Sunday, July 27, 2014

How To Walk in My Shoes

"What does it mean to walk in your shoes?" 

When I asked this question to my friends, I received a beautiful array of answers, mostly poignant, but some pretty silly. My aim was to quilt them together into a collective poem. None of these words are my own. In my head it reads somewhere between prose and slam poetry. Find the rhythm and let me know how you feel.

 "How To Walk in My Shoes"
   A collective poem

   They are ugly shoes, 
   But comfortable
   You skip walking and dance
   Stepping in puddles by accident 
   And then jumping in them on purpose
   An adventure...
   Due to my set of stubby legs
   It usually means you aren't walking very fast
   I still can't figure out how to make heels look graceful
   Presenting a pleasant demeanor 
   Amidst a barrage
   Of stupidity
   Tripping over the dog
   Barefoot's better.

   The best stories start when my boots pass through the doors 
   Into places I can't tell you about

   I am a dad doing his best for his daughter
   A daughter watching her mother slip away
   Wade through the bullshit
   Sense of duty, holding lives in the palms of my hands
   Caught in a Painful War, I'm Fighting.
   A man who occasionally gives in,
   May someday give out,
   But who never gives up.
   Constantly struggling to make people perceive me 
   The way I perceive myself,
   Which is inaccurate

   I am a walking contradiction
   An optimist fighting a pessimist 
   While trying to find the right track to stick with -
   Not all who wander are lost
   It means consistency
   A marathon or a mile 
   Are still accomplished one step at a time.
   A woman with so many blessings 
   That even acknowledging the negatives,
   Would seem to lessen them.
   An imaginative hag who wants to be a Star.
   Bette Midler,
   Joan Rivers,
   Barbara Stanwyk
   Lots of edge
   Slightly to the left, 
   Always with a smirk

   I will feel what you feel 
   And honor the path you have taken
   I've lived long enough 
   To value highly 
   All those things I mocked when I was young

   Drop the L - I'm waking
   Just waking the fuck up.

*   *   *

Thank you to everyone who shared their stories this week. This poem wouldn't have been possible without you.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Femininity vs. Masculinity: A Chart of My Body

I have always struggled with the balance of femininity and masculinity within me. My nose is a "gift" directly from my grandfather, so it's masculine. My arms have always been muscular and I'm a bartender who makes a lot of noise shaking cocktails, so they are masculine. I wish my breasts were larger and at times they look to me like an extension of my pecs - masculine. My eyes are my mother's, big and round with long lashes - feminine. My fingers move gracefully and with intent - feminine. Regardless of how I have felt inside my body, I have spent the greater half of my life trying to rid myself of anything masculine (read: so that people would like me more).

As I enter the second quarter of my 30th year of life, I am finally realizing that I can't very well banish any quality from my nature and I best just begin to accept it. So I attended a seminar last month at the yoga retreat in Stratton. It was called "Shiva and Shakti Unite: Aligning the Male and Female Energies", led by Hemalayaa Behl. Shiva is the Hindu masculine divine entity, Shakti is the Hindu female divine entity. Their relationship was explained to me like this: Shiva is the structure of the world, he is everything masculine, but without his feminine counterpart Shakti he cannot open his eyes to experience the world around him. If he is structure, she is the energy that flows through it. And if both are necessary for life to exist, then I can afford to lean into my own qualities just a bit.

I tried breathing in a masculine way, then a feminine way. I meditated masculinely, then femininely. Ate both ways, walked both ways. Sometimes the results were comical as it became clear that I had a preconceived, culturally-influenced idea of what was "masculine eating" and "feminine walking". Those stereotypes were often negative, so I tried to distance myself from them. I began to wonder, what does my feminine strength feel like? How is it different from my masculine strength?

I posted on Facebook "What are you thoughts on masculinity vs. femininity? What are the the places in your body that are more masculine or feminine? Would you change anything?" Thank god for these diverse responses! Here are a few:
"There is no "vs" about it. We all have aspects of both; and I find the contradictions of masculine and feminine within a person one of the most intriguing aspects of an individual personally."  
"I have birthing hips. I was never one of those guys with a tiny waist. EVER. Ask me to bare a child? You got it! Ask me to have a figure? Nope."  
"If I could like to Chaning Tatum and still be me I would, but if I looked like that would I still be me?"  
"I have a great butt. It wiggles when I walk."  
"My butt is big and curvy, and is definitely very feminine...But I've never wicked it was more boyish or less feminine...I just wished it was a tad smaller!"  
"At 8 months pregnant I think pretty much every inch of me is decidedly feminine at this point, and I a fascinating constantly changing science experiment."  
"6 months postpartum and everything is still "different"...All those hours logged at the gym in years past, but I give this body so much more love and respect."  
"I miss the boobs I had before cancer, the fobs aren't the same."  
"Other than the hairs I sprout on my face because of menopause...there is not too much about me that is masculine."  
"There have been times when I've wanted to change a couple of places in my body, but never thought them to be too feminine or too masculine..."  
"It's fluid. It's not solid. Changes & shifts."  
"I never understand what those words mean. It seems like masculine means 'stereotypically male qualities' and feminine means 'stereotypical female qualities' but as we recognize that everyone has both, those lines don't make sense. And within myself, I don't feel more like a woman when I exhibit certain qualities than others; I feel like I'm just judged on whether my actions or words fit the stereotype or not. And then I'm told that I'm either 'such a girl' or 'such a dude' depending on what I'm doing at the particular moment. I find it all confusing and silly."  
"I like my masculine qualities as much as my feminine ones. My biggest challenge is in choosing wisely how and when to let each emerge, so they express my most true self. When I express either in a darker or immature way, I'm always sorry."  
"What I have and what I am are for me to know and you to find out :) "
It's all well and good to say a person is a mix of energies or that we should accept ourselves as we are, but what about my masculine arms and grandpa nose?!

I created a chart to help me understand how I feel about my body and the different energies flowing through it. I wrote a list of my body parts from the top down and marked them as either feminine, masculine, or both. The following day I happened to be feeling much more feminine. I looked over the chart and wanted to change many of my marks around. I'll hypothesis that if I was paying closer attention, and if I was allowing those energies to flow freely in me, my inner mix of femininity and masculinity aren't fighting each other but are dancing with each other and always changing, yin-yang style. So I left the chart as it is, a snapshot of how I felt in the moment. 55% Feminine, 15% Masculine, 30% Both.

I'm still slightly embarrassed by my assessment of myself. Those old beliefs that I must be perfectly feminine to be acceptable run very deep. I think the greatest lesson drawn from looking back at my life lived with this high a level of self-scrutiny is that all these collected body parts of mine are thirsty for an equally high level of self-love. And so it begins.