Saturday, July 30, 2016

Why I Am an Atheist

Once upon a time, I was a golden child of God, feasting daily upon His scripture, wringing my hands in anxiety over pleasing Him, and losing myself to fantasies of the afterlife, with high hopes of attaining the highest possible Mormon kingdom.

I prayed fervently, every day and every night, earnest to please this deity adults taught us to respect with fear. I believed in a literal man in the sky, of a glass planet with infinite crystal balls seeing both past and future, and of highways glittering with gold and rubies and carbuncles, promised to me, if only my heart was pure enough, my life without sin, and the requirements of dress and diet followed and that God commands and gets really pissed off about if you don't follow them.

To grow up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with parents and extended family that are fully vested in its doctrine and promises, is to be immersed in all sorts of high-priority dogma that can even supersede the importance of academia, and is only most successfully realized in Mormon-dominant enclaves, such as Provo, Utah. It creates a bubble of limited knowledge, both of the world and one's self, and is the source of much neuroticism and authoritarian inclinations.

However, while I read the Book of Mormon nearly two dozen times, along with almost as many times, the Bible, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, all part of a good Mormon's Church education, I also was not immune to the injustices and prejudices such an exclusive membership caused the community, and my parents in particular.

We were told that people that drink were under the influence of Satan. We were told stories of how our bodies become portals for demons and spirits when under the influence of alcohol, causing us to act helplessly in ways we may not otherwise have acted. My father in particular was an animated storyteller, convincing us with his facial expressions and hand gestures, and my vividly imaginative mind took care of literally bringing such stories to life before my waking eyes, gripping me with fear.

So, when our neighbors in our otherwise cozy and indifferent suburban neighborhood got together for house and block parties, we would stay home, shades drawn, as my parents would remind us in hushed voices not to go outside during such times, nor to participate, ever, in such activities. The Devil was at work, especially on Sundays, oh, especially pool parties on Sundays, and we would be wise to avoid them, as did my parents.

This invariably led to the perceived or otherwise, I may never know, of my mother feeling rejected and judged by the neighbors, even though it was she and my father rejecting the neighbors in the first place due to ill-conceived moral standards. It made my parents appear standoffish, snobby, and deeply entrenched in the Mormon cult. Which, maybe they were. I may never know.

Regardless, I was confused as a child as to how these perfectly nice-to-me neighbors could be bad. I never understood. But I didn't dare challenge my father and his authoritarian ways, nor could I shake the fears of Satan himself influencing my life, and of allowing that to happen by fraternizing with the neighbor children while their parents drank Miller Light.

But, it was a potent seed and occurred during very formative years. The second was my maternal, non-Mormon (but Baptist) grandmother, who drank coffee throughout the day. I spent much time with her and loved her, and loved the smell of her coffee and the creamy caramel-colored liquid she would drink so religiously. A hot drink forbidden by the Word of Wisdom and that would surely carry Grandma straight to the gates of Hell.

Also while I was young, I had a maternal aunt who died when I was three years old. I still remember trying to touch her beautiful face and golden locks, just to open her eyes, to show everyone that she was really just sleeping. I naturally horrified my mother and received a quick swat from my father and was promptly removed from the room. But I didn't understand.

I didn't understand why everyone was so sad and why Aunt Joyce wouldn't wake up. It was an experience that left me cold, with many unanswered questions about time and death and life and the meaning and purpose of it all, at a very, very young age. And while I still remember that initial sense of glee before reaching for my aunt's corpse of being The One that made everyone happy again by proving she was merely a Sleeping Beauty, I also remember my parents' anger and that dark anxiety one experiences when breaking a cultural taboo.

Death and threat of death and reminders of death were common in my mother's home (as she did exert more influence than my father). Deaths in her family had left her permanently reminding us that we could go anytime, any day of the week. But it wasn't an, "Oh, let's embrace and celebrate life," sort of constant commentary, but more droll and foreboding and left me with a preoccupation with death and the end of one's existence.

This neurotic paranoia, paired with suicidal dramas, along with that mysterious disappearance of my aunt, taught me, by five years old, that death was an option. An escape. A way out of disastrous situations. Not only that, but it would teach people a lesson by making them sad about you for the rest of their lives. And when my mother was unfair, or punished me, or meted whatever sort of freedom-limiting consequence she could and every privilege she could revoke, I would, with some frequency, resort to suicidal ideations in private.

Suffocation attempts, hanging attempts, imagining jumping out of high windows attempts - this all occurred before ten years old. But, like I said, such was a learned coping mechanism, fraught with all sorts of unanswerable questions, and punished by a household swift strike the rod of God. I watched in terror on several occasions, as my mother fled the house, speeding off in the family station wagon with the promise of never returning. And I believed her. Every time.

But, whatever. So I grew up with lots of questions about the nature of existence and death, that I obediently pursued via scriptures. Scriptures that I read several times over, meticulously following the Word of Wisdom and other Mormon-dispensed Laws of God. I would get to the Celestial Kingdom, gosh darn it, no matter what it took. I mean, I even remember the first time I took a poo after my baptism and was scared I would sin somehow, so studiously read the Book of Mormon while taking that first sinless shit. Talk about source of neurosis...

I was a good child though. Number four out of eight, fully and completely the middle child, with every textbook stereotype and classification ringing true for me. I cleaned the house, did the laundry, helped with grocery shopping, planned the meals, taught the little ones how to read and put them to bed. All sorts of good, maternal, domestic acts I committed in the name of self-martyrdom to Christ. And I did in the absence of my stressed, worn-out, and surely severely depressed mother, who often locked herself in a darkened bedroom.

The middle child can only mediate and fulfill for so long however, and by fourteen or fifteen I snapped, controlling my life again by not eating nor emerging from my book-laden bedroom. This isolation naturally led to depression and by sixteen I was in and out of hospitals for everything from anorexia to bulimia to OCD to suicidal scratches.

By eighteen, I flew my parents' chaotic nest, but still believed in Destiny divined by God. I believed at that point that God was a more loving, forgiving, open, merciful deity, and that my wishes would be granted, if I only I took the right steps, praying hard enough, guided by serendipitous scripture verse, and was kind to everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

This chimera lasted well into my twenties, though began to wane considerably by the time I reached twenty-five. It guided my art, my writing, my purpose in life. Everything always came back to God mysteriously holding a mysterious purpose over your head in exchange for your soul and certain food restrictions, etc. I was a vegetarian at the time and all my anarchistic, punk politics had their roots in Christian doctrine. I was convinced Jesus was a free-loving, wandering hippie and wanted to emulate Him in anyway I could.

One of the ways I found I could help was by befriending and housing the homeless during my years in Northern California. For several years, my living room, backyard, and garage became a DIY homeless refuge for people we met on the street or through friends. And one of these, an atheist magician of sorts, would become pivotal in seeing the psychological and emotional havoc religious belief was actually causing me.

His name was Gus, a black-clad, black-booted anarchist, in his mid-sixties, with a flaming head of shining white hair that framed his chiseled facial features with Warholian finesse (a description he would surely despise). He would chirp with the birds, feeding them and the squirrels from his hands, while smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, he made a local name with his biting exposes on the very real crimes being committed against the homeless, on a daily basis, under the broad daylight of council members, church pastors, homeless committee officials, the police, city commissioners, and other leaders in various cities throughout the U.S. that were condoning such with their complicit silence and inaction.

But I do digress. However, he did indeed cause to rise in me a sudden righteous anger for all the questions religion could not and did not answer in my life and life in general, and his loathing towards Believers was visceral. In fact, many of his emitted emotions were visceral, making him both magical and intensely scary, but ultimately, convincing. He was a radical, choosing to live off-the-grid in homelessness, with no address, to live the greatest of true existential freedoms. And while I do not entirely agree with all his views, that man was closer to many Truths due to his steadfast integrity and swift action against injustice while never letting anyone touch his inner source of resilience.

By twenty-nine, I had achieved pregnancy, a milestone I had longed for, also since childhood. But my pregnancy was marked by severe hyperemesis gravidarum and depression. My body turned against me and I realized, in horror, that my "natural" and untamed biology is actually my enemy, as it tried to kill me and my unborn child with violent, incessant, and I do mean incessant, vomiting. I required frequent hospitalizations to treat malnutrition, dehydration and bleeding. To make yet another novel short, I was under tremendous stress financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and was profoundly confused over my sudden downturn in karmic goodness.

Come labor, a blessed four hours, but four hours of hip-and-groin-ripping, Shamanic-like-tripping and primal instinct for women tribes members only to attend me, I learned, swiftly, that, what I was doing was not unusual, and indeed was the very literal way of birth for just about all of humankind. And it was painful. Psychotically painful and I did, during those brief, but intense four hours, lose my ever loving mind.

It was during a mad, swirling, psychedelic tunnel of red and searing agony that I found myself talking to God, or no one, really, begging for the pain to stop. It hurt so very badly, surely it was punishment for something I had done. And that something was simply being a Woman, forced bear the brunt of life's life-giving pains, and created by a God who was spiteful. I was angry, for no voice returned my cries (nor did the midwives take seriously my moans for drugs), and this hell could only be the design of a vengeful creator, if there was such a thing.

And something happened. My beautiful baby girl was born from that trauma, and I fell in love, instantly, my nausea washed away, my contractions gone, and my belief in God and stomach for the metaphysical also completely, entirely, utterly disappeared. And hasn't returned since.

It has only been intensified and confirmed by life events, and the deaths of close friends and loved ones, especially those untimely ones that snatch the future from the youth. They do not come back, they do not communicate with us, and I am not even entirely sure if they are any longer in any recognizable form. They are immortal in memory only, their legacy dependent upon the stories and pictures of their lives and whether or not surviving members share that.

Perhaps our consciousness persists. I would like to think it does, at some quantum level. But for me to say I believe in God is preposterous, because that would likely encompass somehow creating some ultimate compendium of all scriptures and professed revelations ever, resolving conflict between all religion, and, above all us, deny the physics of an omnipotent, time-and-space traveling being literally living in the ill-defined "Heavens" (or Kolob, if you will). But I have been alone. Many times. And have poured my heart out in sincere supplication for mercy and patience, but only increasingly found silence and nothingness.

So now, to Nothingness I say. To embracing every single mortal moment of our brief existences, daily creating purpose where there is none. To make art, and music, and beauty from an indifferent Universe. To survive in the midst of horror and to aid the survivors of horror when we can. To alleviate the suffering of others, being mindful of the conditions of the vulnerable, and respecting the travails of personal lives, deeply and passionately lived. To being awake and aware of the trappings of religion and the very real psychological dangers among far too many peoples' imaginations running amok with visions of angels and Godly hands divining purpose and issuing forth judgments.

And here we have but brushed the tip of the iceberg... I by no means present this as a sound argument against the case for God, simply my anecdotal life trajectory leading me to atheism. And while I prefer logic and science and reason over wishful hopes of divine intervention these days, I always say, I may have the mind of an atheist, but with the heart of a mystic, as I am in fact soft towards believers, much more so than they think. I also have a wild imagination and untamable intuition, and understand how, without caution, one can become deluded by fantastical hopes.

So, to Logic and Information Awareness. To the future wherein more of humankind may freed of the chains of religion, and the ignorance and division it causes in the name of an unverifiable, un-contactable Extraterrestrial. And, to the Here and Now, and in gratitude of the abundance of good relationships I have in my life. Life is short. I don't know what happens after we die. And that makes me a hell of a lot more disciplined about living my life to the fullest, which is not easy, but is infinitely rewarding and meaningful. And, for an atheist, that's heaven on Earth. The only chance we've got.















Thursday, January 14, 2016

'Mia Melancholy

From 1996-2002 I suffered from anorexia and bulimia. Those years were filled with starvation, followed by repeated binging and purging, suicide attempts and multiple hospitalizations.

I was extremely suicidal and certain I would never recover, so impossible are eating disorders to overcome, but had one thought, one hope, one dream: that my misery would not be in vain, for I would write and remember everything that I experienced during that era, and share it, for the world to see and, most importantly, understand.

Tens of millions of women and men suffer or have suffered from eating disorders. Countless untold more have yet to suffer. There is very little cultural reference, support or understanding for those with E.D.s and my graphic novel, "'Mia Melancholy" vows to change that.

But I need your help. In order for me to secure an agent and thus publisher, I need to have as much of a finished product as possible. That involves hiring a professional graphic illustrator and assigning well over a hundred pages of illustrations. It also involves hiring an editor to spend hours pouring over my script and correcting even the smallest of errors.

In order for this project to proceed, I need the support of the community and the world at large. I need to have any and every donation I possibly can secure in order to meet the funding the preparation of this project demands. I may have written this and experienced this by my introverted self, but, in order to bear the fruits, I need you to have hope in me.

Please consider a small donation of $25 today. It will help change the lives of millions and shift the cultural understanding of a disorder so shrouded in mystery and darkness. It is a unique story, filled with drama, comedy, suspense and awe, and one that has yet to be undertaken by anyone else.

By making a small donation of just $25, you are not just helping to create the next bestseller or cult classic, but are vowing for the stubborn lives of those caught in the self destructive web of food addiction and obsession - as well as the well-being and lives of their families, friends and loved ones.

If you or anyone you know has been afflicted with an eating disorder, then I implore you to donate today. You CAN make a collective difference. I have the script, I have the story, I have the characters. I just need YOU.

Thank you. As a token of my gratitude, I will be sending out five packs of postcards featuring my handmade collages to the first 25 $25 donors. I will also be posting updates of the project and its illustrations as the time comes.

The Kickstarter campaign link is: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/608734728/mia-melancholy

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Studies Show Babies Feel Pain

Scientists from Oxford University have just conducted a study showing that babies do indeed feel pain. In MRI scans, 18 of the 20 brain regions associated with pain in adults were active in the infants' brains as well. The study also suggested that babies have a lower threshold to pain and may in fact be more sensitive than adults. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/21/babies-feel-pain-like-adults-mri-scan-study-suggests

Ah, yes, science, you are a little behind a mother's intuition on this one... babies aren't whiny for no reason at all. In fact, I believe some babies even experience existential duress and are quite miserable, in spite of all good intentions of the parents.

This life is cold (or too hot), loud, bright... from a dark, relatively quiet and quite cushy, known environment to THIS... who wouldn't be miserable? My daughter had colic very badly for the first 8 or 9 months and we tried EVERYthing. The only thing I could come up with was the fact that she simply did not like being here. And I didn't blame her.

Babies and children are natural scientists and philosophers, exploring the world around them. It makes sense as their first wordless thoughts arise from their response and reaction to their environment that some of those are rather unpleasant sensations and even cause (short-term) unpleasant memories. They cannot speak, they can only communicate by crying their needs. And when all their physical and seeming emotional needs have been met, and they are still crying, what more can one do than suppose that there is a psychological phenomenon going on?

While the good indubitably gets imprinted upon the wee one's mind and brain in healthy upbringings, eventually outpacing those first magnified responses and sensitivity to basic environmental stimuli, the negative responses generally dull in reactive sensitivity as the baby becomes adjusted to the world. The colic gradually dissipates and the child is more engaged with the world.

So perhaps one day we will research this in greater detail. I myself suffer, and have suffered at the hand of exquisite existential pain since I was five years old (that I can remember). This is perhaps a genetic quirk from nature, and one that I have often wondered if I have not passed down to my own. Even so, I have often wondered if colicky babies, too, simply experience negative psychological feedback to those first overwhelming stimuli in comparison to their previously known environs.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

On the Inner Critic

My inner critic is loud, ruthless, heartless, and cruel. She prevents me from accomplishing tasks on a regular basis. I can barely write this now, because she is screaming how pointless it is and shouldn't I be doing something else? Something else that she can criticize me on, something else that is almost impossible to complete because of the deafening screams of this bitch.

"You sound terrible! Shouldn't this piece be faster? Why is your tone "off"? Why are you even playing right now?" I am having a hard time practicing piano because of this inner voice. It seems pointless and my skill so inferior to those of the Masters. I should feel inspired from pieces performed by professionals, but instead I feel hopeless. How will I ever get to be good enough, I wonder, if I can't even practice for more than an hour because I am too busy fielding the doubtful supplications of a non-existent entity? "Ah, you never will be good enough," says this non-entity. "So just stop."

So sit and make a collage, I say. And I try. I flip through magazine after magazine, finding nothing to catch my eye. Whereas sometimes I go through magazines and rip out nearly every page, making up to five collages a day, right now, I make zero. I feel suffocated by the collages of others, jealous of their creativity and production. I ignore the fact that I have made over 120 collages this year alone; the inner critic says that it's not good enough.

Not good enough. That's what I am right now. Or so She says. But I feel helpless against this force and desperate to counteract it anyway I can.

Fortunately, I am writing this right now in order to confront this voice and hopefully overcome its hurtful pleas for me to stop whatever I am doing. This piece is convoluted and chunky, the words are stuck in some far-off place that I can't seem to access. My mind is chalky and clouded, cloaked in the insensitive remarks of some voice that possesses a power over me.

"Go away!" I want to yell. "Let me practice in peace. Let me be mediocre in peace. Let me just BE." But I can't. She is too loud, too persistent, too convincing.

My piano does need more practicing. It isn't up to tempo and I am afraid it never will be. I look at other pieces I used to play and feel remorse. How did I play that, I wonder, how could I once do what is impossible now? My fingers are feeble and I am having a hard time "feeling" the pieces I need to play for an audition in several months. This lack of "feeling" is attributed in part to this inner critic, who tells me again and again, "You're just not good enough."

Just not good enough. So why continue? Why do anything? The "just not good enough" mantra is slowly destroying me and making my beloved goals seem completely insurmountable. I try to work through this voice, try to keep playing in spite of its oft-repeated phrase of not being good enough. But it's hard. I mean, really really hard.

I am hoping this recent bout of the voice's strength will pass and I will be able to love the piano and love making collages freely again. I am hoping that by writing this, I will be able to see and understand this voice more, so that I can overcome it. I don't want to quit playing, I don't want to quit making art, but the critic insists that I must.

The critic insists that my work is pointless, yet if I stop, my life WILL be pointless. I know this, but the critic keeps up its inane chorus of doubt with a vigor I envy. If only I could be as persistent as this voice, all will be well. I don't expect it to go away completely, but I seek what I am lacking right now, which is the persistence of work in spite of the negative influence of this voice.

So maybe after this lousy, no-good piece of writing (I have certainly written better), I will plop myself down at the piano and just play the notes, feeling or no feeling. Just rote playing, because that is all I can grasp at this moment. Maybe I will take that pile of magazines and rip out even the images I am not particularly drawn to, just so I have material to work with at a later date. Maybe I will actually post this blog, with all its imperfections, just to say that I did it and the voice didn't stop me.

Maybe I will embrace my mediocrity with a loud "Fuck You" to this voice. Because even if I really truly am not good enough, all I have is what I have and I have to do SOMEthing with it, whether or not it's good or bad. I will try, I really will. Because trying and failing is better than complete inaction. So I will fail today (and tomorrow and the next day), but I won't give up.

Friday, May 30, 2014

On Overcoming Bulimia

For six years, between 1996-2002, I struggled with anorexia and bulimia. Six to ten times a day I would binge and purge - meaning, I would consume copious amounts of food in a short period of time and then violently vomit the food up. I kept nothing down. When I was hungry, I would eat and eat and then throw up. 

This was very time-consuming and I did virtually nothing else during this time period. I was a ballet dancer up until I was 16, dancing up to 8 hours a day in my efforts to become a professional dancer. I eventually lost so much weight (90 pounds at 5'7") that I had no energy to do anything, much less succumb to the excruciating physical demands of ballet. But after I quit ballet, I felt I had "nothing" else to live or work towards and my eating disorder eventually got even worse. 

So I went to college early, starting my classes in English and Philosophy at 16. I had hoped if I couldn't be a dancer, I could at least get my degree early and find a new purpose.  Instead, I merely found my addiction easier to hide behind closed doors and open books. I didn't graduate early. Quitting ballet had no effect on my self-image. The damage was done, the results hideous, and yet I persisted in allowing this self-destructive rage to overcome and rule my life.

I had no friends during this time period and found it difficult to socialize in college because of the age difference and because of the massive secret I was hiding. Who wants to talk about bulimia? Who eats and throws up? That's disgusting. Smoking, alcohol, drugs - now those are conversations people will have. But eating disorders leaves everyone in a deafeningly silent lurch of abhorrence and confusion. It is poorly understood and rarely talked about.

Which is why I am bringing this up. To start the conversation, to reach out to others who are still struggling. I eventually overcame this addiction through years of waning my habit. From ten times a day, to once a day, once a week to once a month. I literally got down to once a year (the last year I "suffered" from it) when I finally "woke up" and realized I had the power to stop completely. I was disgusted with myself, and in a wonderful relationship. I no longer had the desire to jeopardize my health nor my future with my soon-to-be husband with this truly revolting habit.

And it is revolting. Any bulimic will tell you that. Do you know what it is like to eat two boxes of cereal in one sitting, under 15 minutes, and then viciously hurl that entire amount into the toilet, vomit splashing on your face? I got so good at contracting my stomach muscles that I didn't need fingers down my throat.  I got so good at getting everything out that I would step out of the bathroom starving, and fifteen to twenty minutes later, would be at it again. 

Do you know what it is like to have your entire family hate you for binging on their food? For years my younger siblings despised me for stealing their Tasty Cakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. When my parents finally stopped buying those foods, I just would steal a car in the middle of the night (and I didn't get my driver's license until 21, mind you) and go to a 24-hour convenience store with a stolen credit card and buy cookies and donuts and milk. I would come home, binge and purge, binge and purge until the food was gone and the sun came up. 

The amount of self-loathing that is involved is off the charts. You have to really hate yourself in order to use food to try and kill yourself. Yes, I was also extremely suicidal during these years and when blood and acids came up through my mouth and nose, I knew that I would be okay, because being dead was surely a better alternative than what I was going through.

But I made it. I learned to love myself enough to care of myself WITH food. I was also unable to afford the addiction, as I could easily consume $40-50 worth of cereal in a day.  I gradually lost interest in my food-centered suicidal drive and became obsessed with living a "normal" life that for years was so impossible. Once I got a taste of that "normalcy" I wanted more. And more. And more. Bulimia became antithetical to my new life and I enjoyed my independence from a hell I had known for so long.

Everyone's story is different. I hope that others will share theirs. I am inspired by those who have recovered and am learning how to be proud of myself for overcoming something that seemed so very, very insurmountable at the time. I honestly didn't think I could ever quit and was certain (and hopeful) that I would die from it. Instead, I survived and now must help others to survive as well. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Body Image

I measure my thighs no less than twice a day. I step on the scale 3-4 times or more, watching every ounce gained or lost. I am trying desperately to lose that last ten pounds I know I need to in order to be the "skinny girl" I was.

I used to field comments all day long on my thinness, but after my baby was born, that all stopped. I gained 50 pounds and struggled with losing 20 more after, only to settle in at 10 pounds heavier than before I got pregnant.

I scour the internet for pics of women my height and weight, constantly comparing myself to others, trying to assess just how "fat" I am and what I really look like to other people. Did I gain that much weight? Do I really look that much different? Who am I, really, and why does weight have so much to do with my sense of self-worth?

I know for a fact that I am not "fat," however, I am not model-thin either. I come in at 22% body fat for my athletic 5'7" frame. It is considered "Ideal" (not "Thin"), "Fit" and not actually "Athletic." But I want to be skinny, I want to be told I am skinny, I want people to buy me the right size clothes when they gift me them, not getting me size large or whatever because they think I am fat.

I am obsessed. I know that I am, and I am secretly hoping this obsession will get me to my goal weight, wherein I can stop obsessing and start focusing on other things, right? Like my art studio, which I haven't worked in for nearly two months. Or organizing my house. Or actually even exercising (which I loathe). But I can't. I just want to watch my thighs go from 22" to 19" overnight and my waist from 29" to 26." And the only way I know how to do that is by dieting.

But not like when I was 16 and anorexic. Yes, this body image complex comes with a history, this obsession has roots in my adolescence and my 6-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. I spent years starving and vomiting my way to ever-elusive goal weights and a body I would never have. I have big bones and tons of muscle that I would gladly change for the waif-like shapelessness of a typical supermodel, even now. But it's not healthy. And I know it.

So why do I insist on trying to re-adopt the known ways of dysfunction in order to achieve what I know can never be? Pure psychosis, I tell you. I want to be loved for being skinny and looking like a model, not for my brain or talents, but for something incredibly vain and superficial. I don't even know why I insist on allowing this thinking to control me. It is a compulsive addiction. And I am not alone, as the 10-20 million Americans with eating disorders can tell you.

I am confused and I know it. I want to be clear on my body image. I want to be able to say with confidence that I am fit, that I am okay, that I know I was skinnier in my youth, but as a 34 year old with a 4 year old daughter, I look pretty good.

But most of all, I want it to not matter at all. I want to not waste precious blog space with my ramblings on a topic far less important than mercy killings in Pakistan or the fact that domestic violence kills more women than smoking, heart disease and terrorist attacks combined. THESE are important issues to obsess over. But I remain vain, petty, and easy to hate for posting on such a ridiculously pointless topic.

So I apologize. I also extend my gratitude for this space allowing me to explore the complexities of my own body image issues, in the context of a society where women are encouraged to despise their natural state in order to be impossibly thin.

I just read an article by Allison Epstein, found here: http://www.adiosbarbie.com/2014/05/why-im-a-body-image-activist/ on why she is a body-image activist. One of the reasons she lists, other than 108 million Americans being on a diet, is the 470% increase between 2006-07 of pro-eating disorder websites. She receives hate mail for being a body image activist because it's "not important."

But it is. When 20 million or more people risk their lives to be thin, when body hatred consumes the daily lives of countless millions of others, affecting their work, relationships, and mental health, does that not profoundly affect society at some level? So kudos to you, Ms. Epstein and your activism. Your article stirred me to action, leading me to start a conversation with myself on my own remnants of disorder and self hatred.

All I know is that have to stop hating my body. For the sake of my daughter's self image, for the sake of my mental wellness, for the sake of society at large. We need a major shift in our thinking. And it starts with each one of us body-hating-shaming women AND men learning how to love themselves, even if through rambling, ultimately pointless blog-sharing.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On Death & Dying

"Mommy, do we know when we will die?"
Umm.
"No, honey, we don't."
"Oh, but you're not going to die? And Daddy? I still have a Mommy and Daddy."
"Yes, dear. you still have us..."
"And you're not going to die, are you? I am lucky. Why do some people not know when they will die?"
"Sweetie, everything dies, like the plants during winter."
"Oh, but can we grow back, like chickens?"
Good one, mom, telling her once upon a time that chickens "grow back" and so never get sad.

What do you do when your four year old asks questions like this? Questions that are no more complex than the very questions we ask ourselves, questions that pose the very confusion and injustice that an event like death can cause.

"Does anything know when it will die?"
"No."
"Why? Why don't we know when we will die?"
"I don't know, honey, I just don't know."

And I don't. I have no idea. I have no pat answer, no grand answer, no nice answer. To me, Death is cruel and a natural, albeit final, end to our extremely precious lives. I have found in my adult life that Death is no respecter of persons, belief systems, age, or diet. Death does not care for logic or sentiment, in fact, Death is the very nothingness that negates such silly mortal ideals and reminds us of our puny existence and ultimate hopelessness of our ego.

"Mommy, I don't want to die."
"I know, honey, I don't either."
"Mommy, when I get older, I just want to get rid of the darkness inside me that wants me to die. Then, I will never die and I can just live with you!"

Well, then. I am glad the conversation ended on such a futuristic note. I did not pursue the subject, as wise mothers never do, and never will I bring it up. Like heaven. Sure, we said the family dog went to heaven, that other family members went to heaven, but as far as indoctrinating my daughter with fantasy goes, I can mention heaven in none other than poetic terms and for reasons none other than laziness. Of course I will say the dog went to heaven, that's what everyone else says. I am not about to tell my four year old about the very true, very real impending anxiety that the bleakness of death provides and the fact that we do not know what happens after we die.

To broach the existential reality of Death's impersonal "touch" and its deafeningly silent victims with a four year old is entirely unethical and inappropriate, at best. But to be in conversation with said four year old, who asks such seemingly adult, but agelessly human, questions about this eternal source of human sadness is a bit much for a depressed, anxious, existentially-pained adult. I may give a canned answer of a utopian happy place, but it is no more truthful to me than when I tell that same four year old that Santa lives "at" the North Pole.

When I was three, I remember looking at my beloved Aunt in a casket. All I wanted to do was to touch her, hold her,  hear her voice again. I went to hug her, only to be reprimanded by my father and met by the sobs of my mother. What was the deal? Why couldn't I touch her? All I wanted to do was touch her, and I couldn't. Because it wasn't really her anymore, I suppose. Or because it was inappropriate (most likely) to  put a toddler in a casket to hug her most favorite adult (even more than mom, it's true, I remember, because Auntie gave me Cheetos) who no longer possessed any characteristics of a live, conscious being.

Death is depressing and as I grow older, it gets no easier, the questions remain the same and the answers merely choices between psychologically comforting storytelling or realistic, finite facts with perhaps a sliver of romantic yearnings for a mystical conscious that unites us all.  But, just like my daughter, all I can do is hope I encounter it as infrequently as possible. And hope that, if nothing else, I can get rid of the darkness that makes me fear it so.