Jul 152008
 

It’s not really about food.

“I wish I could eat like you. I’d have no problems losing weight.” Pia says to me at lunch. Then she looks at my tummy. Well, if I always ate like I do at work I’d have no problems losing weight either. I pick at my salad, limp and soggy, drenched in that kind of dressing you only get at restaurants. White and milky with a taste like starch.

The afternoon at work seems to pass backwards. On top of everybody working as if in slow motion I have to sit through one of these meetings which are held solely because my boss likes to hear himself talk. Also, it’s good to make him feel in charge.

I’m hungry. I’m always hungry. In the afternoon Pia brings a big tray of gummi bears. I never eat sweets at work. There’s no point.

Just when I’m about to leave the phone rings, and I have to deal with my boss yet again. Obviously he feels that I’m not enough of a team player. Ugh. It seems that somebody accused me of pushing too hard. Brain-dead snails, the whole lot of them.

Finally, I’m out. Today I’ll take good care of myself. I’ll take a nice bath, steam some dumb vegetables, and go for a walk later. It will make me feel great.

I’m hungry. My feet walk to the grocery store out of their own accord. I’ll just get a bit of chocolate. I had a bad day, I deserve a little treat. Just one or two pieces after dinner. There it is. Chocolate. Mmm. Home.

Finally there. I kick off my heels, get out of the constriction that’s the “power suit”, jacket with shoulder pads, short skirt, blouse that I can’t lift my arms in, pantyhose, underwire bra. Finally able to inhale all the way again.

While dressing in yoga pants, a tee, a hoodie, and two pairs of soft socks, I put the Red Hot Chili Peppers on. Loud. That’s better.

I’m beat. Open the fridge, get a cold beer. Fetch a glass. Unpack the chocolate, potato chips, gummi bears, and licorice. Pour the beer. Put everything on a tray together with my novel. I sit down in bed with my tray, and the remote control. Finally, I can relax.

I open the bag of potato chips first. They smell delicious, I put them in my mouth, and they crackle as I bite down. I’ll only eat a few, and then I’ll put the bag away. Spicy, crunchy, garlicky, hot. Just a few more, just a few. Now a sip of beer. A bit of licorice interspersed with the gummi bears. Chips, beer, gummi bears, licorice.

I start reading. The next time I look up the chips are gone. Oh no. I did it again.
I’m feeling bad. Bloated. Fat. Unworthy. I finish the chocolate. Whatever. I get up and fetch another beer.

It’s not my fault, food is the only thing I have. It’s my security blanket, my comfort. It’s like a cave. I dig myself in, and then I close the door. And I’m safe.

The taste, the texture, the feeling of being full.

It’s my drug of choice. It makes life bearable. It isn’t really important which food it is. It can be anything.

Of course, I’m not stupid. I know that it doesn’t really help. But I do feel better. At least for the moment.

That feeling of the salt rush comes first. The blood races up into my head. Making me a bit breathless. Next comes the sugar high. My heart beating faster. All the while the fat makes me feel safe and warm. The beer like a clear mountain stream going down. It would all be fine if I could stop in time. Just a bit and then close the bags, and put it all away.

I totally lose control around food. There’s this vortex in my middle. It’s always hungry. It sucks me in, and it doesn’t let go.

Afterwards I feel bad. Fat. Bloated. Weak. Sick. But the vortex still isn’t satisfied. I’m still hungry. If I wait a bit I can finish off the second bag of potato chips. Maybe I should take up smoking. At least I wouldn’t get fat.

If only I could stop eating altogether.

This is sick. Why can’t I stop. Nobody’s force-feeding me. I know I can do it. Tomorrow I’ll eat nothing but salad and yoghurt all day.

Jun 202008
 

Of course I thought I would have it all figured out by now. And I do have a job. A job I happen to like. But then, I always seem to get restless after a while. I have already written about how I feel like I’m pulled in several directions at once, how the things I like doing just don’t go together that well.

Which reminds me that I had promised you a post about the things I like. I have been thinking about it for weeks now but all I can come up with is “Raindrops on roses, and warm woolen mittens, …” (and I just found that I misquoted it, I’m horrible at remembering song lyrics) Every time I try to write a list of things I like I end up with something like this, and it feels totally arbitrary.

So. I’m almost 41 now, and I keep thinking about what to do with my life, where it’s headed, and I still don’t know. Music is important, I now know this, because without music I get depressive. Sometimes I also get depressive with music but without it I always do. I know that I want to sing more, and make up songs, and improvise, and that I want to perform again. I only don’t know how or where or when or with whom. And I find that it feels a bit pointless to hum to myself at home, and so I bought myself a new recording thingie that is sitting on my desk and gathers dust. (I actually recorded something and started to write a post about this at the end of, um, April. Well.)

Last year I had this feeling that I should become a tarot reader. I bought tons of books, and three more decks of tarot cards, bought a spiral notebook, and started learning the meaning of two tarot cards each day. For about a week or two. Because while I enjoy pulling cards and doing readings for people with the oracle cards that I have, I never can remember the meanings of the cards. I always have to look them up. And while I feel pretty good about drawing cards for people it then occurred to me that people might want to know about serious life-issues, and I didn’t feel up to the task. Also, learning while I go along might work for the things I usually teach and do but for this I felt that I needed a better foundation. I haven’t abandoned the thought, though, it’s just one of the things that is swirling around in my mind.

Then there’s the knitting. It has become quite important to me again over the past year (which you might have noticed), and so I started thinking along the lines of, “Maybe I should teach knitting classes.” or design knitting patterns again and see where that leads me. That’s my latest spleen, and so I have started drafting a plan for knitting classes, and have run into my old obstacle of not being able to promote myself. I just can’t do it. I have all these plans, and enthusiasm, and I know people would love the classes but when I put it all to paper it becomes stiff and hollow and brittle. My husband has been going over my draft to help me, and now it’s up to me again.

Then, the designing. As I have said before, having ideas is never the problem for me. (And I thank God for that.) As soon as I decided that I wanted to design something there were a few ideas popping up. I even bought yarn, and I have thought about them constantly. Now all I need is a couple of days to really do something. And, most important of all, I need some space in my head for that.

Just in case you’re wondering why I, all of a sudden, think that I can design knitting patterns, well, back in the eighties when I lived in a small town I pretty much made up all my own patterns. Not always successful but then, these days, I actually knit gauge swatches and such, and on top of that I’m totally willing to rip everything back until it looks like I want it to. The only thing I’m a bit nervous about is that in the eighties sweaters were just rectangles, and these days they are supposed to fit a bit more tightly. On the other hand, from what I see these days, baggy sweaters might be back again soon. And designing fitting sweaters only means doing a bit more math. Which, strangely enough, is not a problem, it only takes a bit more time.

I also would like to teach creativity, and work as a coach but I have this feeling that I need to grow a bit before doing that. The other thing I’d like to do is improvised music. So I’m planning to teach circle singing, and waiting for the opportunity to improvise with others.

Then there’s the writing. I like doing it but I still have to read my two NaNoWriMo-novels. (That still sounds weird, my two novels. Lately someone asked me what I had been doing, and when I told her “I have been writing more, there’s the blog, and I have written first drafts of two novels and a screen play.” it sounded really weird to me. But then, it’s true nonetheless. It won’t do me any good, though, until I do something with what I have.)

I know that this is pretty much the recurrent theme of my blog, my lack of focus on just one thing. So, I have decided that I’m unable to do just one thing, and go in all directions at once. Which is fine, only now all these things in my head keep canceling each other out. Where to start? I start each day with a plan to do one of the important things, like, “Today I’ll be working on my concept for knitting classes!” then procrastination happens, or housework, or blog reading, or exercise, or family, and soon it’s “I’ll do it on the weekend when I’ll be having more time.” (That one’s always good for a laugh.), and so the weeks go by one after the other.

So, this, of course, will be the weekend when I will be:

  1. Doing some extra thing with my son like going to the zoo, or riding our bikes.
  2. Sew a dress, and about three bags.
  3. Knit about 250 rows on Mystic Meadows.
  4. Clean the house.
  5. Do all the laundry.
  6. Design and knit a pair of socks and a men’s sweater.
  7. Finish my plan for knitting lessons, write a CV to go with it, take a new picture of myself, write accompanying letter, and mail it off.
  8. Sleep for at least eight hours straight each night.
  9. Cook something not fast food-like.
  10. Read half of “Shadowplay”, “The Mindful Way through Depression”, a third of “Spook Country”, “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames”, and re-read “Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft”. (I sense a theme here with the self-help books.)
  11. Watch two games of soccer because of the European Championship.
  12. Write my monthly story for the writing group.
  13. Mix the improvisation I recorded.
  14. Record some more.
  15. Write one or two blog posts.
  16. Do yard work. (If you knew me in real life this one would be ROFL-worth funny.)

While I’m at it, I could also teach my son how to swim. Or something.

These are not really my plans for the weekend but then I might have taken on a bit more in my life than I can reasonably do. Do you know anybody who hasn’t? Which of the things should I drop? I know, the answer is housework but my husband doesn’t like doing it all alone. And I don’t blame him. So, any advice? I could quit blog-reading of course but that isn’t really an option, isn’t it?

Jun 162008
 

First, thank you very much for your comments on my post about feeling fat. I responded to some of them, and found that maybe I should write a bit more because so many questions had come up. So, this post is about the things that worked for me in the past when attempting to change my eating habits and lose weight.

As for the question of the bathing suit I have to confess that I exaggerated for dramatic reasons, I actually own a bathing suit that fits me, and has done so through weight loss and gain for years. When I bought it in 1998 or so I weighed about 67 kilos and it fit me even in the first stages of pregnancy until I reached a weight of about 85 kilos. Right now, of course, I hope to be able to fit into my new bikini again though it will certainly be a bit tight this summer.

I have, as probably most women in the first world, a long history of weight gain and loss. I also am still suffering from an eating disorder, namely compulsive overeating, though I’m much better now and still haven’t given up on healing. In fact, that’s my word of the year for this year: healing.

I still believe that it is possible to just eat, and maintain a nice and healthy weight. I don’t believe in diets. They don’t work. I also don’t believe in any diet foods, in avoiding anything; now it’s carbs again, some years ago it was fat, and I’m just now too lazy to figure out which diet craze will have a comeback after the return of the Atkins diet (I know, it’s totally different nowadays, and it’s called low carb. Whatever.)

What I aspire is a life where food, and my looks, and the question of whether I still fit into my jeans aren’t that important. And I know that it can be done. My great role-model in this is Geneen Roth who spent deacdes on the diet-carousel, was anorexic at one point, and nowdays just eats and stays the same size.

Sadly, I’m not one of those people who read a book, get the idea, and then are changed forever. For me, everything I change has to be a practice. I stumble, I fall, I start over, I stumble, I do great, I fall,…

So, without making this into a mega-post, I just give you a list of the things I changed in the past, a list of things that worked.

  1. I learned to love exercise and to do it regularly. I don’t do much, about 15 to 30 minutes every other day. And I do something I like doing. Something that’s easy to fit into my life. Going for walks, doing yoga with a DVD, things like that.
  2. I slept more. In fact that was the change that gave me the most benefit of all. By only changing my bedtime so I got enough sleep, I lost weight. I swear. So now I only have to do that again, ahem.
  3. I ate more real food. I found that there were three main reasons for my binges: a) I was tired, b) I really was hungry but didn’t allow myself to eat something real, and so I ate snacks upon snacks, c) I craved nutrition that I wasn’t getting, like when I’m eating only cookies they will never make me feel satisfied.
  4. I sometimes stayed hungry for a bit. I was eating something like five meals a day before but then I decided that if I get hungry at 11 am, and I’m having lunch at 12, I maybe don’t need a midmorning snack.
  5. I don’t graze. Either I eat or I don’t. No shoving of tiny little things into my mouth.
  6. No food after dinner. Apart from that one piece of chocolate (it’s a big piece of chocolate, don’t worry). I might, occaasionally eat crackers in front of TV but only very occasionally, and not the whole carton.
  7. In the evening I can have either a beer or a piece of chocolate, not both. I altered this rule later so that I’m not allowed alcohol during the week because I became worried about alcoholism in my family, and also about my son seeing me drink beer or wine with every meal, every day. And yes, it does count if you do it after they sleep. I try to model the behaviors I want my son to develop. Not only becausee it’s good for him, it’s good for me too.
  8. I think about my mid-afternoon snack in advance, and buy groceries accordingly. It’s no use to think I’ll skip it, especially on teaching days. I need it, and so there has to be something for me to eat. Mostly I go with a handful or two of nuts and raisins.
  9. Drink enough water. Apart from a cup of black tea in the morning, and those weekend beers, I drink water and unsweetened herbal tea. Somebody asked me about switching to alcohol-free beer. While I occasionally drink that it a) doesn’t taste that good, b) still has much more calories than water or tea, and c) is a very un-natural thing and I try to avoid these as much as possible in food.
  10. I also stopped eating sugar last year, well, mostly and when I do I prefer brown sugar over white. But that had nothing to do with losing weight, I did it because I felt addicted to it. It messes with my feeling of whether I’m hungry or not, it makes me hyper, and I feel better when I don’t eat it. (I feel like a hypocrite typing this since I just had a lovely piece of cake, I’m sitting in a café right now. So, I have cake about once or twice a month. I do better without absolutes. I also savour every bite when I eat something like that. Last year we went out and had ice cream for my birthday. It was a very pleasant experience made more special by being the only ice cream I had all summer.)

To show you how much of a difference these tiny things make, and also the fact that I’m using my bike more often instead of the car and such, I have lost two kilos since the beginning of June. Without suffering, without battle, just like that. I know that you can’t do that always, I’m living proof for that, I’m the one who gained and gained over months despite knowing what to do.

What also helps me is realizing that ultimately it isn’t that important. I could just stay this size forever, and there’d be no harm in this. But also, my life doesn’t end because I don’t eat potato chips every day. There are more important things in life, much more important things, and that’s something I want my son to know not only because I say so but because he sees me living it.

May 222008
 

The Ultimate Party

Looking at herself in the mirror Myra thought about what to wear that night. It felt like a day for red. The red dress. The dress that made her look voluptuous, and curvy; the one that hugged all the right places, felt good, and was easy to wear. The only question was whether to go the vamp route this night or more punk-like. High heels or army boots? A hat?

She’d probably regret high heels later in the evening, she always did. She thought of putting a pair of flats in her handbag but that was for sissies. Boots and a leather jacket would tone it all down a bit.
She’d be overdressed either way. Though she wanted this to be the ultimate party it probably wouldn’t be.

But what better place to meet new people than a party? So she put up her hair, put on the big dangling earrings, the red lipstick, the red pumps, and went out in a cloud of perfume.

There weren’t that many people at the party when she arrived. She frowned; everybody came late the days until there was hardly any time left to party. She said hello to everybody, fetched herself a beer, and joined a group of people she didn’t know to make new friends. If possible.

There she was again, thought Laura. This Myra. Always the same. She entered the room like she owned it in her terrible clinging dress. Laura would never have worn something so tight, so short, so clinging, showing so much cleavage. Horrible.
Wherever this woman went there was a whirl in the crowd. Squeals, laughter, disturbance. She talked all the time, as if anybody was interested in her stupid stories, she went from group to group, on to the buffet, loading her plate with food, not waiting for anybody.

Laura was glad that she at least knew how to behave.

Phew, this is boring, Myra thought. Maybe it’d get better later when there would be dancing. Maybe.
So far there were a lot of familiar faces, and as usual, people were stiff and as mute as maggots. She already got tired of her own jokes.
She saw Laura sitting on the other side of the room. In the corner as always. Such a beige girl. Short beige hair, beige face, all her makeup in pastels, and wearing black. Again. That woman looked like she could use some fun. And makeup. Nice earrings though.
And, Myra thought to herself, I don’t know how she does it, already most of the men in the room are drifting towards her. Drawn in by the pale, obviously.

Well, at least I can choose whom I speak to, Myra thought, looking for the promising looking guy she’d seen earlier, going after him, isolating him from his companions, and dragging him on the dance floor. Dancing was always a good way to determine whether someone had potential. Or not.
This guy didn’t look that good on the dance floor. He slinked off as soon as he could. He didn’t like to dance; neither did anybody else. Apart from Myra, that is. So she went right to the middle to dance alone.

Laura barely heard what that huge blonde guy standing by her side was telling her. Despite the fact that he was practically yelling in her ear she had forgotten it the minute she heard it. The nerve that woman on the dance floor had. Starting to dance even though everybody was looking at her. How embarrassing. And she wasn’t even dancing properly. No, she had to twirl all over the place, waving her arms about and grinning at people. Laura shuddered. Suddenly she wanted to go home. It had been a mistake to come in the first place. It was boring. She just wasn’t the type for parties, parties were for outgoing, extrovert people not for shy people like her. Inwardly she cursed the friend who had persuaded her to attend. She should have known better. A party was not a good way to meet somebody new. She promised herself to go as soon as she could without drawing attention to herself. Then she would go home, despite what her friend would be saying, eat some dark chocolate, have a glass of wine, and watch “Singing in the Rain.”

Boring, boring, Myra thought. At least it was better to be bored while dancing than while standing around next to boring people making boring conversation. The others didn’t look, they never did. As if dancing were only possible without any eye contact at all. Nobody looked interesting. She had checked. Twice. She had even talked to the group of musicologists in a corner between the buffet table and the piano. Dull as dishwater.
There had to be exciting people somewhere in the universe but certainly not here. Should she stay a bit longer? There surely would be more people coming in later.

On a sudden impulse she picked up her handbag and jacket, found the host in the kitchen, told him a big story about how she’d love to stay, how sorry she was, and that she had to get up very early the next day, so sorry, great party, ciao.
She walked home all the way, through the drizzling rain in her spiky high heels. An hour later she opened her door, changed into her pajama and woolen socks, opened a beer and a bag of potato chips, and stayed up late to watch “Funny Face” with Fred Astaire.

May 142008
 

I have been thinking a bit more about the feeling of not fitting in I wrote about the other day.

A day later I went to another one of Rhiannon’s fabulous improvisation workshops for singers. (I’ve been to quite a few and have written about a few of them in these posts). I was early. (That’s the beauty of going by train, you’re either too early or too late.) By the time the workshop was supposed to begin there was a small cluster of singers standing around in front of the building. Since this was a different location than usual I didn’t know anybody. The other workshops I had attended were all held in the big city, and over the years I have come to know quite a few of the regulars. So, there we stood, nobody quite sure what to do or say. Then Rhiannon arrived by car. She emerged from the car, carrying a basket full of strawberries, greeting me enthusiastically. And that was the first moment where I found myself both in the situation, inside myself, feeling slightly lonely and a bit scared about the workshop and my singing, and outside myself, seeing the scene through the eyes of the other singers who hadn’t met Rhiannon before, who probably were feeling even lonelier and more scared. What they saw was that I was the only one getting a hug. That I was the only one whom the teacher knew.

It didn’t stay that way though. Later there were more singers who had been to workshops before. Most of those I knew. And they knew me. And I’m still surprised when that happens. I’m very used to not being recognized by people. Maybe it’s because I changed my look so much, I don’t know. The workshop itself by the way was marvelous. I had had my doubts before because I have been to so many of these workshops but I went home inspired and much clearer about what I want to do.

A few days later it happened again. I went to the concert Rhiannon gave with two other singers. I was very early because I wanted to have something to eat there before the concert, and I wanted to write the story I had to finish the day after for a writing group assignment. That I went there alone is nothing unusual for me. When I came to the venue I was greeted by a woman coming towards me from the other side. (I think that maybe singers are especially prone to greet people from something like 20 meters away.) It took me about 15 meters of going towards her to realize that she hadn’t greeted somebody behind me. And that I know her. (I’m sorry, she used to be blonde, and now she’s brunette. Also I couldn’t see her face at first.) But the same thing happened to me three or four times in the course of the evening. Somebody was saying hello to me and every time I’d think they meant somebody behind me.

I entered the jazz club where the band was doing soundcheck. As I went down the stairs I heard, “Hi! It’s Susanne!” from the stage. Amplified. I sat down, I had my dinner, I wrote about half of the story, and I met a lot of singers that I know. It was the same thing over again. I knew about a third of all the people in the room. But to me I was there alone, spending a lot of time sitting at my table with nobody to talk to. To the other people sitting at my table I probably was part of the “in-crowd”. Going here and there, hugging people, and talking. Telling stories of other concerts and other workshops. This seeing myself from the inside and the outside at once confuses me. The images don’t quite match. What’s the truth, me being part of a group amidst friendly faces, or me sitting apart, taking something to read with me because I’m on my own with nobody to talk with?

Two days later I went to a meeting of my writer’s group. Again, a group that I know, people that I like. And then there were the many nice comments on my blog. And I realized that though I feel as if I never fit in I am part of this friendly little corner of the blog-world nonetheless. And I had another moment of seeing myself from the inside and the outside at the same time again that week when I stayed in front of kindergarten to chat with another mother. I suddenly realized that I looked like those mothers I had seen standing there before, the ones of whom I thought they were big friends and had known each others for ages. Well, it seems that if you just stay somewhere for a bit of time you’ll get to know people and then you look like you have friends.

So, I’m not as lonely as I often feel. But then I still don’t have many friends. I’d still love to find a friend who loves the same things I do but that might be a little difficult. Even my husband has interests different from mine. When we first met we were pleasantly surprised about the similarities (of course). We both love Brazilian music, jazz, and the same piece of Anton Webern that nobody else loves. (Op. 22, you know, the saxophone quartet. What, you don’t know? Well, never mind, nobody does.) Even other Webern-lovers – of which there aren’t that many – regard that to be one of his inferior pieces.

I remember, back when I still studied musicology, how much I longed to have a friend to share everything with. Webern, classical music, Brazilian drumming, jazz, rock music, science fiction novels, and baking. But now I think that maybe that’s a bit too much. (And in all this I really shouldn’t forget to mention my real life friends who are reading this blog. All they hear me yammer about is how I don’t have friends. But they aren’t living nearby. And our interests only intersect so far.)

This whole thing might be a case of unrealistic expectations. But then I really long to find people loving the same things as I. And through the internet that has become much easier by the way. These days I’m spending quite a bit of my time over on ravelry (where I’m creativemother, by the way) discussing various aspects of sock knitting.

So I learned two things: 1) Other people might feel as lonely and isolated as I even if they don’t look like it, and 2) my quest to find people interested in the same things as I has been more successful than I thought. Only there weren’t any interested in exactly the same things or in all of them.

And now all of a sudden I feel the urge to make a list of the things I’m interested in. It might be a long list. And a bit unfocused.

Apr 302008
 

I really wanted to write my monthly post about something social. Really. There would have been something about becoming a mother, and society, and books, and the color pink. Again. But then I found that it isn’t about pink books in bookstores for me, or about somebody saying that, well, he doesn’t feel that discriminated as a knitter since the whole fashion industry is dominated by men anyway (While most of the editors and designers are women, heads of publishing houses are obviously mostly men which doesn’t surprise me at all though it should.) – anyway, it isn’t about all that – it is about the feeling that I have of not fitting in at all. You know, in real life.

While I spend most of my time sitting in my house, often in front of the computer, I do meet people on a daily basis. And on a daily basis I am confronted with people, their actions and their ideas, and am startled at how different they are from me. And every single one of them assumes that I’m just like them!

Today alone I talked to somebody who told me – like everybody does – why it’s so nice to use your car when going on vacation, and how safe, and cozy it is, and how independent you are. While I thought of traffic jams, not being able to move around for hours, having to stop traveling for going to the toilet, and having to concentrate and take care for hours on end. And, I’m sorry to tell you, driving is not the safest way to travel. I’m very proud of me because I didn’t give her the “Why air travel is bad for the earth and should be avoided as much as possible”-speech. Or the “Why all this driving around will come back to haunt us in the end, is bad for the earth, and should be avoided as much as possible”-speech.

Then somebody phoned my husband with an unnecessary and dumb request for help assuming that we, of course, would spend today “preparing for tomorrow”. What’s tomorrow? Tomorrow’s Labor Day, and of course, right now everybody is running around like a chicken with its head cut off because they have to, I don’t know, run errands or something. For my husband and me today is Wednesday, the day where we teach a lot, and I had to re-arrange my whole schedule to pick up my son from kindergarten because my mother-in-law is on vacation. It’s also a nice sunny day. Nobody here in the house will starve because shops are closed tomorrow.

Then I went to the tea shop and had the “It’s nice that your son stays in kindergarten a year longer because then he’ll have an additional year to be a child.”-conversation. What? Here I am thinking that school is part of childhood, that learning is fun, and that responsibility is something children crave. Silly me. Everybody else knows that school is only hardship and marks the end of everything good in your life.

And in a way I can’t blame people because from where I stand they are right and their lives don’t look very attractive to me.

All this really happened today. I didn’t put it here to get a better post. And all these things leave me with the feeling of living among strangers and not fitting in. And you might think that if only I were with other musicians I’d feel better but they are full of assumptions too. And most of those don’t fit me either. So even if I’m going to an improvisation workshop tomorrow I don’t really hope for the feeling of being among my tribe.

It’s surely me, I never felt like I fitted in anywhere. Not with the children I grew up with, not with my family, not in school, nada. These days I’m very happy if I find people who understand even a tiny part of my life. Writers to talk about writing with, knitters to talk about knitting with, bloggers to talk about blogging with (well, and a few other things but that would so totally ruin this sentence), and my husband to talk about everything else with.

My husband, like me, is somebody who feels like he never fits in, and I’m very very happy to have him because otherwise I’d feel like I were nuts while the whole word is sane. But the funny thing is that my husband and I are wildly different. And have problems understanding each other. But at least none of us assumes that everybody else is just exactly like we are. (And I’ll just use this sliver of an opportunity to say that we just had our 13th wedding anniversary on Monday and that I felt it was an occasion worth celebrating.)

So you might think that I’m of course feeling out of place all the time because I’m concentrating on the differences so much. No, I don’t. For decades I went into every social situation with a feeling of happy anticipation, I was curious about people, I tried to be like everybody else, I really tried hard, I kept looking up and down, met a lot of people, and tried to look under the surface. And every single time I was greeted with remarks that left me totally startled and confused. And so I find that I’m faring better when assuming that something like this will happen eventually. That I might have to make myself comfortable as much as I can in a square hole.

Also, you might think that this is a mighty whiny post, and you’re right and so I’ll leave you with a nice little picture of something orange that’s totally unrelated to everything I wrote before:

It’s the Mystic LIghts shawl. I love the pattern, I loved knitting it, the whole knit-along was a very pleasant experience, and I’ll surely love wearing it.

And you might want to check out the collaboration between my husband and my son

Apr 012008
 

Did you know that blogher recently gave “body image” it’s own category. Seems that this is an important topic for a lot of us. Of course I wanted to write a “letter to my body” then but these days I’m not writing letters much, not even birthday letters, and even less letters to people or things or parts of me that I see daily. But then there’s the question of whether we really see what we see daily, like the people in our lives. Or as Debra Waterhouse puts it:

It’s surprising the number of women who are unacquainted with their bodies from the neck down. Our mirrors are strategically placed for only blow-drying hair and applying makeup, then we quickly dress without a glance at our reflection. We know our faces intimately, but most of us wouldn’t recognize our bodies in a lineup. When a group of women were asked to identify themselves from a series of headless bodies wearing nothing but their birthday suits, only 20 per cent correctly chose their naked selves. The rest guessed wrong, choosing bodies that were bigger in size than their own! (Debra Waterhouse: “From Tired to Inspired: 8 Energizing Ways to Overcome Female Fatigue”, p 175)

It’s weird that people who are often obsessed with the way they look don’t even really know how they look. That about every single one of us secretly believes she is fat, regardless of actual size. That every single one of us has the feeling she should lose about ten pounds. It always seems to be ten pounds at least, I don’t know why. I know that in my case the number keeps getting adjusted down every time I lose weight so that I never am where I want to be. But today I’m not writing about weight loss (even if I’m thinking about it) but about our body images.

Debra Waterhouse goes on:

Whether we are familiar with our anatomy or not, what’s not surprising, unfortunately, are the negative comments we make about our bodies. It has been estimated that the average American woman makes eighteen critical comments each day about herself and spends one third of her waking hours ridiculing her physical self in some way – getting on the scale and obsessing about the number, getting dressed and grimacing at the way our clothes fit, taking inventory of our wrinkles, catching our reflection unexpectedly in a window and frowning, comparing ourselves to fashion models, measuring ourselves against other women, depriving our bodies from food and nourishment, agonizing over what we will and will not eat – the list goes on and on.

How much time did you spend criticizing your body today?

Just think about it. How much time and energy wasted.

I think that I would recognize my body. Every day I make a point of really looking at myself. From all sides. I have been working on making friends with my body for years now. It’s better to have your body for a friend, and to treat it nicely since you want him to do a lot of things for you. We are not mind alone, even if it might feel like that when we’re sitting in front of the computer communicating with invisible people through a friendly shining monitor screen.

Learning to like what I see in the mirror was hard at first. My body, of course, isn’t flawless. Nobody’s body is, by the way, and you all know it. After a while though I liked myself better. I found that I actually like big butts. Hourglass figures, strong legs. That’s not to say that I’m not working on changing the things about my body that I don’t like but I find that in the long run being free from back pain is more important than having thin ankles. And that, like in any stable relationship, I have to accept what’s possible and what not.

When I actually started thinking about something important to me every time I caught myself thinking about my appearance or weight or food that set free huge amounts of energy. It was about 2 1/2 years ago that I did that, and only a couple of weeks later I had written two songs.

Energy follows attention. Being heavier than one wants to is not a full-time occupation. No, really, not even very heavy people eat all the time.

So, I’m giving you homework this time:

  1. Step in front of the mirror, naked would be best, and say something nice about your body. Say it out loud. Repeat. (This is an exercise from one of Geneen Roth‘s books.)
  2. Think about what’s really important to you. Maybe something creative. Every time you find yourself thinking about how fat you are or how you should lose weight think about that important thing instead. Bonus points if it is something creative.
Mar 262008
 

As often as our life permits my husband and I attend something called “A Day Of Mindfulness”. It’s held once a month in a beautiful setting near the Alps. The group organizing this is a Buddhist community following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

The first time I remember being drawn to meditation and such was when I was about 12 years old. However I didn’t know how to do it, found the prospect of sitting still unbearable and so forgot all about it. After being drawn into Christianity for a while, and then slowly becoming disappointed with my church, and then becoming agnostic again, I didn’t think about spiritual matters for years. That changed when I read “The Artist’s Way”. At first I found all this talk about the creator and spirituality off-setting, then I felt drawn to it again until I felt comfortable with spirituality once more. Not Christianity as such though.

I think it was in 2005 when I found the book “Coming to Our Senses” because I was looking for a parenting book. I loved it. And how can’t you. The subtitle is “Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness”. I was hooked. I ordered the guided meditation CDs and started practicing. Learning more about mindfulness meditation, I became interested in Buddhism which led to a visit to the local Vesakh celebration in Munich. We made that into a sort of family tradition (because we already have been going twice, you know). There you can check out all the different groups of Buddhists there are in Munich. We’re fortunate because there are so many to choose from. In 2007 my husband and I thought about joining a group. There were several that sounded interesting, I researched them on-line, and found that the “Gesellschaft für achtsames Leben” held a day of mindfulness every month. No membership required, you can just show up, meditate with them and practice mindfulness for a day.

I have come to cherish these days. I’m still not really sure if I am a Buddhist or not but taking the time to slow down for a day, sit, walk, and eat in mindfulness feels very joyful, refreshing and makes me a bit calmer.

It isn’t that easy to organize. My mother-in-law has to be available to take our son for the day. We’re all busy people. We have to get up at six in the morning, pack lunches, tea, meditation cushions, and such and catch the train at ten past seven. The train ride takes about 90 minutes. It takes us through Munich, out of the city again, and then, finally, to a beautiful lake in view of the mountains. To be frank this view alone would be worth the trip. There are quite a few people taking the same train so we go to the village together. Everybody says hello, gets out the cushions, takes off shoes, and puts on socks. After a bit of chanting we sit for a while, and then walk in meditation, then sit. We have tea in meditation, then we’re allowed to talk and have a short break followed by a lecture. Then eating lunch, partly in silence, walking meditation outside near the lake, then some singing, walking meditation back, talk about the morning’s lecture, sitting meditation again, and then it’s over.

The first time I went there I was sure I’d go nuts, trying to be silent for so long but actually I’m a bit sad every time the bell rings and we’re allowed to talk again. Being silent and mindful all of a sudden seems a rare treat. Which it is in modern life, especially when you have children.

It also is a good way for me to remind myself how good mindfulness feels. Lately I have been trying to wriggle out of it. But that’s not doing me any good. Trying to be mindful on the other hand has done me a lot of good. I have to keep that in mind…

Feb 282008
 

When in my big rant I wrote that

I tried to get back on track by re-subscribing to flylady again, and then I couldn’t stand all the e-mail. I didn’t do anything different and so, I have to confess, the e-mails didn’t do the housework.

Joanna answered in a comment

Flylady was invented for people who have 3 billion hours in a day. The routines look great on paper but they do not work in this house!!!!

And this had me thinking about a reply for weeks now so I decided to make it into a blog post. I hope Joanna doesn’t mind.

First, as I have written too, one of the problems seems to be that the routines and e-mails really don’t do any work. Sadly, housework still has to be done by oneself, or – in my case – by my husband. Which isn’t fair and so I have been working on improving my homemaking skills. That is not Flylady’s fault.

Second, Flylady was not invented for people who have 3 billion hours a day, it was invented precisely for people who don’t have much time, who are easily distracted and therefore a bit challenged on the organizational or cleaning side of life.

For those of you who don’t know who or what Flylady is, Flylady is the nickname of an American woman who started a yahoo-group to help people with organizing and housecleaning. The system is a bit unusual but I can testify that it works beautifully when you do it. Which might go for every system out there, I don’t know, but I can say that I started using Flylady’s methods five years ago and even though I have been off and on in applying them there are a few things that have stuck, and the house never looks as awful as it did before.

Right now I’m working on getting back to where I was before. It seems like that’s what I’m doing in all areas of my life at the moment. But there are things that I started because of Flylady and that just stuck.

Dressing down to shoes first thing in the morning.
While I don’t take a shower or put on make-up in the morning, each morning I get up and then dress into jeans, a sweater, my indoor sneaker, and I put on earrings and a necklace. So, if everything goes haywire that day I’m already dressed adequately for almost all the things I’m doing on a day-to-day basis.
Before I started doing this I changed clothes about six times a day. Sweats in the morning, then dress for doing errands, back into sweats, working out, dress in clean sweats after taking a shower, dress for teaching, back into sweats, then pajamas. Then I found that stretchy jeans and a sweater or tee are almost as comfy as sweats, and I can wear them all day long. Yes, I even work out in jeans sometimes. Then I take a shower and change into clean clothes. I still wear pajamas at night, just in case you may have wondered.

Wearing lace-up shoes in the house
When I first read this I thought this woman must be crazy. Why should I trade my Birkenstocks for anything else. Well, here is why: I’m less prone to stumbling and falling down stairs, I feel like I’m in work-mode, and my feet don’t hurt.

Picking up after myself
My husband will be the first to tell you that I’m not very good at this but I’m really much better than I used to be. Often I even put the dirty dishes away right after a meal. And I’m always glad when I do because it’s just so nice when you come back and hour later and your kitchen is actually clean and tidy.

Dealing with laundry in a timely fashion
Again, I have been better at this at one time but usually laundry gets washed when there is enough for one or two loads, it gets hung up as soon as it’s washed and it gets folded when it’s dry and put away immediately. I fold the clothes on the thing where the laundry dries, put it in a hamper, carry the hamper to the bedroom and just put everything away. Magic. No piles. And since we don’t iron anything…

Put everything into my calendar and check it at least twice a day
Really helpful. Everything is in there, and I check it in the evening, in the morning, and often in between. When I have something like “Bring two eggs, a pair of pantyhose, and a net to kindergarten.” it really helps to know about it the evening before. Because mornings are stressful enough as it is, I don’t have to add the stress of looking for discarded pantyhose and eggs on top of that.

“Housework done incorrectly still blesses the family.”
Yep. Picking up a few dust bunnies by hand is better than doing nothing at all. Taking a bit of window cleaner and wipe at the bathroom window is much better than waiting for those two empty days where I finally will have enough time to clean all the windows in the house.

Making the bed every day.
Yes, you read that correctly. Every morning after breakfast I go and make the beds, and tidy the bedroom. You might think this doesn’t make much of a difference but it does. Every time I go into our bedroom I feel relaxed and a bit more peaceful. Because it’s tidy and the beds are made.

Wiping the sink.
While I still struggle with the ongoing cleaning of the bathrooms every sink in the house gets wiped out after use. Almost every time. Also I wipe down the shower stall after taking a shower. That takes all of twenty second and it looks as if I were really cleaning them every day. Which I don’t.

Small steps done consistently make a difference.
I know, my mother told me that one long ago but she isn’t very good at this either. And I have a really hard time being consistent with anything. Since Flylady taught me that I don’t have to be perfect I have been practicing and becoming better at it. And if I’m not consistent for a while? Then I just start over again. And again. And again. And again.

And here is one last slogan from her (and I should post that one on my mirror):

Progress, not perfection.

So, while not everyone has to use Flylady’s system, and there seem to be a few people who don’t need a system at all (I’m living with one, for example) how do you go on about that? And are you happy with your surroundings that way? Or aren’t you?

I just love to hear how you deal with it.

Jan 012008
 

For a year now I have been writing about something related to social justice at least once a month. Because I made a promise one year ago when the just post roundtable was started. This in itself is proof that this roundtable brings people in motion because otherwise I probably would have spent all my time blogging about my to-do-lists or something equally important to the world.

On the other hand it feels a bit strange, sitting here in front of my computer, writing nice little posts about social things. Armchair activism, so to speak. And it feels like it doesn’t make much of a difference. Sometimes.

I haven’t been the only one thinking about this and so we, that is Jen, and Mad, and Hel, and me, have decided to try something new for the first anniversary of the roundtable. Something that involves actual doing instead of mere writing. But don’t fear nobody is supposed to get out and heal all the world’s suffering all by herself. What we ask for is something small, something doable, something that feels right for each of us.

So, when I thought about my “social post of the month” this month I couldn’t come up with anything. So I almost skipped it. And then I read something that made me think and I remembered something else, and this is what I want to write about.

When I attended a singing workshop back in May one of the teachers asked all of us where we wanted to go with our music. After everybody had said something it was the turn of the two other teachers to respond to that, and Joey Blake said that he wanted to sing to heal the world. He used much more words than that but that was the essence of it for me.

My first reaction was, “Haha, funny, as if you could heal the world through your singing.” But it stuck with me and I thought about it. I still am. And then I remembered how I had felt after the concert the teachers had given the day before. And I wondered.

And then, last week, I read something by Tara Jon Manning that pointed me in the same direction: In her book “Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft” she writes about “enlightened society”:

Enlightened society is an idea of a world built upon generosity and kindness where everyone mindfully contributes to the support and well-being of everyone else. Fundamental to this notion, […], is the recognition of the potential within all human beings to wake up to their own basic goodness and contribute to the world. When we make the connection between our own basic goodness within and the magic of the basic goodness without, it touches us and makes our hearts soft and tender. As you awaken to your own basic goodness, you begin to se it everywhere – in everyone, everything, and every moment of the world. […] And as you may have already seen in yourself, once you have made that awakening within yourself, you can’t help but let it spill out into the world.

So, in order to make the world more full of generosity and kindness it’s best to start with oneself. And that doesn’t mean that you have to become all Mother Theresa-like overnight. It isn’t like reaching a goal where you (or I) suddenly turn into that magnificent, better version of yourself. It’s a practice. Loving kindness starts with you.

I really believe that we are all connected, and that our thoughts and deeds influence each other. And so each one of us can change the world a little bit at a time. Of course it seems futile from time to time. And sometimes we can’t do it and then we are not kind or generous. But then there’s the next moment and another chance and then we surprise ourselves.

No, I don’t know how that translates into world peace and into fresh water and enough to eat for everyone, but for now it is the only thing I can do and I sincerely believe that it makes a difference. Maybe it’s only a small difference. But then, you all know how one person can make a difference to a small group. Sometimes even the presence of somebody makes a difference. And the world is comprised of small groups of people. Quite a few of them these days, that’s true, but small groups nonetheless. And we should never forget that all the people who really made a difference were after all human beings like us.

May we be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm
May we be happy and contented
May we be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible
May you experience ease of well-being …

May our planet and the whole universe be safe and protected and free from harm
May our planet and the whole universe be happy and contented
May our planet and the whole universe be healthy and whole
May our planet and the whole universe experience ease of well-being…

(from “Coming to our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” (Jon Kabat-Zinn))

And as I quote from this book and re-read the title I realize where that thought comes from. You know, “Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness”. Duh.

A happy new year to all of you, and please, don’t forget to send me your own posts and nominations for the next just post roundtables until the 7th of January.