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Things I Love Thursday: LJ Idol Edition

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." -Benjamin Franklin

Spring is finally in full swing up in my neck of the woods, which means I've been spending more time outdoors--walking, playing, reclining in the grass. It seems that spring is the time when I feel most alive. The world is full of possibility. After being cooped up inside all winter, I can finally emerge to stretch my legs and breathe deeply of the fresh air. Although there are many things in my life which are sources of stress, it seems as though there is also an abundance of goodness.

♥ weeding the garden ♥ long walks ♥ lavender scones ♥ origami ♥ knitting housewares ♥ toddler hugs ♥ reading under a tree ♥ bird watching ♥ twirling skirts ♥ the ocean ♥ trout lilies ♥ fresh chives ♥ tomato seedlings ♥ budgie songs ♥ family photos ♥ picking dandelions ♥ bike rides ♥ playgrounds ♥ walking barefoot ♥ rhinestone bracelets ♥ bumblebees ♥ learning ♥ rose water ♥ ripe avocados ♥ yellow mango season ♥ mushrooms ♥ possibilities ♥ story time ♥ play dates ♥ children's books ♥ silly dancing ♥ sun hats ♥ another mini season of LJ Idol ♥

Friday Night Meme

It's been a long day out and about with the baby. So, I bring you a fun little game.

Don't cheat and look at my birthday or anything till you're done with this!

--Based on what you know of my personality from my interactions on the internet (or in person, if you know me that way), choose the astrological sign you would think best describes me.


(thanks teaberryblue for the idea)

Productivity!

Hey hey, I'm having a productive day and it feels so good. It's been a while since I had the energy to get shit done. But today... I've washed, folded and PUT AWAY two loads of laundry. I've stayed on top of dishes and picking up after Henrietta. I went through some unopened mail, filed some of it, put some of it in the shredding pile. I paid an outstanding doctor's bill for $12 (a shot not covered by Medicaid). I activated my new debit card. I checked my bank balances. I put a couple of things into a bag for Goodwill. I made the bed. I tidied the pantry.

We recently did a big cleanup, so M's parents could interview brokers (they're putting the house back on the market in the spring). So now instead of feeling overwhelmed by the scope of what has to be done, I can work on smaller projects. It feels good to tackle the little things. Little things can add up to feeling like too much. But right now, I'm doing awesome.

Not sure what else I'll do today, but every little bit makes me feel better. So, I'm sure I'll keep at it.

Elimination Diet: Challenging Foods

So, I made it through the 2 weeks of eliminating potential problem foods. Except for discovering I'd accidentally had soy several times in my TEA! Apparently a lot of herbal and flavored teas contain soy lecithin! Which means I've got to go a bit longer to eliminate soy.

The first food I decided to challenge was gluten. The way the challenge went was to introduce a little one day, then have a day off, then introduce a bit more, have a day off, and introduce a bit more. I did notice that I had slightly more throat congestion when I had gluten. I may or may not have felt more tired--it's hard to tell with Henrietta around whether it's her or the food. And there's a possibility I had a little gas. But, overall, there were no major symptoms. My conclusion is that I'll still eat food with gluten in it, but I will try to moderate how often I do so. Just so I don't start building up chronic throat congestion and whatnot.

Yesterday was time to challenge a new food. So, I decided to try corn. I made a yummy black bean and sweet potato chili, with some corn and tortilla chips. It was delicious. But a little while after I ate it, my tummy started to feel bloated and gassy and a little ouchy and gross. When I woke up this morning it was STILL like that! Even now! Ugh. It makes me reluctant to do the second round tomorrow--my poor intestines!

This experience has been good in one sense, though. It made me realize that if I've got a problem food, my body will let me know! None of this hemming and hawing like I did with the gluten, feeling unsure as to whether I was having a problem. So, with the remaining foods, at least I'll know what to expect.

LJ Idol Exhibit A

I debated whether I wanted to sign up (for like at LEAST 3 minutes), but decided that getting back into writing would be a good thing. And this time my life isn't in a major transition period!

Sign-ups are here. I encourage people to check it out. Unlike the usual competition, this will be an abbreviated game, lasting maybe 2 months. If you've wondered what the game is like, this is a great time to get your feet wet--especially if you can't commit to the length of the regular seasons.

Regret; An Open Topic

Four months. One third of a year. One-hundred eighteen days since my father went to sleep and didn't wake up again. Two-thousand eight-hundred thirty-two hours since my dad ended a twenty-one year battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and shuffled off this mortal coil for destinations unknown. One-hundred sixty-nine thousand nine-hundred twenty minutes since my heart split open and my grief escaped through the cracks of my eyes, the tunnels of my nose, the gaping wailing cavern of my mouth. Ten-million one-hundred ninety-five thousand two-hundred seconds of trying to make sense of it all; counting and losing count of how long I've been living without him.

Time lurches forward, first flying now crawling, in fits and spurts irregular unpredictable disorienting. How long since we brought home the little red-haired doll in the pink plastic conifer to adorn our Christmas tree? How long since I laid me down to sleep, praying the Lord my soul to keep, blessing everyone, trying to be a good girl and earnestly pleading for your own father? How long since we passed out on the Strawberry Shortcake pillow while watching college football from the couch? Please can you tell me how long? All of my clocks are broken, their arms ticking off the same second.

How long since you humiliated me in the middle of town? My friends stared on as you berated me from your truck, all of us wondering which was the greater offense: my nose ring or my bi-racial friend. How long since I avoided you as much as possible, because it was just too painful to be in your presence? How long since I wept while singing along to Ani Difranco, deciding to forgive you because I didn't want to be angry anymore? How long since I excused you for being a product of your time?

Most days I pore over census forms, church logs, death certificates and wills in an unending quest for my roots. If only I can find one more link to the past, one more shred of evidence for my origins, perhaps I can construct a cipher for my existence. On the day I found your cousin, I thought of calling, but then it turned out he was dead, like you. How proud you'd be to know that our forebears came over on the Welcome with William Penn if you were more than a pile of dust and collective memory. There's so much I need to share, but it's easier to send missives to the future than to the past.

It's not all strong Quakers escaping persecution or Bergdolls ducking the draft. There's still that record that haunts me: U.S. Federal Census 1940 Pennsylvania where I found grandmom. It took a while to find her. She'd had twin sons in 1939, so I expected to find her with them and my grandpa—but my uncles are missing and grampy was living with his own parents. Perhaps she was still with her parents—alas, no. Her older daughter was there, but again, no granny. Disheartened and ready to throw in the towel, I finally found her. Name: Dorothy Mae B---; Relation to head of house: Inmate.

There she was, plain as day, living in an institution. Not the sanitarium for tuberculosis that she'd go to several years later—but an actual institution. There had been mutterings in the family that she'd been in a mental health facility, but I was the one to find the evidence. I was the one to uncover the truth, that thing that's supposed to set you free. Would knowing this have helped you? Could you have made sense of her behavior after the fact? Would you forgive her for locking you in the attic? Or would it have been one more piece of ammunition to hurl against her even after she'd been gone for more than a decade? Had your anger been steeping so long that nothing could mellow the bitterness?

My cipher is so incomplete. The more I learn the more I want to learn. I ask questions for which I can probably never have answers. What was grandmom's diagnosis? Did I inherit mental illness from her the way that I inherited her hair? And how did she meet grandpa? And why did her parents send her to an institution as a teenager? And how does this inform my own narrative?

Sometimes I link the pieces together in a beautifully haunting story. There's tragedy and triumph and everything marinated in alcohol. And it's all about me. Even when it's about my ancestors, it's about me.

Four months since I looked down on the alien face that used to belong to my father and knew that I would never see him again. One-hundred eighteen days since I laid my head on that hulking lifeless lump of a body and knew overwhelming emptiness. One-hundred sixty-nine thousand nine-hundred twenty minutes since I knew that I was mourning not his loss of life, but my loss of him. Ten-million one-hundred ninety-five thousand two-hundred seconds of regret; counting and losing count of how long I've been living without him.


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Written for the Home Game of therealljidol, Week 38, Open Topic

So I was a Gatekeeper

First off, apologies if this isn't quite as coherent or insightful as you'd expect it to be. It's almost 2 hours past my bedtime and I've got a 5 month old daughter who has me in perpetual sleep deficit.

This week I acted as a gatekeeper for therealljidol. It was an honor to be asked and I had a lot of fun doing it. Often, contestants are curious about how the gatekeepers evaluate the entries, what sort of methodologies they use, etc etc.

I didn't have any formulas or fancy rubrics for deciding whether an entry got my vote. I read the entries in the order that they were submitted. I tried to keep an open mind and reminded myself that just because an entry didn't initially seem like my cup of tea, it didn't mean that it wouldn't turn out that way.

What I looked for first was a clearly defined authorial voice. Whatever style the person was writing in, whatever the content, I wanted to feel like it was being told by an individual with a unique point of view. And, tying into that, it had to feel authentic. These things can be hard to define--it's abstract, not concrete.

Next I looked for stories that felt new, novel, fresh. Whether they were fiction or nonfiction, I wanted to feel like this was the first time I read this piece. There are certain topics and tropes that get played over and over again in Idol. Chances are, if you were writing one of these, I was more critical of your work.

Usually I say that I don't like fiction as much as nonfiction. After playing gatekeeper this week, I'm in doubt of the veracity of that claim. Some of my favorite pieces this week were fiction.

When I assembled my votes for the week, I discovered that I had voted for exactly one-third of the entries. For me, those were the entries that really stood out. There were a number of other entries that I considered good, but not great.

Over the past few days, I composed bits of my gatekeeper entry in my head. It all sounded far more eloquent than this. Sorry about that. I'd have waited until morning, but then it might never have gotten written.

I'll do my best to elaborate more in response to specific questions. I make no guarantees on the time frame of my replies, but I will do my best to respond to all inquiries.

The traveling travesty

This week in Utah, four thousand eared grebes crash landed in a Wal*Mart parking lot. They say that there was bad weather and that the birds were trying to make a night-time landing. In the vastness of night, the wet pavement looked like a lake. At 40 miles per hour, their glide would have been far more graceful had they hit water rather than asphalt.

It seems that this is just the price that we pay for paving over the world. Fifteen hundred dead and a couple thousand injured for what? There still aren't enough spaces for everyone rushing to finish their holiday shopping. We commemorate the arrival of the Messiah with imported plastic goods stamped "Made in China" at every day low prices. We cut down countless trees in our pine-pocalypse, and bedeck them with shiny silver strands of tinsel. 'Tis the season, after all. And a month later when the season has passed, we put them to the curb where the last shimmering bits draw the attention of animals and tangle in their guts.

As we approach the shortest day of the year, what we really need is more love. Something to get us through the cold dark despair of winter. We've forgotten how to love though, so we try to fill the void with consumption. We want more and we want it now. We build our holiday traditions on exploitation and death, but we ignore the real costs until they slap us in the face.

Until we're confronted with thousands of broken birds on pavement.

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(reference)

Inconceivable

Two weeks after her birth, I gaze down at my sleeping baby girl, and ask myself: “How did she fit inside of me? Even more importantly, how the fuck did she ever get out?”

Lots of new moms are full of joy and wonder, all that sentimental stuff. Often I'm just baffled. When we lie in bed, side by side, her small body seems to fill the space from my chin to my hips. Where did I keep my organs for the last few months? How is it that I never split open from the pressure, baby limbs exploding forth from my abdomen, like the dinner scene in Aliens?

It's little wonder that I screamed so much when it was finally time to push her out. Whoever says that you forget the pain of labor is wrong. I remember. I remember feeling like someone was tearing my pelvis in two, the fibrous connection of the symphysis joint slowly snapping apart. I remember feeling like my vagina was crossing the event horizon, being ripped apart by tidal forces. I remember being convinced I was going to poop in the birthing pool, even though hormonal changes had already emptied my bowels prior to transition.

After, the nurses and midwives would ask me how my bottom was. I told them that my bottom was fine, but my labia felt swollen and bruised—silently wondering why they were so concerned about my ass when it was my vagina that had just done all the work. Turns out that “bottom” meant the whole region. Sitting there in bed with ice packs in my underwear, I was certain that my genitals would never tuck themselves back into position again.

It's even more perplexing now, though, as I study my body, searching for evidence of what it did for the last nine months. Two weeks after the fact and the evidence has largely disappeared. The extra weight has miraculously melted away, even though the literature tells me it should take months. There are none of those troublesome stretch marks I've been warned about to keep company with those left on my hips and breasts during puberty. Even the soft and slightly pudgy belly I'm sporting now differs little from the one I was sporting last year. A week ago, I could have still looked to my nether regions for clues. Now, the swelling has subsided and everything has tucked itself back where it belongs. All that remains as a testament of what my body has done is the faint shadow of linea nigra, mapping out a crude path from womb to birth canal.

When people talked about the miracle of birth, I used to think it was ridiculous. Now I understand that the miracle is that the impossible happens. Your belly expands beyond the point of reason. Then, a few weeks after you think you couldn't possibly get any larger, your body decides that it's time for you to endure pain of increasing frequency, duration, and intensity. Then, when you're past your breaking point, you strain harder than you ever have before—but when you're done, rather than a toilet clogging turd, you have an infant.

What does narcissism have to do with me?

I'm not breastfeeding.

I thought that I would. Or, rather, I assumed that I would. The truth is, I hadn't given it much thought at all. Being the good old earth-loving, dippy hippie type, it seemed a given. I'm not sure that most of the people around me even asked me if I was going to--they just assumed as well.

And it was all okay, until it wasn't.

The first few days, I diligently performed my duty as a human milk factory. Each time my daughter cried, I would grit my teeth and bear it. After all, that's what a good mother is supposed to do. I was in pain, miserable, and experiencing memory triggers from past sexual abuse. All I wanted was to enjoy spending time with my beautiful new daughter, but that never seemed to happen, because all I had time for was feeding her.

When I decided to stop, relief washed over me. Not only that, but I noticed that my daughter seemed happier and more relaxed, as well. It was a good decision. But I can't let go of the shame I feel.

After all, the message is loud and clear: breast is best! A good mother will martyr herself in the name of breastfeeding. When your nipples are bleeding, keep going, the blood is safe for your baby. If you get mastitis, keep going, your pain will nourish your child! At all costs, you must make sure to keep nursing or the world will end.

I feel like a failure for placing my own mental health ahead of the great obligation of breastfeeding. I'm scared to even let people know. I'm scared of being viewed as somehow less. I'm scared that people will see me as some sort of sellout. I'm scared that I'll see all of my self-doubts reflected in the opinions of others.

I'm not breastfeeding, but I still think that I can be an awesome mother. In fact, I keep trying to remind myself that I already am one--because I made the choice to take care of myself so that I can take care of my child.