4 Nov

I have recently taken up a cardio kickboxing class at my gym on Thursday nights. It’s a great workout, of course, but it’s also extremely satisfying on a psychological level. I release a lot of pent up aggression leveling right hooks and roundhouse kicks at imaginary enemies that tend to resemble psychotic ex-bosses, rude baristas and Congress.

When I kickbox, I am light on my feet. I punch and pivot and kick with the muscular grace of an Alvin Ailey ballerina. I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. For about 60 seconds.

For the remaining 59 minutes I am a sweaty, tomato-faced creature heaving my limbs this way and that, trying to keep my balance and lift my legs more than 6 inches off the ground. The exercise studio where the class is held is wall-to-wall mirrors. It is not a time to be concerned with dignity, let me tell you.

Last night there was a woman in front of me in class who moved with grace and ease, barely breaking a sweat. She was tall and long limbed and slender and strong. She inspired me to move closer to the mirror, so I could stop watching her and start obsessing about all the places on my body that jiggled when I jabbed.

I took a sadistic little trip down memory lane. First stop was my twenties, when I ate and drank as much as I pleased and slid into size 4 clothing without a hitch. Second stop was my early 30’s, when, despite vastly improved eating and drinking habits, my body slowly changed into a curvier, rounder version of itself. Admittedly, in some ways this was awesome – I had cleavage! But in other ways it was a stone cold bummer. I pay in sweat for every calorie I indulge in, and there are all these jiggly bits that seem to be settling in for life. And I haven’t even had kids yet…

After kickboxing was over, I staggered to the locker room and noticed the athletic beauty from class sitting on a bench nearby. She had changed into street clothes and was examining her skin in a hand mirror, poking it and prodding it and pulling it this way and that, morosely slathering on make-up. Inside my head, all I could do was crack up laughing. Do we have problems, or what?

Walking to the shower I saw that the locker room was full of lovely women of all shapes and sizes, harshly scrutinizing some small aspect of their appearance. A demure Japanese girl, beautiful as a porcelain doll, was frowning at her butt. A tall, tattooed hippie chick was, with admirable audacity, blow drying her hair topless right near the door. She sighed as she tugged at her locks with a brush. And then of course, there was yours truly- a healthy 37-year-old woman with a nice rack, good skin and just a few easy-to-yank strands of gray in her hair, who just spent 30 minutes focusing on her belly fat while the rest of her conquered a strenuous workout.

As I showered my body with water it came to me that I should also shower it with appreciation. I am strong, I have my health, I carry myself effortlessly from place to place. Someday, god willing, I will be old, and I imagine I will look back at this woman in the locker room, with all her painless vigor and flexibility, and roll my eyes at what an ungrateful little pup she was, as I rub my arthritic knuckles and wheel my chair over to the window.

Next Thursday, I  have a new invisible enemy to fight. You think my legs are too short? Jab! My stomach is too fat, you say? Roundhouse kick! You think I am not a beautiful, wonderful, bad ass babe? TKO, motherfucker!


Stop grilling me, baby

24 Aug

Last April, I got married and I also turned 37. This seemingly innocent combination of events has turned out to be the catalyst for a disconcerting new phenomenon that I have come to think of as baby grilling. And I don’t mean some nightmarish Hieronymus Bosch BBQ scenario. I mean the assumption on the part of people, many of whom don’t know me very well, that I want to talk to them about my future reproductive plans.

I wish I could say that the wedding bells had receded into the distance before the baby grilling began, but I had several conversations on the dance floor at my wedding wherein guests, while cutting a rug, also cut to the chase…

“So, when will you start trying to get pregnant?”

“When are you guys having kids?”

And my personal favorite:  “Don’t wait too long before you start trying to have a baby!”

I understand that these inquisitions are predicated by affection for my husband and I, and enthusiasm for the idea of laying eyes and hands on some little Murphys as soon as humanly possible. It is also completely reasonable to assume that a woman my age who wants a family would get the ball rolling pretty quickly.  But there are some fundamental issues that I have to assume don’t cross the minds of these well-intentioned people before they start asking questions.

Here they are:

  1. How do you know I want to have kids? I mean, it’s hardly an alternative lifestyle to remain childless in the 21st century, you know?
  2. How do you know I am physically able to reproduce? Let’s just say I’m barren, and really bummed out about it, and it breaks my heart a little bit every time someone asks me about having a baby. Do you still want to ask me?
  3. The process of making a baby is super-personal, to say the least. I mean, we’re talking period calendars, pre-planned sex and peeing on a stick. People don’t regularly inquire after the results of my latest PAP smear, or my cholesterol level, or what prescription medications I take. Obviously, having a baby is much more exciting than these things (at least, I hope so), but the process involves a LOT of body fluids. ’Nough said.
  4. I am 37, and the world is full of scary data about my dwindling chances of conceiving, the myriad ways I could miscarry, the catalogue of potential chromosomal abnormalities that could afflict my fetus– and on and on and on. Perhaps talking about pregnancy stresses me out ever so slightly at a time when it’s important to relax and remain unattached to a specific outcome. Perhaps I want to keep my timing vague so as not to have loved ones waiting for news or getting upset if things don’t happen according to plan.

We (and believe me, I include myself at the top of this list) could all benefit from thinking before we speak sometimes. I am sure even the Dalai Lama has accidentally leaned in after one too many cups of chai and asked a newlywed friend when he’ll be hearing some good news. But on behalf of myself and all the other women in their late 30’s who are awkwardly discussing or avoiding discussion of baby-making on a regular basis, I ask you to please hold back on this topic. I promise you, the day I am pregnant with a viable, healthy fetus with a steady heartbeat and no extra chromosomes, you’ll be the first to know.

When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

5 May

Even though we are no longer in personal contact with one another, I am Facebook friends with my ex-husband’s daughter. After spending many years caring for her when she was a small child, it’s nice to have this little window into her world. Last week, as I was checking out a picture of her new haircut, I noticed Alison’s profile picture in the sidebar that randomly rotates “other friends of this person”.

I don’t know much about Alison, aside from the fact that she started a relationship with my ex-husband a month after our wedding, continued that relationship after I found out about it 8 months later and left him, stayed with him through our divorce, and eventually married him. I know she’s on Facebook, and she’s Facebook friends with his daughter, as one would expect. I know she was listed as Alison Voss, having taken my ex-husband’s last name as her own.

Last week though, I couldn’t help but notice she had changed her name on Facebook to Alison Boden. Her maiden name. Lest you think I was overly surprised by this, let me be very clear that the only thing truly surprising was that it had taken three years for them to split up.

I reached out to an old friend who is peripherally in touch with my both my ex-husband and Alison. My friend confirmed my suspicion- yes, my ex-husband and Alison were getting a divorce, and also, he had gotten fired from his job in March. (Enter chickens, coming home to roost.)

Part of me was absolutely jumping up and down in joyful vindication to hear about all these bad things happening to him. But I have to admit, part of me also felt sympathy. It was unsettling to picture him crawling out of the smoking wreckage of his life, no matter how much he was the author of both the life and the wreckage. I felt especially bad for his daughter and his son (I was very close to them both, in that long ago and far away time in my life when I was still with their dad). This was karmic retribution, to be sure, but damage done is damage done. The real victims are the innocent bystanders and the fabric of human relationships in general.

Then came the news of bin Laden’s death – that act of almost biblical revenge played out on its global stage. My own microscopic drama of justice and injustice was absorbed into the maelstrom of emotion surrounding this historic, incredible event.

Obviously, bin Laden was a terrible, terrible man. A mass murder, a killer of innocents, a terrorist of the worst order. When I heard President Obama’s annoucement that he was dead, that dark, impish joy did another twirling dance in my heart. And yet here too there is the wreckage of damage done that can’t be undone, and a ragged wound to the human condition that is in no danger of healing anytime soon.

It’s hard for me to find a path through these knee-jerk celebrations in the name of revenge, coupled as they are with the knowledge that a battle won is not, in the big picture, a war won. Susan Piver sums it up brilliantly in her wonderful essay on the death of bin Laden:  “Whatever suffering he may have experienced cannot reverse even one moment of the suffering he caused.”

Part of me is happy about the suffering of people who have done me, and the world, wrong. I won’t try and deny it, as much as I ‘d like to. In all fairness another – I hope even larger- part of me is deeply moved and inspired by all the reminders that have surfaced over the course of this week – reminders to cultivate compassion, to fight hate with love, and to embrace all people as one people. I suppose the best thing I can do now is listen to that second part, again and again. Maybe if I turn up the volume loud enough I can even chase that vindictive little dancer someplace farther afield of my heart.

Thanking the Shark

12 Feb

Five years ago, almost to the day, on a dark night in the middle of a torrential downpour, I hacked into my (then) husband’s Gmail account and found the sickening and irrefutable evidence that he was living a double life.

I wish I could say that  I am being overly dramatic, but his behavior superseded your usual tawdry cliches of extra-marital affairs. This was Jerry Springer style betrayal. He’d been carrying on an impassioned long-distance affair for eight months (it started one month after our wedding) with a girl 20 years his junior.  She was a recent college graduate. We’d just celebrated his 43rd birthday together.

When he met her, she lived in Pittsburgh. He’d been taking all these business trips and weekends alone in Tahoe “to think”, and he was actually flying back and forth to Pittsburgh visiting her. He’d been emailing her pictures, too – of our house, his kids – even pictures I had taken of him with his daughter at her birthday party.

And two weeks prior to my discovery, he had helped the girl relocate to San Francisco and got her a job – wait for it – working for him. I assume he also helped her find an apartment, and had been spending lots of time there when he was allegedly having long tiring workout sessions at the gym in the evenings.

I could write hundreds of pages about this incident in my life, and my long recovery from a toxic situation that went on for years and exploded dramatically in my face. Happily, in the end my life changed for the better in almost every imaginable way because of it, but you don’t go through something like that without war wounds.

Fast forward five years, and here I sit, getting ready to get married again. I will celebrate the 5 year anniversary of darkness and pain with happiness, love and light, by marrying one of the kindest and most honest people you could ever hope to know. I can’t wait to super-size the wonderful life we already share together.

So why am I so freaking terrified?

Well, I guess if you read the beginning of this post, the answer is pretty obvious.

There are 50 days between now and the wedding, and my goal over those 50 days is to buckle down and make friends with the fear. I know what this fear is, and I know it thinks it’s protecting me. While I appreciate the concern and all, it’s time for the fear to step into the light so it can see that the things it’s worried about aren’t real.

I know I can do this. I’ve been through a lot worse. (Again, see paragraphs 1-4, above.)

I was talking to a dear friend of mine the other night about this, and he asked me if I had ever been cliff diving. I thought that was a little off-topic, but I replied that sure, I had, lots of times, in the Midwest, when I was a kid.

“And do you remember what it felt like?” he asked, “When you were climbing up to the top of that cliff?”

“Nerve wracking.” I replied.

“And what did it feel like at the top, when you were looking over the edge and getting ready to jump?”

“Terrifying.” I replied, really hoping he was going somewhere with this.

“And what happened when you jumped? What did you land in?” he asked.

“Water.” I said.

“Right. Just water.” he said. Then he said, “You are standing on the edge of the cliff right now, that’s all. There isn’t anything scary down there, it’s just a bunch of soft water.”

I have to admit this is a really great analogy. The only fly in the ointment is the fact that I am actually pretty scared of water. Or, more precisely, things that lurk in water. Specifically, giant apex predators with lots of teeth and millions of years of killing in their prehistoric genes. Granted, there aren’t too many sharks swimming around the freshwater lakes of Iowa, but still…

Ever since I was a kid I have had a major phobia of sharks. Being that the flip side of phobia is obsessive fascination, I am a huge fan of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, especially the shows about real-life shark attacks. I recently watched a really good one, where they interviewed survivors of these close encounters of the worst kind. Their tales were all pretty similar, and sent exquisite shivers of terror down my spine – I was in the water, I got a funny feeling, and bam!

As the show wore on, I was struck by another, very unexpected similarity in their stories. Every single one of the people who had been attacked eventually got back in the water again, even the ones with missing limbs and masses of scar tissue. Every single one of them, at one point in their interview, thanked the shark that attacked them.

The shark attacks left these people wounded and afraid, bleeding  in suddenly hostile waters, praying for rescue. And they lived to see another day, and that day, and all the days that followed, were glorious by virtue of their survival.

The first time I got married, I jumped off the cliff and landed in shark infested water. But thanks to those sharks, here I am, my heart scarred but beating strong and very much alive. I am perched on the top, toes curled over the edge, ready to jump again. This time, I think I will soar, and the landing will be sweet. After all, it’s only water.


24 Nov

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Partly, this is because of things that are near and dear to my heart – cooking a big meal, gravy, sharing food with people that I love, and multiple pies to choose from for dessert.  But my reverence for Thanksgiving goes much deeper than just these things.

I love that we celebrate a holiday that is, at its core, dedicated to the under-practiced art of gratitude. It’s a day to take a breath, loosen your belt, open your heart, and appreciate the abundance of your life, manifest in so many things that are overlooked in the big daily scramble.

I love that this holiday doesn’t have anything to do with the shopping mall or emails with coupons for free shipping. I love that the only song associated with it is a subversive little tune by Arlo Guthrie. I love the simplicity of the celebration itself- a meal, some folks, some football.

I also love the incongruity of  this all-American holiday. Yes, America, home of the dark machinations of the capitalist juggernaut, where having is everything and nothing is ever enough. Where we replace instead of repair, and pay as little as possible for things, regardless of the actual cost.  Where we worship at the altar of stuff.  Thanksgiving, this day of simple gratitude –  is OURS? Yes! It totally is!

I am reminded of the line from Barack Obama’s “Yes we can” speech – the one of and YouTube fame – about the unlikely story that is America.

The story of Thanksgiving is itself an unlikely American story, given all the history that now stands between us and that long ago meal. It’s hard to imagine the Wampanoag and pilgrims breaking bread together in Plymouth, celebrating a year of kindness and collaboration that saved the European transplants from slow, excruciating death. It’s hard because we know how that kindness was eventually repaid. Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny, smallpox and alcoholism and the Trail of Tears, and innumerable other parts of a sad and terrifying saga that continues its downward spiral to this very day.

But still, I take hope from the story of  Thanksgiving. We were there at that table once, and if history truly does repeat itself, we could be back again, and maybe all of us European transplants could be the ones whose kindness saved someone else, this time. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful ending to the story?

For now though, despite all the troubles and grievances of the world (or perhaps because of them), we have the gift of a day where we can be thankful. For family, friends, health and love. For the fact that peace is a possibility. For gravy and for pie. Thank you.

What I have learned from the Quantum Wellness Cleanse

23 Nov

So, I just finished my first attempt at Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness Cleanse. In a nutshell, if you follow the cleanse perfectly, you go 21 days with no caffeine, alcohol, animal products, wheat gluten or refined sugar. I didn’t end up following it to the letter.  But I did pretty well, considering that in real life I am a foodie/hedonist/life-is-too-short kinda gal.

Here are some of the things I learned during the past 21 days:

  • Barring any serious motivators (such as pregnancy, serious illness or strong meds) I am not capable of going 21 days without wine. If I had any French ancestors, I am sure they’d be proud.
  • While I can’t resist wine, I CAN resist Halloween candy and Caramacs. Booyah! (Caramacs, for those of you who haven’t had them, are a satanically delicious Hawaiian candy. It is literally not possible to eat just one. Or just five.)
  • Quitting caffeine cold turkey is not fun. It is the opposite of fun.
  • Once you get past the caffeine withdrawal, you sleep really, really well at night.
  • There is no such thing as soy cheese. There is a sad product that calls itself that, which resembles cheese the same way My Little Pony resembles Seabiscuit.
  • I have more willpower than I thought I did.
  • I have less willpower than I wish I did.
  • Certain foods that sound gross in theory are actually quite delicious. Such as raw sprouted buckwheat granola, plain soy yogurt, hemp drink and agave nectar.
  • Vegan, gluten free pizza is disgusting. I am pretty sure that’s what they serve for dinner in hell.

Will I do the cleanse again? I think I will. Maybe I’ll muster a little more willpower next time, too. But as for now, I have a hot date with a cheeseburger tomorrow night. And, I am making pie AND cupcakes for Thanksgiving dinner. Chew on that, Kathy Freston!

Foodie, Cleanse Thyself

14 Nov

When I first heard about the Quantum Wellness Cleanse, I never thought I would attempt such a masochistic endeavor. No caffeine, alcohol, animal products, wheat gluten or sugar for 21 days? You gotta be out of your mind.

So how is it that I now find myself on day 13 of 21, having (mostly) stuck to this rigorous eating and not-drinking discipline? How am I unable to bring myself to quit despite the fact that I sorely want to throw in the towel, eat a cheeseburger, and chase it with a bottle or two of good red wine?

I hold Rob Westlake partly responsible. He’s my personal trainer, regularly kicks my butt, and does the Quantum Wellness Cleanse religiously 3 or 4 times a year. (He also runs hilly 25K races with some regularity, which should have tipped me off.) Rob is highly energetic, earnest and perky. When a high-energy, extremely fit, extremely perky person is trying to convince me to do something, it’s hard  for me to reject the idea. I want to be high energy, extremely fit and perky, too. Pass me the kool-aid!

About a month ago I purchased “The Quantum Wellness Cleanse”  book , and I read it. It made sense to me both scientifically and spiritually. You reset your physical system by removing things that are toxic or difficult for your body to process, while also examining your unhealthy attachments to said things and becoming a better person.

It’s been almost 5 years since I went through my divorce, and the months of therapy,  yoga retreats and intensive self-examination that followed. I have rebuilt my life quite deliciously, thank you very much, and it’s been a while since I challenged myself beyond working out when I don’t wanna, and the usual Monday morning pep talks on the way to work. Examine my attachments? Sounds interesting. Let’s do this thing!

As it turns out, I really LOVE my attachments. I MISS them. I am an incurable and unapologetic foodie. Enjoying a good meal with the people I love is my favorite thing in the world. A perfect wine pairing makes me swoon. I make reservations at hot restaurants months in advance. I eat various underused animal parts, and I like them. I have cried over perfect bread. You get the picture…

According to Kathy Freston, best selling author and the mastermind behind the cleanse, I was supposed to feel agitated and restless on Day 9, have a come-to-Jesus conversation with myself about my attachments, and then glide on through to Day 10 with an eased mind. I was fine on Day 9. In fact, I congratulated myself on being decidedly non-agitated, as I ate my tofu burger on gluten-free bread. Little did I know, Day 12 and 13 were looming, and they were about to be a bitch.

Right now, I don’t want to have a come-to-Jesus conversation with myself. It’s the weekend. I want to go out somewhere with undertstated decor and eat a grass-fed steak that was produced 60 miles from my front door. I want a cheese plate, and a big old basket of bread. And a gooey, chocolaty dessert. And coffee. With milk and sugar. And the aforementioned bottles of good red wine.

But even if I have to drag myself kicking and screaming through the next 9 days, I am not going to give in. Here’s why:

  • I lost 4 pounds last week without going hungry once.
  • I have been clear-headed and alert in the afternoons instead of wanting to face plant on my desk.
  • I haven’t slept this well since before I can remember.
  • I couldn’t bear to tell my perky trainer Rob that I buckled to those evil attachments.
  • The holidays are right around the corner, and they will surely be debaucherous, so why not do my body a solid and stick with this thing?

So, I am going for a hike with my fiance, and I will make vegan enchiladas tonight. Tomorrow is Day 14. Maybe that one will be a little better.