Shifting Into Gear

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A tiny, glowing part of the Chewbacchus parade, my favorite thing about Mardi Gras. Image via NOLA.com.

It’s Mardi Gras weekend here in the Big Easy, and most people are out at the parades or attending various parties. I’ll be heading to a couple of grand events later in the weekend, but for the moment I’m enjoying one last dose of quiet before diving headfirst into the celebration.

For the last week or so, I’ve been gathering up everything I have that’s worth anything and posting it on Amazon or Ebay. My goal is really to pare down my belongings to the point where my house doesn’t feel full of stuff, but rather full of possibility. As the piles of junk start to disappear and the surfaces clear off, I’ve found that my creativity is returning bit by bit. I’ve been able to come up with some creative storage solutions that managed to elude me for almost two years, and I figured out how to afford the new computer I so desperately need without putting myself in further debt. Several sewing projects have been attempted and completed successfully, I learned a new origami pattern, and I had a cool idea about how to make my closet work better for me last night that I intend to work on as soon as Mardi Gras has passed.

Another thing that’s going to change with the season is my health. I’ve actually been taking good care of myself. I’m on medication for my anxiety and depression, am attending therapy regularly, and walk/work out daily. After much thought, however, I made the hard decision to quit my gym for the year to save money. I realized that though I love lifting weights and hanging out with the people at the gym, my finances (and emotional state) are never going to improve if I keep spending that obscene amount of money on working out each month. In fact, after doing the math, I realized that I could easily afford to enroll in a Fitocracy program online, WITH my boyfriend, and still save enough money to buy a month’s worth of healthy groceries. I loved that gym, and maybe I’ll make enough money in the future to return, but for now it’s more important to focus my attention on my financial fitness. I’m actually very excited about the Fitocracy program – it’s called Hormonal Fat Loss. If you’re interested in checking out any of the training programs at Fitocracy, here’s a COUPON CODE FOR $20 OFF. Even better for me, when you use the code, I get $20 off, too!

Maybe most exciting of all is that I recently made the decision to start dressing like the me that’s been inside, hiding, all this time. Tomorrow I’m headed to get a new haircut that’s sure to give my parents a heart attack. I want it to look something like this:

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Not sure if the stylist is going to have the time for the color, but I know the cut is going to look amazing. Really looking forward to making a splash at the Orpheus Ball on Monday night. I found this beautiful dress on Rent the Runway that’s right up my alley – a little more tech while still being glam:

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Image via Nordstrom.com, because I’m too lazy to find it on Rent the Runway right now.

And I got the most beautiful vintage earrings on Ebay to complete the ensemble:

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Check out these bad boys…

Welcome to 2016. It’s going to be my year, but I’m happy to share it if you’re nice 🙂

Limbs for Life – and Mordor?

Great news! I heard back from the Limbs for Life Foundation yesterday, and they’re really excited to work with me on making my 2016 walk “to Mordor and back” into a fundraising opportunity. Even better, it turns out that if I add just a little more distance onto my original plan (3,500 miles instead of 3,404 miles), then aim to raise just $1 a mile, I can raise enough money to buy a full prosthetic for an above-the-knee amputee like my dad! I’ll be putting together my fundraising page this week, and will post more info soon.

In the mean time, if anyone else would like to join up and walk for a cause this year, let me know! All you need is a pedometer, a place to keep track of your mileage, and the interest in helping amputees get back on their feet again (literally).

My interest isn’t in getting other people to walk 3,500 miles in a year – or even 365 miles in a year, which is totally doable, but beside the point – it’s in getting my friends to be active to the best of their abilities, and using that activity to do good for others. I’m going to be reaching out to local businesses to see about getting matching funds or straight donations, and will be campaigning throughout this year to see if we can raise money for at least one leg, but maybe even two. It would be awesome to have the money for two arms and two legs, but let’s just get started with setting up the fundraiser first, and go on from there.

In Search Of The Field Of Stars

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It’s been awhile since I talked about my soul’s calling to go on pilgrimage this year. But as much as I struggle with the weight of this journey, I do it mostly in my head these days. It’s such a huge dream, and some days it feels like the undertaking is going to break me before I even begin. Money is such a struggle right now, and my employment doesn’t feel very steady at all. I feel like if I go away in October, even though it’s totally within my rights as a freelancer, and even though social media can be automated to the point where I only need to check in weekly, I might just come back in November to no clients. And, frankly, I find that terrifying.

About two weeks ago, I was 99% sure that I’d have to scrap the whole thing. Maybe try again in a few years. Maybe just give up all together. But I took the time to write down my thoughts and fears in a comment in the American Pilgrims on the Camino FB page, and was comforted by the outpouring of support from the other members. As each new comment came in, I began to hope that maybe there was a way after all.

So many people had struggled with money, time, family obligations, fears, or some combination of any and all. All made a choice that worked for them, and there was no shortage of suggestions for alternatives that could help me. Some pilgrims suggested shorter trips, like starting closer to Santiago de Compostela and walking a shorter distance. Others suggested taking one of the alternate caminos, like the Camino Norte, which can be accomplished in 7 to 10 days. Some suggested walking as far as I could from St. Jean Pied de Port in whatever time I had allotted, and then coming back to finish another year. But many suggested that this was just a test. If there was absolutely no choice in the matter, yes, I should cut my trip short in order to keep my life in one piece. But if there was even the sliver of doubt, if I felt like my life wasn’t what I wanted, if I thought that maybe the Universe was just sending out a signal to make my choice (and to choose The Way), I should take that leap of faith.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work really hard and save all the money I can between now and October. I’m going to finish putting together the proposal for the book that I want to research and start writing while I’m in Spain, and I’m going to start a GoFundMe fundraiser to help with the book and trip. Then I’m going to walk the 500 miles of the Camino Frances, and if I haven’t broken anything (bodily), after that I’ll walk the Camino di Assisi in Italy. Then I’ll come home and start life over. If my jobs and friendships were right for me, they’ll still be here. If they weren’t, they won’t. Easy, right?

I’m a little scared, but I feel like I’ve never been stronger, mentally or physically, than right now. This is the time to go. No more waiting for life to begin.

Machado Labyrinth, by Fitzgerald Letterpress ($70)

On the 4th of July, I was walking around by myself in the French Quarter, and walked down a little alley I seldom travel. In a shop window, a letterpress print of a labyrinth caught my eye. I visited Notre Dame de Chartres in 2005, specifically to view the labyrinth, and since then it’s been one of those symbols that tends to pop up when I need it most. I glanced at the print, then started to turn away, when I realized that the word “camino” had been written below it. I turned back to press my face against the shop window and examine the art fully, and saw that it said this:

“Se hace camino al andar.” (Antonio Machado)

Which translates to:

“We make the road by walking.”

I knew that. I know that. How could I possibly keep forgetting something that important? This is my life, RIGHT NOW. I work to have this life, not to have the “privilege” of working again tomorrow. Each of these breaths, these moments where my joints don’t hurt and my limbs move freely, this is all going to go away. And it’s going to go away much more quickly than I’d like, or than I could ever imagine. The time to enjoy my body, my health, and my freedom is right now. The time to seek my answers from the Universe is right now. It’s my turn to get out there and make my road, one foot at a time. I just needed these reminders from other pilgrims, and wayward pieces of art.

Over the coming months, maybe I’ll lose my reserve again, or maybe I’ll stay strong. I hope that you’ll all stick with me. I could use the encouragement. I’m trying not to be too scared of living more fully, but it’s going to be a really big change. Thanks for hearing me out, now and in the future. I really appreciate you all.

These Choices

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to consider what we would do if we knew we couldn’t fail. It’s an appropriate question for this day, and is closely aligned with something my therapist asked me a couple of days ago and that I’ve been mulling over ever since. After listening to several days of stress-filled rants regarding my career (aspirations vs. actuality), the therapist remarked that I didn’t sound like I liked what I did very much. Would I consider changing careers?

I have this little nagging suspicion that after I return from Spain in November, I might be forced into this choice. Of course, I can hope that both of my jobs decide not to can me for leaving them high and dry for 45 days, but let’s face it – America does not believe in taking a break. Vacation days are for wusses. If we’re lucky, we get two weeks of paid vacation, but even then, we’re subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) made to feel guilty for desiring to use all of them. And that’s why people like me are slowly losing their minds. We need a break, and what’s more, we need a long one.

Working in America vs. Working in Other Countries. Click the image to read more.

Working in America vs. Working in Other Countries. Click the image to read more.

So I made this decision to love myself enough to give myself the break I so desire and deserve, even if it means that my employers can’t get along without me. I’d rather have to find new jobs than continue to put off this pilgrimage for another year. When I’m old and gray and too old to travel outside of my retirement home, I don’t want to have any regrets about missed opportunities to explore the world. I’ve told my New Orleans job that I plan to leave, and to be quite fair, my officemates are really supportive of my choice, even if they’re apprehensive at where this will leave them when I’m gone. I haven’t told the Chicago job yet, because I think it will lodge in my boss’s mind like a piece of grit in an oyster, slowly turning and growing into a giant pearl of contention. It’s not worth it right now to upset her. Maybe in a few months.

The other part of the equation is this sneaking suspicion that nothing I do really matters. I look around me, at my job, at my friends’, and it seems that we waste our lives sitting in cubicles, performing mundane tasks that ultimately don’t matter. I really enjoy marketing, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not helping the world in any way. And it’s no question that the continued exposure to technology is destroying my brain. I’m frequently too sad to leave the house, and have the attention span of an ADHD goldfish. My memory is measurably worse. It’s no real stretch to imagine dementia setting in sooner rather than later, and that’s terrifying to me.

Is this who I want to be? From a physical and spiritual standpoint, how can I afford to continue this trajectory? But from a financial standpoint, how can I not? It’s a conundrum. I wish that I could tell my 18-year-old self not to lose that full scholarship, or my 23-year-old self not to go to school for historic preservation. But killing those butterflies would destroy this world as I know it, and I’ll take the crushing student loan debt in exchange for the handsome writer who makes me coffee and laughs at my stupid jokes, thanks. I still have hope that some small changes will help me keep my sanity and figure out how to live a fulfilling life within the boundaries I’ve created for myself.

Still, what would I do if I knew I couldn’t lose? If I knew I could keep him AND achieve success in a fulfilling career? I don’t even know how to turn the hopeful part of my brain back on to contemplate that question at full capacity. Maybe when my feet meet the Camino, those gears will start to turn. Maybe I’ll be able to figure it out. I guess I’d cast my net wide. I’d look to new cities for opportunities. I’d look to new countries, even. I’d try to get into the film industry. I’d take this idea of writing a book and make it central to the way I live my life. I’d fold so many origami flowers that my apartment would be the envy of gardeners everywhere. I’d find a museum that wanted a ragtag history like mine, and would take a chance on me as a curator. I’d sing, sing, sing every day.

Sometimes I hate being both a dreamer and a realist. I hate how I crush my own spirit so much more efficiently than anyone else could. These choices seem so simple when I see them in writing. Why are they monumental in my imagination? Please, Santiago, help me walk back to my life, the real one, the one without fear.

The Norwegian Blues

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At the end of yesterday’s post, I snuck in a quote from Birdman: “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.” In the film, it’s written on a notecard and stuck to the main character’s mirror. It also shows up later in the film as he tries to explain his life – and usefulness – to a notoriously negative theater critic. It’s one of those vague self-help quotes that I’m never quite sure is deep or just posturing, but for today’s post, we’ll assume the former.

On my way to work this morning, I was mulling over various things, and briefly considered the fact that were I to die today, my parents wouldn’t know what songs to play at my funeral. I thought of how little anyone can really know a person, but how much less my family knows about me than pretty much anyone else I interact with on a regular basis. I live roughly 1,000 miles from the town of my birth, and try to avoid returning as much as possible. On top of that, my family doesn’t travel, and we don’t talk or email that often (forget texting – my parents’ cell phones only get turned on in case of emergencies).

Of course I feel a twinge of regret. I’m an only child, and was quite close to my parents before moving away 15 years ago. But to be honest, though I miss them from time to time, they have their lives and I have mine. If our life stories are told by our family connections, I guess mine will end up being sad. I’m under no illusion that my life, as structured at this moment, will somehow end up being magically full of the love and laughter of family members in my golden years. So let’s cross our fingers that I get married before I keel over, and my husband (poor, unlucky mystery man) and friends get the body (or what’s left of it) so as not to completely muck up my funeral.

Anyway, before I got carried away thinking of funeral plans, I was thinking of the fact that I am a thing, and while I know myself to be a thing of some specificity, with a defined list of likes, dislikes, habits and mannerisms, from the outside I am constantly being mis-defined as another thing entirely by the people who know me least, be they family members or innocent bystanders. Maybe it’s being a Scorpio? People accuse me of holding secrets and not conveying information well enough, which I’ve heard is a habit of the sign. Or maybe it’s that very few people pay attention to other people, and no matter how much we care and how much time we spend studying our friends to learn their quirks, we’ll never really be able to pin down the entire personality.

I dunno. But in case I do get run over by a bus on my way home tonight, or fall off of a cliff while I’m in Spain this October, here’s some vital info for those of you who know me IRL:

Disposal Method: the most ecologically sensitive method available at the time of my passing. See Be A Tree for ideas. I was holding out for a mushroom death shroud, but I don’t think they’ve been perfected yet. One of those bio urn things would be nice, but DEFINITELY NOT A PINE TREE. I’m serious, guys. If my choice is to fuck up the environment or support the life of a pine tree, just let me do my goopy, chemical-laden worst. Pine trees are an abomination. I’d be fine with being a maple or a beech, though.

Funeral: Pointless for me, as I’ll be dead and disinterested in celebratory acts. If you want to have one, just meet up at the bar or something. If you’re in New Orleans, go to Holy Ground. Have Cheryl pour you a Jameson on the rocks. Try to remember a time when I said something funny or nice or something. Give other people hugs. Have funeral sex if your standards are that low and your whiskey goggles are working. I won’t judge you. If you’re in North Carolina, go hang out with my dad. He’ll be crushed, and he’ll need you to check in on him from time to time (though he’ll never say that).

Music: All of my crappiest favorites, and make it a karaoke night, why don’t ya? Start with Donovan (not Mellow Yellow, please) and early Chicago, move on to KISS, and finish up the night with a couple of hours of 90’s alt rock and 60’s pop. Don’t forget to throw in some Dry the River, Joan Armatrading, 2 Skinnee J’s, and of course Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Important Facts: If you’ve got to add religion into the mix, DO NOT under any circumstances quote the bible or talk about Jesus. I definitely do not want that man’s name mentioned. He was a nice guy and all, but he’s not my team captain. Also, it’s my goddamn funeral, and it’s too late to convert me. Feel free to quote St. Francis of Assisi all you’d like. He’s fantastic. You can also talk about the concept of a divine power if you’d like. Burn some sage, too. Burn lots of sage. If my spirit is still hanging around, I’d like to go ahead and move on. Gee, I hope I’m not hanging around. It would be hard to see some of your faces and not want to stay and make sure you’re OK.

There should be a photo booth, so people who don’t see each other often can get some good shots together. You never know when you’re going to see each other again, guys.

Oh, and there should most definitely be food. Clam chowder, an assortment of cured meats and cheeses (don’t skimp on the brie), GOOD bread (seriously, not just any old shitty bread, I’m talking properly chewy baguettes with a crusty exterior, fresh from the oven, and maybe some loaves of sweet black bread with honey butter), and plenty of mashed potatoes and spicy chicken wings from Popeye’s. And maybe some mini Cornish pasties and Scotch eggs. They’ll really help with all of the whiskey that I intend for people to consume.

So there you have it. Folks who know me, it’s up to you to share this with the right people if you find out I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil. Folks who don’t know me, try not to be too jealous of how fat and happy my funeral’s attendees are going to be.

Do you have funeral plans? I’d love to hear them. Might as well have some fun planning our parties while we can, right?

The Transformation Challenge

I'm so excited - my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one :-D

I’m so excited – my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one 😀

It’s 10 days into the Transformation Challenge at my gym, Iron Tribe, and quite unexpectedly, I’m loving it. The challenge is, well, challenging, but also pretty simply laid out, in my opinion. From January 5th to February 13th, participants eat a strict paleo diet and work out up to 5 times a week at the gym. There are two competitions that are running concurrently: a weight loss division, and a performance division. I’m in the weight loss division, obviously.

There’s a point system for determining the winner. It’s a little complicated, so I won’t break it down entirely, but it includes points for working out in certain amounts, points for keeping a detailed food/water/sleep/exercise journal, points for completing a goal setting course, and points for each .2% of fat lost over the course of the challenge. The prizes are HUGE. First place winner gets a $200 gift certificate to Whole Foods (some of you might recognize it as Whole Paycheck), a free month at the gym, a free week of paleo food from Inner Fire Grill (yum), an entire free outfit from Lululemon, and a free 80 minute massage. Second place gets $150 at Whole Foods, $50 at a nearby restaurant, and a free month at the gym. Third gets $100 at Whole Foods and a great supplements package. I’m in it to win it, so I’m visualizing myself in a brand new Lululemon getup 😀

I'm coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

I’m coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

The awful thing: I had my body fat measured (by caliper) at the beginning of the challenge, and it came in at 43.1%. Meaning that at 5’7″ and 194.8 lbs, I was/am obese. I don’t look it – I mean, I know I’ve put on a little weight in my butt and thighs, and my boobs are bigger (how can that be a bad thing, you ask) but overall I don’t look like I weigh what I weigh. I’ve only gone up one pants size, even with all the additional weight I’ve put on over the last year or so – but “obese” put the fear of god in me. So I’ve been taking this thing seriously. And it hasn’t been hard. That’s the part that’s blowing my mind.

I’m at the gym daily, lifting weights or doing whatever the WOD is that day. I walk to and from work/the gym from my house, and then anywhere else I have to go, so I’m typically walking between 5 and 9 miles a day. I ran a 5k on Saturday morning, and went to my first yoga class in ages on Monday night. And I’ve been eating clean – all organic, no processed food, sugar, wheat, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sodas. You’d think I’d be losing my shit by now, not having a single slice of pizza or sip of wine, but overall I just feel…good. Just good. Not great. Not more focused. Not suddenly insightful or whatever it is that people always proclaim when they’ve found the diet to end all diets. Maybe that’s because it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that will sustain me for the long term, and the longer I go, the better I’ll feel. I’m pretty certain I’ve still got some thyroid stuff going on, especially with the recent struggle with depression, and that’s definitely going to take some of the “high” out of whatever impact this change is having on me. But overall, “good” is much, much better than what I’d been living with prior to starting this new lifestyle. And it’s easy. For the first time in my life, I’ve found a way to eat that doesn’t have me sad and craving constantly. I think I’ll keep doing it.

It’s having other effects, too. As of today, 10 days in, I’ve lost 7.2 lbs. I’m still too heavy, and I have a LONG way to go to get to my goal weight of 145 lbs, but that’s nothing new. But suddenly I feel like it’s not farfetched to picture myself finally wearing a bikini this summer, or trying out a miniskirt before I get too old to wear one (I’ve been dying to try out a TOS Star Trek uniform – yes, I’m a geek).

That's one nearly non-existent skirt you've got there, Uhura.

That’s one nearly non-existent skirt you’ve got there, Uhura.

I think that maybe part of feeling so relaxed about this is from the work I’ve been doing with that book, Beautiful You. Once I get home tonight, I’ll tackle the next chapter.

So what are you doing lately that makes you proud of yourself, internet friends? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, or direct me to your latest blog post about your achievements. I’d be more than happy to help you celebrate!

Constructing A Perfect Day (Part 1)

Netley Abbey, via Countryside Tales. Weird, but this looks extremely similar to my daydream structure.

Netley Abbey, via Countryside Tales

A friend of mine suggested that in order to help guide myself toward my ideal life, I should first visualize what one perfect day in my ideal life would look/feel like. I’ve been thinking of it for awhile now, and I don’t have much. But I figured that maybe I’d take notes as things come to me. Perhaps all of the pieces will eventually fit together.

For at least 15 years or so, I’ve had this daydream of me as a “grownup”. I guess I’m roughly the same age as the me I’ve been picturing for so long.

In the daydream, I’m wearing comfortable clothes – work boots, fatigue pants or something like them (durable, lots of pockets, easy to move around in), a long-sleeved t-shirt and a scarf. My hair is long again. It’s morning, just after sunrise. There’s a chill in the air, and dew is fresh on the grass. My tent is next to a field, just at a row of trees, and I’m walking away from it, across the field, through the grass. There’s a medieval structure just across the field, and past that, down the hill, a town. I’m headed in that general direction. The air smells sweet. I’m excited about having breakfast with my colleagues, then getting to work.

I’m not sure if the dream is about archaeology or mural conservation (my two earliest loves), and I’m not sure what kind of building it is. I’m not sure if I’m actually doing either of those things for a living, or if I’m just on holiday and helping out with a dig. I do know that I feel like I’m actively researching, and that there’s a mystery I might be able to solve.

Takeaway: I’m excited to travel, work with my hands, write about my work, study history, wear rugged clothing, live minimally in close proximity to nature, and enjoy the company of like-minded people.

I’ll think about it more and get back to you.

Fixing A Hole

I’m painting a room in a colorful way, and when my mind is wandering, there I will go. – The Beatles, “Fixing A Hole”

For those of you who’re just tuning in, I’m reading a book called Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self Acceptance, and answering the daily questions that the book puts forth. It might look like this is my second post of the day (and technically, it is), but my earlier post was written yesterday. There’s absolutely no reason to explain myself to you, but I’m doing it. So I suppose that’s a great place to start with today’s musings re: how body image has impacted my daily life and outlook…my negative self image has definitely made me much more apologetic about EVERYTHING. I should probably start counting how many times I say “Sorry!” to people who don’t need to hear it throughout the day. If I were to take a broad guess, I’d say it comes out at least once an hour on average.

But what am I doing most of the day? What are the hills and valleys of this issue, as seen throughout a day in the life of this particular Anna? Let’s explore a typical weekday and see if I can figure it out:

I wake up somewhere between 9am and 11am, depending on a variety of factors (working at home? stay up late night before? bed extra comfy? back hurt? cat sleeping on face?). Get out of bed and try to stretch my legs/backs/hips. Sometimes feel disgusted with whatever I wore to bed the night before. I’d prefer something lacy and/or silky, like a 1930s film star in her boudoir – maybe even with maribou feathers, just for shits and giggles – but have never bought anything like that because I feel like I’d just look like a feathered, silky monster. Also, if I’m being honest, because my last bf hated when I’d wear anything long and elegant, and I hated short and slutty, so I eventually just got confused and gave up since nothing I found that made me feel sexy was titillating to him in the least. That’s no excuse for now, but it’s the truth so I’m putting it in here. So I’m wearing a t-shirt or maybe lounge pants or something sloppy and I am comfortable, but instantly tend to be kind of disappointed in myself for looking like trailer trash.

I go to the bathroom, brush teeth, wash face, that kind of thing. I generally don’t do my hair or put on makeup. It depends, really. My hair is really short on purpose – I hate wasting time styling it. I love wearing makeup, but most mornings I just feel like it’s no use putting on warpaint. It’s a combination of the fact that it will melt off during my walk to work, or not be seen at all if I’m working at home, or that I don’t interact with clients at my office, so no one will see it there either. But there’s also an underlying current of displeasure with my face. Plus, I really want to go to Sephora and do their Pantone color matching service and have them teach me how to put my makeup on expertly. I feel like I’m just doing it wrong when I do it, and that’s just not true. My makeup application skills are perfectly adequate, and I don’t look like a clown or anything. I do the “no makeup” look pretty well.

Next up is getting dressed. I hate almost every stitch of clothing in my closet. Even the things that fit right tend to piss me off because they’re two sizes bigger than I want to wear. I’ve gotten rid of everything that’s too small for me, but the stuff that’s my size still doesn’t fit me the way I’d like to. And it’s not even the style I’d like to wear. I really miss getting dressed up for work. Like REALLY miss it. It’s the saddest thing ever to be the only girl in an office of three – even if you adore your coworkers. I also really miss wearing vintage clothing, and it’s hard to find stuff that works for my new shape. So I put on jeans and a shirt. I try to wear pretty shirts, but they all look like crap on me. I feel like a figure-less blob. I feel masculine. I used to have this long-legged strut that people would point out all the time. Now I feel like I’m just dragging myself around like a swamp creature. I grew out of my bras, so I have no beautiful bras anymore, when I used to have at least a few. My underwear fit me perfectly, and are comfortable and cute, but I long to wear lace and satin again. When I’ve tried, just to see if I can pull it off, I feel revolting and ashamed. So I don’t.

I make breakfast – paleo, delicious and energizing – and drink a cup of decaf. It’s the first pleasant thing to happen during my day, because I know that each time I make the conscious effort to eat something that’s good for me, I get stronger, and that eventually my (comparatively) small sacrifices will add up to big changes. I walk to work – 2 miles. By the time I get there, I’m in a great mood.

If I’m wearing jeans, I have to unbutton them if I’m going to be sitting for that long. That puts me back in a shitty mood. If I’m wearing yoga pants, I can feel the bulge of my stomach and that also tends to put me in a shitty mood, but at least I’m more comfortable.

I spend the workday working (obviously), but in the back of my mind I’m always thinking about my body (did I eat the right thing? am I craving something? why am I craving it? am I actually hungry? should I get a snack? have I had enough water? how much weight will I lose this week? do you think I’ll actually gain weight instead? did I have to unbutton my jeans when I was a size 8? are my shoulders fat? do I look fatter with short hair? should I get an under-desk exercise bike thing? will my boobs shrink when I lose weight? did I have more cellulite this morning than I did a week ago? is this deodorant still OK, or am I smelly? why can I not stop shaking my foot? am I that sensitive to decaf now? am I too hairy? i feel like my teeth are shifting back to where they were before Invisalign – can other people see that, too? blah, blah, blah…). It’s exhausting. Too many thoughts swirling in my brain. Too many of them negative. Too many of them all about me.

If I’m at work in my Chicago office (or getting ready for a trip there), I think a lot about the clothes I’m going to wear. The office is all ladies, most of them thin, young and stylish. On top of that, since I’m a senior member of the team, not only should I look more pulled-together than they do, I should also look more in control of myself (read: not fat) than they do. I’m only barely able to hold up my end of the bargain, and I feel uncomfortable. If I’m in Chicago, I’m not eating paleo because there’s nowhere nearby to go for something easy and within my limits. This, plus having caffeinated coffee while I’m there, are probably majorly to blame for not feeling/looking my best. At least in New Orleans I’m sticking with paleo lunches and decaf – they really seem to help.

Assuming I’m at home in New Orleans, after work I go home. Depending on how the day went, and how unhappy I am, I might buy a bottle of wine or some “bad” food on my way home to console myself. Fried catfish filets, mac & cheese, and mashed potatoes & gravy are my favorite treats. Most of the time now I manage to avoid these, though. I go home, drink water, eat a paleo dinner, and spend the night writing, watching TV, or hanging out with my boo. Four nights a week now I go to the gym before heading home. I feel great at the gym. I love lifting weights, I love the people in my class, and I love the feeling of accomplishment during and after the workout. It makes me feel better about eating a healthy dinner when I get home.

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So what I’m seeing (feel free to weigh in, if you’ve made it this far and have alternate views) is that my clothing is a major source of emotional upheaval for me. I have the power to wear pretty things and make myself feel better – maybe I need to get them tailored, or explore wearing more dresses, or make the leap and only wear screen siren nighties – whatever makes me feel good and giggly again. Maybe I should hire a personal stylist to help me out of the slump.

I feel inferior to most other women because I don’t feel pulled together in comparison, but I don’t pull myself together because I feel like it’s pointless because I feel unattractive. But won’t I feel attractive if I pull myself together? So maybe I should just put forth the effort to do the things that make me feel pretty every day. Though to do that requires an attitude of self-worth, and that’s going to be a tough one to scrounge up overnight. But I can certainly try. And I should definitely go to Sephora. Maybe this weekend. I deserve it.

I’m exercising and I’m eating pretty well. I could eat better. But I’m not a fat, disgusting bastard. I’m just a normal girl with a few extra pounds and some pretty big self acceptance issues.

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The other thing that I should talk about is being on stage. I love to sing. Or at least I used to. I mean, I still do. Just not in public. I’ve got a slightly nasty case of stage fright, but I’ve always been able to get over it in time to get up there and do my thing. I’ve been in a number of bands, and people who heard me on stage back in the day tell me that I’ve got a beautiful voice. I don’t know about that – I sound like myself to me, and let’s face it, who really likes hearing themselves talk (or sing)? But people like the way I sound, and I like the way I feel when I’m singing, and that’s really all that matters. I feel powerful on stage. Or at least I did.

But this year for my birthday I went to karaoke with a bunch of friends, and someone took a video of me singing on stage. I was shocked at how big I looked up there. My previously awkward stage delivery looks even worse with another 50 lbs packed on. I looked like an egg doing the hula (and I was singing ABBA, so really, it wasn’t that far of a stretch of the imagination). My secret ambition has been to get my shit together and get back on stage with a real band sometime soon. Now I’m not so sure about the “soon” part. It’s probably the most devastating issue I’m facing, but until now I’ve been facing it alone. Maybe now that it’s out on the blog I’ll be able to work it out in a less stressful manner.

 

Unconditional

I’m writing this from the Dallas airport, on my way back home to New Orleans and a brand new work week. I spent the weekend in Austin and San Antonio with my friends Trinity and Katie. Trin was my college roommate, assigned by the school for the freshman dorm. Despite the odds given our strange pairing, we ended up being best friends. A couple of years later, we moved in with a third roommate, Katie, and our sisterhood has survived so much over the years. They both became architects and moved away – Trinity to Texas, Katie to Croatia. Now they’re both married with small children, and our extremely varied life experiences are adding another dimension to our friendship dynamic.

To me, both of my old roommates/besties have always been so outgoing and fascinating. They have welcoming personalities that attract strange adventures and lots of new friends. You could sum us up pretty easily by watching us walk into a party at 20. Katie, golden hair, tight jeans, big Texas personality, and at least three coats of mascara, heads straight for the keg and conversation, ready to sling a few back and talk shit with the guys. Trin grabs a cocktail, makes her rounds to give everyone at the party her good wishes/seemingly unbroken attention (how does she do it?), turns up the radio, and starts a dance party that magnetizes the room. I walk in behind them and make a beeline to the drinks and the quietest spot at the party. I’m overwhelmed, but interested in dancing, maybe, at some point. As long as no one’s watching; these jeans don’t really fit as well as I’d wish, and my arms are jiggly. You know, let’s just wait for a better song. Or maybe another drink? Eh, we’ll see what happens later. The couch is really nice. Mostly I make my friends by staying in one spot and talking to whoever sits down next to me (it never fails – it’s really the best way to meet people if you’re terrified of the whole introduction process). Eventually Katie gets into dancing mode and comes out to turn the party up a notch with Trin. By then, I’ve had a few drinks and don’t really give a crap what anyone thinks, then we’re all dancing, and the party is golden. But the couch-sitting me has just been put on the back burner for awhile. She’ll be back tomorrow, if not sooner.

When we were younger, even though I felt comfortable in their presence in most ways, and certainly much more than I did with other people, I always felt a little awkward in comparison. It was a little like being the little sister who didn’t quite understand how to fit in with my cooler older sisters, but was still loved and accepted. Maybe it’s my age, or the length and depth of our friendship, but things are different now. I can’t quite place it, but I guess on a base level I’m realizing that everyone has their own issues to handle. Just the same, we each have something special to add to the conversation, as long as we find the people who’re willing to listen.

Gone are the days of getting extravagantly made up, in tallest heels and shortest skirt, and going out to make adventures. We’ve entered an era where we’re older, wiser, and starting to show a little wear and tear. And who knows why – age, maturity, less patience, more acceptance – but we’re also willing to talk about our body insecurities with each other in a little more detail. It’s probably that knowledge that allowed me to begin really contemplating what it would feel like to stop beating myself up about my body, and learn to love it instead. It made this weekend the perfect time to start my journey, since I could officially kick everything off in the company of two people who have always accepted me, flaws and all, without a second thought.

Today’s prompt in Beautiful You is to talk about how I feel about myself and why, and say what I think a healthy sense of self and a healthy life will give to me. Most of all, I want to love and accept myself the same way I love and accept my friends – fully, unconditionally, no questions asked. I have a handful of people in my life for whom I’d lay down my life without a second thought. I might have an uncharitable thought every now and then (who doesn’t?) but I’d never hold on to it for longer than it took to find another way to encounter the situation. Why don’t I do this for myself?

I’m hoping that I can eventually see myself not as an enemy to be corralled and controlled, but a beloved one for whom I wish nothing but the best. If I loved myself the way I love my friends, the way that they love me, I’d constantly be on the lookout for ways to show my love more. I’d ask myself if I’d like some water, carefully consider how my mood would improve with the right sustenance, give myself permission to find a quiet spot to unwind, stop picking on myself for weaknesses, celebrate strengths. I’d have no choice but to shine under my own care.

It’s not about being thin, really. It’s about not feeling constantly under attack, or constantly in need of a scolding for my behavior. It impedes everything. It makes me feel less attractive, which greatly affects my ability to be intentionally playful, powerful, confident, and sexy. My own guilt for not being perfect is the biggest problem in my life right now. I’d love to find a way to work through it. I’m going to. So thanks, Katie and Trin (and Jess and Amy). I might not have said it in so many words, but you’ve helped me kick off something big (yet again).

The World’s A Stage

What are your hopes – personally and for the world – with regard to body image and beauty perception? How can you begin to live your hopes today? Thinking about what you want most for yourself and for the world allows you to act on that information.

I’ve had a few realizations over the last week. One I’m still mulling over, and will share with you eventually. One is that I am way too stressed out, and it’s really taking its toll on me 24 hours a day. But the most important thing I’ve worked through and come to terms with is that instead of working myself up by constantly – and I do mean constantly – thinking how ugly and fat and stupid and worthless I am, and focusing all of my efforts to change solely on my diet and exercise regime, I should be concentrating a lot more on trying to love myself. The diet and exercise are never going to work – no matter how perfectly I attempt them – if I’m constantly in self-sabotage mode because I loathe myself.

So I’m going to start doing some daily exercises to get to know and love myself better, using the book Beautiful You: A Radical Guide to Self Acceptance as my guide. Luckily, the plan involves daily journaling, which I’m pretty much already doing here.

Currently it’s 7:51 in the morning, and I’m typing from a Starbucks in Houston. I just got off of a sleepless 6-hour bus ride from New Orleans, and will soon embark on another 3.5-hour bus ride to Austin. Fun fact about Anna: I can’t sleep in automobiles or on planes. I need a place to stretch out and lie down completely, not recline 4 inches. Typically, I’d have taken a sleeping pill, but I packed them in my suitcase that was stowed under the bus before we left. Joy. But oh well – the things we do to be with the people we love, right? Two of my best friends and I are meeting up in Austin today to have some much-needed girl time. I’m so excited to see them, even if I will be a zombie by the time I get there.

All that time awake on the bus this morning led me to this, though: My primary hope for myself in the realm of body image is that I’d learn to see myself the way I see my friends. All of my friends are attractive to me. I love their smiles, and the way their eyes glow when they’re being their authentic selves. I love their individual styles, and senses of humor, and getting to know more about each and every one of them. When I see my friends’ flaws, I see them as beautiful things that make them different and unique. When I see my own flaws, I see them as things that set me apart from the world in a negative way. I feel like a laughingstock. Or something less than a laughingstock, actually – I feel more like I should be ostracized in some way. I want to look at my differences and see how they could be perceived as beautiful. I want to feel comfortable enough in my skin that I can move freely again – physically and emotionally.

As far as the world goes, I’m not sure what I want for people to think/say about bodies, whether at home, in the media, etc. I know that I didn’t get the way I am because of the media – at least not directly. I was barely plugged in as a kid, and I remember feeling fat as early as 2nd grade. I do know that things are much worse now, and men and women everywhere are dealing with serious body acceptance issues as a result of peer pressure and unrealistic expectations placed on them by themselves and others. I do want people to realize that it’s not just women who feel shitty about their bodies, and we can’t keep talking about it like it’s something that only women can own. And that’s enough for now. I’m going to catch my Austin bus and go get mani/pedis with my lovely KT and Trin.