Adorable, et al. (A Fat Femme’s Guide to Managing Pesky Adjectives)

So, I’m home from yet another amazing Women’s Week. Each time I go, I’m in awe of the community of writers and editors and readers who come together to mingle, have fun, learn, and celebrate lesbian fiction. It fills my cup in more ways than I can count.

This year brought more of the same, but a new layer. Newly out of a relationship, I tried to embrace a flirtier, sassier side of myself. It went well, I’d say. Mostly. A couple of misfires, but that’s to be expected. Especially when wine is part of the equation. But there were surprises, too.

Here’s the thing. I’m a reasonably confident person. I feel pretty comfortable owning that I possess above-average intelligence. I’m funny. I’m a decent writer and a damn good cook. I rock my day job like a boss. When people say nice things about those aspects of my personality, I might get a little bashful, but I can soak it up, be gracious, and say thank you.

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?

I don’t know if it was my attempt to channel my inner sassy, or maybe the fact that I’ve been feeling better in my body (thanks, barre), or what, but this year I got another slate of adjectives. Ones I’m not used to. Ones I’m not sure what to do with.

Over the course of the week, I got adorable, pretty, and even a gorgeous. Now, adorable is tricky, but that’s another post. The point is that more than one person conveyed to me that I was attractive. Like, physically.

On one hand, declaring this in a blog post feels massively vain, but I hope you’ll bear with me. Because writing blog posts helps me process feelings. More importantly, I’ve come to realize that if I’m wrestling with shit, I’m never the only one. If flinging this out into the ether resonates with one other person, well then, it’s worth it.

So, back to those pesky adjectives. That P one, or the G one. Or, look out, the B one. For me, they’re really, really, like seriously fucking really, hard to believe. My general go-to is the they’re-just-being-nice interpretation. That’s actually an improvement over the they-feel-sorry-for-me interpretation. And maybe comparable to the oh-that’s-nice-they-don’t-hate-fat-girls interpretation.

I know. I’m obnoxious. I can recite the fat-positive playbook. If one of my friends uttered such nonsense, I’d give her a very stern talking to. But what happens in the overactive recesses of my mind generally stays there, to be fretted over a million times, in the comfort of my self-doubt.

Not today. I am putting it out there now, but please don’t feel like you have to give me the talk. I know. (Really.) I’m mostly marveling at the whole thing and trying to sort out how one might go about the believing it and the soaking it in. I’d happily take pointers on that front if you have them.

My current strategy is fake it ’til I make it. Oh, and resist the urge to say something dismissive even if I’m hella uncomfortable because that’s just rude.

I’m also happy, as I said, to fling my discomfort into world in the hopes it helps someone else know they’re not alone. If that’s you–today, this week, your whole life–I feel you. And you’re gorgeous.

xo
Aurora

 

Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned from You’ve Got Mail

According to Joe Fox, “The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”

I beg to differ, even if I agree with the sentiment of leaving the gun and taking the cannoli. And while I don’t really think You’ve Got Mail is the sum all wisdom, I’ve gotten a lot more out of it than I ever got out of The Godfather.

For example, fall is the best season, especially in New York. A bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils would win big points with this girl. Also, taking all the caviar garnish is beyond tacky. Oh, and Pride and Prejudice is the best book, for way more than its use of “words like thither and mischance.”

When it comes to insults, I don’t think anything tops, “You are nothing but a suit.” It is, as Joe says, “the perfect blend of poetry and meanness.” It’s such a good insult, I’ve not been able to bring myself to use it, although tempted on more than one occasion.

“It’s not personal, it’s business.” Yeah, total cop-out.

I watched Kathleen and Joe fall in love last night, for perhaps the hundredth time. I laughed, I said a lot of the lines aloud. I sang the violins part at the Shop Around the Corner Christmas party. And because I was three glasses of wine in, I got a little sentimental.

What got me last night was what Kathleen said about her store closing. She says, “People are always telling you change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”

I’ve been there many times. Change can be so hard and, in the moment, it can feel impossible to look beyond how much it sucks. But some of the best parts of my life have come out of those things I really didn’t want to happen. There was being sent away to boarding school, the end of my marriage, closing my bakery. Without those things, my life never could have unfolded the way it has. And while it isn’t perfect by any means, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Raising the Barre

I’ve never been skinny. I’ve made peace with the fact that I never will be. Really, I have.

There have been a few times in my life, however, when I’ve been fit. When I’ve felt strong and limber and good about my ability to move the way I want. The most recent of those involved dance class. Belly. Modern. Ballet.

It was a few years ago now that I was going to three or four dance classes a week. I’ve wanted to go back, but the combination of time and money and the dread of getting back on the wagon have held me back.

This morning that changed. This morning I went to my first barre class. Here’s how it went…

I showed up at the studio twenty minutes early. I was the first one there. The girl who checked me in assured me it was 1) nothing like ballet, 2) really hard, and 3) unlikely I’d be able to do the whole class. Then she sold me $20 grippy socks.

Don’t get me wrong. She wasn’t mean. In fact, I appreciated her saying she couldn’t do the whole class at first either. She pointed out the room and told me to grab a mat and pick my spot.

I entered the room. Funky mirrors hung on the walls; ballet barres lined the room. The instructor promptly asked if I could take off my shoes first. Right. I’d not noticed the cubbies when I’d arrived. (They weren’t pointed out either.)

I took off my sneakers, put on my (cute, hot pink) $20 socks, and tucked my things into a cubby. Another regular arrived and the three of them talked amongst themselves. I hovered awkwardly.

Other women (and one guy!) trickled in. I was definitely the chubbiest in the mix, but there was a range of ages and body types. I felt better. A couple of them told me what to expect and how to situate myself in the room.

Why is it that the older, non-skinny women are the kindest? Do they know what it’s like to feel out of place? Or have they settled into themselves and are actually happier and more confident than the younger, more perfect-bodied ones?

I like to think the latter. After all, there’s hardly a woman alive without some kind of baggage about her body. Even the ones who are much closer to society’s standards of perfect. The patriarchy does a bang up job on that front. Besides, it’s not like anyone was mean. They might be introverted people who are just as nervous about being there as I am.

Class began. Much sweat. Extensive muscle trembling. A couple of things I couldn’t do at all.

But the instructor said encouraging things, corrected my form a couple of times, then complimented it. I made it to the end. I didn’t throw up.  Or cry.

The verdict? An intense workout that taps into my affinity for form, posture, and grace. Not as much actual ballet as I’d like. Intimidating, but not unbearably so. I’m booked for another class on Wednesday.

The I-Have-Mixed-Feelings-About-Resolutions Post

At this point in my life, I mostly shun the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. The timing feels rather arbitrary, the sentiment so often laced with self-loathing. And then there’s the whole bit about being cliché.

That said, I can’t seem to stop myself from being reflective. Dates and milestones of all sorts do that to me. (Yes, I spend way too much time looking at Facebook memories.) There’s nothing wrong with that, really. It can be fascinating/impressive/hilarious to see where one has been. Of course, it can be discouraging/hard/sad as well.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Oh, right. Resolutions. I, too, dislike them.

But I am into that whole growth mindset thingy. And I know my life and habits and thoughts could always be more and better than they are. So, what is a girl to do?

I do not resolve to fit in my too-tight pencil skirts. (Although I desperately want to fit in them.)
I do not resolve to sell 10,000 books.
I do not resolve to meditate/eat less cheese/do all those other things that are supposed to make me a better person.

I resolve to move in a way that feels good every day. (Much more kitchen dancing for me.)
I resolve to write as well as I can, with as much heart as I can, whenever I can. (Thanks, Roxanne Gay.)
I resolve to be more honest—with myself and others—about what I need and want.
I resolve to listen more.

I’m still not sure about “resolve.” Let me consult my favorite thesaurus…

I have a mind to move in a way that feels good every day.
I endeavor to write as well as I can, with as much heart as I can, whenever I can.
I strive to be more honest—with myself and others—about what I need and want.
I intend to listen more.

Much better.

What about you? What intentions are you sending out into the universe for 2018?

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things (Repost)

Another re-post, pulled from the old Bold Strokes blog. It turns out, I’m pretty good at advice. I’m less good, sometimes, at following my own words of wisdom.  This is a perfect example. Whether or not it really counts as simplifying is debatable. But I’ll take the reminder to focus on what matters, what brings me joy. I’ll take that any day of the week.

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things

BY AURORA REY

built-to-lastI think there’s a switch that gets flipped when we approach middle age. For some people, it’s all about more—more money, more toys, more thrills before youth slips away. For others, the switch flips the other way and there is a burning desire for less—less stuff, fewer demands on our time. I’m definitely in the latter camp and, like many people closer to forty than thirty, I’ve found myself looking for ways to make life simpler.

Whether clearing away excess clutter or ridding my closet of clothes I’ll never wear, part of this desire is tied to having less stuff. Another part is about authenticity, which is partly about stuff, but also about focusing on people and relationships that are meaningful and resonate with who and how I want to be. And, last but not least, it’s about deciding how to spend the most valuable resource of all—time.

Which all sounds a little hokey, I know. But hear me out.

A little over a year ago, my partner and I bought a little farmhouse out in the country. We decided to trade our downtown existence for fifteen acres and no neighbors within a thousand feet. We cancelled our cable; we started talking about chickens and goats. One of us (me), became enamored with the idea of keeping bees. Sure, we’d have to keep our day jobs, but life was going to be simple and we were going to love it.

The irony of moving out the country is that it requires a lot of equipment. You can’t really tend fifteen acres without a tractor. It’s alarmingly easy to spend five hundred dollars on dirt. Canning is fun, but definitely not child’s play. Don’t even get me started on how much attention farm animals require. And while I definitely have fewer tchotchkes than I used to, I now have more power tools.

So, I’m not sure we’ve mastered the art of simplicity, but we are a lot happier. I like the exhaustion of a day tilling the garden. Tomatoes you pick an hour before you eat taste a thousand times better. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more relaxed as I am sitting around a fire, drinking wine and looking up at the stars.

I think the moral of the story is that simplicity isn’t always simple. Sometimes it’s more about mindset that minimalism. It’s about figuring out what’s important and focusing on it. It’s resisting the allure of things that seem shiny but will suck your energy and leave you feeling unsatisfied. It’s understanding those things aren’t the same for everyone and accepting there are a thousand ways to be happy. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s learning that finding the love of your life isn’t about finding someone just like you, but finding someone whose version of simple (or complicated or happy or satisfied) fits with yours.

Which brings me to Olivia and Joss, the protagonists of Built to Last. Over the course of the novel, the characters embark on a similar journey. Olivia buys a farmhouse in an effort to break away from the artifice of her upbringing and family, but quickly realizes she got a lot more than she bargained for. She navigates the world of DIY with relative ease, taking pride in her work and doing things her way. In the end, though, she has to learn that making a home is about a lot more than paint chips and finding the perfect stove.

Joss, on the other hand, believes she’s mastered the art of simple goals and straightforward priorities—family and work, in that order. She’s convinced she has it all figured out, until Olivia shows up and drives her to distraction. She has to confront her own notions of what it means to be family, and whether happily ever after counts if it comes in a package you don’t expect.

It’s Gonna Be May

I said going in that April was the cruelest month. I didn’t want to, really, because April is my birthday and brings the first true tastes of spring. It also, however, brings a crescendo of admissions events, awards ceremonies, honor society inductions, and course registration. Oh, and crises. The students-who-haven’t-gone-to-class-since-spring-break variety.

I’m talking about my day job here. I still have one of those. I like it mostly, but there are a few times of the year that it takes far more out of me that I want to give.

Despite knowing this going in, I scheduled myself to finish the first draft of Spring’s Wake by May 1. This would give me a couple of weeks to do a read-through before sending it off to beta readers. I’d hit my weekly word targets every week since the start of 2017. I wasn’t about to fail.

Only I did.

I was mildly on track for the first half of the month, despite all-weekend admission events. It went downhill from there. Not all bad, mind you, but out of control. A couple of days of fun plus my ex’s wedding (notably non-traumatic) took up lots of time. Having a weak middle and a pacing problem in the manuscript made those last 15,000 words or so beyond painful.

In short, April made me her bitch.

It got so bad that I spent the better part of a Saturday morning in a crying, sniffling heap. Andie pet my head and reminded me that April sucked.

Right.

So, the manuscript still isn’t done, but I think I can whip it into shape. The end of the semester is in sight. I discovered the amazing *NSYNC play on May and giggled. A lot.

may

I’ve decided that, for next year, I’m going to do whatever it takes to have essentially no writing obligations in April. That way, anything I accomplish is bonus. For now, I’m just glad the worst is over. And May? You’re going to be my bitch.

The Personal Is Political: Local Edition

I’m pretty sure that my Facebook and Twitter feeds now consist of equal parts 1) the latest horrifying thing proposed or said by the new administration, 2) instructions on who to call and what to say to protest said horrifying things, and 3) happy and/or cute things designed to help us all keep our sanity. Oh, and the occasional “Aren’t you overreacting?” (But that’s another post.)

It’s encouraging to see so many people fired up and banding together, but it’s overwhelming. First, there’s the fact that I’m an introvert and arguing makes me sick to my stomach. Second, there is so much going on, it’s hard to decide in any moment whether one should be defending science, women, queers, people of color, immigrants, free speech, reproductive rights, the environment, education…I could go on. I have seen some great lists to stay organized, which help, and some great encouragement to remember self-care.

The latter is especially important. The fight will be long and we can’t afford to burn out. That means I fully intend to embrace romance novels and videos of baby sloths and moments of zen and big glasses of good red wine.

It also means I’m going to throw myself even more into work I can do in my community. Take, for example, the Advocacy Center, my county’s agency that provides service to victims of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual assault. It also provides education and prevention training. I’m on the board and we are currently working to purchase the building, a move that will provide financial stability when funding fluctuates.

It’s good and important work. Now, however, it’s critical. The budget that Trump has proposed cuts all grants tied to the Violence Against Women Act. All of the funding. Gone. Now, it’s not a done deal and I’ll be part of plenty of calls to demand it get put back in. And don’t worry, I’ll be imploring all of you to do the same.

But in the meantime, I can put more time and energy into our campaign. I can donate a couple more hours a month to make sure that this vital service in my community is supported and promoted and valued. I can do concrete and tangible work that has impact and makes me feel good. It feels less daunting some days to do that than call my senators. In the grand scheme of things, it might even help win over more hearts and minds than my Facebook posts. (Especially since I’m pretty sure that most of my family that disagrees with me doesn’t look at my posts anyway.)

So in these hard times, I’m adding my own call to action into the mix. Find something close to home that you care about and give it your time and maybe some of your money. Make it personal. Because your experiences and your contributions are by definition political, now more than ever.

Ring My Bell

I admit it. I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement. And I don’t mean those grand rewards for hitting some major goal. I mean the most basic Pavlovian type system–small, frequent, consistent treats tied to specific behaviors.

Example: I love Scrivener. I love that I can see my whole outline. I love that I can move scenes around with ease. But I swear I’d use it if it offered nothing more than that little bar that goes from red to green as I reach my daily word goal. And the big bar of the manuscript total? Swoon.

I’ve decided I’m so into positive reinforcement, I should try to apply it to more areas of my life. Case in point: exercise.

A few years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. I wasn’t skinny; I don’t think I’ll ever qualify for that adjective. Still. I was a bit lighter than I am now. More importantly, I had stamina and flexibility. I did two to three dance classes a week, I walked more days than not. I felt fit and limber and it was lovely.

And then life happened. A bad ankle sprain kept me from dance class. A new relationship sent me into a state of happy nesting, complete with lots of great meals and wine. And I started writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And I love that writing has become an almost-daily routine. I’ve got three books published, a fourth written, and a fifth in progress. I’ve made friends with other writers and readers–a whole magical community of people I didn’t know existed a few years ago. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Not even for pencil skirts and skinny jeans and a strong core.

But who says I can’t have it all?

No one, but I’ve not actually been good at doing it in recent months.  But it’s January and a good time for leaf turning and all that. Which brings me to Pavlov. I decided that uber fitness goals, while nice, don’t have that Pavlovian je ne sais quois. I needed something more immediate. Small. Preferably shiny. Enter stickers.


You heard right, stickers. I went to the craft store (for another, slightly more legitimate purchase) and raided the scrapbooking aisle. I got stars and flowers and little owls. And now, each time I exercise, I get a star in my planner. I’m not going to lie, it’s almost laughably satisfying. I’ve got five stars and an owl (for weekly word goals) so far in January. Not to mention 15,000 words of my new manuscript and spaghetti arms from flailing around to belly dancing videos.

Laugh if you want. I am (laughing at myself, that is). But I’m not ashamed to take all the help I can get. But that’s another life lesson (and another post). What about you? What gives you that extra little oomph? Or, as good ole Pavlov would say, what rings your bell?

To My Family and Friends Who Voted for Trump

First, I’m not about to yell at you or call you names. No, really. I’m not a yeller by nature. Besides, I also know doing so will make matters between us worse, not better. And I’ve committed to making things better. So I’d like to give you some context and ask for your help. Okay? Okay.

Let’s start with the premise that you voted for Trump/Pence in spite of, not because of, their hate-laced, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic speech and actions. If you’re in the “because” category, we probably don’t speak anymore and you’re unlikely to happen upon this. But I digress.

Here’s the thing. You may have voted the way you did for a million reasons. I’m not going to try to haggle with you over all those reasons. But whatever those reasons, the reality is that you voted for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. A man who thinks it’s okay to psychologically abuse and use shock therapy on LGBTQ kids. A ticket endorsed by the KKK.

That baggage is now yours. You don’t get to pretend that isn’t part of the platform your voted for. You don’t get to assume that I or anyone else will give you the benefit of the doubt. In our eyes, in my eyes, you are now suspect.

I know that seems unfair. It is. But it’s no more unfair than a Muslim woman being expected to denounce radical Islam every time someone of Middle Eastern descent commits a crime. No more unfair than a black man being pulled over for driving through a white neighborhood. And, to a lesser degree, it’s no more unfair than me having to decide whether or not to come out every time the plumber or the lady at the nail salon asks about my husband. So welcome to the club.

I know, it feels like I’m yelling. I’m not. I’m laying the groundwork to ask you to do something really important. I’m asking you to be vocal. Be vocal about the things you don’t want me to assume about you.

Don’t tell me you’re okay with marriage equality. Tell your friends and coworkers and the guy at the gym who makes a comment about faggots. When someone you know makes a racist or sexist joke, call them out. If you don’t know what conversion therapy is, find out and speak out against it, up to and including a phone call to the Vice President you chose.

It might feel like I’m asking a lot. I am. But I want to believe that however much you and I disagree on matters of trade or taxes or even national security, we are both on the side of decency, humanity, and equity. I want to believe it so badly. And it’s the only way I know how to start reconciling the cognitive dissonance that has consumed me for the last few days.

And it matters now. It matters so much. I’m not being dramatic when I say that people feel–physically, literally–unsafe. I do. And I’m a middle class, feminine-presenting, white woman. I’m about to visit my mother in Louisiana and I’m dreading it. I’m afraid. (And I feel guilty for being afraid, but that’s another post.)

The stakes are so high. And you, more than me or any of the other liberal queer folks who are freaking out right now, have power. You’re in a position of influence that I don’t enjoy with other conservatives. You can draw a line in the sand between yourself and the people who are setting fire to the rainbow flags on people’s houses. Because if you don’t, those people will feel even bolder, thinking that they are somehow in the majority. That their hatred and their violence is acceptable.

We can’t let that happen. You can’t let that happen. I beg you. Please do your part so that doesn’t happen.

The Gifts We Give Ourselves

Today, my friend Nell shared–eloquently, thoughtfully–her recent struggles with a pernicious variation of writer’s block. She talked about about a recent reading she did that involved a feeling of detachment from her writing. It was something along the lines of thinking: hey, that’s good/did I really write that/will I be able to write that way again? (She said it way better.)

My response to her was a lesson I learned from Minnie Bruce Pratt. I had the amazing fortune to take a course with her once and, in a meeting about my writing, I lamented the need to buckle down and write every day. She promptly corrected me, saying that writing should be a gift I give myself. No matter what else is going on in my life, no matter how unimpressed I may be with my words in the moment, writing is essential. It’s part of who I am. It’s something I should not–cannot–live without.

After sharing this nugget of wisdom, fate–in the form of Facebook memories–reminded me that five years ago today I danced at the Westcott Street Festival. And by dance, I mean belly dance. And by belly dance, I mean on a makeshift stage in front of an audience in broad daylight. No really.

My first reaction was to smile. It was an amazing day. And then I felt badly. I’ve not danced in earnest much since that day. It started with a sprained ankle, probably the worst sprain I’ve ever had. (I actually sprained it two days before the festival and probably shouldn’t have performed but really wanted to and likely made it worse in the long run.) So I took some time off to heal. Then A. and I started dating and we were living an hour apart and it became so easy to skip class if it was a night we could get together. Then I got a new job and moved to Ithaca. All good things. Great things. But they were such good things, I made less time for things like dancing.

I tried to get back to it a couple of times. My last attempt came just as I began writing in earnest. The forty-five minutes I had each morning devoted to exercise became my writing time. And, as noted above, I’m not about to give that up.

So exercise in general, and dancing specifically, fell by the wayside. And all my talk about getting back to it has come in the form of “I need to make myself.” Do you see where I’m going with this?

Here’s the thing. I was never a good dancer. But for a couple of years, and during a difficult time in my life, I was a dancer. It made me feel good–body, mind, spirit. It made me feel sexy and good about my body and brave and silly and quintessentially feminine. So I came home from work today and I danced. And I was painfully reminded that, while never really good, I was way better than I am now. But I did it. And I told myself it was a gift.

I don’t know if this will work, but I’m going to try it. It fits in nicely with my life goals of being grateful for the little things, self care, general sassiness, and Ann Taylor pencil skirts. (I know I shouldn’t be focused on the last one, but I have some really cute ones that are too snug right now.) I’ll let you know how it goes.

What gifts do you give yourself?