When I hit my limit, I often can’t believe how little I could handle. So the next time I push myself past my limit. And then my body puts me in my place and shuts down. Maybe eventually I’ll learn to trust my body every time.
One time, my mom gave me a book called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. It was awesomesauce. I’ve opened it so many times, read for a couple minutes, then closed it with a knowing smile on my face. It even inspired me to ask friends and family to write their own lists of what makes them happy. To this day, I still have the notebook where I collected these various “happiness lists.” Maybe someday I’ll do something with them. Who knows.
I’m tired AF tonight, need to feel a little joy in my body, and don’t want to write anything truly coherent, so here’s my own happiness list, in no particular order:
pot roast slow-baked with beer
a new gel pen
playing a song at a show that makes someone cry
making my own stickers using colored pencils
sharing a meaningful look with a stranger as I walk by them on the sidewalk
waffles with strawberry jam
kids creating their own compositions in piano lessons
a big, clean dining room table
beautiful tea towels
using cash to buy cheap coffee
using coins from my piggybank to buy expensive ice cream
biking with someone I love
asking trees for advice
eating raw green beans
my cat’s almost obscene obsession with chasing and eating green beans
getting into bed with clean sheets
biscuits and grits
snuggling on the couch watching a movie, eating popcorn with my partner
mid-solo realizing that this shit actually sounds dope
walking along a river
flourless chocolate cake
holding hands in public
giving someone a gift I’m super excited for them to have
putting $40 into my retirement account
practicing piano in the morning sunlight
watching a really good Netflix food documentary
seeing a flower I’ve never seen before
listening to the birds
eating at a fucking amazing restaurant on my birthday
long dinners with family
walking in cold weather drinking a hot drink
laughing so hard that tears stream down my face
showering after a workout
my cat’s hilarious habit of eating popcorn when I throw it for him
really, really, really, really warm socks
hugging my mom
getting paid to play music
the moment when the food arrives at the restaurant
seeing a butterfly
going to sleep after a long day of working
swimming in a lake
giving myself a hug
cats in laundry baskets
the little moment when my partner joins me in bed after a long rehearsal and whispers “I love you so much” into my hair
homemade tie die shirts
balling out and choosing the whole bottle of wine at a restaurant
I could literally do this forever, so I’m gonna cut myself off there and call it a night. Make your own list! Try not to judge what comes out. It’s honestly so fun. I feel better already.
I’m a female musician. That means that in addition to being an incredible musician, I have to be beautiful and toned to be respected. When male hosts introduce me before I come onstage, they often say “the beautiful and talented Siena,” as if somehow saying that I’m beautiful is an adequate introduction to my music. The fact that I’m beautiful actually has nothing at all to do with my music, yet it’s an unspoken requirement that I must stay beautiful to get noticed.
My male counterparts can go out with scruffy hair, unshaven faces, potbellies, and outfits that look like they’ve been slept in. I’ve seen it. Too many times. They can look as ridiculous as they want, and people just focus on the quality of the music they’re playing. But if a female musician goes out with even the hint of a muffin-top, people wonder if she’s really serious about her craft. People start to give unsolicited advice about her weight, about her work ethic, about how much time she’s spending with her family, and about her character. They talk about these things instead of the music she’s creating and putting out into the world.
Yes, there are female artists like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Kelly Clarkson who are actively pushing back against the scrutiny that female performers are under about our bodies. Is it enough to make me relax and “let my body go?” No. Plus, I’m speaking as a white woman: I can’t even begin to speak to the much harsher scrutiny of Black female musicians.
So why is it like this? Where does this pressure come from? Let’s take Women’s Health Magazine as just a small example of the cultural prevalence of scrutinizing women’s bodies. First of all, “health” is in the title, but this publication focuses mostly on diet and weight loss. It equates health with being super thin and toned. This is bullshit. Health is not the perfect body. Health is not obese, either. Health is somewhere in between. Health has nothing whatsoever to do with how we appear, past a certain threshhold (obviously someone with a grey and clammy complexion isn’t doing too well).
In an article about Lady Gaga’s body in her 2017 Super Bowl HalfTime performance, Women’s Health Mag tried to claim that people shouldn’t (and generally don’t) scrutinize the bodies of female performers. The magazine paints a utopian portrait of a world that doesn’t care how a woman looks. This is just simply false. You can read Fox’s report on the actual comments made on Twitter about Gaga’s body. Everyone, including women, scrutinize women’s bodies. I do it, you do it. We all do it. Some see an imperfect female body and say “it’s too bad she let herself go.” Some just subconsciously respect her a little less. They think she doesn’t deserve their respect because she doesn’t respect herself enough to starve herself and work out for hours each day.
Even WHILE Women’s Health Mag describes this fantasy world where society is beyond criticizing women’s bodies, they display other shit that reveals quite the opposite. Literally on the same page. Here’s a smattering of other stuff you’ll encounter as you scroll through this article:
1) a video explaining “Grocery Shopping for a Healthy Lifestyle,” which dictates how to to avoid tempting bakery items that are sure to “derail your diet” by carefully planning your route in a grocery store, all while depicting extremely thin women picking up fruits, vegetables and, of course, Grape Nuts
2) the “Workout Advice” section at the bottom of the page, which boasts results like “visibly toned abs” and “sculpted arms”
3) the “Must-Have Fall Athleisure Styles” section, showing a sporty woman looking alluringly at the camera
Clearly, Women’s Health Mag knows that women are CONSTANTLY under the scrutiny of the public. They not only know it, but they are actually making a shit-ton of money off of that reality. Despite reporting in another article that “when people (feel) bad about their bodies, they (are) more likely to experience…a cluster of health issues,” the magazine proceeds to make women feel bad about their bodies throughout their website. Here’s the cherry on top: down at the bottom of the screen in small letters, you can click a link that reads “PEOPLE WITH THIS TRAIT HAVE SMALLER HIPS AND BELLIES.” This ‘enticing’ (and shaming) headline leads to a page that displays an ad for “Belly Rehab” and plenty of “How to Lose Weight” articles. So much for us living in a world where shaming Lady Gaga for having stomach flab is outrageous, blasphemous, and “unheard of.” The haters are here to stay, folks.
I’m not sure how to navigate this world. I’m not ready yet to give up the patriarchal idea I’ve been brainwashed with: that I have to look “good” (aka not flabby) to be taken seriously in the music world as a female musician.
Scruffy, angelic white puffs blow in the wind outside my plane window. My sister says it’s an invasive species. It seems ludicrous that something so beautiful could be so violent. We take off, and the white puffs give way to dead grass, then an expanse of grey sky. I’m thinking about elementary school birthday parties in dimly-lit bowling alleys. I can taste the greasy pizza soaking through the paper plates. Huge sheet cakes with frosting so sugary the granules are rough on my tongue. Blue lettering. A barbie with hair that grows when you pull a string.
Now we’re over the ocean, spots of white littering the indigo blue water. I can still see the lines of tiny boxes on the shore, distant now. I’m thinking about how someone once described humans as a parasite, quickly spreading across Earth, taking and digging, extracting all the life out of our host. Sucking her dry. The CDC describes a parasite as “an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host,” so this seems pretty accurate. I wonder if I agree with this image of my species. It’s certainly romantic, but makes my skin feel too tight for my body, especially from up here in this plane, where our parasitic behavior is so clearly laid out for me to see. The Bay, taken over by human dwellings, along with all the necessary dwelling-accessories. Tiny lines, beige against green: roads. Lighter bits bunched together in squares: farmland. Chunks of sun reflected, glinting: office buildings leering up at me.
Now the mountains are below us. They are bare compared to the city we left behind. Strong in their solitude. It’s been awhile, a long moment of just spacing out in the general direction of the horizon, but I haven’t been able to forget the parasite analogy. Will these little pockets of human disease eventually spread to cover the entire surface of the earth? Will the faraway mountains soon be teeming with scurrying people, gardens, rats, parks, highways, restaurants, and chlorinated pools?
In the distance, the mountains have huge wrinkles. Elephants, heavy velvet. These mountains know deep change: they are not static. Constant erosion. Surrender. Receiving. Yielding to the rain that flows down their many faces. They are relinquishing and relenting. I think the mountains must have to fully know themselves to accept such complete and uncontrollable distortion, without protest.
I think about how often I used to yield to people and experiences. When I was 18, the thrill of that surrender was expansive. It felt like a dripping diamond necklace, or a huge, cool lake waiting for me to jump into the deep waters. The thrill was like water, flowing around me, through me. A womb and a river simultaneously. I was at home in surrender. I trusted that I, or something else, something benevolent and good, would pull me out if it got to be too much. If I got too chilled, or too wrinkled.
I didn’t know myself yet. Or maybe I knew myself too much already, and the world would not budge to accommodate my knowing.
The people I surrendered to were not ready for the trust I immersed them in. They were not the rain. Was I the mountain? Was I the rain?
These people submerged me. And I drowned. They told me I couldn’t swim, should not swim. So I stopped swimming. That was part of the yielding, right? I had to yield. To make the complete shift to embody someone else’s experience, I had to leave my own body and experience behind. And so I went still. My limbs atrophied, my mind filled with grotesque images of floating heads and penises, surrounding me in a suspended, tangled mass until I couldn’t breath anymore, and drowned.
What was the yielding, then? Suicide? Or was it just a big misunderstanding? Back then, I assumed that everyone was exactly like me. I saw a face and thought, “behind that face is a deeply-feeling, spectacular spirit that takes in everything, yields to everything, and knows itself fully.” I thought everyone was tapped into the huge, cool lake of it all. I thought each person would automatically wrap us in a warm, fluffy towel if things got to be too much, too cold. I thought they would notice these things. I thought they were like me.
But it was all a big misunderstanding, wasn’t it?
Now we’re moving through the clouds. I’m thinking about all those times as a kid, looking out the airplane window at the clouds and feeling like this is the one true experience. Like everything else in the universe was just a distraction from this moment. Like this white, clumpy, grey, writhing mass was the pure heart of it all. At the time, it felt undeniable. Now, the cloud is over much more quickly than I remember. Now, I watch it giving way to a clear view of Los Angeles below us.
Los Angeles, the parasite to end all parasites. The horrid, flat buildings weighing down the land. The football fields, skyscrapers, palm trees, languid universities, and sad little cars. The water shipped in from Yosemite. The clouds are above us now, back where they belong, suspended in chaotic little puffs. An ominous fog obscures the horizon to my right.
Suddenly, there are large piles of red dirt and tiny scruffs of bush along the runway. White paint sprayed on the pavement to mark our way as the plane lands. Houses in the distance jar me back to the parasite idea. “The parasite carrier touches down onto its host,” I think wryly. First stop down, two to go.
I have all these books
on my bedside table that
I never read, but…
there is a time to rest
among the soft flowers
whether you are there
the clouds descend
what a relief it is
I’ve heard people say
writing about coffee
and cigarettes is not
all I can think about
is the cup right there
on the windowsill
with way too much milk
(I bought at Costco)
it makes me feel
knowing the Costco-milk-
that it gives me hope