Tag Archives: bodylove

Radical self care as upheaval (part 4) – slow walk with paradox

keep going(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive and how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)

I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark—
“Made it again!” Oh how I love this climb!

This is what’s true: You can’t force a rhythm. When things are out of sync, you have to let them find their own way back into togetherness. Today I am going slow. I am listening to the birds outside, the spring birds, the ones just waking now, the birds hiding in the slowly-flowering apple tree, the ones that sit in the narrow pine at the back fence. I am listening to the candle flame flicker in its glass enclosure. I am listening to the puppy shudder in her morning dreams. I am listening for what wants to happen next.

This writing was supposed to come on Monday, but it didn’t. After a very full weekend, the writing went quiet, and so I didn’t force it. I wrote in the notebook, things not meant for public display, and I found poems for this space. Today I’m going slow — I’ll write, work in the garden, bake sourdough bread, and, while the sourdough is working its rise, I’ll work on a copyediting gig I’m in the midst of.

Sourdough is a thing that needs time to do its work, even more so than conventional yeast-raised breads. Sourdough bread is old bread, original bread. It’s a fermented product, just like pickles and sauerkraut and yogurt and  kombucha — there are probiotics in these foods that our bodies need for digestion and better health. I’m going to use sprouted wheat flour for the bread, which is supposed to be even better for you.

(I’ve started to look at un-fermented breads the same way I look at candy: I go into the cafe and look at all the candy lined up on those pastry shelves. That’s exactly how my body reacts when I eat a conventional croissant or bagel, something made with processed, bleached, enriched white flour—it’s just like I’ve eaten a half-a-bagful of jellybeans.)

I have started listening differently to my body — again. After the terrible depression I struggled with last month, I am listening again. For about a week now, I’ve been taking a new set of supplements, and have cut back on my sugar and dairy and gluten; while I will be going to talk to some different practitioners about how I can best manage my hormones and take care of my body, I got started with the information on this webpage. Please note: I’m not initiating all of these supplements and herbs at the same time! I started with things I’ve done before — multivitamin, fish oil, nettle and dandelion tea — and added the vitex, evening primrose, probiotics, and b-12. I’m starting with low dosages, letting my body acclimate. This is the time of the month when I’d usually be deep into my difficult mood, the big depression, the hard pull down. I can feel it inside me: the spikes of anger are there, I can certainly feel the flares that say, oooh, girl, you’re premenstural. But I don’t wake up deep in despair. I am paying attention.

Have you seen a Möbius strip? It’s one of those things kids get shown when adults want to demonstrate the concept of infinity, and paradox. They take a long strip of construction paper between two hands, twist it once, and then tape the ends of the paper together so that you have a loop with a twist in it. Then they say, Now look: if you drop your pen at any point and start making a line along the length of the paper, you’ll end up drawing on both sides of the strip without lifting your pen — how is that possible?

I remember being delighted by Möbius strips when I first discovered them, and made bunches of them, amazed every time that the strip of recycled paper from my dad’s old dot matrix printer had a line that traversed the whole surface of the paper; I never had to pick up the pen to get to the other side — this two sided piece of paper had turned into a loop that appeared to only have one side. How was that possible?

Sometimes our new topologies just don’t make logical sense to our old eyes, our old ways of thinking. We have to meet the paradox with curiosity — at least, that’s what I’m trying to do right now. Wonder and delight aren’t always easy when the boundaries appear to have moved indefinitely and I’m walking and walking on this new path with no end in sight, and those footprints next to me on the sand look an awful lot like my own. How can I slow down when I’ve got so much to do? Haven’t I been here before, in this place of major transition? When will the ground get stable under my feet again? When will everything make sense?

My intention right now is to go more slowly — on all fronts. Less multitasking, more hands in dirt and dough and changing diapers and holding the pen. What if this got to be a good life? How do we go slowly enough to be able to listen to what the birds were trying to tell us, or to discover that the path that we think keeps changing is actually the same one we’ve been traveling all along?

the gifts of radical breaking

graffiti of a hand emerging, strong and full, from a just-cracking-open eggGood morning this Monday morning. Outside my window the thick grey fog is just beginning to lift, and the song birds have returned themselves to my feeder (now that I’ve replenished the seed stock). I’m back in the saddle today, even if the saddle has shifted, even if I am sitting in it a bit oddly in order to accommodate the pain that’s still wrangling with me. I’ve got the tea and the candle, I’ve got the quiet apartment (outside chainsaws and jackhammering notwithstanding) and I’ve got the pull into these words.

How are you rising into your (creative or other) saddle today?

This morning I am thinking about how different this month turned out from what I had originally planned. After leaving my day job back at the beginning of the month, I fully expected to erupt into busyness. There was so much I needed to do, now that I was my working hours were going to be devoted only to my writing and to writing ourselves whole: I’d opened conversations with many folks around the area about new writing workshop ventures; I had promotions work to do for the workshops scheduled to begin in January; there are two (just two?) books to write; I needed to figure out my weekly schedule, exercise every day, calendar lunch/coffee dates with friends and colleagues, run the puppy, go go go go go.

And then guess what happened? I’ve spent the month recovering/recuperating from a back spasm that hit me on the fourth day of my new life. Instead of continuing on with the busy that I have built a worklife and work-identity around, I was forced (allowed, allowed) to find a new way to interact with my work as my body took full-on precedence in my every day. Continue reading

the soul’s own home is breaking open

Swadhistana Chakra, water colour by Vamakhepa

This morning I wrote into the fog of the day with this tea, this candle, these fingers on the keyboard. I’ve been writing this post all day, needing breaks to stretch, to walk, to nap. Maybe eventually I’ll get it done enough to share.

The pain in my back flared up again after I got back from Atlanta. I was worried about traveling, afraid that something would torque badly when I lifted my bag into an overhead bin or sat for so long in one position on the plane. Overall, though, my back seemed to be at ease when I was back east, and did not complain the way it is now. Could there be something about being back in Oakland, in the space I am creating for my writing work, that’s sparking this renewed spasming? Continue reading

the poetry of the soul’s home

(here I am listening to some of the brilliant writing shared on Sunday)

Good morning on a Tuesday. This morning is bright sun, warming my chilly apartment, is homemade oat & oat flour Irish soda bread, is a happy puppy settled into a sunspot, is the steam from the green and mint tea flourishing into the sunlit space before me. This morning is Cheb i Sabbah radio on Pandora, is time for morning pages at sunrise, is settling back into home after three days in Atlanta. This morning is Rumi and Minnie Bruce Pratt — this is a morning for poems.

What is this morning for you, so far?

I want to tell you about Atlanta, about the home-ness of it for me, and about a quiet Sunday morning in one of the last feminist bookstores in the country, and inviting a group of Atlanta writers to ease–through their writing–into their bodies. Continue reading

what’s at our backs?

stencil graffiti: "Et Apres...?"Good morning this good morning. Barack Obama is still our president this morning, isn’t he? They didn’t take that back, did they? Let’s hold him accountable to his commitments once again. We welcome the news this morning, and we move back into our work together.

I’m diving into a ten minute write with this quote:

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Yesterday was a day with this body. We stretched and talked to friends about exercises, we let our vulnerability show. Today I’m conscious of how unergonomic my various writing locations are around the apartment, and, too, how much my body is trying to tell me. Continue reading

breathe into what tightens

sticker art of a turtle with one bulging eyeGood morning this morning. The light outside my windows today is warm and bright, and the crows are gathering on the other side of the fence to argue with a seagull about some tasty morsel. Today I am just in the moment. It’s all I can do. It’s what I get to do.

This morning’s blog is coming to you from a standing position — I’ve adjusted things in my apartment so that I can place my laptop on top of a bookshelf. I’m typing in between walking around my apartment and stretching, in response to a terrible lower back spasm. I’ve never experienced anything like this, and I’m scared. My body is talking to me in a new way this morning. How can I learn to listen?

Continue reading

results that aren’t results

This morning it’s late again when I sit down here at the keyboard and I remember that my body is always heavier, sleepier, more tired when she’s sleeping. We’re supposed to pretend like the blood doesn’t affect us, like everything’s normal. Well, everything is normal — this body is working extra hard during these days. Be unsurprised, ego-self, that the animal body has her seasons and cycles, has her rhythms and climbs, has her furrows, her sweet spots, has the moments when all she can do is lie down. Come and lie down with us. Bring a book. Now is the fallow time.

Last night was the Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture, the monthly reading event I get to co-facilitate with the most-delicious Carol Queen. I am never disappointed at the ERC: last night we had stories about public-alley sex and masturbation and memoir about sex in SF in the mid-70s; we had the next installment of a fantasy piece, a story that taught me about the layers of exhibitionism possible at a nude beach, and D/s stories from both the D perspective and the s. The folks who come to the circle, both the regulars and the newbies, are without fail attentive listeners who are engaged with each piece being shared into the room — people pay close attention, give strong feedback, want to hear more. What a gift, to have a space where one’s erotic work is taken seriously. We meet again November 28 — maybe you’ll be able to join us one of these months.

Here’s what I want to tell you — the tissue around my microcalcifications came back benign. And today I go meet with a surgeon in the family practice department who will feel around where my primary care doctor originally felt around (and felt worried), and tell me if there’s anything going on that the mammogram didn’t pick up.

Continue reading

our bodies are not disposable

graffit of a tidal wave, painted in red on the side of a buildingGood morning good morning, my friends. This morning finds all the technology quieted because the batteries died in the night, next to me sleeping on  the couch on my back so that the (slight, ok, sure) bleeding would stop.

Let me back up. Yesterday, at about 9 in the morning, I got a biopsy in my right breast, after my first mammogram where they found a tiny gathering of micro calcifications and had no other photos to compare it to, no way to know whether this was a new gathering or a group that’s been hanging out together for awhile. And because I will be losing my insurance at the end of this month when I leave my day job, I decided to go ahead and do the biopsy now instead of waiting for 6 months for a followup mammogram and maybe having to do it then.

I woke up yesterday intending not to give the biopsy any energy at all. I didn’t want it to be a thing. I didn’t want to worry about it, because worry is negative energy and could affect the outcome of the tests. (What? This is what magical thinking looks like.) I expected to be in and out of there in under an hour, which the radiologist had lead me to believe would be the case.

My first clue that the day might not go quite that way was when someone took me back for a pre-procedure conversation that was meant to take half-hour. So that they could tell me about the whole procedure, again, and warn me about all the risks.

Oh.

We sat in what had once been a procedure room, a room in some sort of midway state — machinery had obviously been removed, the walls were disheveled, and the floors not yet refinished. It felt furtive to meet in this room, like we weren’t worth an actual consultation space.

I have rants about the whole procedure, yet another in which a woman is supposed to position herself and then lie perfectly still while her breast is caught in a vise and people jab into it from beneath her, where she can’t see them. And about those goddamn gowns — don’t even get me started on the gowns. that’s what I expected I’d write about today. But I want you to feel that moment of transition when I understood that I wasn’t just in the doctor’s office to do some minimally invasive thing like get weighed or get a pap smear or get my blood drawn. The doctor here was drawing my tissue. From the inside of my breast.  I want to write about the moment I decided I wouldn’t go to work after all, that I’d go home and take care of myself (and let someone else help with that — which really is a whole ‘nother post).

I started to cry, just a little, in the mammogram room — we were doing follow up images, my sore and bruised and bleeding breast lifted into the compression machine again for two more pictures. I held my breast in between the shots, felt where she was numb, felt where she was beginning to hurt. I cried because it was a tender and radical thing to do, to just go home, to treat my body as though it had actually been invaded. Because it had been. This was not a little nothing procedure. This was a big deal. Not surgery, sure, not the most invasive thing ever. But something to pay attention to, and take care of myself after.

The puppy is standing sentry; she is worried about me. She came out to check on me often last night, wondering what I was doing out here n the living room instead of with her in the bedroom. It was bedtime after all. At nighttime we go here, mom. What are you doing?

This morning my heart is still pounding and I am still scared — not about the results, but about a life that doesn’t have any room in it for illness or emergency. Last night I wondered if I’d have to go to the emergency room. All day, my wound leaked a little blood. Not a lot, nothing at all excessive, but enough to register on, and then make its way through, folded pieces of gauze, then into the fabric of my bra. All afternoon I applied compression in 10-15 minute sets, jamming my fingers down into flesh that was already bruised and sore, trying to get the bleeding to stop. I was supposed to be wearing an icepack every hour for ten minutes or so, to help the swelling go down, but I didn’t do that very consistently until the very end of the night, until after my sweetheart finally had to go and I’d finished my bollywood movie and watched hours of silly tv, lying there flat on the couch. I’d done no work all day, left the email alone and piling up. I cried finally because the wound wouldn’t stop bleeding and I might have to go to the emergency room and I didn’t have time for that. I didn’t have time to take care of myself that way. I didn’t have time to take another day off of work; plus, I don’t have the sick time. I have a lot to do today, and all of it depends on my physical stamina and wellness — I have to clean the house (which includes vacuuming) and take care of the dog and prepare a meal and get to and from work and read and respond to many emails from people. I have work to do. I have no time to be sick.

What does it mean in our culture that most of us don’t have time to take care of ourselves. We treat our bodies as if we/they are as disposable as the rest of the packaging around us. We act as though once these bodies wear out, this part or that part, we can just go down to Ross or Office Max or maybe the Goodwill and get another one, almost as good, not quite as used up as what we’ve got now. Maybe you don’t behave this way toward your body. It occurs to me, now, that I have been.

I count on my physical capacity. Yesterday I met what lives on the underside of that assumption, the idea that I will always be able to handle everything that needs handling, alone if necessary: I can lift the heavy things and walk the pulling dog and clean the house and make the food and do the writing and walk myself back and forth to work. The life I have constructed revolves around the understanding that my body can accommodate significant physical demands.

Something had to give yesterday, and it turned out to be me. It turned out that my perfect schedule with all the moving parts meshed exactly right, that was the part that had to break open to let the pillows and soreness in. I would never have assumed that after a procedure like this, scheduled for 8 in the morning in order to accommodate a working schedule, that I would just go home. I felt weak, doing so, like I was giving in to something. To my body, I guess. Where does that idea come from?

No one at the doctor’s office told me I might want to take the day off from work after my biopsy. They just assumed I’d be going home. But who can afford that?

No one said, listen, your breasts are the site of a lot of trauma — especially your right breast — and now you’re opening that site up for strangers to handle and puncture into. Don’t be surprised if some loss and sorrow drops out. They don’t tell you about how to deal with that aftermath in their biopsy aftercare mimeograph.

I spent yesterday holding on to my breast, holding on to this place of pleasure and wonder and grief. I took acetaminophen and applied gauze and ice and ate easy food.  I needed help, and got to receive it. I can’t imagine what the day would have been like if I’d’ve gone to work, acting as though nothing had happened, that a giant needle hadn’t just been poked into my body and a bit of tissue carved out.

My breasts are heavy, and the puncture site from the biopsy needle is on the underside — gravity spent all day yesterday doing its thing. The bleeding finally stopped, and I am nervous about being upright all day, afraid that it will start again. It’s normal, I think, if I do. It’s normal to need help. It’s normal for our bodies to need to slow down, need rest, need care, need nurturing. How long before this idea becomes easier to handle?

~~ ~~ ~~

So, as a prompt, I wonder about giving 10 or 20 minutes to this idea of our bodies being disposable, that we can just run them into the ground and expect them to keep working, at the same capacity, forever. How do you (or your characters) relate to this idea? What comes up for your writing self? Start writing from those associations and then follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for honoring what care your body needs, even when it feels so hard to give it. Thank you for your generosity to self/-ves, and thank you for your words.

bodylove (again)

graffiti of a bird (a penguin) with the words "love me" on its round bellyThis morning the candles led me into the notebook, and I’ve got to be up and out early, so this is a short prompt today:

If you are in a place where you can, I want to invite you to put your hands on a part of your body that you have hated, that has been a place of shame or loss or embarrassment, that has held trauma for you. If you don’t want to actually rest your hands there, imagine doing so. Just rest your hands and/or energy there for a moment. Notice what rises up in you as you give some energy to this part of your body — or maybe to your body as a whole. What does it mean to deeply love and cherish your body, all of its parts, exactly as it is — as you are?

At this point, I like to invite a love letter to that part of the body that you’re cradling in your good hands (and it might be a love letter to your hands, too!) — notice what tone such a letter might take: adoring, apologetic, rueful, sweet, seductive, tender. What do you want to say to this part of your body? What does this part of your body want to say to you?

Sometimes, on nights when I offer this prompt, I share one of these poems as well:

This Part of Your Body
Lin Max

you won’t touch or call it by name yet
but this part of your body –
this part of your body
you’re going to get to know
better than your elbow
this part of your body
you’re going to love
and hate
this part of your body
will swell and drip dew
attracting hunters and slaves
this part of your body
may be your secret joy
but this part of your body
will keep you off the streets after dark
it will be poked and spread by stainless steel
scrutinized by strangers with scalpels
behind white drapes
as if were not a part of you
this part of your body will stretch
over the heads of human beings
or tighten to a finger in its gentle rhythm
this part of your body
is more expressive
than your mouth
this part of your body
laughs louder
has its own exhausted grimace
this part of your body moans
its lonely emptiness
you will spend your life trying to fill
this part of your body

(from Claiming the spirit within)

Bodyweight
by Matthew Schwartz

My crutches felt heavier than I was.
They landed with a thick thud on the blacktop
each time I took a step. I had to watch how I walked

so I didn’t fall, like the other kids expected.
I liked to leave my crutches half-buried
behind the sandbox, where I couldn’t see them,

and creep up the uneven monkey bars
arced like the upper half of a globe.
I wanted to see the whole playground.

The rungs crowded too close together,
and none of them was shaped the same.
I lifted my feet slowly to keep my braces quiet

against the metal. At the top, I could still hear
the jump rope flying, my friend throwing
handfuls of sand. I slipped. I locked my arms

tighter around whatever bars I could reach, and my leg
tensed and shook and hit the rung too close to me
when I tried going down, and my foot shot

through the gap, and dangled there.
I thought I could maybe slide out.
I thought my body could fit like my foot did,

but I was stuck. Everyone could see me,
everyone could hear me asking myself
What do I do with my body if it’s

not a secret?

(from Scars Tell Stories: A Queer and Trans(Dis)ability Zine)

Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your tenderness with your own good and complicated body, and for your tenderness with others’ bodies, too.

breasts and ceremony: my first mammogram

(Yesterday morning my website wouldn’t load; something going on with the isp. So I’m sharing yesterday’s post today!)

On Thursday, I got my first mammogram. I’ve turned forty, it was time. On Wednesday, when my doctor was giving me a quick breast exam during a checkup, she felt at the tops of my breasts and said, Where are you in your cycle? She said, This just feels all lumpy in here. She called it grittiness — the tech explained to me, We call that nodularity.

I didn’t feel worried: my breasts felt like my breasts. Not smooth maybe but nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I needed to get a mammogram — don’t they say you’re supposed to get them once you turn forty? This would be my rite of passage. What if we had other welcomings into the different phases of our life? Continue reading