Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to Give an Oscar Speech and other things I learned from Ben Affleck

The other week I was watching the season ender of Saturday Night Live. Ben Affleck was host and in his opening monologue he took time to spoof his acceptance speech for Best Picture Oscar win. Apparently, Affleck got a media earful for a thank you to his wife that included mention of marriage as work. I hadn’t seen the original speech, and I am not a Huffington Post reader, so I decided to look into it a little further. Here’s the line from his speech directed at his wife, “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It’s work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I would rather work with.” In most of the reviews of said speech and something the Affleck/Garner duo spoofed on SNL was that the Oscar stage was not an appropriate time to refer to marriage as work or anything less than a sparkly, shiny, designer couture version of the real thing.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog, relationships, fertility, health, happiness, and other non-truths society sells us that leave us feeling inadequate. It’s not so much a non-truth, maybe a half-truth or just as a missing piece in our narrative. The piece we don’t always share so freely but is often what we have most in common. It’s the most important part of the story that gets left out for whatever reason. It’s too hard? It might make you feel awkward? It doesn’t jive with the outward image you’ve so carefully crafted of yourself?

Let me start of by saying thank you to Ben Affleck. While some may feel that an Oscar ceremony is not a prime place to tell the world the truth, I admire and applaud his celebration of the work. Regardless of how people talk about their relationships in public, the main truth of marriage is that it is work. I’m surprised work isn’t somewhere included in the Webster’s definition of the word. I mean, I’ve been married for a whopping four months, and I know fundamentally that successful marriage is all about work. Throw in the 10 years and three children of Jen and Ben. Even with excessive amounts of money and hired help, that’s a lot of work! It doesn’t always feel like hard work, but it is work. Work rooted in love, sacrifice, patience, acceptance, commitment, faith, and then a little more patience. So again, thanks Ben for being a real person who understands that marriage is work and saying it out loud. I promise to watch the next movie you’re involved in just to honor that truth. Also, I enjoyed Argo. I’ve actually seen it twice, coincidently, so thanks for that too. And thanks to Jennifer Garner, you just seem like a nice person.

I’ve been dealing with some emotion over missing pieces of our social narrative myself. Mine comes from recent attempts at baby making. For pretty much all of my life, up until about a year ago, I have been terrified of the possibility of getting pregnant. I grew up with urban legends of women getting pregnant from an errant sperm on a toilet seat or knocked up after their first attempt at intercourse. EEEKKKK! I was led to believe that, “it just takes one time.” Of course, all this scared straight business is useful for horny teenagers, but it led me to naively believe that getting pregnant would be a piece of cake. Four months of trying to score without a goalie has blown that truth up with dynamite. I’m not saying I’m infertile or anything, I just assumed like many other women that I’d get pregnant, like right away. I mean, I regularly eat kale, exercise, and I avoid BPA. So, why am I not knocked up already? I have learned through this process that most women do not get pregnant on the first try or the second try, but after 4 or 5 months and that’s only about 50% of couples. To get to 70-80% of couples, you’re waiting around 9 months to a year.  Most recent studies on infertility report that 10% of couples need medical help trying to conceive. That’s what, 6 million people? That’s a lot of people! If you are a woman who is trying to get pregnant, when you talk to another woman about it, even a woman with a child or 5, they will almost always tell you how long it took them or a friend or a cousin or a sister to get pregnant. A year, two years, they just stopped trying and then it happened, they had two miscarriages, and on and on. I always feel like I’m in that scene in Cruel Intentions and Sarah Michelle Gellar is telling me “everybody does it, just nobody talks about it.”

Why? Why the hell don’t people talk about this? Maybe it’s impractical for people to go around talking about all that work, all that challenge. I think it would be kind of liberating though. What if one day we all walked around with t-shirts that said, “This is my painful truth…” “This is my secret shame…” and fill in the blank accordingly. My guess is that instead of feeling excluded, you’d find a hell of a lot of people wearing the same fucking shirt as you. When I hear other people’s stories about challenges in baby making, I don’t feel disheartened. I feel less alone. It’s not just me. This is LIFE. It’s not ugly, it’s not weird, it’s not unusual. It’s actually the normal.

Let’s spice up our narrative and avoid our social graces. Reclaim your truth, own your shame, the more you share your burden the lighter it gets. Let it come to the surface and swim around a little bit. Be authentic. It seems to me, in our desire to be shiny happy people, we loss our opportunity to cultivate compassion. We miss our opportunity to connect and share our struggle.
Remember folks, all of life is practice.
Yes, marriage is work.
Sure, pregnancy can be allusive.
But you are not alone.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

An Oldie but Goodie

Wanted to put up a little more material on this blog. So starting with some oldies. Here's a piece I wrote back in October 2010. At the time, I was one month into living in a rural Chinese town. I was the only foreigner in that town, and count only count and say "Hello, what's your name?" in Mandarin at the time. I had no idea what was going on.

Forbidden City, Beijing
god lives in you

When life seems desperate,
When the bottom falls out,
When absolutely nothing seems funny to you,

Seriously, laugh out loud,
Like a crazy person,
Laugh so hard you pee your pants a little.
Laugh until your face turns red,
Or maybe even cry.

If you can't find anything to laugh about
Then laugh at yourself.
You're a fool.
Laugh because you're a crazy, mixed up, turned around, upside down fool.

If you can't move
Then give up.
Lie down.
Close your eyes.
Let go.
Give up.

Yeah, so you're a fool,
You're the most beautiful fool there ever was
A human being.

You are unique and ordinary.
You are the world's greatest comedian,
And the punch line to every bad joke.
You're the melted cheese inside a warm burrito,
And the moldy bread that stinks up the refrigerator.
You are everything and nothing all wrapped into one little body.

You don't have to waste time trying to be perfect.
You have lived one thousand lifetimes in the blink of an eye.
Every second you die and are reborn.
Every opportunity is a new lifetime.
You have walked on the moon.
You have traveled through time.
You know the secret of the universe.
You have seen the face of god.
And you are still a fool.

Stop taking everything so seriously.
Smile in the face of all the joys and all the heartache.
Lighten your load.
Lighten your stride.
Lighten your heart.
You have everything you need already.

You are everything.
You are nothing.
You are god.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Some kind of beginning

 “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are-if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” 
–Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Little me, big mountain (Canada, 2011)
In one month from today, I will turn 30. I recognize this as just another day, age ain’t nothing but a number, baby. However, I wrestle with a feeling of discontent, not with the material pieces of my life, but disappointment in my lack of creative accomplishments. I’m not talking Pulitzers. By accomplishments, I mostly mean my unwillingness to share my worldview in a public space, to speak my truth. You know, those scattered pieces of ideas that run through your mind when you’re driving on the freeway or taking a poop, the ones you neglect to write down and form into a cohesive narrative. I should be honoring those little bits by giving them more time to breath and grow into something whole. While most of them are nonsense, there might be one hint of wisdom that peaks through that could be worthy. It’s time I give space and time for my own philosophy to evolve.

My rad parents, photo by Morgan Wade Photography
 My parents have always encouraged me to write. It should be noted that I have an extremely hard time with people giving me “advice,” just ask my husband. So, whenever my parents suggested this path to me, I always rolled my eyes and said, “You can’t just be a writer.” I recognize this as being a totally stupid thing to say, because in fact, you can just be a writer. It’s called putting pen to notebook or fingers to keys or crayon to construction paper, whatever. It’s writing, and you’re a writer. Congratulations. It’s not as if my parents suggested a career in brain surgery. Perhaps, than I could say, you can’t just be a brain surgeon, which would make much more sense. (What I should have said to my parents, and what I say now, is thanks! Thanks for not telling me to be a lawyer or accountant or something. Whose parents say, you should probably consider writing? Yes, they are awesome.)

What I was really saying, without being honest with myself, was, “I’m afraid to be a writer. What if I’m no good?” While it may not be specific to only my generation, I feel there is this strange reality we 70’s and 80’s babies were born with, a sense that we were/are destined for greatness. I’m talking big ideas that move and shake the world. What I’ve learned over the last few years is fuck greatness. Great expectations lead to great disappointment. Trying for greatness alone is like putting on a coat that weighs 30 pounds and is four sizes too big, it’s paralyzing. My misconception was that to be a writer I had to be published, and not just published but like famous or something. I had to write the next great novel or sit across from Jon Stewart talking about my book that will solve the global economic crisis. But that’s not me, I know very little about fixing problems. Plus, books on global economics are often really, what’s a nice way to say this, dense. Except for Joseph Stiglitz, I like him. That guy can write about it. If you’re interested in reading about global economics, stop reading this blog post and go read one of his books, he knows what he’s talking about.

But back to me, how am I supposed to be any kind of writer if all I do is inconsistently scribble things down in my journal? Which leads to another thing I’ve learned over the past few years, all of life is practice. As Ashtanga yoga founder Prattibi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.” Want to do something, be something, than you have to show up…everyday. Your possibility is directly linked to your effort. Talk is cheap, baby.

So, here I am. Starting this blog. I mean, what does a young person with a degree in Philosophy and Political Science do other than work in coffee shops and start blogs? I’ll be honest. I have previously held pretty judgmental views about the blog-o-sphere. Such as, bloggers are: people with too much time on their hands, people looking for validation, people who like talking about themselves, people who have no clue what they’re talking about but really like ranting. Well, maybe all of those things apply to me, I just no longer care. I will say that I’ve recently discovered some pretty amazing blogs from cooking to academics to yoga to knitting and even ranting.

I’m throwing my hat in, putting some skin in the game, and other expressions about participation. With this blog, I hope to create a space for creative inquiry and discussion. I feel our society does itself a great disservice by encouraging people to start from a place of having it all figured out, like a math problem where you don’t have to show your work. Well, I’m giving more than partial credit for the work. Here’s the last lesson of my first blog, I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m better off for it. What’s that expression, “the more I learn, the less I know.” I’d like to apply that expression to this blog. It’s time we try to be a little more comfortable with the space in between each others beliefs and embrace the great mystery of our being. I like to approach it in this way, sure there are things I believe, things I feel pretty certain about, but I would like to leave myself open to the possible, to be open to being proven wrong in any second of any day…with the exception of Tuesdays.  I mean, how totally awesome is it that we still have so many things to learn in this lifetime? I recently read a book by Brian Leaf called Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. In it he recalls a quote from Kripalu Yoga Center founder (also famous for sexual scandals), Amrit Desai, “The more beliefs and conclusions you have about life, the less you are willing to explore the infinite wealth and beauty of what actually happens.”

Infinite Cloud, Taken somewhere in the Midwest, 2011.
In that spirit, I’ve entitled this blog, A Work On Progress (I’m guessing there are probably 20 other blogs with this title, but what are ya gonna do?). I honor the journey, the patience required of meaningful practice. I honor the mystery. Let's wade into the pool of infinite possibilities, people! Isn't that where all the great ideas are? Regardless, swimming in infinity sounds pretty damn divine to me.