Author: Clare L. Martin

Clare is a poet and teaching artist living in Louisiana. Her debut collection of poems, "Eating the Heart First" is available from Press 53. Also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. FMI: www.press53.com

BodyLove

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This is highly personal and all words are meant with love.

My mother was a critic of my body from a very young age. When I was a pre-teen, she bought me a bikini I insisted on getting for a trip to Biloxi.  It was a string bikini and designed for young girls, but my mother thought it revealed too much of my undeveloped chest, so she sewed the front two triangles together so that it was one piece that ended at my neck. She also gave me pamphlets printed in the 1950s (this was in the late 1970s) about modesty, likely distributed to her through her church.

Later, when I was a teenager, I took some of my allowance and bought a piece of tasteful lingerie at a high end department store. I wore it once to sleep in and the next day when I came home from school I found it cut in rags.

Moving forward to my early adulthood, when I started gaining weight, the criticism was more pointed at my belly and my arms. Mom always reminded me to pull my shirt down to cover my large stomach. If I wore a top that had capped sleeves or no sleeves she would make her disapproval clear.

I clearly recall one day that really hurt me when she made comments that my arms looked like over-stuffed sausages, when I was wearing a new t-shirt I loved. Yes, she actually said that. She herself would never wear a sleeveless top because she was self-conscious about her upper arms. The loose skin and fat made her uncomfortable. It is only now, after her death, that I realize she was projecting onto me her own body-issues. Maybe, she thought shaming me would make me change my dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle. It didn’t, but since her death, I made the commitment to myself to focus on my health and wellness, thank God.

When I decided to take up swimming for exercise, I worried how I was going to be able to go in public with my perceived flaws. I froze up trying on bathing suits, not worried about my thighs, hips, stomach, but about my upper arms.  That negative comment, spoken in some twisted way of trying to motivate me, haunted me. I considered wearing a t-shirt over my bathing suit, but because I was going to be swimming for exercise, I didn’t want to be encumbered by clothing over a suit.

I found a great athletic swimsuit that I love and a pair of light gym shorts that match well with the suit (for my own personal comfort). I mentally prepared myself to be in public in my swim suit. I wanted to swim with the purpose of gaining strength and overall toning and to strengthen my heart.  The first time wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and the joy of being in a pool again soothed away all of my anxiety.

It has now been a couple of months that I have been swimming. This spring I have also done something that I had never done in my adult life: wear sleeveless tops in public. I have tank tops, camis, and sleeveless dresses that I wear regularly now and it fills me with pride. It’s enthralling to me. One day it will be less so; it will be ordinary. For now it is liberation and another step into my own self-actualization.

My hurt was so deep, and my grief over the loss of my mother has been too. Not a day goes by without me thinking of my loving and wonderful mother, who wasn’t perfect but very near so. I am in a strange way free from her *well-meaning* but antagonizing body-criticisms that shamed me for so long. I don’t say this with any spite. Just a bit of sadness because we could have had a constructive conversation about this before her death.

I believe in the spirit world, and I mean no harm in relating this story. I hope my mother sees how empowering it is for me to dress the way I want to and be confident in my body. I hope my mother sees that this is not an escape from her rules for me, but a healthy release from something that caused me great pain and unnecessary shame for so long.

My arms are flappy. My arms are fat. But I have more muscle mass than I ever had in my whole adult life. My journey is not just about losing fat to look good. I look beautiful now. My heart is in this game for life, for health and wellness: mind, body and spirit.

In Mourning

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It is comfortable to be the mourning-ghost (the drowned one), to care for nothing but a petrified sorrow. It is simple to relinquish the will to do anything, weighted by the water above, to be a stone within a stone within a stone.

Again, the dust-man pretends to sleep in his lop-sided chair, with a cat and a dog burrowed in his lap. Again, she is in water. The deep end of a cold bath in a house with blinds closed—slivers of natural light and a life-saving measure of patchouli, almond, verbena and tangerine. Deep in trance and desirous of forever’s ocean of sleep.

How the woman prays! Her kisses brush his hot forehead. She welcomes him to bed—When the world comes again we’ll awaken. And it does and they do. Over and over, though no cycle rules her, she rebirths herself.  Empties her lungs, rises.

© 2015 Clare L. Martin

Resilience

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I felt the wind in me had died. So much momentum came to a full stop. I had to start from square one, again.

Yesterday, I only wanted to be in a safe place. I felt fearful and depressed. I was nearly in tears. It didn’t matter if I just sat at the gym with a 2 lb weight raising it above my head once or twice. I needed to be with my gym family in a place that has come to symbolize another home for me.

This journey is a moment by moment one. I asked my daughter to drop me off and wait for my call. I told her it could be hours. I stayed at the gym for nearly three hours. She called once because she worried that I had drowned. Ha ha.

My spirits were low but the friendly faces made me smile. My gym friends care and I could feel that care. They could tell I was not my usual bouncy, upbeat self. My friends came over and talked to me. I went to them too, and told them how I was feeling.

Chester the Therapy Dog-in-training came over and I petted this gentle and sweet dog. He stirred my heart. He really did help me feel better!

After doing what I felt comfortable doing in the gym (without music–I wanted to be alone with my thoughts), I swam for almost two hours. As I got in the pool, for a long time, I had the whole pool to myself. That was wonderful. I was self-secure enough to try things I would have been self conscious doing if there had been more people in the pool–specifically, practicing a new style.

It’s not about the end result, but being where you are and acknowledging that respectfully. It’s about coming back from the depths to meet one’s true self again. Like I said, I could have sat in a chair with a small weight; just curling it to my body. I did more than that.

Later, my knee popped doing something seemingly innocuous. Now, I must love my knee and care for it. I am no athlete. I am a person who is trying to extend her life, gain greater mobility and heal on many levels–physically, mentally and spiritually. It was just last October and November that I was walking with a cane. I have lived needing a wheelchair in the past, and I don’t want that to be my future.

What mattered yesterday and what matters always is that I will not give up on myself. I will bloom through concrete like the flower above. You cannot fail when you put self-care and well being first. I have hope again.The smallest step in the right direction can change life dramatically.

Many times, I don’t know what the next step is going to be but I turn to the familiar and the havens in my life. Havens could be people or places, or things that I do to renew myself. The wisdom gained is that there can be no success without knowing truly where you are in your process and being fully present to what we face. This is the only way to resolve “problems” encountered. My view is on the whole picture: that this is part of my journey of salvation.

Anyone who cares about me as a person would simply say of my decision-making along this journey, whether I slow down or speed up is: “I trust you will make the right decision and I will support your choices.” Outside pressure only serves to harm me at this time. I am only in a competition to be better than myself, and to be resilient is to care enough about my “self” to come back stronger, no matter how long that takes.

Stasis

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“Woodpecker”
Photo by Anne Elezabeth Pluto Thank you, Annie, for your beautiful sight. 

Stasis

The woodpecker’s heart
still as bedrock
blood absent
not a drop on concrete (fingers
of leaves, laced
black metal)

What exists in stasis
exists
like a star exists
out of reach;
close as bone

light lifts
from a seabed
dust in a room stirs
when a woman stirs
to turn her body
from the sleeping lover

his back, a light sheen
of fragrant oil, blue
aura of morning sleep

a blind man innately knows
black wing tips
the deaf man innately knows
the death-song

of each living thing
as they exit
our presence

fall away winter,
become unknowable
ice
no longer penetrates
the eye
when fire
comes to the city

the woman leaves
her lover’s bed
and leaves the man
she loves for he
who makes her volcanic

blood, snow, and mud
unburdened air
vibrant green shoots
entwine carcasses
all over the planet

“Be gone, rust, be gone!”
the woodpecker spoke its trill

such is the mortification of all flesh
and we, too, are mortified
as one
© 2015 Clare L. Martin

3-month mark

Yesterday was the three month anniversary of Clare’s Mind Body Revolution. I went from being in pain and walking with a cane, needing assistance to mount equipment, and not being able to handle ten minutes of aerobic activity to pumping out a mile on the treadmill at a 3% incline with ease, weight training that is increasing in reps and pounds according to my ability and desire, getting my first-ever professional massage (which was a lifetime achievement for me because of severe body-consciousness–I’ve had two now), getting into a bathing suit and swimming beyond an hour at a time, going to a yoga class with José Luis, and practicing in small increments, on land and in water, modified poses, and filling in my activities with loving care of myself in other ways. I won’t say what I have “lost” because I have gained so much. This journey is as much about strengthening my mind as it is about coordinating and strengthening my body. My family has been incredibly supportive and I am indebted to my husband for his hard work that makes my gym access possible. I have proven to myself that “I can” and I WILL. That is all that matters. Power up. Power onward.

I Need a Manifesto

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This isn’t the manifesto but I am working on one.  I was a sedentary person with medical issues and joint pain before starting this, so my actions are revolutionary.

Before starting, I had a health exam and got clearance from my physician. That is important to note. I also consulted a registered nurse with a nutritional-education background and we chose a plan that is mainly designed to reduce inflammation in the body and fuel it properly for the life I want to live. My nutrition plan is in check, but I think I must be under-eating, maybe. I plan to re-check with the nutritionist to see what I can do to make sure I am getting enough fuel. I feel good and have lots of energy. I only weigh once a month. I am not as concerned about the numbers, but it is still a distraction for me to think of “how much I weigh.” I know how I feel and how my overall endurance and fitness has increased. Wellness is my goal.

This is the fitness program after three months of what is a *lifetime* commitment. Just a few months ago, I couldn’t walk a city block without stopping and resting, so this, this is *amazing* to me. I owe a great thank you to my friends and family who have been so supportive. You keep me powered up. I share this because you might have additional info or insights and also, maybe someone can be helped by my experiences.

I have to use my Google calendar to figure this all out! And music is mandatory for me to get pumped, except when swimming.

Cardio every day with one rest day in the week.

The NuStep machine was good for me at the beginning to warm up and to gently move my knees to be able to proceed to other things. My joint pain has been relieved, so I don’t use it as often anymore.

I like the treadmill, but I am going to try the elliptical next, too, for cardio. I don’t enjoy the stationary bikes as much, but I am not giving up on them.

Every other day, I do weight training/strength training. On the days that I am not using the free weights and weight machines, I will be swimming because it is low-impact cardio, and will help muscles recover.

I swam for the first time today in over a decade!!

Talking with my brother, he said to stretch *every day*–all seven days, so although I haven’t developed that 7-day pattern yet, I am going to add simple yoga moves to the mix and gentle stretching every day.

All said, there are other activities I want to build up to. Going to bed. Sleep is crucial!! Your questions and comments are welcome!

True

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I have come to respect myself enough to not feel it necessary to explain my choices to anyone. If I do explain, it usually means I care enough to let another know why, or because I want to illuminate others through my own truths, be them struggles or triumphs.

Sometimes true communication is impossible. Sometimes reasons are deep within and I cannot communicate with another, due to the understandable lack of comprehension of my inner life–no matter how clearly or eloquently I phrase my meanings.

I desire to live an authentic life. I desire to do no harm. I desire to be better than myself, learn deeper, and excuse myself from relationships (with or without explanation) that do not serve to empower me.  And, at times, disengage from those whom I sense I cannot empower.

Part of this learning comes from disillusionment with the literary world in which I have experienced rare, but very distasteful, mistreatment. My joy of writing has become somewhat tempered by hollow people and exchanges I have encountered. I am a bit sick of it, but I do not mean to demean anyone who has genuinely touched my heart in this Writing Life.

In order for me to revive my own love/life, cultivate my self and grow as an artist, I have made a choice not to engage in any projects or readings, or to submit work for an indefinite period. I have clearing to do. If I write, I need it to be for myself. If that writing finds an audience (most likely via this blog), I will be grateful, but my needs are far more intrinsic to my “self” at this time.

I care enough for my readers here that I wanted to share this decision with you. Thank you, always, for reading.

Clare