Saturday, February 21, 2015

Local Care

I wrestle with my intentions in this space. Recently, I was thinking about what kinds of blog posts I'd been working on: Project 333 and recipes/food posts. Is this the best I can do? Isn't there something more important I should be saying? I look around and see injustice everywhere, and I think I should be doing more than just writing about my life. To write about food and clothing like it's a choice everybody gets is to write within a place of privilege. 

On the other hand, there's a difference between acknowledging the privileges I've had in my life and overindulging in them just because I can. I keep coming back here because those of us who are able to shelter, feed, and clothe ourselves well, to the point of excess even, still need to take a step back, ditch the junk, and reconnect with our values.

Living simply is still relevant. I'd argue that people who choose to make things by hand, grow their own food, or downsize their possessions help make our world a little more equitable. 

Last week I had my students read an essay entitled "The Common Life" by Scott Russell Sanders. In it, Sanders claims, "The history of local care hardly ever makes it into our literature, for it is less glamorous than rebellion; yet it is a crucial part of our heritage."

You see, I'm not a leader. I'm an educator, but I'm not a leader. The pressure to initiate an idea, run with it, and get others to go along with me is too much. I think rebellion is rad, but I won't be the one starting it. Although I don't like to think of myself as a follower--nobody does--I do believe I am a mindful participant. Sanders' words hit me; "local care" is exactly what I'm working on. 

Caring for myself, for others around me, and for my immediate environment is a powerful act--powerful because it's accessible. Small actions I can take day by day and week by week might not make it into history books, but they can improve the lives of the people I care about most. Most importantly, these small but mindful acts change me

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on Weekday Vegetarianism + Leaning Plant-Based

Spicy stir fry with magical Sambal and Harvest Grains from Trader Joe's

A couple weekends ago while grocery shopping, I passed by a man with his family. I smiled at him because I had passed him a couple times already. I saw him look at my basket and say to his family, "Puras verduras!" Just vegetables! And last weekend a cashier at Raley's commented on the Sambal I was buying (it's a delicious Asian hot sauce), which prompted the woman in line behind me to look at what we were buying and say, "I want to come to your house for dinner!"

I've come a long way since my days of eating off the dollar menu at Wendy's in college.

About three years ago, I became a weekday vegetarian. It worked well for me, and I'd encourage people to try it if they want to try vegetarianism but still have some flexibility. In the beginning, I did crave meat and ate it about once a week. When I thought about it, what I was craving more than anything else was the convenience of throwing a chunk of meat in the slow cooker and calling it dinner. It took some time to develop a vegetarian repertoire that didn't bore me or leave me starving. I also missed salt (easily fixed by adding salt to my meals sometimes).

Now, I'm looking more towards a plant-based diet (basically vegan). I feel better when I stick to fresh produce and whole grains. Now that I'm well into my 30s, I'm starting to think seriously about not dying at a young age. It sounds morbid, but actually, I just want to be around for a long time. If I can improve my day-to-day health and extend my life by eating a ton of vegetables every day, it's worth it. And I like vegetables. And I don't like pollution or animal cruelty. It's good all around.

I'm not ready to commit 100%--maybe closer to 90%. Basically, I don't think consuming a little bit of meat or animal products is terrible. The real food-related problems in our culture are the result of mass production/mass consumption, so I think it's most important to avoid habits that contribute to those underlying issues. With that said, I happily still "cheat" sometimes, but it's increasingly rare and it's mostly just to make my life a little easier. One day I might strive for 100%, but that day is not today.

I've found that even in this day and age, people are rather perplexed about what vegetarians and vegans eat. If you're curious, or if you're looking for ways to cut back on your meat intake, here's what I've been cooking pretty frequently (I'm happy to share recipes):

potato and lentil soup
stir fry (pictured above)
roasted vegetables with turmeric and curry
walnut pesto pasta
curry + coconut milk potatoes with vegetables
pumpkin or butternut squash soup
black bean chili
potato and spinach tacos

I've been using recipes from Crazy Sexy Kitchen and Isa Does It and experimenting on my own. I'm actually not very adventurous with my cooking and eating habits, so if I can manage a mostly plant-based diet, then you know it can't be all that difficult :) 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Everybody I Love Is Imperfect: Some Words on Fat-Shaming for 2015

NOTE: I don't know how to write this post. So many people are doing it better than I can, but I feel like I need to add my voice to the chorus. We need to be louder. 

It's the start of a new year AKA the onslaught of weight-loss talk. Despite increased body-positive pushback to all the negative fat-talk, the pressure to be thinner prevails--new year, same story. Too many women think the most important contribution they can make in 2015 is to weigh less, to take up less space in the world. 

I used to resolve to lose weight every year too. Starting in high school through most of my 20s, I thought of myself as being too fat. I used all the terminology of the day: "I don't want to lose weight. I just want to lose fat! I just want to be healthy!" I ran, I lifted, I swam, I hung out in Shape Magazine's discussion forums, I tried diet pills, I weighed myself every day, I talked about weight loss with friends, I criticized aloud what I ate and how I looked, I sometimes drank water to make my hunger less intense, and I coveted other women's bodies. As a footnote to my 20s, I earned two degrees, made good money while finishing grad school, met some wonderful friends, and became a college professor. But who cares about all that when there's belly fat to be lost? 

You know that trope where the woman asks her male partner, "Does this dress make me look fat?" The joke is that the poor guy has no way to answer that. The woman in this scene clearly believes she looks fat or is fat, and there's nothing the guy can say to get out of it. We believe that this guy loves his partner and probably doesn't think about her as fat or skinny, but no matter how he answers, she'll believe the worst about herself but blame him for it. That poor guy. Women are crazy. 

All right, just stop right there. Here's what's crazy: That woman is normal. I'm normal. I don't have a disorder. I'm not crazy. I'm just a woman existing in our culture today who succumbed to the intense pressure to believe that the number on a scale was what she was worth. Maybe more accurately, I have the same disorder everyone else has.

In 2006, I turned a corner. I looked back and saw that nothing I'd been doing had gotten me to the body I wanted. So, instead of fighting, I let go. I decided that food and exercise should be enjoyable. Gradually, over the next few years, I stopped my daily weigh-ins and internal monologues of self-critique in front of the mirror. No more magazines or comparing myself to other women. It took effort (it still does). The current is strong and swimming upstream is difficult, but I shed a lot of the hate I had for myself and started living my life on my terms. 

If we are to believe confidence is a woman's greatest characteristic, the trait that men find most attractive, I should have been at my most attractive. And, in fact, a part of me did feel that way. I felt for the first time that I deserved to be loved and appreciated for who I was. 

At the same time, my then-husband/now-ex looked at my transformation with disdain. He used to tell me that he liked my sense of independence, but when I rid myself of that particular baggage, he resented me for it.

Remember that poor guy tragically caught in the does-this-dress-make-me-look-fat trap? The belief that it's women who are projecting innate low self-esteem issues is so deep-seated that I can't even write my own damned story without feeling like I must provide evidence that I wasn't just imagining my partner's disgust. But I'm not going to. I'm already airing a lot of private and painful memories. It wasn't a secret that he wasn't interested in me physically anymore, and it wasn't a secret why: I didn't look the way he wanted me to, and in his words, he couldn't help what he was attracted to.

My body had changed. After all, several years had passed since we first met, and because I'm a living, breathing organism, my physical and emotional experiences affected my body over time. My change in appearance wasn't the real issue, though. I hadn't actually changed that much and I had never looked like his ideal, but what did change is that I had stopped killing myself trying to be someone else. He liked me better when I was spending two hours a day at the gym and ogling other women's bodies the way he did. He liked me better when I hated my body.

I desperately wanted to believe I was projecting onto him because if that were true, once he saw my increased confidence, he'd love me more. Easy! But the more I paid attention to being smarter, kinder, and more successful in my career, the less he loved me and the more he tried to make me feel like I was terrible for not being hot enough for him. 

Yet I still can't simply call him a shit person because, like me, he wasn't suffering from a disorder. He wasn't an anomaly, an isolated case of bad human behavior. He was normal. Plenty of his friends and family members, if they'd known our more intimate details, would have supported him. I know this because one of his friends on Facebook decried some Playtex bra commercial, saying that women wouldn't need a more comfortable bra strap if they'd just lose weight (that was a woman, by the way). I also know this because his father went to see the movie Precious thinking it was a story about a fat girl losing weight and walked out of the theater. Because a fat girl can't have a story worth watching that doesn't involve weight loss.

I feel like I got out of a cult, a world so upside down that sanity looks like madness.

Today, I'm not the least bit sad that the marriage ended, but I am sad that I wasted so much time and energy. I'm sad that I let someone try to keep me down. 

Don't get me wrong; when I say it saddens me, I don't mean that the women making these resolutions for the year are sad. I totally get why that happens. I'm sad that as a culture, we've accepted a lot of harmful ideas like women intrinsically hate their bodies and body size reflects value as a human being. Words like "healthy" have been turned in a big, fat lie. 

I was made to feel ugly and unworthy, and although I'm sure people will think, "You don't know what it really means to be fat in our society," that's the point. Fat-shaming doesn't have anything to do with an objective definition of fat. That's because fat-shaming isn't about fat being an actual problem. It's about control. A woman who doesn't feel bad about herself won't rush to the store to buy the latest clothing style, makeup, or pill to make her prettier. A woman who doesn't feel bad about herself won't surround herself with people who try to minimize her. A woman who doesn't feel bad about herself will work to change the world. Scary, right? 

To hell with this cult.

I haven't mastered this whole body image thing, but I am far gentler with myself. I've realized that everyone I aspire to be more like is imperfect, so I'm in good company. It's an ongoing process, though, and the pressure to be thinner or at least to hate myself for not being thinner is still present. I'm not there yet, but I refuse to buy into these lies, and I refuse to be silent and ashamed about this part of my personal history. I promise to be more body positive in the years to come. I promise to push back. I promise to call out fat-shaming when I see it. I promise to expose the lies. I promise I will continue to be loud for all of our sakes. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Word for 2015: Rhythm

Normally, I take this opportunity to check in with this past year's resolutions, but, as I acknowledged when I wrote them, I made some changes in 2014 that threw me off.

I set out in 2014 to focus on my daily habits, the process of doing whatever I put my mind to. The idea was that whatever came my way--a new job, a move, or neither of those things--little moments of joy, progress, or accomplishment would see me through. But in reality, I was just keeping my head above water. The first 4-5 months of the year, I was job hunting and depressed and anxious about that. The summer was a whirlwind of preparing to move, saying goodbye to friends, and wondering what was in store. And these past few months have just been exhausting. I don't feel like I had many opportunities to sit back and enjoy my own life this year.

I don't want a repeat of a year like that. Inspired by Susannah Conway and One Word 365, my word for 2015 is rhythm.

Rhythm, to me, is primarily about the senses and what feels right. I want to pay more attention to how I'm feeling and act on whatever I believe will help me feel better. Rhythm is also about consistency, patterns, and measures. In other words, I want to develop a better sense of timing and stick to the routines and habits that work best. I want my days and weeks to have a rhythm to them, and I want to measure out my time better so I can fit everything in without being a train wreck.

In addition to planning ahead better (something I always need work on), I have some ideas for developing a better rhythm to get me started early in the year:
  • grade 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • go to the gym 3 times a week
  • 15-minute yoga sessions
  • read/write before bed
  • early morning productivity
My needs very well might change throughout the year; I just hope to adapt to those rhythms instead of falling apart (which is what I usually do when my routines change). 

I also have some ideas for new approaches to old things like keeping a journal and lesson planning for my classes. If I want to know what works best and what feels right for me, I have to try something new once in a while, right? Plus, it's fun. 

Here's to feeling good and accomplishing a ton in 2015. Happy New Year, all. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall Back

I keep starting posts and not finishing them. Eventually, I just delete them. I'm still here, you might say, but invisible.

The new job has taken quite a toll on me these past months. I'm trying to be gentle and forgiving with myself, but the transition has not been smooth. We're just a few weeks away from the end of the semester, and I feel like I never got into a rhythm. It's not that I'm unhappy with this new position; it's just come as a surprise how difficult the adjustment has been. In fact, I think the problem is that I've been trying to adjust and to do what's expected when I should just trust my experience. Next semester will be better.

Among this already trying time, last month, I lost my grandmother, my last living grandparent. My husband and I drove up to Washington for the funeral service this past weekend. The trip was exhausting. It too was not exactly smooth either, but at least I got to spend some time with family and visit my home state again. I'm homesick and wishing I knew my grandmother better. I don't believe in an afterlife (or, I don't expect one anyway), but when I saw a photo one of my cousins posted online of my grandparents together at their 70th wedding anniversary, somehow I knew they were together again, if only because that's what she believed. It gave me some comfort knowing that.

In happier news, the husband and I celebrated our first year of marriage last month. Time has flown by. Also, recently, some friends invited us to go with them to Yosemite. It was our first time going, and we were able to snap some shots of the beautiful fall weather. Actually, the weather has finally cooled off here in Turlock, and we've even gotten some rain. The leaves on the trees here are turning colors and it's nice being able to note the passage of time.

I hope you're all staying warm out there (or enjoying cooling off like I am). Be good, everyone. I'll be back soon.