Sunday, September 18, 2011

Overtly personal

I grew up with a mother who likes to analyze everything, who processes her life by talking about every speck of it, and so I have also become a person who is deeply introspective and fairly self-aware. I have come to measure my life not in terms of my accomplishments, but rather in terms of how I've progressed internally. In Chicago, I fostered my love of music, got in touch with my inner environmentalist, and planted the foodie seed. In North Carolina, I embraced my inner hippie, lost the urgency to get married and have kids, and discovered the value of having friends who are more like me. In DC, I became the independent outdoorswoman I am today. I learned the difference between the fantasies I wanted for my life and the realities that are much more suited to who I am. I struggled with tasks and forced myself to dig into them instead of taking the easy way out, accepting that sometimes just-good-enough isn't good enough. I discovered that I could open up to someone and love so deeply, and then heal more completely when that love went away. I identified the issues that have been holding me back for so long, like my reliance on other peoples' ideas instead of forming my own, and I learned to tell a select few people some deeply personal things that I have only just begun to accept for myself. I discovered that we are all flawed, and that it's okay to be flawed, and that being open about your flaws will not make people automatically dislike you. In the past 3+ years, I have made great strides - I think I had to move past a lot of things in my mind before I could move to a new place on this planet.

But we are all a work in progress, and I always have to have a project. The new one that will follow me to Boise is not a unique one: I don't like my body. In my mind and deep under my layers of cellulite lies a person who is toned and muscular and strong. I feel it in my muscles and in my bones. But my genes work against me, those eastern European Jewish genes that panic at the mere suggestion that it might be cold outside or that I might have to subsist on rations, and so no matter how strictly I count calories, limit carbs, pile on the fresh fruits and veggies and low-fat protein, bike, run, swim, hike, lift weights, do yoga, and get a full 8 hours of sleep, I maintain a layer of padding all over, especially on my stomach and hips. No matter how much I tell my D-cup breasts to get smaller, they just hang there and get in the way, those uncomfortable globs of fat that draw unwanted attention, which I would happily reduce to half of their size or less. I don't snack or eat lots of unhealthy things or fill emotional holes with food, and I am active. I am a healthy person, strong and decently fit, but this body I have is not my own. I have a very womanly hourglass figure for which I get a fair amount of attention from men, but I have never, ever felt like a woman. In my mind, I am not woman, and not really man either, just someone with a strong, fit, capable body with little body fat and no curves. Some people can change their bodies in drastic ways, like training two hours every day (or longer) or hiring a good plastic surgeon. I could kill myself at the gym and restrict every ounce of food I eat like an Olympian, but even with less body fat and more muscles, I cannot escape the physiology, like my short stature, knock-knees and wide hips, that will always betray my gender, and I am limited in my physical abilities by my asthma. Part of it may be my desk-job lifestyle - I'm sure I would prefer a more physically active job, but while I have student loans and a yearning for intellectual stimulation, working full-time in a job that fulfills my need to constantly move my body is not a viable option, doing it part-time will not suffice, and I don't want to wear my body out prematurely.

My angst is not inspired by those beauty magazines, which I don't read, nor by the models, actresses, and the women in my life, all of whom I admire for their talents, personality, quirks, and unique beauty. I don't look in the mirror and say, "I am fat" or "I hate my body." I don't feel pressure to be skinny, I don't think that I am unlovable because of my body shape, I don't feel that I am less of a person for how I look, and I would certainly never take on anything so drastic that could damage my body. I know that I am not a large person and that my size and weight is considered average and healthy. It's not vanity, it's a genuine physical discomfort. I don't look outside the way I feel inside, and my efforts so far to shed the padding that makes life often physically uncomfortable have been mostly unsuccessful. I need to find a way to connect my inner self with my outer self, to accept what I am and find a way to move past this. Unlike the other obstacles I have surmounted, this is not just a struggle with my mind, that abstract and intangible entity; there is a physical dimension to this project, and I fear that like many other women, it may be something I work on my whole life. But I figured out ways to work through other issues, and I'll figure out this one too.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Moving away, not moving on

Two weeks from today, I will be on the road on the way to Boise, probably somewhere on I-70 in Pennsylvania. How did seven weeks turn into 14 days? And how did I accumulate so much stuff in my little bedroom? Reality of the move is setting in. After two years of being out West in my mind, I invested in my DC life over the past 9 months, and now I'm not ready to leave. Despite the noise and traffic and crowds of people, despite the annoying public transit commute and lack of parking, despite the high prices for just about everything and the difficult dating scene, I love it here. I love my friends, who are fun and funny, smart and varyingly intense, who work too much but know how to have a good time, and who have accepted me despite my stupid jokes, inappropriate conversations, occasional retreats into my introverted lair, life indirection, geeky pursuits, general lack of fashion sense, and overall casual awkwardness. I've been told that I'm easy to be around, so maybe that's why they continue to let me tag along.

I love that everything is at your fingertips here, including food, art, and music from just about every ethnicity or culture; movies, theater and dance productions big and small; celebration of LGBTQ culture; wonky political/scientific/global discussions; museums of all kinds; and colorful people. DC can exhibit that well-ingrained East Coast conformism, it's true, but there seem to be enough non-conformists that escape is possible. Speaking of escape, I love that in just a couple of hours, one can drive to the coast, the forests, the mountains, other big cities, and farmland. This is the place for explorers. If I were a big-city girl, I would happily plant roots and stay here forever.

But I don't have the mental or emotional energy for a place like DC. I seem to have inherited a touch of the anxiety disorder that plagues my family, and I'm sensitive to sounds and smells. Sensory overload is something I know well. Although I can ignore the daily noise and commotion of a big city, it wears on my soul. There are too many options in a city like this - how do I choose among all of the fabulous restaurants to find one place to eat?! How do I decide what to do on any given Saturday evening?! How do I connect with new people among all of those rushing to and fro? Cursed with a love of all of these things and a concurrent inability to choose among them, I have accepted that it is time to transition to a slower pace of life, rather than fork over cash every month for the anti-anxiety meds that would enable me to better cope with the constant assault of the cityscape. So I'm moving away, to a place still hopping but calmer, still interesting but not overwhelming. My heart will still be in DC, a place that draws ire from many Westerners. I fully became the person I am while living in DC, so I can never move on completely.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

First impressions

I've been in Boise for three days, looking for a place to live. I didn't really take to the city right away. It reminds me of a smaller Salt Lake City, but aside from the downtown area, there's not much going on. Plus, it just seems gritty, scrubby. My initial reaction was resistance - "I don't want to live here. What did I get myself into?" But a meeting with my new coworkers reminded me of what I'm getting myself into. Instead of struggling through economic theory and picking through farm-level data, I'll be nerding out on riparian habitat and stocking levels with a bunch of easygoing sciencey folks who joke around all the time. This sounds wonderful. So, determined to get to know (and eventually like) Boise, I went for a morning jog along the Boise River greenbelt. It was bugging me that I couldn't really pinpoint why I was resisting this place. It's not lush or diverse or exciting like DC, but it's also not noisy and crowded and expensive and dangerous like DC. Boise is different from the Midwest and East Coast - lots of people have tattoos, piercings, and funky hair. Bikes are ridden for transportation. Clothes are used as personal expression, not as a tool for fitting in or showing off. The fancy beers here have DC happy hour prices; the other beers are way cheaper. These are all good things. It's scary moving to a new place, but Boise seems nice, comfortable enough. So what was my problem?

Then it hit me while I was jogging. Everything in the Midwest and East Coast is lush and green. We're talking deep green, like you can smell and taste the chlorophyll while walking down the street. And the sun is yellow, like an egg yolk. It's so bright in the summer that you almost want to hide from it. As someone who is happiest wandering around a forest all day, this seems safe and normal. Plus, it's all I've known. But Boise is not lush. There are tons of trees (the city name is derived from "les bois", which means "the woods" in French) and the grass is green (although it's so dry in the summer that without watering, it turns into a brown mass), but the green isn't as deep and the sun is paler, though still warm. It's dustier here. But there's beauty in that. It's less intense. Even though it's been in the 90s since I got here, the warmth is comfortable. Nature doesn't knock you down in Boise, it just hangs out, like the foothills lurking on the northeast side of the city. I didn't take to Boise immediately because it wasn't begging me to like it. It didn't get in my face or show off for the masses. This city will let me figure it out on my own time, no rush. It's a relief after three years of bracing against the barrage of sights and sounds in the big city. So, okay. I'm moving to Boise.