Getting married, one year later

In a few days, I am going to celebrate my one year wedding anniversary.

I was never one of those girls who dreamed about getting married. In fact, I didn’t actually want to get married. I liked being totally independent, doing whatever the hell I wanted. A light sleeper, I couldn’t imagine sharing a bed with anyone. When I was younger, I was also more insecure, and I cringed at thinking about a man seeing me without makeup. I thought I would have to look good at all times or he would be totally turned off.

Maybe I have a higher level of testosterone, but I never craved intimacy or companionship. Nor did I want a different partner every night. I just didn’t mind being alone. I was just doing my thing. And I liked the spontaneity of my life as a young single girl in Las Vegas, and the fact that at any point in time, I could take off and move to Timbuktu.

Well, I did end up moving on a whim, to Miami. And I thought that my ‘young, wild and free’ lifestyle would continue, considering I was on South Beach. For about a month, as I met tons of random guys on the beach and palm-lined streets, I was heading in that direction. And then I met James.

Marriage does involve trade-offs. I did give up some of my freedom and some of that excitement that comes with not knowing where the night will take you and dancing til the sun comes up. Since I now have to think about things like the future, I can no longer just take off and move — although I still long to. I have to factor in his plans as well — his career, his obligations. And now I have a freaking pet, which is almost as bad as having a kid in terms of not being able to run off to Italy for a few months. Of course we can still party and we can still travel, but it’s just different. And I knew it would be.

I used to talk about this with my friend Emily, a wild redhead I used to party with in Vegas who just got married herself a month ago. We wondered if we would feel the same way at 33 as we did at 23. At what age would we get sick of dressing up and going out all night? Would we become cougars? We couldn’t imagine anything better than a night out on the town, getting tons of attention, feeling like goddesses.

But a couple years later, here we are. And we are both happy. Emily married an ornithologist and is about to spend a month backpacking through Eastern Europe. I am living in a cute art deco apartment right on the beach, with my sexy husband and adorable rabbit. And while I feel like I’ve had to give up certain things — as I think anyone who is married does, including sleeping with other people — here are some of the things that are nice:

He thinks I’m beautiful at all times, and tells me so. He rubs my feet, puts tanning oil on my back, gives me his opinions on all kinds of things from what to wear to what to do with my life, and agrees with me when I rant about the injustices of the world and the annoying habits of other people. He wants me to live my dreams. He would give up anything to make me happy. He makes me fresh-squeezed juice and fruit smoothies and macaroni and pretty much anything I ask him to, whenever I want it. He buys me presents. He loves my goofy side and all my quirks. We can share all sorts of inside jokes no one else would ever appreciate. He comforts me and praises me and makes me laugh and laugh at myself. He is someone to bike ride and kayak with and play Scrabble and paddleball with and do everything with. He understands me, not just the good things about me but the bad too. He makes me feel safe at night. He drives me around and pays bills and carries groceries and heavy things and fixes things and kills bugs and opens jars. He cleans and does dishes and works hard. He lets me nag him incessantly. He calls me out when I act like a spoiled brat. He sees me at my worst moments — when I’m being selfish or in the throes of PMS — and it’s okay. He accepts me at my strongest and my weakest. He is a hot date for anything — weddings, museums, dinners, parties, and yes, occasionally some dirty dancing in a nightclub. He tells me what looks good. He helps me to be less self-indulgent, and more selfless. To be more patient. He is someone to tell my dreams to, and fantasies, and fears. Someone to tell absolutely anything to. In short, he is my best friend.

And now, I find it hard to sleep alone. I like his scent and the touch of his skin. I like to feel his whiskers and muscles and rough large hands. I like knowing he is there beside me.

I know people who are both for marriage and against it. My little sister got married at 19 and now can’t wait to start a family. I know many women like this, who just love everything to do with weddings and marriage and family life and the home and domesticity. And there are others who wouldn’t dream of settling down, and who are living an awesomely adventurous lifestyle, traveling the world and partying every night.

I guess it’s hard to have it both ways, but maybe it’s possible. Maybe some day we can run off and travel the world together. At least we share the same dream, and we can make it happen together.

Do you dare to bare?

naked bicycle parade

Women ride topless at a Burning Man bicycle parade

Every one of us is a slave to fashion. Some more so than others –many people are fine with wearing the same old t-shirt and jeans every day. Others care enough about being on-trend that they spend thousands of dollars a year on the latest styles from the hottest brands.

But this isn’t a symptom of a consumer-centric, first world country. Every culture in the world, including indigenous and aboriginal tribes, have their acceptable styles. A part of it is looking good, but an even bigger part is fitting in.

This is going to sound totally off-the-wall, but I have this side of me that really wants to be a Native American. I would love to wear moccasins and leather and feathers and bodypaint, and to walk around with a bow and arrow. But could I? What kind of a reaction would I provoke? Might I even attract police attention?

Dressing up however the hell you want is a very cathartic form of individual self-expression. There are only a few times when this is allowed, however (outside the privacy of your own home, of course): Halloween, fetish parties, cosplay parties and conventions, raves, and festivals like the upcoming Burning Man.

“Burning Man is a philosophy, an attempt to reinvent the parameters and constraints of society. Within the most advanced capitalist economy in the world, participants choose to free themselves from commerce.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2008/aug/20/burningman.festival)

These “constraints of society” entail everything from what we wear to how we interact with one another and the world around us. For one galvanizing week, riding a bike naked, dancing around a fire, practicing yoga with strangers, sharing, giving away, trading … all the regular conventions, rules and mores disappear. You can express your inner essence without inhibition or fear of judgment. You can be utterly one with the universe.

I started thinking today about all the cool styles I would rock if I was free from these constraints. Here are a few:

Hats — Top hats on men are awesome

Gloves — I love women’s gloves

Leg warmers — Think they’re sexy, same with knee socks

Capes — Sooooooooooo awesome, especially the hooded kind

Lace up gladiator sandals — Sexy and functional

At least our society is more lax than it used to be. I would really have hated to wear the full-length, multi-layered dresses from the 19th century, especially in hot weather. Although they were very beautiful! And I do wish there were more opportunities to wear the type of elaborate gowns that we only get to rock at senior prom!

It’s interesting too how people view the showing of skin. Muslims come to mind as the most stringent. Mormons tout modesty as a great virtue. But other countries like the Dominican Republic and Brazil — notably, in a lot of cultures famed for their extremely happy and jubilant populace — showing skin is in. In more “primitive” tribal societies, being naked or half-naked was/is not seen as sexual or provocative, but simply functional, practical and natural. So is our body something to be flaunted and celebrated, bared to the world? Or is to be covered, visible only to our mirrors and our significant others?

I’m going to get a little personal here. I was raised in the Mormon religion and was always taught to cover up — knee length shorts and skirts, one piece bathing suits, no sleeveless tank tops. And every since I can remember, I absolutely hated it. I like to wear comfortable clothes, and many times this entails — especially in warm climes — wearing as little as possible. I just feel more at ease. I like styles that flatter my figure. The church leaders said it isn’t good to attract male attention. Why not? When you look good, you feel good — and yes, you can be covered head to toe and still look and feel good. Depends on the situation. The smallest I’ve gone is a Brazilian string bikini, although there is a nude beach down the street …

But there are other women who only feel comfortable when they are covered up and dressed conservatively. And there are some men who wouldn’t be caught dead in an old t-shirt. I think it depends a lot on your personality … and how much you are subconsciously influenced by your social sphere and cultural expectations. What would you wear if you could wear anything? Who would you be?

Let the Games begin

Next week, all of us with middling BMIs, plastic trophies collecting dust in the attic and the inability to work out for even a few hours of the week will watch and marvel at those who have put in countless years for their moment in the sun. With our ass firmly on couch or chair, we will watch them with awe, admiration, national pride, respect, and perhaps a little bit of lust.

Yesterday I, like thousands worldwide (probably mostly men) just had to click on the alluring figure of a 19-year-old happily warming up before a hurdle race. What made her so appealing was not just her looks, but the context of the competition: she is obviously healthy, vibrant, youthful, energetic, enthusiastic, radiant, and above all, athletic.

But the sexualization of female athletes has long been controversial. There are two kinds of discrimination that women can face in sports: limited access to funding, resources, exposure, etc. and inferior treatment (like having to fly coach when the guys are going first-class) and the kind that focuses on an athlete’s physical appearance more than her physical prowess. This phenomenon is apparent when athletes who are not top-ranked in their fields get inordinate media coverage (and all the perks that entails) while the less photogenic champions are largely ignored.

In my opinion, women should have the same rights and opportunities as men in sports as they should in every area of life. But I can’t say that the glorification of their natural beauty is a bad thing — and even if it was, I don’t think that will ever stop our species from celebrating it.

In the original games in Ancient Greece, as you may have heard, the athletes often competed naked (imagine that!). Says this Wikipedia entry: “The festival was meant to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Olive oil was used by the competitors … as a natural cosmetic, to keep skin smooth, and provide an appealing look for the participants.”

In ancient Sparta, both men and women often exercised in the nude, and young women as well as young men may have participated in the Gymnopaedia (“Festival of Nude Youths”).[94][95] 

Glorifying healthy, natural beauty is hardwired into our genes. I myself find these representations of kick-ass chicks way sexier than the hard-partying, designer label-flaunting, makeup-caked versions we are usually bombarded with, the kind of skin-deep frivolity that is held up as the gold standard of modern women. I also like to see women in the spotlight for something other than auto-tuned pop music, Hollywood credits or getting knocked up at 16. Role models of successful, smart, do-gooding women of all shapes and ages are even better, of course.

But if a woman can throw a mean left hook, throw a javelin or complete a long-distance swim while still looking amazing, well, I think it’s just one more reason   to praise them. My husband brought home the latest issue of Maxim magazine and I was mesmerized by the two-page spread of gorgeous Olympians from around the globe who will be competing in London. Just wow.

A woman should not be defined by her looks, nor should they become a huge discussion (as they frequently do in politics) unless the said woman is a model. A competitor in the Special Olympics is just as, if not more so, worthy of recognition as a stunning tennis player. But I think part of a woman’s self-confidence comes from looking her best, on and off the field, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Whether you want to call it natural beauty or healthy sex appeal, we can all develop it by eating right, kicking detrimental addictions and working out a little harder.

I love a well-muscled woman and a health-conscious man, someone who obviously appreciates their body and treats it right, someone who can age gracefully, run a marathon, climb a mountain, kayak a river … a healthy, active, competent person is so much sexier than a couch potato who drinks too much and pops pills. And while I did feel a little prick of envy checking out these paragons of perfection, it was followed by increased motivation to get my ass in gear and try to be, like the Olympians, the best version of myself I can be.

The best night’s sleep

Last night I slept on the sand, keeping watch over a turtle nest that is about to hatch. If they hatch while no one is there, every single baby turtle will disorient towards a ridiculously bright parking lot street lamp, and ultimately die.

Artificial light at night is sometimes necessary, but it can severely affect both animals and people.

A European scientific committee recently found that “Exposure to light at night (independent of lighting technology) while awake (e.g. shift work) may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and also cause sleep, gastrointestinal, mood and cardiovascular disorders.”

Other studies have linked nighttime fluorescent light exposure (while both awake and asleep) to stress, cancers, shortened life span, dental caries, diabetes, ADD and a long list of other problems.

Those of us who live in cities can never fully soak up the rich darkness of night or bathe in the crystalline star and moonlight. Stars are hardly visible, and when it comes to the cycles of the sun, moon and earth, we are, as Wordsworth wrote, “out of tune.”

Lying there with my back firmly against the sandy ground, I marveled at how utterly majestic and gorgeous the night sky is: giant white clouds rolled in from the horizon, changing shapes in unpredictable ways. The few stars I could see invoked wonder — although it made me sad to know there were so many obscured by the city’s lights. When I was on the small Carribbean island of Vieques, I was able to witness the glorious Milky Way for the first time.

I felt my tension melt away, felt connected to and cradled by the vast universe. The turtles know to hatch at night through innate cues, one having to do with electromagnetism. I can’t explain it, but I think the moon and the night exude a special energy upon the world’s creatures, one they need to stay fully balanced and well.

For millennia, man rose with the sun and, if he stayed awake after sunset, did so talking, laughing and singing around a campfire. At Day’s Close explains how artificial lighting transformed the night into a time for revelry, rendezvous, political intrigues and downright debauchery. The evolution, if you will, of nightlife.

Nightlife is grand and exciting. I love staying up late — to work, play or just hang out. My chronotype and circadian rhythms dictate that I am a night owl. Some studies say that night owls are more intelligent, creative and have more “staying power.” However, since our 8-5 society favors morning larks, they tend to be healthier and happier. That makes sense because I absolutely dread waking up early. And no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make myself go to bed early. Earlier risers, interestingly, were also found to be more conscientious and cooperative.

Exposure to lighting and age can affect sleep patterns, but about 50 percent is genetically determined. But beyond all this there is another modern technology that affects health and sleep quality: electromagnetic pollution. EMFs emitted by cell phones, laptops, modems, alarm clocks, wires and more can subtly affect us in a variety of ways. Some people are more “electrosensitive” than others. Many people are negatively affected without even realizing it. But try a night away from it all, and you will be able to tell the difference.

My best night’s sleeps occurred when I was removed from radiation and electropollution: the time I slept in a centuries-old estancia in the Argentine countryside; the time I slept in a wooden cabin in the snowy mountains of Utah; the time I slept in a hammock in the high desert valley of an isolated Indian reservation; and nights like last night, sleeping while connected to the healing powers of the earth, lulled by the sounds of the waves, caressed by a light breeze, and pondering the endless beauties and eternal depths of the universe.

Spice things up tonight

Spices are one of nature’s and God’s great gifts to mankind. Otherwise known as herbs, these medicinal plants offer amazing healing benefits. Whether fresh or dried, they help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s and aging and boost your heart, immune system, metabolism, and brain power. Basically, they keep you looking and feeling young, healthy and sharp. You can get their benefits topically in the form of essential oils, or you can use them to add that special something to your dinner. Listing all the different types of herbs and their uses and benefits would fill a book, and indeed there are many on the subject. Here are a few of the spices I use most frequently, along with a few of the great things they do (click on the source to read more in-depth).

Rosemary — Anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-fungal and anti-septic; rich source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. (Source: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/rosemary-herb.html)

Oregano — Anti-parasitical and anti-fungal, effective Candida treatment (it also only kills the harmful fungi, without affecting the natural intestinal flora);  treatments of gastrointestinal problems, headaches, respiratory illnesses and certain menstrual irregularities; rich in antioxidants. (Source: http://www.oreganobenefits.net/)

Basil — Exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein andzea-xanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process; Zeaxanthin, a yellow flavonoid carotenoid compound, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it found to filter harmful UV rays from reaching retina and help to protect from age related macular disease (AMRD), especially in the elderly; Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers; Vitamin K in basil is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood and plays vital role in the bone strengthening function by helping mineralization process in the bones. (Source: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/basil-herb.html)

Parsley — Anti-cancer properties; antioxidant; boosts immune system; anti-inflammatory; vitamins C, A and K; promotes healthy heart. (Source: http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/6-health-benefits-of-parsley.html)

Cinnamon — Treats colds, indigestion, headaces and cramps and also believed to improve energy, vitality and circulation; lowers bad cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar; anti-fungal; fights leukemia; relieves arthritis; anti-clotting properties; boosts memory and cognitive function. (Source: http://www.organicauthority.com/health/11-health-benefits-of-cinnamon.html)

I like to sprinkle rosemary on chopped yukon gold potatoes. I add olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika and bake in the oven until crispy. Great with ketchup and a healthy alternative to french fries. Oregano is good in meat sauce and on pizza, while basil is a must-have on pasta and caprese salad. My grandma always said, you can never have too much basil. Ah, basil, how I love you. Fresh or dried, I pile it on. It is so fragrant and enticing. Parsley is good on fish with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I also put it on my organic macaroni and cheese! Cinnamon is good in apple sauce and I ALWAYS put it in my coffee (along with raw sugar, almond milk and raw cocoa powder).

But there are so many more delectable options, each full of their unique tasty zing (especially if locally grown — try to cultivate your own!) and medicinal magic. Click here to read about more spices and their benefits (like garlic, sage and curry) and here and here to learn about what foods to pair them with.

America the Ambiguous

A few days ago, us Americans oohed and ahhed over environmentally damaging fireworks displays (personally, I’d rather be able to see the stars at night), barbecued with our families and celebrated our independence. I am proud and grateful to be an American, but a little less so than I used to be, back when I wasn’t aware of all the problems this country has.

I love the country — the physical land itself. I can only imagine how glorious it was a couple centuries ago, before its forests were devastated, rivers dammed, lakes polluted and scenery blighted. I love the ideals and philosophies that the Founding Fathers based our constitution and government upon. I love certain things the country still stands for: entrepreneurship, equality and progress.

But I can’t mindlessly retort, as many do, that this is “The Greatest Country On Earth.” We are not the only country with great ideals, progressive people and high standards of living. In fact, the U.S. fails to crack the top 10 of “The Happiest Countries in the World,” and fails short in areas such as health care, education and work/life balance.

Of course, we are a lot better off than many other countries, and I don’t mean to frivolously cast aspersions. But I can’t blindly be obedient, either. Every person should love their native country, but what about North Koreans? At what point can pride and patriotism justifiably become criticism?

Republicans, Democrats, and — what the hell, why put a label on yourself — “The Others” think there are some serious problems with our current government. Tea Partiers, Occupiers, and anyone that isn’t solely fixated on Fox, CNN, MSN and Yahoo can see that we are more and more becoming a country ruled by the CEOs and for the CEOs. Our rights are being subtly and insidiously undermined to the point where you don’t know if you should be seriously freaked out, or carry on as usual. Paranoia or Prescience?

And at what point do you abandon trying to change the system from within and just give up and defect?

Here is a list of cultural differences between the U.S. and European countries. Interestingly, one point made is that “Few Europeans would mind rational criticisms of their country’s government, while a good deal of Americans find them offensive or disrespectful … some Americans go as far as regarding criticism of their government as a personal attack. Europeans are only too happy to hear other people criticizing their own politicians or their country’s problems.”

Here are some things I personally prefer about Europe: the food, architecture, culture, lifestyle, 4-6 weeks mandatory paid time off vacation, shorter work weeks, siestas, less chemicals and pesticides, multi-party systems, more enjoyment of life, less emphasis on job and work, trains and other public transportation, ability to walk and get around a city without a car, labeling of GMOs, bidets, free university education, dress style, sensuality, daily rhythms, aesthetics, coffee and wine, multilingualism, celebration of soccer, and just general outlook on life and beauty of the landscapes (natural and manmade).

To which I’m sure, some red-white-and-blue-blooded Bible Belter will surely scream, then get the hell out! To which I reply, if only I could, I’d take the next plane.

(Oh, and a fellow blogger just wrote a related post, comparing America to the uncool kid who, love him or hate him, is still the center of the world’s attention, and, in some respects, still Number One.)

Feed your soul so it can shine

So, coincidentally — or perhaps via some kind of metaphysical wordpress connection — one of the blogs that I follow happened to post pretty much the exact same post as me on the exact same day. And the post was about how thoughts are energy and therefore have power to influence reality and create synchronicities. Interesting.

The blogger also touches on a related topic that I’d like to explore. “There is a reason why we never feel good after watching the 6 o’clock news,” he writes, explaining that the negative information creates a negative vibration in and around us. Just as our mentality can affect our reality, so too can others’ energy affect us.

However, if we are in a negative situation and cannot help it — say you fall ill or get injured or thrown, as Victor Frankl was, in a concentration camp, your mind can overpower your surroundings. Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”; “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves”: “A human being is a deciding being”; and, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When we cannot choose our circumstances or the company we are surrounded by, we can still choose what to think and how to feel and behave. But if we can choose our circumstances and company, then we should do so with consideration, because I believe that energy is contagious.

I was raised in the Mormon religion and Mormons are not supposed to watch R-rated movies. Now, this may seem strict and silly to some, and yes, it does to me. However I have found, now that I am “allowed” to watch them, that I often don’t enjoy them. I am referring more to horror films that portray people being abused or killed, or films that otherwise show and celebrate depravity and amorality. It just isn’t pleasant to watch. I don’t really consider myself a prude and I like a good psychological scare, but I feel there is a line. I can’t tell you where it is drawn, but I know when it is crossed.

My husband doesn’t share my qualms and has no problem watching people being slaughtered. Maybe I just have a more sensitive spirit. But I have a theory that our souls are fed just as our bodies are, and in time we can become affected on a deep level by the things we read, watch and listen to. I like some good dirty rap every now and then, but on a consistent basis, I feel a lot better not being exposed to radio, TV, commercials (oh, the horror) and what otherwise passes for entertainment and popular culture in contemporary America.

Nor do I have Enya on repeat, but if I need to “detox” from the work week or am feeling under the weather, a good dose of classical music does magical wonders.

I love the ancient Greek concept of arete, the striving for excellence in mind, body and soul. Says Paul to the Philippians in the New Testament: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

By exposing yourself to the writings of great men and women (Ben Franklin! Aristotle!), to enlightening arts and music, to nature, to people of good character, ethics and ambitions, you can develop your spiritual side, nourish your soul and become a better version of yourself with higher quality thoughts and goals.

Listen to your inner essence and it will tell you if the vibrations are harmful or helpful. Whether through meditation, prayer or otherwise deliberate questing, you can tap into a higher, benevolent wisdom. In this world we can choose to wallow, wander, or climb to higher planes.

It’s a daily choice. What will we seek out? How will we spend our time? What will we take in? Over time, you will see the results. You can become spiritually deprived, and therefore morally confused and dimmed, or you can get that special glow that comes from cultivating honor, virtue and integrity. Says Aristotle: “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts … Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Yes, you are special. Believe it.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” — Buddha

Back in the ’60s, a CIA investigator named Cleve Backster claimed to have discovered that plants can detect thought. More recently, a researcher named Dr. Masaru Emoto claimed that water can also detect thought and form crystals that reflect positive or negative vibrations. Both have been called pseudo-scientists and have acquired plenty of skeptics.

I don’t know if their claims are true or not, but I do believe that thoughts have power. This is the reason why hypochondriacs often fall ill and why people who are given placebos often quickly recover. The power of positive thought is huge. Likewise, when someone is consumed by negative thoughts, whether it be anger or depression, that energy is palpable to everyone within their radius. I believe that if you told yourself negative thoughts consistently, you would begin to manifest those beliefs. The same with positive.

Repeating to yourself affirmations or mantras like “I am beautiful, I am strong, I am healthy, I am well” can only serve to make you stronger, happier and more radiant. You should be able to love yourself and be your own best friend. This doesn’t mean that you are better than others. Indeed, there will always be someone more beautiful, smart, strong, accomplished, etc. But there are truly great things about you. For example, I have a spectacular belly button.

In Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” he says, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself … Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son/Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding … Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from/The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer … If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it … Mix’d tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you! … I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious/Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy/I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish … I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world …”

He loves himself because he realizes the gift of his body and of life. It may not be a perfect body, but it is his. Fifty years before him and across the Atlantic, William Wordsworth composed a similarly rhapsodic “Ode” about the miracle of life: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting/The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,/Hath had elsewhere its setting,/And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness/But trailing clouds of glory do we come…”

David McCullough’s commencement speech made the internet rounds a few weeks ago, shocking and delighting many with his seemingly refreshing message: “You are not special.” The speech made many great points, and the underlying theme is to stop congratulating yourself for merely existing and go out and accomplish something worthwhile. It’s true that life is hard, and that it’s particularly hard for today’s graduates and others dealing with the recession, and that it’s important to work diligently and be realistic. But I also think it is dangerous to tie one’s self-worth to, for example, a high-powered career title, a Nobel peace prize, a huge bank account, lots of Facebook friends, etc. Sometimes I feel like we feel so pressured to accumulate outward signs of success. If your personal goal in life is to earn an Olympic medal or a doctorate in quantum mechanics, than that is an admirable ambition. But if you really just want to enjoy the simple pleasures in life and don’t do anything that everyone else thinks is grand — if you don’t ever get on reality TV or lauded by Oprah or get mentioned in The New York Times— that doesn’t mean that you aren’t insanely special. And you should tell yourself, every day, that you are, and you should believe it. And when you do, you will eventually find your own path, your own life’s fulfillment, and lots of joy. We may not be perfect, but we have a whole lot of potential. One of my favorite quotes is by Nietzsche: “One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” And finally, from Edison — not anyone’s over-indulgent mother — “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

The inevitable passage of time

A train passes close enough to hear
But not to see.
My brother’s in the bunk bed.
A giant tree
I loved to climb but had to call my dad
Or neighbor’s dad to get me down.
I felt the spirit of that tree
It welcomed me. I returned despite the tics
And mother’s warnings.
Isn’t that the way life has to go?
Some calls must be answered
Calls from boys, especially
When you’re in full bloom
Your skin like dew, your hair like silk
Made for men’s fingers.
I still loved trees, more so at twilight
In parks, when it was just me and him
We could lie in the grass and kiss for hours
Entranced by mutual beauty: lips, eyelashes,
The scent of my neck, thanks to my mom’s perfume
Things went downhill from there. Don’t they always?
Isn’t that a common theme?
In life’s hills and valleys, is there a peak?
Some people seem trapped in an abyss,
But that’s not me.
Right now I live on plains, flat lands to the horizon.
There aren’t even any waves, imagine.
A lack of seasons, that longed for eternal summer.
Sometimes I dream of trees and mountains
And even snow
Of boyfriends of my past who are married now
Happily living with their precious son
On the opposite coast.
I’m glad. It sometimes seems things are
The way they’re meant to be.
I think about those scenes, of course.
And of little brothers, fathers who now are old
And I marvel at the age I have become.
It is sad but true. Do I wish I could rewind?
Go back to neighborhoods and silly thoughts,
Moms in kitchens, school tomorrow.
Do I miss my far-flung friends? Sometimes.

What I learned from Mr. Buns

The Regal Mr. Buns

“You don’t surprise me enough,” I harangued my poor hardworking husband. So one day he came home with a box from the corner pet store, with a tiny trembling rabbit inside.

I was concerned. Our apartment was small. I didn’t exactly want a pet, with its demands for attention, its tendency to wreak havoc and inflict mess and destruction.

Cats leave hair everywhere. Dogs chew up favorite pairs of high heels. You have to train pets and feed them and walk them and if you want to go out of town, find a babysitter for them. They are a burden.

But just like a reluctant mother after she gets acquainted with her new little baby, I gradually fell in love with Mr. Buns, and he is now a beloved part of our family.

Mr. Buns is kind. An herbivore, he has no aggressive tendencies towards other creatures. He is always on the defense, especially against cats and dogs. His reaction is freeze, thump the ground, run away and hide. He is gentle, and mainly just wants to play, snuggle and relax.

Mr. Buns is fun. He does silly things like eat paper and pizza crusts. He does not like carrots, but he loves lettuce, apples and berries. He is a very picky rabbit. He goes crazy when he hears us pouring his food into his bowl. He likes to explore, to go outside to dig holes, do silly 180 degree jumps and run really fast back and forth. He has all kinds of silly quirks. His official name is Thunder, but he’s afraid of thunder and runs behind the bed when it storms. Every morning, he comes and jumps in our bed to snuggle us until we wake up. He loves to snuggle, but sometimes he likes to be left alone.

Mr. Buns is proud. He will let you pick him up, but he won’t sit on your lap. He will lick and groom the bed or couch, but rarely you. He is potty trained, but if you dare refuse his requests to be petted, he has been known to pee on the bed.

Mr. Buns is wise. He may be quiet (the only sound he has ever emitted are little grunts, when he is scared or mad), but you can see he understands. He knows and loves us. After he is done playing, he always runs back inside the house. If we are ever sad or sick, he comes and puts his head on our lap and lays next to us for hours, clearly comforting us in his sweet bunny way.

Mr. Buns has made me love and understand animals even more. I know that many people love their dogs and cats in this way. I am even more attuned now to the suffering of all animals, domestic, wild and farm.

I don’t believe that, in general, animals were meant to be put in cages. I let Mr. Buns roam freely. I don’t like the thought of birds in cages, or even fish in aquariums. Millions and millions of tropical fish die each year due to the pet industry. Consider this excerpt from Wikipedia:

Fish are caught by net, trap, or cyanide.[31] Collecting expeditions can be lengthy and costly, and are not always successful. Fish can also be injured during collection and/or shipping; mortality rates during shipping are high. Many others are weakened by stress and become diseased.

PETA estimates that 9 out of every ten marine animals die before they even reach the shore:

Few people realize the magnitude of suffering in the captive fish industry—a $300 million worldwide “hobby” responsible for the annual capture of more than 20 million fish, 12 million corals, and millions of other types of marine life.

At least 95 percent of the gentle saltwater fish sold in pet shops have been cruelly ripped from their natural homes. Trappers douse coral reefs with poison in order to stun the fish for easy capture—half the affected fish die painfully on the reef, and 40 percent of survivors die before they reach an aquarium. The cyanide poison that is routinely used in this cruel practice also kills the reefs themselves as well as countless other animals who live and depend on them. In places where trappers do not use cyanide, such as in the waters of Hawaii, nets are used to capture the animals. Almost 67 percent of animals who are caught with nets die from stress, starvation, or injuries. Many fish suffer barotrauma, which occurs when they are forced to surface too quickly, and some are even subjected to organ puncturing, which is done to relieve the visible effects of barotrauma, and fin clipping, which is done to facilitate shipping.

Many domestic animals, especially if they have been bred in captivity, could not survive in the wild (especially not in urban and suburban environments) and many, like Mr. Buns, provide great joy to their owners. Pet therapy for the sick and elderly has been proven highly effective. But I have never been a fan of zoos, circuses, large-scale aquariums (like Sea World) nor the thought of animals being used for research or breeding. And the living conditions for American farm animals are horrific.

There is a major threat facing even traditional pets like dogs, cats, rabbits and birds. From Wikipedia: The Humane Society of the United States estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized. There are also major overpopulation problems with other pet species, such as birds and rabbits.

For those who are concerned, I would say consider strongly before getting a pet. Can the pet be happy and well-cared for in your home environment? Can you adopt from a shelter instead of a pet store? Also consider getting involved in animal rights, by signing petitions from these organizations:

PETA
The Humane Society of the United States
World Wildlife Fund
Greenpeace

Mr. Buns, like all living creatures, is noble. His brain may be smaller, and he may not speak our language, but neither does an infant. It doesn’t make him less aware or deserving of respect and love. All living creatures should be able to live as they were meant to live, designed to live, and have lived for millennia.

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man.” — Chief Seattle

Treat the earth and all of her aspects as your mother. Show deep respect for the mineral world, the plant world, and the animal world. Do nothing to pollute our Mother, rise up with wisdom to defend her. –Native American teaching