Friday, December 3, 2010

Waiting Room

This morning I lamented on Twitter about some frustrations I’m having regarding my job: “I'm in the position now where I'm stuck managing the urgent, but I also have an urgent desire to move forward w/other things and I can't”. And it was only after I posted that tweet that I realized the way I feel about my job mimics how I feel about the happenings in the rest of my life as well.

At work I’m stuck beta testing and managing the new release of an online application that has taken so long to develop and launch that my team and I are already over it, yet no matter how hard we try we simply can’t do anything to push this release out the door any quicker.

Outside of work, I’m anxious to get back to derby, and this morning I got a text from our All Star captain about some discounted personal trainings she’d scored. While I really could stand to lug my “bowl full of jelly” to these workouts, I can’t just jump right back into derby at this point in time either because I’m dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that is a terminally ill relative. On top of that, I’m stuck in the vortex of sadness that is the winter holidays. Three years ago at this time, I lost my mind and I didn’t know why. Last year at this time, I began to lose my mind and it was then brought to my attention that this may be a pattern. This year, I know full well what to expect, but in a way it doesn’t make it any easier. While I secretly long for the magic that was Christmas for me for so many years, I can’t help but feel apathetic and sad – like the best of times are behind me – because I’ve come to realize that this time of year will always symbolize wanting and loss, and I can’t ignore the reasons behind those feelings now that I know they are there.

As an aside: I’m having a real hard time with the holidays this year. Maybe it’s the incessant news coverage of “people spending money” and “good retail outlook”, or maybe I’ve just had another layer of the veil peel away, enabling me to see things as they truly are, but I hate that the holidays are about little more than fattening the wallets of retailers and buying people shit they don’t really want or need that will eventually fill landfills. Even the people who usually seem to have it right are talking out both sides of their mouth: Live life consciously and sustainably, but BUY ALL THIS CERTIFIED ORGANIC SHIT PACKAGED IN THE RECYCLED SMILES OF CHILDREN FROM 3RD WORLD COUNTRIES THAT WE’VE OBTAINED VIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS!!! If I had my druthers, I’d plan a holiday season filled with thoughtful, meaningful, and sustainable useful presents and actions, but since I seem to have misplaced my druthers, I’ll note this on my To Do list for Christmas 2011 and simply fly by the seat of my pants this year.

Back to being stuck in the urgent but urgently wanting to move on… There seem to be instances in life where by no fault of our own we’re condemned to some sort of personal purgatory, be it our jobs, our relationships, our family, or our something else entirely, and although it may be a hard pill to swallow in our faster, bigger, more society, sometimes there’s absolutely nothing we can do but ride out the wave of shit and try not to get splashed in the process. I get frustrated when I can’t make things happen, but I’ll be honest: I’m tired. I’m real fucking tired. I’ve been struggling against the inevitable, because it’s in my nature, but the more I struggle, the more shit splashes into my boat. I’m tired of being covered in shit, so until things run their natural course, all I can do is sit calmly and try not to freak out that I’m surrounded by shit.

Again, if I had my druthers, maybe while I’m sitting here floating up shit’s creek I could do something useful like meditate or exercise or work on myself in another productive way, but I’ve misplaced my druthers. If you see them, please send them my way. I miss them dearly. Joking aside, life is never all or nothing or black and white – in fact, it’s some of this, some of that, and a whole shitload of gray. When we’re in these personal purgatories, (in my mind, at least) there should be an understanding that shit happens and we should take it easy on ourselves until these things pass. If that means putting the other things you really want out of life on hold for a bit (and it usually does), fuck it. If there ever were a time to put things on hold, it’s now. I see other people around me blaming themselves for not being able to carry on like normal or do anything during these very difficult times, and it makes me sad because I see them making things worse for  themselves when they really were never to blame in the first place. 

I suppose I should take a bit of my own advice and just relax. As badly as I want to get to the next stage at work and at home I need to know although I can’t make it happen just now, when it can happen everything will be there waiting for me (including those in-addition-to-derby personal training sessions to get rid of my bowl full of jelly). Patience is a virtue. Maybe I’ll become a tad more virtuous this go around. Hey, a girl can dream J

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The ONLY Bag You'll Ever Carry to Yoga

Several months ago I found myself annoyed to be carrying two to three bags with me to yoga class, of which one would inevitably get left behind or have me making a mad dash back in from the parking lot, so I decided to create a bag that would allow me to carry damn near all my accessories that I roll with on the regular AND a yoga mat. Peeps liked the prototype and asked if I'd be making them available for sale. After much thought, I decided to forge ahead with an initial production of two styles. Alas, here they are - available for the holidays and all  (see Etsy for the second pattern with birds)!







The bags are $75 each and can be purchased here on my Etsy site. If you're local to Baltimore, email or DM me, and we can work out delivery, so you don't have to pay shipping!


From Etsy (AtomicChiffon): 


This large, yet airy yoga mat bag allows you to carry everything you need in ONE BAG to yoga class! 

32" across and 7.5" deep, this bag holds one over-sized yoga mat (or two regular mats, doubled up) in the main compartment of its fully-lined interior. Additional features include:

- An interior pocket at the end of the bag that snugly holds all size water bottles 
- An extra-large 11" interior zippered pocket to hold valuables such as sunglasses, keys, cell phone, and "mom wallet"
- Main compartment secured by 4 ties in much-desired open-air design to combat sweat retention and stink
- Duo over-the-shoulder carrying straps made wide for comfort
- Exterior fabric designed by Cilla Ramnek
- Durable and machine-washable

Finally, the ONLY bag you will ever need to take with you to yoga! 

Care instructions:
Machine wash, hot 140°F (60°C).
Do not bleach.
Do not tumble dry.
Iron, high temperature.
Do not dryclean.
Shrinkage 4%.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Return to Derby

My decision to retire from derby wasn’t an easy one, but even as I sit here now reflecting on my first practice in 9 months, I realize that for better or worse I made the right decision. I desperately needed a break so I could insert some semblance of balance back into my life. I desperately needed to hand off (once and for all) various derby duties I had needlessly accumulated. I desperately needed to get some new hobbies. I desperately needed to spend time with my family. And, last but not least, I desperately needed the time away from derby to realize that whether I’m actively skating or not, my life is so abundantly enriched by being a part of derby that being a part of it is something I actually want to do now and in the future.

Last night I attended my first derby practice since last February, and I while I was exceptionally nervous going into it, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. When I walked in, it was partially as if I’d never left. With the people I knew, I picked right back up where I left off it seemed (except they kept asking me how I was doing throughout practice, which was nice). It was like coming home for the first time after having gone away to college or moving out of your parents’ house; it’s familiar, but there is something odd about being there as well.

The one thing I could not get over last night was how heavy my skates felt – I literally got lower leg cramps just from wearing my skates for the first hour. My endurance? Shit. Absolute and total shit. However, I was happy to find out that I hadn’t lost many of the skills and moves I’d worked so hard to learn – thank you, muscle memory! My legs hurt today, but it’s a good kind of hurt – it reminds me that with enough hard work I can do or be whatever I want. I still have a long road ahead of me to build up my endurance and sharpen my skills, but I’m happy to be on that road. In fact, I think for me that’s all I ever really need out of life: direction. I’m at ease when I have a general idea of where I’m going.

So, what are my goals for the coming year? Balancing derby with the rest of my life, and to satisfying my highly competitive nature by jamming on a home team would be divine. I need to be realistic in my time constraints, which unfortunately preclude me from aspiring to return to the All Stars, but at least I know that. God so help me in several months, however. I know I tend to become delusional over time…

The Internet is an amazing tool that really does bring people from all over the world together, and I see the effects of this in no greater way than I have in the derby community. I have no idea what I thought would come from this blog when I started it. I was hoping that it would act as another mechanism for bringing together a group of women who identify with themselves the way I identify with myself, but I’m continually astounded that you actually DO identify with the things I go through and find my recorded experiences to be inspiring. I get lots of emails and DMs from both longtime readers and people who just found the blog, and my biggest reward in this (if there is one) is hearing how something I wrote played a part in helping someone start something, continue something, or straight up kick something’s ass. And these stories, in part, made me realize just how important derby is to me and how much I love being a part of it. For that I thank you a million times over.

I don’t know why I’m the type of person who tweets every thought or blogs every memory. I guess I have diarrhea of the finger tips. Regardless the reason, it’s awkward at times to consider the audience at the other end of the Internet. I write this blog, in part, as if no one is listening, because if I think about it too hard I’d be entirely too freaked out to write at all. In a weird way, derby gave me my voice, and when I’m skating I speak more freely. I hope to be speaking more freely this year as well.

As I’ve been making this slow transition back to derby, I’ve  found myself pondering the following question over and again: If I hadn’t joined derby when I did in 2005, would I join derby now? It’s a tough question to answer, mainly because derby has shaped me into a much different person than I was 5 years ago. Truth is, I don’t know how I did it or if I could do it again, but I keep coming back to the idea that it’s within human nature to crave hard work. While I know I have a long and hard road ahead of me, I am happy to be back on the road. It’s familiar, yet daunting, and while I know what lies ahead, I’m happy to continue traveling that road with a slightly new and renewed perspective.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spoiled

I’ve truly never considered myself spoiled until just recently. Instead, I consider myself a woman who knows what she wants and takes it, and also until just recently I considered this to be a very good thing. I can now say unequivocally that I am spoiled, but things weren’t always like that.

Growing up, we went through periods of “have” and “have not”, but even when we “had” I wasn’t ever spoiled. Although she never controlled the purse strings for the family, my mom made damn sure my dad held them tight. Growing up poor, she wanted to make sure our needs were provided for, while my dad, raised straight middle class, was more concerned in my individual ability to earning all those extras that I wanted. If you work hard then you can play hard is something I learned in not so many words at a fairly early age. I gladly worked hard to do my chores and earn my allowance, and I never minded working hard because the payoff was always adequate. However, in the times of “have not”, I knew well enough not to expect the opportunity to earn an allowance. Instead, I made sure not to rock the boat, and I held my breath until we made it past those points – the last of which was about a two-year period of severe instability ending when I was 11 years old. From that I developed many lifelong goals that I still hold on to today, some of which you’ve heard me talk about here before. Namely, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to ensure I’m stable enough that I always have a place to live. That’s a fairly easy goal to meet: find and secure shelter. It’s that basic goal that stemmed from a very bad period in time that I think has ultimately contributed to my spoiled nature as an adult.

During those two years that we were without a home things were tight. Food was tight. It sounds severe, but there really was no, “I’m hungry, let’s go find a snack.” Food, like money, was carefully portioned, and like I did with my prior allowance, I largely enabled myself to give up food as enjoyment so as to “not rock the boat”. I didn’t even really think about it at the time this was happening – I just knew it was how things were going to be for now, and I always held out hope that things would get better – if not when I was a child, when I was an adult. Then I’d have control over my own destiny, and I could provide for myself, getting what I want. One day I woke up an adult (last Tuesday, FTW) and realized my daydreams as a poor child had come true – I had not only secured a home, but I had also secured a life where I was able to conceal past wounds and consume until I had more than made up for the sacrifice I made in those two years some twenty years ago.

I found myself wanting to Tweet the other day, “I’m not used to not getting what I want.” It was then that I realized I’m spoiled. And it’s true, I’m NOT used to not getting what I want, and lately it’s been causing me a world of hurt in my heart and in my head, because I don’t just spoil myself with material things – I also expect others to bend to my will. God only knows how those of you who know me put up with me.

Another downside to my knowing what I want and taking it is my relationship with food. I realized last week while on my first week of Weight Watchers that I’m really not used to telling myself no. I want it, I get it, I eat it. I may know things are bad for me, and trust me I do self-regulate with food in other ways. I do have rules. For instance, I really try to only eat one processed item a day and eat whole foods the rest of the day, but I do this because I know it’s good for me and my body. It’s the quantity and variety of whole foods that I use to spoil myself. It fits my guidelines, but it’s more and it’s different, so I want it. Really, that’s my mantra with everything (not just food): it’s more and it’s different, so I want it.

Could I really be making up for those teensy two years of lost time with a life of varied obsession?

I’m scared that I am. It’s funny how intuitively I’ve been obsessed (in other ways) with the idea of balance for the last year or so. It’s like I knew I need a more balanced life, but maybe I just can’t figure out how to truly make it balanced until I address the source of the imbalance? Man, I hope I’m not over thinking things.

In an attempt to gain some balance and shake my compulsion to make up for that two year period of past painful events, I think an easy place to start saying “no” is with food. Now, I’m not going crazy here, and I’m not going to say “no” all the time – I’m not going to deny food as an element of celebration associated with holidays or birthdays, but I really could stand to deny varied overindulgence as a way of coping with, say, a day of stressful meetings at the office remedied by a large dinner and dessert.

Balance is hard, y’all. But I think figuring out your unseen motives in life is even harder. While I may have a long standing track record of spoiling myself, I think that’s relatively okay, but I do need to consider who I am without all the shit I yearn to consume. What I truly need to learn to be okay with is just being, and that, my friends, may take damn near a lifetime to perfect.  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Life's about…

The last few months have been both agonizing and enlightening – agonizing because here I am stepping away from this life that I love, that I created and that I placed myself in, and luckily enlightening too because here I am realizing that is where I belong. Sometimes I suppose you have to walk away from something you love if only to find out once and for all if it’s where you’re really supposed to be at that point in time.

Most of my “deep thoughts” (in quotations, yes…) come to me when I’m alone, reflecting, but not so this weekend. I knew this past Saturday night was going to be epic if for no other reason than my bestie and I getting to see Greg Dulli perform in Baltimore – that’s right Baltimore (not DC)! We’re old, we’re somewhat set in our ways, and it was lovely to be able to see an artist who we love 15-minutes from our houses. Not to mention, Greg Dulli fucking rocks (even though we had what could be considered an extended “awkward exchange,” which I’ll get to later).

After having spent our first few hours out at the CCRG bouts – and after catching a young couple having sex in the VIP bathroom while desperately trying to tinkle before the car ride – Beatdown and I headed over to the Ottobar for our second part of the evening.  We thought we got there after the opening band, so we grabbed drinks and got a good spot up front and to the side. Then we saw the opener take the stage and made the very hard decision to leave our prime spot and go get drinks. We’d figure it out – we needed more beer. Another bonus of having the show in Smalltimore is that we know everyone everywhere, especially the Ottobar, so Tecla (aka, Shevil Knievel – OG CCRG) took good care of us at the bar; we never had to wait. We walked back down to the front and got a half decent spot (it was half decent when I stood on my tiptoes). Sure we couldn’t see as well as we could at the other spot, but this second spot turned out to be amazing, because it was one of those shows where instead of fighting the person beside or behind you for personal space, we all became friends and even held spots for each other as we went to get beers throughout the night. We met the guy behind us and his friends first. Then we met the guy on the other side behind us who was a space-encroacher until I asked if I could help him get to where he wanted to go. Then the guy in front of me stepped back and told me his wife said for him to say hi to me – it was my acupuncturist’s husband! By the time we met all these people I had a ample-sized flat-footed clear-view-of-the-stage spot where I could sing and dance and drink and enjoy myself. Then, it was like the set was written just for me. Ya know, those songs you get stuck listening to at a certain period in time? Well, the set opened with my current favorite Dulli song, and I couldn’t have been happier. With my bestie to my back, I looked around, and I couldn’t help but feel all the love that was in that room that night – it was definitely the driving force behind the cool vibe in the audience, and it certainly seemed to be present on the stage as well.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke up still drunk with a smile ear-to-ear that I thought: life's about loving what you got and taking chances and having fun – above all: being in the moment. I stepped away from what I love (derby), and I’m glad I realized the extent of my ties to derby and CCRG. I used to think derby was an obsession, and maybe it was that too at some point, but I really truly love my life in derby, and I couldn’t be more excited to be reentering that world. It’s where I belong. At the same time, I think I’m coming back having reconciled who I am. Before derby I was Tara. For the past 5 years I’ve been Cindy Lop-her (which coincidentally was visible to everyone at the Dulli show, because I accidentally left my change of shirt at home). Now I think I’m seeing how I can be both those people, and being both those people makes me really incredibly happy. It’s still not perfect or easy, but what in life is?

As for taking chances, sometimes I think you just got to take a leap of faith and shake things up a bit, otherwise you’ll never really know if what you have is what you want or if something yet undiscovered is that something more you think you’re looking for. Stepping away from derby made me certain I had (and will again have) what I want. Talking to Greg Dulli after drinking that much was also risky. He, like everyone else that night, pointed to the CCRG patch on my jersey and said “roller derby?” and I gave the same response I had to everyone else that night: “I just came from our final bout of the season, and I left my change of shirt at home…” After that, awkward discussions about derby ensued (although Beatdown will tell you I acted perfectly cool , which I still find hard to believe), and the night ended with me getting schooled by a Dulli superfan who, while having Dulli sign his 25 pieces of crap, explained to me very authoritatively that Dulli’s been clean since blah (he gave a date). Dulli, however, was much nicer, thanked me, and told me he had to get up early the next morning. Was it the best outcome? Maybe – maybe not, but you can’t blame a girl for trying, and sometimes just trying is fun in and of itself!

It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve allowed myself to be fully in the moment – from hanging out at derby to being rejected by Dulli. It was a night where even the bad things were good, and I want to have nights like that more often.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Life is Different on the Outside

When I was young we moved around a lot, not because I'm a military brat, but because my father's job was somewhat political. An election would take place, a new mayor was elected, and before I knew it I'd be coming home from school to a dining room full of packed boxes and my mother swearing nothing was up. I hated moving as a child. Just as soon as I'd made friends and earned the right to no longer be the kid that everyone picked on, we were off, and I'd be back to square one, starting from scratch. Maybe that's why I'm restless. Maybe change is my "normal".

Since I've retired from derby I've enjoyed a lot of alone time. Be it me and my garden or me and the treadmill, I haven't really gone out and been around too many people I don't already know. I thought it was because I can tend toward being a bit of a hermit, but now I'm beginning to think my subconscious knew all along what I seem to just now be figuring out: life's different outside derby, and I don't really like it.

Tonight's kickball game was fun, I guess. I hesitate to pass judgement, because I don't want the people I know who are involved to take it personally or think it has anything to do with the thing they're passionate about - it doesn't. I'm tickled pink that I was invited to take part, but what I saw once I got there was a whole lot of different. The environment was generally inviting, but I'm also a fairly outgoing person who doesn't give a flying fuck what you think of me. I did see teammates who weren't as lucky - no one introducing themselves to them, no one talking to them during the game. It's that same old outsider mentality that large groups of people who know each other tend to fall into - you talk to who you know, and you don't even make an effort to talk to or welcome anyone else.

I knew a fair number of people on the team - friends from college, ex-coworkers, and long-time acquaintances - people with whom I thought I was on a level playing field, and this is what aggravated me the most about tonight... I played 2nd base, yet every time the play was on second an outfielder or the shortstop took over my position - a dude - because apparently my lack of external genitalia instantly says "I'm incompetent, and I need you to do my job for me." Really? Is that really what you think of all women you don't know? This is fucking REC LEAGUE. I paid my $50 for the 6 weeks, so how bout you get up off my ass and let me get my money's worth you assuming cock suckers?! Even if I did suck (which I don't), and even if I didn't know strategy (which I do), you owe it to me as a paying member of this team to PLAY, good or bad. And don't insult my intelligence by telling me strategy that's dead wrong, cause I'm gonna correct you (which I did). JUST BECAUSE I'M A WOMAN DOESN'T MEAN I'M HERE TO FUCK AROUND. Assume I'm here for the same reason you are, and fucking stop treating women like that in general. For real - not cool!

Derby really did spoil me in a lot of different ways, and one of the main reasons I loved doing it was because I knew I was part of a larger movement toward what I still believe is the greater good. First and foremost, in derby men respect women. Yeah, it's cause we own the sport and made it what it is today, but the guys involved in derby really seem to get it. I don't need them to do jack shit for me, and they appreciate me for who I am. Fuck, they care enough to find out who you are before passing judgement, and they NEVER assume you're weak - EVER. I'm shocked, appalled, and quite frankly disgusted by men who by default treat women like they are weak, and I'm, even more shocked, appalled, and disgusted that this is the norm on the outside. My idea of having fun is not you doing something for me. People learn - they become better people - by doing, by trying. No one grows as a person by having something done for them. I'd love it if people's instant reaction was to at least see what someone else is made of before assuming control of the situation. I like to work hard, and I like to hustle, and so do many other people. Don't take that away from us.

Second, for as much bitching as I've heard about any derby league or team being disorganized or not doing all they could be doing, let me assure you that we've got our shit down compare to other adult sports leagues. For Christ's sake, no one ever even bothered to tell me where our fucking kickball games were being held. Yeah, I know we've got a game tonight, but WHERE?! I had to ask, and even then I got answers based on assumptions - like I'd know where some nameless fucking ice rink was located. I don't know the physical layout of every park in Baltimore City, sheesh! And next time you get ready to argue a call with a ref, consider this: we had one ump per game, and he ejected a captain just for addressing him. Derby, you've got it good, and I don't think you know just how good you got it. I didn't. I assumed the world out there was just like the world in here (derby), but man was I wrong.

I've been thinking about a return to home-season derby, but return or not I still have absolutely no good answer for how to deal with the outside-derby world. I can only hope, regardless of my participation, that derby will continue to serve as a good influence on the rest of society. My natural inclination is to run back to derby and again be part of a world I understand and respect, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm inevitably going to have to face the outside world - if not now, in the future.

Lately I feel like I've been running through a maze hitting nothing but dead ends, and I'm not even sure now why I entered the maze in the first place. At least before I knew where the fuck I was. Now I'm lost and I'm not even so sure I want the prize at the end of the maze if I could find it. Still, I think it's for the best if I chill out here for at least a little while longer to make sure I know what I'm doing and gain some perspective.

Unlike my moves as a kid, I'm in control of where I go now. Not every move's gonna be right, but lucky for me I can decide to move back if I so choose. Life's about many things, but a large portion of life is about happiness, and I'm inevitably going to go where I'm most happy and do what makes me most happy. And I don't mind the hustle or working for it either. In fact, I quite like it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Walking Meditation

In the comments section of this week’s previous meditation blog post Dayglo Divine mentioned some drawbacks to the type of meditation I mentioned, particularly as it pertains to people with ADD. I responded by suggesting a walking meditation. In the form of walking meditation I’ve been taught you focus on the small movements that incorporate walking and focus on saying (in your head) the action you're performing as you're performing it.

As an introduction to walking meditation, the process of walking will contain 3 distinct steps that you will repeat over and over, and as I just mentioned, as you perform each step you should say it in your mind. With practice (over time), you can increase the number of steps from 3 to 7 or 8, but increasing the number of steps also increases the difficulty of the meditation. For our purposes I’ll illustrate the steps you would take in a 3-step walking meditation. Here’s how it goes:

  1.  Without shoes, and with 10-15 feet of unobstructed linear space (aka, 10-15 feet in a straight line), begin by standing with the area you’ll use in your walking meditation ahead of you. Focus your gaze downward at a spot on the floor about 5 feet in front of you, with your head at a 45-degree angle. The reason for this is that you want a relaxed posture, but you also will need to see where you’re going. Close your eyes, retract your shoulder blades, and take 10 slow, deep breaths. At the end of the 10th breath, open your eyes and fix your gaze.
  2. Step 1: LIFT. As you break down the steps of walking, the initial step is “lift”. As you bend one knee and raise one heel off the ground, say to yourself: “lift”. When performing each step, you want to slow the action down so that you’re moving at a pace that is peaceful for the meditation – this will seem exceedingly slow compared to how you typically walk.
  3. Step 2: MOVE. As the ball of your foot leaves the ground, say to yourself “move”.
  4.  Step 3: PLACE. As your foot returns to the ground, say to yourself “place”. When I first saw someone demonstrate this walking meditation I asked him after the demo if there was a reason he had performed it walking toe-heel instead of heel-toe. He responded that you should place your foot back on the ground however it feels comfortable to do so. My preconceived notion what that I would walk like I walk when I walk: heel-toe, but then as I was performing the walking meditation for the first time I noticed that it did feel most natural to me to place the ball of my foot on the ground prior to my heel, just as the instructor has. I think it has to do with slowing down the movements that makes toe-heel more natural here. Do whatever feels most comfortable to you.
  5. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until you come to the end of your open area. When you approach the end, stand with both feet together and say to yourself 3 times: “stop” (aka, “stop, stop, stop”).
  6. Say to yourself 3 times: “turn” (aka, “turn, turn, turn”).
  7. Facing the direction in which you can continue the walking meditation, ensure your gaze is fixed and one last time say to yourself 3 times: “stop” (aka, “stop, stop, stop”).
  8. Continue with Steps 1 through 3, focusing on saying the steps as you perform them. If any other thoughts enter your mind during the meditation, pause, acknowledge them, and dismiss them.

For this and any other type of meditation it’s a useful idea to set a timer that has an audible alarm before you start. This way you won’t be distracted by wondering how much time has passed or by checking your watch or cell phone. Set a timer and allow yourself to be immersed in the meditation until that alarm goes off. When it does, bring your focus back to your body and the environment around you. Conclude by taking several more deep breaths, and feel the breath enter your nostrils, the back of your throat, your lungs, and your belly, and feel it release from those areas as well. Ta-da! You’ve done a walking meditation. I’m interested to see what you think if you try this, so let me know J

As you progress, the three Steps: lift, move, place, can become four Steps: lift, move, lower, place, and these four Steps can become five Steps: raise (foot), left, move, lower, place, etc.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Feeding the People & Helping Them ID Fruit

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook then you probably heard about an incident I had at the grocery store several weeks ago in which the cashier could not identify ginger, avocado, or cantaloupe. My first reaction was one of frustration (you work at a grocery store and you can’t identify a cantaloupe?!), but after I posted my initial tweet I actually started to feel really bad, because I realized that for many people in America the identification of fruit outside of the can really is too much to ask. Why? Lower-middle and lower-class Americans simply cannot afford to purchase or eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Let me say that again: There’s a HUGE segment of the American population that cannot afford to purchase or eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Wow, that’s a big fucking problem.

On average my grocery bill can easily get well over $100 a handful of times in a month, but it’s not like I come home with bags upon bags of groceries. I usually have 3 to 4 bags, two of which are nothing but fresh produce – fruits and vegetables – that’s the bulk of my bill. Lucky for me I have a good job that affords me the luxury of being able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but if I were to come on hard times I can surmise that this is one area in which I would have to cut back to save money. And I own a house and drive a car and have another income flowing in without any kids. Imagine I’m a single mother who rents and I have no car – there is little to cut back on “first” other than food. It’s no wonder the incidence of obesity continues to rise as well as the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

For a relative outside like me, I hear statistics pertaining to the persistent degenerative public health crisis on evening news programs daily. I know the incidence of preventative illness relating to the American diet is out of control, and I get angered and frustrated when I actually take a moment or two to think about why we’re in this position. We make people choose between clothing themselves or killing themselves because we’ve been trained to value greed and short-term returns instead of communal wellbeing or even foresight into our own futures. We let ourselves off the hook and justify it as “not our problem”, because it ultimately is an individual’s choice as to what he or she eats and how he or she feeds her family. It’s a choice unless buying fresh vegetables means you can’t afford your bus pass, which you need to get to the two jobs that only pay you minimum wage because not only was college not an option but neither was finishing high school because you had to drop out to help pay for your mother’s medication that wasn’t fully covered by Medicaid, but you weren’t learning much anyhow except how to deal drugs out your locker because this country’s public education system is in the middle of a full-blown crisis, and we’d rather fund a war that helps the rich get richer than buy some fucking books for kids who cannot identify fruits or vegetables, but I digress… I’m an outsider. I’ve never been in any of these situations. If I were, I may think shopping in the Plus-size section is just natural, like when I moved out of children’s sizes and into adults, or I may think getting high blood pressure is just like getting your period for the first time or an erection – all these things are natural, right? They’ve happened to everyone around me or will happen to them when they get older.

Deciding, as a society, to let ourselves off the hook for the obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes health crisis is ridiculous, irresponsible, ignorant, and idiotic, but making this decision and then not providing the proper education to help empower lower-income families to make different or marginally better choices makes us all downright responsible for every negative repercussion that comes from the creation of one more obese child or another person who becomes a Type 2 diabetic. And I don’t give a shit what the law says about responsibility here, because enforcement of the law is funded by the guy who padded his wallet by voting against better social services in the first place, and fuck him in his ear. Luckily, despite all the elements that have seemingly conspired against the individuals who will be the next to be told they now have diabetes, there are resources that exist within communities that help educate and empower the people who are at the greatest risk for losing the most because they cannot identify a cantaloupe.

On September 11 I’ll be a celebrity judge in attendance at the Goddess Gala, a fundraiser for Feeding the People, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to develop and implement a research-based model of nutrition-related in-home care for under-served, low-income diabetics in order to reduce the incidence of diabetes and diabetes related illnesses in Maryland.”  Feeding the People, the organization putting on the gala, provides home-delivered meals, nutrition education, and intensive, ongoing support for low-income diabetics in the Baltimore area. This first-annual Goddess Gala is a costume ball in which by attending attendees will be helping to empower low-income diabetics with meals, education, and ongoing support. While ticket proceeds go toward this effort, there will also be a silent auction of goods that have been donated by local Gala sponsors (like acupuncture sessions from About Chi Acupuncture - where I go to get stuck!). Tickets are $55 each, and in what you’d have likely spent on an evening out, you’ll have a wonderful evening out dressed as a god or goddess, sprite, nymph, or fairy, enjoying dancing, “delectable delights”, and you might even win the costume contest that will be judged in part by me!

Yes, this is a plug for you to help support Feeding the People, but it’s also a plug for you to wake up. Look at what’s going on around you. Vote in elections accordingly if things upset you. Start or participate in something unifying and beneficial instead of something divisive and greedy. Compassion is an accessory that makes everyone look better, and as an added benefit it may help you feel better too.

Tickets are available here until 9/10, the day before the Gala. I realize there’s a CCRG bout that night, so feel free to send any donations my way if you cannot make it, or make one online here. I’ll be making an appearance at the CCRG afterparty dressed like the goddess that I am, and if you don’t already have plans to attend the bout, come support a good cause with me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Meditate

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been sick with a fever and unable to attend last Saturday’s bout, but I’ve been dreaming about derby a lot lately. Up until now if you had asked me “Do you miss it?” I would have said “No.” And it’s been true; I don’t miss the attendance requirements, and I don’t miss feeling like a stranger in my own home. I do miss the camaraderie, I do miss having something to push myself for, and I really do fucking miss having an outlet that lets me full-body slam into a bitch in a controlled and acceptable manner.

Since retirement I’ve joined a recreational kickball team (aka, beer league, as far as I can tell). This past weekend we had our first meet-n-greet/practice, and I found myself both overeager and somewhat annoyed. I was annoyed that the “girls” bunting line is like 2/3 closer to home plate than the “dudes” bunting line, and I was annoyed that there’s two first bases, so you don’t accidentally collide with the person trying to get you out. I was overeager to participate, because, well, I don’t know why, but I wound up continually offering to pitch so I would stay active and so I was forced to stay accountable to my team. Since retirement I’ve also joined a nicer gym, going to classes and running, and I’ve been going to yoga outside of that, but still something seems to be missing.

I left derby to focus on writing, but in all honesty I’ve written less since I retired than when I was skating. Instead, I’ve taken up sewing. That is, I’ve bought a shitload of fabric and started 10 million different sewing projects (999,999 of which I haven’t followed through on). I’ve also started compulsively buying Pyrex in an effort to set up a vintage housewares store on Etsy, but you can probably guess where that stands as well ($500 in with no more than a storefront to show for it!).

I’ve been spending a lot of time at my house, which is a stark contrast from where I was this time a year ago. I love my house – I really do – but now it seems it takes an act of congress to get me out of it, which is probably as equally unhealthy as never spending any time in it.

My big accomplishment since retirement has been my garden, which in all honesty has been a booming success. The woman who mows our lawn tells me that it’s the best garden she’s seen all year – that she’s amazed it was my first time vegetable gardening, and my garden could be featured in a garden magazine. Now, however, fall is near, and the vegetable production is slowing and so is my interest in watering and weeding and fertilizing. Le sigh.

Right about now you’re probably thinking that I intended to write about meditation and instead decided to whine about roller derby retirement – that you caught me fucking up. You’re wrong! (Haha!) Hold onto your trousers, folks, and I’ll explain the super long-winded intro…

Since I was 19 and practiced meditation for the first time I knew it was a powerful thing – a beneficial thing and something that would benefit me if I were to do it regularly. That hasn’t stopped me from not doing it, especially during times where I desperately need it – like now. For me, meditation is like a light cutting through the fog – the more regularly I meditate the more able I am to see things for how they really are. Without meditation I get easily confused, and my all-or-nothing personality darts full-speed ahead in many different directions, hoping I’ll hit and land on something that makes me happy, and I’ve been doing a lot of darting lately. Without clarity it’s hard to tell one way or the other what’s right and what’s wrong – what makes me happy and what makes me miserable – so I’ve decided to challenge myself to meditate regularly for one month to bring myself back to a coherent state of mind (a state that’s desperately needed right now).

So, this blog is for Biroller Disorder (my friend Rob), who both nagged me to blog more and asked me to teach his ADD brain to meditate. I couldn’t find anything online that I felt both explained meditation the way I do it and offered some candor about meditation that I’ve learned over the years.

Simply put, meditation is the act of not thinking. We all go around occasionally explaining stupid behavior with the phrase “I wasn’t thinking”, but that’s an incorrect excuse if you ask me, for if you hadn’t been thinking for about 30 minutes on a daily basis leading up to now (aka, meditating), you probably wouldn’t have done that stupid thing to begin with (and yes, I’m ending this sentence with a preposition). Contrary to popular belief, not thinking is actually really hard. REALLY HARD. So, if you’ve attempted to meditate before and failed, congratulations, you’ve started your meditation practice in the same place as every successful meditater – it’s all downhill from here!

How to Meditate:

First, eliminate distractions and set a time goal. For the time you’ve allotted to attempt to meditate (30 minutes should be good), turn off the phone, lock up the dog, and if you’re like me, make sure the housework is out of the way and the bills have been paid as well. It’s hard enough to focus on not thinking that you want to do your best to nip any nagging thoughts or distractions in the bud. It’s for this reason that I actually find it way easier to meditate anywhere but my house, because there’s always something else I think I should be doing when I’m there, and these thoughts can consume me. Many cities have group meditation sessions. If you’re entirely too distracted at home, try a group session. Regardless, it’s best to approach your time goal with the mentality that this amount of time has been dedicated to meditation, and regardless of your perceived success you won’t do anything else but try to meditate during this time. We allocate time each day to shower (ok, some of us) or eat – don’t feel selfish or guilty taking this meditation time for you. For many of us it really can be an important element of daily self care.

Second, find a comfortable position. When I first began to learn to meditate, I was instructed to always sit – for the love of Buddha, don’t lay down!!! I then felt guilty several years into my practice that my primary meditation locale was horizontal. That’s right, I was a meditation bad-ass! Well, that is until I recently attended a group session and the instructor taught a lying down meditation. Finally, vindication! In all honestly, I can see why noob meditaters are encouraged NOT to lie down: you can easily fall asleep, especially if you’re attempting to meditate right before bed. Do yourself a solid and try sitting upright for a week. After that, consider your dues paid and lie down if you want. Personally, I find it more comfortable, but I do still occasionally meditate sitting up with my legs crossed. When I do, I sit on a thick pillow, which makes things more comfortable. The goal here is comfort. Choose a position you can sit in without pain for the duration of your practice. This actually goes back to distraction – you don’t want to be distracted by pain or discomfort that will make you need to switch positions. Sitting in a chair is acceptable too. Shit, any position is acceptable – just find a comfortable one!

Third, close your eyes. There’s many different types of meditation, and some have you keeping your eyes open, but this ain’t one of them. Again, this relates to eliminating distractions. If your eyes are closed there’s less stimuli to distract you.

Fourth, attempt to meditate – attempt to clear your mind of all thoughts for your specified period of time. If you take nothing else from this “how to”, take this: meditation isn’t a flawless accomplishment – it’s an attempt to hush the mind. An ATTEMPT. Because thoughts enter your mind doesn’t mean you have failed at meditating – in fact, this is a part of every meditation practice! Listen, thoughts are going to enter your mind, and your focus may drift away to hearing a garbage truck outside or a barking dog or the phone, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. There is no fail in a meditation practice. If you find yourself in the middle of thought, acknowledge that you’re thinking that thought without being hard on yourself and let it go. Go immediately back to attempting not to think, and continue to do this as many times as you need to during the timeframe you’ve allotted yourself to meditate. Everyone has good days and bad days – even seasoned meditaters (mmm, why am I craving homefries now?!). In every type of meditation practice I’ve been privy to, there is no good or bad – there just is. No judgment. No accomplishment. No failure. Meditation just is, so find comfort in the fact that you really can’t do this wrong as long as you’re trying to do it.

But how will you know when you ARE doing it??? Well, there is no ethereal state that you’ll enter that will let you know you are successfully meditating. A really good session for me is losing track of time – having 30 minutes (or an hour or so) pass that have felt like 5. Meditation isn’t meant to be done once, so over time you’ll be able to judge what a really good session feels like to you, and over time you’ll also begin to notice the benefits of a regular practice. For me, I’m not as quick to anger or stress, and my mind is clearer, which means I’m generally more happy when I do meditate regularly.

For those of you who maybe have meditated in the past but haven’t lately (although you’ve been meaning to get back into it) and for those new to meditation, I’d like to encourage you to be a positive influence on me and join me in a 30-day meditation challenge. Starting today, set aside time each day – be it 10 minutes or an hour and a half – to meditate. Let me know how you’re doing with it, and I’ll share here as well. Feel free to send questions my way. I’m certainly no meditation guru, but I have been doing it for (gulp!) nearly 13 years, so I’d be happy to share my experiences with you. It’s easiest to reach me on Twitter (@cindylop-her), but I’ll post any Q&A on here as well – you know, to also encourage my writing J Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings!

I've always craved more freedom than I’ve had, and perhaps I craved more than usual the summer before I got my license. I was 15, and I was spending my 3rd summer in a row living and working on a 300-some acre ranch that was also a summer camp. I only made $40 a week under the table, but being away from the rules of my parents for 3 months was well worth the shitty pay – not that my parents’ rules were all that difficult for me to follow, but they were rules nonetheless, and I’ve never really liked following rules. Late that summer my parents came up to visit me for the day. I remember it being a fun day, but the only specific I can remember is something my father said that took me by surprise then and still does to this day. My father was concerned and wanted to have a serious discussion with me about my weight. He said that I had appeared to have gained a significant portion of weight since being at the ranch that summer, and if I didn’t work to get it off now my friends might notice when I went back to school. Not to mention, if I perpetually ignored weight gain, I wouldn’t get a boyfriend and no man would ever want to marry me, because every man knows that a woman is always her thinnest when she gets married. Every cell that comprised my 150-pound body went into shock, and this was the moment that I developed a new level shame and self-consciousness regarding my body. I went on to gain 15 more pounds before I graduated high school, and during that time I was ashamed. I learned to lie about my weight, deny it, and obsess over it all at the same time, and through it all I kept silent. After all, if a higher number was something to be ashamed of, why would I ever want to share it with someone – anyone?!

Sometimes the things that hold us back the most are the ones we’re taught to keep silent. Last week I organized a Biggest Loser-style competition between my friends and coworkers, with the idea being that I’ve gained 15 pounds since I retired from derby, and quite frankly I need the aspect of competition to motivate me to figure out how to live and move after derby, which is something I’ve been struggling with (“what do you mean I can’t eat 4,000 calories a day and still accidentally lose 5 lbs?! Oh, yeah, cause I’m not skating 12 hours a week…”). The competition will last 60 days, it’s a $10 buy-in, and the person at the end who loses the highest percentage of weight wins the pot. In my emails with the participants I’ve been persuading them to use these 60 days wisely and create good, healthy habits that will extend beyond the end of the competition (aka, don’t use these 60 days to starve yourself for $100). I’ve explained how weights will be collected weekly and percentage lost will be shared with everyone (not the actual numbers on the scale), and I even tried to make everyone feel more comfortable about sharing their weight with me, the person recording things, by sharing my weight with them, which at the time was 187 pounds. Still, I’ve received numerous emails from people who want to participate but who have expressed resistance and panic at sharing their weekly weight with just me – the most nonjudgmental 187-pound woman there is. The first such email I got was from a very close friend who doesn’t want me or anyone else to judge her, to which I replied “I judge you more for feeling that way than I do for however much you may weight.” Harsh? Maybe, but it angers and frustrates me that so many people are slaves to the number on the scale – hell, almost everyone I know is a slave to that number! The most disturbing thing is that this idea that weight is something to be ashamed of and never talked about spans all sorts of different people – big, small, short, and tall. One of my coworkers who put up the biggest fight is literally one of the tiniest people participating. This got me thinking – just how many things that restrict our freedom do we impose on ourselves?

There’s seriously too much other bullshit we’re surrounded with and inundated by daily that we only make ourselves more miserable by enslaving ourselves to a number. And in the case of weight, one of the main reasons I think people allow the number on the scale to have so much control over them is because we continually reinforce each other to keep it a secret, which breeds denial, guilt, and a host of other negative emotions that have an affect on a person’s ability to overcome their situation, so I say don’t keep it a secret! For the past few years I’ve been really open about my weight, which has not only allowed me to feel better about myself but it’s also helped those I’ve shared with realize they aren’t alone and, hey, maybe this number isn’t such a big deal.

If you feel guilty or ashamed of your weight, I’d encourage you to do two things. First, tell someone how much you weigh. Say it matter-of-factly, say it proudly, just don’t say it sadly, negatively, or ashamedly. By doing this you’re proving to everyone who hears you that there is another option – that they don’t always have to stress over that number themselves. Second, watch what you say regarding weight to other people – even directing negative comments toward yourself perpetuates the stereotypes that do nothing more than fuck with people’s heads and make it harder for them to be their best selves. Contribute toward the creation of healthy attitudes – attitudes that make living life more pleasant for all of us.

I’m certainly not perfect, and I will admit that I did panic for a fleeting moment or two when I got married this past April, as my father’s words got stuck in a loop in my head: “a woman is always her thinnest when she gets married”. Those words that were once uttered over 15 years ago in less than 2 minutes time have had a huge impact on my life – a huge NEGATIVE impact. That’s the thing: there are people in life, some of whom you love and trust and respect dearly, who will knowingly or unknowingly encourage you to enslave your mind under the guise of wanting the best for you, but in the end only you know what’s truly best for you. Luckily for me, I knew well enough 15 years ago that I would never marry a man who didn’t want to marry me because I was fat. In my book, being fat’s way more acceptable than being a conceited judgmental douche bag, and I’d sooner fuck a fatty myself than a traditionally handsome fellow who’s rotting from the inside out. And if you don’t feel the same way about me, then you can take a hike and the cage you’re trying to put me in with you, because I refuse to place myself there. You may think I’m caged by looking at my size 16 pants or XL workout tops, but you’d be wrong. I’m more free than most girls who could slink between the bars, and my wish is that everyone could be this free!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

That Time of the Month

Anxious to leave work today, I could hardly wait to get to my car so I could listen to a new-to-me Twilight Singers album I just downloaded, and before I had the chance to exit the garage I found myself wondering for the millionth time just what exactly “it” is that makes me so drawn to Dulli as a lyricist. On the surface, it’s the relentless exhibit of desperation he’s willing to endure in exchange for a mere glimpse of love or lust or redemption. Over and over he manages to capture that brief and all too quickly forgotten moment where we leave ourselves completely and utterly exposed – a moment of frightening exhilaration in which (against all better judgment) we put ourselves out there, usually only to be rejected. And unlike me he’s able to convey all that through a single lyric. He’s truly an amazing storyteller, I thought. Then I remembered I was ovulating, and the $9.99 I spent earlier in the day at the iTunes store started to make a hell of a lot more sense.

I’ve read that men are more attracted to a woman who is ovulating, and I don’t doubt that fact – survival of the fittest and all – but I can’t help but wonder if it’s not ovulation itself that makes a woman more attractive but instead the way ovulation makes a woman feel and how she presents herself based on that feeling that makes her more attractive. I tend to suspect it’s the latter, which made me wonder if there isn’t a better time of the month to write erotic narrative. I think I’m onto something…

I’ve always wanted to respond to Bust’s open call for one-handed reads, because I think it would be fun to write one, but much like an old married couple – me and writing – I’m usually not in the mood. Still, it remains something I think I’d like to try one day, and I think that today my overly analytical mind has stumbled on which days I should attempt such writing. Good for me. And good thing I have an app for that too: AppBox Lite (it includes a cycle tracker, and it’s dead on). Now all I need are ideas...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

First Steps

Last night I finally went to a yoga class that my friend, Sunny, has been trying to drag me to for weeks. It’s not that I didn’t want to go before, but we just couldn’t get our schedules coordinated, or the class was cancelled. Not to mention, in all honestly, that I’ve been a bit stingy with my during-the-week after-work time, since I’m now retired from derby and no longer HAVE to be anywhere after work. I’ve been getting kind of squirrely when I do make plans to do something after work, and I find myself feeling rebellious and pissy when I have to follow a set time schedule. It’s childish and selfish, and worst of all it’s not like I’m doing anything else with my time. I retired because I want to write, but I just can’t seem to make writing happen either organically (“Oooh, it’s nice outside – I should sit on the porch and write!”) or when I schedule it (it’s in my calendar to dedicate 2 hours to writing each Sunday, and I’ve yet to do it). It’s pathetic. So because I wasn’t doing anything else last night, I had no excuse not to go to yoga.

When I picked up Sunny and asked her where we were going, I was intrigued: a warehouse where soap is made. I couldn’t help but laugh and ask, “So, it’s like Fight Club, but with yoga instead of fighting?” “Kinda,” she said, although not seeming convinced by her own answer. After a short walk through a confusing maze of plywood hallways we arrived at the class, which was being held in a small free space inside a warehouse that two sisters use to make soap. I was instantly hit with the intense smell of bergamot. As my all-time favorite yoga instructor (my lucky day!) guided us through the night’s poses, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in this perfect place that I just didn’t want to leave. The place itself was an unexpected yoga studio, with the loud booming industrial fans making it hard at times to hear the instructions we were being given, but it was a completely functional space, nonetheless. It was better than a yoga studio.

I left the class happy, calm, and relaxed, and as an added bonus, instead of smelling like a dirty gym sock I smelled glorious – the strong clean smell of bergamot had been infused into my clothes and hair. The whole evening was wonderful, yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for myself. Here I was, loving that I had been surrounded by creative people who work for themselves and simultaneously hating the fact that my ass is so lazy and I cannot seem to get my shit together.

In recent years I’ve found myself rather jealous of people who have jobs unlike mine and especially jealous of people who do what they want and work for themselves. Sometimes I look around at my nine-to-five environment and think to myself "How the fuck did I get here? And how do I get out?!" Don't get me wrong, I'm "living the dream" in that I've successfully climbed the corporate ladder, and I'm getting to do awesome things, but they're for someone else, and that  doesn’t motivate me. I feel like a caged bird, and the only song I’m singing is the “get me the fuck out of here” song. I need to be doing awesome things for myself. And why shouldn’t I? Look at the sisters whose warehouse we used last night, look at our yoga instructor, and look at my friend Sunny who’s about to start working full time with her sister’s new enterprise (@Curbside_Cafe) – a burrito truck that’s already well known around town and isn’t even 6-months old. Luckily, I find it difficult to be jealous of my friends and people I know – I’m happy for them, actually, and I want to be just like them, so what’s stopping me?

When I played derby, if I was having a problem or struggling with something as a player, I had a handful of coaches I could go to and ask for help, and I had 50-some women (and a handful of men) encouraging me and pushing me to be better. Now it’s hard to find the motivation. Sure all the rewards will be mine if I can start and actually do something, but I can’t seem to get past myself as my own worst enemy. I have no one to turn to and ask for help, and worse yet I have no one to answer to but myself, and unfortunately I’m rather lenient… I know what you’re thinking: If she really wants this as bad as she says she does, then why isn’t she doing anything? I’ve been thinking the same thing, so today on my way in I decided that I would do one thing that would bring me closer to my goal today. And tomorrow I’ll do something else that brings me one step closer.  

It sure took me long enough to attend that amazing yoga class last night, but I’m glad I finally made it. And having attended already really makes me want to go back next week, which I might not have done if I hadn’t gone this week. Funny how that works.

As for writing again and getting more material published, I’m not quite sure what I’m so afraid of. Maybe I’m afraid writing full time will be different than I envision it to be – equally as unfulfilling as what I’m doing now. Then again, maybe it will be different, but maybe it will be better than I expected – like yoga on the floor of a soap factory. Time to take that step.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mindful Consumption

Since my husband’s at-work injury in March and the subsequent hit our personal finances have taken due to his claim having been initially denied (and still making its way through the legal system), I’ve been hypersensitive about scrutinizing our consumption of everything from entertainment to food and necessities. That is, I’m counting every fucking penny. It’s been stressful, however having been forced to examine our habits has been eye opening, and at times I’ve found myself lured into a moral conundrum as to whether or not I should compromise my beliefs and shop at places like Wal-Mart, all in the name of saving a dime.

I’m ashamed to say I have turned a blind eye to my moral compass several times over the last few months, and I’m disgusted that I’ve done so. Wal-Mart was the first company I placed on my list of entities I refuse to support, and they’ve been on the list since I worked there as a teenager. It was the first time I saw some really fucked up shit come from an employer; randomly cutting employees’ hours at the end of a term so they couldn’t qualify as a “full-time employee” and receive healthcare benefits and gross discrimination against women (for which I’m actually part of a class-action lawsuit), just to  name a few. At first I didn’t know I had a list – I thought I just hated Wal-Mart, a former employer – but over the years as I learned more disturbing facts about more businesses my list eventually grew. Then, I suppose I developed another unwritten mental list – this time a list of places I should support because I like what they do or because they’re a local alternative to otherwise big business, so they support my local economy. I think I’ve taken for granted my list-making skills, because not everyone seems to have these lists.

Earlier this week I noticed a fellow patron at Dunkin Donuts. His gross obesity combined with the selection of his “regular” – a black coffee and 2 old fashioned – is what initially got my attention. Was he trying to kill himself, I thought. As I watched him struggle to fit back into his car, I wondered if I should have said something, but decided I’d look like an asshole no matter how compassionate my intent. As I pulled up to the 4-way intersection outside the Dunkin Donuts, I noticed a BP station, and I wondered who still gets gas from them after their big fuckup?! Low and behold, Mr. 2 Old Fashioned is at the BP station pumping gas while simultaneously choking himself on a donut. Had the light not turned green as I noticed him, I envisioned myself yelling out the window, “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!” Then I realized he wasn’t. Surely, no one at the BP station was thinking – especially not when 2 of the other 3 corners of the intersection are populated by other gas stations that could just as easily be patronized (and who actually had lower-priced gas!).

No one thinks. It’s an epidemic! Yet, I’m not surprised. We’re conditioned from a young age to not think, to not question, and to not rock the boat. Honor your father and mother. Mind your elders. Regurgitate what’s been said to you by teachers in order to keep moving forward in your education. Do what your boss tells you to do. Follow the rules. Well, you know what? Sometimes the rules are ridiculous. Sometimes what others tell you to do is harmful. Sometimes your apathy indirectly supports measures you’re against, like higher taxes or the abuse of our financial system by big banking institutions (do you shop… do you bank at a national bank or a local one?).

If there’s one thing I could impart to you today is to start living your life with true integrity. Wake up and realize the potential consequences of your actions. Think before you act. Remove the veil of selfishness and greed and see how the world really works. It’s disturbing – frightening even – but if you turn a blind eye to your participation in that which you hate, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Although this examination of the impact you have on people and things is useful in all areas of your life, it’s particularly useful with regards to consumption, which is why I recommend you start your practice of mindfulness there. Unfortunately in our society – in our world – money is power. If we can control the revenue stream to divert money from those entities who have a negative impact to other entities who have a positive impact we actually can control our futures. But, we have to do this on a massive scale, which is why it’s important to teach others to think and question the motivation behind that which they’ve been told to do.

But what about those people who don’t have the best interest of others in mind and who use mindfulness for selfish reasons? I can’t help but think about BP and Halliburton and the shortcuts and poor planning they implemented just to get those oil rigs up and running, so the cash flow could start sooner. Their greed-driven satisfaction that this could “never happen” and their not having an actual disaster plan in place is commonplace in many areas of business. I imagine someone at BP having been told by their boss when the rigs were being built that they must meet the build deadline to meet the quarter’s sales projections. That person’s individual willingness to turn a blind eye and accept the contractor’s notion that an explosion could never happen is absurd, but even more absurd is that BP allowed that person to make that decision. Looking back, I wonder if the money they made by speeding up the timeline to pump that first gallon of oil and make that first buck quicker makes up for the costs they will incur by the cleanup. They might have still actually made money off their decision to be reckless even after the cleanup is said and done, but their stock has plummeted and hopefully people will stop choking their thoughts with donuts, wake up, and stop patronizing BP all together.

The oil has been gushing relentlessly since April 20, but the greed has been gushing relentlessly for a long while before then. Next time you go to pay for anything, think about the implications of what you’re supporting through making that purchase. Not every company kills puppies or destroys wildlife, but everyone has an agenda. If you don’t know what it is, research it, and next time you go to make a purchase consciously decide if you’re willing to support that agenda. You owe it to yourself to consider what you’re funding, because like it or not there are very real implications for your actions, and sometimes they even affect you. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fessing Up: The “R” Word

It came as a surprise to me this morning that news of my retirement mentioned via Twitter came as a surprise to a fellow league mate and friend. I suppose I expected her to make the connection after I just haven’t been to practice in a month or so, but then I realized this evasive retirement technique is indeed confusing, and there’s no real reason for it other than my initial motivation: leaving skating is hard.

A large part of me hasn’t wanted to bring up the “R” word in any formal setting, because then I knew I’d have to mention it on here, and I’d really like to continue to live in the bubble where I assume that you readers out there read this blog because you like my writing or what I have to say regardless of my participation in derby (or focus on derby in the blog), but I’m not so sure that’s the case, and that scares me. Why? Well, the reason I’ve decided to retire is so that I have the time to make the transition to write as a full-time job, and I simply can’t make this transition while skating. We all know how much time derby requires, and I refuse to disrespect the sport and women I love by only participating half-ass, which I have been doing since the very beginning of this season. In a perfect world I would skate until I blow out every body part twice, but this world isn’t perfect, and I feel like I’m losing time to do the other things in life that I’ve wanted to do.

Over the years I’ve watched hundreds of women retire. Some stick around for a while, but most drop off the face of the earth. I never got that until now. There are a lot of conflicting feelings associated with leaving derby, mainly a loss of identity. The reason why we drop off the face of the earth is because the initial separation is confusing and scary. How does one start over outside the derby world? For five years I’ve answered more to “Lop-her” than I have my legal name. Who am I now? Am I no longer Cindy Lop-her because I don’t wear skates several times a week? But I like Cindy Lop-her more than I do the person on my driver’s license – I don’t want to go back to being that insecure, self-conscious person! It took a non-derby friend to tell me that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. That over the last five years I have become Cindy Lop-her full time, whether that’s how I’m formally addressed or not. I own who I am regardless of my status participating in a sport. Still, it’s difficult, and I have to remind myself not to revert to a lesser form almost daily. My mindset in the gym is a good example of that. When skating, I felt empowered that I was this 5’2” 175-lb “big girl” running like a champ on the treadmill. I held my head high and pushed myself far. When I ran I thought about the positive influence I might have on people, showing other big girls they can do whatever they want and challenging everyone else to think differently about a person’s ability based on their outside appearance. Last week I caught myself on the treadmill, 10-pounds heavier, without focus, and for the first time in a long time I felt insecure and unconfident. I felt like the people behind me were laughing instead of being impressed. And then I realized that they don’t know me from Adam. They didn’t know I had retired. Hell, they didn’t ever know I skated in the first place! Why was I allowing my perception of their judgment of my retirement affect my running?! I adjusted my attitude, and when I did that I resumed running like I used to.

Derby’s at times a conundrum: you learn all these valuable lessons within the sport that directly translate to life – give it your all, you can do anything you put your mind to, and practice like you play – but when it comes time to put these lessons into practice outside of derby, it can be a struggle like it was for me at the gym. Stepping back into the real world can be like entering a room that’s pitch black – just the thought of being there can cause panic – but let’s be real, we’re the same people on the track or in the dark, even though it may not feel like it. The only difference is that the track is well lit and we can see. But just like the room where the track’s located, even the room that’s pitch black has a light switch – we just have to find it. In this case, the switch is something within ourselves – it’s something we already have access to. For many of us, we learned how to turn it on because we joined derby. We learned how to work toward something that’s difficult to attain, we learned how to empower ourselves and others, and we learned how to deal with adversity. We have all the resources we need to turn on any switch in any room we enter, and that’s something we all need to remember, retired or not. Not only do we have the ability to replicate these things outside of derby, but we also have the ability (and the responsibility) to share how to do these things with people who don’t even know what derby is (and, yes, they must live under rocks). This is what I feel I must do with my writing.

Losing my very readership because I want to pursue being able to write more is something I’ve been struggling with, and although I feel like y’all don’t need me to pass you a flashlight on the track anymore, I would love it if you’d join me off the track and help pass out flashlights to non-derby people alike. That isn’t to say I want everyone to quit along with me, I’m just hoping that you’ll take what you’ve learned from derby and share it a bit with people who aren’t involved, while occasionally checking in here and reading my thoughts as I share them with a larger audience (same mission, larger venue). I’m in the process of specing out a new website that will merge this blog with my cooking blog and also provide a place where I can talk about a third cool thing if I want and post links to other things I’m writing. Eventually this address will direct you to the new site, where I will have an entire archive of Big Derby Girls Don’t Cry posts, as they exist here. It’s been a long, fun run. Through this site I’ve met many amazing people who inspire me to continue to push to elicit positive change, and I’m being 100% honest when I say that I couldn’t have skated like I skated or written like I’ve wrote if it wasn’t for you. As much as this blog seems like it’s intended to help and empower others, it’s gone leaps and bounds to help and empower me too. Thank you.

As for derby, I’m not 100% severed yet. I’m still an LLC owner for my league, but I will be taking a year off admin duties to get the writing up and running. And you can bet your ass that I’ll be at all our bouts (and maybe even some of yours) either in a non-skating capacity or as a spectator. I’m not completely giving up derby. I don’t think I could ever do that! After all, it IS the most awesome and amazing sport on the planet, and I’m committed to helping it reach a larger audience through whatever means in which I may be involved in the future. Derby’s in my blood. 

Until next time…

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Real Leaves

It’s been slightly over a month since I sowed my first seeds indoors and slightly less than a month since my lettuce, beets, and onions were either sown or transplanted directly into the ground, and I have to say that for a first-time gardener I’m amazed nearly every day by something green. Somehow I’ve managed to make it to 31 without ever having been taught or shown anything relating to gardening. Like many children I spent a lot of time with my mother when I was a young child, and ever since I can remember she has hated dirt and yard work, so I was never exposed to growing anything as a child. When I got older my father at times had a small garden, but he wasn’t the best gardener. Even still, like many people I’ve been talking to over the last month who are self-proclaimed gardeners, he was fairly successful at bringing the vegetables he did grow to harvest by just winging it. And whatever it was that he did wing, he didn’t share with me, which was likely due to my lack of interest at the time. My history with plants is that I kill them, but it isn’t for a lack of trying. I’ve always wanted to know how to keep them alive.

Everything I’ve read about gardening and everything I’ve done over the past month with the little green things is completely new to me, as this is my first real attempt at keeping something alive that isn’t a houseplant that’s been gifted to me (“Oh, great, another present that’s going to die in a few months – thank you so much!”). It’s my first time seeing how something grows from a seed and progresses through its various stages of planthood (I just made that up), encountering adversity nearly every single step of the way.

I suppose the first thing that can go wrong with a plant is that the seed it would otherwise emanate from never actually germinates. This only happened to one type of seed I planted – spearmint. I hear this is ironic, because mint is invasive and typically spreads into places you don’t want it to grow, but I’ve tried germinating seeds twice now with absolutely no success. As if I wasn’t as careful as could be the first time – sowing my seeds on a table littered with my taped-together 6-page spreadsheet and Vegetable Gardening for Dummies book amongst other hand-written notes about each plant – I was even more careful the second time, assuming that I accidentally planted deeper than a quarter inch previously. Still, no dice.

The other seeds that did germinate have also had a varied success rate. All the other seeds germinated, but many never got to develop their real leaves. I started worrying about my plants as soon as the seeds were covered in soil. Would little green plants really grow from the seeds? Was I prepared to deal with the new seedlings when they did come up? Would I be able to cultivate them appropriately and actually be able to plant some in my garden? I read all I could on how to care for the new seedlings – mainly the amounts of water and light they should receive, but I also read about petting the tops of them so that the energy of each plant would be concentrated in their core and they would grow to become short and sturdy with a thicker stalk instead of tall and spindly with a thinner stalk. I did get a little pleasure when I read about this method and that its successful outcome is to be short, sturdy, and thick, like me, but mainly I was amazed at how intuitive this method actually is – finally, I could seemingly understand SOMETHING about plants! Not wanting sickly spindly seedlings, I pet my seedlings every day. I can’t really tell if it’s working, since I don’t know what they would look like if I didn’t pet them, but I do it on the assumption that it’s helping.

The other day I was looking at my seedlings and I felt as if they have been the same size for a really long time. Shouldn’t the leaves get bigger and the stalks taller and thicker? Then several days later I noticed something weird: something appeared to be growing straight out the top of some of my seedlings. At first it looked like it was maybe the bud of a new stalk, but after several days I realized that what I had seen growing are what are called real leaves. Until then, I thought the other leaves WERE the real leaves. I had heard the term “real leaves” before, but I assumed that fake leaves wouldn’t look like leaves at all. It was then that I realized the plants I had decided to grow didn’t all just coincidentally start out having only two leaves and that this was going to happen with ALL my seedlings (hopefully). For some reason this process amazes me. Since I learned about real leaves, I’m noticing seedlings everywhere that don’t yet have their real leaves or are just beginning to get them, and as silly as it sounds I feel like I can relate to them. They aren’t just weeds, they’re plants, and the fact that this is happening to plants everywhere (without human intervention) seems like (for lack of a better word) a miracle. How is it that I can fret so much over my little seedlings and still have 40% of them die, while neglected wild seedlings are successfully growing outside between well-worn sidewalk cracks?!  But that’s exactly it: they aren’t neglected. They exist and continue to exist solely because they’re getting exactly what they need from their environment – I guess this is how someone coined the term Mother Earth, which I never got before right now. It’s my desire to control nature itself that introduces some of the problems, so as a gardener my goal should not be to “grow plants” but to try to recreate the natural environment in which the plants I hope to cultivate would naturally grow. I should stop focusing on methods and actions to grow plants; I should instead focus on understanding how the forces of nature work and go with the flow of my plants with that in mind.

I may sound like a nut (J calls it “releasing my inner hippie”), but since my plants got their real leaves and I had this realization, I’m looking at the world around me through brand new eyes. I’m amazed by the idea that the thing that keeps the green things green and thriving is the same thing that keeps me alive and thriving, and I’m even more amazed that for my entire life I’ve been so ignorant of this link between all living things and that for better or worse I’ve been taught over time to think of myself as somehow separate from the natural process of life. I think I got my first glimpse of my connection to the life I see in these real leaves when my dad passed away. It was shocking, but I couldn’t in any way rationalize why it shouldn’t have happened given the contributing factors. It’s just how things work. There didn’t seem to ever be any point in denial. Then, when my grandmother passed away several months ago, I saw her die a very different death. She essentially died of old age and natural causes. The process of death was so slowed down that for once I got to see an extended snapshot of the middle of the process that’s usually very quick or hidden, because we don’t like to see it. We usually think of life in two ways – alive or dead – but I got to see the transition with my grandmother, and I was comforted by it. It made sense to me. I could understand how and why it was happening, and I really think more people would have a greater respect for life if they got to see that transition. I’ve never seen a baby born, but I hear it’s “a miracle”, and I expect that it’s the opposite transition into life that makes people feel that way about it. The deceleration of energy or the acceleration of energy, the transitions remind us that there’s something there we can’t see that we otherwise take for granted in daily life.

I guess in the end we can’t really expect our lives or life in general to be as enjoyable or respected as it could be if we were all able to see and understand the nature of life itself. I may be late to the party, but sadly I think that some people will go their whole lives without seeing this side of life, and I’m glad I’m finally seeing it. Some people will remain satisfied with artificial flower arrangements and fake foliage their whole lives because it’s easy, while others at different points in their lives may choose real leaves, which are undoubtedly more work, but also undoubtedly more rewarding. Within the work of the observation of life lies the realization that the things that come out of the leaves aren’t just for decoration – one more thing we can classify and enjoy for a bit before putting in a box and forgetting. They’re more than that. Within them lie a method of understanding life from a more connected and actually quite practical point of view, which can not only improve the quality of our own lives but also improve the quality of life as we know it in general. And to think that all this is free for the taking; everywhere we go seedlings defy the odds and peak through the cracks of sidewalks and otherwise completely paved road surfaces. Instead of seeing them as a disruption in the artificial order we’ve tried to assign, next time you see a seedling poking out of a crack think of what it had to go through to get there. In the landscape of the lives we’ve created for ourselves, it may at times be the only real thing that persists to exist. It’s that will of life to keep on living, of energy to keep on flowing that makes us who we are, even if we don’t know the difference between real leaves and fake ones quite yet.