Sunday, December 12, 2010

Clean Slate

I see big pictures, I think in relationships, and I can't fit into boxes. Categories confuse me, discrete separations and definitive endings don't make sense to me. I laugh at straight lines.
I am wound up in spirals; from the DNA strands in my cells, to the muscular wrapping of my body following the same patter, to the continual and ever-evolving relationships within myself, and between my environment and I. I see connections, and I have a hard time grasping the concept that any two things would not be interdependent.

My frustration with the formal education system stems from this way of thinking, because it clashes with our traditional structure of learning- one that names, categorizes, and differentiates concepts into their own personal vacuums, away from interactions and "safe" to probe, analyze and draw empirical, yet meaningless data. I say meaningless because the world is the furthest thing from a vacuum, everything is constantly interacting and influencing everything else. It simply made no sense to talk about aspects of this world as if they didn't affect each other. When I would ask a question in class, most of the answers I got were unsatisfactory and along the lines of, "That is beyond the scope of this class," or "That's an interesting question, you should research it," or "There is no way to answer that question within the realm of what we know empirically to be true."
I would leave class both excited about the possibilities science has to unfold really important questions about the universe, health and our existence, while simultaneously feeling unfulfilled and disappointed that science seems to be more concerned with finding the smallest unit of life (a search which continually proves fruitless), making life easier and/or more unhealthy (as in radio-technology, and genetic modification) and also angry that my so-called liberal arts college would not support the quest for knowledge of our world and instead sent me away with discouraging answers to my questions as if deeming them inconsequential.
And so began a search for a new direction. My path has been winding.

I struggled with the decision of whether or not to leave the systematized and accepted structure of institutional higher education in search of finding other pathways of learning that would fit better into the way my mind works, to engage in the real world in the job market, to take the classic "misfit/alternative" path of backpacking through some obscure country to "find myself." I questioned if this was a question of discipline that I simply needed to apply myself and try harder to fit into the system of education this society values; to grin and bear it, get my diploma and then find my place within the system (or outside of it). I addressed issues of guilt over the cost of a piece of paper that supposedly gives accreditation to an individual's knowledge and worth, and weighed the advantages of opting for massage/yoga/Ayurveda school instead.

So after a long period of indecision, oscillating between a number of possibilities, and opportunities; after more tears than I care to admit, and more second opinions than first ones, I have finally almost come to a decision. For now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road--
Only wakes upon the sea.
Antonio Machado

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fake It Till You Make It?

Not in this case.

(Disclaimer: for the purposes of this article, the terms "man" and "woman" will refer to heterosexual men and women, unless otherwise indicated.)

Orgasms. We all think about them, dream about them, talk about them, go to the ends of the earth to experience them, read about how to give them and yet... there is still this gap between what we want, and what we're getting. We all want to be pleased, and for the most part, we want to please- so why is it that we aren't being satisfied?

To begin with, we live in a culture that builds up this hype around sex. It's on TV, in the movies, and on the newsstands. And despite all the coverage it gets, we grow up with this elusive idea of sex as this mysterious, fantastical life-defining act that 1) will fill you with ecstasy, and 2) will fill you with ecstasy every time. We've been told at a young age that sex is a wonderful, sacred thing. We never see, hear, or read about the awkwardness, the physical pain, the weird noises, smells, or tastes- and so we go through life looking for that seductive, wordless, "natural" sex, because that's what we think it is "supposed" to be.
"For some reason sex didn't meet the expectations I had, which had all grown from so much of what I was seeing in the media, hearing from people's own stories, etc. SEX was supposed to be the most amazing thing that a human could experience, right? And it wasn't that for me at all."
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, at some point we all have to face the reality of the situation- the disappointment: the lack of orgasm. So how do we deal with the disillusionment? Apparently, we don't, really... we just pretend. Because there is this expectation to please your partner, and the pressure to climax, not meeting those expectations (i.e. not orgasming) means letting your partner know they have "failed" and/or admitting to failing yourself. And, thus, to avoid this "awkwardness," there is a strong tendency in both women and men to simply fake it.
"I figured if we both left the experience feeling unsatisfied and unaccomplished, it would put a damper on the whole night, so in my mind, faking it was a viable option."
In all my conversations with women regarding sex, and orgasms in particular, the very fundamental issue that we face is the same. Whatever is happening on the bed (or against the wall, or on the floor, kitchen table etc.) just isn't working. The general consensus is; men want to please the women they sleep with, but they aren't, and women for some reason can't seem to break it to them. Many of the women I've talked to, say something along the lines of,
"He wanted me to orgasm - a fake, real, semi-fake orgasm. He wanted an "anything" orgasm. As long as I moaned he was content. So that's what I did... I wanted to make him happy somehow and that's where the fake orgasaming started."
In general, I think our society focuses more importance on men's pleasure as opposed to women's, and this definitely has an effect on the way women view their own satisfaction, as one woman related to me,
"I allowed my pleasure to take the backseat to his... I just thought that intercourse continued until the guy climaxed."
And another woman told me,
"I definitely would expect to have an orgasm when having sex with a woman more so than with a man. My experience having sex with a man was very one-sided. I never came... I just felt like I had to suffer through the pain in order for him to feel pleasure."
Granted, each and every experience varies between every individual and set of surrounding circumstances, I think we can make a fairly broad statement that most people have had at least one unsatisfying sexual experience. When faced with those situations, we have two choices: 1) be vulnerable: honest, discuss better tactics for giving pleasure, or 2) fake it, pretend everything's fine- in fact, pretend everything is AMAZING. The problem with this ultimatum is that option 1 means vulnerability, it means facing, even embracing awkwardness, and it means facing the fear of the possibility that a partner does not actually want to give you pleasure. Option 2 on the other hand, is an easy way out, for the time being at least. However, somewhere down the road (if this is a "down-the-road" type of relationship), all hell will break loose.
"It gives a lot of guys false confidence they don't deserve, and it inhibits them learning how to actually please a woman."
After talking with a number of women and absorbing each of their individual perspectives, I can say with some confidence that there are basically three reasons:
1) It's not going to happen, but we don't want to hurt our partner.
2) It's still not going to happen, but because you faked last time, and your partner expects it...
3) boredom.
I think it all comes down to the detrimental effects of these expectations, and then not knowing how face failure to meet them. One woman plainly told me,
"It's awkward to say to a guy, "I want to stop having sex.""
There is also this guilt involved, because we know (or at least we hope) the men we sleep with want to, and try hard to bring us to orgasm and if we don't, then we feel badly for them. Especially since there is pressure on men to "perform" in that way, as one man related:
"There is an expectation, perhaps just in my mind, that I need to fulfill a woman's sexual needs that is most obviously displayed in the culmination of an orgasm."
And another woman said,
"I think I faked it the first time to make him feel good, but then he expected to make me orgasm every time after that so I had to keep doing it. Sometimes I do it just to get it over with, but I fake it so often that now he almost expects to make me cum multiple times, so now I have to fake it multiple times just to get it over with... This is sad. I do love sex. And I love my boyfriend and he's wonderful, but he's not the god at sex he thinks he is, and that is MY fault!"
So, essentially, we (women) are sacrificing the possibility of our own pleasure to ensure that we don't hurt the feelings of our partners, and in doing so, we also ensure that they will almost never pleasure us.
"If you pretend to enter a state of ecstasy just to escape uneventful sex, the guy is going to think he is doing something right. That's classical conditioning for you. Faking it sends all the wrong signals and if you are looking for better sex, it is all about being honest and communicating."
Now, when I first decided to write something on this topic, I was focusing on the woman's perspective, and I had sent a number of emails out asking women if they might feel comfortable sending me some of their thoughts on the subject. I then got a response from a man asking, "What about men?" and it made me realize that women are not the only ones dealing with this issue. Men, it turns out, have quite an interesting take on the topic (at least the ones who spoke to me). Reasons I encountered from men who have faked an orgasm ranged from boredom, to inability to cum, to sexual encounters with partners inept at pleasing. Again, it all comes back to a lack of communication and fear of failure.
"Sometimes faking it is just easier than dealing with the problem, and sometimes dealing with the problem, depending on who you are with is nearly impossible because no one wants to deal with the idea that they can't get another person off."

"Neither of us wants to be the one to say "stop". In order to avoid that awkwardness, I have found that faking orgasms is the best exit strategy. Blue-balls are better than an awkward conversation."
This issue of "lasting too long" is an issue that I hadn't ever really considered previously, but in getting feedback from multiple men, I can say that it isn't so uncommon. One man put it this way:
"Not being able to finish sucks not only for the obvious reason, but also because it’s a problem that no one takes seriously. Everyone assumes either that I’m lying, or that it’s a good thing that I have no rite to complain about."
Another man directed responsibility for his inability to "finish" to women:
"[Women] my age are dreadfully inexperienced and, far more importantly, don't watch any porn. They are, therefore, pitifully incompetent when it comes to navigating the human body... Most of them don't even know how to pleasure themselves."
This raises an interesting point, that in order for a person to be able to please another, they must have a certain level of understanding and ability to give their selves pleasure. However, because our society focuses so much sexual attention on pleasing heterosexual men, women very rarely learn how to please themselves and are thus more likely to be dependent on others for their own sexual pleasure. Women then expect men to know how to bring us pleasure, to stimulate the clitoris when we don't know where it is, and to bring us (as if a lost child) to our own orgasms, when we don't know how to do it!

One man had a solution,
"My diagnosis? Women need to watch porn."
Except, wait- porn is probably least honest representation of sex there is out there, and creates these expectations of out-of-this world orgasmic sex as being typical. The take-home lesson, I think, is honest communication. Learn what you like, what you want and what you expect, and get comfortable communicating that.
"Faking is not honest and is more about fear of being judged or fear of hurting someone. If authentic individuals enjoy each other on all levels and are present to each other in the moment there is no faking anything."

I’d like to extend special thank-you to all who were so honest about their experiences and open to sharing them with me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hay Verdad en Este Cuerpo

I am fascinated by the body. I think it's the coolest thing ever. It sustains itself, and it sustains spirit, it houses information, memory, emotion, dreams and life force. It is the vehicle in which we travel, the home in which we live. And it can be fine tuned, trained, pushed to limits, and altered.

We are the only species capable of consciously altering our physical appearance.
We have the ability to choose what our bodies look like, and how they interact with the world around them. And we all do it, every day.

Body modification is commonly defined as, "the deliberate altering of the human body for non-medical reasons." Anthropologist, Dianne Bell, at George Washington University appeared on National Geographic's television series Taboo, in the episode on tattoos. She said, "By putting [a tattoo] on a body, it has power, it has power for you and it has power for the viewer. Marking the body says, “I am this person, I am of this clan, or I am of this particular caste or I have a particular set of skills.” You know how you should greet that person and you know how you should behave. So in that sense it’s kind of an early warning system.” Professor Wande Abimbola, Awise Awo Agbaye (World Spokesperson for Ifa) and Special Adviser to the President of Nigeria on Cultural Affairs and Traditional Matters said, "We live in that age where things are always unstable, and people would like to ensure that you are grounded in the values and way of life of your own people,” and tattoos are one way in which people achieve that stability in values. He also commented on the process and experience of getting body modifications as an important aspect of the practice, "Art no longer becomes something you hang on your wall, it becomes something that you participate in." Body modification is a manifestation of a person’s creativity and allows for an outlet for that expressionism to be experienced and shared.

However, because humans have this ability to consciously modify the physical appearance of the body, we also have the ability to mutilate the body. There is a thin line between the two that lies in the perspectives of every individual. Mutilation is generally defined as “an act or physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of any living body,” but this semi-permeable membrane between modification and mutilation is defined by the intention and reason with which someone goes into getting a procedure done. If the motivation is coming from a positive place within that person and the modification will not have debilitating effects on the person, then it very well could be a positive modification. If the motivation lies in others, whether to please, or anger someone else, then the alteration will not be sustainable and could be considered mutilation of the self. If the motivation for altering the body is self-destructive, or a negative pressure, even from within yourself, then it becomes self-mutilation. Allen Falkner, founder of the first suspension group, professional body piercer, and often referred to as the Father of Modern Suspension, commented on the need to judge each physical alteration on a very personal level. Model, Masuimi Max had her forehead tattooed at a young age she claims was part of a rebellious attitude. Falkner says, “tattooing her forehead was mutilation because it’s not something she really thought through, it’s not something that she really wanted. Is facial tattooing mutilation? No, it was a specific scenario.”

Erick Sprague (aka, Lizardman, who's modifications include a split tongue, stretched earlobes, sharpened teeth and full body tattoo of green scales) says that piercings and tattoos are just the middle of the spectrum of body modification.
"In my opinion, body modification includes things like clipping your nails and getting a haircut. People do unnecessary things to their bodies for reasons besides hygiene. It’s one of the few things you can say exists in every single culture and society. What I do to my body is not unlike what they do to theirs; it’s a spectrum, and we’re just on different ends. They may be styling their hair, while I’m radically altering my outward appearance."
We all lie somewhere on this spectrum of modification- from dressing a certain way, cutting or coloring your hair, painting your nails and wearing make-up, or going to great lengths to "find the best cross between a human and a tiger" like Stalking Cat, a man of Lakota and Huron heritage who has modified his body to emulate and embody his totem, the tiger, as a part of his religious and spiritual heritage. He has had extensive tattooing, including facial ink, transdermal implants to create the appearance of whiskers, dental filing and capping for more feline teeth, bifurcation of his upper lip, surgical pointing and elongation of the ears and wearing colored contact lenses with split irises. Stalking Cat has said of his modifications that they are adaptations of a very old Huron tradition, and that they allow him to be a lot more comfortable with the person he is

BMEzine blogger, Rob says, "for the most part, all any of us want is to be able to express ourselves in any way we see fit. It just so happens that it involves modifying the physical body, as opposed to making a statement in a letter, or painting a picture." Steve Haworth, founder of 3D Body Art lists these reasons for modification; 1) aesthetic value, 2) sexual enhancement, 3) shock value, and 4) spirituality. A tattoo artist friend of mine, Katiana told me her theory: tattoos are birth marks under the skin, and the process of getting them is just bringing them to the surface; they become a part of us and just as we learn about ourselves, we learn about them throughout our life as well. A friend of mine, Lars Prandelli (whose body modifications include piercings of the lip, septum, nostrils, cheeks and Monroe piercings along with two genital piercings and previously stretched earlobes approximately to 3 inches in diameter) told me,

"I see my skin as a tactile tapestry on which someone can release their art upon."

Body modification, in whatever form it may manifest for you, allows a person to take ownership over their body, to make it theirs, to adorn their temple in a way that pleases their soul. It is a process of giving yourself permission to be what feels right for you, to have peace with who you are because your house feels like home. Prandelli said,

"It symbolizes a willingness and desire to avoid a stereotype or any sense of conformity to what most people perceive as 'normal.'"

Body modification, just like any form of expression, is about the individual's own experience with it. Erik Sprague said in the movie Modify, “it’s that same human drive to decorate, explore, experiment; and it’s just that some people are going further and some people are finding a comfort zone where they are.” The importance lies in finding a personal comfort zone within oneself, and respecting the choices and processes others go through to find their own personal comfort level. Joe Aylward, most well known for his metal Mohawk, said similarly, "Now it's for you to go out and experience it on your own level because you can't experience it on mine!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

recent dream

I had a dream last night, where two daddy-long-legs were wrestling. One was black, and the other was white. I remember watching them, in my dream, thinking, "They have so many legs to kick with. I can't imagine having so many limbs. How cool!"

They were wrestling in a manner in which their bodies were on top of each other, with their legs coming around to push the other off itself. They were moving around quite a bit, and although my initial interpretation was that they were fighting, the movement could have also been some fit of passion.

I'm wondering if the black and white colors might correspond to the light and dark associations of yin and yang respectively; the male and female aspects of life. Maybe the yin and yang are fighting... or making love... in my life.

Or maybe I live in a house with ants and spiders everywhere, and that's what caused the dream, and my biology homework is what is prompting the interpretation..

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Body Story

The body is an amazing thing.
It grows, it heals, it repairs, replaces, it feels, responds, reacts. And it absorbs.

Every situation, circumstance and environment we put our bodies in, the body absorbs it. The electrical charges, ionic composition of the air we breathe, the frequencies of voices around us, the vibrations of the words we hear, the music we listen to, the images we see, the food we eat, and the way we speak are all internalized in each and ever
y cell of the body, which then adjust in response. We are composed very literally of the story of our past. Everything we've experienced from a conversation with a stranger to the action of climbing a mountain helps to create us on a very physical level. Each and every one of us is the physical manifestation of our lives; stories walking around written on flesh.

Here's my story, piece by piece.

I began in a small wet place, warm, and throbbing with the sound of life. I was carried in the belly of a woman, an artist, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife. She claims to this day that she's never felt better than she did while she carried me and my sister, three and a half years prior. She recounts feeling energetic, busy working in an art gallery in a town in Massachusetts outside of Boston. She was active in play with her daughter, my sister, Erin. She, my father and Erin kept a routine of nightly walks in the neighborhood after dinner. We lived in a house neighboring a Greek woman who warned my mother of all the right and wrong things to eat when pregnant with me (even prior to my birth, emphasis was placed on my nutrition).
I was born early on a Sunday morning after 14 hours of my mother's labor and a caesarean. My mother tells me she was not as physically exhausted as she had been with her previous caesarean, and her body healed much faster than it had before.
I know of a story from when I was very little, still in a crib. I was sick and my parents were going to give me some drug from the doctor, but Erin knew that drugs were bad and so she stood in front of my crib, her arms spread wide in protection of me. My father explained to her that only some drugs are bad, and others- like from the doctor- are good. She accepts this with hesitation and cautiously moved aside. From an early age I was exposed to the notion that western medicine was not necessarily trustworthy.
Being held in my mother's arms one summer afternoon. She holds me to her chest, above the water level of the pool. I wiggle and fight for freedom. She gives me that freedom, and I sink, slowly, down to the bottom of the pool until I am sitting, eyes gazing back up through the water to mother, who expects me to swim back up to her. I don't. She quickly becomes frantic and her arms dive down to lift me back above water. Inhale.
This summer in Mexico, a curandera whom I had never previously met (at least in this life) named Angelina felt my pulse, looked into my eyes and told me that my pulse was cold because I was afraid of water. She said there was something that had happened to me as a very little girl that had created a shock in my body. (!!!!)
I am the youngest grandchild, the little sister, I have been "the skinny one," when I was younger and my friends and I played Spice Girls, I was Baby Spice- my identity has almost always been tied to size, and more specifically, small size. When I got older and felt insecure about my growing body and growing responsibilities, my response was to pull back into myself, to shrink away from the world, to feel small, and to hide in smallness, to disappear.
The summer between 6th and 7th grade- age 11. My older sister was focusing on being healthy, on exercising, eating well, and taking care of her body. I think she was feeling some balance between fear of genetic disposition of obesity and true health consciousness. She wanted for me to be health conscious as well, urged me to exercise with her, to do crunches, to go rollerblading and bike riding, to run around the block or swim laps. I just wanted to play.
Freshman year in high school, I found myself lost in a sea of unknown identity. I felt the pressure to create a definition of myself and the only tangible thing that felt authentic was my smallness. And I went to town (as previously discussed in this blog). My body became a receptacle of hate- it was very much my identity, and at the same time, very disconnected from my Self. I was so full of hate, my heart physically shrank. (yes, like the Grinch.)
Sophomore year in high school, after being discharged from the hospital, I started practicing yoga. A year later, I created an apprenticeship program for the teacher training school at the yoga studio near me. I started learning about my body, human anatomy, the chakra system and just how interconnected the physical is with the emotional and spiritual. I began to find integration. The summer after my junior year in high school, I journeyed my yoga teacher training. One component of the process was taking 36 yoga classes outside of the 200 hour teacher training. One class I took, a restorative/meditative movement class ended up being a very profound experience. We were moving through a meditation with postures, and at the moment of the profundity, we were in pigeon pose, a deep hip opener. The instructor guided us through the meditation and encouraged us to "let go of any tension we've been holding, release any mental or emotional blocks that may still exist, any negative patterns that we may be holding onto, let go of that which does not serve you." and with that, I was bawling. Somewhere between the physical stretch and the mental focus, I had experienced a shift in consciousness, I reached a level of awareness of what I needed to do for myself, and an understanding that my body has indeed been absorbing all the negativity I've thrown at it.
I often say that one of the best examples of unconditional love I have experienced is the love from my body. No matter how hard I've tried in my past to destroy it, it has always rebounded, repaired, and continued to love me.
Just as all my experiences create who I am becoming as a person (which is always changing), I am also always creating my experiences. My body is a physical representation of my Self, and all of those experiences are a part of me, now they are a part of my body, too. So even if I change as a person, the moments that inspire my body modifications are necessarily a part of whatever changes I go through in the future. As an living organism engaged in the process of evolution, I am constantly adapting and evolving to my environment and responding to stimuli in every moment (responding by getting tattooed). I inevitably will change in the next moment as well. So if in this new moment, the new me has a new tattoo, I am continuing to alter my environment which is altering me (and back and forth and back and forth etc.) I only continue to engage in this interaction with my universe and it with me in a different way- expressing to the world around me what I've learned and gained from these interactions and illustrating my perpetual growth in a physical way.
In high school, I got very accustomed to pretending. I got very good at creating illusions, (being that for a large part of that time, I was living a lie) I spent almost all of my high school career involved in acting, and it became a large part of my identity and talents, in a way that was almost below my own radar- I didn't know I was acting... So when it came to my relationship with my boyfriend in high school, I was also actively involved in this illusion-unbeknown to me. I faked orgasms. A lot. More times than I actually HAD them. It made him feel good, and that was all that mattered. Except not. Because then, when it finally came time for me to stop faking it, I didn't know what to do. It lead to a few fairly awkward encounters with men asking me, "Why aren't you doing anything?" and me not knowing exactly how to respond. My body had internalized the act of pretending, of masking the truth, of faking, of lying, and it was hard to break it. But when I finally did, and could finally be honest, it felt so empowering, so real, so true. I could actually be myself. And it felt good. REALLY good.
My body is sacred, the house of my spirit, the vehicle of my dreams. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes i try to de-story my body, I try to dismantle the essence of my Self from my self. I try to separate the life from the thing that's lived it. And when I think of the way my body and my life are inseparable, I think also of the ways in history people have tried to destroy peoples. It always comes down to de-storying the people- stripping them of their language, their tales, traditions and all the aspects of a person's and of a culture's story. Then their bodies change- the traditions of body modification, the food cultures, the views these people have of their own bodies etc.
I am highly susceptible to pink eye, I hold an extra two pounds of water weight the week before my period, I have a tendency to roll in on the arches of my feet and I'm slightly bow-legged. My right hip is more flexible than my left, my left breast is larger than my right, my right ear is higher than my left and I have a fairly sensitive digestive system. I've learned to become as acutely aware of my body as I can, to plug into the wisdom my body has that I had discredited for so long.
I am what I am, and there's nothing else I could be.

Monday, September 27, 2010

not alone.

it's so easy to feel isolated. to tell yourself that no one understands. to be convinced that you are alone and unsupported.

but it is so far from the truth.

I am so grateful to have the people in my life. And it's amazing how, when something happens and I need support, I automatically feel alone, which makes it that much harder and scarier to deal with whatever I need to deal with. But then, someone calls, or someone skateboards by, or smiles, or whatever. And I remember all the wonderful people who make up my support system. And I realize that I am constantly surrounded by human beings, human beings who all feel, and hurt and cry like I do. And maybe they don't relate to the exact situation in my life, but we all know what it's like to feel alone, to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or angry- whatever it has looked like for us. And when we need a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen, someone to scream with or a body to lie next to- people pull through.

So here's to people. 'Cause we're not alone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Multiverse Theory

Sometimes it just feels like there is too little time.
There are so many things I want to do, so many ways in which I wish I could spend my time, and so many obligations that I must attend to at the same time. Add to the equation that I have a tendency to want to take my time with each and every thing I do, and I'm left at the end of the day with a longer list of "To-Do's" than I began with in the morning.

So I'm employing multiverse theory. (family guy anyone?)
In this sense, I have done everything I could have ever possibly hoped to have done today, I've just done them in different universes. All of a sudden, I'm much more productive than I had previously thought.

How efficient!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Bit on Pleasure

DISCLAIMER: this post includes the use of words that may disturb. But they only disturb sissies.

We live in a society obsessed with instant gratification from diet pills to cell phones, infatuated with numbness, and fixated on pleasure. Despite phrases like "no pain no gain," or "beauty is pain," we are a culture that intentionally avoids real pain like the plague, preferring instead to constantly seek new ways of fulfilling a shallow yet unquenchable ideal of gratification. We'd rather text all day than spend a single moment alone, we'd rather have 700 "friends" on facebook to keep from feeling lonely (or admitting it), we'd rather spend our mental energy on physical appearance, worrying about how tan you are, what brand shoes you have and how thin you are, instead of facing our own internal demons.
Paired with this addiction to pleasure and fear of pain, there's this undeniable hypersexualization of women as a way of trying to quench that thirst for satisfaction. Because we live in a heterosexual male dominated society (though the waves of the Feminist movement have made leaps and bounds over the past century), the desires and pleasures of heterosexual men are the primary concern. Thus, we've come to accept billboards of nearly nude women in advertisements for everything from cars to cigarettes to sandwiches; everyone knows, "sex sells."

As it stands now, this hypersexualization is almost background noise; we've gotten so accustomed to the constant inundation of images of greased-up, nearly-naked women on the verge of orgasm convincing you to buy those sunglasses, we hardly stop to notice it, nevermind to question it.

But it hasn't always been this way. If we go back, say 50 years, just as the Pill was just being introduced into mainstream society with relative safety and married women were just being granted the right to use oral contraception (as protected under the Constitution as a "right to privacy")- sexualization of women in public spaces and advertisements was not nearly to the same extreme as it is today. Granted, the exploitation of women has always been a strongly used tool in nearly every industry, but the public's level of tolerance has grown significantly over the years.
"We grew up in a time in which sex itself was largely taboo. When I was a kid, young people didn't even know where babies came from." Hugh Heffner in the documentary, Inside Deep Throat.
The introduction of the Pill was a huge turning point in the world of Feminism; it signified the beginning of a recognition of a woman's sexuality, her right to choose how her body is treated and her right to privacy. There is still widespread ignorance and denial about women's ownership over their own bodies, their own vaginas (I choose to spell it wrong because vaginae just sounds awful), their own sexuality and capacity for pleasure.

In 1972, the film, "Deep Throat" premiered in Times Square; the first pornographic film to feature a plot, and the first to introduce fellatio as a heterosexual activity, thus deeming oral sex (fellatio in particular, cunnilingus remains, if you ask me, taboo) a "legitimate" sexual act. The plot of the film is this:
An unsatisfied woman wants more from sex (gasp! can you imagine?!) and so she calls a doctor. The doctor diagnoses that the woman's clitoris is actually buried deep inside her throat. His prescription? Deep throat.

Okay, so the film had some good qualities: acknowledging women's sexuality, capacity, desire, and if I may add, the necessity of pleasure for women. Further, because the focus was on giving this woman a clitoral orgasm, the film thereby protested the proclamation that the only "legitimate" orgasm for women is a vaginal orgasm. This claim comes from the fact that in order to give a woman a vaginal orgasm there must be something inside the vagina, preferably a penis. A clitoral orgasm, on the other hand, can be stimulated without said parts and is a viable orgasm for those sinful lesbians (full on sarcasm, fyi). Plus, it humorously addressed the age-old issue of finding a woman's clitoris. The film also was part of a revolution to mainstream the discussion of sex, sexuality and to de-taboo-ize pornography (the New York Times called the film "Porno Chic" as high society (Jackie Kennedy!) adventured to the slums to see it). Deep Throat was on the front line as the first mainstream, widely advertised hardcore porn film that liberated terms like "fuck," "suck cock," "eat cunt," etc. In response to it's premiere in NYC, Nixon allotted money for research on the effects of pornography on the adult brain- the final report determined that there were virtually zero harmful effects on an adult exposed to pornography. "Sex was in movies, sex was on t.v. Sex came out of the closet." Yay Deep Throat!

Except, hold on. A woman's clitoris is NOT hidden deep inside her throat! And for the most part, women do NOT get a great deal of pleasure from performing fellatio. The idea that giving head, not to mention deep-throating, is as pleasurable for a woman as it is for a man is nothing more than a wet-dream. Perhaps unintentionally, the movie propagated the dangerous fantasy that women get off from giving blow-jobs. I know I'm not the only woman who's had to face this fantasy head-on (excuse the pun) nearly 40 years later. The film also, as was the goal, opened the door for the porno industry, as we know it today. Porno is no longer a revolution of discovery and rebellion. When the original pornography premiered in NYC, people saw the title and thought, "What could deep throat mean, certainly not what I'm thinking..." Whereas, these days, most sexually active young people don't consider it sex. (Inside Deep Throat)
"Sex is a force, it's a force like lava and there haven't been too many successful engineering projects in diverting the flow of lava."
So now there is this type of sexual discrimination- with a few exceptions, most men are ignorant (or pretend to be ignorant) to women's pleasure. It is far more socially accepted to discuss male pleasure. Every issue of nearly every popular women's magazine has some newly discovered tactic to "please your man," yet its far more common for men to orgasm than it is for women- as so aptly illustrated by Deep Throat the lack of men's knowledge of where the clitoris even is.
The sad part, though, is that there are a huge number of WOMEN who don't know where their own clitoris is, who have never experienced an orgasm, who are afraid that they physically can't, or are so ashamed of their sexuality that they don't want to find out that they can.

And when the topic of masturbation comes up, chances are we're talking about male masturbation. Many women don't know that they can masturbate (or how); they don't know that they don't need to wait for a man (or woman) to come and give them an orgasm. In fact, if you Google "how to masturbate" the first hit you'll come across is geared towards women and the topic of the first episode of the Midwest Teen Sex Show ( is female masturbation- precisely because men don't need to be told how- it is popularly discussed casually in movies, on television, between father and son- and yet us women are left in the dark, waiting, hoping, praying for someone to deliver us to our own orgasm. Why not take the driver's seat?

Besides the lack of women's popular knowledge of how to give ourselves our own pleasure, there is also widespread self-hate. From general and postpartum depression to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; women's statistics are rising. Maybe if we learned to love our woman-selves, in the most literal sense of the word, we could also be a little happier. Maybe learning to love ourselves would also lead us in the direction of facing those internal demons and bring us a little closer to reality instead of hiding behind text messages and facebook status updates.

So here's to the female orgasm- vaginal or clitoral- from yourself, from a female or male lover- who cares?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Reflection; No Mirror Required

Sometimes it's surprising how much we change. Sometimes it's surprising how little we do.
Either way, it's important to look back and see where we've been, where we've gone, and how far we've come.
Sometimes the person I've been is someone I barely recognize as myself, and yet I know her all too well. It's as though I've changed so much that my previous self is an entirely different person from who I am now, and while I can understand and relate to the deepest feelings and experiences of that person, it is no longer who I am.
Most of the time.

When I was 15, I developed Anorexia Nervosa. Classically defined as "the refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (generally less than 85% of expected weight) accompanied with an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight. Additionally, in women who have not yet gone through menopause, the absence or loss of the menstrual cycle is a key indicator." ( It is a disease perceived of in this culture as a lifestyle choice or confused with vanity, obsession and conceit. But what most people don't see is that the illness is a coping mechanism in which internal pain or frustration is manifested in physical terms on the body and in preoccupation with weight and physical appearance. It is the cognitive process of masking personal issues with physical ideas of perfection and transforming life problems into bodily dissatisfaction.
"It is important to remember that there is not one single simple thing that causes a person to develop an Eating Disorder. It usually lies in some combination of the social, environment, and biological attributes, and/or the family dysfunction of each individual."
There are a number of reasons I've explored for why I personally developed this disorder. Part of it can be attributed to
the panic felt by an adolescent to control my life and to create an identity for myself- I fell back on the identity of the "little one"- the youngest grandchild in my family, the little sister, the smallest in my class etc. I was craving love and feeling worthless but because these were too painful for me to recognize and deal with, my I subconsciously converted them and any other less-than-pleasant feeling into "feeling fat." I did everything I could think of to avoid this feeling, from dieting, exercising, restricting calories and eventually food groups, self-induced vomiting, purging by laxatives and abusing diet pills. The feeling of accomplishment when I lost a pound, while exhilarating, was nonetheless fleeting and the "fat feeling" would return only momentarily.

I did not know that this was not normal. I was convinced by the little Eating Disorder (ED) voice in my head that this was how I was to live; this was all there was. I did not think there was anything wrong with me, and I most certainly did not think I had a disease. My first therapist explained to me:
"an eating disorder is like standing in a room, and deciding you don't like the color of the wall to your left, so you paint the one on your right. Now you still don't like the color of the left wall, and you again, paint the right one. What happens is, there is something within yourself that is causing some stress, but you don't feel like you can deal with it, so instead you change something on your outside (i.e. your weight etc.) but, like the walls, it doesn't satisfy your discomfort, so you keep changing your external, until you finally pay attention to the internal."

A few quintessential memories of this time in my life come to mind:
One afternoon, after an exhausting day of school, I came crashing into my mom's office (she worked at my high school) and told her I couldn't go to play rehearsal (I was cast as Alice in Alice in Wonderland). I kind of collapsed on the floor, crying, as my muscles ached and I approached one of my own breaking points, sort of beginning to realize that my behavior was taking a toll on me. I leaned against the wall and my skirt fell above my knee. This allowed my mother to see the multiple straight-line scars on my thigh. I saw her eyes dart to them and a millisecond of fear and sadness flashed in her eyes before I pulled my skirt down and ran out of her office and to her car where I waited for her to take me home. I think this was when my mom realized that something was really wrong. After this incident, I told my parents, in a rare state of mental clarity, that I needed help, that I was hurting myself in multiple ways, and that I was scared. I remember my dad's response: "Want to go for a bike ride?" He wasn't treating me differently, he didn't pin my identity with this disease- I was still his daughter, and he wasn't treating me like a porcelain doll. I smiled- YES, I wanna go for a bike ride. This was the most perfect thing he could have done in that moment.

One evening, kneeling in front of the toilet like a throne, crying, breaking down and realizing that I was no longer in control- my "dieting" was controlling me, and I was powerless. My mother opened the bathroom door, saw me, and calmly shut the toilet seat, pulled my close to her and told me "It's going to be okay, we're going to get through this," as she stroked my head. This was the most perfect thing she could have done in that moment.

Arguing in the kitchen with my mother because I wouldn't eat dinner again. I was getting ready to go out and was waiting for her to drive me, but she wanted me to eat something before I left. She didn't push hard, but I refused, over and over, and eventually erupted, lifting my shirt up and asked her if she could see my ribs. "If you can't see my ribs, I'm not thin enough!" I shouted. I can just remember the look on my mother's face; a look of sheer sadness and hopelessness, with a plea in her eyes for me to get healthy.

I remember being so angry that they had diagnosed me. It felt like an unnecessary limitation; the obligation the therapists and nutritionists put on me to gain weight seemed like a misapplication of their expertise. I was a waste of a patient because there was nothing wrong with me, they should spend their time helping people who actually are sick. I particularly remember seeing a girl from my middle school in the mall. She was part of the 'popular kid' crowd when I knew her, but we had gone to different high schools and I hadn't seen her in two years. When I saw her in Forever21, she was very thin, probably at a similar weight to me at the time, and I thought, "I know that girl, and she doesn't have an eating disorder, why can't I look like her, and not have this stupid diagnosis?!" A few weeks later, I saw her sitting in the Office of my Eating Disorder-specialized therapist/nutritionist.

Anorexia Nervosa is a disease most commonly mistaken as a lifestyle choice or confused with vanity, obsession and conceit. During the time I spent engrossed in anorexia, my mind and my body were metaphysically at war. My mind, once a close ally, betrayed my body. I became caught in the battle and was forced to choose sides. Anorexia double crossed me, turned me against my own body and vice versa. As my body begged for respect and nourishment, my mind attacked it as an enemy crossing the border. My mind became the territory of my eating illness and my body was intruding. Eating illnesses are blood thirsty and merciless. Except, those struggling with them generally believe they've got a friend, not a life-threatening illness.

Beginning in October of my sophomore year, my parents had me seeing an Eating Disorder specialized nutritionist regularly, and I had had a few consults with therapists in the same field. They came to the same conclusion and diagnosed me with Anorexia Nervosa, and warned me that if I didn't gain weight soon, I'd be in the hospital in no time. I was of course deluded by my conviction that continuing on this path (destructive as it was) would bring me happiness, and did not believe their threats.

By Halloween, I had successfully isolated myself from most of my friends, was rapidly losing weight and was all-the-more dedicated to my disease. An average day consisted of a piece of fruit and 3 pieces of gum throughout the day, constant obsessive thoughts about my body, losing weight, what to eat or not to eat, and setting weight loss goals for myself. Any binges I had as a result of a starving body would be purged because of the intense guilt I felt after eating- as though I didn't deserve it. I remember thinking that my body's needs were less than others, and while others needed to eat three balanced, nutritious meals a day, I did not, and if I did, it would in fact destroy me and everything I was working for. I felt that I had a "higher standard of beauty," one which I would never hold any of my friends to, but that was the bare minimum for myself.

A few weeks later, on a Wednesday, I had an appointment with a therapist at the same office of the nutritionist I had been seeing, and ignoring. They weighed me, brought my family in, and talked for some time about the possibility of hospitalization- a conversation I had heard with distant ears several times and it never worried me. I had tickets to go with a friend to see my favorite band of the time in two days and I was more concerned about that. Two days later, Friday, I was in Honors U.S. History class, taking notes and using the margins of my notebook to count calories and doodle as my mind wandered due to lack of nutrition. My mother's face unexpectedly came to the window of the classroom door, and she cautiously beckoned my history teacher over, whispered something, and then motioned me to come with her. I walked out of the classroom and had a conversation that would change my life. I was told I was being taken to the hospital. She would drive us back to the house, I would pack a bag of clothes for about a week and then I'd be taken to the hospital for an evaluation. I stormed back into my classroom, grabbed my notebook, made no eye contact and left.

I was furious, but I was not worried. I was certain that I would not be deemed "sick" and would not be admitted, my mother would be made into a fool and I would return to my "life," having only wasted a few hours. We drove to the hospital in total silence. After measuring my blood pressure, heart rate, taking an EEG, and asking me questions about how I saw myself in the mirror and inquiring about scars on my wrists and thighs, they weighed me.
this. terrified. me.

The average, healthy 15 year old female weighs between 120-140 pounds. I weighed in at 78 pounds. Hello, hospitalization.
I asked the nurse if I could go to the concert that night and come back on Monday, or something. The answer, obviously was no- but that just goes to show the value I had placed on my health.
The next 2 and a half months of hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization Therapy were some of the hardest times in my life. I had to face fears of food and gaining weight, but also even more intense fears of losing control, inadequacy, and dependence. I had to come to terms with issues that I had masked with body preoccupation, and I had to learn to be assertive- to use my voice to tell people how I feel, rather than to express it with my body. I had previously expressed my pain through starvation- through making my body sick, and now I was learning to express myself healthily.

Since being discharged from the hospital almost four years ago, I've come a long way. My path on recovery has been far from straight and narrow, it's been more akin to a roller-coaster ridden backwards and blindfolded most of the way. Its an issue that I face every day, a battle I fight from sun-up to sun-down, but some times are easier than others. There are moments when I feel like I've got this down, settled, under control, and there are times when it feels like I'll never stop hurting, never stop fighting. Relapses have come and gone, and every time I have to fight, it feels just as hard but every time I fight, I'm stronger for it. And while I may not ever be completely "over" this, life is about doing the work, so I'll keep working, getting better, learning and never quitting. Because it's just not me anymore. Most of the time.

peace, love and strength to all who are fighting, have fought or support those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS.

If any of this sounds like you, or someone you love, please seek help:
Feel free to comment or contact me- this is nota joke, we are in this together.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Us vs. Them (Part Two)

And here we go, again...

Value systems like the US patent system and capitalism bring with them their own baggage. You cannot integrate a patent system in a society that values community or communal wealth. Patents, in and of themselves, necessitate a drive towards privatization and personal gain. Imposing the "Western" mode of financial operation on other parts of the world consequentially changes the moral and social ethics of the area. In introducing capitalism through globalization and foreign investment to "non-Western/developed" areas of the world, standards of self-worth, beauty and the Earth are corrupted. For instance, when eco-tourism (the fastest growing sector of the global travel industry) has been introduced to Indigenous cultures, (often without prior informed consent of the native people) their land is regularly taken out of their control for construction of hotels, shops, and restaurants. After time, a once-self-sustaining community becomes dependent on foreign capital, and much of the original land has been converted from crop fields to hotels and bars; once foreign financial markets hit a rough patch, that once-independent culture is suddenly starving. Additionally, after exposure to "Western" culture, the Indigenous locals' perceptions shift to regard themselves as "poor" for the first time (Suzanne York, Mixed Promises of Ecotourism, Paradigm Wars).

Standards of beauty are altered as foreign ads plaster the mountains and countryside in Mexico. Billboards of tall, light-skinned, blond women with Cokes in their hands and Revlon on their lips don't need to be able to speak to tell Mexican women what they "need." Hollywood floods the cinemas dubbed in Spanish and Cosmo magazine is sold on the streets of Mexico City alongside shops selling appetite suppressants and fat-burning tea. Campesinos are disappearing as cities sprawl, t-shirts with slogans in English are more common than native dress, and "traditional" dances are more spectacle than ritual.

and so much more, but like I said, I have mush for brains.
And now to write my final paper...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Us vs. Them (Part One)

So I'm leaving Mexico in a few days. And I can't believe it's been a month. In an attempt to begin to consolidate what I've learned here... here we go:

There's this dominant worldview, often labeled as the "Western," "European," "Northern," "modern," or "developed" perspective which includes a value system of capitalism, globalization, economic growth and profit, technology and domination of land and peoples. It is a static system of hierarchy based on positivism and keeping up with the Joneses. It values the scientific method, categorical pigeonholes of "right" and "wrong," and standardization and it strives for uniformity.
Dominant, however, does not mean majority; nor does it mean balanced or healthy. There are other approaches, suppressed and restrained. Indigenous worldviews- native cosmovisions- tend to be more dualistic, sustainable, community-oriented, and holistic. These epistemologies are more fluid, respecting the ever-changing nature of life, passed down orally. It is, as Sylvia Marcos has said, a "harmony of tensions," a perspective of things in motion- moving constantly for equilibrium. It is an integration of the individual, the community, the Earth, and spirit. It values the collective, the wisdom of ancestors and nature, it isn't afraid of the gray areas, and it fosters biodiversity. However, these opposite views of how to live on this planet have created a paradigm war. Native lands, bodies and minds are being commodified and exploited because these two paradigms are so dissonant- they simply cannot continue to co-exist the way they have.
"Economic globalization, and the corporations and bureaucracies that are its driving forces literally cannot survive without an ever-increasing supply of oil, natural gas, forests, minerals of all kinds, fish, freshwater, and arable lands, among other crucial needs. They also require supportive infrastructure- new roads, pipelines, dams, electricity grids, airports, seaports, etc.- to take the resources from the often pristine places where they are found and carry them across vast terrains and oceans to is no small irony that the very reason that native peoples have become such prime targets for global corporations and their intrinsic drives is exactly because most indigenous peoples have been so successful over millennia at maintaining cultures, economies, worldviews and practices that are not built upon some ideal of economic growth or short-term profit-seeking." - Jerry Mander, Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Globalization
Multinational corporations and foreign investment have wreaked havoc on Indigenous lands and the life it had supported for thousands of years. There are examples out the wazoo of the exploitation and destruction caused from Argentina and Bolivia to Mexico, Niger, and Zimbabwe. The "short-term profit-seeking" corporations are boundless, and the world has been their oyster. And we have allowed this. Treaties and trade agreements including (but not even close to limited to) NAFTA and TRIPS have eliminated obstacles of globalization and destroyed whatever protection these marginalized peoples and lands had. NAFTA removed the ability of Indigenous peoples to own land communally- stripping them of a basic right inherent in their community-based culture and essential to their identity. TRIPS made it legal to patent life forms; i.e. seeds, plants, herbs and animals based on the obscene assumption that biological living organisms could be owned as private property despite the fact that a life form is inherently self-organizing. It imposed the corrupt and broken US patent system on the rest of the world, it rewards biopiracy and turns those who have developed the crops over centuries into thieves. And all this without prior informed consent. This "Western" system demands that every place on Earth adopts identical economic systems and thus political and social structure and the values and lifestyles that go along with them. In short, it is working towards a Global Monoculture: a world with zero diversity in land, people, culture, food and ideology- a planet that cannot sustain living organisms, and a world that cannot be sustained on a finite planet.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

¡ Bienvenidos a Tu Vida !

This is it.

So I was on skype with my mom a few days ago, and was talking about a little bit of apprehension I'm feeling about returning to the States. As of right now, I feel removed, in a sense, from much of the nerves and anxieties that usually accompany me, and I was telling my mom that "I'm a little worried about the backlash I'm going to face when I return to my life."

"...when I return to my life..."

And she said, "Well, what do you mean, your life, you're living right now, aren't you? Maybe this is your life, and California is a trip!"

What I meant was, when I return to my habitual routine, my norm. But I compartmentalized the schedule I keep in the States to remain there and the routine I've picked up here, to stay here. Who's to say, however, that I can't integrate a bit of them both?

There will always be variations in the habits and routines we accumulate in different places, but that's not to say that you become a different person, nor that those schedules are tied to those places indefinitely. Wherever you go, there you are. You are still you, no matter where you go and you can still be true to yourself and your values. If I value physical fitness, I can find ways to exercise without a gym at my disposal. If I can exist with a lesser level of anxiety here, than I can absolutely do that in the States, too, no?

Wherever you go, there YOU are.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mush For Brains.



I remember driving with my sister in Portland, Or. (definitely in my top five favorite cities, btw) and she had this revelation:
She was running late for her graduation rehearsal because we had decided to stay at the beach (about an hour away from the college) just a teeeency bit longer. She didn't want to speed for fear of being pulled over, but she also did not want to be too late to her own graduation rehearsal. We were one our way back to the campus, watching her MPH and the clock hoping we'd get there only 2 or 3 minutes late. She was clearly frustrated, but instead of being angry and complaining (see below post) about the situation, she realized that she had created the situation by indulging in some extended time at the beach. Her less-than-responsible decision to stay longer contributed to her desire to speed, but her commitment to responsibility contributed to her desire to remain within the speed limit. Instead of seeing these two decisions as opposing, she recognized them as causal.

I think everything is like this. I wrote briefly about the relationships between multiple institutions here in Mexico in a previous post, but I'm becoming more and more aware of the infinite connections surrounding me.
I'm in Mexico right now, because I and my parents are active parts of a hierarchical, capitalist system promoting globalization and colonization. This active participation has enabled me to attend the small liberal-arts college, for which I am so grateful, that is also deeply entrenched in this system. So I'm in Mexico with a program organized and funded by my school, learning about traditional healing techniques and rituals, indigenous cosmovisions, different concepts of space and time and of relating to each other, and the Earth. And its turning me into a socialist.

Well, not really. But kind of.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears"

Men, Women, Children, Lend Me Your Eyes, Ears, Tongues, Fingers and Noses!

It doesn't matter who you are, we are all constantly bombarded with images, in whatever form, of the "perfect body," beauty (according to someone else) and ideals we are supposed to live up to.

We see magazine covers telling you how to "Get a Great Bikini Butt!" we hear conversations and advertisements right and left discussing what to eat, not to eat, how to lose inches, fat, burn calories etc. The tension is so high between our realities and the ideals imposed upon us, you can taste the anxiety. And, oh no, does that have calories?!

These images and soundbites are a global phenomenon. The tall-skinny-blond-white-girl standard of beauty has spread like mono at a make-out party, as illustrated by the picture above, showing the first page of results of a Google search for "perfect body." It amazes me how widespread the issue of body image is, and the slight differences in the way cultures handle it.

Friends of mine in another Spanish class here in Mexico had a lesson based around vocabulary and verbs having to do with (drumroll please..) weightloss. Mexican culture is such that discussions about bodies are less sensitive and a lot more common. Apparently, the teacher discussed in depth her dissatisfaction with her body (like I said, nearly a universal sentiment at this point) as well as techniques she's tried (and suggested to some specific students in the class) to lose weight. Every morning my host here and I have a cute little back-and-forth in which she urges me to eat yet another mango because she doesn't want me to get too slim! (Even though she's told me now three times that she's gotten fat since moving out of the city and that she wants to lose weight) To which I laughingly respond, "si, pero no quiero volver a estar gorda!" (yes, but I don't want to get fat!) We laugh, and sometimes I have another mango. Sometimes I don't.

And despite the fact that I am at a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and am fairly well educated about my personal health, and despite the fact that my digestive system is in better working order here than it usually is in the States, those images and soundbites make their way crawling back to my mind.
"lose x # of pounds.."
"just a little bit thinner"
"not quite good enough.."
"Argh! Shut up!"

Just goes to show.. it's not about the weight, the jean size, the number. Something else must be up.. and I wonder if it's connected to this notion of a globalized, standardized image of beauty.
Of course it's connected. Everything is connected, it's the 21st Century.

So maybe it has to do with the fact that in colonizing lands around the world, our identities have been destroyed, our roots have been ripped out from underneath the soil we've fled/been kicked off, and the sense of self that was once innate, now is sold to us. Our minds have been colonized and so we're left with the only option we can see, and that is to purchase it- to buy into the system that feeds insecurity, to feed the system that sells self-doubt.
We are generationally predisposed to self-dissatisfaction.

However, I watched a documentary several months back, "America, The Beautiful," in which Darryl Roberst investigates the "Western/Northern/European" standard of beauty. He covers topics from modeling agencies, fashion industry, cosmetic surgery, to eating disorders, and some opinions of some men. He conducts an interview with Eve Ensler, someone for whom I personally have tons of respect (if you don't know her, she's the playwright for the Vagina Monologues- and if you don't know the show/movement, don't be grossed out, go see a performance). In this interview she recounts a story taking place in the Nairobi Desert in Kenya. She was talking with Leah, a 74 year old African Masai Woman and the conversation went like this:

Leah: Do I like my body? Do I like my body? My body. My body. I love my body. God made this body. God gave me this body. My body. Oh goodness, I love my body. My fingers, look at my fingers. I love my fingernails, little crescent moons. My hands, my hands, the way they flutter in the air and fall, they lead right up to my arms- so strong-they carry things along- I love my arms – and my legs, my legs can wrap around a man and hold him there. My breasts…My breasts, well look at them, they’re mine, my breasts still round and full and fine.

Eve: Leah, wait, I don’t know how to do this. I want to feel like you. I want to love my body and stop hating my stomach.

Leah: What’s wrong with it?

Eve: It’s round. It used to be flat.

Leah: It’s your stomach. It’s meant to be seen. Eve, look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? We’re all trees. You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your tree! Love your tree.

So maybe we can begin to love our trees. Maybe loving our trees will bring us back to our roots, and we won't need to buy into insecurities that give us a false foundation. Maybe we can begin to actually be grounded, in ourselves, in the wonders we hide from ourselves.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"What've You Got to Complain About?"

sometimes, you need to vent.
sometimes, you need to shut up.

There's a difference between complaining and expressing your dissatisfaction in productive and healthy fashion. Granted, it's a thin line, but it definitely exists.
There's something about complaining- the tone of voice, the facial expression and body language, the perspective engaged, and the amount of time taken up- it just really irks me.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for expressing oneself, it's totally important. Screaming, crying, talking about feelings etc- it all has it's place. Its human instinct to relate and build connections to others, many times through our shared experiences. There's a point at which releasing tension, or venting about a grudge or a particular event is helpful in moving past it, and when the goal of such discourse is to dissolve anxiety, procure a solution or to find a positive aspect of a negative position, then the complaining has a purpose.

There are times when I talk to my mom on the phone and she truly needs to let it out. When there's no one else she can discuss things with and the tension is building up inside her, we talk. I think she finds it helpful to get the issues off her chest, and our conversations will sometimes result in a solution or alternative perspective.
Sometimes you need to vent.

But there's this fine line to cross when you stop being productive and you start whining. If you're in a somewhat sour situation, its understandable that you want to release some of that less-than-positive energy. Here's the deal, though: negative energy only creates more negative energy, and chances are, you are at least partially (and I might argue wholly) responsible for much of your discomfort. All your complaining is going to do is to make you focus on the negative, thereby attracting more negative to you. Besides, whatever sour situation you're in, where you're complaining, you are sharing that experience with those to whom you're complaining. They get it, stop making them focus on it, too. You only end up feeding off each others' negativity. Its unproductive.

I remember being in Miami, spring break, senior year in high school. A friend of mine and I were thoroughly enjoying the beach, sun and Cuban food, and despite our severe sun poisoning and possible exposure to melanoma, our mantra for the week was, "What have we got to complain about?!" This (rhetorical) question should be asked more frequently. It made us realize that even though we could complain, why would we?

Now we've all been in uncomfortable circumstances, but having a sense of humor about it, not focusing on it, understanding when there's nothing you can do about it or being proactive in changing the situation- that's where your energy is better directed. Most of the time, there's something better to focus on.

I was hiking in Colorado for a couple of days. I was grumpy, tired, and a little lost. I was feeling frustrated, challenged, and a little bitchy. At some point, my friend and I took a break, and he asked me how I was feeling. I responded, "I feel inadequate, like I can't do this. Frustrated. Tired." Or something along those whiny lines. He looked at me, and said, "Would you shut up?" I was slightly taken aback, and in that moment I caught a glimpse of my surrounding environment at 1200 feet in altitude in the Colorado Mountains, snow covered peaks, the sun just over the crest. And I thought, "Wow. I've been harping on all this negativity, when THIS is surrounding me?! What a waste of energy." I looked back at my friend, and thanked him for telling me to shut up.
Sometimes, you need to shut up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Language Barrier

It's like speaking another language.
Oh wait.. right.

I've never taken Spanish lessons. But I'm wonderful at picking up accents, so despite my lack of vocabulary, knowledge of the grammar structure, understanding of others and complete ability to communicate at all- I'm set.

I've been in Mexico now for about a week and a half- two and a half more weeks left. It's amazing how fast time flies. El tiempo nunca es sufficiente. There is so much to learn, so much to see and experience, I couldn't possibly put a time limit on it- and if I had to, I'd definitely give myself more than a few more weeks here.

Originally, my goal for this summer was "learn Spanish." Ambitious, no? The plan was to trek across my own country, then head off to Mexico for a month, and then ship myself down to Costa Rica for a month, and return to SoCal, a fluent Spanish speaker. Well, for a number of reasons, the Costa Rica portion of my plan never panned out, and I've come to a few realizations about language.

A friend of mine can communicate with a certain level of ease in both Mandarin and Spanish (and English)- to the extent that most people would call him fluent. Except here's what he says about fluency: "language is a tool that points beyond itself but is not what it represents and thus true fluency is impossible." Language is akin to the hammer and nail necessary to put a door in a wall. Our words expresses the ability that the door represents to move from one room to another, however, the hammer(language) is the tool to achieve such an end. I remember him making the point to me once that we are not nearly fluent in ENGLISH, how can we possibly ever master any language? Language is one of many tools for communication- for connecting with others- and WE are constantly changing. The way in which we connect is therefore in constant flux. It is constantly being adapted to suit the needs of the people using it. Think of the slang used so frequently in the US, the turns of phrases that make zero grammatical sense and the trends in speech that have risen and fallen even within the last few decades- It becomes clear that fluency is merely an elusive and impractical idea that exists only within the limits of the world of external form- the world we live in. In reality, spoken language is already at LEAST one step away from the core of what we want to express. We have a sensation, a feeling or an experience, then we have biases, previous experiences and emotional attachments that then shape the energy generated by that sensation/emotion/whatever and then we translate that energy into thoughts in the language we've been exposed to, all in attempt to communicate our personal experiences to others.

All of a sudden, the phrase, "lost in translation," takes on a whole new meaning.

Upon arriving in Mexico, I was excited beyond belief, and overwhelmed on a dimension with which I was unfamiliar. And though I'd been to India previously, and had lived with a family that spoke no English, that experience included a New York native room-mate and minimal emphasis on the homestay life. This, however, is different. My homestay is a huge part of my experience here, and community engagement is just as important as the Spanish class I'm registered in (for credit). And even though I'd been looking forward to this trip, literally since early December, it hadn't really sunk in just how foreign this was going to feel. Until I got here. The first night in Temixco, we had dinner as a class in what became our out-door classroom, sat around a table and we each took our turns sharing what we thought we'd miss the most while being here. But we did it en Español. I think I mumbled something about amigos.


Part of the structure of this program includes "service sociale"- roughly "community service." Two days a week for about 2 or 3 hours we break up into groups and share time and space with children who live at the "Conviviencia," somewhat of an equivalent to Family Child services in the States. After our first session there, a friend of mine who is pretty darn comfortable in the Spanish language related to me what one of the 6 year old girls told her- that some of the children are there because their parents were abusive, but not all. Many have obvious developmental disorders, or extreme physical limitations, many are on medications, most are aggressive in some way, and they're all in need of love. Children are brought to the Conviviencia anywhere between 3 days and 12 years old, after 12, I don't know where they go.

This was the setting for the deepest understanding I've had as of yet of this notion of a language barrier.

Jessica, somewhere between 6 and 8 years old, sat on the ground. Her hair is cut short, presumably so she doesn't pull it out. Her moreno face is thin and her eyes are big, and searching. Her mouth is gaping open, revealing angular and angry teeth, twisting from the pain of being unable to express herself with them. Saliva drips from her lips as though in an effort to get something, anything, out. Her frame is small, her body bony and she looks deceivingly fragile. I think her strength surprised more than just me. Her legs are deviant. Her knees seem to be glued together, locked at an inconvenient angle making it impossible to walk. Her feet are crooked- the flowers on the end of a vine winding, lost and in search of the sun, pulled this way and that until her body surrendered. Her wheelchair is somewhere around the playground, serving as a toy for the time being. I watch her from a moderate distance for a few minutes as she grips her claws on the grass beneath her, as though she resents having to be so close to the Earth. She lets out random cries and painful screams, alternately pounding her fists on the ground and on her head. I imagine it must be loud in there.
-One of the caretakers informs us that she's just having a "tantrum."

But how can any of us possibly know for sure? Perhaps it is naive, but she seemed to be in such deep pain, it strikes me as negligent and downright cruel to dismiss her cries. But, perhaps this is a cultural difference, a childcare technique with which I am unfamiliar, and who am I to challenge it?
I think, however, that if the categorization of her behavior as a tantrum is not accurate, and these professional caretakers can't make sense of Jessica's form of communication, how in the world can I?
How can I possibly know what she's thinking? Her language exists in a different dimension and my linguistic communication can’t touch her. Even if the sounds I made fell somewhere close to her ears, and even if I knew what she wanted to hear, Merriam Webster couldn’t explain to her what I want to say. And who’s to say my thoughts would help at all?

Monday, June 28, 2010

If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen.. or Mexico.

There's something about sweating. I like it.

I'd been in a sweatlodge before. A Native American one in Southern California with the Costanoan-Rumsen/Ohlone tribes. It is a ritual, a ceremony- and it was an honor to take part in it. There were four "doors," (sections of time) each with their own focus, prayers and songs to accompany them. Women wore long skirts and covered their shoulders- jewelry had to be removed (unless given permission to wear it, but metal was fairly dangerous in there), each participant gave a tobacco offering and a prayer to the fire before entering the sweatlodge and each person was told to ask both his or her ancestors and the elder running the lodge for permission to enter.
This experience exposed me to the patience, and the faith required to "take the heat." To trust that my body could handle it, that a little discomfort is actually alright, and that indeed that discomfort, if allowed to move through it, opens the space for growth. I remember feeling quite peaceful in that sweatlodge. At the conclusion of the final door, the elder who was running the session, Robert John, asked each participant how they felt, and he pushed them to answer using the format, "I feel _____ like _____." He pushed us to connect our experience with something outside of the experience itself. At the time this direction seemed silly, but looking back now a few months later, it was an exercise in bringing the experience into our daily lives. I don't actually remember how I responded, but I know that I use the same phrasing more frequently in order to 1) connect more directly with others by using a common experience as the intermediary, and 2) maintain the sense of peace I feel when meditating, practicing yoga, or when I'm in a sweatlodge, for instance- even when I'm not in those circumstances.
I remember also feeling a much deeper appreciation for my breath during that first sweat experience. It was intensely hot, and incredibly humid for the entirety of the 3 (ish) hours of the sweat, and I was in the innermost circle of participants, which means that I was closest to the stones giving off the heat and steam. And although there were undeniable moments when I thought I'd gasp for air and find none, I always did. I surprised myself with my own ability to breathe, to continue to live in spite of circumstances that my own cognition deemed to be "too difficult." It was a lesson in faith, in the faith that I, and we, can usually do things we don't think we can.

However, not all sweats are created equal.

I've now experienced three additional sweats- in Mexico. The traditional Mexican/Indigenous (not sure the specific tradition) sweat is called a Temezcal, and as with any sweatlodge, it is designed to be a metaphoric re-entry into the Mother's womb (Mother Earth- Tierra Madre). My first Temezcal brought me in a very physical way, back to the womb.
I entered, feeling overwhelmed, internally frustrated, feeling stuck and sensing some sort of tension within myself. I don't even remember what Estella (the woman who owns the sweatlodge, provides the opportunity to sweat and orchestrates the sessions) was saying when I began to cry, but I was surprised by how it felt- foreign, like I had never cried before, and never-ending, like I'd never stop. There was this stagnant river that began to flow. I cried like a baby. Estella had the five of us each scream our own names individually and then we all screamed them back. I screamed my name, proclaimed my existence, as though saying, "Hello, universe! I am HERE!" But its not as though the universe needs reminding, we do. Or I did. I screamed my name, and they screamed it back to me, reaffirming my existence, my presence, my importance perhaps too. I cried harder, waking up to myself. If only a little bit.

We went around in turns, each of us in the womb, screaming, asking for whatever it was we needed, from whomever we felt we needed it from. Permission to let go of whatever we no longer needed, and the strength to hold on to that which we needed to hold. Whatever it was. And we cried. Or at least, I did.

After the sweat, I wrapped myself in a sheet and sat in Estella's backyard, drank tea, and attempted to regain a bit of equanimity and to steady my breath a bit. My teacher came over, squatted down next to me and offered with her presence a sense of security, of comfort- and I looked up at her and said, though grammatically incorrect, "jamás finito"- I'm never done. I tried to express my combined sense of hopelessness and being overwhelmed with the minuscule amount of Spanish I have. She met my eyes and replied, with a smile on her face, "Qué bueno, no?" And all I could do was laugh.

Si. Qué bueno. Porque, así es la vida. Such is life. To never be done is to be alive.

Entonces- Sweat on.