Posted by: hipconnection | March 31, 2013

baggage

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I enter the airport grateful for the automatic doors that allow me to pass with ease, given the load I’m carrying. I scan the concourse in search of the nearest counter and make my way there, shuffling, cursing myself for not having invested in the kind with wheels. I enter the queue, and am guided by barriers to the front of the line. The queue is empty at the moment, although I sense that the woman behind the counter has dealt with many personalities already today. I make a conscious effort to start out on the right foot. Positive. Polite. Cheerful.

“Hello,” I say, smiling.

“Good afternoon,” she replies, half-smiling.

Uh-oh, I think, but remind myself these things can change on a dime. Maybe I can win her over.

“I’d like to check this bag.” I’m met with assistance as she tugs the bag from her end up on to the weigh scale. My shoulders relax as the bag moves from my grasp. It’s not out of reach, but it’s far enough to provide some relief. And I’m so happy she has taken it. It’s almost enough, to be done right here. But I know there is more. There are formalities.

“May I see your ticket and ID please?” she asks.

“My ticket? Oh…um…” I pat my pockets, for appearance only, because I know there is nothing there. “I don’t have a ticket,” I tell her.

Her half-smile diminishes to a quarter of its capacity.

“Where are you flying to, ma’am?” she asks.

Flying, I think? Yes! Flying—light and easy, no effort, safety measures in place, waited on, piloted by someone else, squishy little seat, sore ears, stuck with the same companions for the entire journey, nausea… “No!” I blurt out. “I mean, no, I’m not flying. Um, not today. I’d like to walk.”

“You’d like to walk to your destination, ma’am?” she raises her eyebrows.

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” I nod, glad that she’s beginning to understand me.

“You’ll have to take this luggage with you, ma’am.” She points to the bag on the scale. The weight of it flashes at me in digital red.

“No,” I say. “It’s too heavy.”

She shifts her position. “Did you pack this bag yourself, ma’am?”

“Uh, yes, I did.”

“Are you aware of all the contents?”

“Yes, yes I am.” I hope my answers are appeasing her.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Forward,” I tell her.

“Forward?” Eyebrows again. No smile.

“Yes, forward. As in…not up, not over, not sideways, not nowhere, and definitely not down or backward.”

“Listen, ma’am. There’s a line-up forming behind you and I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but we have rules here; rules and regulations; protocol, you know? And we need to move this along…”

“Yes, let’s move this along…forward.”

“Okay.” She takes a step, tosses her hair, and crosses her arms in front of her. “Tell me where you’re going.”

“Look, I don’t have all the answers. I just want to check my bag,” I say.

“You can’t leave this bag here if you’re not planning to accompany it.”

“There’s no such thing as can’t!” I snap. “Didn’t you ever learn that? Think about it. There has to be a way. Surely there is a way. Read your guidebook! Call your superiors! And if there is no way yet outlined to make this possible, then create one! You can do that.” I turn and move away from the counter, away from her incompetence, her negativity, her unwillingness to take a chance, her lack of responsibility, and most importantly, away from my bag.

“Ma’am? Ma’am!” she calls, “You need to take your bag! You need to accompany your bag to your destination!”

I keep walking. I can do this, I tell myself. I hurry my step to create some distance. I don’t want to hear her. She continues to call after me, but soon her words fade into something unintelligible. The airport doors slide open and I step through, gasping.

Outside, I want it to be easy. I want sunshine on this side of these doors. But it turns out there are clouds and rain and traffic, lots of polluting traffic, rushing and jostling. I double over, hands on knees with the knowledge that it won’t be easy. Behind me they will be calling for security. Ahead of me, there are unknown hurdles, to be revealed over time. I call on faith. I trust.

I take a deep breath of polluted air—grateful for air at all—and I push on, walking, picking my way through the obstacles of the streets. I keep my back straight; hold my head up, look left, right, and left again. I listen. And although I watch, sometimes I pretend not to see. Because right now I’m looking at me. I am loving me. That is what I have space for. Because even though I left that baggage behind, it wants to be with me, and for a short time it will take all of my focus to keep it from finding me. Ha! Now I am glad it doesn’t have wheels. It’s become to my advantage as I glide through paved streets with more ease than it can manage with its wheel-less existence.

I catch glimpses of colour up ahead. Blue sky, green earth, sunshine. I move toward them.

*******************************************************

She screeches her last attempts to get me to hear, to listen, to obey. And when she realizes it’s futile, she does what she has to do next. For the safety of everyone, she picks up the phone. But she hesitates. She sees me walk boldly out the sliding doors, and although she’s been trained to fear these situations, she is not afraid. There is a feeling in her that she can’t place. It’s so buried that she can’t quite draw it to the surface. But from deep down, it tells her to wait. She holds the phone and watches me exit through the automatic doors—sees me bend over, stand up and disappear—before completing the call. Around her, passengers have become restless. They are unsure whether to be scared or annoyed or relieved or heroic, and clearly they feel a little of all these things, as they each react in their own way. But she holds them at bay, puts her hand up in a…Stop! Wait!…type of command and then makes sweeping motions downward to calm and soothe them, as she calms and soothes herself throughout the call. Yes, there is an unclaimed bag here. Yes, she saw who left it. No, it was a woman and she has left the building. No, she has no reason to believe there is anything dangerous inside the bag. Yes, she believes she is following protocol.

Security arrives. Dogs. Police. Bomb squad. They evacuate the passengers and bystanders from the immediate vicinity and cordon off the area. The bomb squad assesses the suitcase and pronounces it harmless.

The bag is opened and several officials scrutinize its contents. They look through their own filters, conflicted over what they see inside. Some think this bag is light, and they lose interest quickly. Some are surprised at what different people carry; they’d never dream of having these things in their suitcase. Some can relate. Some recognize their own items—same brand of deodorant or a similar shirt in a different colour. Some are relieved to see the likeness; they feel less alone just by having had the privilege of exploring the contents of another’s baggage.

****************************************************

I arrive at a beautiful place. It’s been a long journey. I’m unsure how long I’ll be able to stay here, but I hope to appreciate it for as long as it lasts. Friends have helped me along the way. And mantras, rituals, and songs. I feel blessed.

I’m surprised to see my suitcase here. I thought I left it behind, on its own trip to nowhere. I didn’t ever want to see it again. I was happy to keep it as a memory rather than something tangible like a photograph of a memory. But here it is. And I realize it’s been with me all along. It sits in a different light now. What I see is its capacity to gift expansion, understanding and comfort to others. I’ve shed my attachment to it and am no longer in need of its contents, but it still belongs to me. The question is:  If I pick it up, how will I choose to carry it?

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Posted by: hipconnection | February 25, 2013

head, heart, hands…and feet

I wrote this for our local Transition Town group as part of a series called Head, Heart, Hands, where each of the initiating members could volunteer to submit an article about what Transition means to them. Sunshine Coast in Transition is part of a global network that inspires us all to imagine and create a vibrant future that has alternatives to fossil fuels. We embrace building local resilience which is ecologically sustainable while nurturing and celebrating our community.

See sunshinecoastintransition.wordpress.com  for more information about the Transition Town movement.

 

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I sat down at the computer to look at an online magazine, called Rethinking Everything, with the idea that it might inspire me to write a story of my own. I read and loved the articles, the ideals, the passion, the amazing life journeys that people are experiencing. Every story brought a “wow” to my thoughts. And then I sunk back in my chair. How can I write anything inspiring? These people are so far ahead, so incredible in their conscious choices that I can hardly compare.

I left the computer rather deflated.  Oh sure, I’ve done a few things and some people have told me that I’m inspiring but when I let myself compare, I feel inadequate. I am not the perfect parent eating super healthy food, exercising daily, giving up all my possessions, trusting every moment, and being rather than doing. I do not live in the present. Ugh.

And then, while washing the dishes with as little water as possible, it hit me—baby steps. I’ve been taking baby steps; sometimes so small I’ve hardly even noticed them. A baby’s first steps are monumental but after a couple of months nobody notices that the baby is walking—it becomes normal, unremarkable activity.

When I make choices to live in extraordinary (as in beyond/outside of the ordinary) ways—breaking free from the ties of a job/income/career, not using diapers, homeschooling my kids in an unstructured environment, not coercing/controlling my children, eating a mostly vegan diet, living in an RV, not owning a television, cutting my own hair—while living with those choices daily and for a period of time, they begin to become ordinary or “extra”-ordinary (as in super duper more ordinary than ever), run-of-the-mill…haven’t I always lived like this?

I have to remind myself of where I came from in order to see who I’ve become and recognize the obstacles I’ve overcome and the baby steps I’ve taken toward my ideals. I haven’t arrived here in leaps and bounds. It’s been a gentle evolution including a combination of inner transformation and outer transition, and I recognize that I am only part way along in my journey.

Even though I’ve done some big things, my life feels pretty regular and average. I plod along. I see a gap. I make changes. I experience discomfort. I adjust. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I could almost say that it’s boring, except that those times when I challenge myself to see something in a different way or try something new or change an old habit, I am jolted into an exciting time, a time of possibility and hope for myself, for mankind, for the planet. As long as I stay awake and keep open to the clues around me, I am aware of the usefulness and purpose of my life.

My heart guides me, my head creates a plan, my hands do the work, and my feet keep me moving forward and upward on the path. Up toward where care and appreciation for everything and everyone is universal.  Up to an idealistic—synonymous with naïve, unrealistic, romantic, impractical and optimistic—utopia of love and joy.

I imagine our collective consciousness as a staircase. I like stairs because they require my will to apply energy while offering the luxury to choose my own pace.

Sometimes, like a child, I play on the steps—holding the railing and stretching my legs way up to take two or three at a time or sliding down several on my butt.  I’ve also been known to jump off the last few steps in a deep blissful plunge to the bottom. At times on my way up, I’ve lost my balance and somersaulted down through shrieks of shock and horror.  I’ve seen others traumatically pushed down and then catapulted up many steps as if by magic.  Some people find a way to fly up the staircase and I admire their lightness. Those above reach back and encourage me with a book, a movie, a play, a song, a painting, a hug, a conversation.

Most often when I ascend the staircase, I am like a toddler planting each foot with purpose. Just as when I learned to walk, I am conscious of my entire foot—my footprint—whether it is embedded in the soft cushion of a carpet, atop the subtle memory of concrete, imprinted in the black soil of a garden, or traipsing along a woodsy path.  My foot…steps…alone…and connects…me…to everything.

On each new step, I want to shout, “Look at me! I did it!”  I look to those ahead for inspiration. And as I climb with gaining confidence, I long for others to feel and share my delight, to look around, to look up.  I want to tell everyone about it. I turn with a bright mischievous smile, engaging them to catch me, hoping they will.

It doesn’t matter where I am on the staircase. I remind myself to look to others for guidance or to offer my help, rather than to compare our distances travelled. And I know that baby steps will get me there, get all of us there, in good time.

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Posted by: hipconnection | August 26, 2012

wisteria

I’ve got wisteria on my mind. The plant name reminds me of a cross between weeping and hysteria. Hysteria reminds me of Def Leppard and the ’80′s and I am brim full of nostalgia. I drive from Sechelt to Powell River on a 24 hour trip to my 25 year grad reunion. I weep in both directions, not big sobbing weeps–more like little seeps of weeps because every sad tear released is countered with joyful thoughts that keep me going, keep me driving through this heck of a crazy thing called life, human life, complicated and beautiful, a surreal gift, handed over in a package, tightly wrapped up. I  peel away the layers of wrap and I see that there are no instructions and that I can never reveal the whole gift. It’s impossible to fully understand why it glows and pulses and lives and breathes and creates and suffers, or why it’s been given to me, who gave it to me, or what to do with it. It’s an anonymous gift with an unknown expiry date. I could have it for years or it could disappear in the next few moments.

Leading up to Saturday I begin to feel excited about the event. Who will be there? What conversations will be had? Sandra asks if she can book a hair appointment for me and offers to share her wardrobe. I chuckle. “No,” I say. “I’ve got a few things I can wear and I cut my own hair.” Driving into town I begin to miss my job. We relocated to Powell River in October/11 where I picked up my job at Canada Post that I had been away from for several years to attend to family. I quit the job in April so we could move back to Gibsons in June/12. I realize that it’s the exercise I miss more than anything, particularly today when I want to look good. I’m not too fussed about the vintage and quality of my clothing or the style of my hair but my body concerns me. I felt good when I was working and looked forward to showing off tanned fit legs this summer.  I lament the comfort I felt during our short stay here. Even though I’d been happy to be away from Powell River for 24 years, now I feel nostalgic for the comfort of home.

I arrive at Sandra’s and, always practical, I immediately drop a load of laundry into her washing machine. We’re living in a camper van this summer so these things are important to do when they can be fit in. I dress for the party. “I’ve brought two outfits,” I show Sandra, “the sophisticated safe dress and the sexy Miley Cyrus mini-skirt with tank top.” I feel sure that sexy is in for tonight. I’ve just showered so I am surprised that I feel sweaty already. I smell like nervous. I don’t have any deodorant so I wash myself again. The mini-skirt and tank fail me. When I look in the mirror, I see love handles that say, “Hide me!” rather than “Hold me!” So the safe dress wins. Sandra offers to iron it for me but I assure her that the wrinkles will fall out on their own.

I have a glass of wine and we look through our grade 12 annual, scanning the names, faces and captions. We gather ourselves and head to the party.

The evening is difficult to describe. I am afraid I will forget something important, afraid I can’t capture all I am thinking and feeling and put it in a post that people can relate to because we are all thinking and feeling our own stuff and some of it relates and some of it doesn’t. And I don’t want to miss anything.

There is a bit of a blur as we come in the door and I meet old faces. Some are literally old faces; some look just the same. Some I can’t remember and some appear different than what my memory tells me. Given that I am not a very visual person and have difficulty with facial recognition, this part is no surprise to me; I only wonder how to greet people politely when I am in this position. Sandra introduces me to someone and asks if I remember him. “No, but you’re a very attractive man,” I blurt out, “so I wish I did.” Sandra describes me as someone who always says what’s on my mind. I agree, excuse myself, and avoid him for the rest of the evening.

It doesn’t take me long to shrink into myself. I drink water from the time I arrive. I hold my armpits down. I had joked with Sandra that my lead-in to conversation would be to point out my foot fungus and my new mustache hair but, even this, I don’t feel like sharing. I choose carefully to talk to a few select people, people I have some faint recollection of a connection with. There are at least two who leave before I get a chance. I don’t know how to talk to the others. Several of them I don’t share any memories with. This doesn’t feel good or bad but it leaves me feeling like it might not be worth the effort. I don’t know how to ask them about 25 years. Is it possible to get to know them in a short conversation? Do I want to get to know them, and invite them into my sphere? Do they want to know me? People are living such busy lives; I feel we have to weed out the unnecessary bits and concentrate on growing the deep-rooted connections we already have. I feel open to knowing anyone better but this isn’t the venue for exploration into souls. People eat, drink, chat, and share laughs about the old days.

Sandra asks me why I’m not drinking. “I don’t see anybody I want to have sex with,” I tell her. She cracks up. I realize that I’d only partly meant to be funny. There is something about going back home, back in time, back to a place where you acted a certain way, that brings those same feelings back into play. I used to drink to let my guard down, to make myself more available, to give myself more confidence, in hope of attracting a mate. I notice one guy’s relieved posture when he finds out I have a husband and family, my marital status making it safe to talk to me.

There is a lot of chat about the low attendance. We ponder. People need a lot of lead time to plan for attending a summer event. And there is the realistic fact that not everyone is on Facebook and therefore not everyone was contacted. I wasn’t even officially invited but I’m one of those nostalgia geeks who seeks out contact with my past so I tracked down the info myself. I sent my money in early. I bet all the bankers did too.

And then there are the other reasons. One person puts my thoughts into words, “I don’t care if you’re 400 pounds, divorced, missing an arm, and have no job…I just want to see you and say hello.”

I wonder how many people didn’t come because they feel inadequate or unsexy, feel embarrassed about letting their body go, feel like their life is a financial or emotional failure, feel like nobody from high school cares because they never did back then, so why would they now?

I care. My reasons for caring come from growing up. Growing up for me involved a lot of getting over stuff…getting over racism, getting over homophobia, getting over holding grudges, getting over shame, getting over low self-esteem, getting over anger, getting over the pursuit of money and stuff, learning to forgive myself and learning to forgive others. I feel good about getting over all that and I suspect there are others here among us who wish to share that good with others, wish to look people in the eye and give a heartfelt sorry and thanks for any contact they may have had.

But in reality, when I look at people, I tend to freeze. I wonder if it’s really worth apologizing for throwing that girl in the garbage can in junior high. I don’t know if she even remembers it happening. I don’t recall how involved I actually was in the action. Maybe she doesn’t even know I was there. Maybe I wasn’t there and just heard about it. We all remember things in our own unique way and form our own stories around the events in our lives. I want to say I’m sorry for any mean things I did and said but then I hesitate because it doesn’t even feel like me who did and said those things. If our cells regenerate every seven years, I’ve been recreated three times already.

I recall chatting with a teacher several years ago. He was attending a 10 year grad reunion. I thought it was neat that he was invited and had showed up. “Oh yes,” he told me, “I always attend when I’m invited. But I really enjoy the 25 year reunions more than the 10 year reunions.”

“Oh, why is that?” I asked.

“Because everyone is way easier-going. By 25 years, they’ve dropped all the pretense; they don’t care what anybody thinks about them. At the 10 year mark, everyone is still trying to impress everyone else.”

I’ve looked forward to the 25 year reunion in part because of that simple remark. Here I am. This will be fun. I won’t be worried about anything. I won’t care what people think. And mostly I don’t. But there is a wee part of me still wondering who is judging my ’90′s dress with the wrinkles that didn’t fall out, who’s judging my self-cut hairstyle or my eyebrows that haven’t been plucked in years, who will notice if I take a second dessert, who thinks I’m a bitch for not acknowledging that I played a part in school bullying, who thinks I’m trying to ‘pick up’ tonight because my husband didn’t attend the party, who thinks I’ve let myself go because I’m not wearing make-up, and who can smell my neatly-shaved-washed-twice-nervous-smelling armpits. (While writing this, I wonder if there are English majors from my high school out there judging my prose and correcting my grammar.)

When I feel I’m being judged, I’ve learned that it’s a good time to check my reflection. I take a look in the mirror and watch for signs of judging. If any of my fellow grads are concerned about being judged, then telling you what I saw when I looked around, without telling you who I am talking about, would be meaner than telling you nothing. So I’ll just say that, from my non-visual perspective, everyone looked fabulous and I had a hard time with the amount of drinking that went down.

That comes from my own story which is too long to write here. The gist of it is that now that I drink very little alcohol, I find it difficult to be around drunk people. I feel sad for them. I wonder what’s going on in their life that they need to escape from. I wonder if they’ve ever added up how much money they’re spending on booze and if they did, if they would choose to spend it in another way. I wonder if they’ll be hungover tomorrow or embarrassed by anything they said or did. I wonder how much more their liver can take. I wonder if they drink like this every day, every weekend, or just on these rare special occasions. I wonder why it’s important to them. Most of the attendees are local…is it a cultural norm for this town? Is it passed down through family genes, the environment of family?  I pose a question out loud to a group at a table.  “How can a person drink so much and still be standing?”

“I believe it comes with practice, lots of practice,” someone replies.

“Yes,” I say, “lots of practice.” I’m glad to have given it up. Like volleyball or tennis, this is something I’ll never be good at and I’m okay with that.

“Well, as long as they’re happy,” someone else chimes in.

“Nobody who drinks that much is happy,” I say.

“I suppose,” is the answer, “I guess it’s often a cover-up of what’s deep down inside, like a mask, or a way to bury the things that hurt.”

“Yeah,” I say. I don’t want to say more.

I wonder if the drinking has any part in the low attendance. Do some suspect this will be the scene and they know that it’s not their scene anymore? That it won’t feel good to be here? That they’ve risen above this? Or maybe there are some that can’t be here, because it’s too difficult not to join in.

I often feel annoyed by people drinking but it doesn’t seem to hit me here tonight in the same way. Most here are having a good time. What they feel on the inside, I have no way of knowing, not tonight, but they appear happy, they appear to be having a good time, they appear to enjoy these types of occasions with the booze flowing. I have to try hard not to judge their happiness. Maybe they are not drowning in booze like I would have. Maybe they are swimming like Olympians.

As the night wears on,  I am more than ready to go home when someone asks if there are any sober people in the hall.  “Yes,” I say, “I’m sober.”

“Good. You’ll be the driver,” I am told.

“Okay,” I say. I try to comprehend the logistics.  “How will that work exactly?”

“Oh, you always were the smart one,” they say. We laugh over math problems involving transporting animals across a river.

I fear a late night with an early-morning ferry to catch but I decide to embrace my soberness as a useful tool in a town of too few closing-time taxis. A van is offered up, the drunks pile in, and we pick up more alcohol en route to the after-party. After dropping them off, I do another run of taking people home and then we pick up Sandra’s car to drive back to her place. On the way, we stop in to the party to return the van keys.

I let myself in because I know they won’t hear me knock. I have only seconds to take in the scene. They are crowded into the kitchen leaning on cupboards and around an island counter. They look happy and intimate, in a platonic and friendly way. I don’t know if the alcohol will deliver them home in the same innocent-as-sixth-graders way I view them but I take a brief snapshot with my mind and prefer to imagine it so. When they see me, loud cheers and choruses of songs that hold my name erupt from the small crowd. I collect the van owner and retreat from the boisterous chanting.  He walks me back to the car, thanking me and describing me with words that feel good. I am patient. I am responsible. I am diligent.

Driving home on Sunday, more tears creep from the inner corners of my eyes. I think about those who didn’t come because they were fearful and those who didn’t come because they feel they are above it all. I have a sincere wish to see and speak with so many of the grads who didn’t attend. I think about the pain and the joy of those in the booze and wonder if they know whether they are drowning or swimming. I hope like heck they are swimming and that I’ll see them all again in five years. I’ll wrap big wreaths of wisteria on them like medals.

Posted by: hipconnection | July 6, 2012

to bra or not to bra

Fashion–Part 3.

Not only do I have issues about self-esteem and balancing my masculine/feminine traits, I’ve discovered a new issue with being too sexy! And it is becoming apparent to me how easily I am influenced by the thoughts/ideals/comments of others. How do we get to our true core beliefs on a subject? From the time we are born we learn through our surroundings about what is safe, good, right, wrong—our actions cause reactions and we adjust. So here’s how I was shaped:

Teased in grade seven, for my breast buds showing through my thin t-shirt, it was time to begin wearing a bra.

Dating a guy in my twenties who insisted I not wear a bra. It was hard for me to stop but he kept up with how sexy it was and so I succumbed and enjoyed the attention.

I got a job where I had to wear a uniform. Chafed nipples caused me to go back to the comfort of bras. The guy left the picture and I continued with bras.

During breastfeeding, bras were uncomfortable and restricting milk flow so they were banished once again—in fact shirts were banned for a time as well.  Breasts became so much more than sex objects and modesty went out the window, literally, as I paraded topless around the house not caring what the neighbours would think.

Post-breastfeeding, my breasts felt way less sexy and way more saggy…and as part of being an upstanding married woman in my new community—sexy was out; bras were back in/on/under my shirt.

This year, I developed a contact rash with some of my clothing so besides washing and drying clothes in hot water and heat, and applying various natural remedies to the affected parts, some of which were around my bra line, I’ve opted to go braless for much of the time. But I feel weird!

I don’t want my breasts to be perceived as sex objects and attracting pervs or as an attempt to attract any of my friends’ hot hubbies. And I don’t want to be perceived as sloppy or uncaring about my appearance. I’m stuck between wanting to hunch my shoulders over and wrap up in a jacket to cover my obvious loose breasts because I don’t want to appear sloppy or slutty AND feeling like what the heck, wear ‘em with pride. They are feminine and they may be sexy or they may be frumpy and either way it’s okay. It takes a long time to filter away all the external conditioning and get to the core of me, what I believe, what I truly believe. I need to stop judging myself based on how I think others are judging me. I need to let go of all of that and just feel good in my body.

Today I feel sexy.

   

Today I feel frumpy.

Altogether, these three posts have taught me that I fear being judged so I’m blabbing all my personal thoughts out here to try to avoid judgment by justifying my actions. I can admit that. Even if nobody reads it; at least I’ve said it. It helps.

In the end, I gotta be me…but if you happen to see me flouncing down the sidewalk and your mind can’t help but form a judgment…hopefully the loose breasts cancel out the moustache hair (which has grown back in a lighter shade and invited a friend!), and the pink shirt tips the scales. I AM WOMAN!

Posted by: hipconnection | July 4, 2012

hair today, gone today

Fashion–Part 2.

Body hair and femininity. Eek! Where do I begin? Here’s my experience with body hair from the beginning.

When I was twelve, a couple of girls were at my house and giggling and laughing and then pointing and calling me by the letters,“H.A.!” “H.A.!” which they eventually confided meant Hairy Armpits. Not long after that I asked my mum if I could shave. As a result of the teasing, I felt I should also shave my legs. Although they didn’t call me H.L., I believe it may have been implied. My mum taught me how to shave my armpits and lower legs, warning me that once I started, I couldn’t stop; I’d always have to do it. I was okay with that; it would be worth it to not stand out as abnormal among my peers.

As I matured, whether by psychological force or culture or nature, I began to equate body hair as negative and unfeminine. I always felt my looks to be slightly boyish—with a small chest contributing in that department. Those traits, combined with the homophobic town I was growing up in, resulted in me doing whatever I could to retain my femininity—from shaving armpits and legs, plucking eyebrows, to wearing make-up and hairspray. I tried ear-piercing, jewelry and padded bras. Many of those habits didn’t last. By the time I was raising kids, I’d dropped the jewelry, make-up, hairspray and eyebrow plucking, preferring the simplicity of being natural. I cut my own hair to save money and am happy with a simple hairstyle that requires little maintenance.

I’ve kept long hair most of my life. Why is it that head hair feels more feminine if it is longer and thicker while other body hair feels masculine and undesirable and less is better? In my twenties, a friend of my roommate told me about a woman he dated who had a tattoo of a lawnmower “down there” which he found to be an incredible turn-on (although I suspected this was more likely something he’d seen in a magazine than real life). However, shortly after this conversation, I had what I considered a “nightmare” during which I discovered my whole chest was growing dark, curly hair like a man. Thankfully it was only a dream but I recognize this is another area of my body that gets attention—when I want to feel more feminine, the hair must go! And as far as “down there”, my desire to mask that anything grows beyond my bikini line, ever, once led to a very bad experience with waxing. I’ve since tried plucking and trimming and well, I’ve always believed that that area is best left to imagination so I won’t go into detail of its current state.

So, on to the point of this post! I recently discovered a large moustache whisker had appeared on my face. This ignited several fears in me, the first being that if I plucked it, I would always have to pluck it because I feared it would come in larger and darker and thicker. Shaving is not an option—a lone long hair could become many. So I left it. But as it grew longer, I grew more self-conscious. I found myself turning that side of my face away from people, keeping a safe distance during conversation, hoping they couldn’t see that far, and even avoiding places where people were gathered. At times I wanted to blurt out what I was feeling and why I was doing it, hoping for comic and sympathetic relief from others, but then I didn’t want to draw attention to it in the case that it wasn’t noticed.

There it is, the offending growth.

I forced myself to accept my masculine moustache as short-term pain for long-term gain. I checked the mirror daily. I vigorously scrubbed my face, each time hoping that today would be the day the hair would naturally release itself from my pores. I laughed at my insanity. This experience made me question who came up with the idea that body hair, which grows naturally on women, is unfeminine. And then I remembered that it was ADVERTISING!  Still, my beliefs are firmly entrenched and although I have beautiful feminine friends with armpit hair, I prefer to justify my shaved pits as a comfortable habit.

And the day I touched that moustache hair and saw it crumble and fall, I was very happy and felt ALL GIRL again!

Posted by: hipconnection | July 2, 2012

pretty in pink

I’ve had a few fashion issues lately. I can hear the snickers in the crowd (I mean this as if there was actually a crowd reading this) from friends I’ve known for my lifetime. “Lately?” they’d smile with raised brows, neatly plucked. These friends have not forgotten my years of serious fashion faux pas, their favorite memorable event being the time I wore hiking shoes down to the pool during our Mexican vacation—hiking shoes and a bikini.

Keeping up with fashion has never been a high priority for me. I’ve made some vague attempts but mainly I tend toward plain, practical, comfortable, cheap, or whatever is available.  I wear no jewelry and have no tattoos; not even my ears are pierced. There was a time when make-up and hairspray ruled my world, but these were only attempts to fit in to what I believed were the rules. In fact, my fashion “issues” of late probably stem from these early-held beliefs that there were some rules I should follow.  Rules? Now there’s another blog topic altogether. In the meantime, I’m going to offer up a three part series on my current fashion confusion. There’s not a lot of HIP in these posts, pun intended. They are mainly self-indulgent. Along the lines of eating chocolate cake, tallking about myself just feels good.

Fashion–Part 1.

I took part in Canada’s anti-bullying week in February. It’s a week of heightened awareness which includes a day where everyone is invited to wear a pink shirt to take a stand against bullying. For one hour I remained consciously alert to my physical and emotional reactions while participating in a fashion “statement”.

One. Challenging authority, bucking the system. I didn’t ask permission from my employer to wear a pink t-shirt rather than my regular staff uniform. I feel justified. It’s a public event. It’s for a good cause. I am powerful. I am an activist.

Two. Confusion and compassion. On my way to the office, I question the “statement” of the event. Is my decision to wear a pink shirt reminding people not to bully or am I part of a mass effort to bully the bullies? I hope the kids who did the bullying which resulted in this “movement” have received counseling. I hope they have moved to a good place in their development and are not just hiding at home once a year on the day when everyone wears pink.

Three. Anxiety and panic. When I arrive at work, I do not see any other co-workers in pink. I am the only one. I spend long minutes wondering how I might be judged. Conflicting thoughts race through my mind keeping time with the irregular beat of my heart. I’m doing the right thing. Am I doing the right thing? What will this person or that person think? Who cares what they think? Do I care what they think? Will I be in trouble? How will I defend myself? Should I walk around the office strutting my stuff…since my tight t-shirt actually shows I have a little stuff that my uniform never reveals? Should I stay in my own space and avoid eye contact with others? I am sweating.

Four. Relief and acceptance. I find a few other pink shirts in the building and people speak positively about my choice. I receive compliments and hear people disappointed that they had meant, but forgotten, to wear pink. My supervisors smile at me. I joke and laugh with others and relax into my work.

Five. Disbelief.  That the choice to wear a pink shirt to work could affect my entire health and well-being astounds me. Wondering where that came from. Thinking of my own relationship with childhood bullying, societal pressure to do things others are doing, pressure to conform conflicting with desire to be my own unique self, I examine how negative physical symptoms took over when I felt anxious about being different and how positively delighted I felt throughout my whole body when I received acceptance. I suppose this is a reflection of my own self-esteem which is about a thousand times higher than it was 30 years ago but I see that those long-forgotten experiences still have some effect on me.

More on this in Part 2. Until then, bullying is bad and you can choose a different path. Feel free to wear any colour.

Posted by: hipconnection | June 4, 2012

nuggets

When I’m learning something new, I can be completely overwhelmed by information. But once I’ve learned a whole lot on a topic, even though there is always more learning to do, the learning begins to appear to me in nuggets—little ‘aha’ moments that bring me up to a new level of understanding. This learning feels incredibly rewarding because I can filter through a bunch of information and pick out the little bit that applies to my situation and wham!–it’s easy to apply and work on because it’s one valuable nugget rather than heaps of blinding gold.

Our family attended the Life Is Good conference in Vancouver, Washington, USA, from May 24-28, 2012. Unschooling is the main focus of the event but much of the content can be applied to all areas of our children’s development and our own. Here are the takeaways I mined from the weekend:

1. Why do I allow freedom in the area of ‘school’ but not in other areas of my children’s lives—food, bedtime, bathroom use, choice of friends, tv/computer use, what tone they speak with, etc.??  Hmmmmm…

2. Notice the things that cause me discomfort. Examine why. What is the fear behind the discomfort? Does it come from my own self or from conditioning I’ve received from an external source? Invite in the discomfort.

Example. I feel uncomfortable when my toddler delights in ripping the pages of books. Why? I fear they will rip all books, I fear they will disrespect material property. Invite in the discomfort. Get a stack of magazines from a recycling depot. Rip up the magazines with the child. Allow the fun for child and self. Explain that these magazines are ok for ripping while Mommy and Daddy’s books are not ok for ripping.

Example. I feel uncomfortable when my child chews with their mouth open. Why? I was not allowed to chew with my mouth open when I was a child. I fear my child will be perceived as rude or that I will be perceived as a bad parent for not teaching my child manners. Invite in the discomfort. Engage with the child in a meal of chewing with mouths open and talking with mouths full of food, not in a mocking way, but in a joyful way.  Allow self to have fun with it.

3. Boundaries without rules and letting go of control.

I’ve discovered that my kids know almost all the rules of manners and etiquette, they know the difference between kind and mean, they know the difference between healthy and unhealthy food, and positive and negative thoughts. They know all of this. So why, then, do they shove each other to get candy that they don’t share while yelling mean things?!!

I am beginning to see that it is has to do with choice. I talk often about the importance of choice. But in many cases, I don’t let my kids choose. I control their choices, overtly and covertly.

I am at a new level of letting go; it comes with the kids’ increasing age and maturity, it comes with experience, it comes from being with inspiring families. I can allow my children freedom, teach them about responsibility, model my values, and set my own personal boundaries. But I can’t make my children learn and I don’t get to choose their values or their interests for them.

It is exciting and scary to reach up and try new levels.

 

Posted by: hipconnection | April 30, 2012

must be nice

In 2010 my husband and I packed up our family in a camper van and travelled for a year on his self-funded research project. We drained our retirement savings, believing only that it would all work out and why wait to retire when death could come first.

We budgeted ourselves to make the time last but we didn’t worry about letting the funds run out.  Fortunately, we knew I had a job to return to. I didn’t quite trust that the safety net of the universe would be there if I didn’t weave it myself. We let go of a lot of our stuff—but not all of it. We stored things that we didn’t want to have to re-purchase.

Many people found our travel story inspiring but we found it very ordinary. It was a conscious choice to live a particular dream and while living it, it felt very normal and regular to us and we’d often wonder why others weren’t doing it too and then we’d remember…oh yeah…they can’t…because they believe they can’t.  They’re working to pay for the big house with the big taxes and all the stuff in the house and the vehicles and the 2-3 weeks vacation and the Christmas debt and to fill up their retirement savings bank account and save for their children’s education—just like we did for several years. And they are stuck in the cycle of work, make money, spend money, work, which is all well and good if they are doing a job they love and making choices about their priorities that feel good to them. But often people would look at us and say, “I wish I could do that.” And they can…but they might have to give something up to do it—like the big-screen tv or the speedboat or the cigarettes or whatever it is that holds them back—maybe it’s just the belief holding them back; maybe they can have what they want while keeping what they have.

When I was a kid, people used to say my family was “rich”—my dad had acquired a large fishing boat and several rental houses. We had a swimming pool in our back yard, a telephone in every room. My dad bought every new gadget. We always had lots of food and booze. My parents flew to Hawaii every year. They were appearances that made us look “rich”, but we knew what we really were—heavily mortgaged.  And we were “living”, making choices, and prioritizing what my dad wanted. And I do that now—prioritize life, not a lifetime of saving up for it.

We all make choices, prioritizing what feels right to us in the moment, or what we are told/led to believe is right.  I like to challenge the status quo, really look at it and question it and see and feel what is right for me, right now, rather than relying on old patterns of thought created by environment and culture in my era.

My choices about priorities relating to money are usually met with two kinds of reactions from people…the “must be nice” reaction which can be interpreted as “I wish I had those options to make those choices, I am so hard done by, why are things better for you, my life sucks and yours should too”, and the “must be nice” reaction which can be interpreted as “Wow, that’s really amazing what you are doing. Way to go! Enjoy it!  You deserve it.  I wish I could do it. I feel inspired and hopeful that maybe I can.”

I am very grateful for the latter. Thank you.

The response I’d like to give to both reactions is, “Yes. Yes, it is nice. It is nice to know that I’ve worked hard, saved hard, and made choices that brought me to this place where I am now. Not all my choices were positive but most of them eventually led me in a positive direction and they all brought me to here.”

I’d like to hold my head up while speaking but I fear my eyes show that inside I am pushing “down, guilt, down”. There’s something about feeling good that bothers other people. They compare what they see on the table and they think they’re on the losing side, but they forget that underneath is a lifetime of values, beliefs, luck, and choices all rolled into the characters now standing on the game board—we are not comparable. And our positions will not remain static—we will continue to roll the dice and make choices.  I know not to cry when I’m behind but I need to remind myself that it’s ok to celebrate when I’m ahead.

I’ve just given up my job—my security blanket of almost twenty years. It’s an excellent outdoor job with exercise, great pay, benefits, pension and perks. Am I crazy?  No.  Am I stupid?  No.  Will I miss it?  Yes.  Do I love it?  Yes.  Then why?  A few reasons…but mostly because we have an opportunity to be with our kids right now for these precious years while they are young. We’re creating a lifestyle that offers us more freedom and a void we hope to fill with meaningful (community/global) activity. It must be nice. Yes. It is.  Head held high.

And when our kids have left the nest, and we are working to pay the bills while everyone we know is retired and travelling and collecting pensions, we can say, “Must be nice.” We’ll feel joy for them because we’ll know how good it feels to accomplish goals and reap the rewards. And about ourselves, I hope we will also be able to say, “Yes it is. It is nice. Right where we’re at. Doing what we’re doing. Because of the choices we made.”

Posted by: hipconnection | March 29, 2012

on the bright side

The grass is always greenest beneath my feet…  Hey! Who put up that fence?!

Posted by: hipconnection | February 28, 2012

sand play

I took the kids to a beach one day last summer. It was a small beach in a small community with small minds. I feel like I can say that because I grew up in a small town and I truly didn’t learn that Asians, Indians, homosexuals and welfare recipients are equal human beings until I’d spent some time living in a diverse big city. It takes a long time to expand a mind that begins small and I’m still working on it. I would like to acknowledge that perhaps there were bigger minds and larger hearts among the people present that day. But this is what I saw—teens drinking and smoking pot, taking a picnic table in to the lake to sit on while it floated, and boats zooming by with chicks lifting their shirts to show their boobs to the beach-goers. Nobody did anything really terrible but I didn’t notice anybody doing anything terribly big either. Nothing big or brave or commendable—not even myself.

A three-year-old girl is playing next to us on the beach. She appears to be accompanied by a very young mother, a young grandma, a great auntie and a teenager who has taken time earlier to play with the girl in the water. The great aunt lays resting with eyes closed on a beach towel when the three-year-old gets an idea to throw a handful of sand at her. The grandma foresees the action and exclaims, “Don’t!” but she does it anyway.

Another “Don’t!” sung in duet by her mother and grandma results in the girl throwing a handful of sand at grandma. The mother wastes no time. She picks up a handful of sand and throws it directly at her child’s face. The grandma gasps “Oh,” and says quietly, “it’s in her mouth.”

“Good,” says the mother.

The grandma grows quiet and I feel her weighing the reality of the situation—she has no place in raising this girl; she had her turn raising that girl.

The child says carefully, “Mama, it’s in my mouth.”

“Well, don’t throw things at people then!” snaps the mother and then in her very next displeased breath she scorns, “It’s only sand, it won’t hurt you.”

I can’t help but ponder the messages the child learned in that moment. Throwing sand is bad for me to do but it’s okay for others. I should not throw sand at others but if they throw it at me, I should suck it up.

The intent of this post is not to judge. I’ve had some less than ideal moments parenting my kids. My hope is to inspire the possibility of choice. I can choose how I act in every moment. I can choose to stop and think before I react. I can choose to forgive myself for my mistakes. I can choose to try harder and do better. I can choose to forgive others for any negative effect they’ve had on me. I can choose to recognize patterns and to think about changing them. Rather than throw sand, I can choose to draw a line in it.

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