14 Reasons to Celebrate Feb 14

Yesterday I was walking with a friend in the magical winter wonderland of freshly snow-covered woods when he asked me about my stance on Valentine’s Day.

Do you celebrate it? You don’t, do you?

I had to smile. I find myself having some version of this discussion every February. People seem polarized by Valentine’s Day and often want to take up these topics with people like me, who tend to think too deeply about such banal things. Truthfully, I don’t have a particularly firm stance on this one. Guilty perhaps of sentimental consumerism, Valentine’s Day seems innocuous enough. Celebrate it, don’t celebrate it; life goes on.

But for me, personally, the answer is always a resounding yes. Yes, I do celebrate Valentine’s Day, whether or not I’m with a partner, or with a partner who wants to celebrate it with me. Why? I’ll tell you why.

  1. Oysters.

  2. Because it’s fun! Much like birthdays and anniversaries and new years and new moons and harvest moons and solstices and whatever other milestones might be significant to you, celebrating these days is an excuse to do something different. To connect with people. To write a card or make someone breakfast or call an old friend and serenade them over the phone. Sure, I could do that any day, but I don’t. So it’s fun to have a reason to make life more vibrant.

  3. Flowers. I buy flowers for myself all the time. It makes a nice change to buy them for someone else.

  4. At the heart of it, it’s a day about celebrating love. And what the hell, guys? What kind of cold-hearted killjoy doesn’t want to celebrate love?

  5. I can understand that for some of us, at certain times, the worldly celebration of romantic love can rub salt in fresh wounds, or remind us of an old, aching loneliness that we would rather forget. But as painful as it might be, that unquenched longing in our hearts is what signals that we are alive. That from within whatever injuries we might privately be nursing, or however long the road of disappointments and failures has been, some tiny, nascent part of us is reaching for the light. And while that may hurt in its still unmet appetence, it is this very tendril of longing that deserves our generous love. That quiet, resolute flame that refuses to be snuffed.

  6. Love songs. I absolutely LOVE love songs. I mean come on… a shower song to yourself on Valentine’s morning? I THINK VERY MUCH SO.

  7. It’s an opportunity to cherish someone. And no, I’m not talking about buying heart-shaped chocolates or creepy teddy bears or even going for an expensive dinner. If that’s your thing, cool. But how often do we really, truly cherish the people in our lives? To make time to be completely present with someone with the sole purpose of acknowledging and celebrating who they and how they impact us. And that person is not required to be a romantic partner. In fact it is equally, if not especially wonderful to cherish a friend, or a relative, or even a non-human pet.

  8. It’s an opportunity to be cherished. And while, on the surface this can be uncomfortable for many people, I also think it is what is at the root of so many seemingly perfunctory Valentines expectations. It’s probably not about the gestures, it’s about a desire to be seen. To be acknowledged. To be appreciated and celebrated and adored. We all have that desire, whether we express it or not. If somebody is offering, I’ll happily receive it.

  9. Watching other people be cherished. Okay I realise that sounds kind of creepy but I don’t mean camping out in the bushes spying on people through their curtains. I just mean witnessing the look of delight as co-workers receive unexpected bouquets, or the adorable glow of young couples canoodling on picnic blankets, or old couples holding hands. Being around love and seeing the way people light up on Valentine’s Day makes my heart feel like it’s going to explode in the best possible way.

  10. Galentines. I have spent a few single Valentine’s Days with the gals and every one of them has been something to rival even the most romantic ones I’ve shared with lovers. I don’t know what the guys’ equivalent is, but I bet it RULZ.

  11. Valentine’s memes.

  12. Recounting past Valentine’s #fails. I once received a two-sizes too large pair of lacy knickers from a coworker I barely knew. That memory never #fails… to make me smile uncomfortably.

  13. My Valentine’s Haiku tradition. Every year for three years now I have written a Valentine’s themed haiku and left it anonymously on someone’s windshield. Mostly I enjoy thinking my haiku-writing skills are very hilarious, but I also think it would be cool to be the recipient of that.

  14. It is Valentine’s
    snow is melting in the streets
    you may as well smile.

Beyond Body Image

This thing we call female body-image - the relationship which women have to our own bodies - is, without doubt, in need of urgent attention. I know from my own deep exploration of the subject, that as a woman, I am unable to really separate my own sense of self from the cultural narrative which tells me, everywhere I go and everywhere I look, that my value to society, my capacity to be loved, and my inherent worth are all tied, intrinsically, to my desirability to men. Whether I subscribe to it or not, that narrative is part of me, and it’s hard to disentangle my identity from the collective doctrine in which I exist.

The issue is so vast and complex, it seems impossible at times to even imagine a world in which women were regarded as whole. Anything which seeks, truthfully, to dismantle that paradigm, I believe is valid and important. There are myriad ways to bring about change.

Right now, there are countless ‘body positive’ accounts on Instagram, posting pictures of stomach rolls and lumpy skin and so-called ‘undesirable’ bodies, alongside vulnerable testaments to the great inner work these women are doing to learn to embrace and love the way they look. In particular, there is a current trend of side by side comparison images, usually of a body which looks ‘Instagram worthy’ beside an unflattering image of the same body, accompanied by captions on how both are equally beautiful, valuable, and so on. Since this is an inversion of “progress” pictures which typically show a woman getting smaller, fitter, and celebrating the ‘improvement’ of her body, I get that it’s a kind of rebellion from that movement and therefore, progress.

But when I look at these images, all I really experience is more of a hyperfocus on what-women-look-like. Side by side images exacerbate a focus on comparison, whether or not the caption compels us to withhold prejudice. I understand that an unavoidable component of healing this wound in our psychology is to acknowledge that it exists. To face, examine, and talk about this aspect of our culture. To extract it from a place in which it has embedded itself into our consciousness, pretending to be normal, and to call it out as the insidious, malignant and categorically abnormal dysfunction that it is. Part of the process is seeing our bodies, for once, as not being wrong. To be able to look at ourselves and, whether or not we see beauty, to at least not feel repulsion.

But in a way, this seems only to funnel our attention even more into a collective gaze, not through our own eyes, but back at our bodies from the outside. The captions underneath these images are often powerful. Raw. Intelligent and courageous examinations of our cultural conditioning. Vulnerable accounts of personal suffering and resurgence. Yet we’re mesmerized by looking at bodies, and the same captions under images which don’t prominently feature female flesh don’t attract a fraction of the attention.

What I wish I could see more of, are women’s Instagram accounts and women’s blogs, articles and Facebook pages through which I can actually experience a woman’s world. Accounts which, instead of looking back at ourselves in a perpetual loop of self-examination, look out through female eyes and fortify the female gaze. Which relate to the world through the nuanced heart of a woman and begin to put our perspective on the map. That move, I suppose, beyond the healing phase of body-image-repair, and into the creative expression of female wholeness. Which demonstrate what women would be thinking about, and doing, and creating, if we were free of our obsession with what we look like. To stop trying to change how we feel about our bodies, and start focusing on how we feel about other things. To start embodying a woman who rejects the entire discussion. To get on with the business of living.

The problem with body shame and obsession, is that it drains the energy from every other aspect of our lives, creating a tragic kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which we actually forfeit substance and character to an all-consuming quest to look acceptable. This creates even more reliance on being desired, since it’s practically all we have left.

But the same thing can happen in reverse. When we begin to redirect our energy back into ourselves, to feed our intellect, our creativity, relationships and contributions, we’re too busy being who we are in the world to constantly monitor the imagined perceptions of others. And as we begin to inhabit ourselves again, re-establishing our own, tactile relationship to life, the fact of our bodies not resembling marketing images simply ceases to hold such importance. That we may even begin to appear more beautiful to ourselves is a welcome bonus, but somehow holds less weight.

I don’t believe the healing phase can, or should, be bypassed. But there comes a point when I wonder whether we might benefit from feeding it less energy. To focus instead on crowding it out with an indelible appetite for life.

30 Truths @ 30

This is an incomplete, not especially profound and only partially earnest list of some of the things that seem true to me, at 30, in the year 2018. I’m not entirely sure of its intention or usefulness to anyone, but it just seemed like a mildly entertaining thing to write as I approach my 31st birthday. Please feel free to debate or debunk any of my points.

  1. Almost everything of value I’ve learned in over a decade of intensive self-inquiry, can be summed up by the Irish prayer for serenity: (God grant me the serenity…)

  2. It takes half a second to understand something intellectually. It can take many years of lived experience to really get it, at every level of consciousness. (See #1.)

  3. One of the most radical agents of personal change and growth seems to be the practice of self-love and acceptance. Paradoxical, but true.

  4. A second radical agent of change is just doing difficult shit that you haven’t done before.

  5. Guilt is a feeling that is completely possible to free oneself from. I stopped feeling guilty for things I shouldn’t, and stopped doing things for which I should. The wisdom is knowing the difference... 

  6. Attaching your keys to a brightly coloured lanyard or a really long piece of string, however hideous, will change your life.

  7. Some things are never worth taking photos of: sunrises, sunsets, waterfalls. You will never capture even a fraction of their glory, and even if you do, who really wants to look back on photographs of sunsets and waterfalls? It’s a great relief to just put the camera/phone away.

  8. There’s still a huge amount of stigma around mental and emotional health. While those who work out at the gym or hire a personal trainer are admired for their discipline and commitment, those who invest in therapy, coaching, or other forms of mental and emotional support tend to be seen as weak, woo-woo, or defective in one way or another.

  9. Further to #8, considering the state of our planet and most marriages, it seems to me not only courageous but rather an intelligent decision to start investing in our psychological health.

  10. Kate Moss is quoted as having said: Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels; implying that being skinny is worth the starvation required to achieve it. To which I’d argue - what about ramen? Also, no degree of starvation looks as good as self-love, self-respect and the experience of wholeness feels.

  11. I believe ‘pretty privilege’ is real, in that attractive people tend to be treated with a sort of positive bias as they go through life. That said, the most beautiful people in the world do not seem to have much advantage when it comes to being loved, feeling safe, belonging or living fulfilling and satisfying lives. This is visible when it comes to celebrities and supermodels (who are often very troubled) as well as some of my exceptionally attractive friends - an insight into their life reveals that while they turn a lot of heads, they do not seem to be any more loved, cared for, respected or emotionally fulfilled than my less genetically privileged friends.

  12. No carbs, no life.

  13. The patriarchy is alive and well, even in the developed west.

  14. Do not read the comments on any publically shared feminist, female-authored, female-featuring, or in any way remotely female-supportive material. They will crush your faith in, and any flicker of hope you still have for humanity. And, especially, men.

  15. Logic and rational thinking will get you so far. Feeling and intuition will often get you the rest of the way, in half the time.

  16. If you imagine that blind fumble of your worst ever teenage sex, that astonishingly brief, feverish rush to the finish line without the least bit of control, care or consideration for the source of his happy little ending… it’s not completely unlike what humanity at large is doing to the planet.

  17. Humanity needs a love affair with an older, experienced woman.

  18. The nineties really was the golden era for hip hop. And that’s a fact!

  19. Don’t date someone who takes themselves too seriously to sing and dance to your most embarrassing guilty pleasures. Not worth it.

  20. Set your standards according to what you truly need and desire, not what anyone else is doing or saying.

  21. Do not adjust your standards according to someone’s ability to  meet them.

  22. Find the people who are willing and able to meet your standards. Treat them well. Hold them dear.

  23. If you’ve ever felt afraid of being too demanding or ‘high maintenance’ in a relationship, think about it this way: ever noticed how much time and money a guy is willing to spend maintaining a car he loves? Be the Ferrari, sister. You know what I’m sayin’?

  24. When you wake up one Sunday, and you cannot wait to spend a long, lazy morning alone doing all the things you love: reading the Guardian in print with a cup of hot coffee in a warm bed (for example)... that’s wholeness I think. That deep, resounding sense of pleasure in being on the planet as who you are.

  25. When you’re sobbing your eyes out, clutching a bottle of wine in the foetal position on the kitchen floor, and you still kind of like yourself… that’s also wholeness, I think.

  26. Life does seem to be quite a lot like the weather, complete with sunshine, rain, storms, rainbows… I’m always suspicious of people who complain about the rain. How do you even do life?

  27. Get yourself two or three very funny and irreverent friends. They will restore your will to live.

  28. The trouble with doing anything creative is that by the time you’ve completed a project, it has changed you so much that you’d do it completely differently. Then again, that’s probably why we do it.

  29. I already can’t understand half the slang the kids are using these days. It’s only downhill from here. I’m afraid for my future self.

  30. There most definitely, without a doubt, exists the force of some kind of powerful magic in this world. Life is the most fun when I allow myself to be part of it.