(disjointed thoughts) on: this summer skin

I measured myself the other day. Pull across widest part of your breasts, your hips. Bend to one side and find a crease — that’s your waist. The numbers were unfamiliar to me, someone who knows life off the rack, a former S, now generally an M.

I measured my height. 53 inches from collarbone to big toe. There I was, naked in front of the big mirror in my bedroom. The bedroom I share with my boyfriend, that is. Me learning to say “ours” and not “his.”

The dogs liked the measuring tape, maybe it could be a toy. If I didn’t think they’d choke on it I’d let them tote it around, the $1 package I’d ordered online, because I didn’t feel like finding one in a store. And $1. I mean, that’s great. That’s a great price to pay to know how big you are. How small. How flat, how round.

I’m going to be a bridesmaid in a February wedding. This is why I was measuring, seeing what size dress I need to buy. I wasn’t surprised by my chest, by my hips and butt. Those things I have come to terms with. My waist was more inches than I thought a waist should be. I sucked in, pulled the tape tighter.

That’s better.

I think about my body so often. I live in it and in yoga they tell us that we are not our bodies. Our bodies are a vessel, they carry our spirits. I like my spirit bigger breasted and flatter tumm-ied but maybe that’s just me still learning. I’m still in flux.

You know how it feels to be in flux in your mind. In your life. That is me every moment (you too, maybe). And in my body. I want parts of it to look different. Sometimes I think it looks great. Usually I think it’s fine. More often than I care to ponder, I despise parts of it. Or worse, I think about how I’ll be better off when those parts change.

My body changes every day. I step on the scale sometimes. I tell myself not to, but I do. Dripping after a shower or after a workout, wondering how much of me is strong, how much of me is water, how much of me is that pasta I had two, well, three servings of. Fuckin carbs, I think.

The cool thing about my body is that I am in control of it. I am healthy and for this I am generally unaware and sometimes blisfully grateful. Thank you, body.

There is the soft swell of my stomach. I will never have abs. There is the spiky black hair that sprouts from my legs, under my arms. I have to shave. Or rather, I choose to shave. There’s my big-ish nose. I remember the time a boy I’d met at a bar texted me, “You have a flat chest and a big nose.” I thought, “Yes, yes I do.”

I think I have two warts on my right foot and much to the horror of most people I can imagine, I chew my fingernails off rather than clip them. Well, I guess that’s hygiene.

My thighs rub together and the top parts of my arms jiggle when I wave them wildly which is actually a thing I do a lot.

That’s good, though, to wave one’s arms wildly. That’s happiness.

I am happy, every day. I am other things too. Mostly anxious, always planning, very rarely, but enough so that it can hurt, depressed. My body revolts, my stomach pushing against my jeans when I’d rather it curve into my backbone. My knees hurt after a long day of sitting cross-legged. I sit cross-legged in dresses, at fancy restaurants. I wind into myself because that’s how I find comfort.

I think one of my hips is higher than the other. No, I know it is. The funny and impossible thing is that I always forget which one.

My dog is constantly licking me and in the summer when I wear a permanent sheen of sweat she is the lickiest dog in the world. She likes lotion on my legs or ketchup on my fingers. My body is a vessel of sorts for her, too. I like that.

To exist in this world we’d do well to accept our bodies. We certainly don’t have to (sometimes I haven’t, others times I am content with the capabilities of my form) but it helps a lot. Recently my sister pointed to a mole on my back, “Have you always had that?” My boyfriend peered at said mole, touched it lightly. “She has for as long as I’ve known her.”

I don’t think I’d ever heard anything so romantic.

To love your own body, that’s good, so very good. It’s an added bonus to have someone else peer at it, lovingly, knowing every spot on your skin. I sit in this moment, 100 percent love and nothing else, and feel OK in my body. This will pass, I will and I won’t be OK. But for now, I am more than measurements and I am more than the clothes I wear and I am more than comparisons to others. I am closed-eyes-known-to-the-touch-skin to someone else. Oh, that feels good.

the usual: birthday musings

I always feel like writing something on the eve of a birthday. I want to take stock, I guess, of what I have, where I am. Also, of where my sister is, where we are. Twins, ya know?

I am one of a million blogs in the dark hole that is the internet, which is what has kept me from writing lately. I write, everyday, of course, for my job. But not about myself. That has taught me a lot but mainly, it has humbled me. I’m a tiny, tiny part in this big old world. My thoughts feel a lot less important. And that’s OK.

So, here I am feeling a little unimportant (in the universe — I know I am very important to a select few humans and, for sure, to my dog). I will be 26 tomorrow. I feel young. I used to feel older with every year, but perhaps I’m just Benjamin Button-ing my way through life. I feel more comfortable in my skin than I did a year ago, and a hell of a lot more comfortable than I felt a decade ago, at sweet 16. Youth isn’t wasted on the young, it’s tried out on them. It puts them through the wringer, only to emerge, (sometimes), as adults, better for wear.

I’ve moved in with my boyfriend. That’s new. That’s very … 26. I take my work home with me … sometimes. 26? Sure. I haven’t had to ask my parents for money in, I think, six months. They still give me some.

When I first started dating my boyfriend I was griping about something, being broke, forgetting to do laundry, etc. I said, “Gosh, I’m not an adult. We aren’t adults!” He smiled and cocked his head. “No, I am. I am an adult.”

Which must mean that I am too.

26 means I no longer live with my sister, for the first time in our lives. (I work with her, though. This is important and maybe even necessary). 26 is balance. But it’s always been balance. Booze to food, exercise to sleep, booze to exercise, booze to work. You get the idea. 26 is taking more deep breaths than usual and not taking your shit day out on the ones you love.

I thought, this morning, my last day of 25, how very lucky I am. I’d just picked up media passes for an arts festival in town. I’d made it to yoga this morning and had a dripping iced coffee in my hand. I was headed to work, where I’d be busy all day, dripping, again, my lunch all over my keyboard, the articles I’m editing. At one point my sister would sit across from me, in our building’s foyer, both of us cross-legged and knocking out arts previews. She’d smile gingerly, knowing I was struggling with mine. This small gesture would help me finish it.

I sit here now, two dogs at my feet, a seemingly endless supply of boxed wine at my disposal.

26, it turns out, is not grad school. It is not traveling the world and it is not moving closer to home (yet). It is not marriage and kids. It’s also not online dating and lonely nights. It’s this. Stress headaches and the occasional noodle bowl but mainly salads if I can help it and sour beers and pink wigs and dog walks and beach picnics (sandy, windy, but goddamnit if I don’t get an Instagram every time) and sleeping in and going to bed early and making two lunches every night and laughing every single day with my best friend, coworker, and sister. You know, the gal who also turns 26 tomorrow.

So, yeah, my words aren’t that important. But they matter to me. They are me taking notes and trying my damnedest not to keep score. No one is winning or losing in this stretch — maybe in five, ten years we will feel losses more acutely. We will gain more, too, I imagine. But, right now, I am 26 tomorrow. So is my favorite person. And she is very important to me. These words are for her.

 

 

 

me & my anxiety

Every week I have approximately three mini panic attacks. They’re so small, really, sometimes they barely occupy more than a few minutes of my time. But they happen, and not infrequently. I don’t think they’ll ever stop.

Anxiety, like so many conditions, is long-term. It doesn’t go away when you swallow a pill — the most devastating part of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds is that they don’t kick in for weeks. Tell that to a desperate 16-year-old. No such thing as an easy fix.

I am so lucky in so many ways. In my anxiety, I am lucky that I can afford and have access to the meds I need. I have never had a really bad panic attack — the kind that takes your breath away and only a hospital trip will get it back. I first realized what a panic attack was, and that I’d been having versions of them for years, in college, during a shift at my waitressing job.

I know I’ve written about that before, the realization that came with dizziness, nausea, and my breath, something I never thought about, suddenly gone missing.

I don’t talk about my panic attacks so that someone can pat my head, tell me that it will all be OK. Often the attacks are associated with good things — first dates, exciting interview opportunities, hell, exercise. But they come nonetheless.

I talk about my panic attacks, here, now, to remind myself that they still happen. I forget, every time that I see spots, that I have to close my eyes to re-center myself, that I have to skip an activity because I simply cannot calm down — that they still happen. They still happen here, to me.

And they probably happen to a lot of other people. In fact I know they do. I’m not a doctor and I don’t even know if I’m good at giving advice, but in the past few years I’ve gotten better at listening to my body. If something hurts it may be because you’re making it hurt.

I’ve taken up yoga, again, after almost a year hiatus. I love how aware it makes me of my body. I loathe how aware it makes me of my mind. Not very yogic, eh? It’s a constant struggle (if you would even call it that) to make it to class, to sit, and move, on my mat, to not think.

I am never not thinking. For the most part, I feel every second of every day. Bad days, in that sense, feel really long.

But I tell myself something and it helps a lot. I tell myself this when I am having a moment of panic, when I am feeling unmotivated, when I don’t know if I can handle (fill in the blank). A couple of years ago I was frustrated by a yoga move, seeing that my body couldn’t get into it like other people’s.

My teacher watched me as I showed her my problem. She smiled, shrugged. “That’s just your body. Honor your body.” And that’s it. I can go as deep into that move as I want.

So last night, when the world toppled over and fell onto my plate, too many thoughts, too many feelings, fuckin shin splints … I stopped and patted my own head. I told myself, out loud (because if you can’t tell I am most certainly someone who talks to herself), “Honor yourself. You’re going to be OK.”

And I am. I’m OK.

 

this is the way the world turns (part 2)

I have a favorite time of the day. Depending on the season, this time can even be during the golden hour, when the trees overhead break apart and the sun shines through, softer and stronger than it’s been all day.

I dream of dusk. I wake up early, go through my day, return home. I pour myself a drink: Red wine is my preference, but I’ll take a heavily iced bourbon or vodka soda, too. My dog perches on the edge of my bed, knowing what’s next. “Oh Emma Loueeeese!,” I shout. She goes nuts, wagging her tail, jumping at me. “We’re going on a walk.”

Nighttime dog walks soothe my soul. If I were a doctor I would prescribe them to everyone I met. Emma Louise and I live in a lovely neighborhood, with streets lined with live oaks and houses that face the Wappoo River. I am lucky to rent a house here. I feel lucky every night, as if my dog and I had just stumbled into Alice in Wonderland’s Lowcountry daydream.

Emma and I have our favorite routes. The first goes down a dirt path to a street that loops by the waterfront. There’s one house, if you catch it in the right time in the morning and at night, that reflects the sun shining on the water. We like that house. There are some houses, though, that we love.

We like big front porches and metal roofs. We like white houses because I grew up in a white house. (Emma grew up in the woods in Georgia, so her house color preference is non-applicable.)

During the summer we walk for the smells, the barbecues and the yeasty suggestion of a homebrew cooking in someone’s garage. I spray myself down until I’m sticky with bug spray. I tell Emma to close her eyes and I spray her too. The marshes are a big draw for mosquitoes.

In the winter we walk to see the lights — Halloween decorations, Christmas adornments, dinners being cooked, and served, and fires being started. I usually encounter other people and dogs on our walks. We smile and say hello and the dogs greet one another, sniffing, wagging. Both owners say, “Say hello!” as if that were a very reasonable thing for dogs to do.

My sister has joined me on dog walks. It’s been dark lately so we take a mini flashlight. I have an LED light I could wear, but my sister finds that slightly embarrassing. She likes to walk down to the boat landing where the moon may or may not be rising over the water. If it’s cold we have our hands tucked inside of our sleeves — we don’t have any gloves.

I’ve taken my boyfriend on some of these walks, pointing out the big, beautiful homes I like. He likes them too and we play tentative house together, talking about what a home together in the future may look like. Would it be in a neighborhood like this? (We can’t afford that right now). Would it be by the ocean or in the mountains? (We talk more of our shutter preferences, and how we’d like our porches — a determined location is too far in the future, for now).

Mainly, though, I like to take these walks alone, with Emma Louise. A dog walk is the only time in the day when I truly feel free. We can walk for as long and as far as we want. All day my brain is working, my fingers are clicking at a computer, and I’m worried. Writers worry, ya know? And sometimes things don’t make any sense — the election of our new president comes to mind — and I feel helpless.

But there are always dog walks. Emma Louise will always, always, run to the door when I suggest we depart. She will stand patiently when I say, “Hold your horses,” looping her leash around her neck. These walks clear my head, they exercise my dog, they show me how gentle and kind the world can be as the sun sets.

People say hello, then return to their small and special lives. Tonight one person is making burgers for old friends. Another just brought a puppy home for their kids. I have tomatoes slow roasting in my oven at home.

These are trying times. I’ve found a way to exist in them and if I could, I would prescribe it to anyone who needs it — while dog and drink are optional, the walking part is not. See where you live. See that the world still turns. Turn with it.

joy to the world

I’ve spent 24 hours thinking about joy. Specifically, found joy. Are you familiar with it? I wasn’t until I thought about it yesterday and how it must exist.

Artists can create art from found objects. I think the rest of us can create joy from the pieces of it we find along the way.

Here’s the thing that I’ve also been thinking about: 2016 was not a bad year for me. You know that’s sort of the thing right now, to talk about how terrible this year was and how next year needs to be better … or …

In the world, things were bad. I think things are bad every year, if we’re paying attention. We are so incredibly lucky to be blogging from our computers from a train that’s traveling safely between states. Maybe none of this matters, maybe — poof — we’ll all go up in flames before I finish this paragraph.

(Still here).

This year wasn’t bad for me. I found joy all over the place. All over! I suppose I created it (I don’t believe in things falling, magically, from the sky). I do believe, though, in good luck and good timing and things that cannot be explained. But mainly, I believe in your own free will.

We find our joy if we walk more. So I walked more. We find our joy if we try new things. That, too. If we listen to our bodies. If we open ourselves to new bodies, new hearts. You know when your head is on someone else’s chest and you hear that thump … thump … thump. Well, I guess that’s an example of falling into joy. Resting there for a while.

Found joy can be short-lived. It can be a bright spark in a dark day. Dark days. I found it this weekend when I was home for Christmas. I knew I’d found it, opening gifts with my family, paying more attention to their faces than to the presents at our feet. I thought, “It can’t really be this good, can it?”

It can. Is it in poor taste to be so happy when so many things are crumbling around you?

At home I emptied a small dresser so that I could put away my packed-clothes. (When you go home do you also not wear any of the things you packed? You wear the old sweatshirts you find and your mom’s cute new scarf and mainly just pajamas). I found remnants of my tortured high school days. God, I was a moody kid.

I made art. Shitty art, but art. It gave me joy. For like, five seconds, until I was catastrophizing about whatever terrible thing my dull life would bring next. I was misunderstood, perhaps. Lonely, maybe. For sure, though, I was just going through the growing pains of growing into myself.

This time of year calls for resolutions. Who has the energy for those in the damp, cold days of January?

I call for more joy. I wish I had a formula for how to create it, a map for where to find it. It is little. It is the first smell of chopped onions heating in a hot pan. Even more so it is your dog’s nose when she smells something new in the air. It is big. It’s love so uncomplicated that it’s really, really scary, because who knew there was such a thing?

It’s finding that shitty high school art. The brown and blue one on which my paint-laced fingers wrote, “There’s always something to miss.” That’s true, high school Connelly, it really is.

But there’s also, always, something next. Why can’t it be joy?

this is how the world turns

Post election days fill my social media feeds with so many messages, I can hardly wrap my mind around the state of things. We all want so desperately to say the right thing, to the right people, about the right stuff. We all want to be heard. We want you to agree with us. Hear me out, believe in me. Like me.

I struggle with words every day, not just as a writer, but as a human being. I wonder if words are losing their meaning. I am like you — I too “feel compelled” to say what I’m thinking. “I have been silent for a bit but now I must declare …”

We all think we have the answers. Or, no, just a part of the answers. We should love. We should get angry. We should fight back. “I know we’re all tired but …”

What do our words really mean? It is heartening to see my friends post links to websites where you can donate your money to worthy causes. I do not have extra money, but I can share in sharing those voices. That’s something tangible. But beyond that, I’m not so sure.

I keep trying to avoid political discussions, mainly because they end in heartbreak and helplessness, but also because I, admittedly, don’t have a lot of informational currency from which to draw. I haven’t “closely followed” much of anything that doesn’t have to do with me. I have that luxury.

I find myself frustrated, content, tired, and nursing a three day head cold that makes my whole body ache. You know how we’re all saying, “open your eyes to the problems of the world?” And we think we’re helping. Maybe we just sound like assholes.

In college I used to complain to my friends about fill-in-the-blank and they would nod their heads and agree. This is how the world turns. I didn’t seek advice, I just wanted to put my heaviness out into the world, with the hopes that someone else could up a piece. “I’ll carry this for you for a while.”

I sat down to read and here I am typing. “I think it’s important for everyone to know …”

No one says anything new. Every story has been told. We don’t have any power anyway, so.

But I still find myself typing. A lot of you do, too. The quiet humming of thoughts on a keyboard. Is yours also dotted with sticky food? We can start there. We’ve got that in common. Does your dog stare at you, eyes wide, from the couch, begging you to come pet her? Add that to our list.

We can’t stop thinking and talking and shouting because it is how we exist. But we can listen more, and better. We can move to our couch with our laptop and pet our dog because if she doesn’t deserve our love and attention, who the hell does?

For every word you want to say, listen, deeply, to the words of others. It isn’t easy. It may turn out to be fruitless. You may be worse for wear. Perhaps you’ll feel as if you’ve lost a little bit of yourself. Far more terrifying — maybe you’ll feel as if you’ve gained something, too.

It’s certainly worth a try.

 

 

 

many brilliant things

This June I saw a play called Every Brilliant Thing. 

In it, a man, who is at first a boy, then a teenager, and then a man, lists brilliant (wonderful, special, amazing) things for his mother, who is depressed, in an attempt to cheer her up. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and knowing my affinity for life and love, it won’t be the last.

I’ve been anxious lately, my stomach in knots. For almost two weeks I thought I was sick, but now I’m pretty sure that sickness was just anxiety. Which is a sickness, too, but ya know.

You can be anxious and happy. In fact, happiness — which is a really terrifying thing if you think about it — often triggers feelings of anxiety. Most of them look like, “How do I hold onto this?”

I saw Every Brilliant Thing with my sister and mother and my mother’s good friend. I sat next to my coworker, by happenstance. I cried at least three times, maybe more. Life is very much worth crying about, for every reason you can imagine.

My brain has trouble quieting; I haven’t practiced yoga in months because I am afraid of being alone with my mind. I could benefit from meditation, but I could also benefit from sobriety (probably). Neither one is happening anytime soon.

Writing helps the thinking.

And, so, I present you with my current list of brilliant things. These serve as salves for wounds imaginary and otherwise, for takers-up-of-time when something more dire could fill empty moments. These are my life:

Emma Louise sniffing the air when food is cooking.

The very, very subtle feeling of raised text on paper.

Bonfire smells.

My sister, doing, well, anything. She is funnier, smarter, and more kind than I can be.

Melted cheese. With and without ketchup.

Driving home and ending up there, forgetting what the driving was like.

Kind of shitty black coffee.

The coffee my boyfriend makes me and serves me in one of his seemingly endless to-go cups.

Also, his face when he’s confused. And then a big smile when he isn’t.

Deep breaths that don’t catch.

Inexplicable loss of hearing after a hard workout.

Texts from my mother, father, and sometimes my brother. (I love you, too).

Running inside after gathering a basket of just-dried clothes. Dumping them on your bed, jumping into their warmth.

A perfectly fried egg.

Moments of fierce remembering, and also of forgetting.

The knowledge, the hope, the desire, that these brilliant things will continue for as long as you may live.