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Archive for the ‘body’ Category

mygardenlife

Petals from nameless tress, blossoms pink as sisters
edge sidewalk, gutters, stairs
drawing a perfect pillowed frame around everything that separates us.

With a form to cement the end
of a project that’s kept her here eight years,
she stands at the threshold
of my office. Her offering of gratitude
a satchel of lotions and oils, heavy with the perfume of peach flowers.
The girl in me feels the kiss of a sundress on her calves. Remember
grass? Body paint, sun-streaked boys,
pennants stained with soot and crushed blackberries,
gymnastic arcing bonfires,
bare arms in pas de deux with dusk.
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They call it urge surfing.
I call it swimming against the Gulf Stream
Naked
In the dead of night.

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shavanaas

I take a deep breath and add another 2-1/2 lb weight to either end of the chest press bar.  These “graduation” days are bittersweet.  Each crossing of a threshold puts the lie to the comforting narrative that I’m only so capable, only so strong.  If I keep surpassing my own limits, I might start to believe that most of them are self-imposed.  How in the world can I avoid living my full life under those conditions?


Image: Mary Ellen Mark’s Photograph of Shavanaas Begum, the Indian Circus Strongwoman, 1989

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labor-of-love

The friend says the pressure to love her body is too much.  “Isn’t it enough to not hate it?”  This is what we are supposed to do as women. It’s yet another thing to add to the list.  Love ourselves.  Love our bodies exactly as they are.

That word, love.  It covered my notebooks in junior high, markers and hearts.  As a teenager, those four letters grew far too big for crushes.  They became like currents sweeping the earth in a gusting flourish, ecstasy and aspiration with a peace sign woven into the O.

The tropospheric ribbon of script I tattooed across my days was a declaration of protest.  It was a way to give voice, unformed as it was, to an infant movement.  A confederacy of truth was gathering, and it was growing skeptical, maybe downright mutinous, of the dogma that ordered my inner life.

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cave woman

Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes.  It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach.  Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back.  They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity.  The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.

Down in the cave, incline benches.  Pull-up bars.  Clangs and grunts.  Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.

The Cave of Dudes skews young.  They cluster in packs, spotting each other and counting off.  Their tattooed calves flex with effort.  When they finish a set, they pace, flushed and breathless.  They turn their arms just so to see the cut in the mirror.  They try to look like they’re not looking.

The few older men who dare to visit are made of sinew and focus.  They grip through fingerless gloves.  Intensity makes their neck veins pop.  Even though they lift less, they seem stronger.  Grounded.  The old dudes are more likely to end up on a mat doing the peacock pose.

I am a 42-year old woman with cellulite and stained sneakers.  It takes an enormous force of will to peel myself from the whirring breeze of the elliptical and descend into the Cave of Dudes.  It stinks of testosterone.  The man-juice is thick as brine and you’ve got to churn your way through the miasma to get to the dumbbells.

I go because I love the place.  It’s a playground, full of toys to mess around with.  Yet every time I start down, up drifts the bass dialogue and the metal bang.  With it, a clench of dismay.  Couldn’t it be silence?  This time, couldn’t the room be mine alone?  It never has been, not in all the years I’ve been going.  There’s no reason to believe it would be now.  Still.  Traveling has offered up enough deserted, junky hotel fitness rooms that I know what a blast it can be to bounce around by myself.

Better yet, how about a gaggle of gals?  If my girlfriends in their saggy capris and cheap Reeboks joined me, that would be a party.  We could shut off ESPN and crank Throwing Muses and Flogging Molly.  We could do all the wrong things with the iron maidens in the corner.  We could dance between sets.

But in the Cave of Dudes, antics are unwelcome.  Talking, unless it’s about muscles and stuff, is also rare.  Dancing?  Who would dare to try?

To will myself through the throatfuls of male musk, I’ve learned to man up.  Every gal has a store of Dude inside her.  She knows how to act remote and invulnerable.  How do you think she survives the subway, the office, the bar, the street?  When it’s necessary, she taps  the supply, adopting tunnel vision and shooting straight for the target.  No distractions.

Even when — especially when — those distractions are the echoes of ancient patterns learned by a girl surviving in a universe of threat.

I know rationally that the dudes in the cave have things more compelling than me to capture their attention.  They may notice the arrival of a female of the species, but what’s it to them if I’m clumsy or old or weak?  What do I care even if they do care (which they don’t)?   I’m safe here.

I know all this rationally, but still, the sense of intrusion, of outsider-ness, as I walk in almost overwhelms me.  Among the dudes, the racks and incline benches look as sinister as they do inviting.  My toys, in the company of dudes, look like mistakes waiting to happen.

Stepping across the room, I try not to glance at the bench press.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment.  I started on it a year or so ago with just the bar.  Eventually, the weights went on.  Week by week, they increased.

It’s a strange kind of thrill to climb of my own free will under that iron bar.  Lifting it off the stand exposes my girly chest parts and delicate neck to a grimy mass, one that’s entirely in my control.  It’s danger, it’s power.  Nothing beats finding out how much this body can do.

Despite all this love, I start to stride past it over to the relative safety of the dumbbells.  A trio dudes are all gathered up near my beloved bench.  One of them is doing some sort of big-cock-lunge-squats while the other two watch with their arms crossed.  It looks like a dare.  Or a hazing.

As I pass, a little voice whispers, I wish he were here.

Oh, you again.

The voice accompanies me everywhere, all the time.  But I hear it right here, at this almost imperceptible moment of choice.  The timing makes me pause.  That wish is whispering up right as I am about to abandon my very favorite exercise on account of the presence of men.

I stop.  I let that wish bob and dance like a soap bubble , the little voice a song inside it.  Yes, we always got such a kick out of sweating together, punching stuff and finishing the run with a wind sprint.  Yes, this was one of highs we climbed together.  And yes, if he were here, every piece of equipment in this place would be fair game.  We’d mess around with it together.

All this wishing.  Wishing to be alone, wishing for the company of women, wishing for My Mister.  Wishing to be younger and stronger.  Or older and more free.  Can I actually change any of these things?  For the ones I can change, do I want them enough to take the leap?

Or do I choose this?

Wishing without action is a destructive habit.  It’s biting nails and picking at scabs.  It’s holding the fact of the terrain up against an ink-stained map of Rivendell.  It’s falling from a cliff then cursing the earth that’s caught you.

He’s not here, Smirk.  It’s just you, your grit, and your capacity to make your own bliss.

Get to it.

I touch that bubble with the tip of my courage and let it pop.

Then I slide on right past the trio of dudes, grab two 10-pound weights, and rack up.


Image: “River in a Cave,” John Spies, Thailand

 

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Awakening

We ink our wishes into night’s unfurling wing.

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Oks New Friends III

Harmony calls out a greeting from behind the geraniums.  She folds a bookmark into a paperback and steps off the patio.  Noodle leaps all over her.  She chuckles and pets her then asks about my knee.

“Still hurts but I guess that’s normal.”  My recovery is slower than I’d like, in part because of an overzealous gym visit 3 days after surgery.  I’ve since re-discovered ice and moderation.  I bend it a little and show her.  “The boss has let me work half days from home, and walking at the pool has helped.”

“Oh, you go to the pool?  With your son?”  Noodle is now snuffling in around the mulched shrubbery so I pull her in closer.  After retiring, Harmony and her husband moved here from the Midwest and within two months, they had new floors, bathrooms, and bird feeders.  With a tidy patio set on top of a red striped outdoor rug, their condo is one of the most welcoming in the complex.  The kiddos in the neighborhood have already knocked loose two of their solar lights playing soccer on the sidewalks, and I don’t want the dog to add to the damage.

“Sometimes we go together.”  I wave vaguely in the direction of our small community pool where the kids are squealing.  “Mostly I’ve been making myself go to the rec center, though.  I can swim laps there, and there’s usually a free lane during the day.”   As I say this, a family ambles by.  The toddler carries an inflatable swim ring as big as her, and the mom lugs a bag of towels.  “It’s nice to have a place to get together here in the summer, though.  Have you been yet?”

“Oh!” She laughs, steps back, sort of half sits down on her patio chair.  “I guess I have a swimsuit packed away somewhere that hides most of the awful parts.”

A beat.

My stupefied gaze.

Did she really just say that?

I stumble over my astonishment and laugh along with her.  “Oh, geez, come out!  Everyone is welcome.”    She says she has another friend in the complex – a friend her age, she makes a point of mentioning – and they haven’t done it yet, but they’ve talked about going swimming.

So they can. . . what?  Band together?   Protect each other from the forces of evil?

“You know how you get a beach body, right?  You take your body –” I gesture towards her and then to me, “ – and go to the beach.”  We smile at each other.  “Just come be with your neighbors,” I say.  “The pool is for everyone.”

But she’s not giving an inch.  “Well, I never had a body like yours, even when I had the body I felt good in.” She laughs again.  It’s a strained laugh this time.

Are we still doing this?  In 2016 at 60-something years old, she’s still doing this?  Will I be in 20 years?  Who is going to tell us we can’t be at the pool?

This is what I need to say to her.

To all of us, tucked inside our soft and hungry bodies.

We want you.

As you are.

We want you in our community, just like we want the kids in their swim diapers, the lady in the wheelchair who zips around walking her giant black dog, the folks who grill out at the picnic area.  This pool is the closest thing we have to a common house.  Three months a year, this is our town square.

We can’t let scars and bellies and imagined impossible ideals keep us from being neighbors.

Things are not so great in this country of ours right now.  We have some tough battles to fight.  But we’ve already fought some and we shouldn’t have to keep revisiting that scarred ground.  For nearly 100 years, women have had the right to vote.  We can work.  Serve in the military.  We can pursue scientific research, write and paint and dance and sing.  We can sleep with any consenting adult, marry whomever we please or not marry at all.  We can write laws.  Change laws.  Have babies without men.  Ride motorcycles across the country.  Play professional sports.  Design rocket ships.  Run companies.  Run for president.

And yes, wear whatever the hell we want to the pool.

So put on a swimsuit.  Or a caftan.  Or a clown suit or a business suit.  Or a veil or fishnets or scuba gear or culottes or Go-Go boots.

But please.

Come to the pool.

Or sit here on your sun-dappled flowery patio and read all summer if that’s what you’d prefer.  Of course.  That’s totally cool too.  Because being a 60-something retired gal in the suburbs of an American metropolis means you can follow your bliss.

But please let go of being wistful or lonely when you can hear the chatter and cannonballs from that pretty patio, when you see your fellow residents flip-flopping past with their sun hats and iced tea.

We want you.

We need you.

As you are.

Let’s put to bed the notion that we live in a world populated by sylphs and Veelas, and that you are some mutant monstrosity.  You are a human in this neighborhood and you live in your body.  It is strong, it is weak.  It is the same body that installed the stone sculpture and refills the birdseet.  The same body that greets my dog, my son, me.  The body that has grandkids up the road who love you.  The body that filled years of a career leading art programs at a children’s hospital in Wisconsin.

You belong here.

We all do.

As we are.

We have to start showing up.  Pasty hips and jiggly arms, acne, wrinkles, spider veins, all of it.  We all have to show up in the bodies that carry us over the earth.  Because what’s the alternative?  What purpose or good do we serve by staying home?

I can’t promise you that everyone will think kind thoughts.  The cellulite will be visible, and some of us – present company included – have indulged petty comparisons.  I can promise you, however, that neither the stretch marks nor the judgments will matter one lick to any outcome or relationship that matters.  Here in the everyday world of our neighborhood, the distribution of wealth, luck, friendship, leadership, respect, and opportunities for love has no correlation to flab.  The only thing the size of our backsides influences is the size of the underpants we wear.  This is a pretty flimsy standard upon which to base any decision of consequence.

I understand you want to lose weight.  I do too.  I fight this damned fight every day.  This body you say you envy?  It’s packed on nearly 15 pounds in less than a year.  Stress, depression, thyroid problems.  Scoliosis, chronic pain, disordered eating.  Acne, bunions, insomnia.  And now?  A bum knee.

This body here houses all these things.  These are features of my physical form much like the roar of freeway traffic outside my balcony, the windowless shared walls, the claustrophobic  8-foot ceilings.  Sometimes focusing on the flaws becomes an addiction all its own, and those dark patches press in like glaucoma narrowing the vision.  But then I remember that this is my home, and it is the place where this full, loving life of mine is being written.  Then I notice the art.  Then I thrill to the blessings.

I live with these things also here in the home of my body because this body is like a physical address.  It holds the scars and all the rest of it, too.  The emotive poetry, the sketching, the puttering in the kitchen with garlic and oil and greens.  This body is hiking, friendship, sex, tinkering, and books.  It carries the late-night cuddles with my kiddo, the volunteer work, the advising sessions with students, the adventures, the confusion, the kaleidoscopic memories that comprise the narrative I believe is me.  The whole twisting, unfinished, colorful, at times plodding, and always character-rich story of me lives here  in the home of this body.  All of me.

Inside your body, you.

I want to know you.  You have so much to contribute to this place, so much you already have.

When you show up, good things happen.  The connections between all of us here grow stronger.  You have already helped us grow from neighborhood towards community.

When you show up.

You have to show up.

You are my neighbor.  I am yours.  I want to know the you who is unfolding within your skin.  That skin that holds glorious, kind you.

Your neighbors want to know you.

Please come.

As you are.


Image: Leon Oks, “New Friends III”

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