Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The tattoo


Almost two years ago, a hummingbird flew into my house and had some trouble finding his way back out.  This happened while I was battling a particularly stubborn bout of depression, attempting to self-medicate with fresh air and a beautiful spring day instead of my usual questionable methods, naps and bourbon.  In his struggles, the hummingbird taught me a life lesson that helped me find my way back into the light. 

The lesson was this: When you find yourself struggling hard, try something different.  When you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, look around for a door.  Also, when you feel like shit, maybe go outside, because that’s where the flowers and air and vitamin D live. 

I knew almost immediately that the hummingbird was my next tattoo.  It had been fifteen years since my first one.  I left the tattoo shop after my first excited to get another. I was totally bitten by the ink bug.  I wanted more.  But somehow the right tattoo didn’t come along until now. 

It took more than a year to find the right artist, but I finally did.  Jim Judeikis at Saints and Sinners Tattoo in Baltimore.  He had done a friend’s scar cover, and when I checked out his portfolio and shamelessly stalked his instagram, I knew he was the one.  He doesn’t do a lot of tattoos like mine, or at least didn’t have a lot in his portfolio, but every tattoo had beautiful lines, even to my picky eye. 

So once we got our tax return money and somewhat recovered from Christmas spending, I called for a consult.

All of my nerves were activated.  My first tattoo had come to me while meditating.  I had drawn it, and simply asked the artist to copy it onto me.  This was different.  He would be drawing it.  I just had ideas. 

I went into the shop for my consult clutching my packet of materials, including similar tattoos I liked, a really bad hummingbird drawing I had attempted, even mirror selfies of the gist of my tattoo inexpertly scribbled on my own shoulder with eyeliner.  I put enough money in the meter for 45 minutes, because I was 15 minutes early and budgeted for a half hour consult.

Don't laugh.
You try drawing on your own right shoulder.
Ten minutes later, I walked out, lighter by a $150 deposit, with a tattoo date in my phone’s calendar, and the distinct impression that Jim and the front desk guy might be making fun of me for Type-A’ing my tattoo consult. 

I was clearly and intensely over-prepared for my consult. And I didn’t fit in.  Forty-one, no visible body mods, wearing mom jeans and a tank top (in case he wanted to…. I don’t know… like, look at my shoulder or something.  Spoiler: He didn’t.)  All the blue and purple hair in the universe couldn’t disguise the fact that I didn’t belong in there.  I don’t even know what the other customers milling around were wearing, but they all seemed a lot more comfortable than I did, and were dressed in ways I envied but couldn’t duplicate on my plus size aging body without looking silly.

I love my body, and I love my fashion, and I love who I am.  But something about being in a tattoo shop pushed all of my “not cool enough” buttons. 

Every time I do something a little bit crazy—dye my hair wacky colors, get a tattoo, wear fabulous clothing, pose on the internet in my underwear—I have this moment.  This “who the hell do you think you are” moment.  In my head, I’m still the dorky kid who did too well on math tests and lied to her friends and told them she got a B, because straight A’s were for losers.  And at the same time, I’m also the “basic bitch” suburban housewife and mother of two and minivan owner.  And pumpkin lattes are delicious, and yes, I do wait all year for them as a matter of fact.

But my insecurities and social paranoia aside, I felt very confident in Jim as an artist.  And I was beyond excited to finally get the tattoo I had been talking about for almost two years.

The day of the appointment came, and I was so nervous I could barely eat.  Excitement and trepidation ran through me until I couldn’t tell which was which, just that my heart rate was up and my hands shaky.  What if I forgot how much tattoos hurt?  Could I really sit there for three and a half hours in pain?  What if it was terrible?  Maybe I should have used that numbing cream a nurse friend had slipped into my purse even after I told her I didn’t need it.  What if I didn’t like the drawings Jim had prepared?  What if what if what if…. And also, tattoo day!  TATTTTTTTOOOOOOOOO!! Tattootattootattootattootattootattoo! Blaaaaagggghhhhh!!!

I walked into the shop pretty much ready to puke. 

Three giggling women and a (non-giggling) man walked in at the same time.  They were apparently there for some spur of the moment (possibly alcohol-encouraged?) piercings.

One giggling blonde asked the front desk guy, “Is it going to hurt?”

And I couldn’t help it.  All of my tension and anticipation and heightened emotion coalesced into a quick bubble of laughter.  Front desk guy met my eyes.  In unison, we said, “Yes.”

I started to feel better.

I had to wait for about fifteen minutes for my appointment so Jim could grab some dinner.  Actually, I think the guy said lunch.  Lunch at 5:30pm.  That is so not my life.  But while I waited, a bunch of people came in and out.  It was a beautiful warm Saturday evening in Fells Point, one of the first pleasant, dry weekends of the season.  Most of the people coming in were just out wandering before dinner.  They weren’t there for ink. 

I was. 

I did belong there. 

Mom jeans and all.

Who the hell do I think I am?  Hell if I know, but I was getting a damn tattoo, and it was going to be awesome. And I didn’t even consider the numbing cream.  Well, didn’t seriously consider it anyway.  Because I’m a bad-ass.

Well, for a suburban housewife.  I mean, for a minivan driver who likes pumpkin lattes, I am totally a bad-ass.

Eventually Jim came down and I followed him upstairs.  We went over his drawings, made some minor adjustments, and sat down to get started.  He asked if I wanted to watch a movie.  I said no because I wanted to be in the moment. 

I didn’t say that in the moment thing to him.  I just said, “No thanks.”

He went to put the music on and I saw he had been listening to comedy before I came in.  I asked him to put the comedy back on.  He looked skeptical, and said, “Are you sure?  It’s pretty nasty.”

“Even better,” I answered.  “I don’t have a line to cross.  Bring on the nasty.”

Several minutes later, we were both laughing out loud at jokes about golden showers.  Now the problem with that is that it made my shoulder shake every time I laughed, so we had to turn it off, but the ice was broken.  We were good.  Bonded over dirty jokes.

The next three hours?  Well…. they were fine. Tattoos don’t tickle, but except for one small ouchy spot, it was pretty easy.  We talked about politics, Baltimore, how he came to own the shop, kids, TV shows, a shared hatred of patchouli.  We talked social media, travel, and schadenfreude.  And ink.  We talked about tattoos.  His.  Mine.  Others he had done.  The time passed shockingly quickly.

A teeny bit excited?  And maybe high on endorphins?
Before I knew it, I had taken my excited mirror selfie and gotten wrapped up in bandages for the ride home.  My husband was still fifteen minutes away.  He was driving me because I have a very strong endorphin response and get loopy and high from pain, and I didn’t trust myself to drive.  So I hung out in the lobby with my shoulder wrapped in a cross between a black trash bag and diapers, waiting for my ride. 

One by one, the artists came downstairs to hang by the front desk and get ready to go.  I was closing the place down.  I was separate from them, over in my chair, facebooking my face off about my new ink. 

But I belonged there.  And all of them, with their intimidating facial piercings and stretched lobes and every visible bit of skin covered in ink… they couldn’t have been nicer to me. 

To me.  The over-prepared, middle-aged, fat, suburban mom.

Maybe it was all of the endorphins, buzzing me enough that an hour later I still had trouble mastering the simple task of filling a glass with water, but I had this beautiful moment.  A oneness.  A dropping of masks.  A releasing of roles. 

I realized that my insecurities and nervousness about being accepted are the things that hold me back from connecting.  That my preoccupation with how others might see or judge me gets in the way of being completely myself. 

Well fuck that. 

I should stop doing that. 

Because who I am?  She’s kind of a bad-ass. 

A minivan driving, pumpkin latte drinking, costume loving, freshly inked bad-ass. 

I spend a lot of time and energy struggling with social anxiety.  And when I find myself struggling, I’m going to try something different.  I’m going to stop banging my head. 

And my beautiful new ink is here to remind me to find the door, and fly.

No, not fly. That's too cheesy. Be a bad-ass. That's what I meant to say.






Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Big


I had a weird experience this week.  I posted a photo in a facebook group I’m in, asking the women about their favorite “curvy” fashion rules to break.  You know… black is slimming, no horizontal stripes, no sleeveless tops, no skinny jeans, belt at the smallest part of your waist. 

Maybe I’m the only one who used to obsessively watch What Not to Wear, checking my closet against the rules.  Jackets must close and have a “high stance” to “lock and load” “the girls” (i.e., boobs).  Nothing shapeless or oversized ever.  Straight leg, dark wash trouser jeans, no sparkles or flaps on the pockets because that draws unwanted attention to your butt.

I’ve let go of those rules, and I’m happy that I have.  It’s why I started the conversation.  Basically, I bought these jeans, and I’m in love with them even though “the rules” I learned were that big girls shouldn’t wear jeans like this. I was drawing attention to my butt, and I felt great about that, because even though my body is big, I think my butt is awesome.  Why shouldn’t I bedazzle that ass?  I totally should! 

I felt free and I wanted to spread the freedom, and that’s why I posted about it.

Three things happened in response to my post:

One, people shared their fabulous fashion rule breaking, and we had a “fuck the rules” moment of solidarity. Other sparkly butts.  Bikinis. And lots of curve-enhancing horizontal stripes.

Two, people expressed that there are no rules, and that the premise of my question was ridiculous.  I’m good with that, actually.  They’re just further along the path than I am.  While I still hear Stacy and Clinton’s voice in my head every time I wear skinny jeans, these other women reject the concept of rules completely.  Rock on, sisters.

But it’s the third thing that left me feeling weird.

A bunch of people basically questioned my “fat cred.”  They said that I wasn’t a “big girl,” which were the words I had used to describe myself.  It made me feel really weird.

And when things make me feel weird and I don’t know why… I come talk to you all.

Hi. 

So they’re saying I’m not big.  This was clearly meant as a compliment.  I get the same reaction, even more strongly, when I refer to myself as fat.  Which I do sometimes, because I am.  I think of “big” or “fat” as value-neutral descriptions of my body.  I’m not insulting myself.  I’m just describing my body. 

My body is big.  It is, in fact, considered not large, not extra large, but extra EXTRA large.  I can’t shop in regular stores.  I have to go to special stores for people who are bigger than “normal.”  I am considered “obese” by medical terms, and would have to lose more than 30 pounds to be merely considered “overweight,” and more than 60 pounds to be considered “normal weight.” 

Fat on my body.
And I am fat.  It is what it is.  There is a lot of extra fat tissue on my body.  It’s how I’m made.  I could probably get rid of some of it, but historically for me, that weight loss comes at the expense of a healthy relationship with food and my mental health.  I’m happier and healthier accepting my fat body and just making sure I put real, nutritious food in it and move it around a lot. 

By any definition you can come up with, I am big.  I am a fat woman.  By clothing sizes, by medical terms, by the tissues that make up my body composition.

But there’s one set of definitions by which I am NOT fat.

If fat equals ugly, then no, I’m not fat.  If big equals undesirable, then no, I’m not big. 

I think that’s why I feel weird when people tell me I’m not big, or not fat.  Because by doing so, it feels to me like they are equating fat with ugly.  It’s the only definition that makes sense to me.  Because by any other definition, yup, I’m fat.  Except for the definition in which fat equals ugly.

My whole thing… the reason I post bikini photos right alongside my clothing size and weight… is that I want the world to see that a woman can be plus sized, extra extra large, weigh 220 pounds, have lots of fat on her body, and be slammin’, gorgeous, sexy, beautiful, and effing awesome. 

Fat does not equal ugly.  It just doesn’t.

Not every larger woman will want to reclaim that word or even hear it.  Fat will probably always be a sensitive word for many of us, and even to some degree for me.  I can say it in a reclaiming way, but it could still be used against me if the intent is cruelty. 

But I choose to reclaim it as a neutral descriptor, in hopes that I can help to disentangle the concepts of fat and ugly.  Because my big fat body is hot as hell.


Photo by Rebecca Palmer of lifescapesphotoandvideo.com

Monday, August 4, 2014

The life vest

I spent last week at my parents' new house in North Carolina, on Lake Gaston (pronounced Gastin, not the French way, and also best pronounced with a southern accent).  


Even though they're just over the Virginia border (seriously, at one point we considered swimming to Virginia), it might as well be another country.  It's beautiful there, but man, rural.  Like, rural rural.  Like no internet no cell service rural.  The best internet my parents can get is one and a half somethings.  I don't know what the somethings are, but what it means is that they can't stream Netflix and if someone wants to Skype with their grandbabies in Idaho, their grandbabies in the house with them have to get off their ipads and their daughter (i.e., me) has to get off facebook.

And you can't use your phone as a GPS, because there is no cell service.

One day we went to a flea market.  We poked through antique jewelry, rusted cast iron pots begging to be rejuvenated, and old washboards that unfortunately didn't say anything unintentionally hilarious about rubbing something out.  Oh, and here's how rural.  At one of the stalls, we tried to buy stuff, but couldn't because the seller wasn't around this weekend.  He had his brother manning the stall, but his brother didn't know the prices, so we couldn't buy anything. "Maybe next weekend," we were told.  And this guy let us look at stuff for ten minutes and didn't tell us nothing was for sale until we asked.

It is so rural that stuff at the flea market is not for sale, but people just sit there all day anyway.  Because... there is nothing else to do??  I guess??

Or maybe he just didn't like our Yankee accents and didn't want us wearing his grandmother's old scarf clips.  I don't know.  I don't get it.

Anyway, we found plenty to do in rural North Carolina.  Mostly involving eating, drinking, playing inappropriate and dirty games of telepictionary, and hanging out on the lake.

One day we went tubing behind my dad's boat, and that is the story I really came here to tell.

We took turns on the tube. My adventurous little brother went first, and then the kids had their turns.  Next my brother's girlfriend went, and then it was my turn.  Let me paint this little picture.  My brother's girlfriend is something like a size 2. Actually, I asked her after writing the first version of this.  She's a size zero.  She's an adorable, extremely sweet and cool little size zero person.

So when it was my turn, she handed over the life vest the adults were all sharing, it having been adorably zipped and clipped on her tiny bod a moment ago.

It was a size medium life vest.  I'm a 2X.

So fuck.

It didn't zip, not even close. My heart sank as I tried it on and realized I was going to have to deal with the fact that the generic adult life vest that everyone was using wasn't going to fit me.  It was one of those times.  Those one-size-fits-all-except-not-all-because-not-me times.  

It doesn't matter how much self-love work you do.  When something is supposed to be appropriate for people in general, and you're too big for it, it's devastating and kind of dehumanizing.  Like when a chair has a weight limit that is lower than your weight.  Or worse, when you look at a chair and you wonder.  Will it hold me or will I break a chair? And yes, I have broken a chair.  Only once.  But it only takes once.  

Maybe a thinner person would have broken that chair too because it was structurally unsound.  Or maybe I'm a gigantic non-person who can't have nice things like chairs.  Or life vests.  Or tube rides.

Tube rides is suddenly dirty in my mind.  Just thought I'd share that.


Anyway, all of the big girls out there know what I'm talking about.  It's that moment when you fear you might need a seat belt extender in an airplane.  That moment when you realize there is literally no place you can go to try on and buy a bra.  That moment when they have to swap out the blood pressure cuff.  That moment when you realize that you're too big for something that is fine for (what seems like) everyone else.



It's devastating.

I had a choice in that moment.  Beg off and miss the fun.

Or don't.

I figured before asking if my dad had another life vest, I would see if I could at least clip this little size medium thing around my body, even if it wouldn't zip.

I managed to clip the two clips below hooter level where it fit slightly better, and a funny thing happened. The life vest basically functioned as a sort of bustier, and pushed my boobs up. Suddenly, even next to my size zero almost-sister-in-law, I felt beautiful, with my life-vest-corseted tatas all supported and on display.  It was my kind of beauty, not her kind.  We are both beautiful.  And if I weren't the size I am, I wouldn't have these giant boobs sitting adorably on their life vest bustier shelf.

It was my turn to ride.  I floundered like an awkwardly beached whale trying to get on the tube. And then I had the best time ever flying across the water, in and out of the wake, hanging on for dear life.  It was awesome.  And I was the only adult who didn't fall off the tube. And I was pleasantly sore the next day from the craziness of hanging on as the tube whipped across the lake.  

And my self-love was stronger than ever.

So here's the moral of the story: When life gives you a too-small life vest, turn it into a bustier!


Monday, May 5, 2014

Real

It’s been about a month since my pin-up shoot, and I have gotten wonderful feedback from a lot of people.  I feel seen, which was one of my goals.  It feels incredible to put out an image of beauty in a different size from what we usually see in the world.

But.

I feel the need to do something to balance those images. 

They’re real in that they’re not airbrushed or Photoshopped.  That’s really me and that’s one set of true representations of what I looked like that day.  But I had on two sets of fake eyelashes, loads of makeup, and corsets to change my shape.  My hair was curled and teased, and a professional photographer was pointing hundreds (thousands?) of dollars of lights at me and finding all of the most flattering angles.  And then of hundreds of photos, I chose the best few.

My facebook profile pic.
I didn’t photoshop them.  They’re real.  But also, not exactly.

I have a mini reunion coming up with some old friends from my college dorm, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years.  And I was suddenly like, shit.  What if they think I look like my facebook profile picture?

Yeah, I’ve been using the pin-up shots as my facebook profile pic, because duh.  Of course I am!  They’re awesome and fun and cool and sassy and amazing.  Of course I am.  But I don’t really look like that.  Like, ever. 

This is what I really look like.



The kids learned about photobombing and wanted to photobomb me, so I took a photo exactly as I was.  No makeup, hair not done, no bra.  That’s what I actually look like most of the time.

Here’s another one, in which I am slightly buzzed.  Again, no makeup, no bra, and my favorite FKH8 hoodie.  This is the real me.



When I get dressed up, I look like this.



That’s basically as good as it gets.  And I can only wear those black boots if I’m going from car to restaurant to car.  And the blue shoes gave me a really bad blister and I had to take them off in the mall parking lot and walk back to my car barefoot.

Shall we continue?  Here is me right after the pin-up shoot, makeup washed off, and hair unpinned but still teased.



Here is me in the bikini I wore in the pin-up shoot, just the mirror selfie I took to show my friends.



Here is an adorable photo of me with my kids that I self-consciously cropped for facebook because I thought I looked pregnant. And I made my husband take a bunch more because I didn't like how my neck looked, but the kids were cutest in this one.



And here is the photo that started it all.  A woman on a body love facebook group I’m in posted a photo of her body “challenge area” and invited us to do the same.  So I did.  I posted this photo of my fupa, the hanging skin leftover from my pregnancy that contains fat when I am heavier, and just hangs empty when I lose weight. 



It made me want to puke to post it. I considered deleting it.

But then a funny thing happened.

There was a weird kind of power in it.  A power in showing that thing I was most afraid would be seen.  This is me.  This is real.  And it’s all OK.  So my skin hangs down.  I had twins and carried them to 36 weeks, and that’s what happens (to some women) when you do that.  It’s OK. 

It’s OK.

I am worthy of love, and… dare I say it?  I am still beautiful and sexy.  Even though now you have all seen my fupa.

One of the most common items of feedback I have gotten from the pin-up and bikini photo shoots is women telling me they wish they could do that, but they feel they can’t.

To them I say, you can if you want to. It’s smoke and mirrors and makeup and corsets and an incredibly fun and empowering way to spend an afternoon.

Those of us who try to put sexy plus size images out in the world… we’re crafting and choosing those images in such a way as to change the conversation about beauty and fat and size. But we don’t really look like that either (or at least I don’t).

So let’s change the conversation even further.  You know what is beautiful?  Bravery. Honesty. Vulnerability. Truth.  Maybe it’s not magazine ad beauty, but it’s something stronger.  True beauty has nothing to do with corsets and fake eyelashes and flattering camera angles. 

Show your truth.  Be vulnerable.  Be real. 

You. Are. Beautiful. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pin-up at 40

I turned forty this year.  It’s a big milestone, and the first one that really makes me feel different.  New medical tests are required, and my body is doing weird things.  Hot flashes.  My old wrist injury aching when it’s going to rain.  Random eyebrow hairs turning silver, growing extra long, and spronging out from my face, like “Look at me!  I’m a gray eyebrow hair! Helllooooooo!! Do you see me?”

I know how that shining, fabulous eyebrow hair feels.  Sometimes you just want to be seen.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to slip quietly under a cloak of invisibility.  I find myself thinking often of that scene from Six Feet Under, in which Kathy Bates teaches Frances Conroy to shoplift, explaining that since they’re invisible as older women anyway, they might as well get free stuff. 

When I’m in my mom uniform, jeans and a basic top, minimal makeup, at the grocery store or the waiting area at dance class, I can feel the slide of eyes.  An older, plus size suburban mom.  Utterly invisible.

The blue hair helps a little.  A genuine smile helps sometimes too.  But I still feel the slide into invisibility.  Middle-aged.  Overweight.  Nothing to see here.

But I’m not gonna go quietly.

I’m 40!  Do you know how freeing that is?  I am the person I’m going to be.  This is me.  Not to say I can’t reinvent myself in another twenty years.  I totally can.  But pretty much, I am who I am, and I know myself pretty well.  This is me.  Crazy, irreverent, boozy, loving, maternal, potty-mouthed, smart, and sexy as hell. 

I get to just be who I am.  Blue hair.  Whiskey blog.  Obsessed with corsets.  I'm forty.  I get to just be that. 

And I don’t have to be invisible if I don’t want to be. 

So here I am.  Forty.  Overweight.  Mom of twins.  Doing pin-up. Because beauty isn’t a number.  It’s not an age or a dress size or a number on the scale.  It doesn’t come from anyone else’s approval.  It comes from inside. 

And I will not go quietly.  Oh, hell to the no.















All photos are by the amazing, extraordinary Rebecca Palmer of Lifescapes Photography.  Also known as best sister ever.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Granny lust


Urban dictionary defines “granny lust” as… wait… urban dictionary doesn’t have an entry for granny lust.  OK, well, a google search reveals that “granny lust” is an expression that means…

Oh my god!  For the love of all that is holy, that is… just… just don’t do that search!  I need to clean my eyeballs with bleach now please.

OK, apparently I am the only person who uses the expression granny lust to mean something other than a preference for older ladies who can still fit too many… um… in their… um…

So.

Fine, then, Pam-a-rama ding dong defines “granny lust” as the strong desire to have a grandbaby.  Similar to baby lust (the desire to have a baby), but without actually wanting to, you know, have a baby.

Here’s what’s been happening.  A bunch of my contemporaries are procreating.  I’m 40.  We should be done with that malarkey by now, no?  But apparently no, because two of my college friends and one grad school friend have had kiddos in the past year or so.  Their older kids were old enough to be in the sweet zone.  The no longer diapers/not yet drugs sweet zone.

Why would they mess with that little slice of heaven by popping out a new one?

Well, I know why.  It’s happening to me too.  My twins are six.  I’m thrilled with their current stage.  Six is magical.  They can do things on their own.  Their minds are amusing and fascinating and wonderful.  They still believe in Santa and the tooth fairy, but are old enough to ask logical questions about it, or make up elaborate scenarios to justify their continued belief in the face of logistic breakdown.  They are amazing right now, and I could not love them more.

But then I see a one-year-old—that uneven toddle, a pretzel-crumbed mouth or sparkly-eyed giggle, the way they race headlong, letting inertia carry them while their legs struggle to keep up.  Or god forbid I smell a newborn baby head.  I can literally feel my ovaries popping out four eggs.  OK, not literally-literally.  But there is truly a physical sensation in my lower abdomen when I huff a baby head.

But I don’t want another baby. 

That thing about popping out four eggs?  I’m not kidding about that shit.  I had spontaneous twins, which means I didn’t do fertility or anything.  I just popped out two eggs instead of one.  Oops. 

My body was all, oh, you’re not using these things?  OK, then I’ll just dump em all out en masse before they go bad.  Like making omelets for dinner when the eggs get too close to expiring.  Except instead of omelets, it’s a litter of children suddenly jockeying for space with my bladder and winning, stretching my skin beyond repair, and making a comfy, smushy hammock out of my pelvic floor. 

Honestly, if I thought I could have one baby, I might be tempted.  But faced with the knowledge that my body is throwing eggs like a Jersey kid on Mischief Night, hell to the no.

So instead, I have decided to interpret my desire for a baby as, not baby lust, but granny lust.  If I had lived in another time in history, or if the wrong condom had broken back in the day, I could have a twenty-year-old kid right now.  Instead, I waited until I was done with grad school and had my babies at age 34. 

But my body doesn’t know that.

It’s starting the elaborate shut down of the hormone factory, if my erratic use of the thermostat and general bitchiness are any indication.  My body thinks I’m almost ready to be a grandmother.  It doesn’t know my kids are only six.

So I guess I’ll have to settle for being the crazy auntie for now.  Now someone bring me a baby to sniff.  I need a fix.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Humanity at the grocery store


I kind of love the grocery store.  The DMV.  The post office a week before Christmas.  I have a weird affinity for places full of unconscious, not-happy people stuck in their own minds.  Because you know what those places are?  A chance to practice mindfulness.  And a chance to find connection. 

It’s easy to be mindful in a yoga class or meditating next to a stream or whatever.  (Well, not easy, but relatively easier).  Being mindful at the grocery store is harder.  But guess what.  I spend a hell of a lot more time at the grocery store than I do sitting next to a stream in the forest in a flowing white dress with daisies braided into my hair. 

So the grocery store it is then. It’s one of my primary meditation places. 

It doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes I’m in my own head, stressed about work, in a hurry, upset about some interpersonal incident, wrapped up in thinking about the past or worrying about the future.  Sometimes my kids are with me, and I would have to be a friggin’ Zen master to be all chill and mindful while they’re touching the filthy floor, bumping into people, or fighting loudly over who touched whom first. 

But most of the time, it happens.  I walk into the store, hang my bags from the handle of the shopping cart, pull out my list (compulsively organized by aisle), take a breath, and slide into the zone. 

In that space, I often smile at strangers.  I offer the opportunity to connect.  Sometimes people misunderstand and think I’m flirting.  I’m not.  I’m just present, and gently inviting presence in anyone else who wants to go there with me.  Many people want to, way more people than you would think.  They just needed the eye contact or the smile to snap out of the lonely auto-pilot world they had been in. 

I wind up having conversations with strangers all the time, and many of the people who work in my grocery store are not strangers anymore. 

This past weekend, I was in the produce section, going down my list.  I had picked up another few bottles of kombucha, a fermented probiotic tea that I have been experimenting with to see if it can help with my sensitive stomach and maybe my mood.  I’m not that much of a hippie, despite all of this mindfulness talk.  I just don’t particularly like yogurt or any of the “normal” probiotic stuff, so I’m seeing whether kombucha is a suitable alternative for me. 

I saw a guy looking at the ingredients on a bottle of green kombucha. 

I finished my spin through the produce section, and he was still there, looking at the same bottle of kombucha.  Now I have tried all of the brands offered at that store, and most of the flavors by each brand.  Some are better than others.  This green stuff is the only one I poured down the drain.  Ick. 

I went over to him, “Have you had that before?”

He looked up, “No.”

“Just a warning,” I said, “that flavor is pretty gross-tasting.  But all of the ones with ginger from that company are good.”

I smiled.

And he gave me the absolute nastiest look, put the bottle in his cart, and walked away.

What the hell, dude?

I don’t know what the hell.  Maybe he thought I was flirting and couldn’t believe someone that much older and less hot than him thought she was in his league.  Maybe he’s really into the taste of blue-green algae and spirulina (blech).  Maybe he thought it was none of my damn business.  Maybe he just saw a fat woman and assumed that I think kombucha is a kind of soda to drink with my bacon cupcakes and deep fried twinkies, or whatever it is he imagines people like me eat.

Whatever his thought process, what a buzzkill.  I wandered over to the deli counter in a funk of social anxiety. 

I talk too much to strangers.  Why don’t I just shut the hell up and shop like everyone else?  No one wants to be friendly at the grocery store, and it’s none of my business what kombucha some random dude is buying.  Why did I open my stupid mouth?

I got to the deli counter, second in line after a different guy.  When the employee asked who was next, the guy in front of me said he was still looking, so I ordered my first item.  After a minute, he had clearly decided what he wanted, but I still had a bunch more stuff to get.

I asked the guy who had been at the counter first if he only had one thing to get.  He said yes, so I told him to go ahead.  I smiled and made eye contact.  He smiled back and thanked me. 

Screw you, green kombucha guy, I thought.  I will not allow you to mess with my grocery store Zen mojo.

As my reward for letting that guy go ahead of me, my favorite deli slicing employee came out from the back.  She saw me, and her face broke out in a smile. She told me how she was having the worst day, and how I always seem to show up when she’s frazzled to make her feel better. 

And then she came out from behind the counter and gave me a hug.

I almost got teary, just a little.  She was a bit emotional too.  I don’t know what all was going on for her, or why she needed that hug.  She was at work, and I was a customer, and it wasn’t appropriate to get into it with other people waiting for ham and turkey and whatnot.  But we crossed a line from transient human contact into something more in that moment, and it felt really good.

The moment passed, and I ordered my next item, feeling a little weird about having her wait on me after the lovely and fundamentally real thing we had just shared.

Another woman next to me, there with her kid, made eye contact with me and smiled.  She said, “I remember you.  I’ve been here when you were here before.  Did your hair used to have reddish-purple stripes instead of blue?”

I told her that it had, silently impressed that she remembered me, since the purple stripes were almost a year ago.

She asked me some questions about how long I keep my deli meat before tossing it, and we chatted for a minute.  It didn’t matter what we talked about.  She wanted in the bubble, the bubble of genuine human contact.  It was my pleasure to oblige.

The world can be a lonely place sometimes. 

But it doesn’t have to be.