Don’t call us, we’ll call you

February 2, 2015

Privilege

I wrote this back in July 2014 and I’m not sure why I never posted it. So, here.

“Would Lindsay be able to help me with this?”

I recognized the voice immediately, even though he was an exceptionally soft-spoken man. Or perhaps it was because of his gentle tone, not in spite of it. There’s no shortage of booming voices in this mountain town and we hear a lot of them at the Resource Center. My heart swelled just a bit that Greg was back and asking for me. Although he wasn’t one of my usual clients, I had spent several hours with him over the last month: finding job postings, applying for insurance, and seeking prescription assistance after his employer unceremoniously dropped his health insurance.

It was the latter appointment that was most memorable. As I began filling out the paperwork with the contact information I was beginning to know well, I asked what specific prescriptions he needed help with. He slowly pulled out a packet of carefully folded prescription receipts, drug usage information, and two business cards for his doctor and therapist. He placed each one on my desk, smoothing them out one-by-one. When he was finished, he held up his hands in a gesture to calm me and said, “Now, don’t jump out of your chair or anything, but they say I have . . . I think it’s called paranoid schizophrenia. The medicine is for that.” After a pause, he added, “But I’m not going to hurt you.”

There was no fear in me, just a sudden ache. Can you imagine feeling that you had to make that disclaimer every time you sat down in someone’s office? Several responses crossed my mind in that moment, and I almost blurted out, I’ve been locked down in a jail before – you got nothing on that! But I finally leaned toward him and said, “I’m so glad you came. I think we can help. And I’m so glad you’re seeing a counselor to help you through this. Keep going.”

Over the next hour, I filled out the paperwork, made calls to several pharmacies, and verified the needed prescriptions and costs. I sent him home with a promise that I would personally check on the progress of his prescriptions, even though my job generally ends at the paperwork. There was something about the anxiety in his request that made me want to give him some extra assurance.

It had been several weeks since that visit and I hadn’t seen Greg. I wondered how he was: if his prescriptions were holding up while he waited for new insurance; if he had found a job that he could actually afford the gas to get to; if he would feel comfortable seeing me again after having to lay bare so much of his medical history the last time. “Would Lindsay be able to help me with this?” was just exactly what I wanted to hear. It meant that he believed me. He believed that I was glad he came. He believed that I would help him.

Back in January when I was stressing that my teaching hours would be reduced, I had no idea that another opportunity was waiting just around the corner. But not just any opportunity; this is an opportunity 17 years in the making. See, when I was 17 years old I received my patriarchal blessing, a blessing of guidance and direction that all Mormons can receive. Over the years, one line in particular has followed me: “You will have the privilege of working among the people in the communities in which you reside.” It would be difficult to quickly encapsulate how this statement has influenced my life. When I was young and naïve, I thought the community I would work in would probably just be THE WORLD. Or maybe that would be too broad, maybe just the whole United States. I wanted to move to Washington, D.C. as soon as possible so I could start working on changes in the “community.” Apparently my teenage brain read that line as “You will change the world! No big deal.”

Even when I decided to narrow my vision and worked with some legitimately community-based organizations (book donations for struggling schools, domestic violence shelter, teen mentoring), it never felt quite like the realization of that promise. Until now. I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every single day of work at the Resource Center, I feel an overwhelming sense that this is precisely the fulfillment of that long-ago promise. This is the community. This is the work. This is the privilege. I have people like Greg to thank for that.

September 8, 2014

War and peace

“Did they make a good decision?” Addison asked the other night after we’d been talking about Helaman’s “2000 stripling warriors.” If you don’t know the Book of Mormon, this particular story is of a people who turned away from their bloodthirsty ways and as a symbol of their total change of heart buried their weapons and vowed never to take them up again. Several years later, when their safety is threatened, their adolescent sons who had been too young to make the same covenant go to war to protect them.

“That’s an interesting question,” I began. “I think most people would tell you, yes, they made a good decision. They sacrificed and fought to protect their families and homes. Me, I’m a little more ambivalent about it. Even though I think there are some times that we have to defend ourselves, perhaps even violently, I believe in violence as a last resort. As a parent, I’m not sure if I had made such a serious covenant to never take up arms in order to save my soul, that I would want my child doing what I was unwilling to do. I have often wondered if there would have been other non-violent methods to pursue.”

I paused there for a minute, remembering the teach-in I participated in (I was a bit of an anti-Iraq war activist at BYU in the months surrounding the invasion in 2003) and the comments of my pacifist Dostoevsky professor who personally interpreted the story of the stripling warriors as more cautionary rather than victory tale. He was always most struck by the fact that every single young man had received “many wounds” even if they survived, a lesson that no one comes out of violent action and war unscathed no matter how right their cause. I thought about explaining all that, but decided maybe that’s not the best bedtime story for an imaginative 4-year-old. (See, I’m totally learning. Parenting: I got this!)

Finally I said, “I wouldn’t say that they made a bad decision, but I will always wonder if a better decision was possible. I believe that we should pursue peace and non-violence in every possible way.” Then, almost as an afterthought, “What do you think?”

“Well, I believe that they made a good decision. Sometimes we have to fight for our families. And protect them.”

In that moment, my heart swelled and it almost felt like I loved her more than I ever had before. This crazy, energetic, on-the-run girl sat on my lap for several minutes, talking about nothing less than war and peace. She pondered. She listened. She disagreed with me. If only all our future disagreements (of which there will be many, I’m sure, with our strong wills and temper flares) could be so principled, so mellow. She’s really something, this girl. I felt, as I have before, too privileged that I get to be her mother.

April 27, 2014

A good life

Filed under: Chronic illness, History, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 11:39 pm

In a comment on my post earlier this week, Em mentioned that Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, had spoken publicly about her struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had never heard her “story” before so I looked up her New Yorker essay, along with assorted interviews and articles. So many parts were eerily familiar. We were almost the same age at onset, dropping out of college, being accused of making up our symptoms to avoid going back to school (so puzzling since college was the best thing ever!), and deemed more fitting for a psychiatrist than a physician. Many things from this interview on Beliefnet resonated with my experience, but especially her response to what advice she would give to others with CFS. She said:

It’s such an individual journey. But what I would say is, no matter what happens with this illness, I think it is possible to carve out a dignified and productive life. This illness takes everything away from you, and you have to find completely different ways to define what your life will mean to you. But I think it’s possible to make a good life. I have been happy in the time that I’ve been sick. It requires a real redefinition of everything, but I think it is possible to do.

More than anything, getting sick as a teenager forced me to completely redefine my life. Everything was gone, and I had to put things back together one little piece at a time. But like her, I know it’s possible to “carve out a dignified and productive life.” I’m really not sure how long this new “day job” will be sustainable for me, which is why I’m so grateful to live in a time where I know I can do productive work right from my own bed. Despite the hopelessness that I’ve sometimes felt over the last month, I know I’ve had a good life and that I will continue to, regardless of how my health ebbs and flows.

March 28, 2014

Be still, my soul

Filed under: Chronic illness, History, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 8:56 am

I’ve had the strangest day today. Not in terms of anything remarkable happening — in fact, I was only out of bed for a combined 3 hours — but in the way I’ve felt. It had something to do with this:

Not David Archuleta (though I’m sure he’s perfectly lovely, I think I’ve heard him sing about twice in my life), but the song. I’ve written before about some songs that loom large in my life, but this is the most important one. I think I might have killed myself* a time or two if not for these words, this music that seeped into my soul at just the right moments.

I never turn down an opportunity to listen to this hymn, so when this video came across my newsfeed, I had to click on it. In the process I revisit a thousand moments: I’m on the floor in the bathroom too weak to move; I’m singing to Addison while she cries through her growing pains (she used to request “still my soul” but of course, I thought she was spelling it “steal my soul” and never could figure out who would teach her such a terrible song); I’m at the tragically beautiful funeral of one of the dearest little ones ever to grace the earth. This song simultaneously takes me back to the moments that I was giving up completely and the ones where I decided to never give up.

Each lyric has been important to me in its own time and way, but today it’s this one: “Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as he has the past.” These last several years have been a tumultuous time in my church. And these last several months have been a tumultuous time in my ward. And these last several weeks have been a tumultuous time in my life as I’m trying to figure out how to get out of bed every morning and sit upright for 7 hours a day (and then sleep afterward — it’s currently 2:00 am). But today I feel no fear. My God has delivered me and so many others from much worse than this, and I know He does undertake to guide the future just as He has the past.

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as he has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

 

Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

 

*Have I talked about being seriously suicidal on here before? Because I’m going to. There’s no other way to explain my life. (I’ve been a little scared to do it, though I’ve danced around the topic enough that I’m sure most of you have picked up on the subtext.)

January 6, 2014

This is not a beach.

I wrote this in October or November of 2012. I held off posting it, thinking I would refine it some more. But more than a year later, that’s clearly not happening. What a trip to revisit that very memorable afternoon with my (mouthy) two-and-a-half-year-old — I hope you enjoy it too!

“Sorry, I don’t see a ocean.”

“Yeah, I turned down the wrong street,” I explained. “Let’s try this way.”

“Nope. Sorry. I don’t see a ocean. Where’s our aventure?”

I had promised Addison an adventure to see the ocean and so far, every street was a dead end. I’m not sure why she kept apologizing; I was the one who dashed out of the house without directions, thinking that a quick glance at the map would get us there, because how hard could it be to find the beach from an unfamiliar part of L.A. You just go as far to the left as possible, right?

“I don’t see a ocean. But I DO have a plan to get us to da ocean. Let me write sumfing, with a pen. Give me dat pen.”

As entertaining as it might have been to see this “plan” to get us to the ocean, I know better than to pass a pen to the two-year-old in the back seat. Instead I kept meandering our way through construction zones in Playa Vista, as Addison barked out directions from behind: “Careful, mom! ‘Top, ‘top. Sumfing in the road. This road bumpy . . . bump, bump, bump.” I’m pretty sure I managed to hit every torn-up road within a 5-mile radius, and Addison let me know about it. Along the way, we passed a small playground and I debated whether I could make the tiny park seem sooo fun that she would forget all about our promised beach adventure. But who am I kidding?

Finally making my way out of a literal maze of closed roads, I saw a green sign: Marina del Rey. There’s water there! I remember having lunch there once! Knowing this was not exactly the ocean experience she had in mind, I set to work making it seem like exactly the adventure I’d been planning all along.

“Look, there’s boats! So many boats! You know what a lot of boats mean?”

“This is not a beach,” she said matter-of-factly, after a dismissive glance at the boats.

“A lot of boats means there’s water nearby! So exciting! We’re almost there . . . ”

“This is not a beach.”

As we drove down the street, Addison was on the lookout for a beach while I was willing to settle for a free parking space. (Why is there no free parking in the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area?) Reaching yet another dead-end, an apartment building on one side and the U.S. Coast Guard station on the other, I had to act quickly to salvage this “aventure.” Enthusiasm is the key with toddlers, right?

“Oooh, look at these fancy apartments! Aren’t they so pretty? Very contemporary.” (Very contemporary? Seriously?)

“This not a beach,” she repeated, her intensity slowly rising.

“Let’s hurry and get out! We can watch the Coast Guard boat take off! Hurry! We don’t want to miss the boat launch!!”

I tried to hurry her across the small parking lot–all the while pretending that I was in no way illegally parked and had a legitimate interest in million-dollar condos–and over to the rocky bank overlooking the inlet (which, in case you were wondering, is not a beach) as if the Coast Guard boat pushing out to sea was the most interesting thing she would ever see.

“Wow, look at the boat! They’re honking the horn! Honk-honk!”

“This NOT a beach.”

Apparently, Coast Guard boats, even honking ones, do not defuse the righteous indignation of a toddler, who, promised a beach and an expansive ocean view, is instead led to a 10-foot wide strip of gravel in a parking lot. Duly noted.

“Oh, look, there’s rocks! There’s tons of rocks,” I said, on to the next idea. “There’s rocks EVERYWHERE. Should we throw some rocks into the water?”

If I had thought this through ahead of time, I would have realized what a ridiculous idea that was. She’s two and a half years old. Her arm is about 18 inches long. And the water was at least 30 feet away, down a sloping embankment. You do the math.

But then the strangest thing happened. This three-foot-tall bundle of ferocious energy, who feels free to hiss, growl, slap, kick, and flail at the slightest provocation, like a sock getting twisted or someone sitting too close to her, turned to me and cheerfully said, “Okay!” She bent down, her saggy diaper thrust into the air, and picked up a small rock. She heaved it as far as she could, a slight grunt underscoring the effort.

“That didn’t work,” she said calmly, noticing that the rock landed just inches away from her foot.

So she picked up another rock, and threw.

“That didn’t work.”

And then another.

“That didn’t really work.” Addison crouched down this time, looking for just the right rock. She hefted one, holding it a moment. She dropped it. And picked up a larger rock. “Maybe I need a BIG rock.”

She threw the big rock, maybe three feet in front of her.

“That didn’t really work.”

I suggested maybe she needed to move closer, as if 10 steps would make a difference. She moved closer, and threw.

“That didn’t work.”

This continued for at least four minutes. She tried small, medium, and large rocks. She tried going slightly up the embankment and slightly down the embankment. She tried different arm positions, underhand, overhand. What she did not do was huff or puff, whine or cry. Her usual intensity and tenacity that hover right on the edge of frustration and meltdown were, for FOUR WHOLE minutes, replaced by a calm and methodical persistence. Finally, she turned to me.

“You try, mama.”

Thank the good Lord that my feeble arm could still manage to get a rock 30 feet down into the water. For several more minutes, Addison brought me rocks of various shapes and sizes, and we watched to see which produced the biggest splashes. About two awkward throws after I thought I might have irreparably injured my neck, I finally convinced her that it was time to go.

I wish I could explain exactly why two weeks later I am still thinking of this “adventure.” There was something so ridiculous and profound about it, simultaneously mundane and exciting. I mean, for starters, my baby girl, the one who runs in for a hug only to change directions 1.5 seconds in, the one who veers off course 90% of the time so that much-anticipated expressions of affection come out something like “I love . . . What’s dat? It’s shiny. I want dat! I LOVE it! Gimme it!”, the one who has the teeny-tiniest attention span for anything that isn’t strictly forbidden, focused on something productive for FOUR minutes. And that something was, let’s be honest, kinda boring and lame. There was no possible way she was getting a rock into that water; she was lucky to get a rock one-tenth of the way. But all her “That didn’t really work”s were so calm and focused. There was no whiny (lazy?) self-doubt like when she so often comes to us and says, “I CAN’T do it,” mostly because she is unwilling to sit down for three seconds together and try.

This is perhaps reading too much into the situation (and probably also vain), but for the first time I thought that maybe, just maybe I could see a little of my calm persistence in her. The ability to be patient and persistent, to recognize my limitations but still keep gently pushing back, has been everything to me. Trying to finish my Master’s thesis felt a little like having an 18-inch arm, while faced with a 30-foot distance. There had been neck surgeries and emergency surgery and bedrest and itching and sleepless nights and postpartum depression, and my thesis seemed a million miles away, completely out of reach. But I would not give up. I tried working in one-hour chunks, while Neal took Addison for walks. I tried working in three-hour chunks, while Neal took Addison to a babysitter. I tried working in bed on my trusty, sideways laptop. I rented a desktop and worked sitting up, with frequent breaks for amateur neck massages. All the time, I seemed no closer to finishing. There was a lot of “That didn’t work.”

I cleared out full days to devote to writing, and sat on the couch for ten hours at a time, barely attending to any bodily needs. I started working evenings at the lab when only a couple of hard-cores would be there. I started working all day Saturdays at the lab; if my car was not the last one in the parking structure, I vowed to stay later the next week. I brought snacks, meals, and pillows. I would work an hour and lay down to ease the tension in my neck and back. Another hour, and then walk a lap (okay, half a lap) around the empty second floor of the JFSB. When I needed a boost, I would persuade Neal to bring me dinner and a two-foot-tall visitor, who would do her darndest to wreak havoc on every keyboard in the room before her ten minutes expired. But no matter how many times my advisor hinted that I needed to be done, or my Grandma asked anxiously for a status report, or the university sent me certified letters warning that all my hard work expired in months, I was unruffled. I just kept plugging away. Moving up and down the bank. Trying different size rocks, different arm positions, different approaches. Vain or not, I want her to learn that from me.

There’s something I want to learn from her too. I want to learn that moment where you turn back. Back to someone bigger, taller, stronger. Someone who has been standing behind you all the time, even though you didn’t know it or believe it or want to believe it. Someone who has been observing; appreciating each of your focused, little efforts. Someone who knows the best place for that rock to land and how to get it there. Someone who is waiting, always waiting, to show you. Someone who will wait forever. I want to learn how to hand over that rock. To stop gripping it so tightly, as if everything depends on my hand, my arm, my strength. I want to learn those words, “You try.”

May 20, 2013

“Dang, I look good”: Reflections on body image

I was wearing the tightest clothes I could find in my closet, no small feat when baggy t-shirts are my style. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the “Pure Barre” class based on what Anne had told me: I think it’s like ballet; there’s a barre and “tucking” and please-for-the-love-of-pete-take-these-classes-I-already-paid-for-so-I-won’t-have-to-do-them. Despite my best efforts, when I walked in, I knew immediately I hadn’t achieved the desired level of tightness or bare skin. My relatively form-fitting t-shirt was still a t-shirt, and tank tops and spaghetti straps appeared to be the order of the day. The yoga pants I considered thigh-hugging looked more like loose maternity clothes (which is, in fact, why I had bought them while I was pregnant) than the painted-on spandex everyone else appeared to be wearing. Still, the combination of mirrored walls and the tightest clothes I own gave me a glimpse of my full body, a rare occurrence on account of the boxes stacked in front of the only full-length mirror in the house, which I still haven’t bothered to go through two years after our move. And the first thought that crossed my mind upon seeing my full figure was,

Dang, I look good.

I tried not to stare, but it was hard not to. After months of not sparing even a second to look in a mirror, I had forgotten about how my waist always seemed to be just the right size, with the pouch below adding what I like to call “character.” (It goes without saying that love handles also add “character.”) I forgot about the sleek thigh muscle that made an ever-so-slight appearance when I tightened my knees. And don’t even get me started on those knees, which were hidden by the flare of the pants, but I could imagine were probably looking fantastic under there! Even the arm flab that Addison had so exuberantly played with the week before while shouting flappy, flappy, flappy looked just about right. Life with a toddler can certainly underscore every bodily imperfection. What IS that?, Addison likes to ask about my every skin tag and mole (which, my friends, are many and varied). Or there’s my personal favorite, when she grabs a pair of tweezers and comes at me saying, Let me get your beards. Hold still; this might hurt a yittle bit. But when I finally take a moment to study my body, I am struck by the way every curve and muscle looks practically perfect in my eyes. If only my body worked half as good as it looks, I would never need to worry about a workout, I think.

As we started said workout, it soon became clear that (1) this was nothing like the ballet I grew up doing for hours each day and (2) it sucked. But hey, it was free. I’ll even do sucky things for free! So I tried my best to follow along, anxiously looking right and left to see which leg I was supposed to be lifting and if I was supposed to be exhaling with the lift or the tuck. Occasionally, the instructor would say, “Now close your eyes while you do this exercise and picture what you want your thighs to look like.” Instinctively I would look down, puzzled. What the?! It’s a thigh. What’s it supposed to look like?

While we were lifting weights behind our backs (very unnatural, if you ask me), the instructor shouted, “Picture what you want your back to look like. Lift it! Push it!” I looked around the room. What does a back even look like? Should I be striving for the instructor’s sculpted back? What if my back already looks like hers, I just don’t know it because, after all, it’s behind me? Which brings up another good question — how does one even look at their own back? I’ll have to ask Neal when I get home; he’s always ready to spout off an opinion. Internal monologue notwithstanding, I did my best to lift it! and push it! despite having no clear vision of a future back in mind.

Three months and ten classes later, I’m starting to get a handle on all these exercise class conventions (except not the exhaling; I still have no idea when I’m supposed to breathe): you picture what you want your body to look like as motivation to keep going. What a peculiar idea, no? Who has the energy to both examine their current physical appearance AND contemplate a future appearance that would be more pleasing, all while lifting, tucking, pushing, and burning?

Neal’s answer to this question, which he has tried to explain to me many times before: Everyone. EVERYONE has the energy to contemplate — and in many instances, obsess over — their appearance. Especially every single woman you know or have probably ever known. He’s insistent about this, estimating the percentage of women who worry about these things at a minimum of 90%, possibly closer to 95%. It’s not like this is entirely new information to me; I remember once in high school I made a jesting comment about a good friend’s appearance, which I later learned wounded her deeply. At the time I made a mental note: never joke about ____’s appearance because she does not seem to realize that she is both incredibly beautiful physically, and also possessing so many other outstanding qualities as to make her appearance completely irrelevant. I still regret that comment almost 20 years later (and I am grateful she forgave my terrible thoughtlessness), but I also regret that I did not realize sooner that that mental note had more widespread application. I suppose I concluded then that she was just unusually sensitive; perhaps that insecurity was one of her unique crosses to bear in life. Then I went to college and lived in a dorm with 100 wonderful young women and it turned out that a lot of them seemed to be “sensitive” about this. So I added to that mental note: keep in mind, young women are sensitive about their appearances.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to a Relief Society meeting in which the average age of attendees was probably 65 and someone made the comment that it was “hard to look at herself in the mirror and like what she saw.” I looked around to see how others were taking the news, stunned to see so many nodding heads. So apparently, older women struggle with this, too. And then in a feminist book group I once attended, the topic of insecurity came up and it turned out that these self-proclaimed feminist warriors are also sensitive about their appearances.

And so Neal goes on insisting, It’s kind of a universal issue for women. There’s this pervasive societal neurosis that you are inexplicably unaffected by(Sometimes, if I’m in a good mood, he adds, Also, I wouldn’t complain if you “fancied” yourself up every once in a while. Or threw out a few of your 35 XXL t-shirts.) And now that I think about it, I’ve gotta admit that my last several years on Facebook have confirmed Neal’s assertions that these are ubiquitous issues. Lately, not a day goes by without a friend or two posting about body image or fat-shaming or women’s negative self-talk.

I am trying to get all this through my head. Sympathy is a great thing, but I have always wanted empathy: to be able to understand and share the emotional states of others. If I can’t really feel where others are at, how can I hope to help bear their burdens? Having a daughter three years ago also raised the stakes. How will I know how to empower her if I don’t understand what so many women struggle with? I can’t just accept that an emotional state that appears to be so widespread is simply beyond me, so I look for common ground. I remember there was this one time when I looked critically at my appearance. It was about a week after I weaned Addison and as I got out of the shower I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Hmmm; I think I look different than I used to. My breasts look flatter, saggier. Yeah, saggy, that’s the word. I’m not sure I like that . . . For a moment, I could sympathize with the woman I met that month who looked at her post-baby body and imagined a surgery that would give her back the body she once had.

But when I left the mirror, the moment was over. It was as though I had momentarily stepped into a cloud of anxiety, disliked the feeling, and simply stepped out of it again. I never think about it now, except to use as a protest whenever Neal tells me how fundamentally unable to understand the female experience I am.

“But don’t you remember that time I looked in the mirror after I was done breastfeeding and . . . “

“I know, I know. You were critical of your body for about 4 seconds. You totally get it.”

I concede I’m still far from “getting it.” In fact, I am beginning to see what an uphill battle it may be to internalize what other people see when they look in the mirror. When I look in the mirror, I see a friend. Sometimes I notice her “flappy” arms, but they seem like just one more endearing feature, all the more valuable for the few minutes of entertainment they can bring to a child’s life. When I look at my friends, there’s no voice in my head assessing weight fluctuations — which, by the way, is actually inconvenient when your friend has lost 30 pounds, and your husband has to prompt you to compliment her on it — or chin hair. I’m not sure I know how to look at a friend with an eye critical of her appearance. Why should I see myself any differently?

The irony in all of this is that as I’ve read myriad articles, blog posts, and advice columns about how to teach our daughters to love their bodies, I find myself subtly more susceptible to that cultural fog that I was inexplicably unaffected by for thirty years. When I look in the mirror, I still see someone who is beautiful in every way that matters and even in some ways that don’t (like how she looks in form-fitting t-shirts and thigh-hugging yoga pants). But I’m more keenly aware of how “society” might condemn the features that seem so lovable to me. In that way, I am sometimes a little sorry I undertook this exploration in the first place — it feels like unnecessary aggravation to worry about how someone else would deconstruct my appearance. At the same time, I am learning a valuable lesson: if society is going to pressure Addison to see only her body’s flaws, then maybe the best thing I can do is to put words to the atmosphere of simply confidence I’ve been floating through all these years. Without the willingness of other women to share their experiences, I would never have known that we aren’t breathing the same air. So now I know better than to just think these words; now I will say them out loud:

Dang, I look good.

April 20, 2013

Thanks, friends

Filed under: History, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 6:00 pm

When I initially planned to give thanks in 2012, one of the first posts I was planning was a little shout-out to my most frequent blog commenters. Not that I keep track and rate friends accordingly, but apparently WordPress does because every January they send me a summary of the top 5. They also prompt me to send a thank you note; they’re very polite.

So a belated thank you to my most active commenters in 2011:

And to those most active in 2012:

I could write pages about each of you ladies and your influence on me (and hey, with any luck you could get a personalized thank you before the year o’ thanks is out!). But in the meantime, know that I appreciate you caring about what I have written. You’ve taken an interest in my life and inner workings, and reminded me that what I think and feel has meaning to others. That’s no small thing.

And thank you to all those who read and comment, no matter how “actively,” because it means a lot to me to be having a conversation with such a variety of thoughtful people.

And thank you to all those who read and don’t comment because I value you as well! Writing this blog has been one of the best choices I have ever made. Ever. It’s helped me through some rough times and it’s allowed me to help some others through some rough times. I’m ever so grateful.

This kind of sounds like a farewell post. And to be honest, I’ve considered it lately. On a practical level, I imagine what the future holds for the coming years and it’s hard to imagine how I’m going to carve out blogging time. On a psychological level, I noticed over the last several months of relative silence how eventually I stopped feeling frustrated when I couldn’t carve out the time for this self-expression. Oh well, I guess the self-expression phase of my life is over. And to be doubly honest, I’ve written a few posts over the last year that hit up against some ugly things from the past, and I thought (to paraphrase a favorite movie), That’s too much reality for a Friday night. They didn’t sign up for that. And all of this ties in to adoption and my one-word theme for last year and therapy and . . . maybe you can start to see why I don’t know where to go next. Since last summer, I have had weighing on me this feeling that I should write about “this thing.” I’ve made some progress in talking about it with Neal, but it was also a little ominous when his conclusion was, “You better tell your mom before you post it on your blog.” It’s not about my mom, but of course, it’s good to remember that everything we say about ourselves may appear to be a reflection on the people we are closest to. It’s obviously a perennial writerly issue: how to express the truth as you see it while hurting as few people as possible.

Sheesh, this post is getting ridiculous! It really was just about thanking all my loyal commenters and readers alike. Preceding paragraph notwithstanding, I’m not closing up shop. I know this blog is going to keep changing someone’s life: mine.

So the 2013 most active commenter title is still up for grabs; I’m gonna do my best to give you more to work with.

April 17, 2013

Lists: Girl Scout Badges

Filed under: History, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 10:06 pm

Your writing suggestions have been duly noted and I have this Friday blocked out for a non-stop write-a-thon (my belated Christmas gift from Neal)! Yeehaw! In the meantime, an amusing little thing I found a couple of weeks ago . . .

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My anniversary gift to Neal this year was to get back to processing and decluttering. On Sunday, I found my old Girl Scout handbook in which I dutifully kept track of all the requirements I did between 1989-1991.

It was fun to be reminded of my Girl Scout years, which I initially hated because I was the semi-bullied outcast, but eventually came to love. And in fact, I have stayed in touch with my wonderful troop leader and her fantastic daughter (whom I’ve written about before, though somewhat obtusely).

My troop was what you might call a “party troop” — we were light on the badges and heavy on the beach camping. With my troop, I did these badges in two years:

  • Community health and safety
  • Exploring foods
  • First aid
  • Sports sampler

But on my own, I was kind of an overachiever. A checklist to complete? Sign me up! At home, I did these badges:

  • Books
  • Dance
  • Theater
  • Swimming
  • Water fun
  • “Collecting” hobbies — coins, postcards
  • “Doing” hobbies — ballet, saxophone
  • Computer fun
  • Do-it-yourself — household and car repairs
  • Water wonders
  • Architecture (I planned to be an architect as a youngster)
  • Local lore
  • Math whiz

My favorite part of this handbook discovery, though, was the few badges that were specifically marked with an 0, but never worked on:

  • Child care
  • Tending toddlers
  • Home living
  • Healthy eating
  • Personal health

I see two possibilities — either my Mom circled them to encourage me to work on them OR I marked them with a zero to specifically announce my intentions to not do them. What do you make of that list?

November 22, 2012

(Play)Lists: The Lost Years, 1998-2000

Why stop at shot glasses when you can also memorialize and get rid of cassette tapes?

My last playlist was from 243 Young Hall, my freshman year in 1998. The unmitigated fun of that year was, of course, followed by the lost years. I always call it my two-year baseball mission because I watched A LOT of baseball. There were also a lot of Jim Rome shows, ESPN the Magazines, and Laker games going on. Besides illness and depression, sports are what I remember most about those years.

But there was also music! Tons of music. Hanging out with musicians, both platonically and not, used to be a thing I did — how come I always forget that?  I’ll tell you one reason. I am mostly cut off from music now. I have always been a person that cannot think, read, or write while listening to music. When I’m listening to music, that is what I’m doing. And in my adult world, there’s just no time for that. (Also, I have no iPod or other convenient listening device, though, I’m sorry to say I have hung on to my old, no-longer-functional Walkman for nearly 20 years now.)

Clearly, it’s time to move past the cassettes. But I couldn’t just toss ’em. Though it’s long past the time that music was a HUGE part of my life, these tapes still mean something to me, though how much they mean surprised even me. I thought I would start with Pedro the Lion — 5 songs on the EP, Only reason I feel secure (is that I am validated by my peers). How hard could it be to give up a tape with only 5 songs on it? But then one hundred little memories came rushing back. The Glass House with Cory. Cory who once sent me a card that said only this: “I know there is wisdom in all that God does.” Which led to discussions of Soren Kierkegaard. And later a song he composed, using words I had written in some of my darkest hours. Cory and the little Pedro the Lion pin he bought me that Addison still finds every few months and promptly injures herself with. All those thoughts sprung out of 15 seconds of song #1. Sheesh, how can music be so crazy evocative?

But I am going to get rid of these tapes, even if I have to cut out a piece of my own heart. Which strangely enough is what it feels like to jettison this Pedro the Lion tape. Thank goodness for YouTube — this music does not have to be lost to me forever!

Criticism as Inspiration, Pedro the Lion (three links because I couldn’t choose the best recording; they are all inferior to my cassette quality, go figure) — This is a song I would have listened to on repeat, if not for the fact that cassettes have no repeat button.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, Spiritualized — Shared with me by my first boyfriend, only to play an integral role in my relationship with my last boyfriend. If Neal and I have a love song, this is it, forever cemented by listening to it on repeat for almost 3 hours on our 3rd or 4th date (according to my dating calculations, since Neal’s are ridiculous).

Under the Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers — This needs its own post, if I can bring myself to write it. (You know, I think I can. It doesn’t feel nearly as scary as when I first started contemplating talking about this thing.)

My Ritual, Folk Implosion — I totally got propositioned at this show. This random guy found out about my wheelchair and asked if I wanted to go to Disneyland with him so that we could skip all the lines and park really close. Thrilling, right? Also, Lou Barlow was definitely wasted during the show and still didn’t miss a beat. Crazy.

The Outdoor Type, The Lemonheads — “I can’t go away with you on a rock-climbing weekend; what if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again.” Ha.

That’s Just What You Are, Aimee Mann

Open the Door, Magnapop

Walk On, Neil Young

Smoke, Ben Folds Five

If I Should Fall From Grace With God, The Pogues

Ruthie’s Knocking, Throwing Muses

Me and You vs. The World, Space

Where Do the Children Play?, Cat Stevens

If I Can’t Change Your Mind, Sugar

100%, Sonic Youth

Gigantic, Pixies

Love is a Rose, Neil Young

From Hanks to Hendrix, Neil Young

Spin the Bottle, Juliana Hatfield Three

While I doubt many of you will want to watch these videos feeding my nostalgia, I should mention that I only briefly previewed the actual videos and cannot vouch for their entire content (though I did actually skip over one song completely because I could not find a video that wasn’t completely sexualized. I swear it seemed like an innocent enough song lyrics-wise!).

November 16, 2012

It happened like this:

Filed under: History, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 1:00 pm

I saw an email on the Colonial Ward listserv. This listerv, by the way, is a thing in Mormonville in Washington, D.C.  It’s a group listserv created by one of the local LDS wards. You can subscribe (whether Mormon or not) and thenceforth receive emails about local events, irons and stereos for sale (I bought both of those off listserv ads) as well as the occasional political diatribe followed by 30 emails reiterating why said diatribe does not belong on the listserv. And when I say that thenceforth you will receive emails, I mean, FOREVER. Because I moved 6 years ago and have gone through the unsubscribe process at least 17 times (THIS IS NOT A JOKE!), and I am still receiving these emails. But let’s be honest, part of me likes knowing that somewhere in Alexandria, Virginia there is a blue cloth shower curtain for sale for $5.

Back to the email. It said something like: “I’m from Boston, yo, and I want to head up there for a Red Sox game in the near future, maybe tomorrow? I can get us tickets to Fenway Park and my parents will put us up overnight if I can find someone (1) with a car and (2) willing to split the gas. The catch is that the whole trip needs to take less than 48 hours on account of my work schedule.” Although I did not know the email sender, who from now on shall be known as Seth (on account of that being his actual name), I knew I could not pass up tickets to Fenway. (I have not tried to get tickets to a Sox game in quite a few years, but they used to sell out about 15 minutes after going on sale.) So I shot an email back, saying, Let’s do this thing! Will (also his real name) and Mark (possibly his real name, it sounds familiar, but mostly all I remember about him is how obsessed he was with using his radar detector to evade cops while trying to break land speed records) were also game, so in just about a day or two’s time we were shaking hands in a parking lot; four strangers headed to the holy grail of baseball stadiums. In the midst of the whirlwind, I paused long enough to tell a few of my posse about my impromptu trip, to varying responses.

My parents:

What if they’re axe murderers?

My most protective friend, Anne:

What if they’re rapists?

And my boyfriend at the time, David:

What if they’re boring?

After all, 16 hours, give or take, is a long time to sit in a car with boring people. But hey, my baseball love is deep enough to conquer boredom.

Boring, it was not. Aside from Mark’s intense driving — he even wore driving gloves, who does that? (No, seriously, I would like to know if anyone besides this one random guy named Mark that I once drove 20 hours with has ever worn driving gloves!) — there was also plenty of lively conversation. We covered gender roles; career aspirations; how to save the world — or not, depending on one’s preference; dating. The dating talk moved beyond the vague to a scientific attempt to construct the ideal relationship progression: when to hold hands (Seth: Never. Hand-holding is crap.), when to kiss, when to DTR (define the relationship), when to get engaged, when to get married (Me: Never. Marriage is crap; stick with the hand-holding. [Clearly, I have changed my mind about marriage.])

Seth’s parents just happened to live in the quaintest, most beautiful little cottage in the quaintest, most beautiful little town on the South Shore of Massachusetts. I thought about moving there myself for at least 3 or 4 months afterward. The Red Sox game, though now indistinguishable from all the other Red Sox games I have attended, was AWESOME. I even splurged on a “Yankees Suck” shirt, which was going strong until last year when Neal made me retire it. And then, almost as if it had happened too quickly to be real, we were back in D.C. No one was harmed or bored.

I never saw Will or Mark again (I thought that was unrelated to the driving gloves situation, but now I’m unsure). Seth and I, on the other hand, sent each other ridiculously witty emails off and on for the next couple of years. We hit up another Sox game in Baltimore together. We almost hit up a Nationals game. We almost went on a double date. We almost celebrated my 25th birthday together. And we almost went to a concert at Dr. Dremo’s during which, at Seth’s insistence (in order to balance out my too-many male friendships), I met his former girlfriend. It didn’t work out between me and Melissa, but I’ll never forget those 20 minutes we spent yelling at each other in order to be heard over the music. WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHERE? ONE MORE TIME! OH, REALLY? HOW INTERESTING.

What’s the moral of the story? Subscribe to listservs, many and varied. Go to Fenway Park with 3 random strangers whenever possible. BUT if one of those 3 random strangers has driving gloves, don’t let him be the driver. Visit Hingham, Mass if you possibly can. The Yankees do suck (sorry, Kristin, if you’re reading this). If someone sends you entertaining emails month after month for years, consider dating them (I’m not sure if this advice is for me or him). Hand-holding is not crap. Neither is marriage. Also, baseball. Always baseball.

This post brought to you by getting rid of my shot glasses and surfing through my old (ridiculously witty) emails.

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