Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lunch Poem #1- Stepping Away from the Plateau

I need to step away from the plateau;
the Cumberland Plateau with her sedimentary rock, ridgelines and bituminous coal; scalped of her minerals and slow to recover.
I need to escape the hive;
the neutral and muted confines of the cubicle, with her demanding computer queen.
I need a break from
the plateau, the hive, the Word documents  the PowerPoints, Excel spreadsheets;
the rigid boxes, templates and plain white spaces between too many words.
I need to get away from
the minutes, the property level plans, the portfolio scorecards and travel itineraries
where I go nowhere.

I need to find my spear, The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy.
I need to see the Wild Geese
and know that I don't have to be good.
I need to see everything, all at once, in the slow pouring off of rainbows,
like a Fish in a pail that refuses to lie down flat as she dies.

I've been thinking lately about James Dickey and Mary Oliver.
I want to set their pages laid out, side by side and compare
his words to her words;
the Heaven of Animals to Some Questions You Might Ask.

So on my lunch break I walk from my office in my most comfortable sandal heels to the Barnes and Noble.
Atlanta is masquerading as Seattle. She is doing it all wrong though. She's a hot mess and doesn't have the right accessories-- not enough evergreen and she is missing the coast and that maritime coolness.
I don't have an umbrella.
My hair will suffer but I cannot any longer.

In the misty, wet dreary I wait
at the light on the corner of Perimeter Center Place and Perimeter Center Road.
I cross in front of hurrying mall shoppers whose turning cars are unaware of my right of way.
They try to run me over.
I wave with a finger as I walk by.

I cut through the landscaping framing the mall and shopping center where Barnes and Noble is the anchor.
I catch  myself on the trunk of a crepe myrtle to keep from slipping on the wet pine straw.
I wipe the dust of the crepe myrtle bark on my teal Calvin Klein shift.
I pass umbrella clutching and side walk obeying shoppers.
No one will meet my eyes as I climb out from the crepe myrtles and step up onto the sidewalk.
Except the black man with the goatee and tunic.
He winks at me. I smile back.
With my teeth and lips and kind eyes.

Out of the humidity and in the store I expect familiarity and a memory smell since once upon a time before a husband and children I use to work here.
Once upon a time I could find any book anyone wanted and I knew the shoppers as well, depending on the day and the time.
Early morning? The business men and women and the jobless and their lap-tops and meetings and coffees and their Wall Street Journals on couches, chairs and every table. If they needed anything from me it was if we had the latest Oracle book.
Mid morning?  The mothers and their strollers for story time or really, to wreck chaos and noise throughout the store.
Mid afternoon? The ladies after tennis, there mostly for a Starbucks coffee and maybe their book club's latest Oprah pick.
And Friday nights, after the movie next door, the pageantry of prost-a-tots trying to manage their  hormones while waiting  on their chauffeurs to pick them up.
And I realize, once upon a time, I've been all these things.

But in this store I know nothing. Books are an after thought.  Instead of a shelf of New York Times Best Sellers there is a wide selection of  tablets.

I look at the tablet display and remember sitting in a store meeting before we opened for the day. I am wearing tights, a short gray dress that I can't bend over in and platform shoes. I am sipping a latte, nursing shine splints and plantar fasciitis and worrying about how I will be too tired after work to finish my paper on Whitman and Dickey while the store manager spins a tale about electronic books held inside a Kindle.
Everyone one us of thought, no way.
Books, with their pages, are here to stay.

In the center of the store is a café. It is a bright sun. It is the major star. It has not just coffee but pastries and sandwiches too.
A fence, like one of  Saturn's rings,  holds the cafe's tables and chairs, her planets and their moons. Sitting on the moons are people with their laptops, tablets and smart phones. There are no books laying open on the planets or pages turning in the hands
of anyone sitting on any moon.
If by moon, person or star or book by page;
No one that I didn't see buy any one book.

I wander the perimeter of the store and shelves. The Fiction and Literature section, though the biggest, is rather small.
I remember vast shelves of books but these shelves I can see over their tops.
I look for the poetry books, thinking poems are literature. 
I will find out they are not.
Poems are art and art is in a different area of the store,
far from Fiction and Literature,
on the other side of the sun and her moons.

I find Dickey but only his Deliverance. No To the White Sea or any books of his poetry.
Mary Oliver isn't here at all.
It is then I realize, maybe poems are not fiction or literature.

I panic that there is no book of poems at all in this store.

Circling the back wall  I find the Arts.
Visual. Dramatic. Languages,
and finally,

It is a thin collection.
I see some familiars. And some notable absences.

There is O'Hara.  I pull his book off the shelf,
I remember why I am not a Painter
and realize that my lunch hour is almost over.
There is no Dickey here. I will order online.
I look over several Mary Oliver's and settle on an anthology.

The rain is heavy now, not just a mist and the day is almost done.
I see the white concrete of my office building gleam through the oak and pine branches
as I cross the street again.
I tuck Mary's book into my purse, a spear at my side.
Silently, I walk to my office and slip back into the hive.
I fold my thoughts like Arab tents
dotted along the plateau.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Witness

The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. 
Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. 
What then shall we choose? 
Weight or lightness?

 ―Milan Kundera, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Last Sunday morning, when I returned home from my 60 mile solo bike tour of Marietta, Roswell and Mountain Park, Ryan asked if I wanted to go with him to watch the funeral procession of Skip Wells. The kids were not home-- Carmella was at lacrosse camp  in Florida and Beau, probably still asleep, was at his best friend's house. We had some planned errands, would grab some lunch and then Ryan would go to his Old Guy Lacrosse game. Later, we would all have dinner together that evening. It was "Sunday Funday," and everyone one of us would have a day doing something we liked and at our leisure: me a long bike and shopping, Ryan sleep in and play lacrosse, Beau with his best friend and Carmella with her best friend at camp. We certainly had the time to spare and stand witness to a funeral procession.

Neither Ryan nor myself, personally or even tangentially, knew Lance Cpl. Squire "Skips" Wells, the  youngest of the group of five military servicemen gunned down on July 16, 2015 at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center in Chattanooga, TN. We did not know his family either. However, Skip Wells  attended the high school in the district next to ours and his memorial service was held at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock that is only a few miles from our house. And Chattanooga, a city that we dearly love and visit several times a year, is less than a 2 hour drive from our home. The Chattanooga shooting rampage on unarmed US servicemen, the most recent homeland terrorist tragedy to evoke the nation, had taken one from our community. It touched our home.

 Ryan wanted to go to show support. I felt slightly uncomfortable about it. I thought we would be acting as paparazzi on someone else's tragedy. I have never seen a military funeral procession and I admit, I was curious. Generally, I  prefer to personally experience the world as much as I can rather than watch it on TV or read about it second hand. Certainly, I have seen, and even been a member of, many funeral processions. I have noted that in small towns versus larger urban areas, that there are distinct differences in the community response to a funeral procession. In a small town, people will stop and wait for the funeral to pass by, take off their hats and bow their heads. In some cases, the whole town actually goes to the funeral and brings fried chicken, green beans and cobblers in tin foil covered  Pyrex dishes just because their Mama played bridge with the  cousin of the his sister.  But here, in the sprawling Atlanta area, people can be oblivious and will get tangled up in a funeral procession and never even realize the reason they made all the lights in Buckhead was because someone had died.

Ultimately, I thought it would not be polite. Ryan advised me we would be showing support for Skip's family, solidarity for our country and that this is what the community should do for a fallen solider. It was impolite to not go and stand witness was the implication. Even still, I had my doubts that it was the right thing to do. But I agreed to go with him.

The First Baptist Church of Woodstock, where the funeral service for Skip was held, is around the corner from our house. The funeral procession traveled from 575 down Highway 92 to the Baptist Church that is located at Neese Road and Highway 92. Ryan and I drove to the corner of Hames Road and Highway 92, the intersection that is down and across the street from Baptist Church.

I was very surprised, when we turned on Hames Road from Jamerson Road by the amount of traffic on the typically empty, residential street. Already parking was at a premium.  As we made our way to the intersection of Hames Rd and Highway 92, I could see that in both directions the 4 lane divided median highway was already lined with people of all ages and stages of life holding American Flags. It was strange to see the traffic  slowed to an intermittent tickle of cars at this time of day. And the cars that did pass, donned American Flags.

It was a strange pageant for certain. It had all the fixing of a parade- a gathered crowd lining closed roads waving American flags--but the mood was not festive. It was respectful. And the crowd, while there was a spirit of palpable excitement in the air, it wasn't of the contagious type, rather it was contained, reigned in.

And, it was hot, Of course it was. Midday at the end of July in Georgia is always sunny and 90 something degrees.The heat radiated in waves and ripples off the asphalt. Of course it was humid too, as midday (and morning and night) always is in the summer. And I was really thirsty. Dehydrated and hungry from my bike ride, I was deeply regretting not going in the gas station near where we parked to buy a fountain coke. I would just suffer, I decided. And I pushed the vision of a 20 oz icy coke out of my head, because I knew as soon as walked back over to the gas station the motorcade would come by and I would miss the whole thing. I knew it would pass by in a fast moment, like everything else does.

Though hot, it was a beautiful afternoon--a blue sky and fluffy clouds kind of afternoon. And the crowd that was still gathering was quiet. As people would approach the edges of the street their voice would drop to an inaudible whisper. Eavesdropping was impossible. Only the youngest of the children there were not using their library voices. Instead, they were like puppies, rolling in the grass and running back and forth excited about everything in the world. Their energy provided a reprieve as their laughter sprinkled over the somber crowd. I would still myself, craning and also wanting to know, each time one of them asked their parents,"When is he coming? When will he be here?"

Finally, an adult in the crowd politely asked the lone police officer directing traffic, "is he close?"

The officer advised, "Yes. Soon."

As we waited, I took some pictures.

It is hard for me to process moments and their meaning as they happen. Photos provide visual aids for my memory. There is little time for reflection any more. Lately, my life, and the precious moments and experiences that cushion it,  have been spinning madly past me. I have been in losing negotiations with the universe to slow it all down. I suspect like many, I have realized my mistake too late. I know, I was warned. I clearly remember hearing it ad nauseum when the children were babies,  but I admit it, I blinked. And it is like I have been in a blinking spree. I am trying to stop, prop open and fix my eyeballs on the world in a frozen stare but honestly, I cannot hold my eyes open long enough or stayed focused to take in this rich feast of amazing moments--never mind have time to have a thought and process an understanding or a perspective, or sadly, sometimes just have an emotion. So I take pictures. I need the photographs to capture all these blinking moments, so later, in a suspended second, I can linger on the experience, hold it in my hand and look at it. And yes, realize all that I have missed.

  I will admit that I was uncomfortable taking pictures with my cell phone, feeling disrespectful and impolite in the brevity of the moment. But I was not alone. Nearly everyone had their phone out- either snapping pictures or recording the scene. One woman had situated herself on the grass median in the middle of the highway with her tripod and had a giant high powered lens on her camera. She had the whole median to herself and was not at all discreet about her tripod and her giant lens camera. A woman, standing next me and jockeying for a better spot, openly admired the tripod woman's fortitude for her choice of spots. She tried, in a series of whispered suggestions to encourage her husband to relocate to the median but he wouldn't go. After a few moments they moved a bit up the hill. As I stood there, I regretted, along with my missed opportunity for a coke, being short and wished I had worn shoes with a wedge so I could see better. For a moment, I also admired the tripod woman's  spot on the median but I was not feeling bold enough to cross the highway and stand so out in the open.

And right now, as I look back and think about standing on the sidewalk waiting for the car carrying the body of Skip Wells and the other cars that carried his heart broken family to drive past me, I wish I had taken more pictures. I have too few pictures for all the seconds I was standing there.  The ones I did take though have jarred a response in me that I wanted to chronicle. So here I sit. Stealing corners of my day, during lunch, while driving to work, while I run, bike, or swim,  trying to find that suspended second in time where I can work out in my mind what I saw.
What happened.
What changed.
What I felt.

After awhile we heard a roar and then saw the Patriot Guard  pass us. It was a bit of a ruckus, their passing, but as the rattle of their mufflers faded eastward in the direction of the Baptist Church it grew silent and the crowd again turned to face the west, waiting more patiently than any crowd I have ever been a part of.

Several minutes passed and cars were no long going by on either side of the highway.

As I looked down the  hill of Highway 92 towards Woodstock I saw a river of blue and white lights edging over the horizon line and quietly rolling towards us.

I will admit to a flutter of nervous excitement as the motorcade blinked and rolled towards me.

It is weird to think that is what I felt since the occasion of this was a funeral procession. A significant tragedy.

I don't know what  the right word is, or rather the correct emotion to have is. But it was there,  this feeling of anticipation that something was going to happen.

I knew that the cars would roll past me. I knew that I would see a hearse that would carry the body of Skip Wells. I knew I would see the long dark cars that carried the bereft family. But I didn't know what else would happen. I didn't know what the reaction of the crowd would be. I didn't know what my reaction would be.

It was a long procession that stretched a mile. First the police from  Cobb County, Marietta, Holy Springs and Woodstock on motorcycles rolled past and I wondered if  behind those mirrored sunglasses their eyes belied the stoicism set in their mouths.  I wondered what they saw as they rode past the gathered crowds on the side of road after road that they slowly traveled  in the hot July sun, guiding the Wells family to say a last farewell to Skip and then finally, bringing Skip to his resting place at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, GA.

 And then I saw the dark cars and I stopped taking pictures and held my phone down. The first car passed quickly and I turned my eyes to the side. When I looked back to the procession,  my mind took a picture of that second long black car that I have been seeing in my brain ever since.

 The windows  of the car behind hearse were not tinted and a woman in dark dress was framed by the car door window. I could see her face so clearly. Her expression was tangible.  I presumed this woman was Skip's mother and in an instant I felt her grief. I connected with her, knowing how I would feel sitting in a car behind the car that carried my son who died far too young. My son , who had signed up to protect his country and had made, as is so often said, "the ultimate sacrifice." My son, who had been stationed just 2 hours north, that I thought was safe. My son, gone.

I watched as the procession disappeared east and over the hill out of sight. The crowd began to disperse and Ryan and I walked back to our car to carry on with our Sunday plans. As we drove away, I thought of the face of the woman who I presumed was Skip's mother's and I felt a heavy weight on my heart, a mixture of pain, sadness and guilt that was physically hard to swallow.

I recalled another time I felt this emotion and it had caught me off guard then too. It was Easter Sunday, many years ago. I don't remember which church but the sermon was, of course, on the Resurrection-- a story I have heard millions of times. But that Easter Sunday, I heard the story differently. The pastor was telling the part of the story where he would have said, in some way or another, that God gave up his only son so that we would be saved. I can't even begin to say how many times I have heard that sentence said, in one way or another, at dozens of Easter Sermons. It has never once resonated with me other than this is what one says when one tells the story of the Resurrection. But as I sat there that day, listening again to the story of the Resurrection, I wasn't focused on Jesus. That Easter when I heard the word "son" I identified with God as a fellow parent. I understood the magnitude of the sacrifice and wondered, for the first time, how God had done that. I knew, as I thought about God the parent offering up his only son to save the human lot, that I could not, nor would I ever willing give up my child to anyone or anything for any reason.  I would, I thought, possibly offer myself up but of that, I am not entirely certain.

This empathy, it has weight. It tethers us to each other in compassion, knowing that as witnesses we shoulder but do not and cannot carry the heavy burden of grief. 

It is an unbearable lightness.

And  I do, I feel guilty for it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Part III: Pieces of Moth

Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.
-from the Omega Point by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

My sister has a shower curtain with the map of the world on it. I always stay at her house when I do the Georgia marathon and I deeply enjoy the luxury of that post race shower at her house. I love, freshly spent from my contrived urban journey, standing in her shower with midday light filtering through the glass tiles,  the warm water massaging my tired, sore and now stiff body.  I will trace my fingers over the continents,  the mountains,  the oceans and  all the tiny islands and cities I will never see. I marvel at the broken puzzle of the earth; seeing how it might have all once fit together as I revel in that last bit of post-race glow.  I traveled miles by foot but really, I have gone nowhere--as I finished precisely where I began. Nevertheless, there was a three and half hour journey where my mind, whilst my body was occupied, traveled the world, seeing its history,  my history, all the places, spaces and corners of my mind. I connected dots. I solved a mystery. And for a singular moment, I put all the pieces of the puzzle and the world back together.

But, then, I rinse the conditioner out of my hair, dry myself off and forget about the world. Forget her mysteries and how the puzzle fit together as slip into make-up, fancy hair and clean, fresh clothes.

Weeks later I am in Birmingham and I go out for a run during a break between my daughter's lacrosse games. As I explore the new landscape, I recall the world before my sister was born.  I  remember, randomly, that when I was five my family lived in an apartment in Sandy Springs called Rolling Woods. We had the basement apartment. The whole back side of the apartment was windows that looked out to the trees. We had a patio with a stained wooden swing and there was dirt off the corner of the concrete pad that I liked to dig in. Beyond the trees was a creek and another apartment complex, where I was told, children were not welcome.

Above us lived a little girl with thick, beautiful black hair named Ceclia. She was younger than me by a year or two. She was an only child. I adored her; for her hair and her name- because of the Simon and Garfunkel song- of course, but also, because she was  the only girl that would play with me. There was another girl in the building. She lived on the top floor, or rather her dad did.  Her parents were divorced, so she was only there some of the time. Her name was Dagney. She was a little older, definitely taller and she did not like me. I think it was because one day I told her I thought she looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. I wasn't being mean, in fact in my mind I still see her as Shaggy- lime green shirt and a mess of sandy blond hair. I could tell though, after I said it-- said "you look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo," --that she did not like it.

But I couldn't undo it.

I could only learn to not do it again.

Cecilia, even though I adored her, I was terrible to her too. I guess, I was never very good at being friends with girls. When my mother would take my brother and I to Hammond Park, I would always beg her to bring Cecilia with us. And she would, but then once at the park, with its change of scenery and shiny new people,  I would ignore Cecilia and make new, temporary friends on the play ground. Cecilia would cry and my mother would say later, I am never bringing her again. But she would, because my mother was pregnant and I would obnoxiously beg her to let me bring Cecilia until she gave in. So Cecilia would always come with us to the park and I was always terrible to her.

Most of the time though I played with Cecilia in her apartment as she didn't really like to play outside. She liked dolls and indoor games. Her parents had an extra bedroom or maybe it was just an extra room. Either way, that room did not have bedroom furniture. It had toys, a lazy-boy chair in the corner,  an ugly couch pressed against the wall as an after thought and a card table in the center of the room. I think it was Cecilia's playroom because I remember us always playing there. On the table was always a jigsaw puzzle in some stage of almost completion. I would always look at the puzzle and its progress and the piles of pieces scattered around the table.  One time, while Cecilia and I were playing in that room, I slipped a piece of the puzzle into the pocket of my green and white gingham shorts. I don't know what ever happened to the puzzle piece but I know I never put it back on that table. Maybe it fell out while I was on the playground swing-set when I was trying to make my swing go the highest of them all and it was lost in the thick of the grass, its existence dependent on the mercy of feet.

Or maybe I lost it when I laid in the dirt, my shoulders and hips flush in a line with the other kids in the complex who volunteered for the older boys on bikes with dare-devil intentions. Mini Evil Knievels on mongooses. They would line us up, flat on our backs, next to their homemade ramp and jump their bikes over us. I was a reliable volunteer, but I always insisted on being near the ramp, either first or second. I was never one of the brave ones on at the end of the line, willing to risk getting landed on.

I played it safe.

Most likely though, the puzzle piece lingered in my pocket; going through wash after wash in the laundry until it could no longer stand the rigors of water and soap. Its compounds broken down fiber by fiber until finally only tiny pieces of atoms remained that were silently absorbed back into the universe.

Really, the only thing I know for sure, is that Cecilia's parents were never able to finish that puzzle.

In Birmingham, I lose my puzzle reverie and I realize how much I am struggling in the heat and the humidity running up the hills in the affluent suburb of Mountain Brook.

Hills are good for you.

I tell myself  this always and while in the throes of my misery I try to frame my struggle with all the gifts the hills will give me:

Great ass!
Strong hamstrings!

But the positive thinking never works very well nor does it last very long. I am left to employ a different tried and true technique. It is called what you can't see does not exist. I trick myself into believing there is no hill, only a slow painful period that will be over eventually.

Of course, I will still want to know when it will end.

 I will stare at the sidewalk and count to 20, sometimes 30 and then allow myself to look at the hill. I will measure the distance between myself and the relief I will meet at the top. I remain calm and patient, biding my time until I reach the crest of the hill that will allow for the release the downhill always promises my calves. Get ready, I tell my quads, it will be your turn soon.

I know. The counting is just another way I distract myself from the task at hand. Always trying to move things along as quickly as I can.

As I run up another hill and turn a corner it starts to rain. The rain is a  welcomed relief from the thick humidity. The air releases its clamp and as I stare down at the sidewalk I lose count when I come upon a Luna moth. She is flat and perfect, her wings fresh from the Chrysalis.

 Is she resting? Is she dead? Why is she here in the day time? Do moths sleep? The sidewalk is not the best place to rest, I think.

I do not stop to inspect her. The powder green color and that sheen on Luna moth wings make me uncomfortable. Slightly nauseous even. I cannot bring myself to truly look at the moth and her beautiful wings with those eyes that watch, but do not see and never blink.

This is the third Luna moth I have seen in my life and the second in the bright light of day. However, I fail in that moment to find any significance in the moment other my own fatigue. It is only later that I will recall the first time I saw a Luna moth.

It flew into the windshield of my jeep. I was nineteen, driving down Woodstock Road when it was a newly expanded four lane road. Now it is six lanes and officially a highway. Highway 92. It was late at night and I do not recall where I was coming from, probably driving home from college but possibly from a fun night out. I cannot remember which it was, if it was mundaneness or revelry. It is funny how the mundane will seem impossible to endure and the revelry very important to capture but both, you will think, are something you won't forget.

But forget, apparently you do.

But I remember the moth.

She came out of the dark and spread flat against the glass suddenly. Surprised, and never having seen a Luna moth before, I turned on the windshield wipers in a panic. Moth parts went everywhere. The body went one way and the wings, broken into pieces went everywhere. That powder green, luminescent in the dark, glowed in arcs over my windshield.
Of course I was out of wiper fluid so I had to drive home with moth pieces all over my windshield.
Of course I didn't wash the moth pieces off when I got home.
And, of course I left them there-- until weather, air and time cleared the glass of those moth pieces and the color and the luminosity faded away.

It was more than ten years until I saw a Luna moth again. This time I had a phone and I took a picture of one I found resting on the glass of a store front window. I suppose, I could search the archives of my computer to see if I still have the picture so I could investigate the totem moth's wings.

But is it the same thing to look at photographed moth wings?

Would the thrill be the same?

A photograph, I believe, tells the truth about a moment that happened. But the real truth is, that the moment might have been a lie. The camera, with all her tricks and unbiased lenses,  can never really capture a moment precisely, truthfully.

And, who knows what hand the artist's eye had in manipulating the moment in that solidary attempt to outwit the transience of time.

So what is true?

What will I see, if I look back on those now 10-year-digitally-embalmed moth wings?
The moth is dead. She is hundreds of generations from where that moth began.

The answer comes too late.

I should have stopped.

I should have stopped there on the hill and not run on.

I should have paused to take a moment and see the pieces the world continues to lay out before me. Sometimes, grandly at my feet.

But I didn't.

I ran on.

I always run on, caught up in the revelry of the moment. Moments, except those painful ones, that I actively choose to divert my eyes from. In those instances I seek boring diversions, like counting to twenty over and over and over again- missing all the things.

I try to be Isis.  I wander  through the corridors of my mind looking for the lost, dropped and forgotten pieces. Pieces, I realize, I may no longer remember correctly. Pieces, nevertheless, I will try to put together. This piece with that piece. Somehow, desperately they all must fit. I want it to all fit together.

But maybe these are not pieces from the same puzzle. Maybe they don't go together after all.

Is this my problem?

I want to believe the mystery is always presenting itself to me in small, dispersed revelations. Hoping,  that while I do not see now, someday, if I pay attention, I might.

I want to believe that the myopia of the present is corrected by the lenses of time and distance.

And distance?  Well, I cover that easily but sometimes I worry that there is not enough time left to fix my myopia.

It is though those damn Luna wing eyes that concern me the most.
Those eyes that do not blink or see.
Those eyes that miss the pieces, the puzzle.
Those eyes that can only catch passing glimpses at the mystery.

I keep thinking about them and why they make me so uncomfortable.

It might be because  there really is nothing to see.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Part II: The Struggle of Dirt

In February we took a much needed family break to go skiing. It was a quick, short trip. The kids had never skied and it had been almost a decade since Ryan and I skied. Carmella, our 14 year old- "the teen"- did not want to go. She wouldn't be good. The type-A- perfectionist-cliché-first born child said before she even tried. Worse, was unsaid but understood, she would have to be alone with her family. But most pointedly, she would have to be alone with her family away from her friends. Beau, the 11 year old, was very excited to go. He pretty much likes everything that doesn't involve handwriting, solving math problems or sitting still. And, he still likes us. However, he too, is teetering on that teen angst edge. It is only a matter of time before he steps over the line to impatience, embarrassment and eye rolling at the fact that he? Has parents. The way I see it I have at most another year and then half the people I share a house with will loathe me.

During the car ride we reached an area where technology didn't work. The radio wouldn't pick up a signal and the car went silent. I am uncomfortable with silence when other people are around. Even those that came out of my body. I don't really know why but possibly, irrationally, I worry I might be able to hear their thoughts. In the case of my 14 year old daughter I am fairly certain I might hear something I don't want to hear. So in an attempt at mind control, I tried to make conservation to break up the awkward silence. Carmella was quiet, seemingly un-engaged in the backseat and while I couldn't see her, I was certain she was rolling her eyes at everything that I said.

We drove towards snow and the further north we navigated the amount of snow on the ground increased until the landscape was enveloped in the folds of a goose down blanket. I commented that it was a visual tragedy how in some spots the Georgia red clay wasn't entirely covered. It looked like the snow was trying to hide a slaughter. It was ugly. It injured my eyeballs. I wanted a bucolic scene that with my face pressed against the cold car window would make my heart swell and burst as I and my family drove towards the mountains for a lovely weekend ski trip. And damn it, that ugly red Georgia clay was ruining it.

Carmella snarkily said, "Of course, the struggle of dirt."

Everyone laughed and the tension that had radiated from the teen in the backseat dissipated. And just like that, everyone seemed to like everyone again and I felt comfortable enough that the silence became okay and I was free to let my mind contemplate the dirt and the people and my bones and all the stuff that buries me.

I work in an industry where the money grows on the trees but the dirt, I have learned, is the real asset.  In the beginning I thought it was all about the trees but I figured out it really is the dirt that matters. You have got to own the dirt to really own the trees.

I sit in meetings and take minutes about stuff happening in the dirt, to the dirt. They talk about all potential opportunities a piece of dirt offers and whether we should buy, sell, trade, or just hold onto to that dirt for a little bit longer. The dirt is assigned value by people outside our organization and those appraisals can change the value of the dirt for a whole multitude of reasons. The dirt is modeled in Monte Carlo simulations to predict its future best case scenarios. There are graphs, spreadsheets and maps about the dirt. People show up at our office doors or call on the phone wanting to talk about a piece of dirt. We have lengthy discourses on the components of the dirt, best management practices of the dirt; its minerals, its water features, its trees--even the wind above the dirt is not above scrutiny. My favorite though, and I hear it almost daily, is when they argue about the "the bare land value" of the dirt. It makes me smile to think about the price of pure, unadulterated dirt.

Dirt has a pretty complex existence.  Dirt is mysterious. It holds clues and tells stories and has a history longer than any of us can truly fathom. All of human existence is born out of dirt. We live out our days on the dirt; moving from piece of dirt to piece of dirt, seeking out new dirt to own, explore, trade or sleep on. We float across oceans and sail above the dirt in boats and airplanes. We wildly inconvenience ourselves just so we can  stand on different dirt, if only for a little while. And all the while believing that this piece of dirt is vastly different than that other piece of dirt we had lingered on just a few days before.

Our food comes from the dirt. We build homes, churches, monuments and entire civilizations on and from the dirt. We play in the dirt. We bury our dead in the dirt.

I guess, maybe, only the sky is older than the dirt. But even the sky's existence is contingent on what is going on with the dirt. The sky holds onto nothing for very long; always dying and regenerating. I think the sky must be freer: its struggle is less because you can't really own the sky. But people do try to own the sky;  sometimes insisting on retaining the wind rights to the pieces of dirt they sell. I didn't know that the wind too was assigned value. Because really? I want to know how do you measure the wind? Where do you draw the lines?

In the dirt below is the answer.

Dirt has all the power.

Whatever touches, tries to move freely above or below, next to, over, under, beyond or beside the dirt is, nevertheless, defined by the dirt. Everything is a preposition to dirt.

When I was younger we lived in a house that had a creek running through the middle of the front yard.  Ours was the last house built in the neighborhood and most likely because a creek in the front yard was not an ideal feature in Stepfordesque East Cobb. The creek was a gash in an otherwise pretty face. It was the first piece of dirt my parents had ever bought together. And I loved that piece of dirt. I don't think my parents ever did but I was wildly passionate about it.

The front part of the lot was very un-level, situated at the start of what grew into a very steep hill. I can personally attest to the hill's steepness. On my first time down that hill on my bike I lost control of my handle bars, not understanding that you needed to use your brakes to have control,  and slid on my face; crashing into our mailbox. It wasn't so terrible though. My band-aided face, elbow and knee abrasions earned me sympathy the next day from Mr. Woods, the cankerous PE teacher at Eastside Elementary. He reversed the alphabet that day and I, Natalie Wolfe back then, got to be first at everything.

The  strip of grass that fronted our lot to the street was a presentable rectangle patch of grass, probably 8 feet wide. It was fairly flat there but angled up alongside the rise of that big hill. But the slant wasn't too bad. I could still do handsprings, both frontwards and backwards there. Really though, the best place for gymnastic tricks was on the other side of the street, three houses down on the Allen's flat stretch of Bermuda that ran all the way down the length of the black iron fencing fronting the neighborhood pool. That grass, always so manicured and green and soft was a stage; us kids the performers, and the audience was all the neighbors coming and going in and out of the neighborhood.

Our front lawn vastly differed from the golf course pristine of the Allen's. Not only was it a ragged mix of crab, rye and fescue grasses, it was not level and dropped off steeply into what was essentially a giant sinkhole. It was a sloping mess of ground cover and exposed dirt that bottomed to a ledge with 2 oak trees, underbrush and more exposed dirt.  The ledge was an island atop a cliff that dropped steeply into a sometimes rushing sometimes meandering creek depending on the recent rainfall. You couldn't climb this cliff. It was slippery and crumbly. The face of the cliff, about 15 feet tall, exposed layers of Georgia: red and orange clay mixed with sediment that had folded and faulted from lines long ago decided by time. The clay mixed with chalky yellow stuff, speckled feldspar and mica deposits. It was covered by big roots and vines before dropping into the creek. I just remember all the reds and oranges of the creek and its rocks and minerally diverse dirt. It was so fantastic with infinite possibilities. As a child it was my favorite place to play. My best friend Catherine and I spent endless hours playing fabulous games on that ledge. We managed complete control of the universe from that ledge; creating drama and civilizations, building structures out of discarded materials we had collected and drug across the neighboring lawns.

I don't think Carmella really knew what she meant when she made her "struggle of dirt" comment. I know the intention was make fun of her mother but she was right on the mark.  I do struggle with the dirt every single day. I am like J. Alfred Prufrock  measuring it out with coffee spoons. I spend my days in an office contemplating the dirt all the while struggling with if the dirt is what I really need to be contemplating. I spend the other parts of my day worrying that the dirt my husband and I own(only a few miles from that fantastic piece of dirt I grew up on) is good enough for my children. There are times I wonder if living on another piece of dirt would really make all the difference. But most times, especially late at night when I cannot sleep, I worry I am simply wasting my time on the dirt.

Of course, the struggle of dirt indeed.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Part I: Icebergs in the Caribbean

Given all the world, words, and time my greatest desire is to go back and forth and down paths sideways reconciling metaphors with people and stones.  If there are, as William Carlos Williams writes, No ideas but in things, I want to counter that existential dictate that there is no-thing without ideas.

I tend to operate, maybe like most, that idea is genesis. 

But that isn't the whole story, is it?

So where do ideas come from?

How does this whole art thing happen?

It has to be a coming together of things, of ideas, of images. . .  but the formation of "it" seems outside my control. And, the expression of it?


I am, after all, a student versed in the ways of Jungian archetypes,  Bahktin's dialogic, passionate about comparative mythology and schooled-- to no-end-- on Hemingway's iceberg theory and the tenet that less?

Is always more.

So, you know.


How the hell am I to create anything under all this pressure?

But. These ideas? These things?  They keeping coming.

Most times?

I do nothing. Because, simply?  I just don't have the time. Lately though, these things have hounded me.

The things will not leave me be. (If I were Dr. Seuss  I would have a Seussian image to go with it. )

These things, they appear in my brain. I see them. Plainly.

See what? An idea, a thing, an image. I am not really sure what to call "it". Sometimes "it" happens from a phrase overheard and my brain instantly translates words into a picture. Most times though I don't know where "it" came from or even, what "it" means or how to interpret "it" or --most importantly-- why I am seeing "it".

But I need to figure it out. I am the child of a scientist father (Physicist  by design, Engineer by profession) and an Artist mother: there must not only be a problem of the universe to solve but there must also be a way to express it, creatively. I have to think this is why I am good at Algebra but never really liked it; driven instead to the pretty picture side of things.

Of course, where I fail is in the making of the pretty pictures.

But maybe, I have thought, I could write them . . .

So for me this "it" is the genesis of lighting.  This is lighting that strikes up, rising from dirt; not lightening from ion-laden cumulous clouds that travels a predictable downward path. Most times I just watch in awe as the bolt disappears into the looming dark clouds that the wind carries away, leaving me to contemplate charred earth.

Some images though, they are like the rhetoric before speech and they have teeth. They nibble at me, biting once then consuming me whole. In those instances I always think this must be the same feeling early humans felt the first time they discovered fire. And I worry. I worry I will spend centuries trying to figure out how to keep the fire going, trying to recreate that initial spark or worse, I will have to dig for fire. Push past the roots, the artifacts, the pigmented pottery shards, and dig, really dig deep through the history of fossilized sediment to the crust of the earth and steal the fire.

Who do I think I am?


Definitely not.

I am the clay figure.

Same as you; blowing pigment over my hand onto a French cave wall.

Dreaming a dream; a series of images that tell the tale of a collective story.

Icebergs in the Caribbean.

It floated across my brain on a dreary Tuesday in traffic. I said the phrase as I saw the picture. I googled the phrase, trapped on Johnson Ferry between the river and Roswell Road. While I waited my turn to cross the road at the light, I learned that icebergs are formed during a process called calving; a phenomenon that happens under stress, pressure or forces from waves or tides.

Icebergs are beautiful and dangerous.

Scars on the ocean floor show that thousands and thousands of years ago icebergs from the Hudson River might have drifted as far south as Bermuda. Humans were busy back then. They were hunting, gathering, finding fire, figuring out how to plant food and they were putting images on cave walls, crafting clay figures and sharpening tools.

And  I wonder, when their eyes-- just off the coast of Bermuda in the Caribbean Sea--saw icebergs float past; Did they feel inspiration? Feel a lighting shock of wonder, or feel hope at the shimmering mirage  and form a thought that maybe, this was out of the ordinary? Did they think this floating ice island was extraordinary?

Days later, I recall my dream from a few months earlier:

I am in a dense tropical forest high atop a cliff. The trees are blocking my view of the cerulean sea that swirls below the forest and there are pointy rocks on the cliffs shouldering the sky all the way to the water. I need a clear view of the lagoon below. I want to leap. But all the trees are blocking my view. Through the trees though I can see distant cliffs with a sprawling scrub that will provide a clear view to assess the lagoon below. But the path to that perfect view is long, uncertain. I really want to jump from the cliff nearby. It is more convenient but it is also so much riskier.

I stand  in the forest amongst low-lying ferns and fronds and thick trunks of palm trees contemplating my choices and suddenly, a bus barrels past. It clear-cuts a path through the forest to the sea. It dives over the cliff, crashing and disappearing into the turquoise rocked-rimmed water below. Pieces of bus and bone are scattered. The heavy metal sinks. Smoke rises, silently. Water moves outward in circles.

 I know instantly this is a tragedy. It tears my heart. I am just a witness. I know people have died but I also know this is an opportunity. The path to the sea is clear. I can see the rocks I should avoid and I know the exact spot from where I should jump. But I linger on the cliff. Held there by doubt and fear.

My alarm pulls me out of the dream and I have to leave me on the edge of the cliff.

And ever since, I have been trying to find my way back into the dream and change it to where I leap from cliff:

Arching high, diving straight down my rib scrapes a rocks upon impact.

A flesh wound I ignore.

I go long. My body buoyantly rolls over waves. My hands scull the water. My fast feet a rudder.

I swim, determined, into the deep blue of the sea.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Chicken Soup for the Realist's Soul

I have pneumonia.

As an homage to my illness I created that Soup image this morning. I am not a good sick person.
Laying around? Not doing stuff?

Gives me anxiety.

Even though I feel terrible I am not sick enough to just lay here and sleep or read or watch movies. I need to feel productive. Even if it is production of useless things. I need to do. Always. I've already made homemade mac-n-cheese for dinner, fielded work calls, answered emails, showered, did some laundry, made beds, and put on clean pj's . . .

Freaking pneumonia.

This not the first time and certain to not be the last. Respiratory infections seem to be my lot.
How I got here is not a terrifically interesting story.  Not even slightly heroic. Though, if I am being honest, hubris might have played a part in all this. Ah, the Greeks, now they knew how to write tragedies. Alas though, I am more Laurence Sterne,  a modern Tristram Shandy and of course, running is my hobby horse. . .

However, if you happen care or want to know how I got pneumonia, I will tell you the story. But also, feel free to skim this part. Skip it even.

This is, after all, a digressive tale within a digressive tale. A serpent eating its tail. It will come full circle.

The Month of Cough: January 2015, a Pneumonic Evolution:
It is Ryan's fault. He gave me the cold. A tiny, brief cold that devolved into a sinus infection and bronchitis in early January. Treated with a Z pack, Mucinex, Flonase and my Albuterol inhaler. And rest. Way too much rest.

Rest means no running, swimming, or biking. I did none of that fun stuff for 9 long days. (Possibly my family, friends and coworkers with direct contact with me suffered more from that rest period than I did.)  Definitely dire straits and uncharted territory for an athlete (that's moi!) who hasn't gone more than 5 days without some form of exercise since the birth of her first child 14 years ago.

Completely rested, anxious and almost healthy (still snotty and coughing) I chose to run the marathon I had spent the previous months training for. Months where I gave up stuff; sacrificing for my sport. I could NOT not toe the line. I was playing the optimist. Hoping for the best. Staying the course.

Unfortunately the marathon did not go so well. I turned out a 3:49 on a course I had previously run 3:28 on and was definitely in shape to better that. But as I came to learn, no matter your fitness, training, experience, perfect weather, etc. --26.2 miles run breathing through a straw is not ideal.

Breathing through a straw? Yeah, that's what bronchitis and asthma and sinus infections feel like. So not impossible to run if you are fairly fit but not really ideal. Based on personal experience if you want to try it for yourself, my advice is that you should be realistic in your performance expectations. Let me be the first to tell you that no amount of optimism is going to change the reality of spastic bronchial passages. Try as you might, you cannot wish it away with good feelings and positive thoughts.

Two days after the marathon debacle the fallout was a big bad asthma flare up created from a combination of cold weather, exertion and lingering bronchitis and sinus infection. I was prescribed  a course of Prednisone (if there ever is a devil of drug this is it), Advair, Albuterol and Flonase. It took 5 days and FINALLY my cough and snot had gone away.

So I did what any healthy runner would do after having spent an entire week NOT running. I went for a run. And then the next day another run and more miles and so on and so on until I had ran for 10 days straight and 75 miles. Really, this was nothing unusual training wise for me and it was glorious to be back.

Tuesday night, the 10th day back to glorious running I ran a little 6ish mile run and came home coughing. I coughed all night and took some Benadryl and used my Advair inhaler and I figured I would be good to go for my 2 hour run after work Wednesday afternoon.

Only Wednesday morning I woke up and I had a yucky productive cough and my back and chest hurt. I could feel my lungs. I could feel the congestion on my right side under my collar bone and behind my right breast. Still, I thought, it will get better as the day goes on as I wondered, where the hell did this crap come from?

And as the day went on, I went to work, did work stuff and had internal negotiations:  I will just run for an hour after work. I will not do that 5k this weekend. Instead, just a longish run, slow.

I mentioned to a fellow coworker that my back was really sore. "Must have been the push ups I did the other day," I told him. Though push ups don't usually make me sore. I've been doing regular pushups for years now (fighting the lunch-lady arms one push-up at a time.)

His comment was "push-ups don't make your back sore. They make your chest sore. You're sick again."

"I am not!" I told him and I argued with him between coughs  that push-ups could make your back sore.

He said, "Only if you are doing them wrong."

Fighting words!

I confirmed that I do not put my knees on the floor when I do push-ups and challenged him to a push-up off the next time I wore pants to work. Stupid skirt.

As the day went on I felt worse and my back started to really hurt and my cough got worse and I argued with my coworkers that I was not sick again. However, while out on an errand, I called my doctor and requested an appointment and possibly a chest x-ray. I've had pleurisy before and pneumonia and it was all starting to feel kind of familiar. Though, I really did not feel that bad. Mostly I wanted to avoid another course of steroids and was looking for confirmation that I had  pulled a muscle or slept funny.

I left work at 3 pm and by 4:15 pm I had been examined, had a chest  x-ray and declared pneumonic. After a brief argument with my doctor on the course of treatment, he agreed to forego the Levaquin for Doxycycline if I agreed to come back in 48 hours for a recheck. And, of course, stick to my arsenal of inhaled steroids too. Done. Of course, we didn't shake it on it, me being a germy sick person and all.

So over being sick.

I didn't ask about when I could run. I have learned when you ask that question in the throes of serious respiratory infections doctors get kind of annoyed.

End Digression

While waiting for my prescription yesterday I Facebooked a status update "Freaking Pneumonia."

An hour later my mom called.

"Are you in the hospital!" she asked.

"No," I said. "I am at home."

"Pneumonia is serious," she said and requested all the boring details.  I repeated the sad tale of pneumonic Nat and told her how I had been running and was fine just the other day.  I admitted though that I struggled to keep up with Pookie (little sister) when we ran 8 miles on Sunday. But I had run 17 miles the day before and felt great so that was probably why.  I also admitted that I had been feeling a little tired and puny the past few days but had chalked it up to stress and insomnia. I am stressed. And sometimes I don't sleep. Those things sometimes are reasons why you might not feel awesome. Why you might feel a little puny. But those are not reasons to not run.

She asked me what it felt like. Pneumonia.

It hurts, my back is sore and it hurts when I breathe. My lungs feel like they have a weight, they are heavy.  I have chills and sometimes sweats and I feel tired. Dizzy at points. Winded. Light headed when I stand up too fast. I cough gross stuff up. It gives me a headache.


"No, I don't have fever. Then I really would feel bad. But I almost never have fever. Seems like I only have fever with the flu."

"Hmm," she said, "I've never experienced that. I've never had pneumonia. I've had bronchitis."

And then I explained the differences and how this is different than I how felt earlier this month when I had bronchitis and then the asthma.

Then she went into the lecture about I had better not run. "People die of pneumonia. Promise me you won't run."

"I can't run," I told her. "My lungs hurt and I get tired just walking across the room. I wasn't like this yesterday. Yesterday I ran a 6 and half miles in 51 minutes. Today I can barely walk up stairs without feeling exhausted.  Trust me. I am not running."

"Can I bring you anything? Chicken noodle soup?"

Hmmm, I thought, yummy. Homemade chicken noodle soup? I haven't had that in forever. While she lectured me on not running and the danger of what would happen if I did,  I thought about homemade chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese with pickles and a coke. I wondered what other homemade stews or sauces she might have tucked away in her freezer that she could bring me. She is always making food and freezing it for later.  . . Vegetable soup. Lasagna. Beef Stew. Spaghetti Sauce. Poblano Chicken Enchiladas. . .

"No, I am fine." I told her. "I was planning to go to work but my manager told me to stay home so I will be home but I don't need anything."

"Okay, "she said. "Well just let me know if you need me to bring you over a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle. I have some in my pantry."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beauty Myth, Flexed in Irony

“The body is the instrument of our hold on the world.”
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

 “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”  
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

The above quotes are throw backs to the  feminist studies classes I took in my undergrad years. (Sigh, electives . . .)  I haven't really thought much about that in the last 20 odd years but lately, I've begun to wonder: Perhaps  there has been a shift in the beauty ideal?

I am not talking about a 180. Just a shift. A slight move to the right. The right being the direction towards a beauty ideal that doesn't oppress but empowers women. Empowers women to not think in terms of beauty as an aesthetic but as tool in which they may sculpt whatever hold they want on the world.

My awareness of this subtle shift started last year with a pair of hot pink tie-dyed knee-high socks my husband bought Carmella for Christmas. He asked my opinion and I thought they were adorable and would look great on my daughter when she played lacrosse. She would standout on the field wearing funky pink knee-high socks. They were sporty and girly.  But most importantly, in these socks, I thought, I will easily be able to pick her out from the other girls: from all the other maroon and gold kits and blondish brown long pony tails. Usually, once I figure out which one she is, she has scored and is back on the sidelines and I missed the whole thing.

But Carmella, 13 at the time, didn't like the socks.  At all.

No way, she said, those will make my legs look skinny.

She said skinny like it was gross.

Skinny legs? A bad thing?

I'd never heard of such a thing.

She said that she liked the socks that hit at the calf.

"They make my legs look bigger, more muscular," she explained.

This was a surprise for me (and I noted that I should avoid socks that hit at the calf. Of course, I already knew this. . . )

But seriously, muscular is what teenage girls want to look like now? When did this happen?

This is a far cry from the waif ingénue and supermodel I grew up thinking was the ideal. I don't know when this shift happened. 17 years ago I started running to lose weight. I wanted to be thin for my wedding. I didn't really care about being fit. I wanted to be skinny. I wanted boney shoulders, string bean arms, a hollowed out collar bone, a thigh gap and pointy hips. I wanted everything Naomi Wolf said in the Beauty Myth was keeping me from being truly liberated.  However, being colossally ungifted at deprivation, waifdom wasn't going to happen through dieting for me. Energy, though, I had that in spades. So exercise, I decided,  was going to be my ticket to thinness. And running became the means of how I was going to get there since it was all that I could afford.

Originally, I had hopes that I would end up looking like a Victoria Secret model from all my running but all that happened is that I got my same body, a little smaller, but with more muscles. And the more I ran the more muscular (and hungrier) I became. Boney hips,  fragile arms and willowy frame remained unattainable. After awhile I gave up on the skinny and decided I would just try to be the best runner I could be and not worry about the other stuff. Partly this was because I so freaking hungry from all the damn running.  But also, because by then, I was married and a mother of two. I didn't have the time to worry about being skinny. I was an adult and I had priorities: I had to make sure I kept the children alive and figure out how to find time to get my run in. Actually, this is where I still am today.

Certainly, my pond is small. Maybe other teenage girls do still struggle with that skinny ideal. I only know what I hear and see with my daughter and her friends. I've never once heard them complain about their weight or mention what size they wear or watch what they eat. Because dear lord, these girls eat--which they need to. They are still growing and burn some serious calories on the field. Their conversations revolve around  who is strong, who is fast and who has good stick skills. They admire girls who are stronger, faster, better. They talk strategy on how they will get that way. They don't look at fashion magazines or talk about diets.

Kate Parker, an acquaintance who I met through blogging and triathlon/running is an amazing photographer whose photo campaign of Strong is the New Pretty matches what I see with my daughter and her friends. (Of course, if you click on that Huffington Post link  it is a little confusing since a number of the other articles show sexy women skimpily dressed. Boobs are still winning when it comes to marketing. I don't think this is going to change. )

Interesting to me is that I personally did nothing to intentionally propagate anything other than the female skinny status quo. Certainly, a number of my more socially and body image aware mommy friends worried about the skinny quo. They  banned their daughters playing with Barbie or Barbie's slutty knockoff the big eyed Bratz dolls.  They worried about the dolls perpetuating unrealistic body images to their daughters. I didn't worry about that or actually, I just didn't think a doll had that much power. Once, when Carmella was 5, in the throws of all that is princess and Barbie, I said, Honey eat your vegetables. Don't you want to grow up to be pretty like Barbie or Cinderella? And Carmella said, "Can't I just grow up to look like you? I don't want to be a doll."

So yes, I bought Carmella all of those dolls. Any doll. She wanted to play with dolls.  So I bought her dolls to play with. And though I am not a regular subscriber, I  read and will still read Cosmo, Glamour and Vogue-- magazines preserving the antiquated beauty ideals of women. (What can I say? A girl needs a little low-brow guilty pleasure sometimes.) I read these in front of my daughter, who as of this writing has yet to show any interest in them. In addition to that feminist faux pas, I am further guilty of dressing to the beauty myth--short skirts, high heels, mini dresses, tight jeans. And more than likely,  more than just a little inappropriately at times for a woman my age, never mind a mommy. In fact, it was only recently that  I was shopping with Carmella for bikinis and I was trying on some of the same swim suits she was trying on and I realized that maybe these suits are meant for teenage girls.  And then it occurred to me  that maybe it is time to find somewhere else to shop.  .  .  My point to all this is that I have been a terrible role model for my daughter in the sense that I have bought into the marketing and what (apparently) society wants us to believe makes a beautiful woman. I have been perpetuating the "beauty myth"!

But somehow despite all my missteps and stumbles away from feminism, I have a daughter who sees past it and wants to be strong? Wants to be fit? I can't help but think it is the running. If you know me, running trumps pretty much everything for me. Sometimes, yes, even good sense. . .

Its funny though because my competitive nature is a trait that I am embarrassed about. It is an ugly part of me but it is what motivates my running vigilance. Without it I probably would have quit long ago and given over to all that is diet and deprivation. Though it has never been outright said to me-- I have figured out that  most people (especially other women) find competitiveness a very unattractive trait in a female. The message is that wanting to win is fine but you should not be vocal about it or in any way ever be overt about it. I find myself apologizing and toning it down. Which might surprise those that know me that I say I tone it down. If you only knew. If you only knew. . .

*Sidebar Disclaimer: This is not to say I actually  ever win but I always want to and I am disappointed when I do not.

So there it is, the irony.  It is ironic that the very unfeminine and distasteful trait of competitiveness is the fuel in the engine that drives the car of discipline on this undulating road to physical strength. And that physical strength is what my daughter and other girls are finding is the pretty.

Please let that stay. Please let beauty be a muscle. Not a boney hip or a thigh gap but a defined quad casting a shadow over a knee and double heart-shaped calf. A carved out lat, not a boney spine.

But I am sure this will all change. Men are hardwired to a like a certain physique. Curves matter to them. And at some point most women start to care about that. I'm not a scientist but I think biology is hard to deny. But what I like right now is that the way my daughter thinks about her body is in terms of what she can do with it. What she can do with her body is what drives her body image--not how her body looks to other people.

And isn't that how it should be for everyone--men and women? Girls and boys?

So maybe there is shift in the feminine beauty ideal --at least for the female. Time will tell.

The reality is though, no matter how much you diet, slather fountain of youth elixirs, inject face-freezing toxins or pay to surgically have your body sculpted in the round of youth,  the beauty of youth will fade. But consider this: The beauty of a strong, fit body is that it is a body that endures. It is a body that allows you to experience all that life has to offer. That's beautiful.

Maybe it will always be true that pretty is as pretty does. ... But what if, what if  what pretty does is flex her muscles?

So to everyone--girls, boys, women and men, I say this:

Go ugly to be beautiful.