Let Beauty Attract You Into Life

let beauty attract you into life

So I ran away last week, to Portland, OR. I was expecting it to be rainy and cold, which is my dream weather. I wanted to wear wrap dresses and boots and leather jackets and put my hair in updos and have the rain make little tendrils curl romantically. And obviously be dripping in crystals (I mean, let’s be real about my style.)

But instead of rainy and cold it was sunny and 100 degrees.

One afternoon I was sitting outside this juice truck. I had taken my notebook and a new book I was reading called Notes on the Need for Beauty by J. Ruth Gendler. Currently this book is everything I wish I had written that I’ve honestly never thought about before. It’s wonderful, and at every other sentence I just wanted to turn to someone, grab their arm, and read it aloud to them. It’s the kind of book you want to share, because it’s the kind of book that turns qualities into relationships.

Of course, because I’m extremely smart and incredibly pale, I had found the only bench in the shade outside of this juice truck. And then four good looking men in uniform started wandering over. (Firefighters? First responders? I don’t know and I don’t really care. They can rescue me anytime, just for the fun of it.)

And of course they were enlightened feminists and noticed that, in their search for shade, they had encroached on my personal space. One of them made a comment about how they weren’t trying to get too close or read over my shoulder; they just wanted to stand in the shade. I said it was ok, and that my book was so magnetic I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had called them over.

But I didn’t read them the passage.

I wrote about it later, how vibrant and nice these men were, how fervently I wanted to share this moment and these thoughts with another human. The impulse to read the passage aloud was there, I had an audience, I even had the conversation started… and I just didn’t go there.

I am not trying to beat myself up, I’m just curious about why I didn’t take that extra step. And why do I wish for it now? Do I just wish I was the type of woman that did that sort of thing? I’d love to be able to relate to men in that way: free of fear or concern for what they think of me. Just sharing because I want to connect and not because there’s a specific trajectory I’m trying to achieve or avoid.

That’s the real kicker for me: I want to act without first anticipating every single consequence. I want to really be in relationship, like truly, in the moment, with no other agenda aside from connection. (and that’s with everyone, not just with men)

Next time I can remember that I can express myself just because; I don’t have to worry about how people will experience my expression. To quote Jena, “I express myself, even at the risk of your misinterpretation.”

So imagine me grabbing your forearm and reading you this passage:

When I discuss the quality of beauty with students, we imagine beauty’s relationships with curiosity and courage, fear, ugliness, and harmony. Curiosity, like beauty, becomes a name for the desire that draws things out of themselves, toward each other. “The river is curious to get to the ocean. The ocean is curious to meet the river,” a girl begins her poem, describing how curiosity, like beauty, brings us closer to the mysteries at the heart of nature. “Curiosity taught the kitten to walk, the river to run, the flowers to bloom,” a sixth grade boy declares, and it echoes James Hillman’s statement that beauty is the way “in which the gods touch our senses, reach the heart and attract us into life.” Hillman’s definition doesn’t say what beauty is, but suggests how it moves us into the world. Beauty is not accidental, frivolous, or marginal, but at the very center, stirring our hearts and our sensitive, sensuous bodies, attracting us into life with its immediacy and delight.

* swoon *

ps – Running Away 2014 was magical and successful. Can’t wait to be posting more regularly here. I missed you.

My Faith In Humanity Never Left

my faith in humanity never left

Here’s what I want to say about last week, because a lot of shit went down and I’m sure I’ll need the reminder again (probably this week).

Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.

I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.

(thanks to Maya Angelou for introducing me to this beautiful quotation from Terence.)

We are all human. And we are all human together. Everywhere you look you’ll find proof of our humanity. If you can’t find it, pause and try again.

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You are a whole and complete human being, worthy of love and belonging.

That’s true right now.

You do not need to lose weight, be prettier, be happier, earn more money, be more productive, or anything else in order for me to regard you in this light.

There is nothing you could ever do to make me love you more than I love you right now. I love you so much my heart breaks.

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If you choose suicide, that does not change my regard for you. If you choose not suicide, that does not change my regard for you.

I refuse to participate in a discussion that makes anyone’s sovereign decision wrong or less than. The hardest part of last week was that we spent time shaming and hating people and making them wrong. We forgot that humanity is not about desperately avoiding death at all costs; it’s about showing up and living your life in all its complexity. Leaving doesn’t make you wrong.

Generally, my preference is for you to be alive. I like incarnating with you. But your life isn’t about my preferences; your life is about your preferences. Your continued incarnation is the world’s privilege, not our right.

We all have stuff. We are all working on our stuff. It’s a process.

You are not responsible for anyone’s experience but your own. I will always defend the sovereignty of your soul and the legitimacy of your decision.

I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it – I will love you through that, as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.

- Elizabeth Gilbert

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I want you to have whatever you want, truly. I want you to have a life that is vibrant and exciting and full of delight.

There is no definitive proof that being overweight precludes that state of living.

Health and wholeness exist at every size, and I will not shame you for how your body chooses to incarnate. Anyone trying to make you “healthy” through guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear is a fucking parasite and you should physically, emotionally, and psychically reject that message and turn away.

That is not your should.

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To whomever is “in charge” in Ferguson, this is not our first goddamn rodeo.

We all understand that having the authority and need to use lethal force against citizens places you entirely in grey area and judgment calls. But you do not get to take the life of a citizen in anonymity. And this shooting did not occur in a vacuum. There is more here.

In the aftermath, you reacted to your fear and discomfort, you chose to not trust us as human beings, and you missed an opportunity to act from wisdom.

You forgot that we’re all human here. We are all capable of mistakes, we are all capable of wrong and lethal decisions, we are all capable of forgiveness.

We also have a vision for justice. That vision does not consist solely of bloodlust for one individual, but rather a change to the collective.

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I am not God. I do not know the mystery and hidden meaning behind what you’re going through now.

But I see you.

I trust you.

You are a sovereign human being.

You are not broken; you do not need to be fixed. You do not need to be saved.

We are all in this together.

I see you. I am with you. I will stay here. I will protect you.

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This week I kept coming back to this quotation by Carlo Levi:

The future has an ancient heart.

As Sugar so eloquently states,

who we become is born of who we most primitively are.

And Robert A. Johnson writes of this internal battle:

The dragon battle is always between progressive and regressive forces within one’s self. Dr. Jung used to pound on the table and say, “It is always a matter of who, never a matter of what.” When I understood who I was in my dragon battle, then it was relatively easy to face the practicalities of what to do.

If you can do nothing else, be a witness to humanity. Come back to your ancient heart and find humanity again.

Witness the good stuff, the mundane, the hard, the struggles, the individuals, the collective, the harrowing, the violent, the incomprehensible, the fear, the defenses, the love, the courage.

Even if you have no words, or even if the only words you have are, “What the actual fuck?”

You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to pass judgment. You don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to be the first to share your opinion.

In fact, the world might be better off if you didn’t. (yet.)

We could use more people who can pause, standing embodied and unafraid in the face of humanity, and say, “This is who we are. There is nothing about this that is alien to me. I am a citizen of the Earth, and I will not turn away.”

Big changes are possible from this place. Wisdom originates here, in this place.

We are human, we are here to be human, and there is nothing about humanity that is foreign to us.

Love, Kathryn

Internet Inspiration – August 15, 2014

8.15.2014

Oh, Sally. Taking the words right out of my mouth.

When you feel good about your physical form, some of those negative, manipulative messages will start to bounce off of you. You’ll hear them and think, “Nope, I’m just fine, thanks,” and you’ll move on. And depending on how you’re wired, gaining ground on body love and acceptance may empower you to be more visible in your daily life, family life, professional life, artistic life. When you’re able to let snark slide off of you, you aren’t as leery of speaking in front of a group or offering to lead a team. You’re bolder, braver, stronger. When you aren’t worried about how others will look at or think about your appearance, you’re free to make bigger choices.

Your body is not your masterpiece.

Stop spending all day obsessing, cursing, perfecting your body like it’s all you’ve got to offer the world. Your body is not your art, it’s your paintbrush. Whether your paintbrush is a tall paintbrush or a thin paintbrush or a stocky paintbrush or a scratched up paintbrush is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that YOU HAVE A PAINTBRUSH which can be used to transfer your insides onto the canvas of your life — where others can see it and be inspired and comforted by it.

All the sparklepoints to this post on “weighting.”

“Weighting” shifts our attention away from our highest goals. The gym trumps our social life. Weight loss becomes the first necessary step to a better life. The dieting cycle puts our creative ventures on hold. It feels like focusing on weight loss is the right thing to do, and everything else is secondary. How many times have your plans for weight loss taken priority over your plans for your life?

Shedding Light on Collective Beauty.

I’m more and more loving Russell Brand, and I find myself, when bad things happen, waiting for him to weigh in. Here’s a really nicely edited compilation of some of his speeches.

I am affected. Thank you, Karen.

I don’t generally write about race here on Chookooloonks, if only for the reason that there are other people who write about it far more eloquently than I. People like the incredible Jay Smooth, as well as friends of mine like Kelly and Kristen, but there are many, many more. I try to reserve Chookooloonks as a place of peace and beauty, and if I discuss race and culture here at all, it is generally through that lens. But after watching the events unfold last night, I couldn’t continue writing here in this space without making it very clear that I’m affected.

Ads that say what we’re really thinking.

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It’s been a tough news week, so I want to make sure I share a little levity. Who said it: Oscar Wilde or the Golden Girls?

Don’t drunk text a Doctor Who fan. Amazing.

And Tom Haverford’s business ideas.

Thank you, Reddit. You can have anything in the world, but the next commenter gets to condition it.

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It’s almost hard to believe that this report was written by James Baldwin in 1966, but it serves as a great reminder.

Now, what I have said about Harlem is true of Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco—is true of every Northern city with a large Negro population. And the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function. They are, moreover—even in a country which makes the very grave error of equating ignorance with simplicity—quite stunningly ignorant; and, since they know that they are hated, they are always afraid. One cannot possibly arrive at a more surefire formula for cruelty.

This is why those pious calls to “respect the law,” always to be heard from prominent citizens each time the ghetto explodes, are so obscene. The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.

The law is meant to be my servant and not my master.

Internet Inspiration – August 1, 2014

8.1.2014

Seriously? August?

Elizabeth Gilbert, what you read, I’ll read.

This I meant to post weeks ago, but I didn’t save the link and the power went out and it took me awhile to find it again.

What else do I know about this?

It doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t require anything other than getting quiet and remembering.

And yet at the same time, it is the hardest practice. The simplest, and the hardest.

It asks that I get quiet, peaceful, that I practice legitimacy, that I forgive myself.

And thank you again, Havi, for this piece on Who Is A Writer. (or a Whatever Title You Claim.)

We forget about truth, and this is dangerous. We hurt ourselves with un-truth.

We set up traps for ourselves: “I’m not a real X, because I’m not doing Y.” Or: “I’ll never be able to Y until I pass all these external standards.”

No. You are a writer if you grapple with these questions. You are a writer if you doubt. You are a writer if you care, even if sometimes you care so much that your tangled relationship with not-writing keeps you in bed crying. You are a writer if you yearn for something and don’t have the words to describe it yet.

There are many ways to know you are a writer, and doubting it is something writers go through, so let’s drop this pain-heavy rule that you must be writing now in order to claim that lost part of you.

And speaking of writing, here are 9 unconventional writers’ residencies.

9 Language Boy Meets 6 Language Girl. Essentially, my dream.

If you don’t already know this about me, let me tell you: I pretty much always want to be eating flowers. So I extra love lavender lemonade.

Really enjoyed this video where cocoa bean farmers got to taste chocolate for the first time.

As someone who craves solitude, I really appreciated this article on the power of lonely.

Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen. According to Greg Feist, an associate professor of psychology at the San Jose State University who has written about the connection between creativity and solitude, some version of that principle may also be at work when we simply let our minds wander: When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.

After reading my posts about dancing, my acupuncturist sent me this article by a friend of hers, on why she dances Argentine tango (and she moved to Argentina to dance and study more. Swoon!). This post is magnificent, and I could hardly choose just one excerpt, so make sure you read the whole thing.

You are not responsible for the other person’s experience, only your own. This is a biggie. If everyone could practice this in their intimate relationships, we’d all be enlightened. Most of us normal people care a lot about how other people feel, although certainly some more than others. And so leaders might try to impress their followers, or followers might dance with partners they don’t enjoy so as not to hurt their feelings. But is it worth the expense of compromising your own experience? Liberation: saying no. It’s OK. It’s built into the dance that it is OK to say no. We will hurt feelings, yes. And you will get your feelings hurt too. No one owes you a dance no matter how many years you have danced or if you have studied with so-and-so. Maybe they just don’t like the way you smell, or you are too tall for them, or they are not in the mood, or they would rather dance with someone they know. One need not explain.

I’m always trying to give you guys the most important information I can find. In case you wondered where you’d end up if you could swim absolutely straight across the ocean, I’ve got you covered.

I agree 100% with this analysis of why Melissa McCarthy’s movie disappointed me so much.

In interviews, McCarthy speaks candidly about the “strange epidemic of body image and body dysmorphia” and how she serves as a buffer against it for her two young daughters; she dismisses a particularly vicious critic who turned his review of Identity Thief into a schoolyard diatribe about her “tractor-size” body by describing him as “swimming in hate” and flouting a home life rich in love and a professional success larger than a full fleet of tractor trailers. She bristles when that success is qualified with epithets like “plus-size sweetheart:” “It’s like I’m managing to achieve all this success in spite of my affliction … would you ever do that to a male comedian considered overweight?”

She calls out the fashion elite for failing to court her and clothe her the way they would any other Emmy-award-winning and Oscar-nominated actress. And, in a recent People magazine cover spread to promote her latest film Tammy, she calls out the fashion industry as a whole for failing to court and clothe the legions of women who look just like her: “ Just because I’m a different size doesn’t mean I … turned off a desire for anything current or modern, or a desire to look good and feel good … I was like ‘Where is a cool T-shirt? Where is a great sweater that’s not built like a tent?” That same spread is refreshingly void of any diet or exercise talk, any attempts to position herself as “a good fatty” (a term coined by Dances With Fat blogger Ragen Chastain to describe “a fat person who is viewed … as taking ‘appropriate steps’ to lose weight, or, at the very least, ‘struggling’ with their weight, thereby earning a modicum of very contingent respect from someone who would otherwise be a fat hater). Indeed, she decapitates the “good fatty” narrative with the roundhouse kick and katana strike of a rhetorical question and four blunt words: “My weight? It is what it is.”

But in McCarthy’s film roles, especially in Tammy, hardly take such a revolutionarily blasé approach to her weight. McCarthy’s size is always implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, the brunt of the joke.

And I think this is a really compelling article highlighting why feminism keeps losing while gay equality wins.

The first [hypothesis] is that Justice Anthony Kennedy likes gay rights more than women’s rights. The second is that feminism, as insidiously framed by the Christian right, is all about sex—while LGBTQ equality has become a battle not for sex, but for dignity.

losing weight.

thinking about weightloss

Do you remember that line from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where the narrator says:

The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

That’s kind of what happened to me over the past few weeks.

A little, baby thought peeked out from under the covers and said, “I might be ready to lose weight.”

That’s all. That’s all she said.

And I re-gained 30 pounds of baggage.

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I have so many thoughts on this topic. And a lot of the thoughts that come to my mind unbidden are ones that take away my sovereignty. So I think my writing on this topic will come in waves.

It started with a passage from The Signature of All Things on the topic of time. I actually started this book a few months ago and then paused and read several other books instead. I’m not sure SOAT needs to take that personally, though. It’s possible that this moss and time contemplation just needed a little incubation period. Anyway, the main character, Alma Whittaker, is a botanist in the 19th century, and she studies moss.

In every way mosses could seem plain, dull, modest, even primitive. The simplest weed sprouting from the humblest city sidewalk appeared infinitely more sophisticated by comparison. But here is what few people understood, and what Alma came to learn: Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. Moss dines upon boulders, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries. Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil. Under shelves of exposed limestone, moss colonies create dripping, living sponges that hold on tight and drink calciferous water straight from the stone. Over time, this mix of moss and mineral will itself turn into travertine marble. Within that hard, creamy-white marble surface, one will forever see veins of blue, green, and gray – the traces of the antediluvian moss settlements. St. Peter’s Basilica itself was built from the stuff, both created by and stained with the bodies of ancient moss colonies.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. Moss, Alma learned, is the first sign of botanic life to reappear on land that has been burned or otherwise stripped down to barrenness. Moss has the temerity to begin luring the forest back to life. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water.

The only thing mosses need is time, and it was beginning to appear to Alma that the world had plenty of time to offer.

Later, when thinking about time, Alma creates a spectrum of sorts:

Firstly, Alma had determined, there was such a thing as Human Time, which was a narrative of limited, mortal memory, based upon the flawed recollections of recorded history. [...]

At the other end of the spectrum, Alma postulated, there was Divine Time – an incomprehensible eternity in which galaxies grew, and where God dwelled. [...]

Geological Time moved at a pace that felt nearly eternal, nearly divine. It moved at the pace of stone and mountains. Geological Time was in no hurry, and had been ticking along, some scholars were now suggesting, far longer than anyone had yet surmised.

But somewhere between Geological Time and Human Time, Alma posited, there was something else – Moss Time. By comparison to Geological Time, Moss Time was blindingly fast, for mosses could make progress in a thousand years that a stone could not dream of accomplishing in a million. But relative to Human Time, Moss Time was achingly slow. To the unschooled human eye, moss did not even seem to move at all. But moss did move, and with extraordinary results. Nothing seemed to happen, but then, a decade or so later, all would be changed. It was merely that moss moved so slowly that most of humanity could not track it.

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When it comes to weightloss, I need to move in Moss Time. And by that I mean, I need to live my life and let things change as they change. I can’t have weightloss as my primary goal, because I tend to devolve into losing weight for the sake of losing weight, and not because my body is allowed to be itself and it happens to incarnate with fewer inches or pounds on it.

I started to think back to what happened when I gained weight. I know (and have known for some time) that my weight gain was largely emotional in nature. And I don’t just mean I was eating emotionally as a coping mechanism (although I’m sure that happened). I mean that I gained weight when I was truly, devastatingly learning how to fail.

I stayed in a relationship for way too long because I got fixated on an (arbitrary) end result. I ended up in a toxic work environment that would require its own post to do the retelling justice.

I needed the weight.

It was a placeholder for emotions I didn’t know how to unravel.

It was a literal, physical anchor for me on Earth when I wanted to numb out.

It made me physically bigger, and everyone knows that the big animals in the animal kingdom don’t get messed with.

It forced me to literally take up space on Earth when I wasn’t able or willing to do so with my soul and spirit.

It protected me from unwanted sexual attention, and gave me a little bit of invisibility when I really needed to be in solitude and come back to myself.

So when I had that thought that maybe I was ready to lose weight, what I meant was that I was maybe ready to stop carrying around the emotional baggage from that time. What I meant was that I didn’t need to literalize my emotional experience anymore, and that I could lighten up, both emotionally and physically.

My thought, as Havi so beautifully puts it, is that Now is Not Then. Even though in many ways I am the same woman I was then, I’m not. And I don’t need the same coping mechanisms she did. I don’t need to hold Weight From Then.

Of course, those innocuous thoughts were no match for the ingrained panic and perfectionistic patterns that live in my subconscious. “Weightloss?” They asked. “Eat less, exercise more! Take vitamins! Work out for 4 hours a day! Don’t eat that food! Don’t eat at all! It’ll make you fat! I see cellulite! Don’t sit, stand and march all day! Back to juicing! Raw food diet!” etc. You know the drill.

Every pass in front of a mirror became an opportunity for evaluation and feedback. Interactions with other people yielded a running commentary, speculating on how they were judging me. It became an opportunity for me to really face how much I think other people are judging me.

In short, I ceased to remain myself, and became a moldable nothing, trying to squeeze myself into Perfect.

Fortunately I’m old and experienced enough to see it happening, but it makes progress hard. In fact, even thinking of things in terms of progress puts me back into that dichotomy of “right” and “wrong” progress. It’s hard to stay neutral and just let my body be what it needs to be.

So that’s where I am now. And it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s actually happening in my head, so maybe you can see why I wasn’t able to post very much.

At the moment I’m still working through what I want to do (if there’s anything to really actively “do”) about this potential weightloss. I’m examining what I really want, maybe it’s a smaller body, maybe it’s a chance to have my body not be an expression of those 5 hard years and instead to be an expression of myself now. I’m thinking through what I’m afraid of when it comes to losing weight.

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It’s hilarious to me that I thought this was going to be a short post, that I wouldn’t be able to articulate my thoughts. And it’s true that I haven’t articulated ALL the thoughts; I’m sure I’ll have much more to say on this topic.

But in case you relate to this difficulty in setting goals and remaining yourself, well, I actually don’t know what I want to tell you or what I can tell you that will be helpful or reassuring in any way. But Geneen Roth has no shortage of insight. She writes,

The nub of any addiction is the belief in your own deficiency and the assumption that it can be fixed by a tangible substance.

The image that comes to mind is that I’m a 5000-piece puzzle, beautifully constructed, with one piece missing (or 2. or 5. or that all 5,000 are there but someone just scotch-taped them together however they wanted. whatever). And all of a sudden, the other 5,000 pieces cease to matter, and my entire life and purpose on Earth becomes finding that missing piece. It’s a hard way to live, and not particularly sustainable.

You are alive. You are whole. All is well. We don’t need to think or behave like addicts. We can be curious, be willing to be surprised, and come into a relationship with ourselves that’s bigger than just fixing that broken part of ourselves.

Love, Kathryn