Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Put It Down and Step Away Slowly.

I'm on my phone a lot. We all are, but it's really starting to hit me just how much I'm holding the damn thing. I'm no longer at a computer for 8+ hours a day, so my work is in my hand until I sit down to write a full piece. There are emails to answer and texts to respond to and calendars to update with the deadlines created from those texts and emails, plus Facebook messages for those who don't text or email, then back to the calendar. I talk to Sevigny pretty much all day every day via Google Hangout, and that's not going anywhere so long as we both have fingers and brains. Then there's this clock gobbler (h/t Stephen Colbert) of a thing, Social Media. My thumb goes to that F button for the app when I'm trying to check the weather or my calendar. It's a muscle memory reflex of an addiction. I find myself reading while telling myself to turn it off and I answer, "in just a minute." WHY? What on earth is so pressing that I can't go get my own shit done? "Hang on, there's a think piece about that millennial who got fired from Yelp from a different millennial and I should read that real quick cause everyone said 'read this' when they posted it." We all know that looking at social media for long stretches isn't the best idea for people with depression, particularly if you already tend to compare yourself to others negatively. Which...hi. Have we met? If so, I probably decided you're better than me at some point.

Me, allowing my life to slip by and not sleeping/eating/peeing but OMG NEW LIKE OPTIONS!
Scott works pretty much nonstop, so he also has phone in hand at home, but is usually reading about basketball or playing video games. He's allowed. You go and help people trying to come down off of heroin get the help they need, and you too can play all the video games you want when you get home. Unless, of course, you're supposed to be watching a show with me, in which case I will harass you mercilessly until you put the phone down and watch tv with me.

You're looking at the wrong screen. Look at the one I'm looking at. Stare into this bigger screen with meeeeeee. (Why. Why am I even married? I'm the worst.)

We know that our behaviors, good or bad, are absorbed by our children. They are tiny sponges - which also explains why they get every illness ever to ride the wind and past their face for three seconds - and they hear even the things you mumble. They mimic your actions and make them their own; they create entire worlds out of something you said offhandedly once. Like, maybe, you said they should shut the door so wild animals don't get inside joke...'cause the weather was warm and one might leave the door open but the constant slamming was too much for you and it wasn't your house so you just SAID that and then that kid wanted all of the doors closed in a constant fear of being ambushed by WILD ANIMALS because of your stupid mouth. Maybe. As a purely fictional example.

I was charging my lifeline with a Mophie yesterday. It's just a black box that's a portable charger because...well...if I charged my phone in the wall it would be TOO FAR AWAY FROM ME. Oh, God. I just typed that and thought about my whole life and got a little sad. Ok. I'm shaking that off now. So I was charging and looking at my blue-light friend so I could avoid watching BusyTown Mysteries again (EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE IS LOOKING AT SCREENS WHAT IS DRAWING AND PRETEND I FORGOT). My daughter spies the charger and wants to see it. I quickly realize it looks like the NoPhone being Kickstarted a while back. Remember that early intervention tool? How'd that work out for us?
This one enables the hell out of me.
This one does nothing.

Bird immediately decided the charger was her phone. This was cute at first, as she held it to her ear and talked to someone, a friend she said was in the "hostibal" because...dammit. I can't remember why, but it was adorable. Then she wanted to take the charger to bed. Just like mama and daddy do. I told her we have our phones in the bedroom because we have alarms on them, but that didn't work. I asked her to pick out her stories, and I went to gather all the usual Going to Sleep Barriers: milk, water, tissues, blanket, stuffed animal, socks, anxieties about our future, etc.

When I came back into the room, she was sitting up in bed, stroking the surface of the charger with her index finger, as though scrolling down a screen. But there was no screen. She was perfectly content to stare at a black, plain surface, pretending to scroll. She told me that she was doing the same movement that I do.

Scott came into the room, and she decided to share her findings.

"Look at this interesting cute cat video!" she said with a smile, holding the charger out for us to see.

"Look at this cute boy and girl," she smiled, as though they were just adorable.

Scott and I just stared at one another in horror. "I'm sorry if Daddy is on his phone too much and not paying attention to you. I'm going to stop doing that now," he said. She looked up at him and smiled and told him more about her day with me at the library. I also vowed to put the damn thing down more.

Sure, I started this blog on my phone. I have checked it since then. But I'm now staring at a computer screen while Bird is at school, blissfully unaware.

She's probably pretending everything in the playroom is a phone, though. I think we're doomed. I might post that on Facebook, along with a picture of my kid and my dinner.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Kinder, Gentler Face Punch

In a time of freedom and success, I sure do seem to be laser focused on why I'm not kind to myself. But hey. This is a blog and it's getting so loud in my head I can't think anymore. I literally got up out of bed to write this. Take that, sleep and stuff.

We all have physical imperfections. We all have things we do not love about our appearance and have either grown to accept those things, have embraced those things, or have chosen to loudly complain about those things when ordering a pastry/trying on clothes/purchasing skin care products/looking in a mirror/watching one's self on video/having a conversation about something unrelated ("Well, I wouldn't say that a vote for Bernie is a vote for Trump, it's not like an immediate thing like eyes drawn to my love handles. What are we talking about?") in the hopes that the complaining will somehow lead to the aforementioned acceptance/embracing or magically fixing it.

Sure. We all have that. We also love seeing other people have that, because it feels validating and good. Stars are just like us and all.

Body positivity is not only important, it's fucking vital. And I encourage it in the exact same spirit I encouraged my husband to pursue a different path after leaving advertising: that's totally cool for you, but not for me. No, no, YOU have to do that. In this life, what else have you but your happiness and sanity and love? Do it! Me? No, fuck that. Not me, this is about you. YOU do those great things. You deserve them.

Everyone should love themselves and all they come with, I preach, for this life is cruelly short, and we cannot waste it on wanting to be something we aren't, unless we are putting in the actual work that comes with real change. There is nothing to gain by demonizing one's own appearance. I know these things, and I practice them once in a great while for myself. But most often, I am running a checklist of all the things that are currently wrong with how I look, and wrong with what I'm doing. Like...all day and night.

Goddammit, I have a daughter. The thought of her doing this to herself breaks my heart into a thousand fucking pieces.

I remember saying something disparaging about my appearance in front of my mother late in her life. "What are you talking about?" she growled in her smoky Brooklyn voice, "You're gorgeous!" She was appalled. I thought she was biased. I get it now. She was both.

I try to see myself as my daughter sees me. Sometimes that works. And then I see a video or photo of myself from even a year or two ago, and I wonder how I am bigger than that now, when both versions of me were post-kid. Then I snap back to now, realize I am pushing my body around in the mirror like it's hair and all I have to do is spray it and oh my God what if she saw me do that. Shit, did she see me do that?

She must have seen me do that at some point. How could she miss it?

I am terrified of all the challenges this girl will face, and I am doing my damnedest to raise her to be strong against them, even as she adores princesses and their dresses. Dresses are nice, so I won't argue with that. But between Photoshop and models and the industry I am in and a GODDAMNED VICTORIA'S SECRET CATALOG IN MY MAILBOX EVERY DAY SINCE I BOUGHT A BRA STOP SENDING ME PORN, VS, I HAVE A PHONE FOR THAT...she'll be bombarded with images and ideas about how she should look. I am hopeful that the battle being waged on that bullshit will have made some progress soon...or that she can take up arms to continue the fight in earnest. I am also hopeful I haven't lost myself yet. That I haven't decided entirely that I am not up to snuff. But, man, I am not making this easy on myself.

I read a great list of body positive books to read with your daughter, and I was delighted. I was all, "hell yeah, this is powerful. I can't wait until she's old enough to read these," and then...quietly, but so so consistently...I literally judged these books by their covers. "If being different is so awesome and celebratory, why is there a really pretty model on the cover of this book?" My thoughts devolved from there, wondering if I should just gain more weight so I could be a "type" instead of this mushy, oddly shaped and too-big version of my former self - someone who just doesn't get how she was supposed to look. Like no one told me and I just ate food and now what the hell is this.

Don't get me wrong, when I was thirty pounds lighter than I am now, I thought I was enormous and I'd cry about it. This isn't about the weight. Sure, I'd love for some of that to go away so I can wear more clothes in my own closet because poor. But see, I KNOW WHAT TO DO TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN. It isn't about that. It never was.

It's about never, ever, fully embracing my entire self the way I want others to do for their entire selves.

Whether it's my career (you know this tune: I'm a fraud and what I'm doing is ridiculous because I will never be as good as doo dah, doo dah...I'm a failure and delusional why do I bother, oh the doo dah day), my self worth (how DO I have all of these friends and this selfless and courageous husband when I am the literal worst and most selfish person ever), or my appearance ("You should love yourself as you are. You're fucking gorgeous. Me? No. You? Always").

This isn't a plea for compliments or validation. It won't do a damn bit of good anyway because, if I don't believe it myself, that sweet sentiment is going to bounce off of me and crash to the floor. Continually.

I have small victories where I break the cycle: I give myself an approving glance in a store window reflection. I take a good selfie (cue club jamz). I just feel good enough that I don't care. My daughter looks at me adoringly when I show her "ballet moves." My daughter looks at me adoringly for any reason and laughs at my jokes. Anyone laughs at my jokes. But it's really only a matter of time before I slip the "I could lose a few pounds, amirite" comment or "it's cool, I'll just be chinless and over here being super weird" comment into an otherwise pleasant conversation.

I don't want my daughter to hear or see it, but it permeates everything I do. Therefore, it can no longer be about hiding it. It has to be about actually believing what I want her to believe: that we, as we are, are beautiful. That what we are doing is good enough as long as we're trying our best. Not in a motivational meme or Instagram post kind of way. Really and honestly believing it down to my rapidly deteriorating bones. Goddammit, I did it again.

This journey isn't easy, but it has to be done. For me, for her, for everyone I love. Because who wants to be the woman who hates herself underneath the good talk? No one. And I've been her long enough.   I deserve better. My daughter deserves better. My husband deserves better. And one more time for the back row: I deserve better.

There, Brain. I've emptied a bit. Now please leave me be and let's go the hell to sleep.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Navel Gazing and Other Ways We're Terrible

We are all horrible to ourselves. I mean. Just awful.

We sat at Italian Village, the place where I had never been and felt ashamed as a Chicagoan. Didn't matter -- it was open, this seemed right. Christ, the band was playing Girl From Ipanema when we walked in. It could not have been more perfect if we wanted it to.

Warm bread, a little wine, some cheese and some meat. All is well. Wait...there was no cheese on that antipasto platter. I call foul.

One went home before the food and drinks, she has three kids and her mom was watching them. Busy day tomorrow, helping and healing more people. But she felt bad. Like she was disappointing us after a day of healing the masses and their aches, fears, and recurring pains.

The three remaining, headed to Italian Old School Chicago Glory because Fuck It, It's Open have seven kids...among them. Can you do that? Can you pool kids like tips at the end of the night? She has four, the one who still dances and teaches kids. The one who, after the show was over, had an alum (whom none of us remembered) say, "You're HER? I had a huge crush on you." Four kids, that one, and probably the best sense of humor about it of anyone I've ever met. Me, I have one. The indecisive woman who amplifies her old self around these lovely women, plays the role as Negative but Not Too because she can't seem to figure out where to put her hands and she isn't wearing pockets -- metaphorically speaking. Just the one child. Quit while you're ahead or be too frightened to admit that you Want and Don't Want More and Don't At All At All. Then there's A. She has no kids, because she's doing national tours like the show we just saw her slay. I have the nerve, the unmitigated gall my mother would say, to ask her questions about the production and how it compares to the tour she did 18 years ago and who the everloving fuck am I to ask any of these questions? No. One. But someone. But not in this context. It's embarrassing. The one with two kids speaks. She should have three, but she lost the baby right before Christmas. She cries, catching A up to the fact. She apologizes profusely for crying. We only see A once every couple of years and she doesn't want to see this, she reasons.

She is having a real and unguarded emotional reaction. To losing a child. It's a pretty good goddamned reason. We aren't interviewing her for a job. We're catching up on things and calling ourselves old friends. Shouldn't that be the time?

Even as I write this, I wonder if I'm something great in the back of my mind and maybe someone will read it and discover that, yes, indeed I am. Oh, her ramblings are superb and make Eggers or David Foster Wallace or other famous ramblers look like idiots, they'll say because they've actually read David Foster Wallace (I haven't) and are therefore more competent and smart and able to judge these things. They will. Not me, they will do it. Someone else will validate me and I won't accept it but it because, should it ever come, this mystery validation from a theoretical We, I will instantly disavow Their credibility. But Someone Else with More Qualifications will certainly be around soon to let me know the thing I could not tell myself.

I do not give me permission, and yet I give myself complete permission.

She didn't give herself permission to cry and grieve because surely the time has passed and this is Not What We Are Here For.

But then what else the hell are we here for? To connect beyond the highlight reel, even if we Weren't Always Close we're in a situation now that assumes it was so. Move forward and act accordingly. Cry. Tell me about it. Celebrate one another. It's so much easier with my Givens. The People I Surround Myself With Regularly. I know it. This isn't consistent so I'm trying to figure it out as I'm doing it. What do I walk away with? The knowledge that we do not give ourselves permission and we leave, walking in the cold to our cars, telling each other that no, we were the worst. At Least You Didn't...etc. We exhibit no kindness for our own actions, and infinite acceptance of anyone else's.

I say often we should make space for kindness to ourselves, and in small ways, sometimes we do. But damn, is it easy to just cut yourself deep. It's too easy. And it wastes precious time.