The Weekend

Me tabling for the Vegan Lady Gang.

I know everyone is feeling it, but I just have to say: it’s fucking hot outside. I’ve spent most of my weekend in my bedroom with the window air conditining on high. The dogs are in here with me. I moved the pigs to the basement, which is the coolest room in the house (outside of my air-conditioned bedroom). I would bring them in here, but I turn off the air when I leave, so it gets just as hot in here as it is in the rest of the house (85 degrees the last I checked)—too hot for them to be up here. I’ve started training for a half marathon with a group of women here in Vermont. Today was our long run (4 miles). Let’s just say, the heat nearly destroyed my will to live.

Yesterday was eventful! I finally made it over to Albany for a Vegan Lady Gang event. We tabled at Babe Fest, described as “an inclusive, intersectional feminist celebration of women and non-men of the Capital Region and all the awesome things they’re doing.” This was the first time I got to meet Kimberly, who is quite active in the vegan movement in Albany, creating this chapter of the Vegan Lady Gang (I’m kicking around the idea of starting one in Vermont), hosting Cubes of Truth protests and other events. She was terrific. I’m a sort of supporting activist, rather than leading activist. I will carry signs, hand out information, etc., but I’m not the best person to debate with someone who wants to debate. (There is an activist named Earthling Ed who is a MASTER street debater…calm, cool, collected and with every factoid at his fingertips…it’s great fun watching him.) Most of the people who came to talk to us were already vegans, or vegetarians leaning toward veganism. There were a couple of older guys who came up to chat, one wanting to talk about how eating more veggies and beans had helped him lose weight/get diabetes under control, though he wasn’t vegan. He threw out a couple of arguments as to why he ate fish or meat and listening to Kimberly respond was really insightful in terms of the information she provided and her tone, which never changed, really. She was quite friendly. Another guy had never heard of veganism and one of the other volunteers started a conversation with him. The oddest moment was a guy who came up to the table and said, “I like lamb.” “Lambs are great,” I said. “I like them, too. They’re cute.” Then he named some other type of meat he liked. Then he said, plants feel pain. When Kimberly said, they don’t have the same kind of nervous system that animals have to feel pain, he said, they have a different nervous system. [insert my raised eyebrow here.] He was just throwing out these random one liners, without arguing really. But not wanting to listen either. Kimberly told him she wasn’t going to argue with him. He started looking at the information pamphlets on our table and took a small stack of the ones about animal rights that had a close-up of a gorilla’s face on the cover. The next thing we see, he’s inside the building, handing out the pamphlets to people. One of the event organizers came out and asked us who he was. Kimberly told him the story of how he came to us. “Well, he’s in there handing out pamphlets now, so maybe you changed his mind.” So bizarre and amusing.


I like the idea of creating a Vermont chapter of the Vegan Lady Gang, but I’m not sure how much interest there would be in this area. I guess it doesn’t hurt to send out feelers. But creating the group made me think more about my activism/volunteer work in general. Is the Vegan Lady Gang the best use of my efforts in this region, or is there something else I should be doing? There is a lot of poverty in this area; maybe I should be looking for organizations to help with that? Maybe I should be looking for ways to help the elderly more? By making home visits or volunteering at local nursing homes? I feel like there is so much need and I’m doing so little.

On the drive to Manchester this morning, I caught the last 10 minutes of On Being with Krista Tippett. I really enjoy that show and the conversations about spirituality, religion, love, art, and being human…what it means to be human (subscribe to the podcast!). Today she and her guests were speaking about MLK and some of his writings. They got to the quote “I have decided to stick with love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” The group was talking about love as action, not emotional love, and how you put love into action. Some would say the protests that happened over the weekend, demanding that families be reunited, is love in action, but how do you refrain from the anger/hatred that spurs these protests? I feel like I’m filled with anger frequently over the political situation in this country. I’ve described my feelings toward 45 in very unkind terms and I’ve justified it because the things he says and the things he does are so infuriating, classless, unkind. How do I keep myself from being swallowed up by that anger? Better yet, how do I practice loving kindness toward those who stir within me such anger? Can I? Do I have it within me?

There is much talk about the new Fred Rogers documentary (which I’m heading out to see shortly). How he was a total radical for his time because he practiced loving kindness…he embodied it really. When he died, I remember reading this glorious essay from a writer who said he ran into Fred Rogers one day in Pittsburgh, when the writer was having a particularly difficult time in life. The ran into each other on the campus where the writer was attending school. Parts of the essay are below:

As we stepped into the lobby, I hovered for a moment, building my courage as they parted company. (And with him, how could you not wait and be polite?) Then finally…

“Mr. Rogers…I don’t mean to bother you. But I just wanted to say thanks.”

He smiled patiently. I imagine this sort of thing happened to hime about every 10 feet. Then he said: “Did you grow up as one of my television neighbors?” I felt like crying. Yeah. I did. I was his neighbor.

He opened his arms, lifting his satchel in the air, and beckoning me in: “It’s good to see you again, neighbor.”

I got to hug Mr. Rogers, y’all!

Then he opened the student union door and said goodbye. That’s when I blurted in a kind of rambling gush that I’d stumbled on the show again recently, at a time when I truly needed it. He listened there in the doorway. When I ran out of words, I just said, “So…thanks for that. Again.”

Mr. Rogers nodded. He looked down, and let the door close again. He undid his scarf and motioned to the window, where he sat down on the ledge.

This is what set Mr. Rogers apart. No one else would’ve done this. No one.

He said, “Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?”

At the end, I just said thank you again ––for about the 13th time. And I apologized if I made him late for wherever he was headed. Mr. Rogers just smiled, and said in his slow, gentle voice: “Sometimes you’re right where you need to be.”

How do you become that patient and thoughtful and generous? There are people who embody this quality (the Dalai Lama is another). How do you keep your feet and heart firmly planted in kindness when all (political) hell is happening around you? When you can’t help but be angry about political policies that hurt people. About people hurting people.

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Bliss and deep thoughts

I had the great fortune of spending a few solitary hours this morning at Reid Park in Maine. It was magical. The sky was gray and moody. The rocks jagged and dark. It was cool enough that I wore two jackets over my t-shirt. There were only a few other people on the beach at that time. I see the ocean so seldomly these days that I just want to absorb every ounce of it while I’m there. I not only want to snap a few photos, I want to sear the image into my brain. I want to bottle that awareness––that complete and utter absorption in nothing but the present moment–– and wear it on a chain around my neck for when I return to my daily routine.

I’ve been struck by the different types of natural beauty there are in this world. The Maine coast is otherwordly in its beauty, but the Vermont mountains, covered in verdant summer greens, also swell my heart with joy. The thick, damp Vermont forests also stops me on my feet to pause and look. Just look.

I find myself thinking, I am so lucky. To be on this magnificent planet. To feel well and healthy and pain-free, and to have the time and opportunity to travel, stop, look, breathe.

I thought of my mom, someone who has chronic pain now and has had variations of pain through her life, though she always worked through it. I don’t believe she’s ever been to Maine and it’s unlikely she’d travel to it now since she hates traveling and doesn’t feel her best. But she’s been to Italy and to Mexico and so many other places in the U.S. She was never a fan of traveling, but she’s been around! I thought of my dad. He never saw the Maine coast. But he did get to Florida and to the southwest. And, more importantly, he was perfectly satisfied in his little Ohio space.

I thought of Anthony Bourdain. I was never a fan, really. I thought he was handsome, but he looked like someone who could become an asshole at the drop of a hat. I knew he was a chef and a television host, but I never watched his shows. I loved that he had an underdog story (randomly submitting an essay to the New Yorker and it getting accepted, which launched him into the limelight). Spence watched some of the old episodes of his show and I realized I had no idea that Bourdain had been at it for so long––he looked so young. He was anti-vegan/vegetarianism (boo); not surprising since the entire idea of his show is to enter new cultures and eat whatever they eat. But I loved that he got to see the world! And he got to write about it and talk about it and have fun. So when I learned he’d committed suicide, in Paris of all places, I was thunderstruck. All the usual notions went through my brain––he had it all, he had a great job, he got to travel the world, he was filming another episode in Paris (!), etc., etc. I had to catch myself. We are all human. We are all susceptible to the pains, depressions, dark abysses, addictions of this life. It matters not the outward visuals of a successful life.

I stood on the Maine coast today, thinking about a lot of people I love and wishing they could see this scene. I thought about Anthony Bourdain, someone who saw most of the world, and it wasn’t enough to lighten the darkness when the darkness descended.

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.” ––Anthony Bourdain

My first tattoo

I got my first tattoo last week.

In my head, I’ve been planning my first tattoo for years. I’ve always liked tattoos (generally) but it took a long time to decide what to get. 25-year-old me had considered a Grateful Dead bear. 42-year-old me would have been SOOO over that by now.

There was also the problem that I was obsessively afraid of blood-borne illnesses (specifically HIV) from the ages of 19-30. I mean, bordering on neuroses. I mean, if I had grown up in an environment/in a time when people knew to encourage mental health care, I’m sure I would have been sent off for mental health care. Instead, I grew up in a time/in a place where you were told to Stop Worrying. Stop. It. Going to get mental health care was more of a threat than a solution (because that must mean you’re “really crazy.”). When I look back at some of the moments where I was utterly overwhelmed by fear of already having HIV (having caught it in some inexplicable, yet-undiscovered way), I don’t know how I was able to keep from having a complete come apart. I don’t know how the center held except that I had some spark of reason deep in my brain that kept me from sinking into complete and long term despair. I knew that I didn’t have HIV and sometimes that spark of reason would bubble up and chase away the shadows.

This fear was a defining feature for those who knew me during this time. I guess I basically outgrew it? When I met the man who would become my husband, I insisted we both get tested and they came back negative, which eased my fear. My life got busier. Scientists developed treatments for HIV. The stigma of the disease lessened (the stigma, I think, was the impetus for my fear). I remember reading some years back that young people viewed HIV as just another STD that was out there, that totally bent my mind. It was nothing less than a death sentence to me, during which people would avoid you. When I told my mom, my brother, my high school best friend and one of my close friends from Florida about the tattoo, all of them mentioned remembering my fear. That’s when I realized it must have left an impression on them, too. But I’m happy to say I’ve moved past the fear. (It helps that all needles are single use/disposable and I still had the artist walk me through the sterilization process.)

I’d been seriously considering a sugar skull tat with my parents’ birth year underneath it. I was pretty certain that’s what it would be. I didn’t know the location…I was leaning toward my wrist, but thought it might be a bit too big. I didn’t want to get sick of looking at it, but I also didn’t want it to be someplace where I would never see it. I thought it might be a bit more expensive than I could afford. As I’ve become more and more serious about veganism, I started thinking about the symbolism associated with that. (Side note: I have to say veganism has become pretty close to a religion to me. It’s a daily opportunity to put into practice the beliefs I hold. I want to avoid hurting animals as much as possible. I want to help them as much as possible. I saw this really wonderful quote from Natalie Portman who summed it up beautifully:

“There’s a reason why every major religion has food rules. Because three times a day, you’re forced to think about your morality and your ethics and what you believe in. The reason you eat what you do—even not religion, but just culturally…why you eat a cow but now a dog—represents something in who you are and how you think about things.”

Sometimes it’s an effort to look away from the milk chocolate. It’s difficult to pass on the Björn sandals because they’re made of leather. To decline a dish because it has eggs. I realize people may think I’m being a pain in the ass (my mom says I’m an extremist), but I take my reasoning behind it to heart. I don’t know if I’m making a difference (or even if I’ve removed myself as completely as I can from the system of exploiting animals), but I’m doing my damndest while I’m on this earth.)

I started toying with the idea of the Cruelty Free bunny. The Leaping Bunny—both symbols of cruelty free products. I thought about the vegan “v” or the word Ahimsa. And a paw print (representing my dogs, my cats and all dogs/cats/animals) was always in the mix. It wasn’t until I went with my best friend from high school and her daughter to get her daughter’s tattoo (she committed quite quickly to her tattoo and got it the day after she turned 18!) that I thought about going small first. The daughter got two small, cool tats!

There is an all vegan shop in New Hampshire that I tried to get in to, but they are booked often and it’s a 3 hour trip, so that didn’t work out this time. Instead, I contacted the shop where I get my piercings and spoke with an artist there about her inks. She said the black ink was vegan, so I made the appointment. The day before I went in, I started thinking: Maybe I should add this. Maybe I should add that. I started getting a bit overwhelmed with the idea and decided, Nope. I’m sticking with my paw print. It represents a lot to me—veganism, my love of animals. That’s what I did. And I’m happy with it. I already have an idea for a second tattoo, but I like the simplicity of this one so well that I may stick with one. We’ll see.

Unconventional

Wonderful-granny-green-ombre-hair-color-choice-for-black-hair-incredible-fashion-lookI received one of my very favorite compliments years ago, from a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time back then. It was 2002 or 2003 and I ran into him at an art show in the Treasure Coast. We had worked together at my hometown (Newark, Ohio) newspaper when I was a college student. He was so much fun to work with and, surprisingly, we both ended up working in Florida! We laughed about our time in Ohio and he said, “You always struck me as someone belonging more in New York City than Newark, Ohio.” Those words meant so much to me. Of course, as I’ve aged, I realize that NYC isn’t as perfect as I’ve always imagined it (unless you have endless amounts of money) and I know that there are cool and stylish and amusing and terrific people in Newark (I know a lot of them!). But I remember feeling so…pleased that he thought I’d fit into NYC.

Part of the infatuation I have with NYC is that it is a place where the unconventional is expected. Of course I just walked past a woman with a purple mohawk that stands a foot off her head. Of course a trans man just walked past me on the subway in short booty shorts, a fringed top and platform shoes that I would absolutely kill myself in. Of course someone is running across the street wearing red from head to toe. I LOVE the unconventional and I love that NYC is a place to revel in it.

When I see someone with unusual hair, unusual makeup, unusual clothing or jewelry, I just swoon. My face becomes the heart-eyes emoji. It brings me such delight. I aspire to such unconventionality (within the parameters of my own style).

 

Random

KirkI was in a true funk on Monday. I could barely pull myself out of bed to get ready for work. It felt so good to just lie on the bed, eyes closed. Throughout the day I was perplexed by my wish to just crawl under my desk and sleep. And I really would be able to sleep because I can sleep pretty much anywhere. (I’m about to go get some dental work done and already looking at it as an opportunity for a nap.)

Tuesday had me feeling a bit more anxious and irritable. Tired, too. Generally out of sorts. I went to Toastmasters in the evening and wondered how people seem to handle such busy lives. I go to work and I go home and I seldom do anything more during the work week except on the weeks I go to Toastmasters, and sometimes I don’t even feel like doing that. I have a friend with two kids who works the same hours as I do but also takes her kids to all sorts of places/activities, serves on boards after work, plans dinners with friends over the weekend, goes to birthday parties for her kids’ friends—I mean on and on and on. It amazes me. I’m crabby if I have to go to the grocery store after work because I really just want to go home and relax.

Anyway, I’m feeling much better now (though still amazed at how active my friends are). I’m wondering if it’s a hormonal issue; I’ve started writing my moods on my calendars to see if there’s a pattern. I know I feel extreme fatigue at least one day a month. I know it’s not anemia because I’m taking my vitamins! (I started taking a couple more since becoming vegan.)

Now to veer in a totally different direction, here is a list of  childhood heartthrobs (between the age of 8-11), starting with the earliest one I remember (I forget what made me want to make this list…I just remember wanting to make it):

Captain Kirk

The Fonz

Rick Springfield

George Michael (as part of WHAM!)

Bo Duke