Some Thoughts About Clothes

When I was a senior in high school my show chorus director told us that he wanted to go in a different direction for our big concert. “No black and white,” he said.  “I want you to dress like you live in SoHo and got dressed in the dark, without a mirror.” I grinned.  I immediately knew what I was going to wear.   When I later asked him if he had been thinking of my personal aesthetic, Mr. Morisette admitted that he had been going for that “cool” look.  When I told my fellow alto about the admission I was laughing, but she was frustrated. “If he had just said ‘dress like Patsy’ I would have known what he meant!” she complained.  I’m not sure she knew what SoHo was. (For the record I’m pretty sure I wore some sort of mix of patterns to that concert.  I know I wore my favorite shirt at the time, a tank top I’d bought in boston that looked like it was covered in ginormous sprinkles.) My fashion sense is the second biggest thing I get asked about on a regular basis.  The biggest is my cooking, which I’ve already written about somewhat on this blog.  But I’ve avoided writing about fashion.  I’m not sure why.  Partly because it sort of feels like bragging, like talking about myself too much.  Partly because it feels so personal. I didn’t always love clothes.  In fact, I used to hate them.  I felt it was my job as a modern woman (see: 13 year old) to eschew all the artifacts of femininity: skirts, dresses, makeup, clothes with shape.  If I wear makeup, I thought, it’s because I don’t like my own face enough.  Paying attention to current fashion trends meant I wasn’t paying attention to more important things.  I was a serious adult.  (Maybe I was 14 at this point.)  I cared about serious things. But I didn’t like myself.  My too-big, shapeless shirts, my lots and lots of black (I was clearly lying to myself about not paying attention to clothes), the sweats picked out due to their “practicality”…they all were a big, flashing neon sign that said STAY AWAY.  Only not as pretty.  Not putting makeup on my face didn’t mean I liked it.  Throwing clothes on my body without caring if they fit didn’t mean I was proud of myself.  I just told myself that was what it meant. I blame a lot of my interest in fashion on my time living in Germany, but really I think that living in Germany happened to happen at the same time that I started growing up.  And I grew up in a place with a lot of amazing food and a lot of amazing clothes.  That certainly had an effect.  But mostly I realized that I didn’t like hating myself anymore, and even more I didn’t like hating other people.  You see, I didn’t just believe that me putting on makeup meant I hated my face.  I believed that of everyone who put on makeup, who picked out nice clothes, who cared how they looked.  I labeled a huge amount of people as vacuous, self-centered and stupid all without knowing them.  Literally based on their appearance alone.  That made it pretty difficult to make friends, and it made it difficult to be happy.  When you are going around judging everyone for their use of mascara you have little self left to appreciate what’s good.  You’re just kind of a miserable person whose eyes hurt from being narrowed at the world all the time.  

Clothes–and, slowly, makeup–have become a creative outlet for me.  When I’ve been too burnt out and busy from college to write or create, I could always put together a kick-ass outfit.  When I’m too sick to leave the house I can swipe on some wild lipstick.  I learned that the amount of confidence it takes to go to high school dressed entirely in taupe, or in a shirt covered in what look like sprinkles, makes a person a lot more fun to be around.  It’s not something that happens all at once.  But I feel like I can actually say that it has made me a more creative and even a better person.

Ask anyone who’s gone clothes shopping with me: I’m both the worst and the best shopping date.  The worst because if I actually want to shop for myself I will comb endlessly though all the racks, try everything on, hedge and hem and haw and eventually–after hours of this–leave with maybe two or three pieces.  The best because I push the poor sucker along with me into trying on things they’d never consider, encourage them to think about themselves in new contexts and endlessly find new things that they will like in the racks.  The worst because I almost never say that no, it isn’t worth buying, especially at that price.

Say “Ha”

I don’t think of myself as a particularly funny person.  I have always enjoyed making people laugh but that has just been a side effect of my love of telling stories.  Laughter is like any other reaction that informs a storyteller that the listener is engaged.  I enjoy laughter for the same reason I enjoyed receiving rejection letters back when I was submitting my writing for publication–it meant my work was received, and considered, and an opinion had been formed.  I guess I just like being heard.

Sickness as a greater idea is in no way humorous.  It is a moustache-twisting, fairy tale thief of energy, time, money and peace.  (Now that I think about this, that image is kind of funny.)  There is no sane person who will sit down and argue that you should laugh about illness.  If someone tries I highly recommend the punch-them-in-the-face method of argument.  It is quick, efficient and only barely exceeds the amount of time and energy worth spending on such a person.

I do think, however, that being sick as a day-to-day experience can be side-splitting.  This is a very foreign idea to those who have not spend a great deal of time around the sick, but it was something I was familiar with long before this past year.  I’ve had bedridden friends manage to set rabbits loose on recovery centers and draw mustaches on nurses’ framed portraits.  And I have my own experiences.

I want to tell you three stories of silly sickness.  It might not be funny to you at all.  This might be because I’m just not telling it right, or else because it just isn’t very funny.  But to me this is part of the being sick experience and it’s very funny to me.

The Stubborn Wedding:

Two years ago we were invited to a spectacular wedding.  One thing about me you have to know is that I positively adore weddings: I love the schmalz, the tears, the music, the food, the dancing, and on and on.  I love picking out gifts and cards for them.  I love stressing over what to wear.  I love cooing over the dresses and the centerpieces.  I just am a sucker for weddings, and this one was tops.  It was in a gorgeous manor with great food and spectacular views, lovely personality and great stories.  We were put up in the nicest bed and breakfast I have ever seen.  The weather was perfect.  Only one thing was wrong: I was desperately ill.  At the time I was dealing with the fallout from having MRSA, the main thing of which was having absolutely no immune system.  I had a 102 degree fever and white spots on my burning throat.

And darn it if I did not go to–and enjoy–every part of that wedding.  Swaying slightly, I chatted with newfound family members at the rehearsal dinner bonfire and cried at the ceremony.  I laughed at the speeches and argued with cousins.  I even danced!  And after it all I went back to the bed and breakfast and shook violently from fever in the very fancy jacuzzi.

(This might seem more crazy than funny, but to me it is hilarious.  I also feel that I must add I was not contagious at all–merely very ill.)

The Half-Klingon:

This is the story of the aforementioned MRSA.  I had some weird blisters on my nose and a slight fever the day of a church retreat and so managed to get into the doctor before heading down.  He thought it was probably shingles but wasn’t sure and so gave some antibiotics and antivirals just in case.  As you’ve probably noticed I tend to be a stubborn fool and so insisted on going to the retreat despite the goings on, over my more sensible husband’s objections.  I was feeling ill and feverish by the evening but thought the meds would probably help and felt proud of myself for going to bed early.

Unfortunately I woke up at 6am with my face so swollen my eyes would barely open and my forehead very red and spongy.  Somewhere in this world is photographic proof that for a weekend in 2013 I looked like a half-Klingon without the need of any prosthetics.  Had my fever been lower and my condition been less contagious (at the emergency room they pumped me full of steroids and gave me the sort of meds generally reserved for warding off malaria) I would have fit in at any convention anywhere, given my war cry was up to snuff.

The Ball Game:

And now a story from the relative present.  A few months ago we were visiting my in-laws for the weekend, largely to free my husband up from having to do everything while I just lay there and watched.  (Basically how things go nowaday.)  This turned out to not go as planned when I had a terrible weak spell and found myself utterly unable to make it up the stairs to the bedroom on my own, collapsing halfway up.

Now Tucker, my in-laws’ labradoodle, and I have a very special relationship.  Since he was a puppy he has wiggled with joy whenever he sees me and to this day gets extra zoomies when I’m around.  So when he zoomed up the stairs, squeezing past my collapsed self, then running back down to me I assumed that he was trying to help.  We all–my husband who had run to assist me, my in-laws who were not far behind–smiled and laughed at his puppy-ish attempts at aid.

But we laughed a lot harder when he ran back up to the top, grabbed a ball and dropped it down the steps to my captive form.  He wasn’t trying to help at all–he was trying to play.
Matt picked me up and carried me the rest of the way up the stairs and into bed, and poor Tucker had to wait until another, better time for catch-and-throw.

Sick

Sick is an amazing word.  It holds so much meaning.  It can contain anything from a scratchy throat to a deadly, inescapably affliction.  I have been sick many times in my life.  So have you.  Chicken pox, summer colds, flu season, 24-hour stomach bug and that darn vomit monster that just seems to be going around–these are things that most of us try on and then shrug off like itchy sweaters our parents made us model for the cameras, if only to prove to Grandma and Grandpa that we really did receive them.  We hate them, uncomfortable and ugly as they are, but they are soon enough discarded and forgotten.

For a very long time I viewed illness as something that could be put off until it was convenient, or at least unavoidable.  In college my modus operandi was to work nonstop until whatever swine-avian-big bird-H1N1-r2d2-superbug overtook me and I lay immobile in my dorm bed, shaking for two or three days until I could force myself up and about to start the whole thing all over again.  (Once a roommate thought I was actually dead because I actually had not moved for 36 hours, but was too frightened to approach and confirm.  She called her mother, who was a nurse, and was properly chastened for potentially leaving a dying teenager to, well, die.)

I’m not very good at being taken care of when I’m sick.  The first time my now-husband even tried to turn off the lights in my sickroom I insisted I could do it.  I could, too.  For years I made my own tea, secured my own nightquil, choked down my own advil and held back my own hair.  Or I didn’t.  That was okay, too.  I could clean up the mess when I was feeling better.  (I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a little stubborn.)  It has taken me years to even feel comfortable asking for popsicles when I have white spots on my burning throat, much less an extra blanket when I’m chilly or a glass of water when I’m tired.

About six or seven months ago my definition of sick changed.  Forcibly.  It started gradually–I was tired more, my brain worked a little more slowly, sleep seemed to come a little harder–and I did not think very much of it at first because I was very busy at the time, the kind of busy where you look at your calendar and realized you have to go forward a few months before you find a free weekend.  I thought I was reasonably a little stressed.  I was doing too much.  Eventually I’d be able to cut some things out, but I’d tough it out for the present.  But it got worse, and not in the normal ways.  Normal, menial tasks like putting away dishes or cutting shapes out of construction paper (I’m a children’s librarian) required regular breaks for rest.  I got frustrated by simple ideas and concepts halfway through.  My normally quick, sharp mind was sluggish and could not keep up with conversations.  Forget not being able to multitask–I couldn’t follow along with most books when I tried to read, or listen to the news on the radio.  I felt like I was struggling all the time.  I realized I was sick.  Stubbornly, two months into my decline, I insisted on still hosting Thanksgiving.  I stuffed the turkey the way I wanted, I made the gravy, and I had to sit the rest of the time.  The centerpieces on the table–simple vases full of cranberries and clementines–took me hours and near-tears to figure out.  My ordinary hawkish attention to detail, my perfectionism that resulted in me enjoying days like this so much (no, really) ended up tearing my exhausted self apart.

And then, all at once it got scary.  The gradual decline turned into a sudden avalanche into pain so terrible I was crying and unable to sleep.  My husband had to help me sit up, stand up, get dressed and undressed.  A few times he had to carry me up the stairs when my legs simply gave out.  Over the counter meds did nothing at all; I lay as still as I could, whimpering, feeling guilty for keeping Matt up beside me.  While I had until this point managed to keep going to work fairly regularly through sheer force of will, I had to cut down my hours to two days a week with a day of rest inbetween.  I quit teaching, a side job I loved, altogether.  I stopped going to church because I could not handle the energy required on top of the work hours and the doctor’s appointments.

Ah!  The doctor’s appointments.  This is already getting long, so I’ll talk about those later.  Bahahahaha!

Eventually, through many different methods, I slowly sort of improved.  I say “sort of” because…well…yeah, I’m not “me” yet.  At my worst Matt estimates I was at about 20% brain function, a blithering, breathing corpse who could sort of repeat the things you said back at you.  Now I hover between 70-80% of where I was before this all started.  Not as sharp, or quick, or aware as I was before.  But I can feel shades of me again.  I wake up and can feel interested in doing, sometimes.  Occasionally I feel up to putting away dishes, or laundry.  I actually shifted out my winter clothes for summer ones all by myself, and by my own initiative.  I had to rest afterwards for a few hours but I did it.  It felt awesome.

That’s the biggest change: the resting.  I can’t plan ahead anymore.  This new sick is one that runs everything.  It’s a bully.  I have to make all of my decisions at the last minute: can I go to work?  To the grocery store?  To your party?  To your wedding?

“I want to,” I can say.  “I’ll try.”

“We’ll see if I allow it,” the bully snarls.

That sounds overdramatic, but when your body dictates if you can get out of bed in the morning, every morning, it’s hard not to feel separate from it.  That’s one thing I’m working on: still being a unit, one with myself.  All zen and shit.  The other thing I’m working on is being open: with me, with you, with my doctors, with the future.  Hence this (very long) post.  I’m going to try to keep writing.  Maybe you’ll try to keep reading.  I’m not going to edit–that would be impossible for me right now.  And my writing may come few and far between.  But it’s important, I think, for folks with invisible illnesses to be open if they feel comfortable being so.  There is so much stigma out there, and I feel responsible to help end it.

My brain is kind of shutting off now (you’ve probably noticed its decline as I’ve gone on), so I’m going to thank you all for reading this and finish up.  Thank you.  Stay tuned.

NEAC13: Thoughts, Reflections and Prayers

10612_10151669705941421_78436591_n(A Business Note:  If you are interested in inviting me to speak at your church please email me at p.freydavis at gmail.  We can figure out everything else from there.  Thanks!)

On the evening of Thursday, June 13th I posted these words to my facebook timeline: “The kitten of fear and anxiety has curled up and taken permanent residence in my chest.  Occasionally it stretches and claws it’s way up my throat.”  It was a bizarre thing to post, but I was feeling a bizarre kind of fear.  Most of the time my nerves take the form of violent trembling, light-headedness and rapid breathing I have to fight to slow.  Not Thursday evening.  Not the entirety of last week, actually.  Instead I was unable to sleep, the pain in my chest a distraction only from my nausea.  I’ve been to the New England UMC Annual Conference almost every year since I was twelve years old but I had never felt like this before.

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The Creativity of the Every Day

For more information about artist’s dates and the book The Artist’s Way check out this post.

So I didn’t go on an artist’s date this past week.  I know, I know.  I had one planned!  I was going to make a giant pillow fort and watch a movie in it.  Or make a batch of doughnuts on the stove to learn how to keep hot oil at a steady temperature.  Or take out a book with absolutely no literary merit and fall into it for a couple of hours.  Or go through multiple painting books to pick out wall colors for the house.

See?  I had plans.

But of course I ended up taking extra hours at work.  And I went to a life group on spiritual practices Tuesday night.  And I had a work party to plan and prep for.  And the apartment needed cleaning.  (Full disclosure: I didn’t actually clean the apartment.  I just thought about doing it.)  Anyway, the point is that it’s not my fault I never got to it.  It’s the universes fault.

Ha.  Hahaha.

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Artist’s Date: Banana Pudding Poke Cake

pudding

 

For more information about artist’s dates and the book The Artist’s Way check out this post.

As some of you know, I spend quite a bit of time on Pinterest.  Fortunately I only discovered it after our wedding (I obsessively perused Wedding Gawker at the time) but as the owner of a new house and an avid cook it still provides plenty to waste the hours on.  I use it to collect recipes, consider new paint colors and even collect cute animal pictures to send to friends when they’re stressed.  But more than anything else I use Pinterest to come up with ideas.

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Artist’s Date: Butter-less Cupcakes

cupcake

For the past few weeks I have been embarking upon a creative journey in the hopes that it will make me a better writer and a better person.  I’ve struggled a LOT in the past year with writing.  I sit daily and stare at the screen (or worse, at Netflix) and end each day feeling frustrated that I haven’t accomplished anything.  It’s incredibly irritating when nothing stands in your way but yourself.  It’s even worse if you’ve identified the problem and yet still can’t seem to manage to get out of the way.

For Christmas my brother- and sister-in-law gave me a book called The Artist’s Way.  I had never heard of it and probably looked very confused after it had been unwrapped, but they explained that it was a sort of twelve step program for blocked creative people.  It teaches affirmation, acceptance and takes a spiritual path toward creativity.  After twelve weeks the participant is supposed to have removed their blocks and approached their creative nature from a new and vital direction.  Nothing else has worked–not strict scheduling, nagging, or even accountability toward others–so I figured something completely new couldn’t hurt.

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The Art of Eating a Lot for a Little: Application in the Real World

This post is part four in a four part blog series discussing how to eat well on only $30 a week.  Feel free to check out the first, second and third parts for context.

In the past weeks, like so many others in January, we started a new diet.  It’s amazing!  We are both visibly losing weight, all the foods we’re eating are nutrient-rich and calorie-poor and have discovered along the way completely new ways of cooking food (for example, roasting vegetables without any oil).  It’s also super easy!  All you do is limit what you eat to brown rice, fruits (no citrus, apples or bananas), vegetables (green, orange and yellow only), maple syrup and salt.  The small menu alone promotes weight loss.  Unfortunately, unlike most people this month, we did not embark on this diet to lose weight.  We did it to identify and eliminate migraine triggers from my diet.  (And I lied about it being super easy before.  It’s really, really difficult.)

Life happens.  Things change.  And your budget has to be just as (if not more) flexible than you are.  Which is why I have not laid out many specific numbers in the past weeks.  I haven’t offered lists of What I Always Keep In My Pantry, nor have I scanned in my grocery lists and receipts as part of this how-to.  The only number I consistently threw around was $30–and I debated about whether or not to do that.  Because the truth is not everyone can live on that little.  Not because other people are lazier, or less savvy, or less determined but because everyone’s situation is different.  People have food allergies and dietary restrictions.  I probably would not recommend living a vegan lifestyle on $30 a week unless you have a massive garden.  (I would, however, point out that we live as vegetarians much of the time due to the cost of meat, so that would be absolutely doable.)  If a friend moved in with us we would naturally increase our grocery budget just as we did back when we moved in together.  The principles, however–confidence in the kitchen, learning to eat repeat meals, listing and shopping smart–hold true no matter what your situation.  You just have to be willing to adapt your budget as you adapt to your life.

Continue reading The Art of Eating a Lot for a Little: Application in the Real World

The Art of Eating a Lot for a Little: Shopping (and Listing) Smart

This post is part three in a four part blog series discussing how to eat well on only $30 a week.  Feel free to check out the first and second parts before diving in here :-)

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2013, a year of new adventures and untold possibilities!  I’m sure many of you, like myself, have put together a list of resolutions for the next twelve months.  On that list there are probably things that you’ve already given up on (three days in and I’m behind on my writing :-P) and the things that you feel to be truly attainable.  If spending your money a little more wisely in 2013 is a goal you’re struggling with, I am here to help!  At least with your groceries.  You’ll have to talk to Matt for tips on utilities and rent.

By now I’ve covered the two most important things you need to do in order to prepare for living on $30 a week: getting confident in the kitchen and learning how to eat the same meal multiple days in a row.  Now it is time to take the plunge and discuss how to actually do this.  There are two major components to learning how to shop smart: get to know your local grocery stores’ prices and sales rhythms and construct and stick to a list.

Continue reading The Art of Eating a Lot for a Little: Shopping (and Listing) Smart