Zelda: A Birth Story

Three months ago my daughter, Zelda, was born. This is my and Zelda’s birth story.

On the evening of June 6, I sat in my living room with Brad and my mom, contemplating middle names for Zelda, coming up with some pretty silly options like Bluebell, and laughing about how convenient it would be if I went into labor in the wee hours of the morning, giving us time to get to the hospital before traffic. Well. Zelda was listening.

At 3:30am on June 7 I awoke to the strange sensation of warm syrup pouring over my legs. It gushed, but gently like molasses, not violently like gushing water. I turned to Brad and whispered, “I think my water broke,” which interestingly mirrored the exact same way I told him I was pregnant—waking him up in the early morning hours and whispering, “I think I’m pregnant.”

We got out of bed and confirmed what I had suspected all the day prior, Zelda had decided to begin her journey into the world. I got myself cleaned up and went into the living room to try and get some more sleep on the couch, in anticipation of what would surely be a long day ahead. I should have been apprehensive that my water had broken, since it essentially started a clock on getting baby into the world. My birth wish was to labor at home as long possible and give birth without any pain medication or Pitocin, but with broken water you can only wait so long before you have to speed things up due to the risk of infection. How long exactly is up for debate, but according to my doctor they want you to come into labor & delivery immediately. If I didn’t start contractions soon I’d need to be induced, but for some reason I wasn’t worried. I had a feeling that Zelda had it figured out.

An hour later, around 4:30 am, I started feeling contractions. Thank goodness. Now I get to describe what labor feels like! Oh, goodie. If you’re like me, I was dying to know. At this stage, contractions felt like totally manageable waves of intense menstrual cramps. With some deep breaths I could talk and laugh through them. At 5:00 am Brad called the hospital to see what they wanted us to do, since my water had broken. I knew they’d tell us to come in; that was their policy. Sure enough, the nurse told Brad to get our things together and come in right away. Sigh. Okay. We took our time gathering our things and headed out the door at 6:30 am to go to the hospital. So much for laboring at home as long as possible. Little did I know, however, it was a blessing in disguise. If we’d waited longer, it would have been one ugly car ride, maybe one that involved the birthing of a baby. My body and Zelda were ready and raring to go.

I’d imagined that the car ride to the hospital would be excruciating, thinking I’d be much further along in labor, but this was quite pleasant. Brad and I couldn’t contain our disbelief and excitement. We counted my contractions. We talked about, things. I can’t remember what, though, but I know there were things talked about. Probably involved the wonder of bringing a human into the world. I wasn’t in horrible pain. It was fun. I was having fun. Hilarious.

We arrived at the hospital around 7:00 am. The triage nurse greeted me.

“You been better?” she asked.

“No, actually, I’m really excited,” I replied.

I was. I’d always been as curious about labor and delivery as I’d been about pregnancy and motherhood, and now here I was; I was about to find out. The nurse gave me a smile like she knew what I was in for even if I didn’t. (She was right.) They admitted me ,and soon I had my own room with my own pair of awesome nurses and it sort of felt like I’d checked into a hotel. One of those weird ones that monitors your food and makes you do activities.

My contractions, which at home were about 6 minutes apart, had already picked up to 2-3 minutes apart and it was only 10:00 am.

Tips for mimicking a home birth while laboring in the hospital. Essential oil diffuser, speaker and playlists queued up, things that you can touch that feel like comfort. In my case I brought my sketch book, pencils, and Kindle. I knew I wouldn’t really want to draw or read, but having them there comforted me. Oh, and snacks. If the hospital’s policy is to not allow you to eat, ignore them. Sneak in snacks. I didn’t eat much, but a handful of cashews when my energy dipped was a lifesaver.

Contractions got more intense as time passed quickly. They still felt like menstrual cramps, but with the added sensation that I was being squeezed around the lower abdomen by a belt that had been lit on fire. Still manageable though. I was able to walk around, lean against the wall, squat, and my favorite coping technique at this point was to essentially slow dance with my husband. I swayed to some new age music, leaned into him and vocalized. My Linklater voice training came in so handy at this point. Lots of deep, humm mumm mumm maaas. Thanks, Boston University.

Before you think my labor story sounds like a smug fairytale, don’t worry, I’m getting to the good stuff. The truth, though, was that everything up until this point really had been incredibly pleasant and manageable. The pain was indeed painful, but what I read was true, it triggered a steady rush of endorphins that made me feel a bit drunk on love.

At noon everything changed.

You know the library ghost in Ghostbusters? How she looks all peaceful and harmless?

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To look at her you think, “Hey, ghosts aren’t so bad.” And then you get a little too close and she turns into this, and all hell breaks loose.

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Yeah, it was like that. It’s called Transition.

I’d read about it. We learned about it in our childbirth prep class. Transition would be the time I’d want to give up, but it also meant I was so close to pushing that if I could manage my way through transition I could most likely make it through labor without intervention. It was all true. Still, nothing could have prepared me for that kind of pain. Nothing. Nuh. Thing.

Let me take a step back. At about 11:30 am my contractions had gotten pretty intense and close together—about one minute apart, sometimes coming in double and triple waves. I was having a hard time catching my breath and apparently so was Zelda. Suddenly about six or seven doctors and nurses rushed into the room, prepping equipment and looking nervous. I was a bit out of it but I knew it wasn’t good. A calm but firm OB came up to me and Brad and told us that the baby’s heart rate had dropped and wasn’t coming back up like it should. They needed to see the heart rate come up immediately, so I had to get in bed and be put on oxygen and hooked up to all kinds of monitors. I wasn’t made nervous by the sudden frenzy. Either I knew that Zelda and I would work it out, or I was just too distracted by pain to clock the gravity of the situation.

I got in bed like a good patient. They put a fetal monitor directly into the birth canal, the kind that screws into the baby’s skull. Poor baby. They gave me oxygen which actually was quite pleasant, and it seemed that in short order Zelda’s heart rate improved. The doctors cleared the room, but with strict orders that I’d have to stay in bed and could no longer move around at will. I feel strongly that this confinement increased the pain of transition. Perhaps more than any other time during labor, the transition phase is when it’s most crucial to be able to change position, get in the shower, lean on a birthing ball, whatever. But I was stuck in bed, laying on my side and doing whatever I could to survive the pain from that position.

How can I describe it? At this point I can’t remember it, thank God, but I do remember my reaction to it. I remember feeling like I was being sawed in half. A cramp would start in my midsection and then radiate throughout my whole body until I was no longer in control, the contraction was in control. It was like every inch of my insides was being wringed like wet laundry. I had to scream. I wanted to throw up, not because I was nauseous but because it felt like whatever was inside of me was going to be squeezed out whether I liked it or not. I tried to breathe through it, vocalize through it, even kick my legs up in the air like I was in a Jazzercise class, (that’s actually pretty much the only thing that helped) but ultimately there was no match for this adversary. The contractions were kicking my butt. Physically I couldn’t quell the pain, so I tried to do so mentally. Sometimes I focused on the pain, intensely. Sometimes I tried to distract myself by focusing on something else. The most effective mental trick seemed to be to focus on it so intensely that eventually I began to disassociate the pain from myself. I remember repeating the mantra in my head, “I’m being sawed in half. It’s okay. I’m being sawed in half.” For some reason, it helped. Other images that came to mind at the time were the end of Braveheart when William Wallace is disemboweled. That felt about right. Also The Exorcist.

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I’m telling you guys, it was intense. It felt like, this cannot be a good thing. It felt like I was being broken—like I was going to die. My plan was to forego an epidural or any other drug. Brad and I had made a pact going into labor that if I asked for the epidural four times, he’d get the doctor to administer it, but before that he would try to talk me out of it by getting me to change position, giving me a massage, getting me in the shower, etc. Being confined to the bed, experiencing William Wallace torture pain? I begged for that epidural four times in quick succession. I knew that I was in transition, which meant that I knew I was close and should try to push through, but at the time the thought of surviving that pain for even ten minutes, one minute . . . I couldn’t do it. Let me rephrase that. I couldn’t imagine doing it, but doing it is exactly what I did.

At this point my designated nurses had been called to another delivery. The hospital was experiencing an unprecedented number of deliveries all at once, and no it wasn’t a full moon, just an auspicious Thursday. So when I finally begged for the epidural for the fifth time, my mom went to find a nurse, and since mine were otherwise occupied a new nurse came into the room to help me. Her name was Chanelle, and she was not a human but an angel. Something about her just calmed me immediately. She was real with me. She said the anesthesiologist was giving someone else an epidural (all those deliveries) and wouldn’t be ready for me for at least thirty minutes. I wanted to die. She offered me analgesics (loopy drugs) but she was straight with me and said, “Look, I can give you these and they may help, but they may not. And they’re going to make you sleepy and your baby sleepy and you’ll still be in pain, but you’ll be sleepy.” I knew going in that I didn’t want analgesics, especially this late into labor, and thanks to her candor I did not cave. At this point I just wanted Chanelle to stay by my bed and hold my hand.

I asked her if she could check me again to see how close I was. She didn’t want to because my water had broken and they avoid going up there to decrease any risk of infection. But I desperately wanted to know how much longer I was to suffer. So I was sneaky. I asked her how we would know when it was time to push, and Chanelle said I would feel an overwhelming need. Like I couldn’t not push. I’d heard this from other women, but so far I only felt the need to push a little bit. It was certainly not overwhelming. I was desperate to move out of transition though, so I lied a little bit and said, “Yes! I need to push!” Chanelle agreed to check me when I said that, and sure enough I was fully dilated and effaced. I knew it. No need for an epidural. They cancelled the anesthesiologist. Thank you, Jesus! Chanelle went to tell my designated nurses that it was pushing time and in short order they were back in the room with me. Chanelle, I didn’t get to see you again after that except for a brief thank you in the hallway as they wheeled me to post-partum. If by some fluke you ever read this, you are the angel that got me through transition. Your candor and your warm, straightforward energy, saved me. Thank you!

What can I say about pushing? It hurt but nothing like transition. I was so relieved to be out of that phase, like giddy relieved. I was talking again and even cracking jokes. I was glad to have an objective, something actionable to do besides just survive. It was nice to feel engaged, but yeah, it did hurt. The nurses had me push during contractions, which is the most effective thing to do but it’s quite uncomfortable. It felt to me as if I had a really bad bruise on my insides, and when I’d push it was as if someone was kneading into that bruise with all their might. Unpleasant, but manageable. Mostly it was exhausting.

My God it was exhausting. I pushed for three hours! Most of my labor progressed really quickly, except for this part. I don’t think most women push for that long. Maybe the pain was preventing me from pushing as hard as I could have, or maybe I was just exhausted from transition, or maybe I was a little scared that I was about to meet my little human, but for whatever reason my body did not respond quickly to pushing her out. Three hours. I pushed in many different positions. On all fours. Squatting. All the positions I’d read about in Ina May to let gravity help get the baby out. Ironically, the most comfortable position really was on my back. So there you go. It’s not only for the convenience of the doctors.

Brad, my mom, and the nurses were so encouraging and cheered me on as her little head made its way down the birth canal. At one point they got me a mirror so I could see her. Whoa. That was wild. First of all, because my lady parts did not look like my lady parts, and secondly because, whoa, there’s a human head. The mirror was cool, but I had them take it away because it actually messed with my mind. When I’d push, I thought I was making a lot of progress getting her out, but then I’d look in the mirror and still only see a tiny peek of her head and feel defeated. I preferred to close my eyes and envision her whole head popping out.

And eventually it did! Despite my pleas for the nurse to grab her by her tuft of hair and yank her out, or get a little lasso around her tummy and pull, I was in fact the one that pushed her out. At about 3:30 pm the nurses brought in a table with a bunch of medical equipment and a bright light, and then the midwife walked in and I knew that meant I was close. The OB or midwife only shows up when it’s time to catch the baby, and my midwife was here! Hurray! About three rounds of pushing later and crowning was happening. The midwife abruptly told me to stop pushing because I was tearing, and then told me to cough. I coughed my baby out. Oh, and the whole tearing thing? I didn’t feel it, at all. In fact, pushing Zelda out was completely painless. Not sure if that was all the natural endorphins rushing through me, or my body just numbed itself, but I really didn’t feel it. No ring of fire, nothing but excitement and sweet relief and a fair amount of pressure. I coughed and coughed, and out pops her head. To get the rest of her out the midwife had me blow like I was blowing out birthday candles. The rest of her, shoulders and everything else, squirmed out and it felt super weird. Not painful, but not numb. I could really feel this living thing wriggling out of me, and it was absolutely amazing.

I was completely overwhelmed with relief as the midwife pulled her out and placed her on my chest. I moaned louder than any orgasm I’ve ever had, so I guess that’s why they say childbirth can be orgasmic. It’s really just overwhelming, mind-blowing, universe-expanding relief.

And then there was this person on me, and my entire world shifted. They suctioned her nose and there was her first cry, like an entirely new sound had been invented in a split second. A new color that had never been seen before burst into existence. A new element for the table. My Zelda. My perfect baby. I held her to my chest and marveled at her pinkness, her warmth, the way she felt both stiff and squishy. Her hands. Those perfect hands. Nothing had ever been so perfect as those hands.

I wept, and told my Mom how much I loved her, and told Brad how much I loved him, and how grateful I was for their help. They truly were amazing coaches. Brad, you are my rock and my foundation, and you have a future as a doula if you ever want a career change. I was in awe of you, but also knew the role would suit you like a glove.

I kept saying to my mom, my husband, the nurses, God, whoever would listen, I cried over and over again how much I loved my baby. “I love her. I love her so much,” I said. I didn’t even see her face until several minutes later because of how she was placed on my chest for skin to skin. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need to see her face. I felt her warmth and the beat of her heart, and I knew everything about her instantly, and I loved her with enough power to create a new universe.

I caressed her back and sunk into the euphoria of the moment, smiling as the midwife stitched up my vagina. She kept trying to warn me about little pricks of pain here and there and I almost laughed. She could’ve done anything down there and I wouldn’t have felt a thing. One, because childbirth, and two because I was so drunk on love hormones and endorphins, I couldn’t feel pain if I wanted to.

Zelda is now three months old, and every day I get to know her a little bit better, all the while grappling with the paradox that I knew her all along. There is such a thing as love at first sight. And first smell. And first touch. I am a warrior, and I have been charged with protecting a most precious soul. I will stay at my post no matter the circumstances. My life now has purpose, for what can be more purposeful than complete and perfect love? My baby is in the world now. Zelda, whom I loved instantly.

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No Ordinary Kind of Love

I did an interview recently for the local SCBWI blog, Kite Tales, and one of the questions was, “When did you first feel like you were a writer?” My first reaction was, I don’t feel like a writer. I don’t, for practical reasons. I’m not published or even represented. Also for emotional reasons. Who the heck am I? I can’t write. I’m playing make believe. This is all a grand exercise in delusion.

I let that weed of a knee-jerk reaction subside and really considered the question. Supposing I did have flashes of feeling like a writer, and I do, when did those begin, and sparked by what? The answer? I felt like a writer over the course of writing this blog.

What a horrible answer, but there it is. A blog. Woof, such a cliche. Amiright? I don’t write this blog for readership; I never have. If that were my intent, I promise you I know enough about marketing to know that I’d go about it differently. I don’t write this blog for attention, or to get discovered, or picked up, or anything really. I don’t write it for anything. Except, just, to write. To work out who I am as a writer. To experiment with putting words together. To wrestle with words. It’s a blog, it’s social media, but it’s intimate. Because I don’t care if you like it, or comment on it, or share it, or ever read it at all. It’s public enough that I’m accountable to how I put the words together, but private enough that I don’t feel prey to anyone’s scrutiny or validation. I love this blog, and it has made me feel like a writer.

This year I need more of that. And I need it to be next level. An agent, a sold manuscript, an award in a writing contest. Something. Something else from somewhere outside my own fingers, something from the cosmos that hears my call and responds, “Yes, okay, you are a writer.”

The older I get, the more I realize that quiet was what I was always meant to be. My ego has longed for fame, fortune, acclaim, praise—all on the highest level, and yet my actions have led me to a small, quiet life with a wonderful partner, a pair of cats, a tiny apartment by the sea, an office job, and all the accouterments of standard, out-of-the-box happiness. Nothing too extraordinary, or revolutionary, but as singular as a snowflake to me. As quiet as one too. My ego wanted one thing, but my heart took me to another. Peculiar. Does the heart just win?

Am I equivocating? Trying to console myself for being in my mid-thirties, still in debt, still unknown and working in an office? Maybe. I honestly don’t know the answer to that because if my life were a bit more exclusive, maybe I’d be happy with that too. I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that I wouldn’t take away a single thing today that makes me happy in order to obtain the extravagance about which my ego is so curious. I wouldn’t trade the great love I have, my sweet cats, my family, or the little baby growing inside me.

Oh yeah, I’m expecting. Probably nothing exemplifies the paradox of wonder as it relates to my ordinary life, better than my pregnancy. I am growing a human being. She’s the only one of her kind. I am doing something that millions of women around the world are doing, and billions of women since time immemorial. It is, arguably, the most mundane thing anyone could possibly do, from a statistical standpoint. And yet, why does it feel like I’ve won a Pulitzer? How does it feel like I’m the first woman on the moon? It’s like I’m spinning a new universe from scratch when all I’m really doing is something that most women will do at some point in their lifetimes. It is, at once, the most ordinary and extraordinary thing in the world.

That’s my life. An extraordinary, ordinary life. Even that’s a cliche. There’s nothing special. There’s nothing singular. And yet, it feels as though these cliches have something in common with walking on the moon. Growing humans. Loving someone. Writing. Making a life.

Acts of creation?

My ego wants to be the only one. The only one who gets told I’m great, I’m special, I’m beautiful, I’m known. But something else, something that’s not my ego, knows that just as much magic can exist in a small version of greatness. The outcome may look different. The compensation almost certainly will. The core is the same. All acts of creation are singular, no matter how small, or prolific among humanity.

Don’t mistake my introspection for complacency. I am ambitious. I want to be on the New York Times Bestseller list. I want to win a Newbery. I want one of my books to be made into a movie and have a chair on set that’s always saved for me. These are not quiet ambitions. I know that. I also know that achieving them will not make me any happier than I feel on a Friday night, coming home to my husband, eating spaghetti, watching Netflix and feeling my baby kick me from the inside. I know it. One day I’ll accept my Newbery Medal and I’ll say to my daughter, this award means the world to me, but you were my world first. I’ll say to my husband, this award brings me joy, but I only know joy because of you. I’ll say to my cats, you are little stinkers and neener-neener, I got a medal. I won’t talk to my cats about it. They don’t care. But they make me happy.

If I never actually get that medal, or that spot on the NY Times list, at least I know what it feels like to win. To be the luckiest woman in the world. Happiness. Its potency doesn’t increase with scale. It’s in the sun, and a grain of sand. The same amount.

And love. Singular, unique, exclusive, magical, love. A fertile soil where all creation begins, and blossoms an extraordinary garden. What’s more ordinary than a flower? They grow all over the world. But they always make you pause, don’t they? Pause, and wonder.

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The Halloween Story

Last weekend I finished editing the fourth draft of my novel. Which means two things. One, I don’t want to look at it anymore. And two, that’s good because it needs to cook for a while. I need at least a month between drafts to let the yeast rise—or fall, depending on how badly the revision went.

In between drafts of the novel I usually focus on my picture books. This week I re-read some of the manuscripts I’ve been working on this year. A few months ago I thought they were great. I read them again a few days ago and became transfixed with my own mediocrity. I thought the sudden wave of self-loathing would zap me of all creative ambition, but the opposite happened. I became possessed.

Perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out This is Not My Hat. I wanted to read something by someone who actually had talent and knew what they were doing.

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Again, if removed from this situation and asked to bet on my reaction, I would have bet that reading Jon Klassen in my current state would have sent me into a pity spiral, knowing I’d never be able to write anything as good, funny, or original. But no, I opened my computer and vomited two new picture books onto the screen. Then I revised an older one. Then the next day I wrote one more. I think they’re pretty good. Don’t worry, in a month or two I’ll think they’re total spit wads. They probably are; I don’t know.

It’s mid-September now, which means I’ve been in Halloween mode for two weeks already. I can never get enough. Bring on the pumpkins. Bring on the scary movies. Bring on the chill in the air. The decorations. The costumes. Monster Mash and Thriller on repeat. Bring. It. On.

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What I’ve really always wanted to write was a Halloween book, but an idea eludes me. Let me preface that by saying that I don’t normally have blocks on ideas for picture books. Perhaps that well will run dry one day, knock on wood, but I currently have a list at least twenty ideas long that I haven’t even touched. Not a spooky one in the bunch.

I think I want it too much. I love it too much, maybe? I don’t get it. This morning I sat down and simply started to write down the things I loved about Halloween. That has turned into a decent poem, which could be a rhyming picture book. Who knows, maybe it will one day see the light of day, but my intention was to write something in prose. Something with a beginning, middle, and end. That, I still can’t do.

I have cherished memories of reading “scary” books in my childhood. I devoured everything from The Berenstain Bears (well, it was Berenstein in my universe), to Goosebumps, to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations still haunt me in the absolute best way.

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I could actually draw a direct line from my current love of writing back to my childhood love of reading scary books. I would have thought I was destined to write kids horror, but I just can’t get it out of me. It feels stuck. Like I can actually feel it, in my stomach, a big stuck thing.

What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get unstuck?

Oh and Happy Halloween.

In The Eye of the Hurricane

I know a staggering number of successful people. I often can’t believe it, like, is this normal? I don’t think so. And they’re all people I grew up with in one way or another, meaning I knew them at the beginning of their journeys and have watched their success unfold. High school, college, or right after college. I won’t drop names; that’s not what this is about. I’m not here to brag; I’m here to marvel. It’s just insane. Movie stars. Plural. Broadway stars. Yeah, plural. Novelists. TV stars. Directors. Designers. Comedians. Screenwriters. All plural.

I’ve managed to narrow down a few reasons for this. The first is the potent creative energy of Sacramento circa the turning of the century (it probably continues to this day but I haven’t lived there for many years so I can’t speak to it). Lots of folks from my little theatre community in my little town have gone on to much commercial success. I can’t really explain why our fair city turns out so much talent, except to say that Sacramento is awesome. As a city it is, for the most part, free from industry pressure, which creates a fertile environment for growing creative wings—the only pressure being the desire to one day go out and spread them.

The second reason I can explain. I went to a prestigious conservatory for undergrad. Notable grads include Julianne Moore, Alfre Woodard, Geena Davis, Uzo Aduba, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Alexander, Marissa Tomei. Lots more. The odds that someone from my class or a surrounding class would go on to join this list was always high. The time has come, and now that’s happening, and again I marvel.

The third reason is living in L.A. If you live here long enough and have even a peripheral relationship to the industry, and you’re not a jerk, you will eventually either become or befriend greatness.

I’m not jealous. Merp. Sniff. Sigh. No really, I’m not.

No seriously, I’m not. I’m amazed. I’m proud. I don’t know if it’s normal for a little gal like me to be surrounded by so much greatness. I stand here, still, as all this creative success swirls around me. My jaw drops and I’m smiling, and yes I fluff my feathers a little bit that I happen to know these people.

But I’m so still. I’m watching it all happen around me, and I don’t seem to move.

In the eye of a hurricane
There is quiet
For just a moment
A yellow sky.

I wonder what’s coming for me? Will I continue to walk along in the middle of the storm, quietly, admiring its madness from my calm seat in the center? Will I be pulled in at some point? Sometimes I dip a toe in to see what it feels like. Sometimes it feels good, and sometimes it feels overwhelming. It does look like fun, though. One helluva storm. I like rain. Will I be pulled in or will I have to jump? It’s not my style, jumping into things. I wait for windows. I tiptoe in and let the wind help. Then I fly. That always works out better for me.

I’ll keep sitting here, amazed, and I’ll keep writing. It’s a really very nice place to write, in the eye of a hurricane. Quiet. A yellow sky. One of these days, when the winds are right, I’ll write my way out.

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The Pixar List

Reactions to my Disney movie rankings surprised and delighted me. I was glad to see so much love for Pocahontas in your responses. I thought that might be an outlier, especially since it’s so historically inaccurate. But if you look at the film as a work of pure fiction and not historical fiction, it truly is one of the most beautiful animated films Disney has made—I think. I do hope, if nothing else, that my list has compelled one or two of you to give Brother Bear a chance.

I had so much fun ranking the Disney animated features, I simply couldn’t stop there. So here it is; behold the Pixar list.  I wonder if perhaps we’ll find our lists match up more closely here. There seems to be a bit more consensus on the quality of Pixar’s canon, but who knows, I think some things may surprise you.

PS, word of warning, just thinking about Toy Story 3 has caused me to start crying at my desk, so if you’re not comfortable crying at work, maybe stop now and read later. You know how Pixar gets you.

  1. Up
  2. WALL-E
  3. Toy Story 3
  4. A Bug’s Life
  5. Monsters, Inc.
  6. Inside Out
  7. Finding Nemo
  8. Toy Story
  9. The Incredibles
  10. Ratatouille
  11. Finding Dory
  12. Toy Story 2
  13. Brave
  14. Cars

I have not seen:

  • Cars 2
  • Monsters University
  • The Good Dinosaur

Pretty, with a but

So the gentleman who owns the store next to my office stopped me on the street as I was walking back from getting coffee, ostensibly to apologize for calling me Sarah as I walked into work that morning. I said, “Don’t worry about it. Everyone always calls me the wrong name. Usually Sarah or Rachel. All those Old Testament wives.” I went on my merry way but he stopped me again. He had something else to say. I think it’s important that I preface this story by saying that this guy really was not trying to hit on me, which in some ways makes it all worse. Okay, I’ll continue. Here’s what he said.

“You know, actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you. You, I think, are the perfect image of a full-figured woman. I’m just wondering what you think about that. Do you feel good about yourself?”

Now, this dude says awkward and strange things to me and my co-workers all the time. He’s a lonely divorcee who owns a suit shop that never gets any business, so Lord knows what thoughts twirl around his brain all day while he’s surrounded by all that linen and no other humans. But, this was beyond the standard unusual comment. He seemed earnest, like he wanted to learn something about body confidence. I was taken aback, and not super interested in having that conversation, so I tried to end it and leave.

“Um, yeah, I’m pretty confident in myself.”

“That’s good because, you really are perfect exactly how you are and I know a lot of men put pressure on women to lose weight and be skinny, but you really shouldn’t change. You’re like a perfect image of a full-figured woman. I know you’re married, but I hope your husband feels so too.”

Ladies, we’ve all been here, right? In one form or another? We’ve all found ourselves confronted by a man who feels entitled to comment on our bodies even when it’s inappropriate, back-handed, and unprofessional. I meant it as a compliment, they say when we call them on their behavior. And the little feminist pixie that lives inside me turns red and screams because she’s too exhausted to take the time to educate this ignorant man on why it is inappropriate to comment on the body of a person, pretty much ever, but especially when that person works next door to you. And that pixie is also frustrated because she knows that this man really does believe he’s being noble, and perhaps in a twisted way he is. He sees the pressure put on women to be skinny, lose weight, please a man, and he is making a statement to a woman who does not fit that mold to say that she is perfect the way she is and should not succumb to that societal pressure. So how can I be mad? But I am. I am mad. The pixie is mad. Because even though he meant it as a compliment, it made me feel like shit. Which then makes me feel like a failure because it feels like a test as to whether or not I truly have body confidence and when given that test I failed because on the inside I totally collapse as if I’m twelve years old all over again and just got called chubby on the playground. So I’m mad at the man, I’ve failed my inner feminist pixie, and I’ve reverted to the child I was when I was bullied. I don’t have the fortitude to make this a teachable moment. I’m too sad. Now do you see why it’s basically never a good idea to comment on someone’s body? Hot-button is a phrase that doesn’t begin to paint the picture.

Just when I start to think, hey, I think all this body confidence I’ve been working on is really paying off. I’m starting to feel like a confident woman. Not a fat woman, not a curvy woman or a skinny woman or a woman on a diet. Just a woman. Cool. It’s nice to just be a person.

And then, poof.

Along comes a well-intended old man to remind me that no, you are not just a woman. You will never be perceived as just a woman. You are a “full-figured” woman. You are pretty—for a curvy girl. You will never just be pretty. You will always be pretty with a modifier.

I feel so average sometimes that I actually feel invisible. It’s appropriate that this whole confrontation began because the man got my name wrong. It happens ALL. THE. TIME. I usually have to meet someone at least three times before they remember me—not remember my name, remember me at all—and when they finally do remember me they then get my name wrong. Sarah, Rachel, Heidi. These are names I’ve been called this week alone. Everything but Rebecca, who is invisible. I’ve tried to embrace it, my average-ness. There’s a benefit to disappearing into the wallpaper. You get to see very interesting things when people don’t really know you’re there. I also always know that when I have an instinct about something I’m probably right because I’ve learned that part of being average is having unextraordinary opinions. If I think something, chances are thousands of other people have thought it as well, so I’m not alone in my ideas and can generally trust them to have some backing. I’m not an outlier. I’m not an iconoclast. I’m not a trailblazer. I’ve embraced the benefits of being ordinary. It’s led to me being a strong administrator and a creative writer. I like being an invisible pair of hands that makes cool things happen from behind the curtain. But then conversations like this come about and make me feel like the only things that do make me visible are things that are negative. Like being “curvy” or “full-figured.” What does that even mean? The world around this issue is changing a little bit. But not really. Not really. Plus-size models are still plus-size; they’re not just models and I’m not sure they ever will be. They will always be models with a modifier.

The emotional waves settle. My head comforts my heart and I accept that perception is reality. I can’t control how people perceive me therefore I can’t control their reality. I can only control how I perceive myself, so my reality is that I’m just a woman. A woman who struggles from time to time with body image, but is mostly over it. A woman who struggles every day with eating healthy. A woman who runs marathons and loves dance parties. Who is on Weight Watchers but loves carrot cake. Who has a husband who thinks I’m pretty. Period.

I know how much privilege I walk around with as a middle-class, able-bodied, cis, straight, white woman. Crossings like this remind me that what I experience in micro-doses once in awhile, minority groups experience daily and in much more aggressive doses. It’s not right. Perhaps I’ve even been that well-intended person asking someone a question about their life experience that has the affect of making them feel small. I’m going to use this experience to remind me of that, and to remind me to always treat people like people. Not like plus-size people, or disabled people, or ethnic people, or gay people, or trans people. You breathe oxygen and are carbon-based? Cool, then you are people. No modifiers.

body

 

 

 

 

Every Disney Movie . . . Ranked

In today’s edition of not finishing my novel, I’ve decided to rank every Disney movie ever made in order of my favorites. Disney fans, I’m sure you’ve pondered your favorite Disney movies—probably even assembled a top ten—but have you ever ranked all of them? It’s hard. Been wanting to do this for weeks, so here goes.

What does it mean to be a favorite? There are movies that intellectually I can understand are better than others, but I might like the “lesser” film more. Why? Not sure. Only explanation is that art is a two-way street, and half of it is what I bring to my experience of the thing. So while I acknowledge that Beauty and the Beast is a good film, it really had very little emotional impact on me, landing it way down on the list. This is why things like lists and awards are fun, and also really stupid. It takes a special snowflake to rank Brother Bear above Frozen. I am that special snowflake, and the cold never bothered me anyway.

I’m not including Pixar, Amblin, Disney Toons, or Studio Ghibli. Perhaps I’ll make separate lists of those. For now this is strictly Walt Disney Animation Studios.

So here it is—every Disney animated feature in order of my personal favorite, for any weirdos out there who are curious. My top ten might surprise you.

  1. The Little Mermaid
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. Lilo & Stitch
  4. Alice in Wonderland
  5. Tangled
  6. Lady and the Tramp
  7. Pocahontas
  8. Pinocchio
  9. The Lion King
  10. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  11. Peter Pan
  12. Aladdin
  13. The Sword in the Stone
  14. Bambi
  15. Brother Bear
  16. Frozen
  17. Mulan
  18. Cinderella
  19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  20. Zootopia
  21. Moana
  22. Dumbo
  23. Robin Hood
  24. Fantasia
  25. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  26. Beauty and the Beast
  27. Big Hero 6
  28. Oliver & Company
  29. The Jungle Book
  30. The Rescuers Down Under
  31. Fantasia 2000
  32. The Princess and the Frog
  33. The Aristocats
  34. Wreck-It Ralph
  35. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
  36. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  37. Hercules
  38. The Rescuers
  39. Bolt
  40. The Fox and the Hound
  41. The Great Mouse Detective
  42. Tarzan
  43. The Emperor’s New Groove

I have only seen the following in snippets, so did not include in the ranking:

  • Saludos Amigos
  • The Three Caballeros
  • Make Mine Music
  • Fun and Fancy Free
  • Melody Time
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (I’ve seen The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which would rank highly, but I’ve never seen Wind in the Willows and definitely haven’t seen them together in this packaged film)
  • The Black Cauldron
  • Dinosaur
  • Treasure Planet
  • Home on the Range (this is when things got real tough for the Studios)
  • Chicken Little
  • Meet the Robinsons
  • Winnie the Pooh (I know! I don’t know what’s wrong with me)

So? Are you surprised by my list? Anything you would bump out of the top ten? Would love to hear all the ways in which you think I’m crazy.