I was in the fitting room at Nordstrom Rack trying on a random assortment of clothing, and in the quiet of that space on a Monday evening, a young girl’s running commentary in the room two doors down was clearly audible.
I’d seen her regarding herself in a full length mirror as I walked to my own room–door ajar, her mom standing with an appraising air over her as she wriggled into a swimsuit. What struck me was the tone of pure delight and body positivity that wafted from this young girl’s room as she tried on swimsuits. A task most American women speak and think of with something approaching dread, if not total dread outright. At what point did we change, focusing less on the promise of cool summer swimming and bright summer sun, and more on our perceived flaws and the inability of any piece of synthetic fabric to deliver us from them? Continue reading →
Last Friday was my last day at a phenomenal organization, where I’ve spent the last three and a half years helping grant wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. I showed up at this well-known non-profit fresh from the tech industry, searching for emotionally fulfilling work, a place to land where I might at last grow and develop my career in ways that seemed to elude me previously.
When I told my friends I had accepted an offer at Make-A-Wish, some of them raised an eyebrow in disbelief, and all of them expressed surprise. You see, before I walked through those doors I’d viewed children as an irritation, an ubiquitous and thus inescapable nuisance, my advocacy of the child-free lifestyle well-documented and expounded upon freely. So going to work for a children’s charity wasn’t exactly the next logical step for me. But it was the exact right one. Continue reading →
I visited Carlsbad Caverns over an August weekend, and there’s nothing like exploring our National Parks system for instilling a sense of wonder, history and gratitude. Just when I think we’ve destroyed all of nature, that we’ve polluted the entire world, slashed and burned and dumped and drilled the environment into oblivion, I get outside and see we haven’t quite. Not quite yet. Which makes me realize that for my strong identification as an urbanite–Manhattan being my spiritual home, the place I feel most alive and centered–I need to sense the natural world. I crave the astonishing beauty of Mother Nature, and the feeling of integration with the environment, my place in it, and the humility it brings. I feel so connected and astonished and shriek! Tommy, stop that right now! Shriek! Well, nothing ruins a moment in the park like people who don’t know how to act in public. Continue reading →
My mom and I were kicking back in the grass of Sheep Meadow in Central Park last summer when it hit me–we needed to write the manual on positive body image in the context of the mother-daughter relationship. We are exceptional in that we share a positive image of our respective bodies. I learned it from her, and she learns it from me. We understand we are lucky, and we are grateful. We talk a lot about what holds women back in society, and we’re convinced that struggle with body image is one of the major culprits. The pressure comes from the culture, it comes from the family, from friend groups, the media, ourselves. Disliking, hating, and shaming our bodies, our desperation to change them to an unattainable ideal all take valuable energy we could be using for gender-advancement purposes. We have to do something. Continue reading →
She approached me to ask if I wanted to do a follow-up to last year’s interview, where we delved into her struggle to stay true to her Christian value of no premarital sex, while navigating her first romantic relationship. A twenty-three year-old virgin who had been opted out of sex ed in school by her religious parents, she was facing an experiential chasm in her relationship with her thirty-five year-old, father of two, divorced boyfriend. I’d handed her my copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and a three-pack of condoms at the conclusion of our first conversation.
She was working to come to terms with her identity as a Christian virgin and the fierce sexual desire this man had awoken in her. Flash forward one year and that man has fallen away, unmasked as a lying, cheating, manipulative bastard and she’s moved in with a new man. In between her sexual awakening and cohabitation was a year of heartbreak, a thorough exploration of Tinder, an examination of her religious beliefs and her first time having a penis inside her vagina. Continue reading →
I had a chance to catch up with the subject of this interview, whose life has changed rather dramatically since this piece was first published in January 2015. Revisit her story about being barred access to sex ed in school by her parents, and check back Thursday for a new interview about her sexual awakening.
“I was one of those kids you wrote about,” she commented, after reading about the pregnant virgin I counseled at Planned Parenthood, “and you probably want to interview me for your blog.” I leapt at the opportunity she was offering to capture a first-person narrative about the experience of being opted out of school sex ed and how it affects adult sexuality. Continue reading →
When I was a kid I was accused of taking advantage of the situation on a frequent basis, usually by my dad, who was at times desperate to polish his only child’s impulse control flaws right out of what he saw as her diamond soul. At the time, however, I was unaware of his parental longings, understanding only that I was constantly in trouble for behaviors that felt fluid and natural. We’d come home from a camping trip, and as my parents were busy unloading gear, I’d furtively grab a marker and write the cheer “Woooo!” on the kitchen counter, heart pounding from my daring indiscretion. It was OK, because the washable ink beaded right up upon contact with the gold-flecked 1950s formica, and rubbed right off without a trace at the slightest touch. Scrawl, rub, scrawl, rub. I did it over and over, testing the limits, until I cut it too close and my dad walked in the back door with an armload of REI, catching me in the act. Face tightening into the disapproving scowl I sought to avoid at all costs, while directly courting it with my impulsive behavior, (what an exhausting paradox for an eight year-old psyche to bear), he took my arm, saying through angrily pursed lips, you’re taking advantage of the situation! And I was in trouble again. Continue reading →
I started hiking about 18 months ago, after swearing it off as a young teen. Many weekends of my childhood found me struggling along behind my dad on various trails in Washington State. I hated hiking. I hated it so much, in fact, that I promised myself I would never do it again once I became an adult. And I didn’t. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
She’d given birth to her first child–a daughter–the year before, and I wanted to take an intergenerational look at the conflict and difficulty that seems to exist in the mother-daughter dynamic. I’d been privy to her struggles in her relationship with her mother, the pain and angst it caused her, and hoped she’d be willing to have a conversation about how she grew up, and what she’d like to do differently with her daughter.
Perhaps the most verbose, rapidly-speaking person I know (a court reporter once asked her to slow down during a testimony), we joked that I was lucky to be getting our interview in after she’d been down with the flu and bronchitis for a week. She began to take me through her early childhood, leading me from the picture of an idyllic family toward the tense, guilt-ridden, sometimes self-esteem-crippling snapshot of today’s relationship with her mother. Continue reading →
It wasn’t unusual for respondents to disappear into seeming thin air. You’d check the jail and prison records, search for social media accounts, call any number you could get your hands on, knock on the door at any related address. A different respondent had disconnected phone numbers and when I went to her address a toothless young woman sat in the window, looking out at the day. She spoke with me through her perch in the open front window, explaining that the respondent was her cousin, but that she had no way to reach her. An elderly woman moved around inside the living room, disengaged from our exchange. I sensed the cousin had information she wasn’t giving up, which meant I would have to come by the address a second time. Two weeks later I returned, finding the house abandoned. Peering through the front window I could see that every stick of furniture, every possession, had been removed, leaving the place bare. It was an odd sensation, and I wondered if perhaps the “cousin” had been the respondent. No way to find out now. The respondent’s file went to the back of the stack, right on top of Jane Doe. Continue reading →