Tag Archives: Personal

500 Words: Hey 19


Hey 19, look at you with that luscious body!  Damn, if only you knew how beautiful you were.

I’m sorry you grew up in a household which didn’t teach you about loving yourself.  Which didn’t teach you about self-esteem and confidence.  For being surrounded by the constant talk about needing to go on a diet.  And for the doctors who told you to lose weight without talking about nutrition or healthy eating.  Who threatened to put you on diet pills if you didn’t lose weight.

I’m looking at you and wishing you had just known how wonderful you were.  How you didn’t have to let men touch you if you didn’t want them to, and how sex wasn’t affection.  I’m wishing you knew how powerful you were, how strong your body was.

This is the body which marched with the high school band in parades and half-time shows.  And danced at the discos in its polyester diva clothed glory.

I want you to know all messages you received about needing to diet were bullshit.  Look at you!  How I wish you could have seen your body the way it was, not the trumped up image of being fat which led to buying clothes which were almost always too big, and rarely flattering.  I wish you could have looked in the mirror and seen lovely, beautiful, awesome you; not the fat girl you thought no one loved.

You lived in a household where nobody valued you, and in a society hung up on beauty standards no one could reach.  That part hasn’t changed, but there are women now who push against the idea that we have to shape our bodies to meet expectations.

Feminism was just entering the national conversation.  But you, my awesome 19, were confused and unsettled, there was no way you could have known what any of that meant.  You weren’t allowed to say “no,” or think about what you might really want to do with your life.  You were expected to just go along, and so you did.

Healthy body image wasn’t really a thing then.  Your stupendous 155 pounds were deemed too many, and that was that.  So you yo-yo dieted, along with every other girl in America, believing that you were too fat to be worthy of anything good.

It’s 35 years later as I write this.  Sighing deeply when this picture filtered to the top, I wish I could take you aside and tell you how beautiful and worthy you were.  I wish you could know self-esteem and confidence, believing what you wanted was important and worth pursuing.  I wish I could have taught you how to believe in yourself and ignore the judgmental people around you.

Your parents’ divorce had nothing to do with you.  It really wasn’t your responsibility to provide emotional support for them.  I wish you could have known that.

I wish we could have talked about the importance of owning and wearing good bras.  And better looking glasses.

Book Review: Reviving Ophelia

But most important, we can change our culture.  We can work together to build a culture that is less complicated and more nurturing, less violent and sexualized and more growth-producing.  Our daughters [children] deserve a society in which all their gifts can be developed and appreciated. (p. 13)

In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability.  Attractiveness is both a necessary and sufficient condition for girls’ success.  This is an old, old problem.  Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker.  Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.  (p. 40)

Girls are trained to be less than who they really are.  They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become. (p. 44)

I first read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph. D. when it came out in 1994.  Even then I was searching for me.  I was very confused about being female and looking for answers that would make me worthy in the eyes of society.  I missed what Dr. Pipher was saying.  Society is not the place to turn to for answers, it will only confuse you and set standards which are impossible to meet.  I wasn’t ready to hear that I was good enough on my own, and screw society.

Twenty years later, I returned to this book in search of answers on how to be a good auntie to the children in my life who have been raised in a society which is more pornified and sexualized than when Reviving Ophelia was first published.

I didn’t find those answers either.  Not because Pipher doesn’t offer a good explanation of what happens when puberty hits and many of the ways parenting and society can stack the deck against young women without meaning to.

I have to take it on intellectual faith that the maelstrom that is puberty and adolescence really is as described.  There was so much other dysfunction going on in my family that I truly cannot relate on an emotional level and do not have physical memories of what it was like to be a teenaged girl.

Hormones rampaging?  Didn’t notice.  Black and white thinking?  Don’t remember.  It’s hard for me because my memories involve a father who came into my bedroom at night and a mother who undermined my development at every turn.

Watching my six nieces grow has been quite the education for me.  I can see the things Pipher describes happening in them and I have learned it’s okay because it’s normal.  I’ve watched them go through these stages and come out the other end to be strong women who can face society on their own terms.  In no small part due to the parenting they received, from family prepared to teach them the pitfalls of living in a pornified society filled with highly sexualized standards for girls and women.

Reviving Ophelia is well-written and easy to read.   Dr. Pipher’s case studies are still relevant, as are her explanations about what goes on when a girl hits puberty.  That I didn’t get what I wanted from it is not Dr. Pipher’s fault, I was looking for a book she didn’t write.



Gratitude to Don

I give gratitude to Don. For the memories he gave me, the stories I have to tell. The challenges he presented me as well as the ones he helped me solve. His unswerving support, even in those things that were just a bad idea. For his snark and sarcasm, which often surpassed mine. For the way he made me laugh, and made me cry. For the lessons I learned.

As I go through my apartment sorting through the stacks I’ve brought from his home to mine, I remember the klutzy grace he had with people and that amazing wellspring of knowledge he kept buried in that head.

Most of all I give gratitude for the 32 years of friendship, and for discovering just how strong my stuff really is. His death leaves a hole in my life which no one will ever be able to fill. But the person I am now is due in large part to his patience and love for me as I grew.

It’s hard to believe we were only in our early 20s when we met. He’s left an indelible mark on so many hearts.

“Stay calm and play the blues.”

Judgment Day

I found this guy, Rob Brezsny, on the internet, and signed up for his newsletter.   Brezsny’s a subversive, trickster character.  I’m ambivalent about both astrology and tricksters.  Less so the latter because while I don’t like being screwed with (who does?), I can see value in what a trickster brings to the cosmic table.

Brezsny’s weekly newsletter has more than just horoscopes.  Sometimes the thoughts in it just seem random, on the edge of making sense.  It’s like looking for something out of the corner of my eye and not quite getting it.

But this week reinforced the idea that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do.  The universe hasn’t let me down yet, I don’t give up that easily.

Many people sincerely think that they will be called before God to account for themselves on Judgment Day. If you yourself have held that belief, you can stop worrying about it. The fact is, according to a survey of over 800 dissident bodhisattvas, urban witch doctors, sacred agents, and undercover geniuses, that you are called before “God” on “Judgment Day” on a regular basis.

Since you still exist, you have apparently passed every test so far. “God” obviously keeps finding you worthy. You shouldn’t get overconfident, of course. But maybe from now on you can assume that although there may be a world of pressure on you, that pressure is natural, merciful, and exactly what you need.

Bookish Lists

I love lists.  Making them, marking things off, adopting others’ lists.  When it comes to reading, I don’t go by a list, I go by what’s at the top of the stack.  There’s a folder on my desk filled with book lists which I occasionally cross-check with my own reading.  It’s interesting to me what books people think are important and how that intersects with what I read.

Mostly, what I’ve learned is that my reading is eclectic and doesn’t fit anyone’s norm but my own.  I have a tendency to ignore what’s popping up on popular lists, even those which come highly regarded by people whose taste in books I trust and respect.  This does not just apply to books either.  Music, tv, movies; I take a step back and wait for the dust to settle.  I find I’m not missing out on a whole lot anyway.

But back to the lists.  Today I came across a link for Bill Gates’ book blog.  Interesting, mostly because there are people in the public’s gaze whom I don’t think of as readers, if I think of them as other than their public front at all.  Bill Gates is someone I have mixed feelings about, but they’re shallow feelings because I don’t pay that much attention.

Gates’ blog is interesting because there’s not a lot of crossover from his list to mine.  Not that this is surprising, Gates built and ran a very successful software company, so his taste in books runs more toward the technical/business end of life.  Mostly non-fiction on weighty topics like the global economy, biographies/memoirs by people like Timothy Geithner.  It’s an interesting insight to Gates, and there are very few books on his list I’d be interested in reading.

Then there’s David Bowie’s Top 100 Books list, of which I’ve read 8 and have one queued up to read before the end of the year.  It’s probably obvious why I would find more to like on Bowie’s list than on Gates’.

And, if there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that Marilyn Monroe was more than a sexy actress, there’s this list of 430 books in her library, compiled by an online fan club.  From scanning the list, it seems Monroe’s reading was fed by what feeds mine; books I think I should have already read (which includes many classics like Dante and Milton) and books about subjects or people who fascinate me.

Monroe did her best to surround herself with smart people, especially men, so it’s not surprising there’s a number of books written by them (Clifford Odets, Henry Miller).  And it would be a surprise to me if a lot of books on this list weren’t recommended by those men as a foundation to a good library.

All these lists beg the question, “What is the foundation of a good library?”  Is it the Western Canon1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die?  (Full disclosure, I do have this list and use it to mark the intersection of my own reading and what other people think “should” be read.  Again, a concept I’m not big on.)

Since I grew up in a family which loved to read, I was exposed to lots of authors and topics.  Mom loved mysteries (Sherlock Holmes) and science fiction (Isaac Asimov).  Dad’s reading was more eclectic and very often inappropriate for young readers.  I read not only what was assigned in school, but what looked interesting in the library.  When I reached college, there was more of what was required in class.  Aside from that, my reading is probably 85% “oooh shiny” directed by what catches my eye at the moment.

Being unemployed and having little disposable income makes it easier to concentrate on what’s in my personal library.  All 42+ boxes of it.  Which is like opening gifts to myself all the time.  It’s also like an archeological dig, as I sift through the layers of my life remembering when, and why, I picked these books.  I know the deeper I go, the more diverse topics I’m going to find.  The Hollywood/film student period.  The John Grisham period (when I get to that box, they all go outta da house).  The folklore period,  etc. etc.

One thing’s for sure, as long as I have books, I’ll never be bored.