Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Here and now

When I was going through yoga teacher training, one of my instructors gave the class a touching glimpse of her insecurities. This teacher was maybe five or ten pounds over her ideal weight. She said that she had been struggling with her weight her whole life and that the sense of being unattractive had colored how she felt about herself as a person. But recently she had been going through old photographs of herself and was struck by how great she looked. And she said she was working on bringing this sense of appreciation to her current self, so that she could have a present-tense enjoyment of where she was now.

I don't remember the precise context of this personal account, but I was struck by how universal the elements of her story are, at least among women. We find fault with our appearance, and our perception of being physically imperfect makes us feel imperfect as people, and even when presented with evidence that we looked/were fine then, we still judge ourselves imperfect now.

I was reminded of that teacher the other day when I was going through old snapshots for a gift I was making for my daughter's birthday. I have always thought of myself as a homely, gawky, mannish woman with freakish hair, prone to anxiety, depression and resentments. But I can see that I was actually quite beautiful—as a young woman. I looked happy and carefree with my adorable children and handsome mate. "Too bad I didn't realize it then," I caught myself thinking as I was going through the old photographs. "Now I'm really homely, gawky, mannish—and practically bald." Enjoying the here and now is hard!

Friday, August 13, 2010


Every summer, Other and I vacation on a little island in Maine called Bustins where there is no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no landline phone service (though these days people use cell phones), no cars, no stores. There's nothing to do except figure out workarounds for all the stuff you don't have. I don't know why, but for some reason it's fun.

The interesting thing about living on an island, even for just a week or two, is that everything is finite. In ordinary life, if you run out of something, you go out and buy some more. If you have too much of something, you throw it away. But on a little island like Bustins, what you have is what you've got. And throwing things away is not an option.

If someone comes to dinner, you'll have less food to serve each person. If you don't consume your food according to plan, at the end of the week you'll have to figure out what to make with a tomato, three onions, a lemon, a can of liver paste, half a jar of peanut butter, six quarts of Parmalat milk and a past-its-prime banana—and you can't plug the ingredients into a recipe program on your computer because there's no Internet on the island.

If someone offers to bring something when she comes to dinner, you accept. If someone asks to borrow a cup of sugar, you think about it before you hand it over. And if you've got one clean towel, and a visitor decides to go for a dip and needs to dry off ... well, how squeamish are you about other people's bodies?

If you were in the mood for a retreat when you made your plans and decided not to invite any friends but then you begin to yearn for company, you'll be lonely.

If you guessed it would be hot and brought mostly wifebeaters and shorts and it turns out to be cold, you'll be wearing your one sweatshirt every day until it's stained and stinky. If, on the other hand, you planned for cold weather and got hot instead, you'll be tempted to whip out your scissors—if you thought to bring them—and hack off your sleeves and pantlegs.

If you forgot to bring something idiosyncratic or truly personal that you can't borrow, like a toothbrush or a neti pot, you're out of luck.

Everything you transport onto the island, you have to transport off the island, with few exceptions. Sometimes it seems as though you're spending all your time sorting trash—into burnables (including toilet paper), which can be incinerated in the woodstove; compost (but only uncooked food); recyclables (which you can carry back with you to the mainland recycling bin); and returnables (which you can carry back and redeem).

It's an interesting experience and not everyone's idea of a great vacation. But for me and Other and our fellow "rusticators," it's a chance to notice how much stuff we need, use and discard—and scale back as we kick back.