Monthly Archives: September 2018

Droopy Drawers

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

I hate to shop. I hate the seductive manipulation inherent in the activity. I’m frustrated by the variation in sizes and disgusted by the ridiculous fashions and prices and the terrible quality. My idea of a great shopping experience is to go to Goodwill and find men’s button-down cotton shirts or buy multiples of Carhartt jeans and shorts on sale. Whenever possible, I shop online, concentrating on sales, outlets and brands that emphasize durability, comfort and easy care rather than shoddy glamour.

One of the drawbacks to shopping online is getting the size right in unfamiliar brands. Regular swimmers know that swimming suits don’t last. Sun and pool water take a toll quickly. Suits become thin and transparent and loss their elasticity. The fabric breaks down.

Swimming suits are expensive, and they have to fit well or they’re miserable to wear and impossible to swim seriously in. Teeny-weeny bikinis might look great on the right body poolside, but every woman knows actually swimming in them is another matter, and forget about diving. Men’s comfy jeans cover a multitude of body imperfections, but women’s swimsuits are a different story.

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

All my life I’ve needed a long torso suit, which means fewer choices and more money. When tankinis came out I was delighted because they allow me to wear a regular size, but they’re just as expensive, if not more so, than a standard tank suit. I buy from a big online retailer that specializes in all things swimming, and they had a huge Labor Day sale. I was ready. My old suit was beginning to bag, sag and break down.

I shopped for a week, watching prices come down and considering my needs. I finally took the plunge (so to speak) and bought what I wanted. The tankini tops were easy. I’ve worn a 10 in every brand since I was a teenager. No problem. I chose tops that would coordinate with black and got black board shorts for kayaking and black bottoms for swimming. The swim bottoms, however, were an unfamiliar brand. Great price, but unfamiliar brand.

There was a size chart, which I looked at — impatiently. I wanted to make the order and be done with the whole miserable thing. I was pleased to be saving so much money, but I was sick of thinking about swimming suits. I have a sewing tape measure somewhere, but I don’t know exactly where. I had a little construction tape measure in my desk drawer, so I dropped drawers and measured my waist and hips with that. No mirror. Wrong kind of tape measure. Impatient and irritated. According to the size chart, I needed an XL in the swim bottoms. That seemed ridiculous. My ass isn’t that big!

Is it?

Well, I thought, maybe it is. Or maybe the brand I was buying ran really small. My favorite cotton bikini underwear is made in such a way that size 10 is large, not medium. I needed a new suit. I was sick of shopping. I didn’t want the hassle of returning a wrong size, and I didn’t want to refuse to acknowledge the dimensions of my body out of shame or pride.

So I placed the order and a few days later it arrived. When I unpacked the swim bottoms, they looked huge. I tried them on, over underwear. You couldn’t call them tight, but I thought I could make them work. Everything else was great. I threw away the packing and receipt, discarded my old suit and put my new suit in my swim bag.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Getting into a new swimsuit is like trying to stuff yourself into a spandex straight jacket. Getting out of a new suit that’s wet is even worse. I always wind up giggling and feeling as though I’m wrestling with an anaconda. I suited up, showered and got in the pool, feeling spiffy in my new cobalt blue and black swim gear. I put my goggles on and pushed off the wall. My waistband floated up off my waist, the swim bottoms filled up with water and began to slide gently and elegantly off my ass and down my legs. Whoops!

I stood up, took my goggles off, and yanked the bottoms back up. The pool was not busy. Nobody was paying any attention. I was torn between hilarity and frustration. I really wanted to work out, and I hadn’t brought a spare suit. Dammit, I was going to make these work! Maybe if I didn’t push off the wall with my usual vigor it would help. I put my goggles back on, made sure no one was looking, and pushed off the bottom, gently.

The waistband floated off my waist, the swim bottoms filled with water and started to slide off my ass. I kept going, just to see what would happen. I was swimming freestyle, and the bottoms couldn’t quite slide all the way down my legs. Maybe, I thought, I’m not as exposed as it feels like I am. Maybe from above no one can tell how loose they are. Except that I could feel a big bubble of air trapped between me and the fabric. Bubble butt.

Shit!

I tried tucking the hem of the tankini into the bottoms. No dice. The tankini fit just fine, but it’s not long enough to do more than meet the waistband of the bottoms, especially on me.

I was irresistibly reminded of my youngest son, lifted out of his crib in the morning and toddling down the hallway with his usual sunny-natured glee and his sodden diaper hanging to his knees.

Except his diaper had been white and mine was black.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

I longed to tear the stupid bottoms off and throw them on the deck. I’d rather swim naked any day of the week anyway. Seeing as how I was trying to get hired at this particular pool, I thought that might not create a favorable impression.

I climbed out of the pool via the stairs, holding onto the waistband of my bottoms as unobtrusively as possible, and asked a staff member for a safety pin. Surely they had a safety pin, or even a diaper pin somewhere. Things like safety pins, paperclips and rubber bands are in every desk drawer in the world, aren’t they?

Snorting with laughter, because every woman knows the drill of a sudden broken elastic in a waistband or a bra strap, a broken heel or strap on a shoe, a hem that lets go or a stocking that runs at the worst possible time, the lifeguard searched the desk. No pins.

Another lifeguard suggested a rubber band. Good idea!

No rubber bands.

The second lifeguard reached in her pocket and handed me a covered hair elastic. It was even black!

I pulled in the fabric at the waistband, pinched it together as hard as I could and fastened it with the hair elastic. Now the bottoms were much tighter and I had a thick pigtail of fabric poking out at the waistband. It would be invisible in the water.

I returned to the pool, went through the goggle thing and pushed cautiously off the wall.

Hooray! It worked. There was still a little too much slack in the waistband, but they stayed on and didn’t bubble up.

Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

In the end, I had a great workout. I returned the hair elastic with thanks when I was finished and then stood in the shower and took several minutes to extricate myself from the tankini top, banging my elbows, writhing, wriggling and squirming. By the time I was free of it, my swim bottoms were around my ankles. No effort required.

Fortunately I have a friend who has a sewing machine. I can sew on a button, mend a simple tear and patch (sort of), but you couldn’t call me a skilled seamstress. I swim again today, and there’s a great big pin in the waistband of my bottoms and a rubber band in my bag, just in case. I also went back to the sale and ordered another pair of bottoms in a smaller size. They were even cheaper.

Here’s what I learned:

  • I hate to shop.
  • When taking your own measurements, do it with a cloth tape in front of a mirror. Better yet, have someone else do it for the sake of a reality check.
  • Don’t throw away packing and receipts until you’ve worn the stupid thing!
  • Always carry a couple of safety pins and rubber bands in your swim bag. Consider also Liquid Nails, Super Glue, waterproof duct tape and a staple gun.
  • Always carry a spare suit.
  • One of the most important keys to life is a sense of humor.

Have I mentioned that I loathe shopping?

My daily crime.

By the way, I got the job!

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Descansos

Clarissa Pinkola Estes introduced me, years ago, to the idea of descansos in Women Who Run With the Wolves, one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Descansos is a Spanish word meaning resting places. A descanso might be a grave in an ordinary graveyard, but Estes suggests creating descansos as a spiritual practice; a method for letting go and/or acknowledging a loss; a place to put rage, fear and other feelings or destructive thoughts to rest so we don’t walk forward burdened by unresolved pain and experience.

We know grief has its own timetable. The Celts set aside a year and a day for the proper discharge of grief. Many other cultures have formal mourning periods and practices, during which people are not expected to fully participate in social responsibilities and activities. Many of us try to move away from the anguish of grief as quickly as possible, but there is no shortcut for the grieving process. Sooner or later, we must feel it and walk through it if we are to heal.

Photo by Madison Grooms on Unsplash

Loss is not just about the death of a loved one. As we journey through life we encounter many losses, including the loss of our innocence, which might take many forms; the loss of dreams; the loss of health; the loss of a job, a home, a relationship or some piece of identity that was integral to our lives. For all of these, we might make a descanso, a place where we have knelt and prayed, wept, planted flowers or a tree and marked with a cairn, a stone, a cross, or some other symbol that has meaning for us. A descanso is a quiet, private place apart from the rest of our lives, a place we can visit when autumn leaves begin to fall and the cooling air crisps with the scent of windfall apples, damp leaves and browning ferns. We pay homage to what has been, to that which we’ve blessed, released and laid to rest. We invite memory and take time to empty our cup of rage, pain or tears again.

I recently wrote about identity. This fall, it occurs to me to spread out all the pieces of my identity, past and present, try them on, one at a time, and notice how they feel. I will make descansos for those aspects of identity that no longer fit me or serve my intention going forward. I want an identity update; to replace the old versions with an identity compatible with my present life and experience, much like going through a clothes closet and culling.

In fact, that is a task I’m undertaking right now as well; going through my clothes. Perhaps that’s why I feel nostalgic and am thinking about descansos. Autumn awakens in me the desire to clean out and lighten up, literally and metaphorically. I discover my difficulty in letting go of clothing I haven’t worn in years and which no longer fits is about the memories of who I was and what I was doing while wearing it rather than the clothing itself.

Photo by eddie howell on Unsplash

Memories can be a heavy burden. Some are precious and we never want to lose them. Other memories haunt us and keep our wounds fresh and bleeding. The remedy for all those imprisoning beliefs, pieces of negative identity, unresolved feelings and painful memories is the practice of descansos, which is to say the practice of grieving and then moving on. That order is essential. We must grieve fully and willingly, and then move on. A graveyard is not a place to pitch a tent and live the rest of our lives. It’s a place to create, visit, honor, care for and meet ourselves when old parts and pieces of our lives enter our dreams and tug at our hearts.

Making descansos is a gentle practice. It is not denial, avoidance or rejection, but rather an open-armed welcome to all our experience, followed by honest assessment and choice-making. Like clothing, identity and memories wear out, no longer fit or become too uncomfortable and outdated to be useful. Making a resting place is an intentional practice, without violence, frenzy or horror. We are not tearing ourselves apart with self-hatred, but allowing change and growth, the same way the trees are beginning to let go of their leaves and a snake sheds its skin. The practice of descansos allows us to clean up, clean out, and create space for new growth and experience. It’s an opportunity to create a place of sacred memory so we do not have to stagger under a jumbled-up load of the past.

Creating descansos is uniquely individual. Some might draw a map of their life’s journey, marking descansos along the way. Artists might paint, make music, write, create, sculpt or dance. Others might seek out a sacred place in nature for ritual, prayer and making a grave or graves.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

When I make descansos, I think of putting a baby to bed in a dim nursery, bathed and fed, sleepy and smelling of milk, with a clean blanket and a stuffed toy. Perhaps our most brutal memories and experiences are the ones that need the tenderest descansos we can create. As we would nurture, reassure and protect an infant, we nurture, reassure and protect ourselves with the practice of descansos. We allow ourselves to suffer, release our suffering and move on, honoring the way our experience shapes and enriches us.

It’s autumn in central Maine, a good time to make new descansos and visit old ones. A good time to remember. A good time to walk under the trees and absorb the wisdom of cycles and seasons, growth and change, life and death.

A good time to allow ourselves to rest in peace.

My daily crime.

Photo by Autumn Mott on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

 

Behind the Shield

Four years ago someone said to me “women and children should be behind the shield.” The impact of that statement was like a kick in the gut. I was shocked by the way the words made me feel; a tidal wave of fury, grief and despair. It was so overwhelming I didn’t poke at it right away, but ever since then I’ve been playing around with the idea of shields, my version of circling around a potentially dangerous object with twitching tail and ears pricked, curious but wary.

Photo by Bogdan Kupriets on Unsplash

A shield is a piece of personal armor used to actively intercept specific attacks. Traditionally, shields varied in size, shape and thickness and were made of wood, animal hide, woven reeds or wicker. Shields have probably been around as long as we have.

A shield implies protection.

I think my initial reaction to the phrase “behind the shield” was painful because of my fierce, primitive longing for the kind of protection and safety that image implies to me. I’ve always been hypervigilant and concerned with identifying safe places. I know where the exits are, physical and emotional. I maintain bolt holes, if-the-sky-falls plans and a high degree of independence and self-sufficiency.

Because my own anxiety and fear have been such sources of private and mostly hidden anguish, I’m extremely sensitive to others who suffer in the same ways, either specifically or generally. In the days when I was doing volunteer fire and rescue work, I frequently took the role of lying on the highway in the glass, spilled gas and ruins of a vehicle calming and reassuring a trapped victim, monitoring a pulse if I could get to a pulse point, explaining what was happening as we tried to extricate, establishing responsiveness and orientation and taking a history while the fire department deconstructed the car around us and the EMTs and paramedics passed me pressure bandages, a blanket or anything else that was needed and we had room to use.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

In short, I give others, animals and human, the kind of calm reassurance and protection I’ve always craved myself.

It might be this longing is buried within all of us, a kind of deep and primitive desire to return to the ultimate safety of the womb or a longing for the in-arms experience every baby needs and has a right to receive. Except that the womb is not always safe, and many of us do not get sufficient in-arms experience as babies. It might be that I’m uniquely broken in this, but I doubt it. I suspect much of our irrational and destructive behavior has to do with trying to feel safe, sheltered and loved, including sexual and behavioral acting out and addiction.

In any event, my desperation to be shielded motivated me to become a willing shield for others. This adaptation was greatly assisted by being female and then further strengthened when I became a mother.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

I never thought of myself as a shield. It never occurred to me such a role was a choice. I defined myself as a protector, a nurterer, a figure of maternal and female strength, a life-giver and a peace maker. I thought of myself as a good woman. I automatically placed myself between the inconvenient, frustrating, dangerous, tedious and harsh edges of the world and those I loved. I protected my husbands and partners from the necessity to deal with anyone else’s needs (including my own) and threats to their egos (including me). I protected my sons from the immaturity and selfishness of my husbands and partners. I tried to protect people from their mental and physical pain, from the consequences of their choices, from their own feelings and from any other irritation, hurt or harm.

Shields were originally made to protect from specific kinds of attack, but I tried to shield others from all kinds of danger: blade, arrow, blunt weapon, words, pain, consequences, inconvenience, feelings and worry. I was determined to be a perfect shield for all my loved ones.

Predictably, I failed, and nobody likes a shield that fails. I regularly heard about my inadequacy.

No one ever suggested to me that I protect myself, and no one invited me behind their shield, even for a rest. I approached every relationship with a craving to be taken care of, to be held, to be loved. I believed in romance and part of romance certainly included being taken behind the shield of some kind, competent man. If you’re thinking this was needy and dangerous behavior, you’re right. Somehow, I always ended up with one more person in my life I needed to shield, instead of the other way around.

The inability to trust and the craving to be protected and cared for can tear a woman apart. I’m certain there have been people in my life over the years who wanted to give me safety and security, but I refused to let anyone get that close. I don’t want to rely on anyone. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid asking for help. At the same time, I’ve spent much of my life working happily with children, animals, in hospice and as a first responder.

For a long time I thought if I could get a good enough job and earn or save enough money I’d be safe, but I was wrong about that. We live well below the poverty line, but I feel safer now than during any other time in my life. I’m also less concerned about money than I’ve ever been before. Money is not safety. I also thought if I could just find the right home I’d be safe. I found the right home and discovered that wasn’t the solution, either. Wrong again.

Since I came to Maine, everything has changed. Now I live in a situation that does not require constant emotional labor. I live with an adult who does not need or expect me to protect him. I have found reciprocal relationships.

This morning, as I went about my daily breakfast routine, it occurred to me that I’m no longer looking for a shield to crawl behind. The need for safety doesn’t drive me now. I’m not even sure I know what I mean by safety. What is the threat I’m trying to protect myself from? Aging? Poverty? Being unloved? Abuse? Getting my feelings hurt? A blow to my pride? Abandonment? Betrayal? Internet trolls? Loneliness? Crazy people with guns? Illness? Death?

Yes. All these and more. And most of these have already happened, some more than once, or are happening right now.

In spite of that, I’m okay. I’m better than okay. I’m great. I’m resilient. I believe in my ability to survive and thrive. I don’t mind aging and I’m not afraid of death. I’m emotionally intelligent and I understand power dynamics. I’m as safe as anyone, and a lot safer than millions.

Photo by Miranda Wipperfurth on Unsplash

I have my own shield now. I made it (without knowing what I was doing) out of dragonfly wings, cobwebs, stardust and the sound of bats flitting around my head in the dusky barn on their way out to hunt. I made it out of integrity, passion, dance, laughter, creativity, ritual and spirit. There’s room behind my shield for others to rest, breathe and make shields for themselves, but I’m not spending my days searching for those in need of such a shelter. I can’t make a shield for you or even my most beloved to carry. I can’t keep everyone or anyone safe. I can’t shelter the world.

The only person in charge of my safety is me. The only person I have a responsibility to keep safe is me.

I am not a shield. I don’t have to take the blows or go to war. I don’t have to buffer, neutralize or ameliorate the experience of life for others. I don’t have to prostitute and beg in order to be dragged behind someone else’s shield. I made exactly what I need for myself, and no one can take it away from me.

Knowing I have what I need, I’m no longer approaching interactions with others from such desperation to be cared for. I still don’t like to ask for help, but I’m practicing doing it anyway. I’m much better at taking care of myself and no longer put the needs of others before my own. I’ve developed useful coping mechanisms that help me feel safe.

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

We all construct shields emotionally, intellectually, behaviorally and with our choices. None of them really protect us from our fears or the experience of life. There is no way to shield against generalized fear and anxiety. It’s counterintuitive, but the best path I’ve found to feeling safer and more secure is to drop my armor and open my arms to my fears. I don’t know why that works, but it does. Monsters are ten times larger when I’m running away from them. When I run toward them they shrink before my eyes, and sometimes they even run away from me. That’s why I build my shield from things like iridescent hummingbird feathers and milkweed fluff. It won’t stop a harsh word or a bullet, but I carry with me joy, wonder, awe, mystery and beauty. My shield is a story of love and a story about what makes life worth living. It reminds me to stand tall and unafraid, looking life in the eye, confident in my ability to endure, heal, laugh and learn.

From behind the shield: My daily crime.

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted