it this summer, throwing myself into our move with gusto, never considering just how fiercely I would miss the familiar floor plans of the past. Now that we’re here, my heart keeps looping back on itself; it’s no wonder I find myself tangled.

The fireworks continue just beyond my reach, and I lay our former home life to rest in my mind. There were so many reasons we needed to move, issues of cost and architecture and utilities; it helps to give a slight nod to each from time to time just to acknowledge that we made the right decision. And then there’s the Van Gogh tree I so dearly loved; our landlord unexpectedly cut it down two days after I took that photo. I’d had no idea I was posting its obituary.

The tree reminds me that nostalgia is so often a revisionist history. There never were any Good Ol’ Days when all the magical elements of the universe came together at once. There was only ever the beauty and struggle of everyday life, followed by change and then by a different set of beauty and struggle. Those newborn babies I miss so much were accompanied by sleep deprival and postpartum depression. Those South African sunrises were followed by grueling days of physical and emotional labor. Those holiday nights we stood on our old balcony drinking in the display were often tense with frustration and frigid fingers due to problems with the house. The struggle was always alive and accounted for, just as the beauty is now.

I consciously turn my thoughts toward our newest version of everyday. We’re still getting used to it of course, but I can already begin to pick out the elements that will one day reshape themselves as nostalgia. Our neighbors, for one. We’re lucky enough to share this little complex with sweet and generous families who are well on their way to becoming friends. And then there’s my new kitchen, so spacious (at least by Italian standards) and gorgeous that I feel like I’ve won the culinary lottery. I will always remember this as the house where my girls grew into bona fide big kids—Sophie putting on her new purple glasses and trotting off to first grade, Natalie devouring Boxcar Children books with a reading lamp after her sister goes to sleep. This darling white writing desk is where I might actually finish the book that’s been simmering in my imagination the last ten years. This apartment is where our daughters’ childhood memories may one day come to roost.

These are the days of marathon training, walks to the bakery before lunch, pirate stories at bedtime, and family Uno championships. Likewise, they are the days of unreliable hot water heaters, occupational uncertainties, relational challenges, and tendinitis. Nostalgia won’t want me to remember the second list, but this is what gives the everyday its substance and meaning: struggle and beauty together, light and color blooming in the dark.

Acknowledging this is enough. My sadness retreats amid a shower of sparks.

Orange sparkles

3May

Life All Around

We’ve had an odd schedule lately. Italy celebrated a national holiday on Thursday last week and another one two days ago, and it seems like weekends keep popping their heads into our lives and then backing out again, mumbling apologies. We’ve spent more time with friends over the last week than we have in months, and it’s felt like coming back to ourselves even as work piled up around our ears, even as the haphazard routines in our life gave up altogether and ditched us to go out for commiserative drinks.

This is an odd season of life, actually. We’re never quite sure if we’re on the verge of change or if we’re putting down roots into our version of normal. Those things that make us feel most alive—traveling, spending quality time with friends, writing (for me), playing music (for him)—have taken a back seat to the sheer madness of trying to establish ourselves as self-employed. We know the work we’re doing is valuable, but we don’t know when we should stop, what shape the big picture is taking, whether we’re in a sprint or a marathon.

One day, I’m sure I’ll look back on these in-between years and see every pattern and nuance through the clear vision of hindsight. I may even develop nostalgia for this time when our lives revolve around possibility (nostalgia-speak for “How the hell are we going to make it??”). For now, though, I’m trying to focus on one bite-sized day at a time and on the snippets of loveliness that carry me through the crazy:

* The drone of lawnmowers all across the city on Sunday afternoons. Even though I know that the tiny wild daisies that I love are being cut along with the wild allergy grass that I don’t love, lawnmowers sing the surest tribute to sunshine I can imagine.

* The quaint ruckus of Umbrian architecture, pink limestone houses and terraces and arches piled up on top of each other like a Medieval slumber party. We’ve lived here almost six years, and I still can’t get over the layers of our landscape: the base of silver-dusted olive trees posed like elderly modern dance troupes, the jumble of sun-warmed stone climbing out, and the Mediterranean sky pooled above. I still can’t stop pulling out my camera, a tourist in my own home.

Umbrian layers

* Coffee, in the social sense. I’m always amazed at the kind of long, easy conversation that can be carried by something as small as an espresso. Don’t try to tell me there’s no magic in that dark liquid.

* Re-falling-in-love songs:

* Handwritten letters addressed to me.

* Baby apricots, cherries, and figs in the backyard we share with our landlord’s family. (We live on the top floor of a “family condo,” which is a vastly more common living arrangement than standalone homes are here. I adore how this setup allows me to have fruit trees without my having to do any work whatsoever to maintain them.) Seedlings, snapdragons, and an explosion of strawberry buds in our balcony garden. Flowers on the kitchen table again. Little growing things, life all around.

Snapdragons - 3

* Sleeping on freshly washed sheets that have spent the afternoon cavorting outside with the breeze. I remember the luminous Mollie Greene commenting once on Instagram that washing your sheets “makes all the difference in everything,” and I’m inclined to agree.

* Tolkien with the girls before bed. After enduring series like The Faraway Tree, which the girls enjoyed but which made me want to stick forks into my own eyeballs, I’m thrilled to be reading good literature as a family. Also, I’d forgotten how funny The Hobbit is. (And what a bad-ass that Gandalf is!)

* Chocolate-covered grins.

Chocolate grin
(Picture by Dan, outfit by Sophie, decoration by gelato)

~~~

Tell me about the snippets of loveliness carrying you right now. Ready, set, go!

17Apr

On Mothering Grown Women Before They’re Grown

My girls have a good dad, no doubt about it. He teaches them how to throw the Aerobie and ask good questions. He sits cross-legged on the rug to build LEGO police-station-chemistry-lab-recording-studio-princess-schools according to request. He turns up the Dropkick Murphys loud when Sophie’s in the car and gives Natalie special computer programming assignments (pretty much everything about our girls’ personalities can be summed up in this sentence). He knows what makes them tick, and he encourages streaks of independence that I’d never even noticed. He fosters their creativity, respects their privacy, and displays their construction pencil holders in his office. All girls should be so lucky.

My girls have a good mom too. The Law of Self-Deprecation says I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s the truth, and I know it. I tie three sets of aprons and show the girls how to measure and whisk and roll cookie dough in cinnamon sugar. I instigate Jamiroquai dance parties in the living room, tickle-chase escaping fugitives, and read Roald Dahl aloud before bed. I teach Natalie about story arcs and Sophie about “c-a-t,” and I tell them they’re beautiful every single day. Dan and I aren’t perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination, but our girls know we love them and like them and want them around. We’re doing a few somethings right.

But there is one aspect of parenting girls in particular that moves me to contemplate tequila as a valid breakfast option. For all the positive things Dan and I are teaching our girls about themselves through our attention and encouragement, I am also teaching the girls about themselves by how I treat myself, and I can tell you, the message coming across from me to me is rarely of the positive variety.

While it’s easy for me to focus on the features that make my girls inside-and-out beautiful—Natalie’s midnight blue eyes, Sophie’s whole-body smile, the glimmers of kindness and joy that light each of their demeanors like a personal aurora borealis—my filters tune to the negative when I look at myself. I only notice the stray eyebrow hairs, the unflattering curves, the tired slump of my shoulders, the frustration that flares up like lava bursts. I don’t see anything worth celebrating or encouraging in myself, and this would feel pious and admirably ascetic if not for the fact that my girls are absorbing my brand of womanhood like sponges.

Their eyes go round as they watch me sweep on my mascara, and I remember that same combination of curiosity and awe from my own girlhood while I watched my mother dab on moisturizer and replace it in the mystical realm of grown-up toiletries under the sink. The secrets to my future self lived under that sink. Tucked among the perfume bottles and tampons, womanhood whispered to me about beauty and strength and sensuality and fragility, and it had my mother’s voice.

Now it has mine.

In the contours of my figure, my daughters glimpse the trajectory of their own bodies. In my speech, they catch inflections and sayings that will one day trip off their own mama-tongues. Each of my habits is a clue to their own approaching adulthood, each of my mannerisms a point on the map, and like it or not, I’m their first lesson about how to be a woman. Good God in heaven.

I never anticipated mothering grown women before my oldest finished second grade, but here we are on this express route to the future, and when I seethe with impatience over my own limitations, I’m teaching my adult daughters that they don’t deserve grace, and when I mutter into the mirror about my physical imperfections, I’m telling these one-day women that they are not beautiful just as they are, and when I ignore my own needs to the point of burnout, I’m showing them that self-care is not a priority. My soliloquies are their screenplays, and the implications knock the breath right out of me.

I feel like this shouldn’t be such a big deal. The solution is as simple as treating myself the way I want my girls to be treated—with gentleness, compassion, joy, and the occasional spoonful of Nutella. Everybody wins, right? Except that I’m me, so nothing is ever that simple, and the reality is that I’m far more comfortable with self-deprecation than I am with self-care. I’m good at listing my faults, grimacing at my reflection, and jabbing unkind sentiments into the soft belly of my mind. They produce a kind of half-vindictive, half-vanquished satisfaction. Tenderness though… it has always felt like a guilty pleasure, emphasis on the guilt.

Somewhere along the years, I picked up the notion that any scrap of kindness—even within the privacy of my own thoughts—must be earned through perfection. Patience and rest must each be purchased with intense stretches of achievement, and if I want that spoonful of Nutella, I’d better be sporting rock-hard abs. It’s my own personal works-based religion. I follow it like a spiritual devotee too. I’m so familiar with the liturgy of criticism that its sting almost feels like comfort by now, and the idea of psychological freedom is not enough of a motivator for me to revamp my self-image.

However, the idea of my daughters’ psychological freedom is. I’m almost angry that this is the answer, that I have to be comfortable in my own skin in order to raise daughters comfortable in theirs. I’d much rather refer them to a stack of self-help books or start a therapy fund, anything other than having to lead by example. I don’t want to have to spelunk the messy dark of my own emotional history to find the reasons why I can’t smile when I look in the mirror. I don’t want to march into shame’s territory and fight to win myself back.

And it’s not like my girls will be doomed to a future of bitterness and self-loathing if I don’t figure this out. They’re already thoughtful and resilient individuals, and part of their growing up experience was always going to be figuring out who they are apart from their parents. I would be either very arrogant or very naïve to assume that they are my carbon copies, destined to play out my own life choices.

Using their individuality as an excuse to avoid doing the hard work on myself is a cop-out though. Even the most curmudgeonly gatekeepers in my mind know deep down that learning to love myself is worth the struggle. It’s worth working through profound discomfort in order to make my daughters’ first perspective on womanhood one of kindness and joy and wholeheartedness. It’s worth charging back into that formidable battle against shame in order to give them the gift of a mom who’s happy to exist as herself.

(Yes? Yes.)

I’m writing this from the entrance of the emotional messy cave—no answers at all, just a few half-baked ideas and a significant amount of trepidation. I’m perplexed as to why it should be this hard to start seeing myself a little more as a unique and valuable human worthy of love and a little less as Jabba the Hutt, but the Real Beauty Sketches video going around (have you seen it yet?) proves that I am not alone in holding a distorted and negative view of myself. We women are masterful at finding fault in ourselves. Glossy cover models and online mommy wars prey on our insecurities while religious pundits promote our inferiority. We react by judging each other in a misguided attempt to boost our own statuses, and it’s no wonder that so few of us can fathom the idea that we might be worthy of celebration or admiration or love.

What I can fathom, however, is that my precious little girls are worthy. They don’t have to do a single blessed thing to earn their lovability; they are themselves, and that’s enough. I cherish the ways their minds work, their bodies are taking shape, and their hearts expanding, and I dearly hope that they can grow up seeing themselves through the same lens of happy awe that I do. It bears repeating that they are themselves, and that’s enough—enough to warrant compassion and respect and appreciation and understanding and spoonfuls of Nutella and a personal cheerleading squad and full-out, unconditional, never-changing, no-holds-barred love—

and if my girls are worthy just because they are who they are, then it’s time I accept as truth that I am too.

19Mar

Calling It Art

A blogger’s job description, as I see it, is to curate life. We each set up a space reflecting our own personality and artistic or professional interests, and then we cull from our lives what we consider worthy of display. We frame moments and arrange lines of thinking just so, highlighting unique shades of relevance in the world around us and hoping to strike particular chords—humor, empathy, outrage, optimism. We notice and present and then stand in the wings surreptitiously analyzing visitors’ facial expressions (or traffic stats) for clues as to how our art is being interpreted.

I imagine that the vast majority of us blog for the same reason that every artist creates art: we are fundamentally drawn to it. Curating our own little life exhibit relaxes us or engages us or keeps us intentional or gives us community, and we glow a bit brighter as we put up each new post. Or perhaps it’s all in my imagining, this great pure-hearted blogosphere conjured from the same daydreamscape as true love in seventh grade. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I tend to romanticize things I know little about, and I prefer it that way. I don’t want to know that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe got divorced or that The White Stripes disbanded or that Van Gogh shot himself in a haze of despair less than a year after completing The Starry Night. I want to believe in the longevity of beauty, no matter what common sense says to the contrary, and the same goes for blogging. I don’t want to notice the joy and originality slipping out of career bloggers’ writing or to read the disclaimers at the bottom of sponsored posts. I don’t want to think that the glow I feel in showing up here could be doused at any time in the soapy residue of burst illusions.

I suppose I’m most afraid of what happens when art turns into obligation. I’m feeling hints of it here today, at my kitchen table, worlds away from any true constraint to the craft. We’ve had an intense year so far with few exhibit-worthy moments, but I’m driven to write anyway, to create something relevant and aesthetic and new, so I turn up the pressure on myself to notice beauty! notice a positive insight! notice something, dammit!

I sit at my kitchen table sweeping my eyes over the calcium stains on our sink, the uneven row of spices on our mantle, and the alphabet magnets wedged like unfortunate mechanics under the fridge, trying to prod my surroundings into resonating with me even as I know that this is how it happens, how a curator turns into a busker. There is only the thinnest of lines between taking inspiration from everyday life and trying to force meaning where there is none, and I am most likely to trip over that line when writing turns into a burden.

Keeping art art—that’s the challenge, isn’t it? When all our Western Civilization instincts are demanding that we justify output with results? When our work ethic isn’t accustomed to waiting around for a flighty muse? Every day that I sit down to write, I find myself face to face with a web of conflicting motivations interspersed with the usual doubts. Should I write even if I have nothing pressing to say? On the other hand, should I let a lack of immediate inspiration keep me from writing? Should my guide be a schedule or my own fickle mind? Does everything I publish have to be profound? What would make this time and effort worth it (whatever it is)?

It’s no wonder the original joy of creating tends to slink out the door while I’m busy untangling. This isn’t the first time I write about my internal struggles with writing, and I’m positive it won’t be the last. I am well endowed in doubts and guilts and worries (and lions and tigers and bears! oh my!), and working through them again and again is a crucial part of the process for me. It allows me to create the glowing displays, the beauty. However, sometimes an honest exhibit of my life also entails showing you behind the scenes, framing the unpolished shadow side of what ends up on your screen. Sometimes curating life means opening the doors to an unfinished mess and calling it art.

~~~

What helps you to keep art art in your life? 

20Feb

Zumba vs. Shame

(My five-year-old, author and perfecter of the gratuitous shimmy.)

It happened the moment I saw her—somebody’s petite grandmamà, her hair precision-curled into ringlets and her tank top neatly pressed, shaking her booty without inhibition or anything close to synchronization with the sweaty salsa tune thumping over the speakers. I watched her through the studio window for no more than two seconds before the joy of her giddy soul-groove accomplished what months of considering and researching and YouTube tutorial browsing had been unable to give me: a transfusion of fearlessness.

At the start of the very next Zumba class, I was there, on the other side of the glass this time, shaking in my Reeboks and wondering how many seconds I had left with my dignity before it fled the premises in shame.

See, this white girl can’t dance. I took classical ballet for seven years, during which I heard constant variations on “You’re too uptight!” That’s right. Too uptight for ballet, which is pretty much like being too smart for Mensa or too brave for Red Bull space-jumping. My brief encounter with a hip-hop choreographer made her cry. I have rhythm, sure, but it’s the kind that leads to careers in metronome programming and dictatorship, not to truth-telling Shakira hips.

It goes deeper than that too. My shocking inability to get a groove on has every last one of its roots coiled around a philosophy of body image that I would like to call The Shamemonger.

You’re not going to hear the word “shame” directly from The Shamemonger’s lips unless she’s reading from the King James Bible. No, you’re much more likely to hear the terms “modesty” and “purity” and “stumbling block” and “inciting lust,” each one spoken with a pulpit-wagging finger. You will never hear her directly instruct you to hate your body, but she will urge you with every persuasive tool in her arsenal to hide it and repress it and blame it. The Shamemonger markets to females alone, teaching us from as early an age as possible that our bodies are corruptors. If our shapes or our movements or the very skin on our bones attract notice, we have instigated sexual sin, and the responsibility for that sin rests on our souls.

The result is that young girls under The Shamemonger’s tutelage grow up, as I did, with all of that weight pushing back against our natural development. We hunch over to smudge our silhouettes. We mechanize our walking patterns and restrict the confident flair out of our movements. We view all men as weak-minded and predatory and sexuality as a dangerous, shameful thing to possess. We hate our bodies like we hate nothing else on God’s green earth and then wonder why marital intimacy is such a struggle.

God have mercy. Like Brené Brown pointed out in her TED Talk last year, guilt is understanding that you have made a mistake while shame is believing that you are a mistake, and the philosophy I grew up with falls squarely into the latter category. The idea that my body is inherently bad leaves no room for resolution or redemption; the only possible outcome is self-loathing… Unless, of course, I decide that The Shamemonger has it all wrong—that her lens of fear and insecurity have warped the truth of our bodies’ precious value into something unrecognizable and grotesque and wrong as wrong can be—and decide to start pushing back.

Enter Zumba.

The music starts, and it’s like thunder. It’s like sassy, syncopated thunder, and gravity jumps out of its way as it rolls through the room. The instructor is already Merengue-marching, and my feet join in even though I don’t know the first thing about Merengue, even though I won’t know it’s called Merengue until I look up the moves at home. It can’t be helped; the rhythm has me now.

The dance studio is packed to the gills, its walls expanding with each collective breath just to contain our energy. At least a hundred pairs of hips are scooping figure-eights out of the air, and we’re so far beyond personal space restraints, so thoroughly inside each other’s orbits that I’m able to catch the stocky middle-aged mom next to me singing under her breath, “I’m sexy an’ I know it.” This makes me happy in a way that can only be expressed through a gratuitous shimmy.

Every single shape, size, color, and age group is represented in the room, from the 70-year-old gentleman wobbling to the beat to the group of third-graders in karate uniforms bouncing along on the other side of the glass, and everyone is grinning and sweating and cheering and grooving, and it’s a little bit of heaven right here in the gym. Propriety? Well, it went packing when gravity did, but dignity is in its element here.

And that’s the thing—there is no shame in this room, no time for self-consciousness, no room for criticism. We are dancing in unabashed celebration of these strong and strange and uniquely wonderful bodies we were born with, and is dignity anything less than this very recognition of our worth?

I know what The Shamemonger would say about Zumba—if she were able to articulate much of anything through compulsive gasps of horror, that is—but I don’t care to challenge her on it. She’s held my focus for too many years as it is. True, her lens of fear and insecurity isn’t going to dissolve from my vision overnight any more than I’m going to become the newest salsa superstar, but these twice-weekly forays into sweat and joy and fearlessness are pushing back more powerfully than any other argument I could make.

22Nov

Rich

Grateful today for change, for opportunity, for the delicious tang of adventure.

For laughter ringing like a tuning fork through the dissonance of busy days.

For hearts gift-wrapped in kind words, for all of you brave givers.

For rich flavors and colors and relationships, wealth that outshines money.

For small pleasures, for bewildering beauty, for the goodness cupped in the hands of here, now.

For any reason whatsoever to eat pie.

For all-things-new and the tenacity of hope.

~~~

What is making your heart warm today?

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