Maybe-not-necessary-but-helpful Evils

It would be nice if I could be a vagabond gypsy, at peace with myself and my surroundings. Confident in my own ability, excited by the irregularity of adventure, running simply for the pleasure of feeling free and eating to relish decadent flavors. A woodland fairy, a coastal nymph, a mountainous goddess. With only love for every experience and endless laughter shared by kindred spirits mixed with gratitude for the wonder of living, I would be free of superficial external judgments and expectations, free of internal war and strife, free to surrender to my own potential, appreciate those around me, free to offer to the world the full fruit I know I’m capable of growing.

Unfortunately, for some reason my path has not led me in this direction. I don’t know, man, maybe I was born a couple decades too late or a couple countries too far north or maybe I’m just not meant to be a traveling nature spirit. Who knows. What I do know is this sexy, magical, imaginative-but-still-possible lifestyle lives in my day dreams and my secret thoughts hiding in the reflection of sun on my water glass as I lay outside wondering.

I can make my gypsy fantasy pretty real, if I want to. It really, really helps if I have coffee. Or endorphins.

See, when I drink coffee, almost certainly I feel my mood rising and pulling the gas pedal along with it. I get excited about all the opportunities my future holds, bodily pain is nearly forgotten, and my productivity increases enormously. I laugh more and I talk more. I feel a compelling need to divulge my personal thoughts and secrets or feelings I otherwise wouldn’t share, but somehow it just feels appropriate with caffeine in my bloodstream.

Yes, at 2 pm when the crash hits and I realize that good mood was actually just a product of a stimulant, it’s disheartening and I plop right back down into Frown Land.

BUT. And it’s a big but. I had like 5 hours of happiness! Of excitement and ideas, accomplishment and planning and confidence in my own abilities and opportunities. With the aid of coffee, I CAN be the vagabond gypsy with dreadlocks and feathers in my hair, stinky unshaven armpits and a shamelessly sexy rolling belly, hopping between Latin American towns helping locals and adopting cultures as I move along.

I am the inspiring activist; the insightful, creative writer; the determined student; the accomplished politician; the loving daughter, sister, and partner; I can do ANYTHING. My life fucking rocks!

THIS is how I feel after drinking coffee. (Not to mention the extremely pleasant routine of sitting on a sunny couch with my mom or immersed in the soothing-yet-bustling environment of a coffee shop curled around the best smell/taste ever.)

Again, pulling me back to reality, I know that caffeine highs — or any other high, for that matter — are temporary, illusory, and misleading. There’s a reason alcoholics and drug addicts keep on needing more.

BUT. (There it is again.) When you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be so excited to tackle your to-do list and see where your immediate and long-term future takes you that you can hardly sit still, it’s really, really, really nice to get that feeling again.

Yeah, there are some momentary pleasures or compulsions that we should probably stay away from, e.g. cigarettes, abusive relationships, and heroin. But something like caffeine? (Or chocolate, funny and horrible movies, sex, staying up late with a good conversation/book, distractions like social media to weather a tempting compulsion, hot showers, etc.) I am absolutely aware it’s not a cure-all, or even really part of the solution. I’m crazy hopeful there will be a time in my life (soon?? Please?!?!!???) when I feel genuine excitement and that sunshiney feeling that makes ya just wanna plaster a smile on everyone’s face. I would LOVE for at least a little bit of my journey to take place in the form of a fearless, carefree, earthy gypsy traipsing through the world’s exotic playgrounds. All I can do right now is hope.

In the meantime, if I have a few hours of full-body joy in the morning and taste something delicious in the process, I’m gonna take what I can get.

Photo from "Daily Times Gazette"

Photo from “Daily Times Gazette”

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A Funny Kind of Gratitude

Amidst my fixations on the difficulties and opportunities for disaster that seem to pop up nearly every time my outlook approaches a point of genuine positivity and excitement, I have so, so, soooo many things to be grateful for. When I try to “count my blessings,” as they say, I am invariably overwhelmed by my fortune and have to go remember all the shitty parts of my life so I don’t burst with gratitude.

I’m kidding; that kind of overpowering sentiment is ALWAYS welcome into my consciousness with an open door and all the accommodations.

When I’m stuck in my little whirlwinds of panic, my mom tells me to “get bigger” and get outside myself. Honestly, this advice makes me a little annoyed, because when I’m hosting a pity party I really don’t want to be reminded of the incredibly vast and mystifying world that doesn’t include my endless, larger-than-life personal problems. Really, her advice makes me mad because of course I know she’s right; I don’t even try to deny it, I just resort to screaming “I don’t WANT to go outside!” Which is an obvious indication of my delusion and utter wrongness.

But in those moments of lucidity, of acceptance and fulfillment — aka after drinking coffee — I simply want to twirl around in my dress of clouds and sun rays in the field of laughter and collect a line dance of thankful people smiling so hard the only thing left is sore cheeks.

I’m just glad that that fairyland — the real world, as far as I’m concerned — can peek through the fog sometimes.

Because the truth is, when I look up from my feet shuffling along the tundra and notice the untouched mountains stretching to the ends of the earth and the minute stream trickling through the moss and the rich, just-budding alpine flowers opening their baby-flower eyes, I have absolutely no choice but to believe in magic.

There’s just no other explanation for the utter love I feel in the midst of a laughing fit so intense my breath takes an unpaid vacation and my eyes stream with the shared understanding of a joke that was, in reality, probably pretty lame. There’s no other explanation for the existence of a miniature floating mermaid house that doubles as a sauna or a glorified tree(lake)house. (See below)

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There’s no explanation devoid of magic for the beauty in becoming a silhouette with my sister lost in the clouds.

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When I read the works of a master or praise myself for a thoughtful gift-giving job well done or witness the authentic happiness of someone I care about or realize I overcame a crippling obstacle or stop to take in the utopia of wilderness I somehow gained the privilege to enter, that other, very real place of desperation and solitude becomes simply another ingredient in the magic.

If I didn’t know suffering, I would never be able to find inside me the understanding of the freezing homeless man stuck in a thankless refuge of alcohol or the glacier melting without ever being asked if it may have wanted to stick around and contribute to the ecosystem for a while longer. I would never be able to appreciate the extreme stroke of luck I encountered to be born into a situation of such freedom and fortuity. I would never fully experience my heartfelt compassion for the friend who will live the rest of her life without a mom or the kid who just couldn’t care less that he wears the same stinky clothes to school everyday because he’s a hell of a lot more concerned with staying away from his loveless and dangerous home.

I’m not saying I know what it’s like to be in any of these situations. I hope I never do. But my own suffering, however pathetic or self-imposed, has opened a whole world of feeling that adds an invaluable layer of depth to my own experience. I can understand the irrational obsessions and idiosyncrasies of someone I’ve never met. I am no longer grossed out or condescendingly perplexed by compulsions or socially unacceptable actions. When I find myself judging someone on their physical appearance or food choice, for example, I make a concerted effort to stop and remind myself that while I remain an irrevocably opinionated person and may not be able to completely halt those judgments, I actually, truly, do NOT believe in their validity and that perception will NOT dictate my understanding of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still harshly judgmental and make fun of strange occurrences all the time, almost subconsciously. It’s ingrained in our psyche to have an unacknowledged superiority complex lying under the thick strata of self-deprecation, and I am by NO MEANS an exception. I’m moody and volatile and selfish and secretive and close-minded.

But my acquaintance with shameful despair and bottomless doubt has exposed me to the nuance that makes the colors brighter and the sounds harsher, the wind colder and the boredom longer. It makes the disappointment greater, the tears saltier, and the apathetic insults cut a little deeper.

In essence, sorrow makes life sharper, and living in a blurry state of delusion is only half the human experience. (There is a time and a place for delusion, without a doubt).

I’m not to that annoyingly contented point where I can say I’m thankful for the hard stuff and I wouldn’t change my struggles because they’ve made me who I am today. (Annoying because we’re all jealous of people who feel comfortable with themselves and their situations). I’m definitely not there yet.

I’m just thankful I’m taking the time right now to remember the feeling of a heart ready to explode with the fullness of circulation.

A Body Manifesto

I love stories. I love novels and short stories and poems and movies and biographies and stories about the hilarious look the teacher made when he heard that one kid fart and then blush until his lips started trembling from the effort of trying not to let on that he was the culprit of that god-awful stench. But my favorite kind of stories are the ones behind the expressions I see every day and actions I scoff at or that shoot right over my head. Consciously or not, I anticipate the revelation that comes from hearing the stories of people I judge or misunderstand. (Judging is a whole ‘nother issue that we can discuss later. Don’t worry, I have lots of issues.) Despite the countless reminders I send myself about respecting each person’s own experiences and needs, I still catch myself determining the validity of others’ opinions or decisions for them. Because I am the ultimate authority on everything, obviously.

Any time I am lucky enough to hear someone else’s story, I am once again reminded of the seemingly insurmountable demons and obsessions that whirl around and stir up tornados — to varying degrees — in everyone’s personal realms, and the different lessons we’re all taught by them, however painfully.

As I mentioned before, my demons have grown pretty evil and gigantic lately. In fact, sometimes they look exactly like an extremely short, talkative girl with a big nose, brown hair, and thoughts bursting out of her brain (see picture in footer, or any picture of me ever, or just me). Whaddya know. Unfortunately, a lot of my struggles have taken the form of an epidemic that plagues most women in the country and nearly every teenage girl: body insecurity.

Yayyyy, a huge part of my problems are excessively characteristic of being a white, upper middle class teenage girl and center around superficial societal expectations. Could I be a little more dull and self-absorbed, please?

But body image/food issues have ballooned into a ginormous, uberly oppressive force that is ruthlessly conquering the brain of every woman (and men, but overwhelmingly women), extracting her sanity, and doubting her self-worth.

As something of a disclaimer, I’ve spent the last year and half almostly constantly immersed in this topic, or with at least half my being trained primarily on the issue, so I have a lot of ideas about it. My thinking swims and jumps around in shapes I can’t even begin to describe. I’ll have the unquestionable, fool-proof theory or solution in one instant and be utterly crushed and contradicted the next. In short, I still have no clue what I think or what the answer is.

That being said, I do have quite a bit to say on the topic, and if I can induce any kind of discussion, relation, release, inspiration, or really any authentic reaction, this mission is worth undertaking. As I travel on this healing journey of falling in love with myself and consequently this spectacular world I’m surrounded by, I hope that the bulk of my actions can benefit both my inner and outer environments. In other words, this exploration and liberation is undeniably for my own welfare and support, but my aim is to widen the scope and include other wise and delicious souls in the entire process and discussion.

My history with this beast includes a host of “disorders” and destructive habits, actions, and thought processes. I’m the Queen — and King, for that matter; hell, I rule the whole damn empire — of digging my own holes, dredging them into ruts so deep Everest-grade climbing ropes can’t pull me out, covering the surface so I can hardly breathe, and doing my best to drag everyone else down with me. One of my biggest struggles has been the fact that I really don’t fit into any of the “food issues” categories (mine ranges from binging to over-exercising and always accompanied by utterly crippling obsession).

For all of our sake, I won’t get too in depth into the endless list of dirty details that have festered in the midnight rut for far, far too long.

What I will say is that being at constant war with myself and being so focused on my own maintenance and image that there is truly no room for any other meaningful consideration SUCKS. Not letting myself eat sucks, eating so much I can’t move without pain sucks, feeling paralyzing shame and disgust at my own body sucks, letting my emotions and validity be inversely proportional to a number on a scale sucks, it’s all just sucky yucky muck.

While I am fully aware that my own food/body image obsession is wholly irrational and absolutely by no means universal, there is something wayyyy too common about this whole situation.

WHY DOES THE SIZE OR COMPOSITION OF OUR BODIES HAVE ANY BEARING WHATSOEVER ON OUR CHARACTER OR WORTH OR STATUS OR LITERALLY ANYTHING EVER??!?!?!?!

I get that some people feel a toned/muscular/skinny/fit body is a sign of discipline and self-care, but you know what’s not? Obsession and misery!

A lot of us who struggle with this monster are severely ashamed of its shallowness and vanity. At the risk of repeating what has become one of the most talked-about yet stagnant issues, I would, again, like to point out that it’s really REALLY HARD to feel worthy, capable, attractive, powerful, and lovable when every social construct designates “fat” as an insult. We’re at “WAR with obesity,” for God’s sake!

This preoccupation with food, body image, and appearance has become so entrenched in mental health and personal accomplishment that it’s become hard to isolate. How could this perpetual evaluating and comparing and squeezing of our flesh result in anything other than a deep, shameful yearning for approval and a hidden (or not so hidden) pocket of penetrating guilt?

Health is important. I’m just not convinced healthy means cutting out chocolate if that’s all you can think about or going to a spin class that you really really hate. A lot of my own behaviors are unhealthy and very difficult to change, but I think health has a whole lot to do with not squashing your own worth into a bullet that can’t fill a cartridge but is fully capable of being shot.

I’m not sure what healthy means for me, and I’m just as confused now as I ever was. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when a six-pack and sanity are coexistent, but that’s not right now. Maybe I’ll gain 30 pounds or maybe I’ll suddenly discover I can eat a meal without stuffing myself to the point of popping. I really just have no idea, and I’m learning (trying) to be okay with this state of not knowing, perched on the edge of catastrophe and bliss.

I feel a little unjustified making these statements because no matter how deeply in my soul I know these words to be true, I still (very) often fall prey to that inexplicably cruel wave of guilt and self-doubt. But I’m ready to surrender and break open the floodgates of hot, sticky, magnificent, boundless love that I know is stirring around somewhere. I can feel it boiling and spreading and aching to join with all of yours.

This will most likely be a resurfacing theme, and I’ll try not to linger too long but some things just need to be let out.

This is my story. My heart has an opening for yours.

If anyone has any experiences/thoughts/questions/insights/anything at all that surfaces for you I would be SO honored and thrilled to hear them. Please feel free to share in the comments below or email me at hirschbarae@gmail.com

Art by Gail Baker

Art by Gail Baker

 

 

Riding the Wave

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trapped in my own company.

And that says it all, doesn’t it? Trapped. The thing is, I see no imminent escape route, obviously. No matter how much I daydream about the drastic changes and freedom summer will bring or the endless possibilities of a gap year or the incredibly hip, confident persona I’ll embody in college, I’ll always be stuck with my own utterly perplexed self.

I’m not claiming to have the answer. Hell, I’m the most confused person I know. But that’s just it: I’m pretty sure no one knows someone more messed up than themselves. Because we’re all stuck in our own obsessive, private Idahos, hyper-focused on self-improvement that’s traveling in an entirely different dimension than the rest of the world. (See my poem, Deceptively Unborn). We’re so tangled in these minuscule knots the whole universe shrinks into a floating snow globe waaaaayyy out in the distance.

Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.

I’m tired of being alone, because I know it’s a self-imposed isolation. There are so many absolutely astounding, compassionate, engaging people that surround me, let alone fill this planet (and beyond???). It would be a shame to miss the invaluable experiences and love they have to offer because I can’t break out of myself for a bit. And to do that, I need to seriously heal myself. I want to enjoy my own company, not just be stuck with it.

And that’s where you come in.

The Internet is a magical place. It’s a strange reality that most of my generation feels more comfortable opening up to literally the entire world than people they see every day. While I tend to unload/rant to my real-life connections more frequently than I think any of us would like, this worldwideweb seems like an opportunity to let my mom have her own problems for a couple seconds.

Just kidding, this will not be me journaling my teenage angst in hope for an immediate viral boom and dedicated following of professional complimenters (although, if that somehow transpired, I mean…) I would like to share some personal thoughts, hence the blog, and will also be publishing some of my written pieces as well as commentaries/articles and who knows what else. I’m just as curious as you. Although you’re probably not that curious, since I have no idea if I’ll even be able to generate enough internet traffic to justify using the second person.

In any case, I’ve recently experienced Enlightenment (don’t worry, I’ve fallen back to my unfortunate, annoyingly-persistent pessimism) and I know that the path to balance, compassion, acceptance, and genuine vitality and excitement will by no means be linear. I’m fully expecting the maze from The Shining, only with pop-up terrors of endless rejection, scary life decisions, more tears than fill the ocean that’s creeping over Florida, failures that make me want to curl into a ball so small I could be flushed down the toilet, and other general life proceedings. I already experienced de-Enlightenment approximately 50 minutes following my arrival. But I’m ready for a transformation. I’m committed (yeah yeah, I say that every morning before the fan starts spreading the stench, but hey, I started a website, didn’t I?) to this self-love thing, because I am not going to live as a prisoner of shame in this perpetual purgatory of not good enough.

I want to traipse and explore and navigate and commute and fly and dance and schlep and twirl and crawl and gallivant through this labyrinth without a backpack full of lead parasites masquerading as authentic thoughts.

I want to voyage proudly and contentedly, but trips are almost always more fun with some company. With the help of this handy Internet meshuggeneh (you might wanna learn some Yiddish), we can get the best of both worlds. We travel on our own wifi but we share the same path. I’ll just keep on plugging away over here, whether anyone discovers this site or not, but I would be overwhelmingly honored to pick up some companions.

I’m embarking on a journey, and I invite you to join me.

(My horoscope agrees)

Horoscope