It’s spring. Sex for everyone! (Except people who don’t want it!)

Because why not?

Hello, lovely readers! Yesterday was the first day of spring.  And with spring in the air, folks’ thoughts tend to turn to friskiness.

As a person who helps those who are struggling with body, sexuality and gender issues, one of the things that is clear is that there are not nearly enough images in the media of people demonstrating something other than standard, mainstream sexuality. While images of gay couples are becoming more and more common, the vast, vast majority of images in the media that depict sexuality show people who are white, able-bodied, straight, thin, and performing traditional masculinity or femininity based on their biological sex only.

With that in mind, and with the caveat that clicking these links will take you very firmly into Not Safe For Work territory, I wanted to share two links that I discovered this week that made me want to celebrate.

First, a Buzzfeed link, of all things.  Last week, this collection of boudoir images caught my eye. Not because I particularly enjoy looking at boudoir images: they are usually the most vapid and objectifying form of traditional feminine sexuality that I can imagine.  But these, advertised only as “impossibly sexy,” also contain a multitude of body types and skin colors, without making any mention of either. This mainstream presentation of larger women – and smaller ones! – as equally sexy was lovely to see, and sparked a conversation elsewhere.

In the course of that conversation, another friend pointed me to a Tumblr (this one is really not safe for work) containing words, images, and thoughts about all different kinds of sexuality and gender: queer, disabled, trans, asexual, cross-dressing, happily kinky – basically the whole gamut.  Named Sex Is Not The Enemy, the Tumblr seeks to bust open what people think about what is sexy, and more importantly, to bring sexuality – which is, after all, a huge part of what it means to be human – out of the shadows and shame and into the light – for everyone.

Highlights for me: a picture of a beautiful, proud, post-mastectomy naked woman; a set of paired photographs of people of varying body types posing to look beautiful, then posing unflatteringly on purpose; this adorable shot of an old gay couple (one of them is 100!) celebrating the anniversary of Stonewall.

A note that many of these images are far more graphic than the ones I’ve described, and may be in danger of changing the way you think about how people love.  You have been warned.

Happy Spring, everyone.

 

It's spring. Sex for everyone! (Except people who don't want it!)

Because why not?

Hello, lovely readers! Yesterday was the first day of spring.  And with spring in the air, folks’ thoughts tend to turn to friskiness.

As a person who helps those who are struggling with body, sexuality and gender issues, one of the things that is clear is that there are not nearly enough images in the media of people demonstrating something other than standard, mainstream sexuality. While images of gay couples are becoming more and more common, the vast, vast majority of images in the media that depict sexuality show people who are white, able-bodied, straight, thin, and performing traditional masculinity or femininity based on their biological sex only.

With that in mind, and with the caveat that clicking these links will take you very firmly into Not Safe For Work territory, I wanted to share two links that I discovered this week that made me want to celebrate.

First, a Buzzfeed link, of all things.  Last week, this collection of boudoir images caught my eye. Not because I particularly enjoy looking at boudoir images: they are usually the most vapid and objectifying form of traditional feminine sexuality that I can imagine.  But these, advertised only as “impossibly sexy,” also contain a multitude of body types and skin colors, without making any mention of either. This mainstream presentation of larger women – and smaller ones! – as equally sexy was lovely to see, and sparked a conversation elsewhere.

In the course of that conversation, another friend pointed me to a Tumblr (this one is really not safe for work) containing words, images, and thoughts about all different kinds of sexuality and gender: queer, disabled, trans, asexual, cross-dressing, happily kinky – basically the whole gamut.  Named Sex Is Not The Enemy, the Tumblr seeks to bust open what people think about what is sexy, and more importantly, to bring sexuality – which is, after all, a huge part of what it means to be human – out of the shadows and shame and into the light – for everyone.

Highlights for me: a picture of a beautiful, proud, post-mastectomy naked woman; a set of paired photographs of people of varying body types posing to look beautiful, then posing unflatteringly on purpose; this adorable shot of an old gay couple (one of them is 100!) celebrating the anniversary of Stonewall.

A note that many of these images are far more graphic than the ones I’ve described, and may be in danger of changing the way you think about how people love.  You have been warned.

Happy Spring, everyone.

 

Battening down, and fierce gratitude

Those of you on the East Coast – and others who enjoy paying attention to weather in places where they’re not (I’m looking at you, California…) – know that there’s presently a blizzard bearing down on Boston and other cities up and down the coast.  At the moment it’s mostly snowing gently, blowing a little bit, barely even sticking yet.  But we’re told to expect between 1-3 feet of snow.  (Yes, that was feet.)

My household spent yesterday running around like you do before such events: clearing our shopping list, laying in extra supplies, debating over buying a snowblower, running around to three different stores as they all sold out of shovels.  We still have bottles filled with water from Sandy, where they weren’t needed; we have flashlights and batteries and crank radios and candles.

I’m weirdly looking forward to this evening, when we plan to take shoveling shifts, clearing the snow as it falls, taking nips of bourbon in-between.  A blizzard party, with my family.

And I’m incredibly grateful that I can experience a storm like this in this way.  In a warm, sturdy old house, with loved ones, safe and warm and sound.  I’ll probably bake cookies at some point.

Last weekend, I participated in a read/sing-through of a new musical called Fire and Ice, in which the environmental apocalypse happens, the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt stops, and the eastern seaboard freezes over, forcing a typical American family on a Grapes of Wrath-like journey across the continent.  With weather predictors calling Nemo historic, I can’t help but reflect on that play as I look out of my office window, watch the snow intensify, and hear the wind begin its unearthly howling.

I don’t think the world is going to end tonight – neither in fire nor in ice – but it still occurs to me to be thankful.  May everyone reading this be safe and warm tonight, in the company of loved ones.

Holiday ephemera

It’s Christmas Eve, and I thought I’d share a few of the things that make this time of year work for me.  True, these days I’m a practicing Pagan and celebrate Yule, which I did the other night with flame and food and reading and watching most of the night through for the sunrise.  But I was raised vaguely Catholic, not to mention generally American, and Christmas has always been a big part of my life whether I was celebrating the birth of Jesus or not.  (Mostly not.)

I try to be a deeply thinking person, with depth of feeling and a giving soul and all of that good stuff.  But it’s also true that I was brought up in the ’80s, and media has always suffused my holiday celebrations in a way that is indelible to my adult self.  Thus, I give you my Top Eight Shows, Movies and Music Without Which It is Simply Not Christmas.  Warning: this list is going to be extremely conventional.  Enjoy.

8. How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

I’m talking original, Boris Karloff stuff here, none of this Jim Carrey movie or whatever this godforsaken musical is.  2-D cartoon, Thurl Ravenscroft (true story! awesome name, right?) rumbling through “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes and making me cry.  Oh, yeah.

7. A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

Even if I don’t get a chance to watch the classic cartoon, with it’s still-supremely-odd real kids’ voices saying frightfully adult things, I always manage to give a listen or twelve to Vince Guaraldi’s fantastic jazz soundtrack.  The wistful “Christmastime Is Here” always bespeaks to me the complexity of trying to celebrate peace, light, and the spirit of giving in our anxious modern age.

6. George Winston’s December.

Some years ago I picked up this album by the minimalist piano composer, and have always loved his icy, contemplative take on a number of traditionals, plus a few originals of his own, which sparkle. I can’t listen to this without imagining ice-coated branches and the sound of boots crunching and creaking in fresh snow.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  

This Rankin-Bass classic stop-motion special is full of sexist language, weird violence, bad lip-matching and strange messages about conformity, not to mention one of the most annoying Christmas carols ever.  It’s AWESOME.

4. Frosty the Snowman.

Rudolph and Frosty were my big two back in the day. Sure, it was important to see the other specials, but if I missed these when they were on, it was all over. I cried every time Karen found Frosty as a melted puddle in the greenhouse. Plus, dude, Jimmy Durante.

3. It’s A Wonderful Life. 

I almost never see this movie in its entirety; it’s really long and front-loaded. But I almost always catch at least some of it this season. It truly is a fantastic movie, corny as it may seem. Thomas Garvey, my current favorite theatre reviewer, has a fantastic, fresh review of it here.

2. The Bishop’s Wife. 

Folks might not be familiar with this movie, which was remade maybe ten years ago as The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington.  The original, though, starred David Niven as an Anglican bishop, the radiant Loretta Young as his increasingly discontented wife, and Cary Grant as an extremely dapper and charming angel.  This movie is so splendidly corny and wonderful, and everyone looks so luminous.  It’s really a must.

1. Alastair Sim’s Scrooge (1951).  

There have been countless adaptations of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, but for my money none of them matches this sublime effort by Alastair Sim, who with goggle-eyed specificity makes both a perfect pinched, cruel old man, and the most delightful, fleet-footed redeemed Ebeneezer you ever saw.

Whatever you celebrate, enjoy your holidays, everyone!

On the Solstice, contemplating the concept of faith

Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day, and the longest night, of the year.  Mayan Calendar nonsense notwithstanding, pagans tend to celebrate this night as Yule, the time when the old sun dies and is reborn anew.  We stay up all night, tending candles and fires, carrying the light through the long dark.  We tell stories, play music, eat and drink, nap in shifts.  Tonight, my household will feast on roast pork, decorate a tree, possibly watch silly movies and/or play silly games, and generally make merry through as much of the night as we can manage with our aging bodies.

Outside, rain and wind is pounding us, and it’s exactly the kind of day where it feels like we’ll never see the sun again, even during the daylight hours.  But marking this day and this night with merriment is what gets us through to the other side.

Two years ago, a couple I’d met only recently invited me to a Solstice gathering at their place, which they hold every year.  Each time, there is a theme on which the gathered are asked to speak in some way, and invariably it is intensely moving.  That year, the theme was faith, and I wrote an essay that encapsulated what I felt about that very loaded word.

I’m pleased to share that essay here, in the spirit of the season, and in the hope that it may bring some illumination.

Happy Solstice, everyone, and Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas, and Joyous Kwanzaa, and Blessed Yule, and joy rain down upon you whatever you do or do not celebrate.  Let’s push through to the light.

***

When I heard about tonight’s theme, I must admit I had a little trouble. Faith is a difficult concept for me, one of those virtues which, like “purity,” has had all the piss taken out of it by Christianity. Faith is George W. Bush following his gut into Iraq. Faith is Creationists who value their fairy tales over scientific evidence. Faith is what got the witches burned, kept the Crusades going for hundreds of years, fueled the Spanish Inquisition, took out the Twin Towers, impregnated and infected teenagers whose only sex education was abstinence-only, and defined people like me – female, bisexual, queer, pagan – as sub-human.

If you can do the hard work, though, of separating faith from its incredibly strong right-wing religious connotations, it’s actually an incredible tool of being human. Because faith, real faith, isn’t about blind belief in dogma. It’s about mystery. It’s about going forward with grace, when faced with the unknowable and terrifying. Faith is the holy communion of imagination and hope.

I’m a pagan woo-woo witch-identified skeptic. The founder of my own tradition used to say, “First perceive, then believe.” Of course, his doors of perception were open a little wider than a lot of people’s, and his perception allowed him to believe in fairies, spirits, gods and goddesses, energetic currents, blessings and curses. I’m only beginning to touch some of those things, and even when I perceive them, I’m still not sure I believe.

But I have faith.

Faith is what is left over when inquiry is exhausted, that thing that keeps us going when we Just Don’t Know. Faith is what allows us to turn the proverbial lemons into the equally proverbial lemonade; to keep trying when the damn thing has broken down fifteen times in a row but maybe if we switch these wires or kick it a few more times it’ll start; to wait and wait and wait because maybe this time, the Great Pumpkin will come. (The secret? If you wait long enough without eating or sleeping, he does.)

Faith allows some of you to light things on fire and swing them around your bodies for fun and entertainment, and others of us to look at a bare stage and make it into a world. In fact, faith is what makes most art – and all theatre – operate. For as the prophet Geoffrey Rush once said, “it’s a mystery.”

Faith is what allows a marathoner to get up Heartbreak Hill, a widow to get through her grief, a soldier to make it through the night. It’s what made our ancestors learn to wait for the bread to rise, the crops to grow, the game to return, the rains to stop. It’s the thing that lets us live in the terrifyingly simultaneous way that our human brains make us: one foot in the present, and one in the future.

Faith is what makes you able to love even when your heart has been torn out, stepped on, run over, and left on the side of the road to die. Faith makes you get up, dust your heart off, maybe wall it up a little better than before, but leave a window open a crack, just in case.

Just in case. Because we still imagine. And we still hope. And we still wait for the light.

Principles of RSM #13: Humor can lighten and heal

Following on the last principle that pleasure needs to be supported in order to balance pain, this principle focuses directly on humor as an especially key type of pleasure.  Besides being a talented musician and a gifted healer, Ilana Rubenfeld has always been something of a cutup, and throughout her life has used humor as a key component in healing.  (Lightbulb jokes seem to be a particular favorite.)

Not all Synergists are comedians, of course, but one of the subtler parts of our training is in recognizing genuine moments where laughter can be made available to a client.  Something I hear people in pain say sometimes is “you have to laugh or you’ll cry.”  In RSM, I’d say the principle is more “you have to laugh so you can cry,” or “you have to laugh as well as cry.”  Laughter, after all, isn’t that far off from crying: I know there have been many times when I’ve heard laughter from another room and not known for a moment whether it was an expression of mirth or sorrow.  Often people talk of laughing until they cry, and certainly at times of difficulty, I’ve been able to be taken from tears to laughter very easily by a caring partner or friend.  And of course, there are tears of joy:

This is not a distraction or a way of avoiding difficult emotions: it’s yet another way to express and relieve them.  Emotions, after all, are a movement of energy through the body, and can be released in many ways.  Suppressing them ultimately numbs all experience of emotion, not just the ones you are trying to avoid.  Expressing them, we find that the line between great joy and great agony is fine indeed.

The important thing to clarify about humor in Rubenfeld Synergy is that we strive not to engage in sarcasm or bitter humor.  Anything that could seem like mockery, that could belittle the client or the client’s feelings, is not the type of humor we’re looking for.  Neither is participation in a client’s bitterness, which may come out as wry remarks or jokes at the client’s own expense.  What we’re looking for is the kind of humor that offers the client release, lifts the seriousness of a situation for a time, and helps open the door to other emotions that may be blocked.

I’ll never forget a session I had with a young woman who was in the midst of breaking up with her boyfriend.  She came into the session exhausted and blocked, feeling worn down and with very little energy.  As I made contact with her head, which felt very rigid, she said she felt a sense of darkness and safety, like a sheet pulled over her face.  Then suddenly, she let loose with a cry of “Bullshit!”  As she did so, her neck loosened amazingly, and I could suddenly roll it back and forth easily.  As I moved to various parts of her body, we found this feeling of anger everywhere – expressed sometimes as “Bullshit!” and sometimes as “Fuck it!”  This became funny pretty quickly.  “Yeah, bullshit!” I’d respond, as I felt some other part of her loosen and let go, and as she moved that frustration out she’d laugh.  “There’s another one – fuck it!”

Finding those points of frustration and anger in her body and giving them a voice was vitally important, and the fact that her body relaxed when she did it was my signal that it was what was needed.  But laughing at the swearing and the ferocity of the responses, not to mention with relief, helped make the expression safer for her.  She needed to know that I could handle her anger, which apparently wasn’t heard or expressed in her relationship.  And she needed to balance that anger with laughter.

In Ilana’s honor, here’s my favorite lightbulb joke:

Q: How many mice does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: Only two, but I’m not sure how they got in there.

Next: Reflecting clients’ verbal expressions validates their experience.

Things that are bringing me happiness today

Some days – especially Fridays, I think – you just need to go for the simple.  This was a weird week, with the holiday in the middle of it, and all the heat; I’m betting most people who are working today are slacking off a bit and waiting for the weekend, and the rest are off enjoying other things.  I was going to write something deeply philosophical, but I think instead I’ll share a few little things that are giving me joy.  Blessings-counting is good practice, anyway.

Rock climbing.  I saw a friend at the climbing gym yesterday, whom I’d also seen a couple of days before.  She smirked and said, “Hooked enough that you’re here more than once a week, huh?”  Yeah, sure seems that way.   I’m really loving the sensation of getting stronger, smarter, more confident.  For maybe the first time in an athletic endeavor, I look at hard routes and don’t think, “I’ll never be able to do that.”  I think, “Boy, won’t it be neat when I can do that.”

House of Leaves.  The book I’m currently reading, by Mark Danielewski.  It’s a postmodern tome, yes.  But it’s beautiful, terrifying, engrossing, and unlike any book I’ve ever read.  Its layers are dazzling, and the necessity of turning the book to read upside-down passages, the scratchouts and illustrations and collages and nested footnotes – it’s a book that demands you read it with your whole being.  (Also, the word “House” always appears in blue, as above, even in the name of the publisher (Random House) and when it’s in other languages.  I’ve come to think of it as part of the pronunciation of the word, and wonder how the word’s blueness could be communicated in speech.)

Sugar gliders.  I mean, seriously, look at them!

Really, look!

Are you back?

Okay, moving on.

Happy videos.  Actually, a Coke commercial of all things, showing wonderful things picked up by security cameras.  Well, they always have been good about making the touching commercials.  Found this at David’s blog.  Enjoy, everyone, and happy Friday.

Peace like a river

From Maureena Bivins’ blog, today I learn of a study showing that emotions are primarily social occurrences: rather than being more internal, cognitive, individual responses, argues Brian Parkinson, they are “social phenomena” that are “interpersonally, institutionally, or culturally defined.”

This may seem like a “well, duh” kind of finding, but I think it has important implications for the ways in which we deal with emotion. Firstly, with the assertion that emotions are social and therefore have consequences for others, it’s more difficult to decide that how another person feels is “their problem.” Recognizing emotion as a thing essentially shared between people, as opposed to a thing that happens in isolation inside one person, seems like a step toward a more compassionate society.

Second, it sheds some light on the incredible bombardment of emotional material that assaults us daily in the modern world. I for one have lost entire days sometimes to mountains of depressing news stories, or to arguing angrily on the Internet about racial injustice or feminism. I don’t think that the rise of Facebook and the rise of incidence of depression correlate in time due to some accident: I think that it’s an example of how our capacity to deal with emotion is only so great, and our monkey-spheres – the number of people we can reasonably care about with any depth – are in conflict with our participation in and awareness of an ever-expanding world.

This reminder of the social nature of emotions is helpful as I look at my own life, at the people in it, and at what I spend most of my time doing. How many of my emotional resources are being taken up by Syria, how many by Trayvon Martin, how many by my husband and how many by my household? And how callous does it make us feel when we have to cut off our responses to world events – or even neighborhood events – just in order to function within our smaller worlds, communities, families?

This strikes me as one of the ways in which we become un-integrated beings: we feel, sometimes deeply, about everything around us. And as modernity brings us all closer and closer together, and as everything seems to be happening at once, we need to make rational decisions about what we’re going to allow ourselves to feel.

One of the things I love about Rubenfeld Synergy Method is how it tends to make space for emotions to occur in the moment, be felt, and to move through. One concept of emotion in our training was “energy in motion: the idea that emotion is not a thing that lives in us but a thing that moves through us. Emotion can change us, certainly – the same way a river moving through a valley changes its shape. But as this study shows, they are not necessary a part of us; they are a force that works on us.

My essential sense is that the more easily we allow emotions to arise and move through us, the more easily we can manage more when it comes – as it invariably will. Make a wider channel, and everything moves more easily. Don’t allow your rational mind to shut off too many possibilities, and while life may become more poignant and painful, it might become more joyful and rich as well. It’s when we try to control the flow that it either dries up or becomes an unmanageable flood. “Stuck” emotions, or grooves that have been riven deep by repeated negative experiences, are what create patterns that are fiendishly difficult to change.  This is where “triggering” happens, or where automatic responses to certain actions become habituated.  As even more research shows, habits are generally very hard to change, and moving from habit to choice may be even more difficult than it sounds.

Yet thinking of emotion this way may be a first step toward recognizing, not just that we are all connected, but that what we feel and what we do about it can be teased apart in a way that doesn’t shut us off from experience.

Quotation of great beauty for your consideration.

“When you consider something like death, after which (there being no news flash to the contrary) we may well go out like a candle flame, then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly. It probably doesn’t matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life’s many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or ask stupid questions or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are.”

― Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses