Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nothing to Wear

“Ughhhhhrhrhghghghg!!! What am I gonna WEAR?!”

“I wore that same blouse last week, I can’t wear it again.”

“Is this dress too spring-y, or can I pull it off with tights and boots? Are these boots too winter-y?”

“No, those are always my go-to nice dressy pants.  I seriously don’t have another pair?!”

These are just a few of the many thinking errors that plague my brain as I stand in front of my (full) closet, saying, “I have nothing to wear.”
And the sad part? I’m not even stressing about what to wear to work, or to a birthday party, or a formal occasion.

I’m stressing about what to wear to church.

CHURCH, of all places.  The place I’m supposed to feel safe and accepted.  And here I am, acting like I’m about to hit the runway at a fashion show, judged for the way my clothes flatter my body.

Now hold it right there, because I don’t think the people in my congregation are out to get me, or shame me for my lack of trendiness. But, in a setting where so many strive to look their best, I do see lots of trends and “fashion”.

I find it interesting that we can’t all just wear plain jeans and plain t-shirts to church.  And the people who do, why are those individuals seen as “casual” or “young” or “relaxed” or, my favorite, “more MODERN”?
Why do we categorize people according to what they wear?  We all do it. Those in heels and fancy coats are labeled “girly” or “conservative” or “traditional”.
(Yes, I think this is definitely an area that women have more experience and trouble with.)

I’ve been on two mission trips to foreign countries thus far: Bolivia and Grenada.  Each of these countries had their own unique customs, including dress.  But I didn’t feel pressured to look or dress a certain way, and I didn’t see anything other than God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be the focus of their gathering.  Not once in either of these two countries did someone greet me with, “Oh, you look so cute today!”
It’s just interesting to me that this is the first thing out of our mouths so often here in our privileged society.

I suppose it’s nice and considered good manners to acknowledge when someone puts a little extra time into their appearance that morning, and I’m not saying it doesn’t feel good when I do get a compliment.
But do I wish I didn’t care? Yeah, I do.  I wish I could wear my black t-shirt, jeans, and running shoes to church every week, and not have a care in the world.  

I can’t help but think of all these countries out there, some whose names we don’t even know, where there are small churches in the jungle somewhere, where attendees worship and dance around barefoot, in the same clothes they’ve worn all week, their neighbor not knowing any different because they’re wearing their only set of clothes as well.  I want to be that free.

Twice now this year, I’ve challenged myself to wear only 7 items of clothing, for a week straight. (I was inspired by the book “7” by Jen Hatmaker)

 I narrowed it down to: a black t-shirt, one pair of jeans, one pair of running shoes, a set of workout shorts and t-shirt, and pajamas.

I’ve learned that people don’t pay nearly as much attention as I think they do, at church, work, or anywhere else, but I’ve also learned that dress still matters to me.  I’ve figured out that when I have a “spare coat closet” holding all my dresses, both casual and formal, plus any out-of-season cardigans or sweaters; and also a coat closet in my living room holding my actual coats and hoodies----this may mean I have too much.  
I’ve never considered myself to have a clothing problem, but when I think about the children in my city who wear the same pair of jeans for weeks on end without washing them, I feel my contribution to the injustice.  We see obvious needs like food and shelter, but do we stop to think about the insecurity being developed inside the child who wears the same outfits on repeat each week, while watching their classmate Little Suzy wear a brand-new outfit or pair of shoes once a week?* When did the gap grow so large? (And why do Suzy’s parents feel the need to buy her so many new things all the time?)

If I do research on the countries printed on the tags of my clothing, what would I find out? As Jen Hatmaker has paraphrased from a different author, “Am I wearing someone else’s despair?”  What is the story of the person who slaved away to create my dress?

I do buy 99.9% of my clothing second-hand, so I try really hard not to feed the machine.

But if I can find a way to eloquently state that the image we create for ourselves has very little to do with our clothing, and much more with the way we give and show love to others, then maybe someone out there will quit spending thousands of dollars a year on clothes and put it towards a more worthy cause.

Because I don’t care what anybody says, we are not contributing to ourselves or our wellbeing by putting expensive clothes on our bodies. We’re just making it okay for the commercial industry to tell us what we need in order to be accepted.** Let’s all realize that we have bigger fish to fry.

*Of course, I am for teaching our kids that even if they do wear the same outfit on repeat, they still have worth.  But are insecurity, and comparison, and anxiety real things? Yes, they are. Are kids blind to privilege and brand-name clothing? No, they're not.
** Yes, some of this is difficult or awkward for me to think and say, as someone who has ventured into the modeling industry in the past.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Nothing to Eat

“There’s nothing to eat!”

I knew Daddy had a temper, but I had never expected to see it flare at those words. 

“What did you just say? See this pantry full of food? There’s stuff in the fridge, too.  Don’t you EVER say something like that to me again, do you understand?”

I was a teenager who was usually respectful and put-together, but for some reason, that day, I felt whiny and demanding.

I don’t know what had triggered my whining.  I don’t even remember exactly when this happened.  I think it was sometime during my sophomore year of high school, about 4 years into my sports-playing, and just as long since I had started to become exposed to the habits and convenient food of my friends at school.  We were a Hispanic family living in Arizona, and I was the first of two who were born in the United States.  There was a lot of learning and adjusting to do.

That whiny day, I saw something in my father’s eyes that told me I didn’t even know the half of it.  I was smart; I was sensitive.  And I knew that I had struck a chord.  Perhaps that day I was in the mood for a frozen chicken breast, or canned chicken noodle soup, or I was pouty because there were no Honey Buns.  But my parents never, ever let us go actually hungry, and in my teenage angst, I wasn’t even aware of or grateful for that fact.

I never even thought about what my parents sacrificed to make sure we had our carne asada, our beans and rice, and our corn tortillas.  I still don’t know.

I wasn’t even thankful for the aromas that fill a kitchen when your mom is hand-chopping onions and tomatoes for guacamole, or when your Nana is pulverizing and blending red chiles for sauce.

I never thought about how many families go hungry.  No, I’m not talking about Ethiopia or some other foreign country, although that is an epidemic of its own.  I’m talking about the people we work with, go to school with, and make eye contact with daily through our respective windshields.

How many dads in Chicago won’t eat tonight because they’re making sure their babies have bread and milk?  How many grandmas in New York are walking blocks and blocks to the market to get tonight’s dinner for their grandbabies, whose mother passed away, a victim of illness or murder, and left them to her, with a limited income and minimal resources?

And yet we whine when we can’t have our soymilk, or gluten-free bread, or quinoa.

This is isn't just me making crazy stories up in my head.  We need to start putting faces to these stories, because they do exist.  Every human life is a story, and we tend to make our food choices so quickly and abruptly, as if we can’t possibly affect our neighbor.  We spend our dollar without recognizing its power, and we are so skewed in our thinking that we don’t even recognize privilege in our lives, even as we are drowning in it.

Did you know that your morning McDonald’s coffee or pop is a luxury?  There is someone out there who can’t afford to spend that $1.08 because she has to keep the lights on at home, so she muddles through the morning fogginess from sleep deprivation, and makes it through her day without a caffeine fix.  Oh yeah, she worked a double –shift last night, too.

Do you know how many parents argue and cry because they can’t do anything special for their daughter on her 12th birthday? How much they would love to take her out to the buffet for some fried chicken and mac and cheese, but they just can’t? And we fling around lunch dates, everyday occurrences, and don’t even bat an eye.  Half the time we’re rude to the wait staff too. 

I get really mad and worked up about our entitled, self-indulging ways, but I’m not just all talk.

Twice now this year, I’ve challenged myself to eat simply for a week straight.  Seven foods and nothing more.  I narrowed it down to beans, rice, lentils, oatmeal, apples, eggs, and barley.  That’s it.  No butter.  No hot sauce.  I wanted to know what it felt like. ( I was inspired by the book "7" by Jen Hatmaker)

Do you realize how often we eat “what tastes good”? How much “fun food” we keep around the house?  Could you, could we narrow it down to just survival?  Why are we so obsessed?
Let me get something straight.  I make less than $30,000 a year.  I am a single gal, and I pay all my own bills.  I already eat simply.  I don’t exactly get to sip on a pumpkin-spice latte every day. 

But yet, I know I am privileged. 

It really is all about perspective.  And fresh perspective?  It can really flip your life upside-down.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

At the Laundromat

I'm at the laundromat right now.  Yup, even laundromats are jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon.  In my case today, it's handy because I've been in a blogging mood.  

Anyway, so yes, I do my laundry at the laundromat.  Partially because it's easier for me to do it all at once, and partially because I never got enough money together to buy myself machines for home, plus I was afraid of buying machines because I thought this somehow made me "permanent" in my duplex and that it would be more difficult to move later on, should the time come to find a different place to live.  

(I've actually finally gotten a hold of some machines, but now, I'm just too comfortable with my routine.  After all, I've spent over 2 years doing this! Isn't interesting how we form habits?)

I've used public laundry since graduating from college.  I was fortunate enough to have free laundry at my dorm on campus for 4 straight years (ah, the advantages of a small Christian college in the Midwest!).  Before that, my parents always had machines in the house. I only remember the washer breaking once, ever.

Anyway, I've gotten to observe lots of different people over these 2 years.  Some, I recognize, but not always.  No, not everyone in the laundromat is "dirty".  I think that's a huge misconception, and perhaps even one that I was guilty of having.  No, not everyone in a laundromat is "scary".  Just because there is a single man over folding his socks all by his lonesome, and he may look a little raggedy, doesn't mean he's out to get you (or steal your laundry detergent).  

Once, about a year and a half ago, I observed a rather impatient man.  He seemed very frustrated, and as I watched, I became pretty worked up.  Turns out a different man, one who may have seemed a bit "eccentric" or "different",had accidentally put one quarter into the first man's dryer.
The first man was throwing a fit! He was yelling at the second man, complaining, "Yeah, you just put that in MY dryer" with this horribly demeaning tone of voice.  This guy didn't seem to notice that he had gotten the attention of several of us around him.

The second man just remained quiet.  

I stayed quiet over at my folding table for about a minute, and then I felt moved to act.  In the olden days, Won't Take No Crap Gilda probably would have engaged in a yelling match with Impatient Man.  I felt a little bit of that rage; I tend to stick up for the vulnerable if I see them being attacked.

Instead, I walked over to the Quarter Man, and I said, "Here's your quarter back", handing him one of my own quarters.  He smiled and thanked me.

My heart was pounding a little bit.  Maybe jumping into cruelty like that, with a small act of kindness, is all that has been required of us all along.  

About 2 minutes, the owner of the laundromat, a lady with a long, blonde braid, walked over to me and said, "This is for you.  I saw what you did."  And she handed me a coupon for $2.00 off my next wash at the laundromat.  

It was pretty cool.

I felt such satisfaction in my heart that day.  I knew I had done the right thing, and somehow shown the man that he still mattered, that he wasn't a nobody like this bully was trying to make him feel.

Perhaps I continue to come to the laundromat in the hopes of more such encounters.  Not so that I can receive something in return, but just so that I might never grow so jaded and hardened that I can't see the simple needs of my neighbors.  

After all, people are people.  


Okay, so here it is.

Some of you have heard me say a thing or two about 7.  What in the world is 7? Is Gilda just really fascinated with that particular integer?

I really do like the number, but what ended up happening was this crazy author, Jen Hatmaker, wrote a book called "7", and this book was handed to me by my Number One Kansas Mom-ish Friend, Debbie.  The book was placed in my hands last fall, with the explanation, "You should read this; I think it's kind of how you're wired anyway."

Well, let me tell ya, it is DEFINITELY how I am wired.

I hadn't been too much into reading lately, but I read this book crazy-fast.  It is written in this amazing, fast-paced, full-of-humor way.  It's sort of like a journal, but a very special one.  It details the journey which the author and her family and close friends took over about a 7 month period of drastic change and reduction in their lives.

Jen got together with a group of 6 of her friends and said, "We have too much in America.  We don't appreciate it enough.  We have crazy expectations of everything, and we feel entitled to way too much.  Let's get inspired to fight against it."

So each month for 7 months, they focused on one area.  Food, Clothing, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, and Stress.

It's a really great read, and so eye-opening, but mainly, for people like me, inspiring.  After reading it, I felt like I could FINALLY be bold about some of my beliefs and my lifestyle, and it was so energizing to hear somebody else take the words right out of my heart.

The coolest part about reading "7" was how it inspired my Mom-ish Friend to grab a bunch of us and try this crazy experiment for ourselves. Our version was 7 weeks instead of 7 months. But it still did the trick.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants their hearts moved a little bit.  Anyone who wants a new challenge.  Anyone who isn't scared to think outside their comfort zone.

Reading the book and going through the experiment myself really shifted some thoughts around inside of me.  I'm still trying to figure out how to express some of the more ...... bold thoughts I have.  But for anyone who may be a regular reader of my blog, maybe this explanation will help any further writing make sense.

Or maybe I just wanted to get it out and written down in an organized way. Either way, there it is.  I'm hoping for a movement of strong, organized, concise thoughts to flow from this point on, and hopefully let you all a little bit more into my head.

~ G

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Food Warmup

The truth is, we never went hungry in our house growing up.  I now know how fortunate we truly were.  We weren't wealthy either, though.  Not that we knew how much money our parents made, because it wasn't talked about, perhaps exactly the way it should be with children.

I will tell you that the only "restaurant" food I knew in my early childhood was McDonald's, but not in the way you might think, in the stereotypical way we've come to think of families gorging themselves on junk on a nightly basis, with parents who are too "lazy" to cook.

No, McDonald's was a very special occasion, but mainly, a road food.  We were a road family.  I may have mentioned before that we were a migrant farm worker family of sorts, so we traveled long distances between California and Arizona on a regular basis.

During a normal week, our parents cooked.  Just simple food.  I come from a Mexican background, and friends often ask me for "recipes".  The truth is, my parents just cooked food they remembered from their own childhoods.  Yes, there are staples -- chicken, pinto beans, rice, tomato sauce, corn tortillas -- but really everything is just very.... RUSTIC, is always the word I've used to describe it.  However, English is my second language, so if that doesn't make sense to you, please forgive me.  :)

Once in middle school, I had a couple of friends over after school, both girls.  As we rummaged through the walk-in pantry, one of them made the comment, "Everything you have is stuff you have to MAKE, isn't it?"  Most of it was, I suppose, but I didn't know any different.  There had been a period there, after all, during the custody battle, during which my dad fed us lots of Honey Buns, Snickers Bars, frozen chicken nuggets, and introduced us to Frozen TV Dinners (we were ages 10-12).

I didn't drink "dark" soda until 6th grade, when I was introduced to Dr. Pepper by a friend.  I gave it up cold turkey as a freshman in high school, when my cross-country coach told me it was bad for me.  (It may have re-entered the picture in small amounts during/after college...)

Anyway, as an adult now, it's so interesting to think about the different ways I have seen or known food throughout my life.

I've been thinking LOTS about food lately, and what role it plays in my life.  I've got lots to say about it, but I'm not a data analyst or a research scientist; everything I've got to say is emotion and reflection, observations, and lots of questions.

I believe the way to do anything is to start from the bottom and work your way up.  The way I write my "blog" is mainly by studying myself: my history, my habits, my memories.  Then I try to piece them all together to help me understand my present-day beliefs.

So, while every post may not be terribly exciting, it's still a piece of the story.  My story.  And once in a while, it comes out powerfully and loudly.
I think I'm warming up my vocal chords with this one.