At the end of a hot day in San Diego, when I’m dying for a climate that involves more than one and a half seasons, I find myself looking over the grill to the palm trees, the golden light, the neighbors houses. The smell of white wine and salmon and dill swirls around me and though I hate this joke of a spring day, I love this moment. This moment is mine. This moment is a gift.
I hear my daughters in the other room, my husband lifting that (happy) burden from my shoulders for a while. I sit down and let words run. Like a long shower. Or a long cry. Or a long sip from a glass of wine.
It’s these little moments that I let go by all too often. They’re the moments you think, “Holy shit, I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna be okay.” I’m not saying it’ll be spectacular. Not magazine-worthy. Just good. Solid, deep-running, gratefully good. Good enough to make it until tomorrow. One day at a time, sweet Jesus.
The salmon isn’t done yet and I’ll likely burn it and the asparagus before I’m done here (don’t worry, I’m checking it), but I feel like I should catch these words before they wander off. All my swears and too much/not enough seriousness–I need to love those bastards & kiss them straight on the mouth. They’re me in zeros and ones. They’re me in syllables. They’re me in thoughts, and I need a good kiss from me.
And that’s what we’re doing in life, isn’t it? Taking a minute to believe that what we feel is worth a damn? Taking the leap of faith that we won’t be discarded or—maybe—those that will discard us had done so long ago, so we should stop tap dancing to keep them around? Isn’t that what life/art/love/faith is about?
So I’m giving myself a nice, long moment to treasure the words coming out of my thumbs because burnt asparagus (don’t worry, I’m still checking it) isn’t the worst thing I’ll produce, but perfect asparagus won’t be the best thing either.
It’s just asparagus, Melanie. Calm down.
And openness? Full and messy participation? Just freaking showing up? It’s not all that different. It’s the thing we share over small tables. It’s sustenance. It’s sacred and mundane at once. It’s just asparagus. It might be burnt today, it might not tomorrow. But either way it’s necessary. And either way it’s important to someone. Even if you’re the only someone who eats it.
[Author’s note: I wrote this post a while ago (in Spring—obviously), but I’m just getting around to post it. Because sometimes I collect drafts like a hoarder, and I can’t bring myself to show them to anyone else. There are a few little quirks in my breed.]
I don’t know what it is about today; about this week or this month… Maybe it’s been years now, maybe a lifetime—but I’m hitting a little bit of a tipping point when it comes to how I perceive my body and its various shortcomings. For review, let’s list out what’s wrong with me (limited to physical appearance, of course—we only have so much room here):
deep forehead wrinkles…nay—crevasses
stretch marks (thanks kids)
flabby arms (or underarm dingle-dangle, as Ruthie would say)
untamed bikini line
splotchy pores on legs
hairy uprising on the facial region
several “companion pounds” I’ll call them, that may never leave me…
And you know what? Who gives a shit?
I have all of those things because I’m a human person. I am a human person who has yet to develop some crazy disorder that prevents me from aging. So, as I get older—as we all are forced to do by the time-space continuum—I look older. And, I ask again, who gives a even a tiny turd about it?!
Take just a moment to think about how nuts it is that we try to stop aging. I mean, when you see a product in the store labeled “anti-aging,” do you think, “What kind of crack pot monkey dreamed that up, and how stoned was the group of people that launched it into reality?” Because that’s what you should think. That’s what we should ALL think.
The Silver Fox of Snark
I started going gray in my mid-twenties. It’s not really a look that most people want to cultivate. I discovered I was gray when I stopped dying my hair. I was like, “I’m gonna be all natural and embrace myself and yadda yadda,” and my head replied, “Well, that’s fun because we’ve changed a few things around here.” And there it was. I kind of decided (likely due to my frequently mentioned laziness) that it is way too much fuss to dye away the gray. I just didn’t have the energy to put up a 70-year-long fight against, of all things, my freaking hair.
So here I am nearly a decade later and I’ve got a whole lot of that stuff sprouting out of my head. Every now and again it bothers me, but I really don’t care. My plan is to let it all come in and take over, then I’ll rock that business like I’m Steve Martin. I mean, look at that guy’s hair. Pure, 100% silver white and no one cares. Which brings me to a sticking point…
Men are allowed to age. Women are not.
Yep. That’s the deal. Steve Martin sports his gray hair like nobody’s business and he seems distinguished. Hillary Clinton grows her hair out and pulls it back instead of coiffing it just so and people go bananas. Hey, people: shut up. Because Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton is allowed to look however she wants. She’s allowed to get older, and to decide not to invest endless time and money into pretending she’s not getting older. Just like I am. We’re all allowed—men and women—to age with grace, and dignity, even affection (!) for our changing selves. My new rule: if Steve Martin can do it, so can I.
And then there’s the Thinspiration problem
I think the reason this is all on my mind right this second is because I keep happening upon what I’ve learned is called “thinspiration.” It’s like all those “how to drop 10 lbs in a month” or that picture of a woman squeezing her leg with the caption “how to solve the cellulite problem.” (Here’s a hint: stop squeezing your leg like that!)
Pinterest is brimming with these things, but so is the Today show, major news outlets, magazines—basically everywhere you look, you can find some “solution” for the problem of your—ahem—normal human body.
And to revisit my last point, how many dudes do you think are trying to solve their “cellulite problems”? How many under-eye creams do you think dudes are buying? Waxing kits? Boxes of hair dye? Skin primers? Lip balms? Anti-whatever-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you salves? Not nearly as many as women are. If a guy can save his money to go to the movies instead spending money to rip/bleach/laser blast his hair off, don’t you think you’re allowed to do the same? And menfolk, if you find yourselves falling into the trap of needing to look like a glowing, 2% body fat stone sculpture of a human, don’t worry about it. No one cares. Be a real human person with skin and hair and flaws. It’s okay. For all of us.
I don’t need to feel beautiful
I think our normal response in this discussion is to affirm beauty. To say, “No, no! You look [enter appropriate compliment here]!” And while this, indeed, is quite comforting, it doesn’t entirely solve the problem. Because, you know what? I’m not going to be “beautiful” when I’m 85. In fact, I’ll likely fall well below the beauty standard far, far before then. So will you. Even if you get surgery and shellac the crap out of yourself, everyone’s going to know that you’re not a 16-year-old girl. (Which is, apparently, our effed up standard for what people should always look like.)
I need to feel human. I need to watch time mark the days around my eyes and on my hips and through my hair and somehow feel more like myself, not less. I want each season to bring new scars, new wrinkles and more sag and for all that to make me feel that somehow, some way, I’m winning. I’m living. I’m human. I’m aging. It’s great.
Closing eyes and clicking heels
I want to believe all of these words through and through, without batting an eye. I want to banish that pang of guilt I feel every time I’m presented with the b.s. yardstick society so politely reminds me I’m not measuring up to. I want to embrace my changing, aging body without the knee-jerk reaction to sculpt it, starve it, or slather it into some other, better form. But for now, I’m closing my eyes, and clicking my heels, just hoping I’ll be transported to a mental home, free of these crazy, shrieking, body-hating monkeys.
And so, heroes of the internet with sagging boobs, and gray hair, and furry potbellies, I ask you to join me. Try with me. Get everyone you know to be down with aging. Wouldn’t it be rad if in 2033 there isn’t a single person out there writing this same freaking blog post? Fighting these same shrieking monkeys? There’s no place like…
What do you think?
(p.s. Check out this TED talk from model Cameron Russell. If models are still bummed about how they look after, you know, being the model for how people should look, maybe we’ve got it all wrong, huh?)
Okay, so…if you didn’t catch all the hubbub, last week I found myself and this little piece on Freshly Pressed. They say that it’s “the best of 382,958 bloggers [&] 1,052,405 new posts.” And a LOT of people subscribe to, and read Freshly Pressed.
It’s kinda like getting high fived in the face by two thousand strangers, with a hammer.
I mean, it’s good, right? Like, high fiving is a feel-good activity, but this—this is INTENSE. I mean—whoa.
So, when I came back to my trusty little computer after a morning at the zoo with the kid (who told me that the bonobo had a “crazy butt.” She’s two. She’s not wrong.) and discovered a billion WordPress notifications, I knew something was up. So I checked my Freshly Pressed feed, and there I was. Me. Lookin’ all normal like I belonged there. At which point, I was entering Crazytown. Population: me and, like, 2200 other people.
Of course I didn’t hyperventilate a little. Come now; I’m an adult. And of course I didn’t start criticizing myself, wishing I had updated this, and spruced up that, and thinking about how surely someone would get upset at my fledgling feminism and wag their finger at me, and how I’d have to apologize for…I dunno…something… *pant, pant, pant*
And this got me thinking about Brené Brownagain, probably because I love her so much and want to hug her (which is inappropriate from strangers, ya’ll. Somebody help me.). It got me thinking about vulnerability, and how writing is inherently vulnerable and how I feel like I’m exposing myself in the desert, just waiting for the sun and wind and sand to shave my skin off. It’s mildly terrifying.
Being creative in any form is hard. I have seen more than one person a little off his rocker after years of the ups and downs of art. They say that you are your own worst critic and I, frankly, am a damn good critic. “Slice to the bone!” I say as I wield my red pen of judgement. “Let no sentence go unscathed!”
It reminds me of a scene in The Anniversary Party (has anyone seen it? I kinda liked it. Until it turned into a drug-fueled sex party, that is. Some good moments nonetheless). I love this:
Sophia Gold: Sally! His image of you is a possessive, fragile neurotic!
Sally Nash: But I *am* a possessive, fragile neurotic!
But this is what Brené keeps telling me: vulnerability is GOOD. It’s what allows us to connect to one another. And connecting to one another is what makes us feel human; it’s what makes us feel alive. And—boy—that’s basically what I want. I want to feel human. I want to feel alive. I want to feel connected and less alone. And the more I reveal of myself and live that out truly, the more connected I become with people. Hot dang.
Writing here is fostering relationships with real life people that I’ve known for a long time—just because they get to hear the intimate details of my mind and heart in a way that might not come up in casual conversation. It’s also connecting me with new people—a new tribe of writers that make me feel like I belong somewhere. Like my friend Jerrod, whom I’ve never met in person, but was the first person who made me feel like I might actually be okay at blogging.
It’s good. It’s terrifying and nerve-wracking and it has the power to make me feel elated one day and dejected the next, but overall—it’s good. Thank you internet.
So on days when I get to see SO MANY people like and respond to my work—to my vulnerability—I have to just take in the good and be thankful for the experience of connection. I have to look myself straight in the eye and say, “You are Sally Nash!” (It’s okay that my name is Melanie. It works just the same). I need to bottle up this feeling and hold on to it for when the dark cloud of self-doubt comes again (which is due in like, what? 10 minutes? 2 hours? Something like that.)
Life—sometimes that shit’s magical.
So, I want to thank all of you that have been reading, subscribing, like-ing, commenting, and engaging in general badassery. You all are THE. BEST. Go get yourselves some beers, you little rascals.
My life, as of late, has taken a turn for the seemingly impressive. I say “seemingly,” because while it might look impressive at first brush (what with all my exercising and writing and to-do list-making), I assure you, things are getting rather questionable on the inside.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m lazy. If laziness were a career, I’d have $4.2 billion dollars and a vacation home in the Caymans. Little Richard and I would eat caviar and laugh big, open-mouth, tiny black pearl-coated laughs. That’s how good I am at being lazy.
However, recognizing that people don’t actually get paid (in money or caviar) for doing nothing, I decided I should do things that successful, active people do. Basically, I should pretend to be successful and active and hope no one spots my ruse. So, that’s what I’m doing. Specifically, I’ve been exercising at least 6 days a week for two months, I’ve been dieting for a month, and I’ve been writing at least 750 words per day for exactly 107 days. In a row. It makes me look kinda awesome.
But there’s a catch.
See, what I expected to happen was that it would be hard at first, maybe even mostly unproductive, but then I’d start seeing changes. It’d get easier. I wouldn’t curse the alarm every single morning. I expected to put in the hard work, then magically become super me who can do exercise and productive things without every fiber of my being screaming to lie down and watch The Only Way is Essex. But no. That is not what’s happening at all.
Every day I struggle to get up. And it’s getting worse. Now, instead of thinking, “I’m so tired, I don’t want to get up,” I think, “I want to quit. Should I quit? I just don’t want to do this anymore.” I drag myself through the entire workout and slump down exhausted afterward. And then I pound out my 750 words, which often include the phrase, “I really freaking wish I wasn’t doing this right now.”
And weight loss? Not happening. Last week I was so discouraged that my best friend and I decided that I shouldn’t weigh myself anymore. I should just take measurements. Because if I’m gaining muscle it’ll throw the weight thing off and I don’t need to upset myself with a number. So this week I tried just measurements. No change.
I’m facing the very real possibility that nothing will change from here on out—that this is it.
But We Just Exercise to be Healthy, Right?
Everyone says that they’re exercising for “health.” I do. I try to tell myself that even if I don’t end up looking like those Pinterest photos, the overall health benefits are worth it. Everyone says that. And I think most of us are lying.
We want weight loss. We want sculpted body parts. We want “that sexy v shape” (oh, lord does that phrase make me angry). But you know what will make you really inspect that belief? If you run and stretch and pull and lift and crunch and cut out sugar and reduce fat and do everything you’re suppose to do…and your body says, “NO! This area here is a flotation device. We are keeping it for survival! Run all you want, bitch!”
I am unhappy with this arrangement.
My friend Anna keeps reminding me that I’m in the normal BMI range, and maybe I should be happy with that. Happy with being healthy. I have to wonder why I’m not. I think it’s because I can make Jabba’s face with my belly if I want to, and I have yet to find a use for that ability.
So, again, I’m confronted: Do I really want to do this—the exercising, avoiding foods, eating truckloads of salads, getting up early—do I want to do this if nothing changes from here on out? If I end up looking like a person who doesn’t exercise, will I still do it? If I look like someone who doesn’t eat right, will I eat right anyway? If I don’t gain any energy, if I don’t like it any more, if it doesn’t make me feel accomplished…if nothing gets better…will I still do it? If the answer is yes, then by golly I might actually be doing all this for my health. In fact, that’s all I’d be doing it for.
Those questions rang through my head on my cool down walk home today. And the louder they rang, the clearer this was to me: I have to let go of my expectations. Not just let go, I need to mourn them. I need to burn an effigy of the “ideal” me . I thought about how hard I’ve been working, and how the results aren’t showing. I decided that I have to let the expectation that things will change die like a neglected Ficus. In fact, maybe the Ficus is already dead and I’m just now showing up to its funeral. I thought about all of this and I cried my way home, having buried in my mind the hope of looking slimmer, fitter——better.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m in love with Brené Brown. It’s true. She’s a vulnerability researcher stuffed to her eyeballs with grace and wisdom and I just want to hug her a whole lot (i.e., too much). I wrote about her first TED talk a while back, and she just did another one. After fighting back tears and hugging my computer screen I thought I should probably share it with you all, too. It’s only 20 minutes—and it’s amazing.
It’s raining today, and I love the rain. It makes me love the world we live in. But I’ve also been researching pimps and prostitution again, and it’s just so, so dark. It’s crushingly dark. I just needed some tiny amount of hope to keep me going. Just a teensy, weensy bit because, I tell you, it’s like every word I read steals a little light from my life. I needed something to say that there is still goodness in the hearts of humankind somewhere, somehow. This did it for me. This is enough for today. Thank you, Dr. Brown.
If you REALLY, really can’t spare 20 minutes, here are a couple of thoughts to take with you:
Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s courage. Vulnerability is what is going to save us from shame. Shame is the thing that lurks in the darkness and tells us not that we did something bad, or stupid or greedy or selfish; but that we are bad, stupid, selfish and greedy.
Shame tells men that they can’t ever be weak. Shame propagates the myth that being a man requires that you stay in control of your emotions, that you prioritize work over everything else, that higher status should be your life-long pursuit and that violence goes hand-in-hand with manliness. Shame tells women that we must be nice, thin, modest and look beautiful. It tells women that we have to be able to juggle every task that comes before us (home, work, cleaning, cooking, studies—all of it!) without breaking a sweat. And shame tells us all that falling short of these things is disgraceful.
But shame is a liar. So, I want to ask you a favor: don’t let your darkest day be your only day. Please don’t, darlings. You are beautiful. You are sacred. You are loved. Don’t let shame tell you who you are.
And just like the life of a baby sea turtle, it’s a little cold and scary (and somehow sandy?). But I’m pressing forward and trying to learn and grow and do things that adults are supposed to do. Truth be told, I do not like it one bit.
I recently got a little obsessed with a vulnerability researcher named Dr. Brené Brown. She’s super amazing and smart but, despite her amaz-a-brain, her talks make you feel like you’re just listening to a friend. (She’s also really pretty.) It’s not too much of a stretch to say I’d like to snuggle with her on the couch. But not in a weird way (that’s possible, right?). Don’t judge.
Dr. Brown talks about how vulnerability is the where shame, fear and regret find their strength, but ALSO where love, happiness and connectedness begin. It’s a tricky place. One that takes more than a little bravery—and hope—to visit.
For whatever reason (let’s not over think this, okay?) I’ve never been great at vulnerability. Where some people spread out the welcome mat before the front door of their hearts, I build a moat, fill it with sarcasm and alligators and eat chocolate alone whilst watching endless episodes of 30 Rock. (Don’t worry, I’m not always that cool.)
In light of that reality, blogging is a uniquely odd activity for people like me to engage in. Despite the fact that I can edit and shape and frame my life in the most flattering way possible, committing words—little pieces of myself—to the screen for all to read and judge is, well…a little unnerving. And the stats—good Lord, help me—the stats! Unlike at a cocktail party where you can just tell yourself that people liked you and you had a successful social interaction, blogging gives you data. Cold, unflinching, morose data, to which you can add your own brand of crazy. And my brand of crazy is like a finely crafted beer—it takes years, sometimes generations, to make.