Friday, January 29, 2016

Grabthar's Hammer


It's windy in my world, which makes sense to my soul. The dust hasn't settled in my world, today.

I am often the calm in the storm of the lives of my friends - I used to joke that I was the person people would call in the middle of the night if they needed to leave an abusive partner, despite the fact that I'm just about the smallest person with just about the smallest car.

Except I've answered that call, many times.

I have stood by and made the important decisions, like photo albums and prescriptions. I have been the voice of reason when the 150 pound jade plant was the anchor that kept calling "stay."

I have blocked the driveway with my body and my trusty steed to aid the getaway. Driven tearfully into the sunrise as someone else's butterfly wings dried, opened, and prepared for flight.

Even when the phone doesn't ring, I often find myself speaking the answer on the behalf of others. 

Now, I play a different role.

Like you're right - there is no god, no sense, no rhyme, no reason. No right action. When a baby dies, there is literally no right thing anyone can do or say. You become a mountain of pain, dissolving pieces of yourself that used to be solid into liquid anguish - erupting regularly, irregularly. Spontaneously. Destroying anything and everything, like friendships, savings accounts, plans, futures. Pasts.

And that's ok. It is all ok.

The death of a child is not a survivable thing, and I say this as a woman who has experienced the next worst thing, a woman who can hum the tune of loss and grief but can't seem to remember the words.

A woman whose womb has never been able to catch and sprout.

The woman whose child has died is a living symphony of fury - an epic opera - an auditory hallucination that colors and clouds and obscures everything else.

A cloud of ash that blacks out the sun.

I've spent a lot of time looking through the green-tinted glasses of envy and jealousy as other women - as this woman - announced her pregnancy, celebrated her future as I tried very simply not to die. And then to see - to stand witness as the biggest gift in the world carves the biggest hole.

And the sun explodes.

People who say "everything happens for a reason" are people whose lives have never truly been touched by grief. It isn't truth, and I say that on great authority. What is true, maybe, sort of, if you want it to be, is that we can make meaning of the asteroids and volcanoes in our lives.

The deaths of stars.

And this is what I've done, in this instance. Knowing this mama in a variety of ways, I know several things. That if she were to populate a place - a realm - to send her child, she could only hand this child to the person she loved and trusted the most, her brother, his namesake.

It would have complex characters who play double agents, who understand grey, who keep things interesting, like Snape.

It would be ruled by the Goblin King.

And so while I know that Alan Rickman and Davide Bowie didn't die in order to be on hand for the great crossing of this tiny child, I choose to believe that this is the case. Because I am a writer. A storyteller. A finder and maker of meaning.

Because I don't know the words to the song, and there isn't a right thing to say. And I'm too far away to sit shiva, and I'm not Jewish anyway.

But I know the melody.

So this is for you, dear baby Josh, on the day of my dear Jon's death.

By Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Sola Dosis Facit Venenum

I have choked down a lot of shit in my life – including, but not limited to, my weight in spirulina and spirituality. I've dished out quite a bit as well, like unsolicited advice, opinions, and Creative Ways to Cut Dairy based on the moral superiority I assumed as a quasi-vegan for several years.

(sorry about that).

After three years of veganism and one year of infertility, I started seeing The Specialists. Not the Western docs who said I was fine, hearty, iron-filled blood, exceptionally low cholesterol, and bright, glowing skin, but the “alternative” specialists, who've been at this game a bit longer. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. The ones who looked past the labs and into the dark circles under my eyes, my rampant hair loss, my truly horrifying tongue and said – you're at death's door.

Now, before you get high and mighty and call me a salad and french fry vegan, let me assert several things. I'm exceptionally well educated about nutrition and followed the advice of several very well known, published, medically credentialed professionals, including:
- cooking with a cast-iron skillet
- eating whole-soy products like tofu and tempeh on a daily basis
- eating seeds, nuts, green leafies, berries, veggies and even mushrooms
- avoiding caffeine, sugar, processed foods

And in full disclosure, I wasn't a “true” vegan because I ate eggs once or twice a week. I ate so much I actually gained weight, something my body has resisted for essentially my entire life.

For the first thirty years of my life, I managed to avoid the disordered eating behaviors that were so common to my friends. I've always loved food, cooking shows, recipe books. I'll watch someone cook something that I would never consider eating because I'm so fascinated by the process, but as far as I know, PBS marathons do not constitute disorders.

Then I became vegan(ish).

And for the first time, I was truly hungry.

And so I developed an eating disorder.

It started slowly, in an effort to make sure I was getting adequate nutrition from the vegan diet I was so in love with. I read articles published in scholarly journals describing the impressive effects of a vegan diet on people with cardiovascular concerns, diabetes, and more. Vegetarians live longer – they promised, and so I re-learned how to cook and eat without using animal products.

And I was very happy with the results! The food I made was delicious, and I didn't miss the taste of cheese or meat. My labs were stellar, with cholesterol so low it tripped the marker for “outside of the range of normal” which I perceived as clinical evidence of my moral superiority.

I was pretty much going to live forever.

(except I felt like shit).

I started to develop interesting quirks around food. I've always liked to “have” a lot of food – a full pantry, a stocked refrigerator, a snack bar in the glove box for emergencies, but I started to hoard.

And worry.

When we would travel to Texas, I became consumed with the idea that there would be anything I could eat, so I started hoarding nuts and eating tremendous amounts of hummus to “pre-game” the parties. I would stuff myself out of fear that I would be hungry, or that I wasn't sure where my next meal might come from.

Maybe you're laughing at this – my priveledge is showing, because this was the first time in my life I had ever not felt completely confident that my next meal would appear.

But I kept on.

I started to listen to popular podcasts and read blogs about veganism – the superiority of the diet for the body, the planet, the animals, and only reinforced the absurd boundaries that I had placed upon myself – imprisoned by ideals and with a stubborn enough personality to persist.

I started to believe that what I put in my mouth was an expression of my highest good. “You are what you eat,” as the adage reminded me on a daily basis, and I wanted to be healthy and fertile.

Instead, I was becoming a vegetable.

About a year after I started “trying” to get pregnant, I saw an Ayurvedic practitioner who insisted that I start eating full-fat dairy. Soy and coconut were not going to cut it, I needed animal fat, and if I wouldn't eat meat, it had to come from dairy.

Of course, I knew better.

Because no other animal drinks another animal's milk. No animal drinks milk beyond the age of weaning. Milk is laden with cholesterol and galactose and PAIN AND SUFFERING AND DEATH.


So I went to see an acupuncturist.

She said the same thing, and in no uncertain terms despite our language barrier.
“No meat?” she asked me.
“No meat” I said.
“Must eat meat. Organs. Eggs.”
“Not a chance.”

Seriously, people, I thought. My labs are excellent. I'm the picture of health. Clearly you need to update your manuals for modern times, what with all we now know about the marvels of veganism.

As a last-ditch effort, I saw a friend from college who is an acupuncturist who was raised in the West. We share a common language, hobbies, and interests, and surely (I thought), this young, vibrant, hip mama would tell me how to use the magic of TCM while on a vegan diet.

“You're going to laugh at what I have to tell you,” she said.

I hadn't told her what anyone else had said, just that I wasn't fully understanding my acupuncturist's recommendations because of the language barrier.

“You MUST eat full fat dairy, starting now. And meat.”

“Tell me more,” I said.

Same thing. Organ meats. Fish. Full fat dairy. All of the things I had trained myself to equate with the word “poison.” I argued with her a little bit, pushing back and touting the bright shiny claims of veganism. And she politely informed me that literally all of my systems were shutting down, as evidenced by my inability to stay awake, my hair loss, my shitty attitude, and the fact that my tongue looked exactly like the poster on her wall – an indication of everything that could possibly be wrong with your tongue at once.

I started to crack.

I walked into Whole Foods and stood in front of the yogurt section. I had made my peace with never again asking a cow for nutritional support, and here I was sheepishly and shamefully stopping where everyone could see me. Where my yoga students could observe my fall from grace. Yogurt, cream, a few other things to try out, and I zipped out of there faster than I've ever skipped through the Feminine Product aisle.

Slowly and with an abundance of resistance I started to incorporate milk into my diet. Cheese, yogurt, butter. I didn't want to admit it, but I felt better. I thought perhaps it was the opiate-like chemicals in dairy products that stimulate the same pathways and create an addictive cycle. But I actually think it was my body saying YES – THANK YOU. WE'VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU.

I'll spare you the additional fertility woes, ensuing divorce, and other belabored topics, and fast forward to the ashram.

Two and a half years into my “fertility journey” I went to an ashram for a spiritual time out. I had blossomed from irritating to irate and my friends were slowly starting to disown me. I simply could NOT force my body to become pregnant, no matter what I did.

The ashram was a positive experience for me, even though I struggled most of the time.

It was vegan, with the addition of butter and yogurt for breakfast. Eggs and meat were strictly prohibited, both on and off site – as in – they send you home if you even look at it.

After the first month, when I had run out of my acupuncture herbs, I saw their resident Ayurvedic practitioner. I was hungry and sleep deprived, like everyone else, but it was a life-changing meeting.

I filled out the forms before our visit and was completely honest about what I normally ate, how I exercised, how I felt, etc. She greeted me after reading through and said she was so happy to see my incredibly healthy and sattvic ways. She mentioned that it would be a special treat for her to work with someone so well-educated and healthy.

And then she looked at my tongue.

Her face fell. She grabbed me by my shoulders and said, “Do not tell anyone I'm telling you this – but you MUST eat meat. As soon as you get home, at minimum three times a week.”

I protested. I had come so far against my morals by eating dairy – yogurt and cream – wasn't that enough? Why did I have to push so hard against my moral superiority and actually take the life of an animal just to be well?

She had compassion, maybe pity. She told me that from the perspective of Ayurveda, we do not incur karma for eating meat when it is used as medicine. That so many of my bodily systems were damaged that it would be a full-time job for me to get healthy enough to ever get pregnant. She gave me a prescription – herbs and practices and dietary rules. Meat or fish at least three times a week, five Tablespoons of ghee and other oils every day, and rest.

I relented.

Well, I'm relenting.

It's a process – to backtrack against the Truth you've learned.

To eat your words.

To swallow poison

and pride.

And so I'm sharing this now, because I keep seeing the Moral Superiority of others on social media, spouting nutritional advice and ways of living based on western science, or pseudo-science, or hearsay, or wonderful intentions. Amazon recommended a new book to me called, “How Not to Die,” which is yet another vegan book written by a doctor. It is written with excellent intentions, and while it will not prevent anyone from dying and is therefore inherently false advertising, it may well improve the quality of life and the quality of death of many people.

It may kill others.

When you know better, you do better, and I'm no longer allowing my intellect to kill my body. I acknowledge that what is healthy for one may be toxic for another. That veganism itself is not to blame, ego is.

Sola dosis facit venenum.

(Dose alone determines the poison)

The Physics of Love

Tonight I'm doing the scariest thing ever - I'm AirBnB-ing - in my own home.
(I'm not an inhospitable person, and my place is relatively snuggly, but this is a big leap for me after the break-in this past April).
There is something quite liberating about having nothing really left to steal, or having had all the goodies stolen, so the rest seems more inconsequential. I know the yogis and the Buddhists sing the sweet praises of unattachment (with a fondness that borders on sticky sweet), but this may be the first time I've allowed myself to truly linger in the idea of letting go.
Last week I visited my parents, I went down into the basement where the tide of Things seems to grow higher every year as the preciousness of this comic or that Original Packing Material settles into it's (final?) resting place. I maintain that I am an anthropologist first because of the childhood archeological digs I participated in within the walls of my own home on the way to retrieve a can of soup, or a box of Christmas ornaments. Everything is neatly, precariously stacked awaiting carbon dating, as though that's where it landed after the eruption.
My dad describes the importance of having vs. using or experiencing, and it struck me again, a harmonic of this melancholy chord, that the Things always hurt. Either the having (and the drowning) or the losing (and the mourning). I always used to pout (and approach DEATH INSIDE) when I lost something. "I always loved that sweater," or "They don't MAKE Crystal Pepsi anymore, so I must TREASURE and HOLD and HOARD."
(For the record, I did try Crystal Pepsi 15 years after it was acquired and it had - um - lost it's luster).
I have reacted by clinging, and I've reacted by detaching. I know what it's like to grasp last year's Easter candy just as well as I know how to guard my feelings - hold my cards - and keep my distance.
And neither extreme seems to suit me.
I like favorite sweaters and Christmas ornaments. I can't seem to part with old love letters, even though I left the author ten years ago, and he subsequently died four years later. I miss the smell of my grandmother's house, and even if it doesn't linger in her jewelry box any longer, it's memory does. I still worry the finger of my left hand, where the stolen ring made it's home for nine years. I would like to think that I could easily live the rest of this sorry life without another attachment, and that my life would be better for it.
But I know better. 
Gravity is the charge between people (and things). The universe - physics - can't even manage to get away from attraction and attachment. A strong pull despite the ongoing and ever-expanding move towards chaos. 
How can we expect ourselves to operate in a void?
We sling-shot around the sun every year, moving incrementally closer to self-immolation, hapless victims of this cosmic law. And yet, it isn't torture - the day is not here to rub our faces in the absence of the night, just as the seasons have no commentary about one another.
Just as the toy train near the bottom of the pile does not begrudge the tax records or Christmas ornaments atop it.
We are the ones that do the begrudging.
And I think this is what I am recognizing as 2015 shuts it's eyes, as strangers move into my bedroom, as my ex-husband purges me from his Netflix account. That I am orbiting with people and things. I miss my old life and appreciate the new. I've traded my bank account for adventure, my stable life for spontaneity, and it's ok to feel a little sad sometimes as I remember what was, what never will be. To hold the sweater close, to imagine what the jewelry box used to smell like, to look back fondly, through tears.
And look forward to the sunrise - with detached anticipation.
(if that's a thing).