Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Body Shame: "Reduce" and the "Shrinking Woman."

I received an email from a dear friends, Cinda Johnson, co-author of Perfect Chaos this morning. It was a link to a video that has been circulating for days but I hadn't taken the meager three minutes to watch.
I watched it. Again and again.

Typically my lunch break consists of numbly drinking coffee and reaping the day's internet harvest. Today I was torn out of numbness. Feel this, the slam poet Lily Myers dared me. Feel this.

Her mother is shrinking, Lily Myers says. Her mother sneaks small bits of "calories to which she does not feel entitled to." We absorb, she says. We filter. But essentially, we feel the shame of our existence within the world and strive to make it smaller.

The mother, the woman, the person we all know from either observation or experience, feels this anguish. Over decades I watched my own Great Grandmother whittle down to a lilliputous white-haired child perched on her large reclining chair. On my Grandmother's 80th birthday, with all of her dearest friends around to celebrate, she was nearly giddy about her new pants. "There a size 8, you know." She became tiny, too.

When my Grandmother was my age, women did not diet. They "reduced."

"Just a small sliver," my mother said as we cut cake at the birthday party. Perhaps she felt as though she were not deserving of a whole piece? Or perhaps she knew that her jeans would fit better if she were more frugal with her sugar. She, too, is concerned. I don't want my mother to reduce.

My mother also wakes up at three in the morning, every morning, and worries. She worries about my children, whether they are getting through hard times at school. She worries about whether there will be enough coats to go around. She worries about the world.

But how can we fix the world? How can a single person fix every trauma and problem and end every atrocity in the world? Because there are some really terrible things going on that we have no control over and we wish we could do something to heal and alter and quell and fix.

But we can't.

There is a feeling not of hopelessness but impotence. I feel impotent. I cannot fix all the broken in the world. And in this impotence, I feel ashamed--ashamed for not being able to change the world for the better--for not having control over the state of the world.

The only thing that I truly have control over is myself and my body. And there is a shameful amount of comfort in knowing this. There is comfort in dealing with body issues.

I have sounded like my mother. I have said that I am not deserving of a full piece of cake. I have believed that coffee is an adequate substitute for nourishment. I have reduced my potential to the sole task of fitting into size 8 pants.

But I don't want my daughter to be reduced to a waifish old woman. I don't want her to see this impotent shame that lurks underneath my skin and writhes and I call it flab or cellulite or "ugh." I want her to roar. I want her to fill a room with her potential and believe, truly and completely believe, that she is capable of making changes that exist beyond her flesh. I want her action to supercede her image. I want my daughter to be large.

And so we eat. We eat and we discuss the problems that would keep us up at three in the morning. We scheme. We empower each other and build our strength and make it a contagion which seeps through school classrooms and art projects and chance meetings in the grocery store. We grow. We broaden our shoulders and flourish in spite of our Great Grandmothers and Grandmothers who tried so successfully to reduce.

In my mother, I see a cycle straining to break. She heals the world one human at a time through nursing. It was in her didactic efforts that I learned that one person can provide hope and fix the world. She is not impotent nor does she wear size 8 pants. In her I learned not to be reduced by shame.

Thank you, Lily Myers, for your art and your bold, unapologetic sharing. 

To learn more about Perfect Chaos and Cinda Johnson, click here

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hippy Christmas.

Okanogan County, located in North Cental Washington, is not known for its glamour or turbulent history or anything interesting. Hell, the majority of the world will continue ticking away without ever knowing of its very existence. But nestled in the Tonasket highlands, far away form peering eyes, a mass of counter culture throbbed like a heartbeat this weekend.

Barter Faire celebrated its 40th year this weekend as vendors and buyers ascended the steppe. Each year the faire grows and an estimated 10.000 people from all over WA and beyond make the annual hajj. Artists, artisans, junkers and food vendors begin arriving on Thursday to set up camp and the Faire opens Friday morning. By Saturday, the hay-laced paths are teeming with semi-naked children and fairies and gypsies and steampunks and old wise shamanic hippies.

My daughter is a Barter Baby. Her first Barter Faire was on her due date. Me and my partner at the time had a booth and we set up, not knowing how long we would be up at the faire. She was patient, thanks for asking. We attended every BF until we moved to Alaska four years later.

After our long hiatus, I figured that everything would have changed. I was right. And wrong.

The sense of wonder never fades. Happy hippies great and smile at you from every direction. The echoed cries of "Barter Faire!" are met and passed on through the crowds. People wish you a happy Barter Faire as if it were some grand holiday. But really, it's kind of like hippy Christmas. It's where you can find anything you weren't looking for at the moment but need. Contrarily wise, if you are indeed looking for one particular item, you experience the dreaded illness of "Barter Blindness."

One of many hippy caravans. 
We found some books at a booth where the vendor was brains-deep in an art project where he assembled the random bits and tchotchkes of his bedraggled wears-blanket into a giant form that wiggled in the breeze. We asked for the books. "Whaddya got?" He asked.

This year, we hadn't brought bartering gadget or doodads or trinkets or nosh to trade. My daughter said, "you like food? How about some apples?"

The man smiled with his teeth hiding under a mass of mustache. He tipped his top hat and along with our mythology and Tolstoy we went hunting. After nearly 30 minutes of perusing the market, we realized the apples had been hidden. "Barter blindness," I told my daughter.

We gave up on our quest and settled for trading some oatmeal cookies from a bakery/taxidermy/tool shop with our goods. We found the apples in the booth next door.

But that is the way of the Barter Faire. It is an imp with a mischevious mind of its own. It will swallow friends up whole until you've nearly given up looking for them and will finally spit them out right in front of you, beaming and dripping with goodies.

The Barter Faire is a sneaky one. And there are rules:
1) You will never make money at a Barter Faire. You will come out even. You will go home happy and fulfilled, but you will never roll in dough.
2) You will lose yourself/whomever you are there with. You will find yourself. Your friends will find themselves. Your faith in humanity will be taken away and then restored with one breath.
3) You will need to use a honey bucket. It will be unpleasant. You will only add to the unpleasantness of the honey bucket. This is commonly known as "Barter butt"--a hippy Montezuma's revenge--that is most often experienced after an indian taco. The indian taco wafts through the air and is a siren's call for your gut. It will become your undoing.
4) Be weary of homemade baked goods sold at the Barter Faire. Look for the "child friendly" versions of food. Weed is a featured ingredient found in most baked goods, goo balls, pumpkin creamcheese rolls, and granola. And tinctures. And oils. And smiles.

The drug culture of the Barter Faire cannot be hidden. It is present. My daughter learned what pot smells like this weekend. It is, however, much more safe in that the security forces have made it so people do not smoke pot openly. Fortunately, as pot is now legal, the security volunteers waste much less time on pot and focus more on the other illicit drugs. They were much less apparent this year.

Little Fairies of Haven
Of all the Barter Faires I've attended, this one felt like it was the most kid-friendly and the most safe. The focus on family (along with the name change to the Okanogan Family Faire, though nobody calls it that) truly shined through this year. Beautiful children played in Child Haven where they could take parts in crafts or talent shows or storytelling in the tipi or just frolick with all of their newly made friends.

Strategically across from the Haven was the most phenomenal booth ever: Blissful Wunders Confectionery Chocolats'. Bliss stood behind tables piled high with gorgeous truffles. He wore a top hat peppered with pins and buttons. He offered a smile along with a small, flat pure chocolate chip.

Bliss, the Hippy Willy Wonka
Bliss redefined how I conjure up Willy Wonka in my mind. He is no longer a tall and quirky Gene Wilder. He is big, bold and speaks like he was plucked from the Bronx. But his language is what made me realize that chocolate is magic. He talked about how he'd add lavendar to his mint truffles to create a balanced flavor. He talked about how flavors mingled with ingredients in a refined chocolate experience.

Cracking the shell of my pomegranate wine truffle was like knocking on the door to extacy. The truffle melted into my tongue and brought me more joy than I've ever experienced from food. I almost blushed at my completely hyper-sensual experience in front of this Trippy Hippy Willy Wonka. He smiled like the expression on my face was a familiar one. He raised his hands into the air and chuckled, "I ship to everywhere!"

Here is his website: blissfulwunders.com.

Strangely, the next euphoric moments seemed to pass unnoticed. I was swallowed up by Barter Faire and spit out right in front of the main music stage where "Mighty Lions" played reggae into the dusk. We danced, my children and I, under the haze of woodfire and dust. My previous partner (aka Dad of my babies) watched us happily as he fell victim to the indian taco.

We danced, me, my daughter, and my breakdancing son. We spun and hopped and smiled together. A man, noticing my son's breakdancing (thrashing on the ground), he clapped and laughed and taught my son some more moves. I thanked the men who thanked me back.

We were connected with every person in front of the stage. But in the larger perspective, we'd become connected to all the other 10,000 weirdos, hippies, wackos and wild spirits within our proximity. We came to celebrate the union of creative people and alternative thinkers. And as the moon rose above the giant festival, we became as full as she was, shining brightly over valley. And filled with the goodwill and love for our fellow humans, we left the Barter Faire, completely filled with the spirit of Hippy Christmas.