Category Archives: personal narrative

blaugust #07: the hell with that.

Remember a couple of days back when I wrote that post about taking a daily photograph? I’m still thinking about it. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately organizing my photos in Dropbox – a massive task as I have not only all the photos that go with a regular life, but thousands upon thousands of product photographs as well. As I’m going through my regular life photos from my phone, however, I’ve noticed something. I haven’t posted many selfies lately.

I take selfies all the time. I’m in a long distance relationship, and part of staying close is that Phil and I send each other a lot of photos. I don’t tend to post those, or use them for avatars, though; even if it’s an especially nice photograph, those are for us. Where I’ve fallen off is in taking pictures of myself to show what I’m doing or how I’m feeling, and I realized those are few and far between over the past six months. So I started thinking about why that might be. After all, I have probably the best haircut I’ve had in three years right now.

And here is the uncomfortable answer to that question: I am editing myself out of what I post because I’m not comfortable in my own skin right now. It’s been a stressful six months, and I’ve put on about 20 pounds. It’s been a searingly dry, hot summer in Portland, I’ve been drinking too much wine, and my skin looks like it. And last but not least, my hair is going grey. (That one is on purpose, I’m letting it. But it’s very in-between at the moment, and I’ve been hiding that as well.)

So I realized this, and I read that last paragraph over, and my whole body rises up with a very noisy FUCK NO. It took me years to love myself. I was well into my thirties before I stopped hunching and hiding and cringing and wearing the entirely wrong clothes. When I finally woke up and felt the joy of my own body, it was like getting to start all over again. I felt amazing. There is no way I’m going back to being that hidden person.

We all get constant, aggressive messages about how we’re supposed to look and how we’re supposed to feel about ourselves if we don’t look the way we’re supposed to look. It’s so easy to believe those messages. I’m a grown, educated, self-aware woman with very few fucks to give about how I am perceived, and I still fell into the trap of editing myself to myself over the course of a few short months. The hell with that.

So, two things:

  1. On my birthday, in a few weeks, I will start that daily photo project. It will not be of a place. It will be a daily picture of me, posted on Instagram, unedited, regardless of how I feel about myself right then or where the day took me. I will do this for one year.
  2. Some things I believe. I need reminding of these beliefs, because sometimes I get sneakily done out of them.
    • I believe all women are beautiful
    • I believe that the term “age-appropriate” is demeaning and controlling bullshit
    • I believe that when I choose what I wear according only to what I like – clothing, cosmetics, hair color, jewelry – I give myself a power that can’t be achieved any other way
    • I believe in the way my belly shakes when I flip the onions browning in the pan
    • I believe in the power of my chapped, arthritic hands and all the things they can do
    • I believe in the creakingly ancient woman I met on the bus last week, wearing a black dress and black silk stockings and honest to God real pearls and a knitted monkey hat

To show you I mean it, here’s what I look like today.

I look at this picture and I see at least 5 things I’d like to change. My hair is about three different colors. I’ve got a false tooth right in the front of my mouth (this is why I am seldom smiling a proper toothy smile in selfies, but in keeping with this post THE HELL WITH THAT. I got that false front tooth playing a really fun game). I have allergies today, so one eye is puffy and red. And there’s a freckle that could probably do with checking out by a dermatologist.

None of that needs thinking. None of it needs writing. I nearly took it out, but I need to leave the part about the tooth in there, so it stays. But with a reminder: every time we apply these judgments to ourselves, every woman around us quietly takes that in, and applies the same judgments to herself. That is one toxic game of dominoes, and it needs to stop. I don’t take the pictures so I can catalog all the fabulous things about how I look. I take the pictures so I can remember all the amazing things I felt, both good and bad. I’m ditching the editor here by the side of the road, and reclaiming my ability to look at this picture and be reminded – hey, today was a good day. It started out frustrating and unproductive, and then it turned out to be such a relaxed and happy afternoon and night. Look at how happy I am. And seriously, that is a damn good haircut.

(This is my seventh – ! – post for Blaugust.)

blaugust #01: how does your blogging grow?

I look forward to August. It’s when the plums and apricots start coming in, and I daydream about making jam and pies. Back to school advertising starts in earnest, and I also enjoy thinking about pencils and notebooks and plaid shirts. It’s my birthday month (I will be the answer to life, the universe, and everything this year!). And this year, it’s also Blaugust, a daily blogging initiative started last year by Belghast. The challenge is to post every day in August, at least 10 sentences per post. I’ve done daily post challenges for myself before, but never with a prescribed minimum or a community commitment to keep me honest and afloat.

A few months ago, I wrote a little bit about intending to blog more regularly. I’ve been keeping this blog since May 2007. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I write a lot. My focus tends to be two-pronged: I use this space to write about my life and who I am, but I also use it to talk about what I’m making and to promote my work. On my very best days, those two purposes work hand in hand, but that’s a rare achievement. Looking over my archives, I’m pleased at how far back they stretch. But the inconsistency of it nags at me a bit. I like using this space as both a life archive and a wrestling mat to work things out. Writing through a problem or a feeling is generally a productive approach for me, and I always intend to make that more of a habit. So when I learned about Blaugust, I hemmed and hawed for a few weeks, but then I bit the bullet and signed on. For the last month, I’ve been posting a bit more often, trying to get my blogging muscles limber. I’m confident I can do this, although I’m not sure about the quality of my content. This is a good exercise, and I’ve made a deal with myself to not sweat every tiny little thing. Just write, and keep writing. I have a vague list of things I’d like to write about, and a couple of days when a scheduled post will be necessary for calendar reasons. But for the most part, I’m planning to take this day by day, and I’m looking forward to following the rest of the Blaugusteers, and to seeing where I am at the end of the month.

I’ve been smiling for 730 days.

006Two years ago today, I made a phone call.

Phil and I met on Twitter in, as best we can establish, early 2011. We followed each other and starred tweets and chatted sometimes, like you Twitter do, and after some months the chatting became more frequent, more habitual. One day I noticed some tweets I particularly liked about a book he loves, and I decided to read the book. I read it, I loved it, and I had a lot of things I wanted to say about it. So I asked if I could email him, and he said yes, he’d love that. We began a correspondence that quickly outgrew the one book and tumbled over into conversations about other books and music and stories about ourselves and what we did and who we were and what we thought about all sorts of things.

That first email grew into hundreds of emails and thousands of words, and after a while that didn’t seem like enough. So we started playing an online game together as well.  And then he worried that maybe he was pronouncing my name wrong, so I recorded a short message with a memo app and sent it to him, and he sent one back and we carried on with that for a while. And then a day came when that wasn’t enough either and we wanted to talk to each other and see each other properly. So we set a date and an approximate time and then…

Well, and then I freaked out. Our story is a great story. It’s incredibly romantic and I like telling it. But it’s also our real life, and there is no question that it’s a pretty intense thing to fall in love with someone who lives 6,000 miles away from you. And I know now what I wasn’t entirely aware of yet in that middle of June two years ago: I was already in love. I knew Phil was very important to me. I knew I was important to him. I knew I really wanted to talk to my friend, to see him smile, to find out what a real, natural conversation between us would be like. But I was also afraid to take that step out of the written world and into the real one, because I had no idea what was going to happen after that.

So I was nervous. I was nervous in the days before the appointed date. I was nervous on the morning of the appointed date. I was nervous and taking a walk around the block an hour before the appointed date. I was unbelievably nervous and chewing on my lower lip as I pushed the connect button and waited and waited and waited while Google Hangouts did its distinctive little dialing ring. And then there was Phil, and right away he was so familiar to me, and we were so happy to see each other and hear each other.

That first date lasted six hours, and we didn’t stop grinning at one another the entire time. It’s been two years now, and we still, from time to time, lapse into silent grinning. We are far apart, and he likes to say that we’re playing this relationship on heroic difficulty, but we are happy. We are so lucky. We’ve built a life together in this in-between space, and we’re working and planning for the next stage.

I’m so grateful for that phone call, for this man, for our life. I love you, Phil. You make my face go like this:
photo 4

please don’t feed the dustbunnies.

I’ve been spring cleaning. Ok, it’s significantly more than spring cleaning, but I’m calling it that because Trimming My Life’s Possessions Down in Anticipation of Moving to Another Country is just bulky. For the last six or seven weeks, I’ve had the urge to have a massive clear-out and tidy-up and throw-away, and when I came back from visiting Phil in England, that impulse could no longer be ignored. We may not know exactly when, yet, but we know I’ll be packing up and moving to Yorkshire to be with him in the not-impossibly-distant future. So I came back to Portland all fired up to do the spring cleaning, but also to start getting rid of things I know aren’t going to make the trans-Atlantic cut.

It felt great. Taking bags of seldom-worn clothing and decade-old knick knacks and never-unpacked picture frames to Goodwill. Pulling exactly seven DVDs that I actually want to keep and selling off all the rest. Culling supplies for crafts I am never going to learn and donating them to Scrap PDX. That bit was my favorite: having all those yards of fabric and yarn and obsolete embroidery transfers and bags of buttons gone gave me a breath of creative fresh air. Things I wasn’t ever going to use – wasn’t even interested in using – still managed to make noise in the back of my head and when they were gone the quiet was suddenly so productive. I’ve made more new things in the last two weeks than I have in the preceding six months.

The hard part of this process came when I got down to letters and photographs and picture albums. During the move from Chicago to Portland in 2012, I deliberately didn’t look at any of those things. I just sealed them up and brought them, with a lick and a promise to go through them later. I knew at the time that I wasn’t going to keep a lot of it, but I wasn’t ready to go through 15 or 20 years of my own history and talk to it. So I’ve been doing that these last few weeks, and it’s been joyous and painful and funny and sweet. A lot of things simply got read and discarded. Many more have been uploaded to online storage or allocated to be scanned for later uploading.

The process has made me think about how I interact with the artifacts of myself. I haven’t made everything digital, by any means. I’m not comfortable with the idea of keeping all the papers and pictures of my life in the cloud. There are things I may never look at again now that they’re in internet storage limbo, but I’m still not willing to say goodbye to them completely. I have problems with fuzzy memory and there are things I want to keep as touchstones to situate myself. There are other things that make me cringe and that I’d love to let go, and yet, and yet: some of those things are very important artifacts of ways in which I’ve changed and how hard it was to make those changes. And so I kept them in all their awkward physical reality in order to keep the threads of who I am and how I got here.

But I think the most interesting part of the process for me has been the things I’ve chosen to let go, but have given closure to in some way. Either I’ve found a new home for them – dozens of postcards I bought during a summer college course in England, quilt blocks for a project I’m never going to finish – or I’ve given them a sort of social media Viking funeral via Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. The act of posting a picture or a few lines of memorializing text about the thing I’m letting go has somehow made it more concrete in my memory, more fixed in the story of myself, than keeping it in a box in the closet ever did. Those things, that were not important or intact enough to keep, have somehow achieved a more vivid life than a number of the more vital things that got put back in boxes or uploaded to archives. How often will I visit or remember or need the things I’ve kept? Who knows. But the tiny white jacket with red trim that my mother crocheted when I was born, which I wore and which all my siblings wore after me, and which was far too greyed and shabby to give to the next generation, got a fitting and affectionate goodbye before I put it in the trash. I think that’s better than keeping it forever in a heedless box under the bed.