Mainstream Counterculture

Living counter culturally takes a lot of effort. To actively believe in unpopular and contradictory opinions to the widely accepted norm requires a fortitude that I often feel I might not have, and is sometimes so draining that I almost switch back to the easy wave of giving in. This generation of hipsters and their preceding Beatniks have implanted in us the notion that counter culture is glamorous, that “standing up” for your own truth immediately garners respect and admiration. Like most everything else, the reality is a bit sloppy.

It’s a little painfully ironic to desperately want a shield of impenetrable confidence and for the comments or unsolicited (and solicited) opinions of others to truly have no bearing on my self-worth. I try so hard to believe that my ecosystem of Planet Barae is on its own orbit and I’m a sarcastic little badass, but the truth is that belief takes a lot of work. Relinquishing the need for approval and agreement is scary. How can I be okay with myself and my own values and ideas when so many people, including people I love, are convinced of their exact contradiction?

I have not arrived at the answer. And I think that’s because it’s a shape-shifter — constantly morphing and altering positions and appearances and teleporting a couple years — that “answer” is. I’ve become pretty convinced that there isn’t actually a destination. Most likely I’ll never really be 100% comfortable with my own beliefs when others are seriously challenging them, especially the ones condemned by society as a whole. And I can only imagine what serenity in my own skin feels like. It will require a lot of introspection; of spending time to get to know myself and actually appreciate what I have to offer; of chipping away at the constraining blocks that keep me yearning, reaching for validation. Look at me being all philosophical.

There’s a few different facets of this endeavor for me. There’s the reality-check of a college not welcoming me with congratulatory arms, challenging my buried belief that I’m the special one, and somehow the world is different for me. I need that challenge. It’s refreshing and comforting to know that really, I’m not special, I don’t have some rare qualities that make me stand out, I share the same obstacles and doubts of actually everyone else on this planet and if I took the time to look, I’d realize that everyone thinks they’re the special one. There’s the realization that some members of my family and friends still strongly consider health as a moral issue and are unclear how to support me, and I am really, truly allowed to stick to my own convictions and perhaps simply disengage in that topic of discussion with them. Those people remain valid, important, nourishing people in my life, on other fronts.

Sometimes pushing forward on my own route seems insurmountable. Sometimes I am convinced that the overwhelming evidence of the entire cultural environment surrounding me might be right, and who am I to assume the self-righteous position of truth-proclaimer? I’m no revolutionary. Yet I continue to be taught that I really don’t need to start a revolution (a la SNL-Bernie Sanders). The reassurance that not a single action of mine requires approval of any external source, arising from my own embedded spark and the sheer fact that I exist, is a guiding force that I am constantly working to embrace. Every thought and extremely socially unacceptable joke that will make no one laugh outside of my head is a reminder that I don’t even need to believe it, I am a badass whether I like it or not.

It’s gonna take a lot more work and a lot more effort to fully embody this truth. I don’t envision an endpoint and I’m excited to embark on some kind of life-long vision quest, though I feel myself tip toeing into the desperately needed unknown and I’m terrified. Even though I just proclaimed this whole idea to be a self-empowered, introspective enterprise, I think it is a lot more powerful and empowering to know others are on the same venture. I could use some advice. How are you living your truth?

 

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I’m Not Sorry

Discrimination is hardest to overcome when you believe it.

Oppression is hardest to end when you’re a participant, on any end of the spectrum.

Even if we’re aware of harmful and inaccurate beliefs that we hold, sometimes it seems there’s no other way to think. As I grow older and am exposed to new perspectives that challenge my own and consciously work on discovering and staying true to my core values, I find that dismantling discrimination that I am involved in is essential to my internal serenity. When I put substantive time into dissecting the reasons for my own beliefs and learning the opposing viewpoint, I not only feel a much stronger connection to humanity but also personal fulfillment and empowerment.

As I travel on my own indeterminate journey of accepting myself as my traveling companion, I become more and more aware that I need to completely deconstruct and retire the judgements that are keeping me from appreciating the various bumps and unforeseen curves that characterize an interesting trip. Because my discrimination is against myself and characteristics of myself I see in others, or ideas I was taught to believe by this gaseous steamroller we call society. While I strongly support and advocate for equality, acceptance, and celebration of diversity in race/culture/religion/sexual orientation/gender etc., I feel that there’s many discriminations and superiority complexes hidden within the folds of “bigger issues.” It seems to me that the “big” issues and the “small” issues are all just the same issue in different forms and represented in different places.

I do, actually, have a lot to say (imagine that… me having something to say) about current racism — especially in Alaska — and systemic, faulty fear-mongering, and hopefully I’ll write on those topics soon. This post, however, (like many others) is dedicated to girls struggling to exist proudly in this era of often surface level empowerment still plagued by preposterous expectations. That is not to say this invitation doesn’t apply to other demographics and I don’t have strong compassion or passion for other causes. Believe me, I will make that known in every way if it’s not already common knowledge. I intend to make it my life’s work.

Since I was little I have always compulsively said sorry. Even when there’s no problem or absolutely nothing I could have done, I have an immediate reaction and need to apologize for any way I may have contributed to an inconvenience. When I look around me at clever, powerful girls, I notice that they, too, are constantly blurting “sorry” at every turn. We are told everyday to just “be confident” and stay true to ourselves, yet nearly every message in our world shows us otherwise. I catch myself nursing envy of another girl’s body or even accomplishments and good fortune, yet for some reason I don’t feel that same competition with boys. We are often encouraged with approval to promote ourselves by discounting and distancing ourselves from others — mainly girls — and demonstrating our apathy and, yes, masculinity. In a very decidedly feminine and attractive way. Which is nearly impossible.

It breaks my heart to see girls using inauthenticity as their lifeline and most effective coping mechanism. A chasm splits and widens between what nourishes my spirit and what creates more work for me to repair when I see myself making excuses for the overflowing person that I am or disregarding someone else’s validity. To be clear, adapting to various situations or acting appropriately and acknowledging developments does not constitute inauthenticity.

When I inject a little (or a lot) extra kindness into gestures or comments or interactions, the reassurance of my solid place in my own morals and truths extends its portable roots. I’ll never be able to reverse the damage I’ve done to others or myself, and that’s why each moment is so grand and special and worthy. It’s not worth living for any other moment besides this one.

So stop apologizing. Stop sucking in. Stop pretending you’re not offended. Stop letting snide comments slide by for fear of being labeled as a “feminist” because then you’re just contentious and whiny. Stop believing that being unattractive is the worst misfortune that could ever befall you and that it’s objective and your fault. Stop believing you either have to be beautiful or badass and tough or nerdy and bossy and remember that you can pick and choose or be all of that or none.

This discrimination and oppression targeted towards young girls and their bodies and confidence goes unnoticed and unchallenged too frequently. We can extrapolate these internalized norms to the pervasive war women all over the world are waging against their bodies and the $60 billion/year weight loss industry. We can extend these minor misunderstandings to preoccupation with appearance and judgement that defines the first world, both women and men, and distracts from other injustices we could all be combatting.

As this vulnerable demographic, we need to support each other and also empower ourselves. We need to air our dirty laundry if it’s smelling up the house and trust that other people can follow their own noses. We need to relinquish our fear of vulnerability and know in our very core that we have the unwavering strength to do so and grow even more confident in our own validity. We need to live unapologetically.

Crazy is My Favorite Word

I just need to figure this out.

Once I figure out what’s going on with me, I’ll be fine.

Seriously, I’m just working on figuring all these things out, and then I’ll be able to be a normal human again.

I’m a precarious math equation describing the formation of a cube into which I’m enveloped, waiting for that one little trick that will reveal the answer and I’ll finally figure it out.

In case you haven’t noticed, “figuring it out” isn’t going so well for me. Every time I think I see an option that makes sense, my very perception of reality and logic is questioned and challenged and ultimately thrown into complete disarray. I’m so preoccupied with reaching the endpoint, finding the answer, finally getting to that one place where everything will click and ease will descend without my noticing and, at last, I can loosen my grip on constantly reminding myself that there’s something wrong with me. I’m so focused on that nonexistent terminal that I’m inexorably crippled by my inability to figure it all out.

To anyone with any life experience (aka everyone, life experience is kind of a prerequisite for living), this destination mindset is extremely naive, not to mention limited. Although I’m aware that the quest to figure out the circumstances that led me to my current situation or reasons I feel the way I do or why I can’t fix the heartbreaking injustices I see everywhere is a fruitless one, I can’t help but feel like there is an answer out there somewhere, and I just haven’t reached it yet. I don’t know if I can try any harder.

What if we didn’t have to figure it out? What if it was impossible, and instead of ignoring the elusiveness we could embrace the fact that this world is absolutely absurd and there’s nothing we can do about it?

Maybe it’s morbid to watch comedies about suicide or laugh at our severe depression or make endless jokes about anxiety and paralyzing body shame, but the truth is there’s really no other option. There’s no figuring it out. Obsession with rationale only leads to increasing craziness because there is no explanation. My thoughts are ludicrous and my actions are on the one level we’re all sure we’ll never sink to and if you think that pondering just a little longer will reveal any coherence, well, I invite you to laugh with me because that’s all I have to offer.

I think the most difficult step for me right now is letting go of the need for explanation and control. Despite the fact that I’ve never known or understood or controlled anything, truly releasing that expectation is supremely scary. I know that once I step off that precipice I will enter a vivid, stimulating world of endless possibility and crushing disappointment and unpredictable risk, and even as my grip on my old sense of security slips away I still can’t seem to let go.

We can’t figure anything out, and making ourselves crazy over it is, well, making ourselves crazy. We’re preposterous and ridiculous and nonsensical and delirious and delusional and disgusting and disturbing and human. I am all of these, always. Let this mark my surrender of trying to figure it out. I am complex and insane and hilarious. I will never know what motivates me to jump from one entirely outlandish idea to an equally illogical one and then proceed to engender them in reality, and I intend to keep laughing. I will laugh at you and I will laugh at me and once we’ve run out of our own ridiculousness we’ll laugh at our parents.

This shit is crazy.

Stronger Than a Spider Web (and I’ve Heard They’re Pretty Strong)

There’s certainly something to be said for privacy. I don’t want to preach boundless disclosure and ignore the merits of selective sharing and protecting oneself and others, if that’s what you’re into. But there’s something about extending a thought, an experience, a conviction, that invokes a sigh of relief. Not only is it comforting to engender an idea into collective and undeniable reality, it is curiously empowering.

The Internet is wonderful this way. I am not engaging in the tired debate that people over 40 seem obliged to contribute to (without actual desire, I’m pretty sure) over the dis/advantages of technology; I’m simply feeling lucky to exist in a time of such deep and accessible connection. The shield of a mesmerizing screen emboldens us, softens us, challenges us, reassures us, teaches us, captures us… it’s pretty cool that we can let the whole world into our rooms in an instant, unless you have slow WiFi, in which case the frustration is sometimes unbearable and soooo not worth it.

Thank you, Internet, for an endless supply of people with much greater senses of humor than my own

Thank you, Internet, for an endless supply of people with much greater senses of humor than my own

Willingly divulging intimate experiences and struggles (actually, promoting them… oh geez) on a globally accessible (and decidedly permanent) platform doesn’t even feel weird to me. Exposing my vulnerability and exploring the extents of my own story via writing releases a burden. Sharing makes it real; it’s solid and raw and secures a cord between myself and the larger whole. Like, here guys, here’s my contribution. I’m weaving myself in and even if I’m alone here’s proof that I’m still here, that I still care and trust and want to keep on building.

And that’s why I love my generation, even if we’re selfish and lazy and entitled and living in a virtual reality. Because we’re building a community.

When I say my generation, I don’t actually mean all the other humans born within ten years of myself. I mean anyone who’s willing to jump in, compassionately and passionately and openly. I’m not into exclusion, and we could all use some empowerment. When I read a genuine and astute article/blog/post/etc. online, (which I’ve encountered quite a few of lately, but the Internet’s kinda gigantic so there’s literally an infinite amount, yay Internet!) I undergo a distinct and tangible upwelling of pride and zeal and inspiration and belongingness that emerges in my belly, swirls around for a bit, then shoots up my intestines into my chest (that’s how anatomy works, right?) and spreads tingly fire out my extremities. I see flashing neon signs saying “THESE PEOPLE THINK LIKE YOU” and “THERE’S SO MUCH HOPE AND SO MUCH YOU CAN DO” and “HUMANITY IS MAGNIFICENT” and “FUCK YEAH YOU ARE A GODDESS” and the like. (Way better than “vacancy” with one letter out… any motels hiring?)

In an era of vehement social movements, instant connection of thoughtful people with something to say or questions to ask is an invaluable tool. Whether it’s a forceful reality check to remind us that shaming others is never an effective means of empowerment or an honest exploration of a personal sojourn with universal implications, I can’t help but preen my feathers like a proud, sub-five-foot human Mama Bird because I am part of it. I get to be inspired by this tremendous and spectacularly authentic web that is so, so much greater than the sum of its parts, because each thread is an uncensored outpouring careening down the mountainside.

I don’t care if it’s a journalist for Time who gets published every other week or a lonely teenager who’s never passed an English class. I’ve gotten teary-eyed from a painfully mainstream YouTube ad and frequently get fired up about questionably politically correct articles on websites like Everyday Feminism. I find words for conditions that have been tugging at the edge of my consciousness without ever quite realizing their validation, like how eating disorder recovery often perpetuates fatphobia. I don’t even mind if I’m part of a seriously trendy fad of obsessive Humans of New York scrollers, because it’s fucking awesome to see the absolute humanity in people you’ve never met but find solace in knowing they exist.

What I’m trying to say is this togetherness, this connection and simultaneous existence, this unabashed exposure to anyone who cares to waste some time on a screen is collective compassionate empowerment if I’ve ever seen it. (But only after I say that ten times fast). My citizenship in this community is an underrated and continuous gift that I can’t ever lose.

The best part? You’re a member too.

Floating

It’s hard to change.

Even while constantly, continuously, there is absolute fool-proof evidence that EVERYTHING changes and there is no avoiding the ever-shifting nature of time and experience — from the earthquake that just interrupted my family’s dinner preparation to the fact that my once instantly responsive dog now wanders aimlessly, deaf and clueless — we fight so hard to resist the current.

I know I’m not releasing some ground-breaking realization or even saying anything relatively new. We’ve all been fed the adage “the only thing constant is change,” often to justify difficult transitions or mystifying sacrifices. I, for one, get a little irritated being thrown this cliché that does NOT make switching mindsets or expectations any easier. But even when I’m stuck — like super-glue-between-10-year-old-fingers and tongue-on-freezing-metal-pole-at-recess stuck — I can’t ignore the fact that the roller coaster keeps on rolling, whether I’m buckled in and safely inside the cart or not.

AND, while most change occurs without prompting or even desire, it’s reassuring to recognize that we, as the sole helmsmen-and-women of our own lifeships, do possess the ability to steer our courses of change to our preference. Now, whether that change actually benefits us or plays out is almost irrelevant. As is the materialization of our actually seizing the steering wheel or not. Sometimes, it’s enough to know that we can change, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the present moment.

For me at least.

It’s also hard to commit, especially if you’ve spent what feels like your whole life always chasing the next impressive task and adhering to a prescribed regimen of thought (hmm… kinda sounds like someone I know…cough everyone cough).

But I’m at the point where I know I need to direct my own change. I’m ready (I think) for a couple hard things — namely, committing to change. I’m tired of living in a self-consuming hole rolling around in Grade A molasses minus the sweet and only the black, sticky properties — tar, in other words. I’m tired of knowing I’m simply sabotaging myself before I even depart for the sheer satisfaction of predicting my own failure. I’m tired of finding exciting blips far in the future to cast my sight on and avoid feeling my present self.

Every time I let the thoughts of expanding, strangling bleakness penetrate my purview, that rut in the road wears a little deeper and my steering wheel bucks out of my hand again.

So here’s my practice, for now: when that constraining, familiar shadow inundates my senses, I WILL find a way to counter it. A simple way, with just a few replacements and adjustments. For example:

“I’m upset because I knew I was full and then kept on eating”
can turn into
“I knew when I was full and it’s awesome I’m in touch with that cue”

or

“I wasted so much time this summer and was really lazy”
can be heard as
“I learned what it’s like to watch the days pass and I’m glad I don’t always have to be busy”

or

“I didn’t write a blog post in over a month and I can’t keep a commitment”
might be
“I waited for inspiration and didn’t want to clog up everyone’s emails and time with meaningless ramblings” (ha..ha… that one’s for you)

You get the picture. I don’t need to get too self-indulgent.

I’m not advocating for “find the good in everything!” or “be happy” or “just smile!” or simply ignoring realities and misfortunes in pursuit of restful dreams. I am a firm believer in living to the fullest extent and truly being, whether in pain or pleasure. In my better moments I espouse philosophical enlightenment and rousing declarations. But in my not-so-good moments I could use a little contrived stimulation to remind myself that this is all I’ve got and every molecule of my breath is intertwining with particles of ancient thoughts and it’s as real as I believe it to be.

I have a feeling most of us in this modern era recognize that our societal structure is counting on us swallowing the fuel of fear and scarcity (time, money, food, energy, space, love), internalizing insecurity and operating on doom. Hell, I get annoyed when someone is “overly cheerful” or optimistic. Annoyed. That is not a peaceful and fulfilling existence.

So here’s to grabbing the helm, even if it’s with a pinky that will most likely slip off by tomorrow. Here’s to realizing that trying to end obsession hasn’t worked and if that means faking it — at risk of insincerity — until you do or don’t make it, well, that’s a worthy endeavor all on its own. Here’s to embracing discomfort and suffering because there’s a reason we have tears and screams.

Cheesy, I know... but hey, that's my boat!

Cheesy, I know… but hey, that’s my boat!

Where is your bow pointed?

EMERGENCY

Okay, well, don’t get too excited.

I actually had a few topics I wanted to write about, but then something happened and it was just begging to be documented and who am I to turn down inspiration? (Even if I am hunkered down on the side of a precarious dirt road furiously typing on my phone and greatly increasing the risk of giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome).

Let me paint a picture for you: I just had a reasonably disastrous night in some ways. It’s 70° F in Homer, Alaska and I’m biking out to a Russian village that starts where the road ends, or at least in that general direction. I biked back and forth between my house and a friend’s a couple times in my sweatpants and essentially a bathrobe because I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the bike work, and I’m not too skilled a biker, mind you. I’m wearing a funky, too-big, bright orange/red helmet and a large and bouncing fanny pack. I saw a mama moose munching that didn’t see me, which is the very best kind of human-moose interaction. I’m not going to describe the view, because my clumsy semantic attempts at imagery can’t begin to do justice to the never-ending range of blue peaks varying height and shape with effortless perfection and cradling pristine expanses of glacial fairy dust. Oops. I just did.

Well, actually, I could just give you a real picture.

image

Kisses all around

I’ve been taking something of a break from exercise and any type of dietary consciousness for a while: “letting myself go” if you will, though I’ve been trying to see it as just another stage in the mysterious process.

So, in something of a revolutionary twist, I biked along the path of moseying. I stopped for water and snacks and texts and selfies and views, I downshifted frequently (meaning I made it easier for myself), I stopped to write this in my phone’s notes; in short, I wasn’t really doing it for ‘exercise,’ per say.

An absolutely amazing thing happened. I’m not sure exactly where; perhaps after the multiple confused trips to actually get the bike or after I realized hills don’t have to be so hard if you don’t stay in the highest gear or when I thought about my friends on a cross country bike trip or when I found out I actually kind of enjoy biking despite what I’ve been telling myself…

Regardless, somewhere amidst the ridiculous amount of enormous trucks which seem to be almost exclusively populating the road,

Exhibit A, although this one isn't that big, I know, but I was stopped already, okay?

Exhibit A, although this one isn’t that big, I know, but I was stopped already, okay?

my unbridled (okay, maybe a little bridled) joy burst out of me like a hyped-up-yet-still-kinda-slow sprinkler. Bridled because I know I’m still injured; I know this feeling is temporary; my tummy still talks to me when I put food in it ’cause it’s not so good at digestion, especially when I feed it much, much, much more than it was asking for; I’m aware part of me is still doing it for the calories; and I’m not foolish enough to think any one thing will change my world forever.

BUT. I FELT it. It’s real and that oppressing cloud of depression and self-hatred and doubt and bleak resignation and unjustified resentment and hopeless abandon was tangibly released from duty for a little while.

I have not a single delusion that soon I won’t find that annoyingly relentless companion by my side again. But a stupid chocolate granola bar never tasted so good and I never felt the soft parts of my belly with such acceptance and the mosquitoes and bees never bothered me so little and I worked so fucking hard to get here. Oftentimes against myself, but nevertheless no one can deny I was working my ass off to the point of exhaustion without respite.

I’m not “there,” but this is certainly, without a doubt, a far different universe than the one I’ve been loitering in — hell, than the one I was descending into last night. I can still touch that other universe and access it at a moment’s notice, and I know I’ll be there again soon.

I didn’t want to believe it. For some ludicrous and asinine reason I didn’t want to believe that satisfaction and genuine smiles were waiting for me, that every opportunity is a chance for escape and that I too have the ability to open the door.

Caveat: don’t just think I’m all better (whatever that means) and abandon me and that the rest of my posts will be love letters and celebrations to life. This is NOT the endpoint, in case you haven’t gotten the gist of my precautions yet.

‘Cause the mosquitoes and flies are starting to bug me a bit (sorry, couldn’t help it) and I have to bike back up this bouncing, headache-inducing dirt road.

I’m kidding, I’m not back to that universe yet.

I’ll be sixteen tomorrow, and to jump straight into cliché city, it can only go up from here, right?

(I mean, there’s a fairly nasty uphill and then the rest is pretty much all downhill back to my house, but let’s not get too caught up in the details.)

A Brief Interlude

The first day of this blog’s public life garnered a lot more traffic than I was expecting. I think that raised my expectations a bit unrealistically, because obviously as time goes on and people keep on being busy with their lives and maybe decide that reading the rambles of an all-over-the-place (soon-to-be-16-year-old) girl isn’t quite how they want to spend a whole lot of time. I totally get that, and while it’s awesome to have a large audience and be able to communicate with a wide range of people, I also recognize that this website is not for everybody.

Actually, this whole platform is (perhaps a little too obviously) mostly for me. Releasing musings and questions and meditations out into the endless cybersphere is paradoxically freeing and therapeutic and unnerving, even if readers are people I know in real life anyway. But the topics/writing style/opinions/purpose are certainly not potent or even accessible for everyone, and I completely respect that many of us are at very different points in our own journeys.

So I’m very okay with a declining and irregular viewership (I get statistics. I can’t see who visits, though, don’t worry). Validation is always an unconscious search, but I’m working to turn back from that particular journey.

That being said, I’ve received a few responses that have moved me so deeply, inspired so much pride and compassion, opened my mind, and stimulated so much gratitude that really the only action I can muster is sitting in front of my computer with a stupid smile engulfing my entire body for at least 3 minutes. The knowledge that my self-indulgent explorations have actually resonated with other human beings and touched a place that requires an email or message to me with a brief glimpse into their complexities is not only humbling, but reassuring, exciting, and one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever undergone.

At the risk of redundancy, I have no idea where I’m headed. I don’t know my goals, my capabilities, the true nature of my many weaknesses, my plans for the future, the destiny of this website… I don’t even know when I’m taking the SAT tomorrow (maybe because I kinda forgot to study). The point is, I have no fixed, definite purpose for this website or this journey, and I’m not even sure what I’m trying to learn.

Right now, though, I’ve already gained more than I thought possible or ever contemplated could emerge from a couple interactions. I can only hope that my work and contributions to this world can offer a fraction of the love, hope, gratitude, and warm fuzzies that enveloped my being when I opened those simple messages. I can feel a network of support, compassion, connection, mutual admiration, exposure, and lots of other bravery building with each exchange and even every internal response I’ll never be privy to. You’ve stirred my own healing more than you’ll ever know.

Thank you so much for breaking my isolation, for accepting my extended hand and releasing your own experiences, confusion, and encouragement. It’s already so, so, SO much more than worth it because of you.

Here's to all of us

Here’s to all of us.

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”

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