Friday, August 15, 2014

Depression for Regular People

Today was a Bad Day.

Today's Bad Day meant that I had to take the day off from work because I couldn't stop sobbing long enough to take a shower and get in the car. I kept right on weeping even when the postman tossed best present ever through my front door - a completely amazing Tiara of Happiness from my mom. From my MOM, who totally gets me, and makes me laugh, and sends me a Psychic Friends Tiara of Happiness at exactly the moment when I feel my lowest.

I spent the week wading through news articles about Robin Williams' depression and suicide. I read the powerful and heartbreaking notes from his family and friends. I raged at ignorant and idiotic declarations from the clueless. I felt relieved that my depression is relatively mild and manageable. Until today.

Robin Williams was a guy who had absolutely everything any of us could want - a genius intellect, brilliant talent, a beautiful family who loved him, work he loved, a huge heart full of compassion and kindness. When someone like him can't find his way from the abyss, in a strange way it gives the rest of us Regular People permission to claim our own feelings and legitimize our depression.

I spend a huge chunk of my energy allotment on recognizing how much I have to be grateful for in my life. I have a partner who loves and understands me. I have a mother, stepfather, brother and children who love and understand me. I have a whole posse of friends who love and understand me. I own a great little house, just my size, that I share with my amazing understanding partner and three cats. I earn a living wage, have health insurance, eat pretty much whatever I want. For crying out loud, I am so well appointed I pee in my own private bathroom in a toilet flushed with water clean enough to drink. There are people in this world fighting for access to clean drinking water and my daily toilet water is more pure than they will ever see in their lifetime. I get it - I have no reason to be depressed.

And yet I'm crying, not because I'm ungrateful, but because my body chemistry is out of kilter and my brain tells me I am sad, even though I have every reason to be happy. Yup, Depression for Regular People. So today I'm going to binge-watch Grey's Anatomy and have vicarious soap-opera feelings. I'm also going to have that extra shot of whiskey and eat the popcorn with real butter. Tomorrow I hope to be less sad and have a salad, but maybe I'll have cheesecake instead.

This is what depression for regular people looks like - Exhaustion. Gratitude. Coping. Moving On. Every day we circle the Abyss, thankful we aren't in it, and grateful for the angels who help keep us out of it. Every day we recognize our good fortune and still fight the 10 ton weight on our chest. And for every crappy feeling today, tomorrow there is a Sparkly Tiara of Happiness from our own personal angel.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mowing the Lawn Ahead of the Rain


Mowing the lawn ahead of the rain
The sole of my favorite shoes gave way.
Thwappiting  underfoot,
The tattered rubber taunted me
With the news that these shoes were older than my grown child.

My palms blistered as I raced the storm
Fussing that they were once
Painter’s hands
And that a handshake from the fresh faced girl
I was long ago
Made the boys wide-eyed at the callous and muscle and bone.
These hands worked hard.

When did I buy these shoes?
Sometime after my first was born, facing the wrong way up,
Sauntering into this world after 44 hours
Trying to make up his mind.
Before my second, though, who never did anything before he was ready
Bursting out and into my arms after an hour and a half.
Two days or an hour, a labor of love.
This body worked hard.

Guess I don’t need these raggedy shoes
I’ll garden bare-foot and fearless
My fingers calloused for strings
Playing my own lullaby as the mother-me sleeps
(at last!)
And the crone roars awake.

Sarah Gowan - July 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Don't Eat the Grape


My mom raised us to believe that even the smallest of acts can have powerful results. For instance, our family supported the United Farmworkers Grape Boycott in the late 1960's. This was no small act of defiance in our fairly conservative church community. I remember picking the lone grape out of my canned fruit cocktail at Girl Scout camp and trying to explain to the bewildered troop leader why it was important to honor the boycott because the migrant workers need our help. I was away at camp - who would know any different? But mom had raised us with the understanding that our actions do matter and I knew deep down that not eating a single grape at sleep-away camp does indeed make a difference.

What an incredible lesson for a kid. When the United Farmworkers declared their non-violent strike a success with the signing of union contracts, I knew that my small choice to not eat grapes had helped to change the lives of thousands of migrant workers in a big way.

So today the news is full of corporations that want to control women’s health care choices, corporations that want to control our food, corporations that want us to go to war for oil, all driven by a grinchy 1% who simply wants all the things and will stop at nothing to get them. I’m overwhelmed with the tidal wave of injustice, insanity and imbalance and can’t imagine how we could slow it down, much less stop it.

Except we do know how.

Don’t eat the grape.


In other words, make your small actions count.

Boycott. Choose to not spend your money with corporations who are in opposition to your fundamental beliefs and buy from companies who support your vision of the world.

Vote. If you are lucky, you can vote for the politicians who think the way you do. At the very least vote for the one who is the least offensive.

Speak. Tell people why you are making these choices and encourage people to spend their money and their votes wisely.

None of us can hope to stop the flood of greed, fear and injustice alone, but a million careful choices add up to a mighty strong wall. Not to mention delicious grapes for everyone someday.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Perfect Lady Business Storm

This week three Very Annoying Posts came across my screen in a perfect Lady Business storm to set off this triple-header of a rant. Salty language and all the triggers I've ever had are included. You have been warned.
 
George Will Mansplains "Rape Privilege",
Some Guy in North Carolina Whines about Mila Kunis and
Procter and Gamble continues to Tell Women What to Do.


#1
There have been some very eloquent and profound responses to George Will's column, "Colleges become the victims of progressivism". This isn't one of them. My very visceral and instantaneous reaction to his column was, "Fuck you, George. You don't know the first thing about what it is like to be a woman and a victim of sexual assault." If there were rewards and privileges being handed to anyone who claims victim status I'd be the first in line. Hell yeah, gimmee some of those fine benefits that are due me as a survivor of sexual assault. I'm ready for the entitlements, status, reparation, compensation and hallelujah glory that is owed me.... I sense I may be waiting a very long time for my goodies.

Women have all kinds of reasons for reporting and not reporting assault. Trust me, people are NOT speaking up because they want attention and think they're going to get some sort of special treatment. There are more compelling reasons to stay silent than to speak out.  I know stopped speaking out about my own experiences when I figured out that my story was the only part of of what happened to me that I truly owned. My words, my history, my struggle, my survival. The most painful part about being a sexual assault survivor is not the telling of the story, it's when that story is appropriated and changed to fit someone else's world view. Even when it's done with good intentions, say for instance when using an assault story as a shining example of bravery and survival, the experience is reshaped to make the listener more comfortable. I stopped talking about my experiences because I couldn't bear to hear how the telling became flattened, diminished and all smoothed out like a polished stone. The story inside me still feels to be all points and jaggy bits that open fresh little wounds all the time. Tell me oh Great Mansplainer, where is the privilege in a heart full of glass?

#2
Then Mila Kunis did a very funny bit on Jimmy Kimmel telling men to stop using the phrase "We are pregnant". It was a fluff piece, done from the perspective of a very pregnant woman and it made me laugh because I remember thinking the exact same thing when I was pregnant. Not long after, a couple of people posted links to this guy who found her bit  "troubling and hurtful" and wrote "An Open Letter to Mila Kunis: A Response to Taking the 'We' Out of Pregnancy".

Oh for fuck's sake and fuck you too, Paul. You don't get credit for being pregnant and you don't get to claim anything other than being a loving partner and support person. Your desire for inclusive language comes dangerously close to the way men talk about women's bodies as property, as something they should have decision making power over. Let's be really, really clear - pregnancy belongs to the person who's body is changed forever by growing a couple of human beings inside her.  "We" don't have permanent edema from tissue damage. "We" don't have hemorrhoids that never went away from pushing out 9 pounds of baby. "We" are not going to be breastfeeding for several years and suffer the plugged ducts, raw nipples and soaked shirts. "We" did not have a hysterectomy due to cancer caused by a virus that we most definitely shared. "We" are not going in for 3 month checks at the oncologist to make sure that "our" cancer hasn't returned. My body, my complications, my pregnancy.


There are all kinds of "we" in a relationship and parenting. "We are becoming parents." We are expanding our family." "We have decided to adopt." If we want society to be more inclusive of fathers in the parenting process, then let's stopped referring to fathers as "babysitters". (I can't tell you how many times I was asked who was was babysitting the kids while they weren't with me. Really? They're with their completely competent other parent.) Let's stop looking at dads changing diapers as some sort of frickin' miracle and assume that a grownass man can deal with a poopy diaper. Let's stop admiring stay-at-home and single dads as some kind saint who has become eversomuchmore enlightened than the rest of their gender. My mom refers to this as Kramer vs. Kramer syndrome. Millions of single moms manage to raise kids to adulthood and no one hardly blinks. One guy does it and they make a damn movie about it and glorify his "sacrifice". How about if we just take it as a matter of course that you are included in absolutely everything equally EXCEPT the pregnancy and you just let us have that one thing without getting all butthurt and sulky.

Open Letter to Mila Kunis: A Response to Taking the “We” Out of Pregnancy - See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/open-letter-mila-kunis-response-pregnancy-jvinc/#sthash.rf2DyMcU.dpuf
Open Letter to Mila Kunis: A Response to Taking the “We” Out of Pregnancy - See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/open-letter-mila-kunis-response-pregnancy-jvinc/#sthash.rf2DyMcU.dpuf
Open Letter to Mila Kunis: A Response to Taking the “We” Out of Pregnancy - See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/open-letter-mila-kunis-response-pregnancy-jvinc/#sthash.rf2DyMcU.dpuf
#3
I'm sorry, but fuck you too, Procter and Gamble. Have you seen that ad for Pantene Shampoo that tells women to stop apologizing? My whole television watching life has been chock full of ads from the likes of Procter and Gamble depicting skinny made-up glamour girls tossing their hair and saying things like "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Now they've decided the way to sell shampoo is to lecture women on how to talk. There may be women who find the message empowering and it may have a practical application in the business world, but I sure as hell am not going to take it from a multi-billion dollar corporation who is only interested in my shampoo dollars.

I also want to know if they are planning the companion commercial that instructs men in how to be more deferential, more apologetic, more compassionate. Women apologize because they care. They care how their actions impact others, they care about being inclusive. They sometime care about looking nice, but most women I know care about being nice. "Pretty is as pretty does," my grandmother used to say. I like to think that the kindness we women have spent our lives cultivating even while carrying a load of pointy rocks in our chests, and 9 pounds of "love goblin" in our bellies is something to be emulated and prized. My words, my space, my kindness. So yes, fuck you Pantene, you don't get to tell me what to do, I got your hashtag right here #shinestrong and just this once I'm not in the least bit sorry.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Auntie Sarah's Favorite Craft Recipes

I published these about 20 years ago as laminated cards. As a public service to my friends with children and for those friends who just like to play, here are 12 of my favorite playtime recipes.
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Gack/Flubber/Slime
aka "That Weird Squishy Stuff"

Solution A
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 cups Elmers Glue
Food coloring

Solution B
4 teaspoons Borax
1-1/3 cups water

Mix together Solution A in a small bowl. In another larger bowl, mix together Solution B. This is the fun part: pour Solution A into Solution B.
Squish it around and pour off excess water. You've got Gack!
            Don't use anything but regular Elmers glue - school glue or carpenter's wood glue don't work. Gack will store indefinitely in the refrigerator if kept in an airtight container. At room temperature, it will eventually spoil, but most kids play it out before that happens.
            A word of caution: Gack is made of glue and will stick to fabrics and carpets. (I speak from experience; my son sat in his). You can wash it out if it doesn't harden, but it is difficult to remove from carpets and upholstery.  Keep it away from the couch!

“Experience teaches you to recognize a mistake when you've made it again" -- Unknown
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Modeling Dough

1-1/2 cups boiling water
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 - 4 teaspoons food coloring
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
1 teaspoon alum (optional)

Add oil and food coloring to boiling water. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and carefully pour in hot water mixture. Mix well.
Dump the resulting mess onto a lightly floured surface and knead together. Trust me, the dough will get smoother and easier to handle.

Add small amounts of flour if the dough is too wet, or water (a little at a time!) if too dry. Alum acts as a preservative and is not necessary for nice play dough, but does make it last longer. Store in an airtight container.

“Art is dancing with your hands!” – Sarah Gowan

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Sidewalk Chalk

1 cup water
2 cups Plaster of Paris
2 Tablespoons Tempera Paint (wet or dry)
2 Toilet paper tubes with duct tape over one end

Stir together water, plaster and pigment. Let mixture stand a few minutes. (Don't leave it too long, however, or you'll end up with a one big bowl-shaped sidewalk chalk.) Stand tubes, open end up, on cookie sheet lined with foil or wax paper. Pour mixture into tubes. Allow plaster to set until semi-firm - about 30 minutes. Peel off cardboard and allow to dry completely - they will be ready to use in about an hour and a half.
     Plaster can also be set in plastic ice cube trays, which have been coated with cooking spray. Pop out when firm.
            Do not allow children to play in wet plaster as it can cause skin irritation with extended exposure. Do not pour leftover plaster down drains. This causes major plumbing disasters. Dispose of any unused plaster in trash.

“We decorate our houses to bring home the world.
We decorate the world to make it our home.” – Sarah Gowan
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Sidewalk Paint

1 cup cornstarch
1-2 Tablespoons Tempura Paint
2/3 cup water (more or less)

Mix all ingredients, adjusting amount of water or cornstarch if the paint seems too thick or thin for easy brushing. Add more tempura for stronger color.

This is a great non-toxic, easy on the environment sidewalk paint, excellent for filling in large areas of a sidewalk masterpiece.  It washes away easily with the hose or the next rainfall. Keep your camera handy! My seven-year-old daughter filled our generous driveway with a mandala that I’ll forever regret not photographing before that summer thunderstorm blew through.

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can. -- Danny Kaye
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Seal Gum
or How to Make Your Own Stickers

4 packets (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
6 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon lemon or vanilla extract

Bring vinegar to a boil in a small pan. Add gelatin and stir until completely dissolved. Add corn syrup and lemon or vanilla extract (added for flavor.) Stir until well blended.

To use: Brush gum thinly on the back of your pre-drawn sticker, homemade envelope or whatever you want to be able to stick down later. Allow the gum to dry. The stickers may curl as they dry. This is OK, they'll uncurl when you lick 'em and stick 'em! Any leftover seal gum can be stored for several weeks or even months in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will gel when it cools, but can be reliquified by placing the container of seal gum in a pan of hot water and stirring.

"Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky."  -- Fran Lebowitz

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Papier Mâché

6 cups shredded newspaper
1 cup flour
3/4 cup water
oil of cloves (optional)

Step 1 - Cut or tear newspaper into 1 inch pieces until you have about 6 cups. Put the paper pieces into a large bowl and fill with hot tap water at least 1 inch higher than the paper. Stir the paper until all the pieces are wet and set aside to soak overnight.
Step 2 - Fill a blender about 2/3 full of water and add a handful of soaked paper. Blend until it's a pulpy mess. Don't overwork your blender! Add more water if it seems to be straining to blend the paper pulp. Pour the resulting sludge into a strainer or cheesecloth bag over a sink. Press and squeeze to remove as much water as possible. Do this for all the newspaper pieces. You should end up with about 3 cups of drained pulp.
Step 3 - Make paste by putting the flour into a small bowl and slowly stirring in the 3/4 cup of water. Add several drops of oil of cloves to the mixture and stir until blended. Mix the paste with the pulp and knead thoroughly. The finished papier mâché should be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
The oil of cloves will help prevent molding and mildewing of the pulp while it is drying. You can substitute other preservatives such as oils of wintergreen or peppermint.
Use papier mâché to make beads, ornaments, masks, puppet heads, fake rocks, game pieces, tiaras, dinosaur eggs, suits of armor.... you get the idea.

"Children have more need of models than of critics." -- Carolyn Oates
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Powdered Milk Paint  (Casein Paint)

1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk
1/2 cup water
Powdered paint pigment (tempera)

Mix milk powder and water. Stir until milk is dissolved. Combine only as much milk solution with powdered pigments as you intend to use in one sitting - it spoils quickly! Mixed paint will store for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it is best to mix fresh at each sitting.
            You can "palette" your colors by dumping little piles of pigment on your palette (or old plastic plate, which is what I use) and adding just a few drops of milk to make a thick paste-like paint. Thin as needed with more milk solution.
            The addition of milk makes the powdered paint more durable than poster paint and less inclined to powder or flake off. Casein paints have fallen out of use in favor of synthetic binders such as vinyl and acrylic, but I think it is well worth giving them a try for the unique finish and sheen they can give a project.

"Children who always color in the lines, invariably turn into boring adults" -- My Mom, Susan Terry
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Face Paint

1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon cold cream
food coloring

A muffin pan works great for mixing this recipe. In each cup, mix above ingredients with the color of your choice. Brush, dab or smear on face, arms, legs. Washes off easily.
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Soap Crayons

1-3/4 cups Ivory Snow Powder
50 drops food coloring
1/4 cup water

Mix water and soap flakes together. Add food coloring and pour mixture into an ice cube tray. Allow to harden. These are great for writing
on the tub at bathtime. The kids like them, too!

"Thank God kids never mean well." -- Lily Tomlin

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Biggest Bestest Bubbles

2 cups Joy or Dawn dishwashing detergent
6 cups water
3/4 cups light Karo corn syrup
1 Tablespoon glycerin (optional)
A note on the ingredients: As much as I hate to admit it, name brands are important to this recipe. Other brands simply don't work as well.

Combine ingredients in a plastic bottle or container with a tight fitting lid.
Shake well. Allow solution to settle for at least four hours before using. Pour solution into a cake pan or any wide flat tray for dipping and blowing. (For parties, I’ve made gallons of this stuff in a small plastic wading pool in the backyard!) You'd be amazed at what you can use to blow bubbles. Try funnels, a coat hanger loop (for big bubbles), pipe cleaners, your fingers. Pretty much anything that can make a loop can be used to blow bubbles. Save any leftover solution, it improves with age! Bubble blowing is best on humid cloudy days, or just after a rain. The area around the bubble pan can get VERY slippery with spilled and dribbled solution. Try to keep excited kids from running near the bubble pan and wash down slippery spots frequently.

“It is utterly impossible to dwell on the past or fret about the future while blowing soap bubbles. OK, maybe it's not impossible, but why bother trying to prove me wrong?” – Sarah Gowan

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FingerPaint

3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
2-1/2 cups cold water
food coloring
1 teaspoon boric acid
2 teaspoons glycerin

In a saucepan mix sugar cornstarch and 2 cups water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and turns clear. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup cold water, boric acid and glycerin. Allow mixture to cool.  
            When you're ready for painting, divide mixture into smaller cups, add food coloring, posterpaint or dry tempera, as available, for color. Fingerpainting works best on a slick, glossy paper - freezer paper works well - or you can purchase specially coated fingerpaint paper from craft supply stores.
            The boric acid acts as a preservative and is optional. The glycerin helps the paint to stay moist and slows drying time. Dish detergent can be substituted for glycerin.

"Fingerpaints are direct descendants of mudpies. All I have done is add the rainbow." -- Ruth Faison Shaw

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Cornstarching

At least 1 box cornstarch
cold water

Slowly add water to cornstarch until it gets just past the crumbly, sticky stage and becomes a smooth, thick liquid. Now start playing! This is my simplest and most favorite fun recipe. Cornstarch takes on some really strange properties when it gets wet, behaving both as a liquid and a solid. Try rolling it into a ball. Now stop. For the very brave, try punching it with your fist, now let your hand sink slowly to the bottom of the bowl. Try to jerk your hand out.
My family learned about cornstarching from the amazing Ken Feit, who used it to illustrate principles of non-violence as part of his performances. It doesn't take long to see why.
            Object lesson aside, cornstarching is way-cool fun! Cornstarch is gentle on the skin, easy to clean up, and very affordable. You can even allow it to dry out and reconstitute it again another time. It's been a huge hit at my kids' birthday parties. I mix up 20 pound batches in a big tub in the backyard and just hose down everything, including the kids, afterwards.

"There is more to life than increasing its speed." -- Mahatma Gandhi
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Copyright 1994 by Sarah Gowan

Monday, May 26, 2014

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Lady Business Happy Dance!

Today was my two year anniversary and the cancer doc gave me the "All Clear"! My feet are doing a Lady Business Happy Dance!







Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Granddaddy's Fiddle: Jane Rothfield Plays "Home with the Girls in the Mo...

Jane Rothfield takes a turn on my great-great-grandfather's old-time civil-war era fiddle. My brother had it restored after many years in storage and now I'd like to hear it played. It was "found in a tree where it was left by a slave" according to family legend, which I'm pretty sure that's gg-grandfather code for "I bought something and I don't want to tell my wife how much I paid for it". Fiddle lore says the rattlesnake rattle inside makes it sound extra good and keeps the spiders away!

Any fiddlers want to help with my video project? I'm starting to bring this piece of family history back to life by recording people playing their favorite tunes on Granddaddy's Fiddle. Who's next?!


Monday, April 28, 2014

Lady Business Pity Party: An Open Letter to a Pushy Photographer

 Dear Festival Photographer-

I know it was your job to to photograph each and every dance group performing at the dance weekend. I felt for you having to round up hyper kids and overwhelmed adults and make them look good for the festival photos. And you had to deal with me - the hot, sweaty clogger, blind without her glasses, snapping "I think we know how to stand," when you directed us to place our feet just so. No I didn't smile and, no, I didn't care. You just wanted to take our picture and get us out. I just wanted to cry.

It's been two years since my surgery  (a radical hysterectomy for cancer) and while my recovery has been just fine according to my doctors, it's been painfully slow for me. I've always been a fairly active person, working as a house painter through my college years and as a theatrical scenic artist after college. I've danced various types of social dance (contra, couple dance, international, a little Morris and vintage dance) for most of my life and I've been dancing with an Appalachian clogging group for the last 11 years. At this point in my recovery, though, I have about half the stamina I had before the surgery and even a short time dancing leaves me winded and exhausted.

Most of the time I'm happy with my progress and feel almost normal, but there are moments where I become Cancer Girl all over again. One of those times is when I see my teammates looking fresh as everbloomin' daisies after a 10 minute performance and I stand beside them red-faced, sweating and panting. I feel the waistband of my tights digging into my scars, my bra straps digging into my shoulders and my calves already starting to cramp. Sweat dripping off my chin, bangs plastered to my forehead, mascara raccooning around my eyes. I'm already starting to ache all over and know how much I'm going to hurt the next day because my muscles haven't caught up to the inevitable post-menopausal weight gain and shift in my center of gravity.

And you want to preserve this ghastly moment for all time.

Honestly I could have handled it if you just took the shot and left me alone. But after I changed and came back for my things you had to stick that damn camera back in my face crowing, "There I got it!" You're lucky I just turned away and you weren't sweeping camera bits off the floor.

I don't know why you felt entitled to my image or why you couldn't respect my desire to exercise at least a little control over how I present myself. I would have loved a picture with my dance group where I looked relaxed and dry and more my happy self, but I ended up angry and sad and painfully self-conscious that you captured the wretched feelings, not the nice ones. And I'm furious that I let it get to me leaving me weepy and fragile for the rest of the night and wishing I could go back and say the right thing to make you stop.

I'll get over feeling sorry for myself. I'll find healthier ways to respond to situations that make me feel discouraged about my slow progress and my changing body. I may even get stronger and learn how to set my limits when I tangle with people who don't know when to back the hell off.

And you, Pushy Photographer, I hope you can remember that when someone shares their image with you it is a gift, not something you are entitled to take. Every person who gives you a glimpse of  their story deserves your respect and compassion. Love your subjects and the images reflected back will be glorious.
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A few of the many portrait photographers that get it:
Humans of New York
JJ Tiziou
Riverhouse Photography
Sandra Parks
Bill Tucker