Jennifer

Many years before The Love Sucks Club was even on my radar, before I had even entertained the idea of writing any novels at all, I wrote a short story called “Dreams.” It started in high school, with a short story about a woman who told her dreams to her partner every morning when she woke up. The main character was Jennifer and my teacher found it fascinating – as did I – it stayed in my head for almost twenty years until I wrote the following story.

A few years after writing this story, a conversation with my best friend Aj led to the idea of The Love Sucks Club and Jennifer popped into my mind again. Something about her appealed to me and though I didn’t see her having her own book, I wasn’t quite ready to put her in the bottom of the dead ideas pile. I pulled it out, polished it off, and opened a novel with it. Jennifer from this story became Esmé in The Love Sucks Club and the narrator became Dana.

I found this story again tonight while going through the old “fragments and short stories never published” folder and decided to bring it out to show how sometimes the writing process really can take over twenty years from start to finish.

 

Dreams

       It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “This is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.”

Jennifer looked a bit like a teenage boy. She was slim and long. Her legs seemed to bend at strange angles when she sat and somehow, she always seemed in danger of knocking something over with her elbows. Jennifer’s deep brown hair, longish over the face, short everywhere else, stuck up in impossible pieces all over her head. Yet, there was something so female about her, something in the curve of her jaw, or the length of her neck, or the perfect shape of her ears.

I saw Jennifer for the first time at a beach bar on Strand St. I was sitting alone with my notebook, nursing a beer. I heard the men in the bar muttering to themselves, but I didn’t pay much attention. On an island as small as this, any new girl is a reason for a press release. I continued to scribble dream worlds in my notebook. I fancy myself a writer, some cross between Robert A. Heinlein without the nipple fixation and Robert B. Parker without the testosterone.

I didn’t look up again until a few droplets of water across my page interrupted my thoughts. I blinked against the glare which was outlining the most striking woman I had ever seen. I don’t think I thought she was beautiful, or even hot, not then, but she left me stunned. Her mouth was full and smiling, and her face completely open. Her eyes, hazel, with flecks of gold were full of amusement and vitality. I just looked at her, my face impassive.

“Hi, I’m Jennifer.”

I nod. Look pointedly down at my notebook and back up at her.

“The guys at the bar told me not to talk to you.”

“They were probably right,” I answered, looking back down at my notes.

“They said you believe that your dreams tell the future.”

I ignored her and  sat, trying to write, trying to think of anything that could take my attention, while she stood there for several moments. I could feel her eyes on the top of my head and I fought against every impulse in my body that was telling me to look up. Finally, I heard her leaving. I waited a few minutes, then got up and left. They know me here, I spend enough time at this table, drinking their booze and eating their overpriced fried food to warrant a tab that I pay on a monthly basis. There are advantages to being the local celebrity.

Three days later, I took my morning coffee onto the deck and Jennifer was sitting on a lounge chair. I glared at her.

“You’re on private property.”

“I asked the bartender where you live. She said I couldn’t miss it. She was right. It’s beautiful up here, do you live alone?”

“I live alone because I prefer to be alone, “ I snapped. “What do you want?”

“I read Annabelle’s Lies,” she said quietly. “I had a dream that we met and fell in love.”

I sat down, and passed a hand over my eyes. Annabelle’s Lies. I didn’t want to be reminded of Annabelle or her lies. I glanced at Jennifer, resisting the urge to straighten the hair that was blowing across her face.

Several hours later, Jennifer was still occupying my space, drinking my booze and rummaging in my refrigerator. She moved constantly, opening and closing books, looking at my artwork, touching the glass frames. Her hands were always in motion, she had a frenetic energy that kept me in a constant state of anticipation. Everything she said, everything she did seemed like a prelude to something else. My head was spinning.

Five days later, she hadn’t left. I took her back to her hotel to get her clothes. I took her to K-mart, the island’s only store to stock up on bathroom supplies and makeup and postcards. She cleaned my kitchen and cooked for me. I didn’t eat fried bar food for five whole days.

During the day, we went to secluded beaches and snorkeled and swam. On shore, she fed me fruit and wine from her picnic basket, while I rubbed her pale skin with suntan lotion. She jet-skied while I watched.  She went diving. She jumped off of a cliff. She learned how to kite surf and parasail and skydive, and I paced obsessively on the shore, sure she was never coming back. At night, I made love to her on the porch, under the stars and let her gently mock my awkward fumbling.

“It’s been three years,” I muttered. “And there was no one before Annabelle.”

“I know,” she whispered back. “I know.”

Every morning, she made me tell her my dreams, sure that there was meaning in every one. She quoted to me from my novel, in which I wrote about my dream of the Old Man and the Sea. I was a young boy, and I sat in a boat, and the old man wanted to tell me something, but I could never understand what it was. After Annabelle died, I finally figured it out, but it was too late. I talked about the old man, but I wouldn’t talk about Annabelle. I wouldn’t talk about those dreams. I talked about all of the others, though. Jennifer loved to hear about my dreams, and I elaborated on them, weaving her into my tales of lucid dreaming, precognition, and fairy tale worlds.

Five days.  This morning, I refused to tell Jennifer about my dream. I didn’t want her to leave the house today, but she insisted we go out and be among people. Jennifer didn’t want me to be a hermit, she didn’t want the others to hate me, to tell the tourists not to talk to me. She wanted to go snorkeling, she wanted to be in the water. Jennifer insisted. It is important to remember that Jennifer insisted.

It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “this is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.” I breathe hard into her mouth, then switch my hands to her sternum. I fall into the rhythm of the CPR. Push, push, push, breathe, repeat. The familiarity weighs on my shoulder. I breathe into her mouth over and over, until the ambulance shows up and the EMTs take over. This is it, this is the pattern of my life.

I don’t think I will dream tonight.

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We can’t work it out – Relationships end and that’s okay.

Capture

 

So many blogs and articles exist telling people how to make relationships last forever. And that’s a good thing. Kind of. We’re taught from a young age that a relationship ending is a failure and keeping a marriage together for a lifetime is a success. Never mind that grandma wasn’t allowed to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor because grandpa didn’t want a working wife or that your best friend lies lonely in his marriage bed every night because his wife won’t touch him or that your mother consistently turned a blind eye to your father’s affairs because the marriage was more important.

It’s time to recognize the truth that some relationships are meant to last a lifetime and some relationships are not. By teaching people that relationships are work, we’re telling them that they need to find a way to keep the relationship together even when it isn’t serving them anymore. I know someone who was in a marriage for over twenty years, despite being controlled, ignored, and abused because she was taught that marriage is forever and if it isn’t, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.

I have spent way too long in nearly all of my relationships, trying to work things out when I didn’t feel cherished or desired or adored. And though I think all relationships have some value in that they help us grow into who we are (or teach us what we definitely don’t want) I think some of my time could have been better spent if I had left when the relationship wasn’t contributing to my well-being instead of spending fruitless time trying to work things out.

Instead of putting out yet another how to work it out article, I’m going to talk about when to cut and run. Remember, you can’t open your life to happiness if you’re spending all of your time trying to mash an unhappy relationship into something that it will never be.

 

When to leave:

 

  1. When you have doubts. Lots of them. I used to argue with myself constantly about whether or not the relationship I was in was right for me. If you are having to cajole yourself into staying in a relationship, it’s time to leave.
  2. You have to process the relationship with your friends. If you are having to talk to your friends regularly to help understand why your relationship is causing you so much grief, it might be time to leave. A good relationship will still have things to work out, but they can be worked out between the partners.
  3.  You don’t feel respected. This is a given. If your partner doesn’t respect your time, boundaries, needs, it is time to go.
  4. You aren’t attracted to your partner or they aren’t attracted to you. Sex is important in a love relationship and if you aren’t attracted to your partner, you are doing them a disservice by not setting them free to find someone who is. (Side note: It’s important to understand that some people are okay with not having a physical relationship and some people stay in long term intimate relationships while having sexual relationships with others and a billion other different aspects of human sexuality but in this particular instance, I am talking about a monogamous relationship in which one partner wants to be sexual and the other doesn’t find them attractive.) That was a mouthful, but it is important to note. It is hard to stay confident and body positive in a love relationship with someone who does not find your body appealing. Conversely, being with someone who craves and desires you is one of the most sexually liberating feelings in the world.
  5.  You don’t feel supported, nurtured, and cherished.
  6.  You don’t feel like supporting, nurturing, and cherishing your partner.
  7.  You lie to your partner. If you find yourself hiding aspects of yourself because your partner will react badly, or because you don’t trust them to love you as you are, it is either time to lay everything on the table, or move on.
  8.  You’re being abused. Don’t settle for abuse. Not once. If someone hits you, kicks you, pinches you in a way that hurts, it is time to leave.
  9. Your partner is mean in fights. All couples have disagreements. But if your partner calls you names when they are angry at you, it’s time to move on.
  10.  You fall in love with someone else. It’s heartbreaking, but sometimes, when you’re in the wrong relationship, you meet the right one. The moment you realize this has happened, unless you are in an open relationship and intend to stay that way, it is time to break up with the other.

Whatever you do, the most important thing to remember is that a break-up doesn’t mean you have failed. We try different things at different times in our lives. We aren’t expected to stay with the same career our entire lives, so why should we be expected to stay with the same relationship. Sometimes it works for us, and sometimes it doesn’t. If you are unhappy in your relationship and you and your partner aren’t both actively working together to change that, maybe it’s time to move on and free up the space for better things to enter your life.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

This year, I will not make any resolutions that imply I am anything other than perfectly wonderful just the way I am. I will not make any resolutions meant to make me feel bad about myself, nor will I make any sweeping pronouncements about how I want to be thinner, smarter, better, more.

This year, I won’t make any New Year’s resolutions that aren’t expressly intended to make me or my loved ones feel good about themselves.

This year, I resolve to practice self-care. This year, I’d like to treat my body with loving care. I want to spend more time at the farmer’s market and less time at big box stores. I would like to walk more, bike more, eat more vegetables. I would like to spend more time dancing. I want to save the money for a few pedicures. I want to make sure my sex life stays fresh and loving and invigorating. I want to sleep soundly. I resolve to hug my dog daily. I resolve to spend more time playing with my cat.

This year, I want to connect more. I resolve to send more paper letters. I want to reach out to someone who hasn’t heard from me in a long time. I would like to smile at more people. I want to compliment strangers. I want to tell my friends when they are wonderful and let it go when they are not. I want to appreciate the people who love me. I want to continue to be grateful for calling a partner into my life who loves me and shows me in a billion different ways. This year, I want to talk to my mother more often. I’d like to have more women come to my house for talks and coffee and shared breakfasts. I’d like to touch my friends more, hold their hands, hug them, ask them if they are lonely, or if they are living their dreams. I want to help people who need help.

This year, I want to spend time focusing on my career. I want to finish my fourth novel and start my fifth. I would like to submit at least one more short story this year than last. I want to find ways to market my self-love classes to a wider audience. I would like to network with other writers and teachers. I want to find a job teaching online with a college or university.

This year, I would like to stress less about paying bills. I don’t want to buy more stuff, but I would like to be able to pay the electric bill and my mortgage in the same week. I don’t want to be rich, but I want to be unafraid of where the next groceries are coming from. This year, I want to put some effort into making enough money that I can make decisions about spending, rather than reactions. This year, I’d like to make enough money that I can donate some of it to causes that touch my heart.

This year I want to stay informed about political decisions that can harm myself and my family without letting the news drag me into a depression. I want to act to protect myself and my loved ones without allowing myself to be silenced about that which is important to me.

This year, I want to be myself. I want to do what I want to do. I want to follow the calling of my own soul. This year, I resolve to be proud of myself. I resolve to follow my dreams. I want to love freely and live openly.

This year, I will cherish what I have, rather than pursue what I don’t.

Happy New Year.

 

 

Why I Love my Fat Body – And Why You Should, Too.

Whenever I see pictures of fat women (almost exclusively women) posted online, I inevitably see a bunch of comments about how sickening it is to glorify fat because it is so unhealthy. Bodies come in all degrees of health. There are skinny unhealthy people and fat healthy people and everything in between. If you are using the illogical fallacy of fat being unhealthy to fuel your hatred, you might as well go onto a page of people with heart disease and spout off about how ugly their chest scars are. At any rate, if you’re the kind of person who goes to the comments on posts like that just so you can talk about how unhealthy fat people are, please stop reading this post. You are too stupid to grasp any of what I have to say after this.

I’ve spent a lot of years overcoming the sad effects of a society that punishes people for being fat. There are those who think they mean well such as the “you have such a beautiful face” crowd and the well-meaning mother who struggles with her own self-esteem and pushed new diets on me from the age of twelve. There was the time my sister, also a victim of the bias against fat women, told me that I better lose weight before high school because if I wanted to be in the marching band, I was going to have to get changed in front of everyone else in the band. In fourth grade, we had class weigh ins right in front of the whole class and everyone tried to see what mine said. Throughout middle school and high school, other kids oinked or mooed at me on a regular basis. Once, when jogging, a man actually slowed down his pickup truck to yell, “Don’t break the pavement, fatty” as I ran by. I walked home and didn’t run again for many long years. I absorbed every comment, every snide remark, every well-meaning, but still cutting aside.

As an adult, I set about trying to comes to terms with my fat body, even while putting it through the hell of every diet I could find. I ate nothing but grapefruit. I did the cabbage soup diet. Once, I lost sixty pounds and bought clothes in the “normal” stores and still thought I was ridiculously fat. And ugly. I equated fat with ugly back then. I joined a group of women who purported to be about size acceptance but really consisted of a lot of sad women sitting around talking about how much it sucked to be fat.

I had relationships in my twenties, but I attributed that to people who just fell in love with my personality and put up with the fact that I was fat. In essence, I didn’t love myself, so it didn’t occur to me that someone else could love me just as I was. Of course, because of that, I drew people who didn’t love and embrace me the way that I was. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fast forward to the age of 38 when I, though a positive and loving woman, was not doing well. I was in a long term relationship with someone who did not celebrate me. I was a two pack a day smoker. I was a daydreamer, but not a doer. I had moved to a beautiful Caribbean island and I loved a lot of things about my life there, but I wasn’t treating myself with respect and care.

One day, I decided that had to change. I was tired of hating my body. I was tired of being afraid of what people had to say about me. I was tired about not going to Zumba classes or refusing to go for a swim because of the way certain people looked at me.

It was a slow process. I started by quitting drinking. Then I quit smoking. I started hiking with my soul friend, Aj. We took huge hikes up the sides of gigantic hills that I thought might kill me. I knew it was the best way to keep from going back to smoking. I started meditating. I became a vegetarian. Eventually, I left that dead end relationship and moved back to the states.

And something amazing happened. I grew to love myself. I didn’t just love myself in spite of my fat body. I loved myself AND my fat body. I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where I saw women of every shape and size and age and color and ability laughing and loving and dancing and celebrating themselves and me. I fell in love with my own breasts, the weight of them, the way they felt when I lifted them in my hands. I grew to love touching the soft skin of my stomach. I admired the strong and fat curves of my butt. I expressed gratitude for my big thighs that have carried me this far in my wonderful journey. I made love with womyn with the lights on. I refused to be with someone who didn’t love my body the way it was. I set my boundaries and my boundaries involved only being involved with womyn who celebrated and cherished me. And since I’m not a hypocrite, I applied that same rule to myself. I celebrated and cherished myself.

Then something even more amazing happened. I realized I wasn’t just talking about it. I was living it. I celebrated women of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t feel defensive around women with thin bodies or athletic bodies. I didn’t equate skinny with beautiful and I didn’t equate fat with ugly. I started to see through the patriarchal bullshit that insists women be in competition with each other. I started to call out instances of fat shaming, or any kind of shaming of women for their bodies. I stopped watching anything to do with celebrities and I refused to look at fashion magazines and I realized that I have gotten out of the Matrix. That all of those people who think that they have the right to tell women what they should do with their bodies are poisoned in their minds. They’re sick. They are the unhealthy ones. The people who yell “fatty” at a jogger or sneer at a fat person in an exercise class or peer into someone’s cart at the grocery store to see what kind of food they’re buying or purposely go to a page about fat acceptance to leave idiotic comments about fat being gross and unhealthy or lift their eyebrows when they see a woman with hairy legs or write off older women as useless or refuse to see any woman who falls outside of the standard societal expectation of pretty as just that. They are the sick ones. They’re what’s wrong with this society. Those people who feel they somehow have a right to hate someone based on the way they look.They’re hurting our society and they need help.

My journey continued until I was not only loving myself the way I am, but teaching other women how to do the same. Women who have felt too old, too skinny, too muscled, too fat, too wrinkled, too scarred. Women who, like me, have been told that they are not enough the way they are. Women who wore the negative opinions of this sick society.

I learned that I’m beautiful. More importantly, I learned that I am worthy of love and happiness and respect and desire. I learned that I am a woman in every true sense of the word and anyone who can’t understand that isn’t worth my time.

Finally, today was the culmination of all of my self love work. I’ve been telling women of every size and shape that they are beautiful for years. Today when I opened a link to look at the pictures of Leonard Nimoy’s fat nudes and I realized that I thought every single one of them was incredibly fucking beautiful. I felt it down to my very soul. These women were divine and miraculous and beautiful and worthy.I’m not sick anymore. I’m not warped by this sick society. I’ve won. I’m healed. You can be, too.

Women Learning to Value Themselves

A couple of years ago, I saw a woman at the grocery store who just embodied funky and cool. She was wearing what looked like a homemade crochet skirt and a vest and red cowboy boots. She had such a fun style, I had to stop and tell her that I thought she looked awesome. She looked back at me and said, “Are you making fun of me?”

Fast forward a couple of months…. I was doing a guided meditation with a group of women, most of whom were survivors of rape, sexual assault, abuse. At the end of the meditation, I asked them what came up for them in the meditation and the majority of them said things such as, “I was worried my stomach was growling and everyone could hear it,” or “I’m sure my nose was running and I was sniffing loudly the whole time.”

Fast forward…I was giving a live workshop on creating self love and I asked the women to raise their hands if they believed that if they showed their true selves to their loved ones, those loved ones would no longer want to be with them.

Fast forward… Just last week a woman on FB posted a meme about the electric carts at grocery stores being for the elderly and disabled not for “your fat ass.”

Why are women self-conscious? Why do they devalue themselves? And why do they feel a need to judge and mock other women for their appearances? I think it all stems from the societal idea that we are not enough. We aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough. We’re told we need to conform to certain impossible standards of conventional beauty. We’re told that our houses should be clean and our kids should be model citizens and we can get out into the workplace, but not too far into it. We’re taught that girls shouldn’t be loud and that being dirty is wrong. We’re taught that whatever way we are doing it is wrong. We hate it when people judge us, but then we turn around and do it to other women. Think about it. Have you ever said, “She shouldn’t be wearing that outfit at her size?” Have you ever said, “Women shouldn’t wear (X) after fifty?” If so, you’re doing it, too. You’re helping to put women into the prison of not being able to be themselves.

Self-love is an act of rebellion. In this world, a woman who loves and values herself is a radical. The very act of saying, “I won’t allow you to talk to me that way” is an incitement for war in some people’s minds. That’s what I teach. My self love classes and workshops are about teaching women to value themselves so they no longer judge themselves by someone else’s measure. My mission in life is to empower other women so they themselves can go on to empower other women.

Come with me on a journey to lessen anxiety, stop negative self-talk, deal with toxic people, set your own boundaries, and learn to live in joy. bethburnett70@yahoo.com

Creating Self-Love

You are the creator of your life. Do I need to repeat that? YOU are the creator of your life. I know sometimes you have anxiety. I know you find yourself getting frustrated. I know you might hate your job or argue incessantly with your spouse. I’ve been giving online and live class in self love for several years and the one thing I’ve learned through talking to hundreds of women is that so many of us, in one way or another, think that we aren’t good enough.

My six week online course in creating self-love, increasing self-confidence, and learning to living a life of joy is designed to give women the foundation they need to overcome a lifetime of social conditioning and emerge as strong, empowered women who value themselves and recognize their own self-worth. I help women start to overcome anxiety, panic, doubt, fear, social pressure. These classes include a once a week live class in which I offer participants information and journal exercises and the chance to share their own experiences. The classes do include some homework. Participation in the homework is optional, but the program does have a greater chance of success if the participants give it their all.

Email me at bethburnett70@yahoo.com and I will send a guide to pricing and individual class subjects. The next Monday class is full, but I have space available on Tuesdays, 8 PM EST starting on March 17th.

My live workshops are a modified version of the online class meant to offer women the same foundation in a group setting. I offer workshops in my home or in your home. Email me for details.

Self Love Classes

My online six week self love classes are a hit. Women are empowering themselves, with my help, to greater self love, confidence, and strength to live on their own terms. I had one woman tell me she quit smoking because of the class. Another told me that she was sure she would never find love again because of her own low sense of self worth. Yet, she was able to open herself up and find a lover who values who beautiful heart. Many women have been able to reduce their problems with daily anxiety or senses of shame. These classes are about recognizing our value and reclaiming our own power.

If you are interested in taking one of these classes please email me at bethburnett70@yahoo.com I am full right now, but will be starting new classes soon.

I also give in person workshops, both in my house, and by request of a group.

The Fest of Love

Four womyn meet on a path in Michigan.
Four womyn meet on a path in Michigan.

This year was my third year (in a row) of attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. You can find my virgin year blog here. My first year, I spent the whole time wandering around in wide-eyed awe, barely able to wrap my mind around the fact that I was in this incredible place with all of these WOMYN…. womyn who were building things and talking about ideas and taking care of each other and cooking food and supporting the dreams of other womyn.

Last year was even better. I had spent the entire magical year after my first fest building on the love and acceptance I found there. I became more involved in women’s causes and I became a big proponent of self-love. I had started meditating and abolishing negative self-talk and taking care of myself. At my second fest, I spent the entire time smiling and hugging. I did my workshifts in the kitchen because there is something so earth-motheresque about being part of nourishing hundreds, or thousands, or women with soul-feeding, healthy food. Made with love…. every time.  My second fest was just beautiful from start to finish.

I went into my third year bit of trepidation. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been under attack in the media and an awful lot of online bullying has been aimed toward the womyn who perform and attend. Facebook was blowing up with heated arguments that culminated in some pretty violent and angry threats against the womyn who support fest. I had to keep reminding myself that the internet is not fest. People get behind their computers and say anything that comes to mind, regardless of civility or manners. There was never a question in my mind that I was going to fest – I will not let negative, angry people ruin something I love. Some people don’t want to understand why Michfest is so important and no matter how we try to explain, they will refuse to listen.

There’s a feeling I get when I first walk on the land… it’s almost a heaviness and as I set up my camp and greet old and new friends and head down to the meet and greet, I realize the heaviness is gravity. It’s the lowering of my shoulders, and the settling in of my hips to a slower, more relaxed walk. It’s the way my arms swing more naturally and my chin tilts up. It’s the weight of myself sinking into the land and allowing me to walk openly, without fear, without wondering if someone is going to make a comment at me when I walk down the street. It’s the safety, it’s the way I don’t have to keep my eyes constantly moving to see if there might be a threat approaching.

My plan for this year was to create my fest. I love what fest has given me, but this year, I wanted to give something back. I stated out loud that this was going to be the best fest of all time.

Thanks to a new friend, People Called Women Bookstore, the bookseller in the crafts tent at fest agreed to sell my books. It was the first time having my books sold at fest and I was elated. I must have told everyone I met because they ended up selling out of my books! (It might have had something to do with the fact that I offered to write wildly inappropriate sexual things in the covers.)

I submitted a workshop proposal to do my self-love seminar at fest. This is such an important mission in my life – helping to empower women to love themselves. 62 womyn showed up at the workshop and we had an amazing hour together. The energy exchange was incredible. We talked about ways to open yourself to self-love and ways to learn to recognize and abolish negative self-talk. We touched on bringing joy into your life even when life kind of sucks. After the workshop, many womyn approached me to talk about their own personal stories of self-doubt and perceived failures and lots of tears were shed. I got a barrage of friend requests on Facebook after that, and have even had several message exchanges from womyn who are continuing their self-love work and want to be able to touch base with questions or to share small victories or setbacks.

As my friend Mable said, “I OWNED this fest.” It was a spectacular fest in every way that it is possible to categorize. Love, sex, career, friendship, healing, health, fun, relaxation, work, new adventures…. Every aspect of this fest was beautiful to me. I made a new lifetime friend and I got closer to a woman who is becoming very important in my life. I opened myself up to any woman who wanted to talk or needed a hug. I tried to project nothing but love and acceptance to every woman in every way. It didn’t always work. I’m human. I sometimes disagreed with things that were said. I didn’t like every single woman I met. But I honored all of them. I loved all of them. I respected and valued all of the womyn who come to fest to see for themselves what it is like to escape the patriarchy once a year in one of the only safe spaces left to womyn in the world. I gave love. I gave all of the love I had as unconditionally as I could to every womyn I could.

Beautiful Saturday night stage date.
Beautiful Saturday night stage date.

And that was it. Again, no matter what the bullies say, no matter what anyone else thinks, no matter what organizations blacklist fest performers, at the end of the week, they can’t take away that important truth. Fest is about love. Fest is about womyn learning to love themselves and therefore, each other. Fest is about womyn remembering that women are worthy of that self-love.

Some womyn come to fest for the fun. Some for the music. Some for the friends. Some for sex. Some for sitting around a fire talking about ideas. Some come to work and some come to play. Some come to spend a week in quiet contemplation and some come to party and yell and do ALL OF THE THINGS. We all come to fest for different reasons, but ultimately, we all come to realize that whatever reasons brought us to fest,, we are all coming away with the same lesson – that is, whatever you have been told about your place in this society is wrong. You are good enough. You are amazing. You are worth your own self-love.

Womyn are often raised without that understanding. We are raised to keep our voices down. We’re told that behavior is inappropriate for a girl. We’re told we aren’t pretty enough or thin enough or happy enough. We’re told to smile so that we don’t make people uncomfortable. We’re taught that we aren’t as valuable in the workplace as men. We’re taught that we need to learn all of the ways to change ourselves in order to avoid being raped or assaulted or beat up, as if it’s our fault that male violence isn’t controlled by the perpetrators. Womyn are in danger every day in every way and the Michigan Womyn’s music festival wraps a protective arm around us when we walk onto the land. Fest embraces us with love and lets us cast off the danger, the doubt, and the fear. Fest gives us that week of freedom from the oppression so that we can build our strength to go back into the world and try to use it to offer ourselves a shield from the aggression and violence. Fest SAVES womyn. It saved me. I need fest. And more than that, I need for girls who are growing up right now to come to fest and realize that there is a place where they are valued and honored and lifted and free.

In Fact, I’m Terrified

I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. I know, most of you will find that difficult to believe. I mean, between my incredible good looks, my charm, my wit, and my awe-inspiring humility, I get mistaken for perfect a lot.

But there’s something pretty important about me that most people don’t know and I’d like to open a dialogue about it. I get panic attacks. I am actually in the midst of one right now. I’ve had panic attacks for probably fifteen years. Sometimes, they come for no known reason. Sometimes, I can point to too little water or too much caffeine combined with not enough sleep and a racing heart that leads to paranoia that I might be having a heart attack. Sometimes, I can reason myself into thinking I know what caused it and promise myself to take steps to rid myself of them forever. Panic attacks are the main reason that I quit smoking cigarettes in 09. I read somewhere that smoking makes them worse. I don’t know if that is true or not. I know that when I smoked, I was having more like a panic attack at least once a month, and now they’re more like 3-4 times a year, but that could have a lot to do with other things going on in my life at that time, as well.

Physically, this is how I feel: My lungs feel too tight, like something heavy is sitting on them. I can’t get a full breath, not one. When I concentrate on trying to get a full breath, my lungs feel like they’re going to explode. My head is pounding in a not-quite painful sort of way. It feels as if there is a hand on my brain, squeezing it, causing me to get dizzy in waves. Sometimes, the dizziness goes away for long enough that I almost think it’s over until it slams back into me causing a fresh wave of tears and heart palpitations. Of course, all of the crying clogs up my nose, making it even harder to breathe. My mind can’t stay on any one thing. I can usually throw out a blog post in about twenty minutes. This one has taken forty-five minutes so far because I have to stop every few minutes to sit up and take stock of my physical condition and spend several seconds trying to convince myself that there is nothing physically wrong with me, that I’m not dying, that I don’t need to be rushed to the emergency room.

Emotionally, it’s worse. I’ve made a practice in the past few years of living my life in joy and gratitude. Even when I have the occasional grouchy flare up, I’m usually able to cajole myself out of it by counting my blessings and reminded myself of how lucky I am to have all that I do. During a panic attack, counting my blessings doesn’t help. I feel scared and sad and on the edge and I waiver between full blown tears to abject terror that I am in the midst of a stroke or a heart attack to long, self-doubt filled bouts of anxiety that my daily Beth knows are logically unreasonable, but that my shadow self can’t put way.

My every day attitude is happy and positive. During a panic attack, I can’t get it back. I can’t bring myself back to the positive. I’m convinced that I’ll never finish my third novel, that I’ll be broke forever, that people will find out the terrible truth about me and stop loving me, that I’m about to die, that everything sucks right now and it will never be okay again.

In my real life, I think I am amazing. In a panic attack, I berate myself for *failing* in my self-growth. I think that I should be able to meditate myself back to normal. I think I should be able to get back into a good mood – that I should be able to bring myself back to the joy that I promote so heavily. I feel so dark and so down that I think that anyone who had to be around me right now would consider me a fake and a phony for putting off such a positive and happy vibe. All of that happy feels like a lie in the middle of a panic attack… it’s like, while I am in the midst of that, I can’t even remember that I was happy before this happened. I know I was. I was looking at pictures of myself with some of my good friends in Palm Springs last week and there is genuine joy on my face in every single picture. There’s a picture of myself and my friend from just yesterday, smiling and joyous.  I mean, in my brain, I remember walking into the house, throwing my arms around her, and laughingly telling her how much I enjoyed our twelve hours in the car. I meant it. I feel joy. I felt joy. And from past experience, my logical mind knows that when I get past this attack, I’ll feel that way again. But in the middle of an attack, it feels like I’ve lost it forever and that was it – I got my share of joy and now it’s over.

i was trying to explain it to my friend and the best I could come up with is this: It’s like there’s a battle going on inside of my brain between light and dark – and for the majority of my life, the light and glowing and happy fairy dust side of me is on top with its boot firmly planted in the dark side’s throat. Sometimes, though, the dark side gets out and the two of them battle violently. A panic attack, for me at least, isn’t a solid, unwavering thing. The physical and emotional symptoms kind of come and go over the time that I am having the attack…. so much so that sometimes, it is so long between bouts that I feel sure the attack is over and just as I start to see the light, the dark jabs back in and makes me feel worse because I thought I was so close.

It’s been an hour and a half since this attack started. I am mostly getting a full breath every time now. My heart started to skip a few beats about five minutes ago and I started to get anxiety that something was wrong with my heart, but I was able to talk myself down before I went back into full blown panic again. The sky is mostly blue with a few scattered clouds, but it isn’t a storm anymore. This ending can be credited to my friend who, when I described the battle between dark and light said,” I thought all authors have that. Isn’t that why they write?”

Oh. Duh. So I wrote. This is a panic attack. I couldn’t make myself publish this ten minutes ago – I thought I was posting a deep, dark, and shameful secret that would change everyone’s opinion of me. But, as I’ve come further out of the attack, the real Beth is coming through… and the real Beth thinks that there are others out there who get panic attacks and might want to read about this. This is a panic attack. I get them. If you get them too, write to me. I’d love to hear other people’s stories. Maybe together we can stomp out the darkness. Or at least make the patches of light bigger.