Category Archives: I Enjoy Being a Girl

Today is yes

Forget-me-notsHe said he was a corporate lawyer, born in Bolivia and that I probably wouldn’t like his politics. He looked like he was 12. It was late. I danced with him anyway.

“You let yourself fall when I dipped you,” he told me. “That means you are open to life. You don’t care what anyone thinks about you.”

That’s not true everyday. But thank goodness there are days that it is. Thank goodness someone pulled me onto dance floor and dipped me and let me know: Here you are. See? You are being that person you’ve wanted to be.

Sometimes you find yourself unexpectedly watching a voluptuous burlesque dancer swing tiny torches from her breasts that make little circles of fire in the air while the band plays Happy Birthday. The next night you’re singing the entire White Album, pressed up against people you don’t know while waving to the ones you do. A twenty-something woman from China keeps hugging you and smiling as you wonder whether the best song ever written is “Dear Prudence” or “Helter Skelter.” She says she wants to text you. “Hi!” says your phone. “Yellow Submarine!” That’s the last time you hear from her.

Sometimes you’re accidentally listening to an ‘80s cover band that’s opening for your friend’s band, and joy and shame collide inside of you when you hear songs by Simple Minds and Animotion and remember every lyric. You joke about that feeling with a woman standing next to you by the bathroom mirror who says “no, no, no… there is no shame. But I hate that it shows everybody exactly how old I am.”

“Meh,” you reply. “Me too. We’re not that old.”

Just as you are almost out the door, she yells after you, for no apparent reason “You are really beautiful!”

“Thank you!” you yell back. “So are you.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a study in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, to become an expert at something. Now 42, after a childhood with a typewriter and 20 years of writing career behind me, I have undoubtedly accumulated enough time to call myself a master she-hack, a highly qualified assembler of printed characters, a capable wordswoman. But so practiced in living with self-trust, I am not.

This midlife single life is a little bit brutal. You think that practicing kindness and patience will yield you some easy companionship. It might for a little while. Or it might just give someone else the space to be wildly selfish with or unintentionally cruel to you. Wasting time is a greater concern than it used to be. The landscape requires a kind of detachment you’ve never had to cultivate before, that truthfully, you don’t exactly want to cultivate because you’ve come to like your wide-open heart. You know that you know yourself better than you did the last time you were out here.

I’m playing the long game these days. I want to reach that expert level of self-respect by practicing 10,000 hours trusting my own instincts; 10,000 hours being kinder to myself; 10,000 hours of traversing the thorny landscape without letting it shut me down, no matter how often it might draw blood; 10,000 hours of not letting myself feel threatened by any social situation; 10,000 hours of being kind to others traveling on this same nasty terrain, just because I can; 10,000 hours giving myself a break because all of this is practice.

10,000 hours of letting myself fall. Not into another person, but into myself.

10,000 hours being yes.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any –lifted from the no
of all nothing– human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– ee cummings

Today is yes.

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Things I have learned from the gym

There are things in this world you aren’t likely to know until you start spending your time on some kind of aerobic machinery in front of a bank of 8-10 televisions, each one tuned to a different station.

For example:

1. It’s possible that the bearded dude from “Taxmasters” law firm does not have a movable spine. His eyes move as he speaks, but it’s a little like watching a marble carving of a person that’s been set into one side of a fireplace or the other, depending on which way he’s fixed on the camera in any given commercial. It’s strange, bearded and unnatural.

2.It is possible to work out regularly and feel good while paying more attention to the way your body is changing for the better than whether or not you are losing weight.

3. The appeal of Dr. Oz is obvious, even if you watch him without any sound. His headlines convince you that he has the answers to virtually any health and wellness question. Then, just as you think about turning away, you see him dancing in a segment called “New Year, New Rear” and you realize that when he’s not busy saving your life, he’s busy being kind of hot in more than his usual “I care about your emotional and physical health, even while I’m busy having this made-for-TV bone structure” way.

4. A large number of people who achieve their 15 minutes of fame on morning television do so simply by being absolutely, unapologetically spastic. It’s enough to make you think that this “Tressant Supreme” ad, featuring Kelly Ripa, really isn’t so far from the truth.

5. Somewhere out there, there is allegedly a “Soul Train Workout.” I have looked, and so far it eludes me, but just knowing that it could exist gives me a new faith in humanity. In the meantime, I’ll just have to practice the Soul Train line at home with headphones, because who wouldn’t want to do this?

Soul Train line – Aretha Franklin, “Rock Steady”

6. Most of all, there is a point when you start going to the gym (or doing whatever exercise thing you do) religiously, and you bypass the crankiness and soreness it brings about and begin to feel good. Instead of stressing out about whether or not you have time for a workout, you realize that without that workout, stress will continue to leech your time and your self-esteem and your sleep.

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Let’s change the subject to breasts

I know I’ve been quiet since my brain dump a few weeks ago. Our “only way out is through” era continues with plenty of days that feel semi-normal, in spite of the fact that things remain anything but. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me here, in private email, on Facebook, in phone calls and in person. It made my tummy ache to hit “publish” on that post, but the compassion I’ve received since doing so has been overwhelming. I have some half-posts written that I’ll finish and publish soon. In the meantime, I’d like to change the subject for a moment because I really do need to talk about breasts.

Nearly 20 years ago, someone or other (via some lawsuit or other) realized that Columbus didn’t have any law on the books that outlawed the baring of female breasts in public. Women decided to start exercising that right at our long-standing, volunteer-run Community Festival (Comfest). I worked at a local alternative weekly at the time, and while I don’t remember all of the legal details, I do remember the small media melee, including a whirlwind of bad boob puns and fairly silly editorials on the matter. The spirit of the thing was clear – women of all shapes and sizes (and sometimes ages) would partake in the ritual, promoting positive body-consciousness in a sort of homegrown, goofy and easily misconstrued way.

Flash forward to today: Naked, painted boobs have become a tradition at Comfest, as well as the city’s massive Pride Festival (which sometimes share a weekend). It’s a central feature of the fest’s many eccentricities. There are still plenty of women doing it for body-positive reasons, but the phenomena has started to turn the corner into something kind of creepy. The vibe has become less of a bold feminist statement for the “party with a purpose,” more of a cruising spot for the producers of “hippie girls gone wild.”

It’s not the women who have changed so much as the festival-goers. For the first time this year, I saw more joke t-shirts on men that said things like “I love boobies,” and more guys cruising the street fair, hollering commentary towards bare-chested women (and the women that they felt should remove their clothing) than I saw actual bare, painted breasts.

When I went to Comfest as a teenager, it was probably less than a tenth of the size it is now. And it was the place where I met and connected with my first local, radical feminist elders, who loved the fact that a newly minted driver would come to their urban homes on a Friday night to discuss reproductive rights, body image and pay inequity. Comfest brought me into the political counterculture of a city which, by most other appearances, looked about as mainstream as you could get.

So it’s kind of breaking my heart that this year, if you happen to be a teenage girl visiting Comfest, it has become a place where you’re more likely to be confronted by men who are comfortable yelling “show me your tits,” even as they feign political progressiveness than feel the presence of interesting political women.

I also imagined the festival as a place where my son would see some of the better male role models in the city – men who are activists, who happen to care about the world and volunteer to improve it. Maybe even a few men that had a better grasp of what it means to respect women. I don’t have a problem with my kid seeing bare breasts, but I do have a problem with him seeing women treated like beauty pageant contestants or live snapshots in a street version of Hot or Not. I imagined him seeing women positively celebrating their bodies without a constant stream of commentary from drunken creeps.

Just so I’m not whining here, let me provide a suggestion or two for next year. Let’s change the nature of Comfest’s dialogue about breasts. Make the festival’s slogan one that educates the public about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Then take it one step further by designating one part of the park as a family friendly space (not the playgrounds, which sit in the crosshairs of three stages and are a sensory nightmare). Make it smoke-free. Put a cooling tent for nursing moms there with moderately comfortable chairs and changing tables. And preferably, drop it on the North end of the park to disrupt the place that everyone now refers to as “derelict teenager hill.”

I have no idea whether or not earlier closing times curbed the elements that the organizers wanted to see curbed. But I do know that Comfest’s social justice currency doesn’t only lie in its financial ability to give grants – it lies in the power of the event itself. It has the power to be hospitable to more than drunks and people whose perception of “hippie” seems to be entirely about fashion (or anti-fashion) and the use of substances instead of the values that brought the event into existence.

Copyright Tracy Zollinger Turner,, 2009.

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Mean girl, reconsidered

She was my mean girl in high school.

I dreaded going to school. I dreaded the classes we had together.

I was sure it was her that scrawled the word “bitch” on my locker or my notebook that one day in French class, that she convinced one of her friends to do it. I remember the whispers, the loud mocking laughs paired with sharp glances my direction. There was a boy we had in common. And I had just switched back to public from private school, which automatically branded me elitist.

She and I made dramatic gestures to turn ourselves into friends in front of teachers and counselors, or at least make ourselves into non-enemies, but they didn’t seem to last. There was weirdness, and fundamental mistrust. She, like so many things about high school, made me restless and anxious to leave. So I did. I made my junior year into my junior/senior year so I could be far from proms and football games and mean girls and graffiti before I turned 17.

The other day, Facebook sent me some message that one guy or another wanted me to confirm that we were classmates on some application or other. I clicked there and looked around and suddenly there she was, the same big eyes, the same perfect makeup, the same smooth hair.

For some reason her profile is public, so naturally, I look. I wonder who she has become, if I could learn something that would make her more or less horrible in my memory, if we share anything. She is single, I see. There are a lot of pictures of her alone or with pets. There she is at our reunion, which I’d never dream of attending, photographed with a couple of other women that I hope to never see again. And then there are pictures of her with family. Of her radiant and pregnant. Of her pained and in labor.

And then one of her with severely bloodshot eyes, her face smeared with tears. She is holding a tiny, swaddled, lifeless baby. She looks throttled by grief. Or shock. Or something I can barely begin to know how to understand.

“Don’t be sad,” the caption of the picture says. “We loved her very much.” There are no comments or condolences, no words of encouragement beneath it. Just those words. Her own.

I feel it in the pit of my stomach – how brave this is, putting that experience of motherhood, that grief, right out there where high school bitches can run into it haphazardly. It answers questions. It keeps out the riff-raff. It shares something horrible and intimate and defining.

I wonder if I was a mean girl, too. If we were mean to each other. Did I steal her boyfriend? Not according to him, but he was a teenage boy, and I was in that private school at the time, so maybe I don’t know. Did she know how cruel her actions felt? Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. Did I do anything cruel? I don’t remember. I might not have had the social currency that she did, but I know I was hurting in that environment, so probably.

I don’t live with mean girl scars on the surface of my life the way they do in the movies. There are moments when they suddenly swell and pulse, but I don’t long to show up at reunions with high hair and fashion gear, claiming that I invented the Post-it note. High school wasn’t always a social joy, but I’ve had lots of social joy since then.

I wish she could remain my two-dimensional high school mean girl. I could go on with my reunion-less life, letting her be one of the caricatures from my teenage years that I haven’t seen since. I wish that grief-smacked expression never had to cross her face. I wish I could look at her Facebook photos and see her daughter alive, twirling in the sunlight. I’d buy her big, stinky red permanent markers and offer up my locker, my car or my teenaged forehead for 100 bitch stamps to change things for her if I could.

I wish. I wish. I wish.

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Cookie lookers

When I was a teenage girl in the 1980s, teachers, local news producers and general do-gooders were keen on showing my kind what a woman entrepreneur looked like. I remember at least two times when I was pulled into an assembly hall of some sort where someone brought Cheryl Krueger before us. I remember her feathery blond hair and red blazer with power-lady shoulder pads as she would grip the podium with one hand, big index cards in the other and tell us what it was like to be the woman who turned her grandma’s cookie recipes into wildly expanding financial success.

One of my dearest high school friends had a part-time job at a Cheryl’s Cookies the summer that my brother and I had a car accident and his hand was badly injured. He was waylaid on our couch for weeks. She stopped by nearly every night with new video rentals and however many cookies destined for the garbage bin that she could rescue. She was one of the champions of my universe that summer, and the cookies added to that comfort.

Cheryl sold the company this year, so it was interesting to be invited to an event last week to see what this Columbus institution looks like under new management. Witnessing mountains of cookie dough move along conveyor belts and frosting machines splurting out buttercream elicited oohs and aahs and squeals of “how Willy Wonka!” And it was. There are clearly nice people working there who care about cookies and frosting and how things taste. They taught us how to do some cookie decorating, which I have never done before in my life, so that was actually kind of fun, as it was just to be among some of my fellow bloggers.

Thankfully, the lunch they served us was healthy and light, because we all went home with more wrapped cookies and brownies as well as more cookies and brownies with frosting for decorating than we could possibly eat. When I got home, my son and I squirted a bunch of frosting on the ones they gave us for decorating, then sent them off to be enjoyed at an AA meeting. My friend Rachel won a year’s supply.

I’ve usually gone to such events as a reporter, so I’m well acquainted with many of the ways that companies vie for attention. The position of a blogger – especially a mother who blogs – is decidedly different. I’ve never been to BlogHer and experienced the notorious swag insanity, so this was new for me. There’s an air about this kind of event that makes you feel like Tuffy Ryan’s mom in “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” or a contestant on the before-my-time TV show Queen for a Day… like this is another strange chapter in American history when corporations and moms are at the roller skating party together again, trying to figure out who should be asking who to hold hands on the moonlight skate.

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A good friend visited from out of town this week. At one point she asked if I remembered a time when she lived in town and was going through a painful relationship split.

“You let me come to your house and just be there and you made me juice,” she said, and put her hand on my shoulder. “It was so nourishing. I always remember that when I think of you. That juice was amazing.”

I forget sometimes, in the middle of loving a child whose demands are mostly joyful but many, in the middle of thin and precarious economic times, that I have had the space in my heart and life to do things like open my home and make juice for a friend. We’ve lived a few hundred miles apart for a few years now, but she has somehow managed to appear at the exact moment that I needed support within that time more than once.

My juicer is currently buried in a kitchen cabinet, somewhere behind Tupperware containers and sippy cups and old Comfest mugs. I’m thinking that I need to grab some carrots and apples and ginger and pull it out again, to join a CSA to help ensure a summer of raw nourishment, to sow some karmic seeds.

I can’t believe it’s nearly June again.

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My Facebook connections seem to compound by the day, but I couldn’t feel less connected in general. It’s a little disjointing, this proliferating collection of re-connections with people who have known me at different enough times, in different enough ways, that I’m starting to feel like a whole collection of people.

Yesterday, a picture of me appeared from when I was 18 or 19 at a party. The friend who posted the picture was someone I was close to in college – one of my first truly smart, fun and magical girlfriends, who also guided me into some of the best American literature classes I took in college. I lost touch with her until Facebook, where I found her still looking beautiful and young and with a brand new baby.

There are four of us in the picture. Three of us (including me and my friend) are looking at a Polaroid and laughing. I couldn’t remember the third too well. I Googled her name to see if I could find a better picture. She was easy to find. When I saw her face again, I remembered this long, thin Southern girl full of energy, big laughter and a skill for all kinds of clowning – although that’s about all I remember. It seems she’s lived a pretty remarkable life, holding down an organic farm, making art and working extensively in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina and the Gulf Coast after Ike.

Late last year, she was in a horrible car accident. Her family has constructed a web site full of tributes to her life, and a gut-wrenching Caring Bridge diary about her current condition.

The fourth woman has her back turned to the camera, but I would know who she was from her roll of long blond hair, even if she wasn’t identified.

She was a New Yorker, like so many people I went to college with, a few years older than me and apparently a minor child star, although I don’t think I knew that last fact until years later. She was heady and clever and seemed sort of intellectually untouchable to me. Although we were more friends of each others’ friends than friends to each other, she suggested that I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, and I did. She’s not someone that I imagined ever gave me another thought once we left our mountain valley campus.

“You and I don’t know each other all that well, and I’m not asking you to tell me anything,” she once said to me, after we’d run in the same social circles well over a year. “I have enough of my own shit going on that I don’t need to hear anyone else’s. But I can see that you’ve seen or been through something life-altering, something that seems to have rocked you pretty hard. I don’t know what it is, but it’s all over you. You look scared.”

She was right. I told her so. And because what I had seen was a friend, in shock, shaking, with neck and wrists cut open by his own hand who was still, gratefully, alive, I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t. Yes, I told her, something awful has happened, and no, I can’t say what.

“Isn’t it great to know that you’re porous, like a sponge?” She laughed, a sharpened sympathy about her. She hugged me – being reassuring while maintaining a distance – before going on her way.

A couple or a few years ago, I read in my alumni magazine that she died, at age 36, of a brain aneurysm. She was gone, just like that. Her mother, who had submitted the information, said that she had been happily married when it happened. She also said that, as an organ donor, her daughter’s final act saved the lives of several other people.

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Guerrilla commentary

I did some work at a coffee shop the other day, and this marked-up newspaper ad was laid on a counter directly across from the station where you pick up your order, clearly meant to catch the attention of passers-by:
Click either image to make it larger if you can’t read the handwriting.I sense a little Guerrilla Girl action in the capital city.

What images in your local landscape would you like to rearrange?

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No justice, no peach

An artist friend of ours sent out an email saying that he had taken down the handmade “Impeach Bush” sign from his front porch, and replaced it with a new one that says, simply: “PEACH!”

I think that’s the right disposition for this time. In between every cataclysmic financial headline I read, there is another about the way our country will change in January that fills me with hope and relief. Today I see plans for the closing of Guantanamo being made. What wrongs will we begin to right tomorrow? And what will we begin to aim for that is about building anew, not just fixing broken things?

I am honored to be among those included in the October Just Posts today. In a time of real change, the nurturing of these ideas becomes more important than ever. Go on over and click on a few of the inspiring posts. You won’t regret it.

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Oh no! ‘The Secret’ made me a selfish bee-yotch!

On our one quiet, powerless night after the storm, we rushed around the house in the evening, digging out candles, flashlights and radios. (This thing really bit Ohio on the butt – we’re used to sirens during extreme weather out here, and there weren’t any – just hours of insane winds and a “high wind advisory” if you happened to look at the local weather.) It took at least two hours after our power went out to even find a mention of the weather on the radio.

I listened to firemen tell local talk radio hosts that they had well over 100 power lines down that they hadn’t yet been able to get to, even with every truck and ambulance out on the streets. Then locals called and complained about mulch fires, transformer explosions and, naturally, lost power. Various city and power company officials broke in to say it may be a week before some people have electricity. Cringing over the possibility of facing my week’s deadlines at crammed local cafés instead of in my comfortable home, and wondering if I had enough non-perishable food in the house, I shut the thing off.

The absolute quiet was kind of nice as I climbed into bed early with Declan and got him to sleep. I lay there, not really wanting to risk stirring him with a flashlight, tired, but not quite ready for sleep, so I grabbed my iPod and scanned its contents. There, in my audiobooks, was that cultural phenomenon, The Secret. A friend of mine had sent me the link to the movie repeatedly, then asked if I had watched it or if I was thinking of getting the book to read. I didn’t and I hadn’t. Then she gave me access to her audio copy so that I could have it. I tried to listen to it a year ago, but wasn’t in the mood for self-help, and so it sat, in my iTunes, eventually transferring to my iPod. I gorge on enough pop culture phenomena to not want to miss out on a Oprah prophecy like this on, so I figured I would get to it eventually. I popped in the earbuds on Sunday night and hit play.

If you don’t already know “The Secret,” it is basically that if you simply learn to *expect* the universe to give you everything that you need or desire, it will. Somehow, the author tries to convince you, your anticipatory energy effects the universe and what you get from it. Therefore, if you just think you’ll be wealthy or famous or self-fulfilled or, I don’t know — an iridescent-skinned dancer who cries tears of diamonds — you will.

I lay there Sunday night, listening to the various “evidence” that The Secret works for about 2 chapters, growing drowsier by the minute. In my sleep haze, I suspended disbelief long enough to think “okay, then, the power is coming back on in the morning BECAUSE I SAID SO” and “furthermore, I am going to stop worrying so much about money,” laughed at myself and then fell asleep before 10 o’clock.

Lo and behold, my electricity came on at daybreak, with the beeping of cordless phones, lights and the whirring of the upstairs fan. More than half the city wasn’t so lucky, and there are quite a few even still without power. Then my husband started talking happily about some possible gigs he’s interested in doing, which has been a challenge for him to figure out, just a little over a year after losing his business of nearly 20 years. Then my mom, who was told she wouldn’t have power for two more days, gave us a windfall of frozen food and wouldn’t take any of it back when her power came on.

HOLY CRAP, I started thinking. Say this Secret business did work for me and here I was, not “projecting positive energy” for the hospital down the street to get its power back, or for help for the people who suffered damage from Hurricane Ike, or to end the world’s various wars, or cure the sick or anything honorable. I used my power to avoid inconvenience. I am a selfish BEE-YOTCH!

And so, just in case I really am tapped into some “frequency of the universe” that will make it do my bidding, here are a few of the things that I officially declare will happen that are completely in my self-interest, but plenty of other people’s as well:

1. The easiest & most direct one: Barack Obama will be my President. He will win Ohio. Voting in Columbus and Cleveland will go smoothly this time. Our sense of faith in democracy will begin to be restored.

2. U.S. citizens are going to suddenly be overwhelmed with the urgent and fundamental realization that our greatest strength comes in the form of compassion for people. They will be inspired to not only help the victims of Hurricane Ike, but to completely reevaluate poverty in our country in the face of the current economic crisis. Oh, and internationally…? We’ll realize that nourishing fear of our might doesn’t yield respect. Fear is not respect.

3. Somebody somewhere is currently creating a clean, easy-to-implement green technology that allows cars and electrical systems to run on a resource that’s as renewable as, say, human waste. the whole world will employ it easily and work quickly to undo the harmful effects of global warming so that Earth doesn’t end up like Venus.

What else shall we demand of the universe?

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