My Big News

Dear Loyal Blog Readers,

I made something.

It’s not perfect — far from it — and putting myself out here like this makes me feel vulnerable and uncertain and insecure, but I know it’s important to follow through and so that’s what I’m doing.  I’m actually really and truly following through, which is, part of my mantra for myself this year: Seeing Something Through for Myself.

So with that, I’ll just go ahead and let you know before I chicken out that you can now find my blog at  my new website:

www.reginatingle.com

I hope to see you there.  I also hope that if you like my site, you’ll share it with everyone you know.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Regina

How New Zealand Has Changed Me

It’s my last morning in New Zealand.

As ready as I am to leave, I’m also scared of leaving.  Leaving worries me because I know that this time spent still like this has changed me in profound ways I have yet to understand.  I won’t have a way to quantify those changes until I depart New Zealand and spend some time away from it.

I’ve been officially removed from the rat race for so long I’m not sure I’ll understand anything anymore.  I wonder if I’ll have to readjust to a fast-paced world with a clenched jaw, just as I reluctantly adjusted to the slow island-time of life in New Zealand.  How has my time here changed me?  Has this experience prepared me for what’s next or will I be left ill-prepared?

I don’t know.

All I know is I’ve done things here in New Zealand that I would have never done elsewhere.  Like hiked a glorious peak ten times in the last twelve days.  Gone to bed religiously before nine o’clock.  Eaten in for every single meal for months on end, not even so much as buying a cup of coffee out.  (Eating out is expensive here and the service is so slow it’s rarely worth it.)

I’ve sat still more, and for longer.  I took a mindfulness course.  Picked grapes for six weeks.  Went white-water rafting and was flushed down the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall.  I’ve written on a daily basis.  That to me is the biggest miracle New Zealand has produced for me–giving me sufficient time, taking away the distractions of the world and just allowing for simplicity.  Living this forced simplistic life has compelled me to be more disciplined, more consistent.  Somewhere in these months I learned a hard-earned lesson about loyalty to myself and to my craft.

I hope I don’t forget it.

This is why I’m scared to leave New Zealand.  I’m afraid I’ll get distracted.  I’m fearful that I’ll lose the focus I worked so hard to achieve here.  I’m afraid I’ll suddenly have less time to devote to writing and blogging because I’ll be too busy living.  I’m afraid I’ll again feel pulled in a million directions instead of just being content, not resigned, to where I am for the present moment.

If anything, New Zealand taught me how to stop racing forward and quit constantly looking back.  Being here taught me how to settle with a deep breath, still, relax into the moment. As I fly over the Tasman today, I know I’ll feel sad at leaving this greenscape dappled with unconcerned sheep.  But I know it’s time.  My career as a grape-picker is over.  Summer’s over.  Autumn is announcing itself in full-blast crimson, ocher and orange.  Everything has run out–the summer, my lease, my shampoo, my conditioner, my hair mousse, my facial moisturizer.  All signs say: time to go.

Next stop: Australia’s Gold Coast for ten days.  After that, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.  After that, Europe.  After that, I don’t know.  This is theme, isn’t it?  I Don’t Know.  Unsolicited Certainties.

I can’t even begin to predict what I’ll miss about New Zealand.  I’ve learned that it’s never the things we think it will be.  If I were to predict what I think I’ll miss, I’d take a gander and say I’ll probably miss the very things I loathe about this place right now.  Like the way the shops close at 4:30, the nothingness there is to do.

Yet, I know I’ve adapted more than I like to admit. (Scary.)

I will miss getting up at 5am and feeling refreshed and fully restored because I went to bed at eight.

I will miss the sheep and their stoic glances as I trod up the peak in the morning.

I will miss the playful tuis, swooping dangerously close, flapping their feather-fluffed wings loudly, unlike any other bird I’ve ever heard.

There are things I say I miss about the outside world.  Things like museums and the bustle and hustle of a nearby metropolis.  Or things like looking through shop windows and seeing people with shoes on.  Even if I didn’t take advantage of all those things on a regular basis, I miss having the luxury of having the option. I’m sure I’ll miss having the luxury of NOT having the option soon enough.

In my adult life, I’ve never been as stationary as I have been in the last nine months. I’ve never traveled more than twenty minutes by car to go anywhere. I can count on two fingers the last time I sat at a stop light in the last three months.  (There are roundabouts here.  Roundabouts, yield signs and stop signs.)   I’ll miss endless roundabouts without a traffic light in sight.

I’ll miss the quiet, still nights.

I’ll miss hearing the rain gush over the tin roof.photo(16)

I’ll miss the tin roof.  The way the birds hop loudly around up there at dawn, basking in the sun, waking the house up.

I’ll miss the views that unfurl in every direction.

I’ll miss living as if it were still the 80s.  People still actually ask whether or not you have internet and an email address.  People still use home phones more than mobile numbers and people still use answering machines that you can hear throughout the house.

I’ll miss the fierceness of the sun and how it warms everything fifteephoto(17)n degrees in an instant, causing the house to creak.

I’ll actually even miss my ’88 Nissan that I bought for $450NZ and just sold for $250NZ.

Today was my last hike up Te Mata Peak.  I think when I started doing these hikes I had complicated intentions.  I believed the physical difficulty was going to teach me some big lesson.  I set out to do these hikes as a way to live part of my mantra of this year, which is (I think I’ve mentioned) to “see something through for myself.”  But in these last few hikes, I’ve realized it’s not so much about me, or even challenging myself to follow through or explore resistance.  It’s about something far more simple than all that.  It’s about paying tribute to the moment and to that which is available to you in that moment.  It’s about honoring something instead of taking it for granted.  It’s about not wanting more or wishing for something different or thinking about being somewhere else.

This morning as I hiked there was a light mist shrouding the peak.  There was a streak of rainbow beyond the sheep, lighting the valley.  As I hiked for the last time, I was filled with something I can only describe as gratitude.  A full, overwhelming awe at how totally and completely thankful I am to have spent this time here in this far-flung magical place.  With each steep step upward, I felt gratefulness and thanksgiving with my whole body.  Gratefulness for the moment and for the last nine months.  Not a lick of fright for what’s to come.  The Peak taught me that.  New Zealand taught me that.  And that, to me, feels like an achievement, a pencil etching against the doorway that marks my growth.

At the top, breathless, I stretched my arms out, speechless.  All I can say is I won’t miss you, New Zealand.  I’ll long for you.  And for that, I should say thank you.  Or, as the Kiwis would simply say, ta.

photo(18)

Resistance Slut

Image

Yesterday I made a decision to take a hike up to the top of Te Mata Peak.  It’s the most exhilarating 360-degree view I’ve ever experienced.  As you ascend, your soul takes flight with the view.  The majestic hills to your right, the glistening Pacific to your left miles away, you get up there and nearly hyperventilate from nature’s gobsmacking perfect beauty.  It’s so otherworldly you could just weep.

Now, here’s something I’m sorry to admit: I’ve lived just down the road from this view for the last ten months and I’ve only hiked this a few times, gosh dang it.

Yes, I am an ungrateful, unworthy nimwit.  A total cop out coward for not making time for this view every single day of my life while in New Zealand.  But yesterday, I told my knucklehead self, it wasn’t too late.  I could still make the most of this view for every single day I’m still here.

So that was that.  There was no arguing with that thought.  No sooner had I thought it did I committ to hiking the peak every day for the next ten days.  Rain or shine.

Fast forward a day.

This morning wasn’t awake but ten seconds before I remembered my grand idea.  I rolled over, acutely aware of the warmth of the bed, the softness of the down comforter, the quietness of the entire world, still probably sound asleep.  It was all telling me that what I said yesterday was no better than a promise made by a drunkard: it didn’t count.  But deep down, I knew it was too late to change my mind.  I’m doing this.  I said I would and now I’m going to.  If I don’t, I’ll regret it for weeks or years and probably maybe even forever.

Slightly incredulous I was actually going to do this hike for a second day in a row, I set out, less than half-hearted about it.  Half way up the hill, my sorry little ego started slamming me with reasons to head back down the trail.

It might rain.

It’s so windy!

Your shins are still sore from yesterday.

Your calves might explode. 

You’re starving.

You’re really thirsty!

You have to pee.

You might have to poop soon and there’s nowhere to go.

The chatter was endless.  I was being barraged!  I stopped walking, stopped listening, shifted my senses away from my measly self and onto the stunning surroundings.  All of the sudden, clarity pushed forth into sparkling view.

Here’s the banner it read off to my pesky inner “I can’t” voice:

This hike — this one and the next eight of them you’ll complete — will be a lesson in resistance training.  It will be an exercise of self-observation.  You will watch how your mind throws tricks at you to get you to stop whatever it is you’re working so hard at actually accomplishing.  You will witness how your body physically responds.  You will observe, acknowledge and go forward anyway. 

(The echoing sound of Gregorian monks chanting amen.)

The wind blew.  I pulled my hood over my ears and looked up.  I was within view of the highest point.  Which is when I heard myself say, “This is far enough.  You can turn around now.”

This is the thing with resistance.  It’s like a smooth talking good looking man; always finding new ways to get us to do it.  It’s so easy to be easy.  It’s so tempting to be a slut to resistance.

My legs were burning, my gluts felt like they might give out but I pressed forward, restating my vow to do this again and again every single morning before I leave.  I was newly resolved: I will not be a resistance slut.  I will not be a resistance slut.  I will not be a resistance slut.  This was my mantra, over and over again as I continued up the steep, muddy path.

A few minutes later I was at the top.  I made it.  Without collapsing from dehydration, without even crapping myself.  Hike number two of my ten day peak challenge was complete.

On my way back down the mountain I thought a lot about this little bugger called resistance.  I’ve succumbed to it for so long, for so many things, in so many ways.  Without really even knowing it!  It’s an easy thing to do.  Or so I thought.  At first it feels easy, but later you come off the easy high and it makes you feel stagnant, bored, wasted.  You feel as though you’re losing out on life and, like me, most of the time you don’t even know why.  All you know is that you’ve gotten really dang good at criticizing everyone else.

Resistance, if you relent to it, can be a source of total misery.

The book, The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield talks about this.  Mostly with regard to writing but it’s very applicable to everything else, too.  In fact, I just found these twelve tips and reread them.  I say “re” read because I’ve read them at least ten dozen times before.  I could memorize them and still, resistance would find the path between my knowing and my doing.  This reminds me of the old Italian saying, “Tra dire e fare c’e’ un mezzo mare.”  It’s a catchy, rhyming phrase that means, “Between saying and doing lies half an ocean.”  Which obviously doesn’t sound as fab in English but is to say that saying you’ll do something is far different than actually doing it.  I suppose our version of this saying would be “actions speak louder than words.”  But that sounds duh-worthy and ho-hummy.

Seeking the root of resistance is a challenging but valuable exercise.  And honestly?  It might be all in vain.  Why?  Because I know that as soon as I get this conquered (or think I’ve conquered it) there will be yet another lesson to learn.  That, I realized not while climbing the peak but — get this — while merely walking up the slight incline of the driveway.

Still, if all my major revelations revolved around a driveway, I wouldn’t have gotten to see this mangy, sweet face.

Image

The Gigantic Magnifying Glass and Matching Midgets

Easter Sunday does not so much conjure memories of Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies and pastel-colored peeps as it does going to mass dressed exactly like my sister, Jess.  Easter, for me as a kid, meant a frilly dress, fold-down socks and terribly uncomfortable patent leather shoes. 

I’ve always hated patent leather and I’ve never liked peeps.  You can only imagine how happy I was to dress up exactly like my kid sister. 

One of those years in the infamously unfashionable 80s, our Easter dresses were red and white striped and came with the excellent accessory of a white straw hat.  Mom was so excited about this.  She brought our outfits home and showed us, with great enthusiasm, what we would be wearing when the Easter bunny came. When we tried them on we must have looked like matching midgets who worked in a barbershop in the 1920s.  All that was missing was a cane.  Had I been articulate and worldly enough to say, “Hey Mom, we’re not wearing this because we look like something out of Willy Wonka,” believe me, I would have.  But at the age of five or six, all I could do was frown and fold my arms across my chest in disapproval.  One glance in the mirror at us in our identical outfits and I felt a surge of rebellion rise up like bile in my being. 

I didn’t have to act on my rebellion because Jess did that for me.  I sat back like wimp while, like a pro, she challenged our mother, taking a sharp pin to the the balloon of her enthusiasm.  (I found, and still find, her defiance remarkable for such a young whipper-snapper.)  She told my mother she most certainly would not be wearing that outfit and, if I recall correctly, daringly vetoed a few other unrelated things while she was at it.  She was relentlessly making herself a target of my mother’s building rage and I was stricken at the thought of what would become of her.  Stewing in a strange brew of jealously and awe for my sister, I watched her act out what I only wished I had the courage to do.  I don’t know if I’d ever loved her more than I did in that moment.  If she wasn’t going to wear that outfit, neither would I.  I was sure she would see to this for the both of us.  

When she was finished with her tantrum, we both awaited my mother’s wrath.    But to our surprise, my mother let the whole thing blow over.  Without a word, she took our outfits and put them in her closet, off limits.  I crossed my fingers.  With any luck, she’d forget about them and we wouldn’t have to wear them.  

But Jess was cunning.  Even back in 1986.  

To this day I wonder if her plan was premeditated–if after bedtime, down at her headquarters of the bottom bunk she thought up ways to get my mother’s goose–or if it was a misdemeanor carried out in a moment of passionate fury and spite.  

I don’t remember what I was doing the day of the hat ordeal.  I just remember sensing a clamor from the other end of the house–the unmistakeable shift in energy of when my mother was happily doing something to when she was abruptly interrupted by something unanticipated.  In a matter of moments, the frequency in our house went from smooth, easy listening to ear-cringing static.  When I ran out into the living room to see what the matter was, Mom was speechless, frozen in her tracks, glaring at Jess who was sitting on the brick hearth of our fireplace. 

At first I didn’t get it.  Jess was beaming, ear to ear, despite the invisible daggers coming from my mother’s eyes.  Then I saw.  Jess was sitting on her Easter hat. 

The hat was damaged and so were my mother’s feelings.  I don’t think my sister could have induced that kind of reaction from our mother had she gone up to her and bitch-slapped her.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the end of this story or what happened when Easter Sunday actually rolled around.  If my sister had to wear her crumpled hat to church or not.  I’m sure there’s a picture that tells the rest of this story’s details. 

Because I’m so far away–hanging here on the edge of the earth (aka New Zealand)–and because it’s been nearly a year, the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family, I think about all the holidays we shared.  Despite the unfamiliarity of a new place, the occasion to travel down memory lane still presents itself, unlikely as it may seem.  Most people probably would think that vast geographical distances would cause memories to lessen, but I can assure you the opposite is true.  They become magnified and exaggerated.  Every time you turn around you’re peering through a gigantic magnifying glass.

I like looking through this magnifying glass.  It lends an interesting perspective.  Watching myself and my family from this great distance is curious–we all seem so small and vulnerable.  Even when we are dressed up like midget barbers.  Anne Lamott, one of my all-time favorite writers talks about how her mother is not at all who she would have picked for herself at the “Neiman-Marcus Mommy Salon.”  I feel lucky because I think I probably would have picked exactly my mother, if this fantastical “Mommy Salon” did exist.  As far as mothers go, I probably won the lottery.  But I wouldn’t have said that when I was twelve or twenty or even when I was thirty.  It took me every last inch of thirty-three to form that opinion.  (I hope I can remember that if ever I should have female descendants of my own someday who sit on their Easter hats to spite me.) 

This Easter weekend my sister Jess was at my Mom’s.  When I skyped them, I got to see through the magnifying glass in real-time.  Jess was helping my mother in the yard–doing some odd thing that had to do with a hammer and dirt.  I cracked a joke over how far we’ve all come from the hat ordeal.  I greatly admire those two.  There is a generosity that pours forth in my sister when it has anything to do with my mother, a loyalty I’ve rarely witnessed anywhere else on Earth.  Nowadays if my mother presented Jess with a white straw hat to wear to mass, she’d probably don it without blinking twice.  That’s the extent of her allegiance.

If family were all one big experiment, I would conclude in this particular portion of the experiment that probably takes about a good thirty years to get to that place of reciprocal allegiance.  There’s a precise recipe that must be followed and one of the steps is most definitely making your daughters dress up like midget barbers on Easter.  At the same time, a daughter has to bring her mother back down to this planet, over and over, coming up with new creative ways to accomplish this each time. 

One occasion comes to mind when I was particularly nasty to my mother.  My mother was visiting me in Italy and the two of us had just been to lunch.  I was driving and not really able to pay attention to what she was up to in the passenger’s seat.  All I knew was one minute she was normal-looking and by the next time we pulled up to a stop light I looked over at her and she had bright orange lips.  I gasped.  “Mom!  Give me that lipstick,” I demanded.   In good faith, she gladly handed me her shiny gold tube of Estee Lauder, probably thinking I was going to borrow some to paint my own lips. But I promptly put the lipstick in my car’s ash tray and snapped the lid shut.  Without employing the filter that guards my words as they exit my mouth I said, “I’ll give that back to you next time Halloween rolls around.”  

Shocked, my mother nearly choked. To be honest, I have no idea what possessed me to say that.  I would never have spoken like that to anyone, ever.  Except my mother.  After a moment, she was able to recover her pride and I heard her chuckling a little.  She flipped the visor down to look at herself in the mirror and asked me if I thought it was really too bright.  I looked at her.  In a matter of minutes she’d gone from my mother who I’d just had lunch with to a lady who possibly still had a few flecks of food in her teeth (like me) to a lady wearing too bright a shade of coral lipstick.  Now she was a lady who’s confidence had been reduced to a pulp by another lady twenty-something years younger.  I started to laugh but it wasn’t funny because she looked genuinely hurt.  I apologized immediately.  Still, I wasn’t going to give her the lipstick back.    

The thing was, though, now that I think about it, my mother liked that color lipstick.  It was me, I was the one who didn’t like it.  I was the one who felt insecure looking at my mother wearing that shade of lipstick.  And because of my own stupid little insecurities I told my mother she couldn’t wear it.  What she probably should have done was taken my adult face between her thumb and middle finger and pressed my cheeks together the way she did when I was a toddler and she wanted me to look at her.  She should have wrestled me down and applied that lipstick to me and made me wear it for the rest of the day.  Just because she’s my mother. 

But she didn’t. 

Because she’s my mother. 

I find that fascinating.  How somewhere along the way, roles swap.  Maybe that’s why, as daughters grow up, there’s so much resentment sloshing back and forth.  It’s as if, on some deeper level, we look at each other and sense that eventually we will switch places.   I’ve watched this happen through my magnifying glass, at this great distance, with Jess and my mother.  Suddenly my mother is the one who needs tending to while my sisters and I are the ‘authorities.’  Certainly this is not because Mom’s incapable. But rather because…well, I don’t know why.  It’s unfathomable how this could have happened but at the same time, it was clearly inevitable. 

Mom did not come to this swap very voluntarily.  None of us did, in fact.  My mother raised hell right along side us before relinquishing to the reality that we are now adults in charge of our own decisions and lives.  It has only been in the last few years that she has slowly accepted this.  It was as if we were all growing along together so that we could come apart, mold into our individual selves then come back together to be separate and more solid together than ever.  Now that we’re all here, finally, it’s kinda fun.  We agree on most things but lipstick colors continue to be a point of contention.  Honestly, though, I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone more. 

I’m even tempted to dress myself up like a barber from the 1920s wearing a smooshed straw hat and show up at my Mom’s with an Easter basket full of those nasty peeps.

Happy belated Easter, y’all!    

You Don’t Have to Let Yourself Go, Just Your Pants

For the second time in a year I’m surrounded by boxes and a looming list which must be completed in the next thirty days.  Why?  Because I’m moving.  Again.

That and I’m desperately trying to lose ten or fifteen pounds.  How am I doing this?  Well, you should see me.  I set up my computer on the ironing board and tune into Zumba classes on YouTube.  I feel ridiculous and probably look even more ridiculous.  But it’s the only way I can my heart rate going enough for me to sweat like it’s going out of style.

For years I used to go to the gym two to three times a week.  Spinning, yoga, weight circuits mixed with low-impact cardio is how I kept myself in shape.  Along with weekend bike rides, runs and hikes.   And daily half-hour walks with the dog.  Until a few years ago I never weighed more than 130 pounds, clothed, soaking wet with a full stomach.

My current weight?  I’m not telling.  I will say that in two years I put on, roughly, forty pounds.  FORTY pounds.  That’s without having ever been pregnant.

Last year when I moved from Italy to New Zealand, I kept a whole bunch of clothes that fit me barely or fit me really badly.  I was convinced I would get in shape, lose the extra pounds I’d packed on and be able to slip comfortably back into every last thing in wardrobe.  Well, a year has gone by and I have not accomplished that.

I’ve never had any issues with food.  I’ve never had an eating disorder.  My weight was a non-issue because it wasn’t even on my radar.  I was fine with what I weighed, even if I wasn’t always thrilled with how my body looked all the time.  Now, I look back at pictures of myself, even just three years ago, even just two years ago and think OH!  How I wish I’d appreciated that body back when I had it.  When I was twenty-eight I could fit into the same jeans I wore when I was eighteen.  That was back when I was married.  I was rake-thin.  I ate enough, but I just didn’t really allow myself to enjoy what I really wanted.  Then, when I was going through the agony of my separation, I let myself eat anything I wanted.  At first, I needed the fuel and energy.  Then, I just used the “I need the nourishment” as an excuse because it was kind of fun.  I liked not going to the gym for weeks then months at a time.  Slowly, I let myself go.

For the first time in my life my body took on a shape, curves even.  Now I have rolls when I’m sitting down.  And to be honest, also sometimes when I’m standing up.  At first I hated this.  My face looked chubby in pictures and sometimes my thighs touched when I walked.  Gradually, though, I began to see the benefits.  For one, I’m healthier.  I haven’t had so much as a cold, nor do I even get cold anymore.  Not with my new layers of flesh.  Best of all, I have boobs.  These are bragging rights: I went from a B to a D, au natural.  Before seeing some friends I hadn’t seen in ages, I warned them.  “Just so you know,” I said, “I’ve gained a lot of weight since the last time you saw me.”  We went to the pool in our bathing suits and they saw what I was talking about.  “You’re not fat,” my friend Maria said, “You’re just not skinny.”  But when you go from being skinny to not being skinny, you really do feel fat.

But it was the dear Cindy Clough who made me feel like a million bucks when she said it didn’t seem as though I’d gained any weight but that my persona seemed to have expanded as a whole.

Expand indeed.  I have one pair of jeans that fit me (they used to be my super baggy jeans) and a lot of tight leggings.  None of my skirts fit anymore and none of my trousers or slacks do either.  In January I gave away the purple dress I wore to my sister’s wedding.  I love that dress but I know I’ll never wear it again.  Nor do I think I really want to.  I gave it to a friend who can have altered and look stunning in it.

But what to do with the rest?  It’s all just hanging in my closet, folded up on my shelves making me feel bad about myself.

So why can’t I get rid of it then?

It has taken me all this time to figure this out and all the way until today before I could put it into words.   Ready?  Here goes.

It’s not the clothes.  It’s what the clothes represent.  Who, more than what, actually.

It’s the girl who used to wear those clothes.  In Italy, on vacations, in another, previous life.  A girl who had firmer biceps, less cellulite on her legs, less gray hair.

Take for example my white cotton pants.  The only pair of pants I’ve ever loved that aren’t jeans.  I used to play golf in them with my ex-husband.  I wore them on our honeymoon.  There’s a picture of me in those pants, smiling next to my then-groom, upon arrival at the fanciest, swankiest hotel in the Seychelles where we spent our three-week honeymoon.  When people say, “Those were the days,” I get what they mean.  Those really were the days.  The days I was that bushy-tailed, bright-eyed bride.  That was me.  In those pants.  They are my favorite pants, even if I haven’t worn them in nearly three years.  Now, I’m lucky if I can even get them pulled up to my waist.

No one really talks about this kind of stuff and I can see why.  It’s hard.  Besides myself, I don’t really know that many people my age who’ve been through a divorce.  There seems to be such a disconnect in society for people who experience life’s losses.  You feel like there’s something fundamentally flawed about you.  As if it weren’t for this one thing you’d be gliding along with everyone else, making money, paying off your debts, buying a new house or a new car.  You feel as though you’ve been uninvited in the pursuit of happiness.  You tried your luck and failed.  You had your shot and then you blew it therefore you’ve been banished.  Forever.  Or so it feels.  Even though you know better.

Here you are, going through something huge and it’s all you can do to remember to eat.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world is getting engaged, getting pregnant, sending their children off to kindergarten or college.  You feel so isolated in your loss.  They’re all in line to buy an iPad and you’re just trying to talk yourself into making the bed, to committing to something as little as that so that you can come home at the end of the day and pretend you had it together enough to perform a routine task that other normal people do without fail.  Those other so-called “normal” people proudly post pictures on Facebook–of their accomplishments, their kids, their newly wallpapered kitchen.  It’s all you can do not to resent them for their happiness.  You?  You’re just proud not to have become a drug-addict or alcoholic by now.

Then one day your pants don’t fit anymore.  You really hit rock bottom.  You wallow about this for months.  You even decide to rebel against it by eating more or completely relinquishing all sensibilities when it comes to food and taking care of your body.  Until one day you can’t handle it anymore.  Even your baggiest pajamas, the ones you wore as a cover up at the beach when you lost your luggage that trip, are tight.  So you start slowly.  You stop eating toast in the morning and start eating yogurt instead.  No more butter.  You quit beer.  You quit red wine (almost) and you don’t let yourself drink anything other than water, a glass of juice in the morning, coffee (with only a tad bit of sugar) and white wine on occasion.  And when you say “on occasion” you mean a glass or two with dinner because you can’t deplete your life of all pleasures.  You know you’ve made it past the hardest parts of recovery when you’re making your lunch the night before and it consists of fat-free yogurt, a banana and grilled vegetable couscous.

Yes, you’ve got a grasp of things now.

Just to make sure, you try those pants on again.  It’s not as bad as you thought but they are still about a thousand Zumba classes away from being zipped up.  One thousand, one-hundred Zumba classes away from being buttoned.  It is with a deep sense of sorrow and regret you come to the realization you must let them go.  You don’t have to let yourself go, just your pants.  If you don’t, you won’t have room for the new stuff.  In fact, now that you take a better look at them, they’re not as white as you think they are.  They hold a tinge of yellow, the zipper is rusted and the hems are frayed.  Even if they still fit, you probably wouldn’t wear them anymore.

That girl who wore those pants?  She’s not gone, she’s just something more now.  There’s more to her–more padding, more cushioning.  She even comes with aerodynamic curves that help her to better hug the turns of life’s veering twists.

And so, once again I will do the sifting: what stays and what goes.  What I can keep and what I can painstakingly now let go of.  I know what to hold onto and those are the things that have made me into the one-hundred and ____ pound, five-foot eight and a half, thirty-three year old I am today.  I find it remarkable that I still look forward at all that’s to come.  Mostly, I am just thankful to be what I am, where I am.  Thankful for all those who’ve loved and led me along my way.  Love handles, muffin top and all.

Let’s Have a Kaikai: a post grape-picking pow-wow

As with anything, it’s not the grape-picking that’s interesting.  It’s all that surrounds it. 

Austin and I spent last Monday practically in silence.  We were tired and it was hot.  You wouldn’t think of New Zealand as hot but let me tell you–it isn’t the temperature of the air.  Here, it’s a sun factor, the added temperature of the sunlight.  There’s no ozone in this part of the world and so when the sun blazes down it feels fierce unlike any sun I’ve ever felt.  It’s pure, amped-up heat; the opposite of a wind chill.  It’s why their lemons, grapefruits and oranges are perennial here, plentiful even in winter.   It’s so strong that even horses wear coats to protect their skin.  It burns right through their coat.  They even have special sun visors for their noses so they don’t get blistered. 

However, on days when the breeze is constant, the sun isn’t as terrifying.  We tend to talk more.  Talk, snip, talk, snip.  We spend about half of our time talking to and about the grapes.  Sometimes we name them.  We’ve taken to calling the dense, tightly intertwined grapes “a bunch of bitches.”  Usually they are Chardonnay, the ones that congregate between the crisscrossed vines–the place we dubbed as the “Crisscross Mother Load.”  It’s the point where at least four large vines, stemming from two diverse trunks cross together and are braided upward through the wires.  It’s a mess.  Underneath all those leaves that you have to pluck or snip away, you have vines and wires.  And, in case I haven’t mentioned, you can’t see a thing.  You have no idea where to snip the grapes from the vine because you can’t see where they’re attached.  These are the so-called bunches of bitches.  

When we aren’t talking about grapes, we’re talking about everything.  We talk about subjects that skirt around forgiveness and love.  Sometimes we talk about food.  We talk a lot about wine.   We even talk about Jesus. 

Sometimes Austin tells me secrets about people he knows back home. 

It’s because of Austin’s stories that I’ve been able to catch up on gay culture in America.  I’ve learned expressions like “fag hags,” or “fruit flies,” as Austin prefers to call them.  (He says it’s less derogatory.)  I’ve learned about Oklahoma City’s best gayborhood as well as the city’s drag queen subculture.  I’ve even learned the clever, hilarious names of some of them, like the famous Willam or Sharon Needles.  It’s slightly shocking to find out I was so out of the loop. 

Thinking of drag queens made me think of this old lady in my neighborhood.  She looks just like the love child of Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie and Robin William’s Mrs. Doubtfire.  This got me giggling and I told Austin. 

Tall, masculine old ladies got us talking about Dorothy from the The Golden Girls.  Like every kid, my sister Jess and I always played the game where you have to choose which one you want to be.  Don’t ask me how it happened but she always got to be the cool, pretty one and I always got sucker-punched into being the chubby one or the less fortunate-looking one.  Remember Jan?  From the Brady Bunch?  (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!)  Well she was Marsha and I was Jan.  When we applied this game to Wilson Philips of course we all wanted to be China, the pretty blonde.  But our neighbor friend Whitney was blonde, so, by default, she always got to be China.  Jess, with her red hair, by default, got to be the red-headed one while I always got stuck being Carnie, the unfit tubster of the group.  I used to console myself by trying to say that Carnie had the best voice of all of them. 

Austin and I discussed this stupid little game then applied it to The Golden Girls.   

“Which one are you?” I asked. 

“Blanche,” he said, inspecting his bunch of grapes for rot.  “Definitely Blanche.”

“Of COURSE you’re Blanche!  I don’t know why I bothered asking.” I said. “Remember that tall one?  Was her name Dorothy?”

“Bea Arthur!” he exclaimed.

Obviously Austin knew her real name. 

“I was always a little scared of her, to tell you the truth.  I was convinced she was a man.”

Didn’t everyone think that for awhile?  Her deep voice was mesmerizing.  A little haunting even.   

“Well, which one are you?” he asked.

I pondered this.  “I don’t want to be Rose,” I said.  “She’s so ditzy and annoying.”

“No, you’re not ditzy.  You have to be the quick-witted one and that’s Dorothy.”

“You mean the one who looks like a man?” I asked.  “She’s such a party pooper, though.”  This was usually why I opted out of playing this game.

 “Well you have two choices.  You can be Dorothy or you can be the old one.”

“The mother!?  The midget with glasses and white fluffy hair?!” I laughed.  “Wasn’t that Dorothy’s mother?”

“Yes, Bea Arthur’s character’s mom.” he said. 

I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name.  All I could remember was that they called her “Ma.” 

Reluctantly, I opted for Dorothy. 

After all this talk about the Golden Girls, I came home and got on YouTube to look them up to refresh my memory.  It was shocking to hear that theme song again, “Thank you for being a friend,” after all these years and what was even more shocking was how much younger they were than I thought!  They aren’t OLD on that show!  Blanche walks around in her neglige looking like a sexy young tart.  Either they’ve gotten younger or I’ve aged.  Or at least my memory has. 

The next thing I looked up on YouTube was the Scissor Sister’s song, “Let’s Have a Kiki,” because I hadn’t heard it and it impressed me that Austin knew every single word to the first verse.  He then informed me that Willam made up his (her?) own version of this song and called it, “Let’s Have a Kaikai.”  If you’ve never seen either video, watch the Scissor Sister’s first, then watch Willam.  It is just so unfair how men as women sometimes look better than women as women.  This, of course, is a whole other topic but I can’t help but feel slightly resentful towards drag queens.  They (almost) have it all.  They’re beautiful and they’re smart.  They can do anything.  I mean, they dress up like women, wearing make-up and high heels and they’re successful at it.  How brilliant is that?  Speaking of brilliant…  All that controversy about Chic-Fil-A?  Well, instead of boycotting the fast-food chain, these whipper-snapper drag queens endorsed them, which was probably the best vindication any man, woman or tranny could think of.  They made a music video about it, using the tune of Wilson Philips “Hold On.”   

I am speechless.  All I can say is, oh, how times have changed.  The Golden Girls have gotten younger, Carnie had lap-band surgery and is now skinny (or was, last time I checked) and transvestites/transsexuals are endorsing Christian-run fast food chains. 

Such are the realizations of grape-picking. 

Oh and sister, if you’re read this, do me a favor.  Work up the nerve to be slightly scandalized and watch this video.  Which one of these so-called girls with fancy names would you like to be?  Let’s have a kiki and we’ll talk it over and fight it out.  Just like old times. 

(Afterwards, if you need something wholesome and would like to remember tamer times, well, this should do the trick.)    

P.S.  Austin likes to quote one of his favorite drag queens: “Flats are for quitters.”  If that’s true, I suppose I’m right in there with the best of them.  The Carla Bruni crowd.